Writing a new tale of Aylfenhame always begins with the good stuff: reading. There’s research to be done: some into the history of my setting of choice (the county of Lincolnshire, in the heart of England); and some into the old stories that abound there. Folklore and folktale, little yarns about little people. The small stories.
We’ve all heard the beloved tales of Cinderella, and Beauty and the Beast. But who remembers Tatterfoal, a hobgoblin in horse’s shape, who terrifies travellers on the old country roads? We know about the will-o-wisp, but what about its cousins in different clothes—like the Lincolnshire will-o-the-wyke? There’s the chilling tale of Yallery Brown, a stone-hearted trickster, who ruthlessly punishes the farm-boys kind enough to help him. Or Tom Tit Tot, an English version of Rumpelstiltskin. Some of these make it into the books; some don’t. All of them are inspiring.
While the Aylfenhame series is deeply rooted in English folklore, and particularly that of Lincolnshire, sometimes I like to step beyond English shores. Mr. Balligumph, the amiable troll guarding the Tilby toll-bridge, is a borrowing from Scandinavian folklore, though far friendlier than his antecedents. And giants, of course, appear in folkloric traditions all over the globe (though as far as I know, tree-giants, like Sir Guntifer, are my own creation).
In Mr. Drake and My Lady Silver, I venture into another ancient British folktale: that of the Hollow Hills, those mythical, hidden realms, frequently deep under the earth, where the creatures of faerie live. Full of wonder and danger in equal measure, the Hollows are places of glamour and beauty, trickery and bedazzlement. Venture Below, and you won’t return unchanged. Indeed, you may never return at all…
It’s also a book in which riddles play a prominent part. Riddles, in verse and sometimes in rhyme, often appear in the old stories, and some wonderful, ancient nonsense songs have survived into the modern era. Tales of the unlikely lad or lass, adrift in a strange world, who outwits a faerie, and escapes a terrible fate; these are popular all over Britain — perhaps, all over the world. My take on this theme is Phineas Drake, the baker’s boy. He may be far out of his depth with the fae of Aylfenhame, with only his wits to help him; but in a world of riddles and tricks and glamours, a lively wit might just be enough.
I recommend a delve into the small stories, wherever you happen to be. There’ll be plenty. Listen to the old nursery tales, the odd little songs, the rhymes and the ghost stories. Some will seem familiar; some unfathomably strange. All will have something to say about the people of yesteryear, and the fears and hopes of those who lived long ago.
But however different our modern world may seem from those long-lost times, these stories resonate just as much with the folk of today. We’re just as intrigued by the allure of adventure. We’re still faced with dangers, and struggles, and obstacles to overcome. And when times get tough, we’d all like to believe the same thing: that if we can hang onto our wits and our courage and the people we love, then everything will be all right in the end.
English both by name and nationality, Charlotte hasn’t permitted emigration to the Netherlands to change her essential Britishness (much). She writes colourful fantasy novels over copious quantities of tea, and rarely misses an opportunity to apologise for something. A lifelong history buff and Jane Austen fan, the Tales of Aylfenhame series combines her love of Regency history with her deep appreciation for fantasy, whimsy and magic—and all things fae.
Mr. Drake and My Lady Silver is available for a limited time in The Realm of Faerie bundle. Bundle buyers have a chance to donate a portion of the purchase price to the charities Mighty Writers and Girls Write Now.
Enter the Realm of Faerie, a world of beauty, danger, and enchantment. But remember the legends if you want to make it back home again…