The Teller of Tales

Due to the current situation all my planning to attend book fairs and give talks at libraries and at U3A (University of the 3rd Age) has had to be put on hold. As I don’t depend on book sales for an income this is not the end of the world.

There is one new initiative that has just started: There are 75 writers published by The Conrad Press (who published Song of the Nightingale, my second historical novel) and we have started buying each other’s books to review them. This means quite a few positive things:

  1. We get to sell a few more copies of our books
  2. We get to read books we might not normally have read
  3. We get more reviews on Amazon
  4. We get to know other writers

I am retired, live alone and live in a small village so this current lock-down has minimal affect on my life.  I am looking after my daughter’s dog so it means she and I get exercise each day. I am feel very lucky but also incredibly guilty, but don’t know what else I can do other than do as I am told – and stay at home. I always tried to write as much as possible but now there are no art classes, no visits to children & grandchildren, no book fairs etc I am managing to write every day. Consequently I am almost finished my 3rd novel, called The Teller of Tales.

The Teller of Tales is the first book of a trilogy that will relate how three generations of women attempt to tell their own “herstories” to a world that won’t listen. In it Lizzie writes fairy tales, many of which tell of  girls who go on quests, who spend their prize money on schools for girls, who refuse to marry because they don’t love the man. Lizzie fervently believes that women are capable of far more than they are allowed to do, but she is forestalled at every attempt to escape from the role imposed on her.  She writes her stories down but they are never published. It is this book of fairy tales that is passed to Lizzie’s grand-daughter, Martha, whose story will be told in the second book, Grandmother’s Footsteps, and then onto her daughter, Imogen, whose story will be told in the final book, I have a story to tell. The stories are never told outside of the family until that are discovered in the 1970s by Sally, who gives a paper at a feminist conference and finally the stories her female ancestors had tried to tell are heard.

I thought I would share one of the fairy tales that Lizzie tells.

There was once a family who were very poor. Although they all worked hard there never seemed to be enough money. Mama stayed at home and mended clothes, made bread and tended to the bees, whilst the father, the two brothers and the young daughter all worked in the mines that belonged to Mr Sutton, who was a mean and cruel man.

The coal is not near the surface like it is here, so the miners had to go deep underground to dig it out. They had to work in the tunnels every day, from dawn to dusk, so they never felt the warmth of the sun’s rays nor had to squint at its brightness. Papa and the two brothers chipped at the walls of the tunnel with their picks whilst Alice, the daughter, put the pieces in a basket. When it was full, Alice carried the heavy basket through the long tunnels to the shaft then climbed up a rope ladder to the top, where she emptied the basket onto an ever-growing heap of coal. It was tiring and dirty work but Alice had a beautiful voice and she would cheer herself up by singing of butterflies and bees, sunshine and rain, laughter and tears.

One morning, the family arrived at the entrance to the mine earlier than everyone else. They saw a piece of paper pinned to a post.

 

REWARD!!

       A reward of one hundred, yes one hundred, gold pieces to the man who can rid the mines of the boggarts once and for all.

      

            One hundred gold pieces was more money than the whole family would ever earn in a life time, ten life times! One of the brothers tore down the poster so that no-one else could read it and win the reward. No, the money had to be theirs!

            That night, after a hard day’s work they sat round the table, eating their bread and honey and discussing how they would rid the mine of the boggarts and so win the reward. The father said he would herd them all into a corner then beat them to death with his pick. The eldest brother said he would herd them all into a corner, build a fence and starve them to death. The younger brother said he would herd them all into a corner then set fire to them.

            No-one asked the mother or Alice what they would do; after all they were only females.

            The next night, after a hard day’s work, the brothers and Alice went home as usual but the father stayed behind in the mine. When everyone had left he took a candle and went deeper and deeper underground to where the boggarts lived. He saw their heels as they ran from him and heard their mocking laughter, but he couldn’t round them up in order to herd them into a corner. He grew more and more tired until he stumbled to his knees, dropped the candle and plunged the tunnel into absolute blackness. The felt something sharp in his legs, his arms, his back and he realised in horror that the boggarts were attacking him with their own little picks, just as he had threatened he would do to them. He was so far underground that no-one heard his cries so no-one came to save him.

            The next night, after a hard day’s work, one brother and Alice went home as usual but the elder brother stayed behind in the mine. When everyone had left he took a candle and went deeper and deeper underground to where the boggarts lived. He saw their heels as they ran from him and heard their mocking laughter, but he couldn’t round them up in order to herd them into a corner. He grew more and more tired until he stumbled over something, his father perhaps, dropping the candle and plunging the tunnel into absolute blackness. He managed to get to his feet again but he didn’t see the opening to a deep pit in front of him and he fell and fell and fell until he hit the bottom. He couldn’t climb out for the pit was too deep. The boggarts stood around the opening jumping up and down and laughing with excitement. They didn’t have to touch this one, he would just slowly starve to death just as he had threatened he would do to them. He was so far underground that no-one heard his cries so no-one came to save him.

            The next night, after a hard day’s work, Alice went home as usual but the younger brother stayed behind in the mine. When everyone had left he took a candle and went deeper and deeper underground to where the boggarts lived. He saw their heels as they ran from him and heard their mocking laughter, but he couldn’t round them up in order to herd them into a corner. He grew more and more tired until he stumbled over something, his father perhaps, so that the candle tipped over and the flame caught the sleeve of his shirt. Before he could blow it out the flames spread over his whole body and the last he heard was the sound of the boggarts laughing and cheering as he burnt to death, just as he had threatened he would do to them. He was so far underground that no-one heard his cries so no-one came to save him.

            The next day Alice didn’t go to the mine but worked with her mother baking bread and collecting honey from the friendly bees. The next night she waited until everyone had left then she went down the shaft, lit a candle and went deeper and deeper underground to where the boggarts lived. She carried a basket of bread spread thickly with honey and she broke off little pieces and dropped them to the floor, all the while singing. One by one the boggarts followed her, tempted by the sweet smell and the sweet sound. When she stopped singing, they stopped following, so she sang on, although her throat was dry and sore from the coal dust.

            She walked slowly along the tunnels going up all the time, the boggarts following meekly behind, totally mesmerised by her singing. She led them to the bottom of the shaft and up the rope ladder, the boggarts following meekly behind; she led them along the road and past Mr Sutton’s house, the boggarts following meekly behind. She led them up hill and down dale, through forest and across moor, along rivers and around lakes, the boggarts following meekly behind. When she got to the sea she continued walking until the water reached the top of her thighs and the boggarts followed meekly behind. But the boggarts were short, shorter than the top of Alice’s thighs and they couldn’t swim so quietly and with no fuss, they all drowned.

            Mr Sutton and his son, Charles,  who was very handsome, had followed Alice when they had seen her leading the boggarts away and when they saw that she had rid their mine of them once and for all, the handsome son carried her on his strong shoulders, telling everyone they met that she was a heroine. When they returned home Mr Sutton gave her a bag of gold pieces (not one hundred though, for remember he was a mean and cruel man), and the son asked her to marry him.

            Alice laughed in their faces. ‘I don’t want the reward Mr Sutton. Instead I want you to give all your workers a decent wage so that they might live in comfortable homes and have enough to eat each and every day. And I won’t marry you Charles, not until you prove to me that you are a kind man, care for your workers and admit publicly that a girl can do anything a boy does, often better. Even then I may not marry you, for I will only ever marry for love.

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