As regular visitors or long term readers of this blog may know, I have written three novels with a supernatural/ fairy theme. Considering about these, I thought it might be helpful for me to be explicit about my approach to the subject- to outline some of the fundamental ideas that lie behind my postings. Indeed, I realised that when I wrote the three novels (all of which predate British fairies, my factual study of the subject published last summer), I had not clearly or systematically expressed even to myself what exactly it was that I believed.
As a preamble, the stories in question are The elder queen, which is set in present day Devon and involves encounters between unemployed farm labourer Darren Carter and Saran, the eponymous ‘fairy queen’; Albion awake! a fantasy that mingles time travel to meet William Blake, Gerard Winstanley and other radical figures alongside contact with the Fairy Queen Maeve; and lastly a children’s story, The Derrick, concerning a summer holiday meeting in Dorset between a boy and members of the local fairy ‘tribe’ called Derricks.
So, surveying what I have written, what are my fundamental preconceptions about fairy kind? What assumptions and prejudices may I be carrying over into my interpretation of the folklore sources? The key features that come out seem quite consistent:
- fairies are present here and now. All my books have contemporary settings and the fae folk I have imagined are resident amongst us (if perhaps in more marginal areas) but they are not of the present. Their speech and material culture is all slightly adrift from ours and there can be misunderstanding on both sides as a consequence;
- fairies are like humans– they are of the same stature and form- no wings, therefore- although they may be marked out by the colour of their hair or their eyes. Their lifespan is very different, however: in Albion awake! Maeve, whilst appearing to be a woman in her late thirties, is actually at least 5000 years old. The Derrick is likewise ancient: you may recall how changelings are caught out with the ‘brewery of egg shells,’ causing them to exclaim how they have seen forests grown from acorns and die again. Such are the timescales I imagine for my fay protagonists;
- fairies are prepared to interact with humans- socially, intellectually and, quite often, sexually. There may well be an element of exploitation by them in this- especially as-
- they like to protect their privacy- fairies will tolerate contact with humans on their terms and at the times and places of their choosing. Nonetheless, they wish to hold themselves apart from us, and resent any uninvited intrusion;
- they are not to be antagonised or ignored– it follows from the above that trespasses into fairy territory may be punished (as Darren Carter discovers when he stumbles upon a fairy dance). Attracting the antipathy of fairy kind is to be avoided because:
- they are powerful- they have magical powers and they will not hesitate from using force against offending humans. Darren experiences this, against himself and against others who threaten to disturb the fairy’s world. In The Derrick an attempt to steal fairy gold leads to devastating retribution. In Albion awake! Maeve can enable humans to travel through time and space. Manipulating the human world is a matter of course to them;
- the fairies have their own aims, objectives and agenda- this follows from what has already been said. Interaction with humans is undertaken for their own ends. It may be pleasurable (the sex) but it serves other, greater purposes too;
- fairies expect respect and compliance with their wishes;
- the fairies are a timeless part of the land. It seems to come naturally to me to associate them with standing stones, burial mounds and other monuments and this is a feature repeated in all three stories: in The Elder Queen Darren meets Saran in an ancient ’round;’ in Albion awake! we variously encounter Maeve at Hambledon Hill hillfort, at the London Stone and at Boudicca’s Grave on Hampstead Heath. The action of The Derrick is focused around yet another Iron Age fortification. This intimate tie with the land and with ancient features of the landscape extends into the fairies’ attitude to pollution and environmental change. Predictably, they don’t like it. Queen Maeve concerns herself with preventing an extension to the runway of Heathrow Airport; Saran and her people forcibly disrupt attempts at fracking. My fairies are, it seems, eco-warriors.
That’s a summary of the key themes and characteristics that I realise unite all three books. Unavoidably, too, they will shape my approach to my non-fiction writing too.
Central to all of the above is respect for tradition, as recorded in folklore and fairy tales. My recommended bookshelf of fairy books describes what I think of as some of the essential texts you should have.