Talking Location With .. Venetia Welby – OKINAWA
Land of Legends by Ian Mark, author of Monster Hunting for Beginners
10th October 2021
This autumn saw the publication of Ian Mark’s monstrously funny new adventure, Monster Hunting for Beginners, and to celebrate Ian popped over to the Tiny TripFiction blog to tell us all about the monsters and mythical beasts of the British Isles that inspired his writing – think cursed dragons, evil goblins, mysterious mermaids and the famous long lost Loch Ness monster!
It’s difficult, possibly even impossible, to travel round Britain without finding yourself following a trail of legends. When I came across the idea for my first book for children, Monster Hunting For Beginners, it seemed only natural that I would set it in Cornwall, because it’s about a boy called Jack who has to defeat a whole army of Ogres, and Cornwall was traditionally the home of a huge number of Giants. But it could have been set anywhere in Britain, and Jack would have found plenty of monsters to fight.
The 19th century folklorist Michael Denham, whose papers were collected and published posthumously as the “Denham Tracts”, once wrote: “There was not a village in England that had not its own peculiar ghost. Nay, every lone tenement, castle, or mansion house, which could boast of any antiquity had its bogle, its spectre, or its knocker.” Bogles were particularly common in the North of the country. They were evil Goblins, though the ones in Scotland were apparently of a better nature and only messed with “murderers and the cheaters o’ the widow an’ fatherless.” Knockers, also known as Spriggans, were friendlier creatures who lived down the Cornish tin mines, and knocked to show where the best veins of tin were to be found. Ransom Mine, near St Ives in the north of the county, was one where they congregated.
Whichever corner of the country you visit, there will always be pamphlets and books for sale describing the local legends. For me, it’s always one of the best parts of visiting a new area. You can collect legends like souvenirs.
I’d be lying if I claimed to have ever met a real-life monster on my trips around Britain and Ireland, but the landscape does suggest itself to flights of fancy. I grew up on the edge of the Peak District, now in present day Derbyshire, but which long ago sat on the border between the ancient kingdoms of Northumberland and Mercia and Northumberland, and one didn’t have to walk far into the hills near my home back then without being reminded that the landscape was full of strange, magical secrets.
There was a pool where a mermaid once dwelt. There was also a road along which I regularly used to walk where a race between the devil and a local doctor for ownership of his soul had once taken place. (The doctor won, by crossing a running stream. The Devil should really have thought that one through a bit better). When it started to get dark and there were still miles to go to get home, the imagination easily played tricks on the mind. I have no doubt that it helped inspire the stories I later wrote.
As a child, I also spent many weekends exploring the woods on the Edge above Alderley in Cheshire, under which King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table were rumoured to be sleeping, ready to awaken when England was in its greatest peril. Arthur sleeps in many other places too, including Richmond Castle in North Yorkshire. One of the oldest castles in England, it’s now maintained by English Heritage, and the “Once and Future King” couldn’t have chosen a better spot to wait out the centuries until his reawakening, with its spectacular views of the Dales. (Though, of course, he’s asleep, so it’s probably all much of a muchness to him).
One of my favourite castles is Bamburgh on the North Sea coast near the border with Scotland. Here in Anglo-Saxon times there was a fearsome dragon known as the “Laidly Worm”, who was actually the King of Northumbria’s daughter. She was transformed into this hideous shape by her stepmother – a witch, needless to say. (Aren’t they all in old tales?) The witch, Behoc, emerges every seven years to look for another innocent young maiden to torment. Bamburgh’s setting couldn’t be more evocative.
I’ve also made a number of trips to Loch Ness, naturally, and spent hours on the beach as the mist crept in hoping to catch a glimpse of Nessie. That landscape is explored more fully in Jack’s next adventure, due out next year.
Glastonbury in Somerset has to be one of the most magical places in the whole country. Gwyn, the Welsh king of the underworld, is said to reside under the Tor. Why he isn’t in Wales is something you’d have to ask him yourself if you’re ever unfortunate enough to meet him.
In truth, whether the journey is short or long, the only thing you really need to do to enter the world of fairy tales and legends in Britain is to step outside your own front door. Friendly or otherwise, the monsters are waiting!
Ian Mark, author of Monster Hunting For Beginners
Ian Mark is an author and part-time monster hunter living in Northern Ireland with his family and an indeterminate amount of cats. With his partner, he has written adult thrillers under the pen name Ingrid Black. Monster Hunting for Beginners is his middle grade debut.
Follow Ian on Twitter @ianmmark
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