A little while ago it was Burns Night, which usually brings out the snoofling haggis all over Scotland. It is perhaps not common knowledge that Orkney has it’s very own sub-species of haggis. I was very surprised to hear this only last October… and further surprised when one came snuff-snarling on my farm in late January.
“I believe you,” I murmured to Bannafeet, who had lured the Fierce Orkney Haggis to my home to prove it’s existence. She doubled up in hysterics as the growling beastie latched on to my welly-boot with it’s sharp teeth. “Hid wants clapshot,” she wheezed between giggles. Oh dear. Being a disorganised family, we had not organised an appropriate Burns Supper. What did we have? Hummus. We had hummus.
“Aye, that’ll be grand,” Bannafeet beamed at me. She really could be very charming. Her eyes glinted as she wheesht! off the haggis long enough for me to pop inside and fetch a little bowl of our would-be dinner.
*Bannafeet is a well-known local trow. After Gnöll the Troll so kindly helped with navigating the trows new flight-path around my family’s home, things have improved with peedie-folk. I believe Bannafeet could be a friend, but this doesn’t deter her from her usual pranks, mischief and mayhem that is bannock-and-butter to trow life.
The bowl is now strictly past-tense. Haggis do NOT like hummus. Or celery. Or chia seeds. I know this now. So does my half-mauled welly. They do, however, enjoy smashing offending bowls to tiny, tiny pieces.
“This isn’t what I thought a haggis would be like,” I squeaked, guarding my feet and ankles with a bristly-broom. I imagined little waddling wigs curled up dozily in Highland heather. (I was thinking of Braw Haggis with silky coats that meander lop-sidedly around the Scottish highlands.)
“I told ye,” Bannafeet straightened up. “Hid’s a Feersh Orkney Haggis. They like eggs, I doot.”
I hastily scrambled to the (handily) nearby henhouse and dived a hand in. Lady Penelope squawked in shock at the sudden intrusion, and I made a mental note to feed her some extra treats later that day. “Don’t come out,” I whispered to her. She clucked dismissively.
The egg was greedily gobbled down. A slow smile started to creep onto my face. The Fierce Orkney Haggis really was an awesome wee creature, and one, I hoped I would see again. (With the right footwear, of course.)
With a last lick of it’s sticky snout, it left. I watched it scuttle off at a fast, lop-sided trot to terrorise someone else. (Yes, one set of legs are longer than the other.) I hurried inside to sketch the beastie, not bothering to wave goodbye to Bannafeet, who I knew was already riding the wind.
As the ink and pencil scratched the page, I heard a wondrous honk-hootling from afar. It sounded like an angry goose trying to outdo a malfunctioning bagpipe. Fascinating.
And I’ve been researching the Fierce Orkney Haggis ever since.
I was feeling rather low and melancholy, as artists tend to be, particularly artists not creating. It was September, and my last blog post on here was Christmas themed. Sigh.
I mulled this over in my sunny yellow art room, specially built overlooking the alpaca field and baby goat paddock. I heaved a slow, shuddering breath, and glanced out the window. The alpacas looked startled. (Which isn’t that unusual, they’re highly strung by nature.) And then I saw a hill. Quite a pert, round hill. With what looked like a grassy, builders-bum. I blinked (I really need new glasses) but there it was. A new hill.
The alpacas were staring at it like it was about to explode. (Again, not an unusual reaction for an alpaca.) Moomin glanced at me, imploring me to make it all go away, and I waved to let him know that I’d seen it. The hill waved back.
My heart leapt. I glimpsed my idle sketchbook in my peripheral vision but would not turn my head. My hand felt heavy and clumsy. The hill was quite clumsy itself. It was attempted to shuffle round, and I saw a bald nose and two tiny, black eyes peer at me through blades of grass. I smiled. The hill smiled back. The alpacas were not smiling. Trust their human to take sides with the imposter hill! Gus snorted, a spray of indignation.
“Come here,” I mouthed, beckoning the hill forward. The hill suddenly was a hill no longer. The grass shuddered and then, in a haze of magic, simply fizzled away. The troll, for I was sure that was what he was, was crouching awkwardly on elbows and knees. Surprisingly, he was quite bald, except for the odd green tuft here and there. He heaved his torso up, slowly, carefully. He was big, even just on his knees. The alpacas looked bewildered. Slowly, the troll plucked a few grasses and other plants, quite nimble for one with huge fingers. He sniffed his makeshift bouquet, rustled in his pocket, and sprinkled a fine dust over it. The grass bouquet blossomed into something I couldn’t quite see. He offered a nibble to each alpaca in turn. And to my amazement, they each took a tentative mouthful. I watched, open mouthed, as a troll charmed my wary and extremely judgmental alpacas. The troll smiled a tiny smile. He stood up and sprinkled the rest of the dust on a patch of their paddock. The alpacas ran eagerly over and started to chomp greedily. Only Insch continued to eye the imposter suspiciously.
The troll ambled over, careful not to trample any fences or baby goats. (The goats remained unfazed, chewing lazily underneath the giant’s gait.) I opened the window, still sat curled up on the sofa. I glanced at the front door but there was no way he would fit. All I could see were his knees and the bottom of his belly.
“Halló,” he replied. And just like that, we both knew we were friends.
I learnt his name is Gnöll Gottmaga Fornhaugálfur but his friends simply call him Gnöll.
Gnöll is a Hilly-Up Troll, literally a hill that gets up and walks about. He uses magic to create an illusion of being a grassy knoll. Apparently, he’s quite small for his size and unusually awake 88% of the time. Most Hilly-Up Trolls are sleepy creatures who can nap for millennia. Gnöll is also uncommonly kind for his species. Scrap that. He’s just uncommonly kind.
Because of his species, Gnöll is somewhat of a specialist in all things plant and grass based. He bashfully explained his magic concoction of herbs that he remembered from visiting the Andes. He knew which one alpacas just could not resist, and had sprinkled a special recipe especially for my four boys. I glanced out at the field, and saw the alpacas still gleefully munching away. Mungo had even passed out in what appeared to be herbal bliss.
Gnöll was a little shy, but I could tell inside he had a lot to say. He was ancient, but still curious about every tiny aspect of human life. For an ancient troll, his wisdom is simplistic. He doesn’t really care if a tree falling in a forest makes a sound, he’s more concerned about the safety of any possible squirrels that might be nestled in the tree.
“Squirrels annoying,” he said in a very soft, quiet accent. “But we can’t hate things that annoying us. Because to lítill squirrels – we annoying.”
“Humans are super annoying,” I agreed. Gnöll looked worried.
“Já,” he nodded gravely, wobbling his three chins. “Manna are most annoying thing ever be born out of armpit.*” He reshuffled on his hands and knees, his good-natured face peering short-sightedly into my window. “But manna create big wunders. Bad wunders too. Plastic is biggest mucker-up since manna learnt to stab each other (und everything that moves) with special shape metal. But wunderful wunders too. Mr Mozart made wunders. Ms Kahlo made wunders. Tiny manna-man with big moustache used to make cream cakes in Switzerland. Delicious, ‘bragdgódur’ wunders. He made me giant ones, for specials.”
*I think he’s referring to Norse mythology’s Frost Giants, but I can’t be sure.
“That’s nice,” I said.
“Já. Manna are wunders. Just very annoying wunders.”
“Trolls are wonders too,” I said. “Sometimes I draw them.”
Gnöll’s tiny, black eyes grew half a centimetre in delight.
“You draws me?”
And that’s how Gnöll helped me to start creating my ‘tiny wunders’ more regularly. I explained about my illness, how my hand is sometimes weak, sometimes in pain, sometimes cursed by a local witch, or sometimes blighted by local trows.
This time it was definitely the trows. I explained how a certain troupe were angry with me because the new extension is interfering with their special flight-path. Apparently, our farm has always had a good crop of dock-leaves. Trows use dock stems to fashion ‘bulwands’ which they then whizz about on. Our house, or at least the land, has been their stopping point for 248 years; to refuel, grab a new bulwand if their’s is looking a bit ropey, and head off to terrorise the South Isles after they’ve traumatised the East Mainland of Orkney. We didn’t ask their permission to build a ‘new bit’. Apparently, the extension changed the wind direction just slightly, so instead of landing in a field full of dockans, the trows land in the muddy pond.* Not happy trows. And not a happy Ellen, who’s hand they blighted last Christmas to spite her for having a special new art room. Trows don’t really care for disabled access, or a new wheelchair friendly kitchen and shower room. They’re a bit short-sighted in that sense. Gnöll is short-sighted in the visual sense, but his mind stretches quite far.
*This used to be a normal pond, but once our giant saddleback pig got through the fence, started to paddle, and then root it all up, so now it’s less of a ‘pond’ and more a ‘big hole in the ground full of water and mud’. True story.
“I talk to them,” he smiled his tiny smile. “Álfur to álfur.” And then he heaved himself up, and slowly waddled off. I waited, and glanced out at my alpacas who were rolling around the Andean herbs like it was alpaca catnip. I didn’t have to wait long.
“Come,” he called. I stared at his gnarled knees through the window.
I quickly grabbed my coat, hat, and scarf and pulled on my bright, yellow wellies. I scribbled a garbled note to my parents and went to zoom out in my wheelchair. However, he carefully plucked me from it and pushed it safely back inside.
I should mention, I’m afraid of heights. I may have squealed. Enough to start Ty the baby goat to cry panicky bleats back. “It’s ok,” I yelled down at him, despite feeling anything but ok. He watched me, a wide-eyed, ruminating speck in the field, as the troll plodded away with me in his hand. I would like to say that I had romantic notions of me being Sophie in the BFG but instead I was concentrating on not peeing or throwing up. He took me to our big, back field. With his free hand, he put his finger to his lips: a ‘shushing’ motion. We watched. A dot appeared on the horizon. We could see quite far, as this was still in Orkney’s unusually bright and sunny weather that we’ve had all summer. Then another dot. And another. I thought of starlings, swirling together in a murmuration. But they were too big and less coordinated. Gulls then. A big flock of them. They grew bigger as they hurtled around the horizon, darting and whizzing jerkily like flies around a lightbulb. I noticed twisted shapes, sharp, bulging, knobbly, pointed. Not gulls. Trows.
They flew past us, whizzing above her heads, on their fluttering bulwands. It was quite a display. Nail-biting manoeuvres, lots of swear-words, and near crashes. They swarmed around the big, green barn, and Gnöll shouted a few directions and tips. In what can only be described as a hairy, foul-mouthed waterfall, the trows suddendly cascaded down towards the house. I winced. Would they end up in the muddy pond? But no, this time they did a fantastic collective loop-the-loop and landed in the dockan field. Success!
The trows have forgiven me. For now. Loop-the-loop landings are quite fun, apparently. My sketchbook is filling up, and Gnöll is featuring quite a bit. He’s encouraged me here and there, and is helping me draw little but more often. In return I drew his portrait and helped him write my last blog post. He visits me every few days, even when I was snotty and grumpy with the flu. Last week he passed a tiny scrap of paper through the window. It was a poster.
“You do this?” he asked.
I shrugged. Then sneezed. Then shrugged again. How could I? I’m not well. I’m never well.
“Never is long time to wait,” he whispered.
“Ok,” I grinned nervously. “I’ll do it.”
If you want to meet me and my Faery friends, I’ll be at Orkney Library on Saturday 6th October from 1pm-4pm for their super Fun Palaces Day. I’ve had the gouache painting of Gnöll and me framed specially, so if you’d like to see him up close, do pop by and say hi!
For more info and updates on the event, see my Facebook page, Twitter and Instagram accounts, and keep an eye for a blogposts here.
This is Gnöll. He’s rather special. And my new friend.
Gnöll has tiny black eyes that are smaller than his nostrils. But he wants to you to know that’s ok. He’s been around before countries had names and humans had shoes. He’s ambled on earth for thousands of years and only three professional trollhunters have tried to kill him. And they would have tried to kill him even if his eyes were in proportion to his nose. Because trollhunters hate trolls, even if they’re gentle, or small for their kind, or have a passion for knitwear. Gnöll does not hate all humans because of three professional trollhunters. He doesn’t hate humans, even when gangs of them threw stones at him in The Ice Age, tried to imprison him in medieval times, or use his species as a nickname for horrible people who are mean on the internet. Because once – a very long time ago in human years – a nice Icelandic man in a knitted jumper named this small and gentle troll. And Gnöll Gottmaga Fornhaugálfur* suddenly had a friend who, like all his friend’s since, called him Gnöll for short.
*Gottmaga Fornhaugálfur roughly translates to ‘nice belly’ and ‘ancient hill elf’ in Icelandic.
We should all be like Gnöll. (He likes you, by the way.) Gnöll wants everyone to be happy. Or at least kindly. Or at least content for five seconds when you put on a particularly snuggly jumper. Gnöll loves jumpers but they rarely come in his size.
He wants you to worry less about spotty noses, and wrinkly eyes, and double chins. He’s got three wobbly chins and he’s doing just great. He wants you to wear what you want to wear. Not what you think you should, but secretly feel uncomfortable in. Nobody has ever complimented Gnöll’s fashion sense or asked where they could buy similar brown, fuzzy ‘dooks’ but thats ok. Gnöll likes the tickly-itchy wool feel against his skin.
Gnöll doesn’t want you to worry if your selfie doesn’t get many ‘likes’ on Instagram or if no one retweets your funny joke on Twitter. Gnöll thinks your joke is funny, and as for selfies, well he’s never tried it but he thinks your face looks just fine. He’s never seen a ‘wrong’ face, because wrong faces don’t exist. Gnöll dislikes trolls on the internet. They’re often not trolls at all, but humans with WiFi who are very small (compared to Gnöll) and very angry or sad. Sometimes Gnöll tampers with their WiFi so their touchscreens mysteriously only connect to Classic FM. Gnöll is fond of Mozart and sometimes Tchaikovsky. But instead of soothing the internet-troll-humans, it just makes them irate. Once, a man was so angry, he actually attacked a colony of pigeons living on his roof with a badminton racket whilst his phone blared out Verdi’s ‘Dies Irae’ at full volume*. Gnöll was glad the human got a bit of daylight, but does not condone violence. He glumly restored the WiFi, for this human was clearly a lost cause, and took all the pigeons out for lunch to apologise.
*Google it, it’s a spectacular piece of music to have a tantrum with. But be warned, pigeons may act shifty if you play it around them.
Occasionally, Gnöll browses the internet, using ancient magic naturally. The metallic chinking of whizzing WiFi sounds incredibly annoying to most FaeryFolk. But Gnöll overlooks, or rather overhears, this technological-tinnitus to tap into positive human vibes zipping around the planet. He likes to see a teenage human bravely show case their art-skills online when they’re not being bullied at school. He likes to watch a Grandpa fulfil his 89-year-old dream of finally being let loose on a drum-kit, where loud noises outweighs any attempts on rhythm. Mostly, he likes to browse the internet for cute pictures of dogs. He lies in a mossy glen, and lets the WiFi rearrange the sky into videos of puppies conquering stairs and photos of dogs trying to look innocent as they attempt to nick a custard cream. Gnöll, as you can probably tell, is very comfy with himself. (You kind of have to be to live for thousands of years, waiting for fun stuff to be invented.) But if this troll had to be anything other than Gnöll, he would probably opt for transforming into a sleepy, cuddly pooch that likes the odd treat. A Dachshund maybe? Or Golden Retriever?
“I think you’re a newfie, at heart,” I interrupted. Gnöll blinked short-sightedly at me. I’d broken his flow.
“Big, fluffy Newfoundland dog,” he smiled. “Yes, is me.”
We lapsed into a comfortable, cosy silence.
“So,” I broke it, as humans tend to do. “More dogs. Less trolling. That’s you’re message.”
“Hm-hm,” he nodded. “I’m a troll not trolling.”
So that’s Gnöll. (As you can probably tell, he helped me write all this.)
He’s a troll not trolling.
I like Gnöll.
Do say hello*. He always waves back.
*Or ‘Halló’. Or ‘Konnichiwa’. Or ‘Ogloon mend! Ta sain suuj baina uu?’ in which he will always reply: ‘Targan saikhan!’
Find out how Gnöll is helping this little human in Part 2 coming soon…
Christmas Eve. The Festive Goblin infestation will be at it’s peak. You could just give in and watch them boil sprouts from green to grey mush… Or you could fight back, declare your hatred of figgy pudding and say this pine-needles-in-my-shoes business is unacceptable. But how do you fight back? Santa is coming soon, with angelic little elves who fart cinnamon puffs. You have to be on your best behaviour. But where there’s a will there’s a way.
Do you find your sellotape always in the wrong place this time of year or missing entirely? The Festive Goblins have confiscated it. They’ve scurried away with it, held rather gingerly in those pair of tongs that are probably missing too. It’s fine for them when it’s all rolled up, they play with it like a hoola-hoop.
But when humans start sticking stuff with it: that’s when the fun begins. They just can’t resist some mindlessly cheerful intervention. Festive Goblins are already quite sticky creatures; introduce Sellotape and bam! You’ve got a walking ball of stickiness! So hunt down your tape and wrap your presents with evil glee… Knowing the wee blighters who emptied your online basket of presents last week are in for a sticky-squishy surprise!
2. The Blue Cheese In the Bauble Experiment
This may be a bit extreme but if your house is over-run with raucous carol music you might consider this. Festive Goblins are drawn to baubles like toddlers are attracted to yellow snow: it’s irresistible. Moslty they swing and ping! and smash! and bounce the baubles to one another like goblin sized beach balls. You always put less baubles back in the box than you took out. So this year I took advantage of the bauble-bashing peskies. I fed crumbs of some particularly whiffy blue cheese inside tiny holes I had made in a box of chintzy* baubles. Now, I should point out that goblins of all kind shrink and grow to suit their trouble-making needs. They couldn’t resist.
*Anything tasteful will not work.
The Festive Goblins magickedinto tiny pea-sized critters and jumped in. After feasting on the smelly cheese crumbs they, I imagine, looked about the bauble. How to get back up? The walls are smooth and slippy, they can’t be climbed. Oh, we’ll just magic into something bigger!
And voila! You see the effect? They’re hard little hands and feet might smash through but they’re soft-squashy-clementine bodies could not! You should hear the tinsel-spitting swear words their merry little mouths spat out! It was delightful. I’ve posted a dozen goblin baubles to an Auld Hag who once said my red shoes were ‘garish’.
3. The Real Secret
This is tough one. I mean it’s nigh-on impossible but it’s really the only truly effective way.
To quote an ancient (and bit dodgy) script that mentions humans’ plight with goblins:
“Ye onley wey to ridd yefelf of impertinant pefkies… it bee to have yefelf a jollie goode JigglyUppe.”
That’s right. Have fun. Laugh. Sing. Hug people. Eat till your jeans rip. Talk to your family. (I realise this last one is particularly shocking.) It works a treat. They can’t stand it. One year, after a board game, good conversation and giggling fit, I spied one Festive Goblin self-combust. Humans’ having limitless fun is something most faeries are uncomfortable with. They just don’t get it. There’s no impaling or armpit sniffing or Eyebrow Knitting Contests. Especially for Festive Goblins, it frazzles their brains and makes their feet all sweaty. It drives them nuts. Crackers. Christmas Crackers to be precise.
So, my advice to you, is have a very Merry Christmas. Go on, stick it to them, and have a ball.
All works, illustrations and useless advice copyright to Ellen Forkin.
It’s the 1st December. It’s happening. I’ve been putting off writing this – not because I don’t enjoy it, but because I have to break it to you. Your house is infested with Festive Goblins. Sounds fun? If you like to be attacked with spontaneous clouds of glitter* then sure.
*Festive goblins are single handedly responsible for all glitter-bombs in Christmas cards. Forgive your Aunt Sybil, it was glitter free when she posted it.
Yes, it’s all fun and games until you get your tinsel in a tangle. You’ll wake up to find your gingerbread house invaded by pointy-eared squatters. You’ll go to sleep, wondering why you spontaneously bought a flashing Rudolph jumper online. Here’s the menace behind your problems…
How to Spot a Festive Goblin:
Don’t be fooled, they may be cheerful, but it’s a dangerous cheerful. It’s a ‘eat-this-mince-pie-or-choke-on-a-cashew-nut’ kind of cheerful. And they’re hard to spot. So really this diagram is pointless. Still, forewarned is forearmed. Guard your bundt cakes and look out for tiny footprints around your sleigh. They are not above sabotage.
Festive Goblins are easier to smell. Dead Christmas Tree and Eau de Sprout are their fragrances. As for noise, listen for activity in your biscuit tins.* Ever got a Christmas song stuck in your head? It will be the work of the wee blighters. They tiptoe onto your pillow while you sleep and crouch by your ear. Softly, softly, they whisper: “Last Christmas, I gave you a tart, but the berry next day, you gave me a sleigh…” Yes, it’s creepy, I told you not to get drawn in by the cheerful looks. And yes, they don’t know all the words, so you’ve been singing it wrong all this time.
*They also go mad in chocolate selection boxes – you’ll find sweet disappearing at an alarming rate.
Now it’s December, the goblins are going to go wild. They will infiltrate shops, make television cheesy, and force families to decorate their houses with bearded fat men. So what can you do…? Don’t worry, I’m forming a plan. I mean, do worry a little bit. Just don’t cry. They’ll start to sing.
All artwork, words, and festive warnings belong Ellen. She’s in one of her ‘all-is-doom’ moods.
I took my trusty father, notebook, and listening ears and enjoyed learning things from research instead of goblin-hearsay. The first talks theme: here be dragons!
Dragons in the Darkness
Slovenian dragons to be precise… Marco Frelih spoke about serpentine beasties and dislodged dragon’s teeth that formed giant, jagged rocks in the sea. He told tales of watery swamp dragons, cave dragons, and the rooster/snake that is the basilisk. These dragons could cause natural disasters, or in the latter case, petrify you dead with one stern look. A favourite, I believe of a few of us, was the beautiful grave dragon, crafted out of shells, to guard a loved one in the afterlife. This was found in Egypt, where dragons protect all treasures, not just gold.
In my drawing of a Slovenian basilisk, I was guided by both Mr Frelih’s descriptions and the unhelpful suggestions from Fropeggi and Cogg. So if it does, or does not, look like a basilisk, don’t blame the lecturer, blame the artist and impertinent goblins in her ear. Another confusing factor was that the male ‘rooster-footed’ basilisk hatched eggs and lurked in wells. I think Cogg over-exaggerated it’s ‘eeenormous’ size.
The Men of Maes Howe
The second talk was given by my very good friend Ragnhild Ljosland who has taught me many things: including Viking runes, Norwegian trolls, and Orkney dialect… now we ventured onto Vikings and Hogboys!
We learnt about the Viking men who broke into a Neolithic burial chamber called Maes Howe. Raggie spoke about all manner of hogboy and hogboon who guard mounds such as these and the men who encounter them. My brain lit up with pictures… Unfortunately I haven’t got my sketches sorted yet, because of health, and a baby troll who is using my drawing hand as a teether. I did attempt to draw the Hogboy of Maeshowe – a mighty spirit who sparked the imaginations of marauding Vikings. He may, or may not, go by the name King Orki. I have not quite captured him on paper yet. Partly because local trows howl warnings at me that King Orki ‘must-be-not disturbed’ or ‘observed too-close-like’! He’s a bit of an enigma, which is quite something coming from faeries who happily live amongst humans. Especially as said humans don’t believe they faeries exist.
So, in the future, I will draw King Orki, The Hogboy of Maes Howe, and get to the bottom of The Curious Incident of No Lights in the Nighttime. But for now, I’ll share with you my sketch of a ‘neepy-heid-hogboy’ who haunts a few local farmers. He lurks in neep fields and can be scared away with the phrase “Get oot o hid, Clapshot!”
The Amazing Mr Tesla!
Thirdly, we ventured into a realm so full of science my poor brain nearly self-combust.
Andrej Detela, physicist and inventor, enlightened us (pardon the pun) on the life and work of Nicola Tesla. I will have to admit, it was a bit over my wave-lenght (pardon the pun) and my Dad absorbed most of it. Physics was never my strong point. And to be fair, concentrating whilst an Electric-Buzz Sprite is zapping your toes is not my strong point either. He was momentarily stunned with how Tesla manipulated electric currents, making them wavy and undulating, so they travelled farther. (He has been practicing this ever since.) A few trows hooted appreciatively* when the speaker said Tesla was superstitious of women and thought they might distract him from his work. (*Trow-wives are particularly fierce and I once heard a trow-husband was sautéed in a frying pan and fed to pigeons)
Through each talk, trow, goblin and sprite activity was rife. Trows gathered dust and softly blew it into people’s nasal passages to spur on coughing fits. Trows snuck inbetween the chairs of the audience, whipping up ‘dropsie-spells’. The speaker was interrupted by the occasional thud of a notebook dropping to the floor. Thankfully, the mischievous hogboy of mobile phone tunes was engaged with the lecturers’ powerpoint presentations.
The Electric-Buzz Sprite is 70% benevolent but is not to be taunted or provoked. (Looking at you, Megrani.) He mostly is mischeivious to dull humans, livening up a touch with a tiny electric shock, or causing power-cuts during their favourite television programmes.
Seeing as this post is for the science festival, I decided to draw all these using modern technology: my Apple Pencil on the Procreate App for iPad. There were many glitches from aforementioned baby troll tugging on my elbow.
I enjoyed all three talks immensely, and though I haven’t relayed their subjects in any depth, I hope they can see how much inspiration was drawn from them.
It’s starting. It’s only September but the cheery little mintsuckers are coming out of hibernation. I can’t speak of them yet, with their cinnamon scented underwear and fairy-light fetish and we WILL NOT mention last year’s fiasco where the wee blighters attempted to sculpt presents out of reindeer droppings.
Instead, we’ll calmly worry about Bird-Skull-Bill. He’s been awfully low for reasons only he and passing clouds can understand. He’s been wandering around our farm all summer, picking up moulted feathers from our ducks, chickens, and geese. What he uses them for, I can never truly be sure. However, I do hear scratching in my loft where I suspect he writes intricate and morbid poetry using a fine goose-feather quill. And I also suspect –
Oh hogsbottom! I can’t concentrate. A malevolent jingle-bell tinkling is radiating from underneath the sofa. I can also hear ghostly strands of Fairytale of New York and the air is positively toxic with squirrelled away fir cones and Brussel sprouts.
Here’s Cogg to the rescue. He’s my new impish friend, who is now perched on the edge of my laptop, swinging his tiny feet. Cogg’s only a littlun; not only because he is the approximate size of a thumb with legs, but also he’s very ‘new be born’. Usually I would send him back home, but I hear he’s from a particularly ghastly faerie orphanage, where they make you lick lichen for dinner. So Cogg is living in an old wellyboot (his choice) and I’ve sent him to investigate and report back on any sightings. But sightings of what, you ask?
“How bad is it, Cogg?”
“Thurs everywur, Muss Ellum!” the little imp squeaks, darting his eyes left and right. “Thurs murbee hiding, but thurs in every nook and crunny… waiting for the Big Fat Man to sing.”
Oh dear. It’s happening sooner each year. It’s only autumn but… Be warned!
And they’re obsessed with mince pies.
All art and words belong to Miss Ellen Forkin, who does not take responsibility for threatening festivity.
Last night: sleepless and spooked. Things with spidery eyes hopped and lurched in the darkness. Howling heads floated from the shadows. A sickening thump under the bed jolted me upright.
Here be monsters? Bumps and Boos, Trupptrink calls them.
“You’re not helping,” I whispered, shuffling out of bed.
I tootled, in my whizzy wheelchair, down the dark corridor with biscuits in mind. It’s hard to be scared while you’re eating biscuits. I stopped off at a be-shadowed room, in search of a murderous book or Disney film. Both can induce sleepiness. Eyes too blurry to read, I selected a film I could listen to, instead of watch.
I hurtled towards the kitchen. My red and green lights on the wheelchair blinked like evil eyes. Due to my expert steering, my wheels screeched against the radiator. A blood-sucking snizz and guzzling gizzart threw sugar and pencil shavings at me. It seems the ‘Bumps and Boos’ were a little spooked themselves by the speeding monster and it’s hungry occupant.
I messily gobbled down digestives.
“She eats hunks for breakfast,” Trupptrink spoke to unseen shape-shifters in the shadows. Whatever did he mean?
“I do not,” I scoffed. “All muscle, no flavour.”
No tea: my ‘chugga-chug’ contraption that spews out hot water was mysteriously broken. Trupptrink murmured something indistinct about a goblin hot-tub party. I unsuccessfully tried to prise open a bottle of apple juice. My face contorted into a scrunched up grimace. I happened to glance the way of the guzzling gizzart who froze rigid. Another jar-opening gadget was fished out from a cluttered draw. I looped the it round the plastic lid like a hangmans noose. I twisted the cap off, agonisingly slow. The guzzling gizzart fainted. He thought he was next.
In the lounge, I shakily detached myself from the wheelchair. The Three Heads looked aghast, as if I had just plucked my head from my shoulders. Which is ironic, if you think about it. The shape-shifters shiftily watched me in a mild horror as I swore at the unreliable TV devices and attacked another digestive. Eventually I slumped onto the sofa, cocooning myself in a fluffy blanket.
“She’s metamorphosing into something worse!” someone gasped. A ring of sugary pencil shavings were cautiously sprinkled around the sofa. I offered the guzzling gizzart a digestive. It shreiked and hopped away. The dog woke up, happily crunched the rejected biscuit, and huffed back to sleep beside me.
I peered blearily at the three ghostly heads, dripping words of doom and bad things to come. I asked Trupptrink if they were talking of my own particular future.
“Yoo’s unlucky anyways,” he said, in almost perfect human-speech. “But no, it’s a general announcement, like yon’s weather-lassie on the tellyvish.”
“In that case,” I turned to the Three Heads. “Could you please keep it down, I like this bit.” I pointed to the telly, the film flickering. They stared at it mournfully. I heard grumblings about ‘humans today’ and ‘no respect for bad omens’.
The sun was already creeping into the night, although it was only 3.30am. Or was it 4am? I blearily stared at the time and a yawn crept out. “Time’s for bed,” Trupptrink ordered. “I’ll come with you.”
I trundled towards bed, shuffling under the duvet. The dark had colour to it, the night lightening with every glance. Still, I shuddered.
“Why were they throwing that stuff at me, Truppy?” I asked the goblin, squashed uncomfortably between me and the wall. Trupptrink dislikes being called ‘Truppy’ so his answer was blunt.
“They’s scared of you! They thinks you’re a horrible, evil human who will murder them!”
“Me?” I thought back to the film I just switched off, the animals singing a chirpy song. I knew every word.
“Yes, you!” he bonked me on the nose. “It’s just like humans, some think salt and iron will protect themfrom us ferries.” “And some ferries think sugar and pencil-curlings will protect them from humans.”
I resisted a giggle. By ‘ferries‘, he means ‘faeries‘.
“So… it doesn’t work?” I asked sleepily. “The salt and iron or other stuff.”
“Who beknows?” he snapped. “Not me. Go a-sleepus.”
I snuggled further into my pillow, the duvet up to my nose. I shut my eyes but still slinking shadows flickered in my thoughts. In return, I flickered my eyes open. A hunk loomed over my bed, spiky club in hand. I squeaked, sure he was going to batter me. (You know, to death, not deep-fried with chips.) Without warning: wa-thump! He walloped my pillow, killing a spider. I opened my mouth to say I didn’t condone the killing of spiders… Trupptrink pinched my arm.
“Betters not to argue, eh,” he whispered. He politely waved to the hunk, who lumbered off. “See? They’re not so badly. No need to be frightened.”
“I am a bit scared,” I admitted. He patted my nose, more affectionatley this time.
“So were the digestive biscuits.”
All artwork and text by Ellen Forkin – do not try to copyright or a blood-sucking snizz WILL find you.
I was delighted that, with permission from my troupe of goblins, I could enjoy an evening out: a storytelling event at my local bookshop. I thought I should go along, and hear some Orkney tales from a human’s perspective for once. The story of the man lured into the fairy hill for a year varied wildly from Guppo’s Trow-Foot’s version.
The human storyteller’s in question were Tom Muir and Fran Flett Hollinrake. They told their tales beautifully – even Trupptrink shut up his grumblings to listen. Some stories told the miracles of St Magnus: the Saint, Martyr, and Viking Good Guy. I decided not to sketch one of his many miracles involving wolves regurgitating human flesh. We heard a bad-breathed polar bear escapade from Shetland and a personal account of an irritable guardian-angel-type figure. And, of course, we were also treated to folktales from the hills and households of Orkney.
As you might expect, I tried to capture a few of the images flitting about the room, by snagging them to paper. I decided to do little illustrations to two of the tales.
Tom Muir told of a baby whisked away by fairies… It was replaced by an ugly, wizened changeling, who wailed day and night. The changeling however gave the game away when it demanded, in a gruff voice, whiskey from the baby sitter.
Here he is: yowling blue murder in his cot, then playing his penny whistled created with straw from the byre. I’ve never met this faery, but I hear he sometimes busks outside Orkney whiskey distilleries, hoping for a free dram.
Another image to captivate my inner-eye, was a tale that included a cute baby dragon.
St Magnus – a different fella to Orkney’s Magnus – performed miracles in Germany by slaying troublesome dragons. Personally I think there was a bit of a misunderstanding between human and dragon, but these were olden times and people don’t appreciate being eaten.
Anyway, St Magnus the Dragon Slayer spared this wee hatchling because of it’s innocence. And because it was adorable, obviously. The saved dragon is still mooching around the Swiss hills, thoroughly miffed with humans, as we all come to be eventually. Best leave him be.
I had a delightful evening, and so did everyone else by the look of it. I was particularly pleased that no books were shredded by the sprites who escaped from my handbag. And I successfully managed to convince an ogre not to read melancholy poetry that can last up to eight hours.
Take a look at the Orcadian Story Trust (links below), and if you’re in Orkney, watch out for future Storytelling Festival events. If you see an harassed looking English lady in the audience, swatting invisible pixies from her hair, and whispering to her shoulder, that’s me!