With his new crime thriller Wychwood published today by Titan Books, George Mann has written us a superb guest article about how British folklore inspired him...
I’ve always had a deep fascination with mythology and folklore. As a child, I was taken with the rich, exuberant tales of the Ancient Greeks and their pantheon of interfering gods, fuelled no doubt by films such as ‘Clash of the Titans’ and ‘Jason and the Argonauts’. I was a voracious reader, too, and used to delve into books from the local library, soon moving onto tales of the Norse Gods, and the Egyptians…and so it went on, and I absorbed them all greedily, feeding my fledgling writer’s hunger for inspiration.
It wasn’t until a school trip one year, though, to a little village in the North East of England called Middleton St. George, that I discovered the British Isles – and indeed, the local area around me – had a history of folklore and mythology that was just as rich, and exciting, as those far flung locales I’d often dreamed about. Brimming with the thrill of doing something I suspected I shouldn’t at such a young age, I bought a little, locally produced book about Ghosts and Legends from the village shop, and squirreled it away in my bag. Much to my delight, when I got it home the next day, I discovered it was filled with sinister little pen and ink drawings, and replete with bizarre tales of local spirits and sprites, of boggarts and devils and unsettled spirits. Things to send a real chill down a young boy’s spine. More than that, though, these bizarre tales – for they seemed far more quirky and peculiarly British than anything I’d read before – were rooted in a real sense of place, and one that was familiar to me, too.
From that point on, my fascination with local lore began to grow, and I hungrily consumed more, similar pamphlets, which are now long lost, and I presume to have been written and self-published by a local writer, back in the 1980s.
This pursuit for local folklore has continued throughout my adult years, although the scope of my interest has broadened somewhat, encompassing much of the British Isles. Every time I travel to a new place, or spend a while in a new area, the things I’m most interested to discover are the local myths and legends.
I think folklore and mythology reveal a great deal of the character of a place, and the culture, too, of the people who live or have lived there. Stories of ghostly beasts, witch stones, star-crossed lovers, strange apparitions or weird magic – I find myself wondering how such tales came to be, and why even now, perhaps hundreds of years later, they’re still passed down between family members, sometimes in the tradition of bedtime stories, sometimes dire warnings or superstitions, and sometimes even in the form of village parades or festivals.
Some, of course, have transcended their original location, becoming embellished, subsumed into the rich fictional history of the Country – Robin Hood; King Arthur; the Beast of Bodmin. Others remain distinctly relevant only to a particular area or location, and known only to the people who live in its vicinity.
With Wychwood, I wanted to explore my fascination with British mythology by crafting something new, and examining how folklore is transmitted through the ages, and how it can still influence people’s mindset in the present. The story of the Carrion King is fictional, but hopefully feels authentic, and draws on lots of the legends I read as a child, or research I’ve done since. That’s something I’m going to keep exploring as the series goes on, too, as Ellie and Peter get embroiled in further investigations in the Wychwood area. And in the meanwhile, I’ll continue to dig up more of these fascinating little insights, and try to recapture that feeling I had as a boy, hunched over a treasured pamphlet by night, poring over the strange myths and legends that really helped to bring my local environment to life.
Image - Titan Books
Wychwood is published today.