Dragon Trainer

Back in the Spring I discovered a nest of dragon eggs in my garden, you can find out about it here and I was a little concerned by this. You see, there was no sign of the parents and I didn’t relish the responsibility of hand rearing baby dragons. Fortunately the adults returned, possibly because I had disturbed the nest, and removed the eggs elsewhere.

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I know this will disappoint a good many of you who were hoping to see the hatchlings. So I thought I would share with you a dragon related adventure from a couple of years ago. We were lucky to have at work an exhibition all about Cressida Cowell’s How to Train Your Dragon books and this included some of the dragons that inhabit her stories. For the most part they were quite well behaved, with the occasional visitor suffering only minor injuries. The staff took it in turns to take the dragons for “walkies” around the Ouseburn Valley where our museum is situated. I took the opportunity to draw the dragons, but they kept eating my pencils and setting fire to my sketch books.

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Toothless, a Common or Garden dragon, in our cave.

 

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He liked being tickled under the chin….sometimes.

 

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Trying to capture a dragon’s likeness isn’t easy.

I had with me; Toothless, a Common or Garden dragon,  Stormfly a Mood Dragon and Fireworm a red Monstrous Nightmare dragon. Stormfly was my favourite because, as the name suggests, she changes colour according to her mood. Unlike the other dragons she speaks Norse rather than Dragonese and as I am married to a viking, I understood some of the things she was saying. However, she was a pathological liar (and turned purple when uttering untruths) so I paid her mutterings little attention.

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Picnic’s were popular.

 

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I soon found out that dragons and sheep don’t mix.

If you ever get the chance to take a dragon for a walk and a picnic I suggest you jump at it. You might lose a finger in the process, but it will be an adventure you’ll never forget.

Fact or fiction? You decide.

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Faery Tale Friday; Snow White

Snow White is probably the most famous fairy tale brought to us by the Brothers Grimm, although arguably they have Walt Disney to thank for this particular story’s popularity. It was first published in 1812 as Little Snow White and in its original form was far darker than their finalised edition of 1854. This was because they were now aiming their stories at children. Disney’s animated film, released in 1937, owes much of its influence to the final version but he lightened the mood even further.

 

In the original story the villain is in fact Snow White’s mother, not step-mother, which puts a shocking slant on things. So jealous is she of her daughter’s beauty that she instructs a servant to take the girl into the forest and kill her. To prove that her daughter is dead the servant was required to bring back Snow White’s liver and lungs. (Not heart as in Disney’s story). The servant, however, takes pity on the child, who it should be mentioned is but seven years old, and lets her run away. On his return the servant slaughters a wild boar and presents its lungs and liver to the Queen. And what does she do? Orders the cook to prepare the offal and eats it for her supper. Ah, cannibalism. That wasn’t in Disney’s version.

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Snow White comes across the house of seven little men. As none of them are at home the  girl helps herself to their food and wine and then looks for a bed to sleep in. “But none of them felt right-one was too long, the other too short- until finally the seventh one was just right.” Sound familiar? When the seven dwarves return from their hard day down the mine they are somewhat perplexed to find that their lovely house is not the way they left it. Contrast this to Disney’s version where you may recall Snow White started cleaning up after the dwarves. Mind you, what seven year old’s first thought is “Hmm I must tackle the housework” The dwarves are so bowled over by the girl’s beauty that they let her stay. (It must also be noted that the dwarves were never named. That came along hundred years later in 1912 in a Broadway production called Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. And you thought that was Disney’s idea.)

Snow White by one of my illustration hero’s Yvonne Gilbert

 

Meanwhile, back at the castle, the Queen is shocked to hear from her magic mirror that Snow White lives and is a thousand times fairer than she. Now, unlike Disney’s version the Queen visits Snow White three times in an attempt to kill the child and on each occasion disguises herself as a peddler woman selling her wares. Firstly she offers silken bodice laces with which she tightens Snow White’s corset so severely the child cannot breath and passes out. And the second time with a beautiful comb for Snow White’s hair. The tines are poisoned and when it touches her scalp Snow White falls to the floor. On both occasions the dwarves arrive in the nick of time and save the child. To be fair to the dwarves they had warned Snow White to not let anyone into the house while they were gone. But as in all good fairy tales good advise goes unheeded. Finally the Queen uses all her evil powers to produce an apple so delicious that Snow White can’t possibly refuse. One side of the apple is white and the other red and it is the red side that is poisoned. To convince Snow White that there is nothing amiss with the fruit, the Queen cunningly takes a bite from the white flesh. When Snow White bites into the red half she falls down dead.   The queen looked at her with a gruesome stare, laughed loudly, and said, “White as snow, red as blood, black as ebony wood! This time the dwarfs cannot awaken you.”

Snow White illustrated by Camille Rose Garcia

 

And indeed they could not. Not wanting to bury her under the ground they fashioned a coffin from glass, placed Snow White within it and gazed upon her every day. Along came a prince and this being the very best of fairy tales he fell instantly in love with her. And being a prince he thought nothing of demanding that he take her home with him. The dwarves gave in but when the coffin was moved the piece of apple becomes dislodged from Snow White’s throat and she wakes up. (You may be interested to know that in the original 1812 version the Prince’s servants had to carry the coffin around all day every day so Snow White could be near the Prince. One servant got fed up of this, removed the lid and took his anger out on Snow White by slapping her around the face, so dislodging the offending piece of fruit.)

 

Well of course the Prince is overjoyed, automatically asks Snow White’s hand in marriage and she says yes. They get married and the Queen, who is blissfully ignorant of this new queen’s identity, is invited to the wedding.  When her mirror tells her that the new queen is the fairest of them all the woman has to go to the celebrations to see for herself. Instantly, she recognises Snow White and in her terror cannot move.

Then they put a pair of iron shoes into burning coals. They were brought forth with tongs and placed before her. She was forced to step into the red-hot shoes and dance until she fell down dead. 

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Disney opted to kill off the Queen by hurling her over a cliff, but I prefer The Grimm Brother’s shockingly cruel ending.

What do you think?

 

A Haunted Halloween

It’s that time of year again when the door to the Otherworld opens a fraction to let who knows what into our midst. Pumpkins are carved, kids faces smeared with grease-paint and dogs are being made to dress in ridiculous costumes.

It’s also the time for a good ghost story and a bit of Author Elfing.

Earlier this month author William Hussey visited Seven Stories for an evening of chilling tales in our Artist’s Attic. With the lights down low the Attic was the perfect place for William to frighten the living daylights out of us. First he read Oh Whistle and I’ll Come to You by M.R James, just to get us in a spooked out mood and then went on to tell his own short story Turn Her Face to the Wall, that had a brilliant twist in the tale. Finally William read an abridged version of the prologue from his latest novel, Haunted. That really had everyone leaping out of their chairs because….well I can’t say, you’re just going to have to read the book which is spooktastic. Of course this isn’t a book blog but my literary hound just loves to have a bit of book banter so check out Mischa’s review here.

After the readings it was Q and A time.

William told us he got his inspiration from everywhere and that we should carry a notebook with us at all times…just in case. The spark of the idea for Haunted came from a true story based on an incident in the life of Thomas Edison. In 1920 Edison claimed to the press he was on the verge of inventing a machine for speaking with the dead. After his own death, a search was made of his lab notes but no such machine was found. Everyone assumed it was a practical joke. But William thought, “What if it did exist and someone got their hands on it? What would happen then?”

About writing William said he covers 2 sides of A4 for ideas and plotting and that character is “the God of story”. Funnily enough the original story had a boy as the main character. It was later on that William changed this to Emma Rhodes, the feisty, ghost busting heroine.

Even though it was dark and gloomy in The Artist’s Attic and I was shaking with fear I managed to sketch William entertaining the audience while he sat in our massive story tellers chair.

Lomogram_2013-10-03_08-45-45-PMHe was kind enough to post this up on his website and referred to me as “Seven Stories own artistic genius.” So I thought I should repay such kind words by elfing Mr Hussey. He asked if he could be a dark elf, which given that today is All Hallows Eve, seems highly appropriate.

William Hussey Elfed

He may not be truly dark but his “elfter-ego” certainly has an air of mystery about him. Check out William’s photo here to see what he really looks like.

Happy Halloween everybody.

Knights in Black Leather

A couple of months ago, when England was still enjoying a glorious hot summer, author Kate O’Hearn swept into Seven Stories. She was not alone. Hot on her heels were an amazing crew carrying the most incredible set of props and costumes I’ve ever seen. All at once the office was filling up with the delicious aroma of animal hide as these people eased themselves into intricately detailed leather armour. I watched from behind my computer, mesmerised, as they transformed themselves from ordinary mortals into warriors of myth and legend.

Kate and her entourage were visiting as part of the tour to promote her latest novel Valkyrie. It’s a story that mixes Norse mythology with a contemporary tale that ends up releasing the Midgard Serpent into Chicago! It’s a great book and if this was a book blog I’d tell you  more. But it just so happens that my faithful hound, Mischa SkinnyDog, DOES have a book blog so check out her review here.

Anyway, back to Kate and her gang. They were so much fun and delighted both staff and visitors as they brought the story of Freya the Valkyrie to life.

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The attention to detail on the costumes were incredible, in particular the dreaded Dark Searcher who took great delight in frightening me at every opportunity.

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Kate O’Hearn herself was not adverse to a spot of dressing up either and was sporting the most fabulous red velvet Steam Punk coat complete with an ostrich feather festooned top hat.

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Kate being entertained by a young fan

It was probably one of the most fun days I had at Seven Stories this summer. They were such a delightful bunch of people with a great sense of humour. I was so sad when they left and when I returned to the empty office all that remained was the intoxicating scent of leather armour.

However, Kate being the crazy person she is, agreed to being elfed. She is the second author to undergo such a transformation. The first being Gareth P Jones who funnily enough was also wearing a top hat.

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Ok, I wimped out of drawing the feathers but Kate still makes an impressive elf.

I would recommend Valkyrie to confident readers and teens…..or any adult that’s still in touch with their inner child.

Would You Read a Blog Post written by a Dog?

Hello, this is Mischa SkinnyDog sneaking onto Ziggy’s blog.

Ziggy has been very busy lately writing her very first novel for young adults. Given her inner turmoil it may be her last. I wish her well, I really do. I have been happy to wait hours for her to remember to feed me and walk beside her while she completely ignores me muttering about first person versus third person limited. Clearly I should be her first person and that would be limited to just…well…me!

Anyway, not having the attention I fully deserve I have taken to reading. Ziggy has lots of books, many of which have pictures in and I love nosing through them. Of course when you get to the end of a good book you want to talk about it to someone. Ziggy is too busy so I thought I would embark on my own blog and find people to have a bit of Book Banter with.
Do you like books? Do you like looking at beautiful illustrations? Would you read a blog written by a dog? If so you can join me here.

But dogs can’t read or write or blog I hear you cry! But if you believe in elves then you’ll believe a dog can blog. The trick is I use a tablet; I just dab my nose all over the Gorilla Glass (I thought glass was made from sand but.. hey?) and voila! I even Tweet. When it all gets a bit slimy a quick swish of my tail and I’m good to go again.

Also this IS a dog talking because it’s not in ickle wickle baby talk. If you ever see a dog writing about his hooman’s then his owner is talking for him. Trust me, dogs talk to each other just like you….except we do it telepathically. Plus if you look at the top of this post you’ll see it’s written by The Literary Lurcher NOT Ziggy Shortcrust. Proof, if proof were needed.

I know Ziggy will be back on here soon. After all she wants to talk to you about Hotrods, python handling, dressing as a Viking for the BBC, and very scary leather clad knights.
In the meantime please take a look at The Literary Lurcher and share in some Book Banter.
Love and Licks
Mischa x

You will believe a dog can read

You will believe a dog can read

 

Enlisting Dumbledore’s army; children’s stories and human rights

This evening I attended The Fickling Lecture funded by David Fickling Books. It’s an annual lecture held at Newcastle University and invites prominent public figures to talk about children’s literature and its place in British culture. Past speakers have included Phillip Pullman, Nick Hornby, Sandi Toksvig, Andrew Motion, Roddy Doyle and James Naughtie.

Tonight saw the turn of Shami Chakrabarti Director of Liberty (The National Council of Civil Liberties). There is no doubting she is a controversial figure bourne out by the reaction from our taxi driver who commented “Oh I’ve seen her on Newsnight. An opinionated woman.” However, her opinions this evening were inspired by her belief that “Stories are more powerful than political speeches” and went on to use some of her favourite children’s stories to illustrate this.

Chakrabarti  read extracts from John Boyne’s Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, The Refugee Boy by Benjamin Zephaniah, Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman, The Island by Armin Greder and Liz Kessler’s The Tail of Emily Windsnap.  These children’s books explore themes of oppression, discrimination, poverty, freedom of speech and basic human rights. Yes, that’s children’s books. Chakrabarti feels these books inspire and aid a young person’s understanding of the world because they are not preachy or sentimental.

She then moved on to what she described as “the best bit” because after all this lecture was entitled “Enlisting Dumbledore’s Army;children’s stories and human rights”. Chakrabarti sees the Harry Potter series by J.K Rowling as “steeped in human rights issues.”

The Order of the Phoenix in particular illustrated this for her. “A fear of evil leads us to do all sorts of things” she said and went on to liken The Ministry of Magic to the Home Office which rains down various draconian ways in response to the threat from evil Lord Voldemort. Owls being intercepted can be seen as increased surveillance and when Harry commits the crime of “underage magic” he is put before a kangaroo court. Torture undermines all basic human rights and in this novel Harry is subjected to an appalling act of torture, by of all people, his teacher.

Why she felt these books are so important is that not only are they great stories but that they can reach so many more children than she, or anybody who fights for rights and freedoms, ever could. “These books are real, exciting and funny.Most importantly they don’t patronise children when talking about human rights.” They were also, she said, about solidarity, optimism and great human virtue.

Chakrabarti finished her lecture with this thought.”As a human rights campaigner I have to believe that a hero like Harry Potter will triumph”

Shami Chakrabarti is quite clearly passionate about the power of children’s books like these, that encourage children and young adults to read, not because they have to but because they want to. And that is the real triumph.