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After they fixed her, after her bones, Worn and Broken, were sawn and filed away, they were thrown out, as they threw everything out without it being useful.

On waking from Their sleep, She walked away, walked slowly but surely, finding her long lost stride.

She heard the bones rattle their farewell behind her and she cried. Salt tears. The most savoury kind; flavoured with past and future, forwards and behind.

The bones rolled and tumbled and tossed. They knocked about with roadkill badgers and the frozen frames of fallen birds on the snow road to Niflheim.

At the farthest corner of that place the bonefall tumbled over rocks. Here, femurs and clavicles, tibia and fibula, picked themselves up and clicked themselves into warriors, keen for a pint at Valhalla before offering their skills to the Allfather. Skulls looked for old friends. Metacarpals and phalanges, eager to help, reached out in handshakes or clawed at the banks of the river. They fetched and collected. It was a clattering cacophonous slurry, singing with its own hollow percussive tunes.

Bones that were not complete, those that had gone on ahead, been lost or forfeit, were cleared away into drays drawn by horses made from the thunder that weighs down a midsummer sky. Their grey blue backs glimmered and lowered with strength as they moved across Niflheim. The bones clicked and spurred on their last journey to the lake where the horses tipped the drays at the shore. These shards and splinters and fragments rested at last in the halflight of a Niflheim sunset, their creaking music a pleasant enough sound as they became the bone breakers on that cold water shore. This is where her bones, Worn and Broken, sat, pricking out of the general calcified scurf. They were worn and weary, had walked a long way in their day. The sun set in Niflheim, the bronze rays soft and cooling. The shadows of the Niflheim moonlight prickled shafts of light through the arthritic pocks and pitts of Worn and Broken, making interesting shadows.

Who knows how many suns and moons they sat there for there is no thread to be pulled tight through the tangle of all time in Niflheim.  The sunset was always bronze, always cooling, the moon always found its way making Worn and Broken display their arthritic filigree on the shoreline.

This pattern of lights was tiny and delicate and caught the black and beady eye of the Raven, Hugin. The flapping shadows of wings over Worn and Broken was soothing as a hand upon that old knee, as a plaster repairing a childhood graze.

“What’s that there?” Allfather, Odin himself, was ambling along the waterline. He had had a busy week. His business with the trolls had been fun but he had dropped in at Midgard to observe the Men and it had erased all his trollish bonhomie. He had peered into wars and picked brains and found fires burning everywhere. There was no putting it all out, not if Sleipnir stamped his hooves for a thousand years. They were a puzzle, the Men, one that twisted out of your hands and tricked you. He was weary of the noise of them.

What was it that Hugin pecked at? And now Munin was in on the game.

Odin loved this shore in Niflheim and had come here to still his thoughts on his way home. His mind rolled over the bits of bones that littered the lake edge and, in time, made the silkiest of sands, drifting with time and memory.

He had brought Thor and Loki here on many a long walk to weary them. They had skimmed scapulas across the water. Further along there he had taught Tyr his knife skills.  It was a quiet place to gather his thoughts.

What were those birds so taken with? He watched their erratic leaping and launching, their wings making black sails. He was hungry, it was time to find a meal. He thought of camp fires and cauldrons and had none.

“Hej.” he walked towards Hugin and Munin “What is it?” the birds flew to his shoulders and whispered of soups and broths. Odin’s stomach grumbled at the lack of attention he had paid to it.

“Soup sounds good but I brought nothing.” he rummaged around in the pocket of his cloak; a silver piece, a heron feather, a pebble, sand from here, dust from there.

Hugin clutched the bones, Worn and Broken, and tossed them into a bowl worn into the biggest of the stones at the shoreline. Odin looked, saw where the bronze sunset flickered its flames through the pieces.

His fire warmed and breathed and heated the stone. Lake water boiled and brewed. Herbs, snagged in the hem of his cloak were picked out and scraped in. It was a thin offering. Not a carrot. No hint of potato or parsnip. And yet, as he sat by his fire the scent of it drifted to his nostrils. It was rich, savoury. His stomach rolled in anticipation.

He needed warming through after his mooch about Midgard. He needed nourishment, after the machines drained at him with their iron heated hum, their slashing steel, still, this weedy broth would have to do.

He reached into his pocket for a round headed spoon that he had carved from a storm torn oak tree.

He blew across the piping hot liquor and wished for a hank of fresh bread, for melting butter. He sipped anyway.

The taste was sharp at first, with worry and weariness. Odin thought he might pour it away but a drop had caught in his beard and as he swiped it into his mouth the flavour burst open.

If there was fear and worry it was brewed in with a heavy stock of love. Memories, of smiling faces, laughter, hugs and grandmothers, grandfathers, of small children running ahead. It was savoury with summer walks and breezes, of held hands and small feet. It was rich with wild hills, it ticked with an energy and brightness that filtered through him like golden winter sunlight. It reminded him of the corners of Midgard where there was hope and a storybook.

It was thin, but it filled him. After he had drained the bowl dry he picked out the bones, Worn and Broken and put them into the pocket of his cloak. They settled there, down in the seam, sleeping until the next time he woke them with heat and water.

 

I’ve been thinking a lot about witchcraft lately. That’s what happens when you spend your days wandering around Havoc Wood with the Witch Ways. You read up and read around and your head is full of spells and incantations and mugwort. Turns out I’m not alone in this passion. The recent tv viewing in our house has included Salem and A Discovery of Witches and now, we’ve got Sabrina. It seems it is indeed the Season of the Witch.

I’ve always loved witchcraft and the supernatural. I say that in a measured tone. I’m from Lancashire and therefore have seen the historical sharp end of what witchcraft has meant to people. I don’t look at it with rose tinted glasses, at all. I use a scrying dish and try to look at all the layers, the darkness and the light. Forewarned as they say.

Initially my source material was bedtime stories.  I was always interested more in the fairy godmother than in Cinderella, because she was practical and had skill.  Aside from the rich illustrations of the Ladybird story books, pumpkins did not feature too heavily in my childhood. They were not on the menu in 70s Britain. When, in my mid twenties, I travelled to the east coast of America and it happened to be October, the place was rolling in pumpkins. Big. Small. Some roughly the size of a stagecoach. It was as if someone had cast a spell. I never got over the goosebumps. It was, in the literal, old sense of the word, wonderful.

I visited Salem too. The east coast is my favourite, erm, haunt.

So I’m a sucker for anything that is supernatural and witchcraft based. I will draw my chalk lines here, so that you know which side of the pentagram I’m standing on;  I don’t like horror per se and I don’t like zombies at all. Vampires and werewolves; lovely thank you, full moon and garlic. Witches; Yes please. But, there’s a coda. I am very particular about my witchcraft. I like things to be dark. I’ll use the word ‘Gothic’ I think.  Penny Dreadful is my Star Wars shall we say.

Bewitched was good fun back in the day and I can actually wiggle my nose, but by far my favourite Bewitched character was Samantha’s deliciously wicked mother, Endora. Elegant, classy, clever, skilled. And dark.

Then of course I stumbled into Discworld and Nanny and Granny set the bench mark higher. It’s a measure of Terry Pratchett that he, a MAN, wrote two of the finest women characters in the history of literature. That’s not my humble opinion, it is a factual fact. What I love about Nanny and Granny is that they get on with it. They take no prisoners. They appreciate the idea of power and they have access to magic but the real skill is understanding how dangerous it is and how best not to use it until absolutely necessary.

In the dim and distant past, when my children were school age and I was supposed to be cooking the tea or encouraging them to learn their times tables, I watched Sabrina; the Teenage Witch with them.  I liked Salem the talking cat, the feline equivalent of Endora with his wit and sass. So, it is with some interest that I started watching Sabrina, the netflix reboot. Sabrina, for all her blonde, All American styling, seems to embrace the Granny and Nanny ethos of ‘this is dangerous, be careful’ and in refusing her Dark Baptism simultaneously strikes a blow for feminism and free speech. I am only a few episodes in but already I love the American Gothic style of the show, the deep jewel colours and the darkness. Greendale, haunted by its own past, has that edge of danger that is missing from more brightly lit dramas. I like the fact that the witches themselves hid the tragic past in order to continue with their future. There are no patchouli scented witch shops for the citizens of Greendale.  This is what I crave from my witches. I don’t really like sparkle, I want shadows.  I like my witchy dramas to be old and battered and Bohemian. I like the idea of the magic butting up against the edge of the everyday, that notion of danger or the ‘Other’ being just behind you. When I’m writing The Witch Ways series I like the idea of life going on in Woodcastle as if nothing is happening in Havoc Wood. You are on the edge Woodcastle and you don’t know it. Look behind you!

I’ve mentioned before that I don’t much care for wand type magic. I prefer the sort of supernatural shenanigans that are reflected in a crow’s eye. I love the fact that Sabrina is tied into the wood, that the place she takes Harvey to show him her special talents (?!*) is the wood. There are woods in all of my books, not just the supernatural ones. From my home you could wander to the wilds of Healey Dell, a sylvan spot in a post industrial area. It hinted at the past, at another space and time existing alongside everyday life. There are hints of the wild and the Other in these places, that reach out for you, its easy to get lost amongst the trees with no landmarks and the sky broken up above you. Of course, there was the long shadow of Pendle Hill.

Aunts featured in my other fave bit of witchery, Practical Magic. What I love about these characters is the sense of knowledge and wisdom and don’t give a damn what people think. These women are really powerful and on their own terms. They are, who they are. In the netflix Sabrina, the Aunts pull me in again. I love the banter ‘She was annoying me, so I killed her and buried her in the yard.’ Yep. That’s sisters for you. For me there’s a freedom in witchcraft stories.

I’m currently typing up my first draft of the third Witch Ways book. The sisters, Anna, Charlie and Emz have been brought up by their grandmother to think of their Strength as similar to breathing. It’s a part of them. Over the years, growing up, they’ve been out in the ordinary world and life has shifted away from this part of themselves. Only since inheriting the wood have they begun to rediscover this aspect of their lives. The world outside Havoc Wood, the town of Woodcastle and modern life, doesn’t make much room for something as ancient as witchcraft.

When the Witch Ways walked into my head, they walked in through a path in the wood. Mentally, I was looking at Pike Lake and wondering, where is this? I could see the castle just above the trees. You have to have a wood for  a witch story, not the built up, bricked in places that we construct but the wild spaces, some of which might not have changed for hundreds of years. I read recently that there is such a thing as a screaming wood, one where the timber was clear felled in WWII and then the site was replanted. There are many across Britain, including the one nearest to me. These woods are considered to have a different sense to them, the old wood has become a ghost, lingering. They are unsettled places, wrenched from their past. If you’re willing to walk through a wood with your senses turned to 11, you might feel this edge. Who hasn’t walked through a regimented conifer plantation and felt the dark, quiet energy of it? A wood is the edge of somewhere, a movement from open to sheltered, from exposed to hidden. Tree lore tells of the different powers inherent in different trees. Did you know that blackthorns are bad tempered? Next time you walk in a wood, take a step off the path. It will be a different wood, I promise.

I think the current thirst for all things witchy; Sabrina, Salem, a Discovery of Witches, shows us all that we’re all looking for something other, something more, something, connected. We need magic. We need, more importantly, the Divine Feminine, an acknowledgement of the place of women in the world, the balance has been skewed. Witch hunts, through history, were as much about destroying feminine power as religious fervour. But that, probably, is for another blog.

So. I’m here, typing, in my Gothic green workroom at the back of the house. It looks out onto the rambling wilderness of my garden. My reading light casts a golden circle of light but as I look up, I notice that beyond the pool of the lamp, the room has gone very dark. I’m hoping that it’s because the clocks went back, but you never can tell. I mean, should that shadow be just there? Aunt Zelda? Is that you?

 

I thought I’d write a word or two about trolls. The subject came up as the government or some other authoritarian body talked of putting legislation in place to catch the ‘trolls’ who plague social media. I’m not sure how they’re planning to do this. It might require some sort of vast inter-net possibly? (sorry, I couldn’t resist).  It might require a stick and then another bigger stick. Obviously no carrots. Trolls don’t eat them.

I have a problem with internet trolls. It’s not just their idiotic, childish and bullying behaviour; I mean that I object to them being called ‘trolls’. I think it gets the mythical beasts a bad name, or at least a worse name than previously.  An internet troll, it seems to me, is a bit of a sad sack with a limited vocabulary and an inflated sense of their own self-importance. They’re small minded and nasty.

Trolls aren’t. Well, ok, the limited vocabulary might come into play although the one sitting under the bridge that was the major trans-Alpine highway for the Three Billy Goats Gruff seems to have been quite the poet. ‘Who’s that trip-trapping over my bridge?’ he demanded with some theatrical gusto. This troll, it seems, had a sense of his own place in mythology and folklore and wished to make a good show of it. He was fair and logical when offered the choice of ‘eat my brother, he’s bigger and fatter than me’ although he did then fall foul of the superior fighting skills of the eldest Billy Goat Gruff.

trollsTrolls, in Scandinavian folklore, have considerable skills with stone and wide ranging geological knowledge. They are excellent pot holers for instance, making their chief residences in cave systems. Admittedly this genus of troll, the Jotnar, are also a bit keen on a slice of long pork, or ‘human’ as it is also known but can we really despise them for that? I mean, a lion likes a nibble on a bit of leg especially if it is wrapped in safari suit. We don’t call lions ‘evil’ do we?  Although I think that’s largely to do with the fact that lions have that elusive thing called ‘beauty’. A lion is majestic and therefore appealing whereas, poor stony-faced trolls, they can best be described as ‘craggy’ or possibly ‘rugged’.

The troll just happens to be a predator, albeit a giant one. If you’re tramping through fjord country, or possibly paddling through it since most of a fjord is underwater, then the Trip Advisor advice might be to not take shelter in any caves after dark. It is only polite to respect the indigenous residents of a country. If you don’t bother a troll they, most likely, won’t bother you. You are unlikely to see a troll in the daylight as, unfortunately, they are rumoured to turn into stone in sunlight. See, it isn’t easy being a troll, constant night shifts make people grumpy.

Not all trolls are giants. Some are Moomins. Others of course are the more football hooligan end of the social spectrum, the cave troll from Tolkein’s meisterwork is not a happy chappy. Consider his lot, he’s a henchman and heavy labourer. Perhaps, given the chance for some social mobility he could pursue his heart’s desire of being a stonemason or open his own showcave system, taking people on tours underground. If a cave troll fancied owning his own bridge he could do worse than start out at the Second Severn Crossing of course but the little booths might have to be enlarged. No Mr Troll, not smashed to pieces. Put that toll worker down!

There are trolls with gravitas and dignity, if slightly dodgy business practices. In Discworld there is Chrysoprase, him diamond, for a start. For me the internet namesakes with their limited intelligence and playground bully mentality are more like a goblin.  But there, that carries its problems. What’s wrong with goblins then? I’m being Goblinist about this.

The point of this ramble is that this is how the monsters and beasts are woven into our culture. My only problem is that sometimes the epic creature is diminished by its association with us. To call these anonymous and vindictive people ‘trolls’ lends them a cachet that they don’t deserve.  They have not earned the title.

Gits. I think we can settle and call them Gits.  It is the politest term I can conjure before the watershed. I’d like to hear John Humphries announce on ‘Today’ the new law to slap down ‘Internet Gits’. Where do I sign that digi-petition?

 

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‘a highly original talent’ – Beryl Bainbridge

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