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Finbar Hawkins on folklore, myth and magic

Finbar Hawkins on folklore, myth and magic

It’s all down to three Reader’s Digest books that my parents ordered when I was a wee thing – big black, grimoire-looking tomes: Folklore, Myth and Legends of Britain, Strange Stories, Amazing Facts, and The Past All Around Us. You can still pick them up in charity shops (buy them as soon as you see them!) and on eBay. It’s because of those books and how they mapped and detailed our haunted isles, that a lifelong interest in folklore, myth and magic began. I was also instinctively drawn to those writers who also explored this territory and made it their own – Alan Garner, Ursula K. Le Guin, Susan Cooper, Peter Dickinson, Diana Wynne Jones, Joan Aiken, Philippa Pearce, Roger Lancelyn Green – epic heroes one and all.

As a child, I guess it was the adventurous sweep of myths and legends, that caught my imagination. They were so visually impactful and full of action, light and darkness. But as I got older, it was how myths of other cultures chime with our own, and suddenly you’re into many other wonderful rabbit holes that never seem to end – stumbling across Italo Calvino’s Italian Folktales was a choice moment, and again, please seek it out, because it’s such a strange and enriching book.

And of course, my deep interest in folklore and legends has led to many wonderful walks – we have an incredible landscape in Great Britain with stone circles, iron age forts and hillside figures. What strikes me particularly on visiting a place like Avebury, Silbury Hill or Wayland’s Smithy, is how these places are a constant draw. People make pilgrimages to these areas over and over. They are as charged as they were when they were first discovered. You feel instantly what someone in the Bronze Age might have felt as they stared out at a landscape for miles; you feel a connection with the past. Another good person to look up is David R. Abram, who photographically documents the landscape. His book, Aerial Atlas of Ancient Britain, has just come out and you can find him on Instagram – a joy to have in your feed 😉

So, I think it was only natural then, that I would finally start to write some of these feelings into the story that became Stone. What is it about these ancient stories that becomes so bonded with the land? How do these myths and legends keep their magic intact, sustained by a legion of visitors, all imaginations fired as they walk and remember?

We don’t know why Stonehenge was built. We have no real clue what made an artist or artists carve a beautiful horse into a hill at Uffington. But this is such great fodder for a writer. The holes in our understanding fill immediately with our own stories, or our subconscious. And this is what I was interested in writing about – how myth and legend affect us, how we keep them alive by re-telling, re-interpreting, re-living.

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For me, I’m still that little boy with his nose in a big black book, reading about the mystery of the Devil’s Footprints, or the ancient burial site of New Grange in Ireland. And I’m delighted not to have grown up one jot. Where shall we explore next?

Stone was published by Zephyr on 1 September 2022

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