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  • 1: Outcrossing,  Albion

    Magical creatures

    As you’ve noticed if you’ve read Outcrossing, there are magical creatures in my books, as well as the ones we all know about. There are, broadly speaking, three categories.

    Animals we know and love

    These include your average ordinary wildlife – badgers, hedgehogs, ponies (Well, most of them. There are some magical ones, too.) Birds, snakes, lizards, all sorts of other beasties.

    A magical variant

    Sometimes there are magical variants of a given type. For example, the nightjar is an actual bird (with a very unusual sort of sound – you can hear an American cousin clearly starting at about 1:10 on this recording.)

    This piece in the Guardian about nightjars (and other fauna of the New Forest) delighted me, and describes them as “somewhere between a kestrel and a crocodile in appearance”.

    Twilight nightjars, however, are magical.

    They sound like the non-magical variety, and have the same shape. And nightjars do live in the New Forest. But where the non-magical species are usually brown or buff, the Twilight Nightjar is more like the darker varieties of a Victoria Crowned Pigeon, with a good splash of iridescence. Their feathers and eggs are used in various magical potions and workings.

    Entirely magical

    And of course, we have varieties of magical creatures who either live in Silence-warded spaces (so, fully magical), or like many creatures in our own world are not often seen.

    These include wandermists (a cat-sized winged dragon that appears to be largely made out of mist), or the ginsies, which are poisonous to about half the people with magic (via an extreme allergic reaction, not that Carillon and Rufus would put it that way.)

    Perhaps my favourite are the mirabiles, who live in the deepest parts of the forest, and are rarely seen, but look like dancing lights that sway and twist together. They’re decidedly animals, not Fatae, but they must be where some tales of faeries in the woods come from.

    (One of these days, I would love to have illustrations of these. If you’re an artist this intrigues, glad to talk commissions with you and see if we can come to a mutually cheerful agreement.)

  • Albion

    Lammastide

    Albion has a host of seasonal and agricultural festivals. Some are more celebration than anything else, others are about specific magical commitments tied to the land.

    A field of glowing golden wheat
    Photo by Penguinuhh on Unsplash

    In our world, you’ll sometimes see this festival called Lughnasadh, a festival devoted to the Irish god, Lugh. It was often celebrated with games and competitions and stories, as a connection to the funeral games he held for his foster mother, Tailtiu. (Lugh himself is neither particularly associated with the sun or the harvest: he was a god who was known for being skilled in many ways.)

    However, while there are a number of harvest rituals around cutting the first of the corn in Great Britain, there isn’t good evidence for a pan-Celtic festival, whether dedicated to Lugh or to anyone else. Cutting the first corn is a common element, but some places have links to ritual plays, others to bonfires, some are up on a hill, some are down near water…

    In the Anglo-Saxon tradition, there’s another name, and one that came down through the Christian church, later: Hlaef-mas, which became Lammas. This might involve baking a loaf of bread, breaking it into four pieces, and crumbling each piece in the corner of a barn to offer protection to the grain about to be stored there.

    It was also a great time for harvest fairs and gatherings, before the heavy work of the harvest began.

    A word about corn and grain: In historical works in and about Europe, you’ll often see the word ‘corn’ used. This is actually a generic word for grain. It usually means whatever the main form of grain was in that area – wheat, oats, rye, barley. What Americans think of as corn (the thing that grows on ears in kernels or that you can make popcorn from) is maize. Here’s some more about that.

    In Albion, part of being Lord of the Land is the tie between your energy and the land you are stewarding and protecting. You can see Carillon at May Day, doing his part in Outcrossing, and the upcoming Pastiche has some other brief mentions. (This draws on some old theories about the land being tied to the ruler, that is a whole other blog post or series of them.)

    These customs vary place to place, village to village, and of course season to season. I haven’t figured out the details for the grain harvest, but I know there is one. And it involves bread.

    I’m doing a (virtual) get together with friends of like mind on Saturday, and we’re all baking bread to talk about. I’m making cottage cheese dill bread (something like this recipe), though I usually bake mine as a round rather than a loaf. I’m a dill fanatic, but other herbs work really well in it too.

    A bit more to enjoy:

  • 4: Wards of the Roses,  Albion

    Behind the scenes: Who knows who?

    One of my early readers, reading Pastiche, asked me “Did Giles and Richard know each other before the War?”

    (Giles being Major Giles Lefton, hero of Wards of the Roses, and Richard being Lord Richard Edgarton, who appears in Wards of the Roses and On The Bias, and who gets the story of his own romance coming up in Pastiche.)

    A copy of Wards of the Roses on a desk with a dip pen, blotting paper, and a jar of ink.

    They’re both upper class, well-educated, competently magical men in a relatively small community, so yes, they’ve been moving in similar circles for a good while.

    They are, however, a generation apart in age.

    Albion is not a massive community. Sparing you my spreadsheet of demographics for the moment, the community is roughly 250,000 people in the 1920s. There are about 200 families who hold a title (usually Lord of the Land [1]) and probably another 300 or so who are upper class and possibly of the minor aristocracy (cadet branches of the titled family lines, and so on.)

    (Those aren’t the only positions of power, of course. The Mysterious Power series will be getting more into some of that.)

    Their families: Richard, obviously, has a title, and comes from one of the noble families. Giles doesn’t, but comes from the minor aristocracy. His family have multiple properties. He’s well off enough personally that money is not an issue for him. They were both in Fox House at Schola, so they share at least one club, and probably more than that one.

    They certainly have run into each other at various social events (such as the Temple of Healing garden parties, a major source of fundraising for the Temple). An amicable but distant sort of acquaintanceship.

    When did they meet? I suspect they didn’t know each other terribly well until Richard – or someone else Richard knows in the Guard – needed Giles and his mathematical brain for a spot of code-breaking. At that point, of course, these two intelligent, practical men would find common cause pretty quickly. It’s a relief when you find someone competent who can do the thing you need to solve the problem at hand without fussing.

    I am quite sure that was before Giles became blind, however. Richard is, at times, still figuring out how to handle some of that smoothly, in a way that wouldn’t be as true if they’d only met after that point.

    I’d guess they met sometime in 1913 or 1914, in the buildup to the War, but I haven’t pinned that down yet.

    [1] Yes, women can have the equivalent position, though most families inherit via male primogeniture if that’s an option. I do plan to talk about this in more detail sometime!

  • Albion

    Trellech

    I got a great question from one of my early readers as he worked his way through Pastiche (coming soon to an ebook seller near you – likely August 7th or so.)

    His question: “Where is Trellech? I’m not finding it on a map.

    There’s an excellent reason it’s hard to find. Trellech does still exist as a village in our world but it’s a tiny thing compared to what it once was. Also, in Welsh it’s Tryleg, and in English, one of about four options: Trellech, Trelech, Treleck, or Trelleck.

    Trellech is in Monmouthshire in Wales, northeast from Cardiff and just west of the river Wye. (Here’s a map.)

    It was one of the major cities of mediaeval Wales. Around the 1230s, the de Clare family established it as a major manufacturing town, producing iron and coal for munitions manufacture (as everyone of the period was deep in the wars between Wales and England).

    The de Clares had been powers in that part of the world for some time – William de Clare established Tintern Abbey in 1131. (This fact brought to you largely because I’ve been to Tintern Abbey, and think it’s gorgeous.) If you read much history around these centuries, you’ll find the de Clares thoroughly entangled in it.

    Photograph of the nave and stonework of Tintern Abbey, now in ruins, but with tall walls still standing with arched side chapels and spaces. The ground is a beautiful flat carpet of green grass.
    Tintern Abbey (via Wikipedia)

    At its height in the late 1200s, it’s thought Trellech had about 20,000 people in it, making it larger than Cardiff, Chepstow, or a number of other cities in England and Wales. (By 1300, London was about 80,000 people, to put that number in perspective.)

    However, a raid in 1291, and then the calamities of the 1300s did the city in (multiple rounds of war, the Black Death, and raiding), as did the eventual fall of the de Clares who used it as their main base of power.

    Much of the remaining city was destroyed by Owain Glyndŵr in the early 1400s, and the rest got largely lost to history.

    When I started writing the Albion books, I knew I wanted to find somewhere which disappeared from the historical record around the time of the Pact in 1484 (give or take half a century), and I spent time looking at places that might suit.

    I’m not Welsh by ancestry (alas), but I have longstanding fondness for Wales and the beauty and resilence of the country and people. My mother grew up elsewhere in the UK, but moved to Cardiff as a teenager, and went to university in Bangor (where she met my English father). I grew up on the stories of both those places, and the occasional childhood visit.

    So, I was browsing online, considering options, and looking especially in Wales. Then I stumbled on a project from Stuart Wilson who bought a swath of land, hoping to discover the history of the early city. You can learn more about the subsequent archaeological work, too.

    I’ve obviously taken quite a few liberties with Trellech’s history in my books, but not nearly so many as I might, since there’s so much rich history.

    We’ll be spending more time in Trellech in the upcoming Mysterious Power series, as the first book is set in the Temple of Healing in the heart of the city.

    Do you have a question for me? Send me a note through the contact form (or one of the social media options) and I’m glad to see about answering it. I won’t share spoilers, of course.

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