MANDRAKE PETALS and SCATTERED FEATHERS
Hawkwood Books 2021
“David Greygoose’s richly descriptive folk tales conjure up a dreamlike other-world reminiscent of the work of Arthur Machen or Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast trilogy.”
MIKE STAX: Ugly Things magazine (USA)
“I’m reading these stories on a high-speed train of steel and glass and
plastic. Out the window are fields and forests, Norman towers and Saxon
trackways. I always look at that damp British landscape and think it
must be hiding hundreds of secret stories. Then I glance back at this
book, and feel that these tales grow from that very earth.”
PAUL DU NOYER: Founding editor MOJO magazine
“In this atmospheric collection, characters are strikingly drawn with absorbing simplicity of style. Through sinister encounters and ominous symbolism, Greygoose breathes dark new life into the folk tale genre.”
LIZZIE NUNNERY: playwright (Daphne: A Fire in Malta, BBC Radio 4)
“Each of his characters waits eagerly in the wings for their turn to dance,
dazzle and spin in a linguistic firework display with every turn of the page -
PHIL MAY: co-writer The Pretty Things classic S.F. Sorrow
“Strange happenings and wyrd wanderings: magical and compelling,
haunting and other-worldly.”
MELANIE XULU: ‘MOOF’ magazine[DW1] of psychedelic music and art
“The tale unfolds like a Gaelic Lay. Tale-Teller Greygoose leads the way
… read by candlelight if you can.”
DONOVAN: ‘The Hurdy Gurdy Man’
“An almost magical realm full of laughter, fun, mischief, dancing, misdirection, villainy and
much, much more. Greygoose cleverly juxtaposes the innocence of fairy-tales with the
darkness that often undercuts them. If you’re a fan of Hans Christian Andersen or Angela
Carter – pick this book up. You’ll be reading tales full of folklore and mirth, a route to the
imagination that we all so need.”
PEACH STREET MAGAZINE
“Ancient rituals, prophecy and symbolic transformations litter these stories. Like the great
myths from around the world, Greygoose uses the fantastical to present and explain ourselves
and each other, with the musical syntax and descriptions of untamed nature lending a
completely timeless feel, as if Greygoose merely stumbled onto these ancient texts carved
into the bones of an old tree and decided to write them down… Mandrake Petals and
Scattered Feathers is a folklorish, abstract elegy that has the capacity to both disturb and
delight in equal measure.
LIVERPOOL STUDENT MEDIA
“An amazing accomplishment… original fables filled with phantasmagoria – consistently haunting and atmospheric.”
What stories did you grow up reading? Do you feel that any of these have influenced your works today?
I grew up in the 50s with no television. My mother used to read to me every night and I soon started reading too. I remember ‘The Borrowers’, ‘Worzel Gummage’, ‘The Water Babies’, ‘Alice in Wonderland’. And ‘My Friend Mr. Leakey’ by J.B.S. Haldane – a mysterious book which weaves together a magic carpet, caps of invisibility, jinns and even a small dragon.
I was familiar with the Grimms stories and Aesop’s Fables. And there were annual visits to the pantomime in Northampton’s tiny ornate theatre. The stories of course are all based on folk myths and tales – Cinderella, Dick Whittington, Aladdin. The first one I saw included an authentic Harlequinade, once a central feature of traditional pantomime.
A lot of your work draws on folklore. What attracts you to this?
Folklore is the oral tradition, passed down through generations. The tales often have a way of explaining the unexplained, of unlocking secrets – but also creating new mysteries. They are real, down-to-earth and yet wild, mischievous and fanciful. They are rooted in the soil and yet travel with the wind, belonging everywhere and yet nowhere at all, changing shape and meaning each new time they are told.
One day I found a book on my shelf called ‘English Fairy Tales’. I had no memory of when I came by it, where I bought it, or whether somebody gave it to me. I opened it up, thinking it might contain earlier versions of Cinderella and other popular stories. When I read the introduction by Joseph Jacobs, I realised that of course Cinderella and the other tales are all from Europe and what I had here was a whole set of English folk tales that I had never heard before, with such evocative titles as ‘Tom Tit Tot’, ‘Molly Whuppie’, ‘The Laidly Worm of Spindleston Heugh and ‘The Well of the World’s End’. These resonated with me for many years and were certainly an influence when I came to write Brunt Boggart.
Were there any folktales where you grew up which have stuck with you?
If so, why?
Not folktales as such. I grew up in the market town of Towcester, eight miles from Northampton. Towcester’s history reaches back hundreds of years to Roman times, situated near the site of Boudicca’s last battle. The river once ran red with Roman blood after a previous encounter. Old maps show a Leper Colony on the other side of the same river where later there was the site of the country’s second poorest priory. The nuns used to beg in the town.
Although it seems very settled, Towcester has always been a place that people passed through. The High Street is the Watling Street, the old Roman road. When I was growing up, the town was full of transport cafes and every evening huge lorries and wagons would roll in, to put up for the night. Then there were travelling fairs and the circus; on race days the horses, the trainers, the bookies, the punters would all flood in. To get to school every day, I had to walk through a gypsy caravan site. And then there were the tramps on their regular routes, roaming the countryside, building bivouac shelters and lighting fires out in the fields. And there were green lanes and by-ways, treading the old ways – which gave me the idea for The Pedlar Man’s Track in Brunt Boggart.
Do you feel that your surroundings influence your writing?
Yes – as I’ve just said, I’m influenced by memories of the places where I grew up. I now live just outside Liverpool. There are open fields at the end of the road and I love to cycle down to the lighthouse on the river Mersey and back across the marsh flats. There are so many birds – skylarks, herons, crows, and the geese, sometimes as many as a thousand in a flock, wheeling and calling. In the distance you can see the hills of Wales, another landscape imbued with mystery. I go there whenever I can.
With the release of your first book Brunt Boggart, you featured folk musicians Hannah James, Giles Lewin and Emily Portman at the launch event. How does music connect with your writing?
Music connects everything! I first heard Emily Portman one night on the radio singing her song ‘Hide’. It stopped me in my tracks – her voice is so clear and yet so full of mystery! I went to see her perform and had a spare ticket, which is how I came to meet Hannah James. Hannah arrived late, so I gave her the ticket and in exchange she invited me to see her perform with Maddy Prior and Giles Lewin. Hannah’s accordion creates dynamic sound textures which combine with Giles’ fiddle to set up a plaintive, mournful yearning that’s perfect for the mood of Brunt Boggart. So when the opportunity came to make a short film with First Take to accompany live readings from the book, Hannah, Giles and Emily were the perfect choice. Hannah and Giles recorded in Dylan Fowler’s amazing acoustic studio next to a water mill in Abergavenny!
Do you listen to music when you write?
No! I love music so much – it’s an essential part of my life. I have very eclectic tastes – folk, psych, jazz, blues, rock, world, classical… but I could never listen to music while I’m writing, it would be far too distracting!
We are excited for the release of your new book Mandrake Petals and Scattered Feathers. Could you tell our readers a bit about it?
It’s set in the forest beyond the village, where nothing is quite what it seems. Pickapple lurks at the crossroads, seeking out unsuspecting travelers when the moon is full. A lost ship drifts across the treetops; Mallow Musk gives birth to a pair of shoes; The Grey Girl lures children into the woods; the Hanged Man wanders desolately, trying to find his grandmother’s cottage to free the linnet she has trapped in the wall; Rimmony leads Elmskin to the mountain top – but she is forever changed. Pickapple plays his trickster treats, but back at the crossroads, one secret remains.
If you could choose any musician or band (past/current) to soundtrack Mandrake Petals, who would you choose?
If I could choose anyone from the past, it would have to be one of the bands of medieval musicians who went from village to village playing pipes and fiddles and drums. Rural poet John Clare (1793-1864), whose final years were spent in Northampton Asylum, was also a renowned fiddle player and would notate songs from the travelling gypsies. So my ‘dream team’ for Mandrake Petals might include John Clare on fiddle!
Perhaps the closest you could get in more recent times would be ‘The Celebrated Ratcliffe Stout Band’ led by the indomitable Tom Hall - who I used to go and see play in The Black Lion in Northampton. The Band’s instrumentation included
accordion, concertina, harmonium, fiddle, crumhorn, percussion and flute. Their recordings include dance tunes from ‘The John Clare Fiddle Manuscript’ and can be found on the Plant Life label.
A current choice, completely different, might be ‘Hi Fiction Science’. Maria Charles’ vocals are so haunting and on their album ‘Curious Yellow’ (Cherry Red Records) the band provides a shimmering wash of psych sounds.
Were there any differences between the writing process of Mandrake Petals and Brunt Boggart?
I had been thinking about the Brunt Boggart stories for a long time before I wrote any of them down. I wanted to find the right ‘voice’ to tell them. Then I was in China on tour and managed to get food poisoning, so I hadn’t eaten for four days. On the last day I was in a hotel in Beijing and woke up about five in the morning to the sound of an apocalyptic thunderstorm. I wrote the words ‘WRITE THE STORIES’ on a piece of paper and then went back to sleep. I went to the airport, got on the plane and then nodded off again, to wake to hear a voice in my head reciting the opening passage of Brunt Boggart. It begins “Let me tell you…” I quickly wrote it all down – and then I knew that was ‘the voice’ I was looking for. When I got home, couldn’t stop writing the stories. Mainly I wrote them on the train on the way into Liverpool. An eighteen minute journey keeps you focused!
For Mandrake Petals, the first idea came to me on another train journey, this time to Lincoln. The trickster character, Pickapple, had just one line in Brunt Boggart, but I realised I wanted to develop him.
With all the stories I take the first draft and write it again in longhand, editing as I go. I read every story to poet Eleanor Rees, whose feedback and suggestions are invaluable! Then I make a first type script and edit again and finally read everything through and work out a running order to see how all the stories weave together.
What are some novels you would recommend to our readers? Are there any current authors who stand out to you?
If you’re a writer, it’s important to read as much as you can. Each author has their own individual style – different ways of seeing, different ways of telling a story and making the characters come alive.
Recent stand-out books for me are Swansong (Cape) by Kerry Andrew (who performs and records as ‘You Are Wolf’) – a haunting contemporary retelling of the traditional ballad ‘Polly Vaughn’. Vixen (Borough) is Rosie Garland’s vivid visioning of a plague village; and The Clocks in This House All Tell Different Times (Salt) by Xan Brooks is an unsettling description of shattered lives after the First World War that still retains an atmosphere of eerie innocence.