Wyrzog is a feisty Book Wyrm that lurks in my bookshelves and slithers about my many piles of much-loved books. She has an annoying habit of eating bookmarks, but will hiss and snap if I even consider dog-earring a page.
Wyrzog is surprisingly open to contentious grammar and the odd typo: she have seen humans change their language over thousands of years, and admires it all. Wyrms love stories, big or small. They love books with illustrations, illuminations and those with beautiful maps folded within.
‘Wyrm’ – a species of dragon with no legs or wings. The most famous kind of wyrm are sea-serpents, like Orkney’s very own Mester Stoorworm, but not all are ocean-dwelling creatures.
Wyrzog tends to hoard books with strong, female characters and prefers non-traditional fairytales where the princess and dragons live happily ever after. She has an insatiable appetite for literature but, despite how excited she gets about a book, she will never, ever give away a plot ending. Those who do will find their toes nibbled.
Zog the (very handsome) orange dragon is her personal hero.
I hope everyone is getting into the swing of the 2020? I hope your luck is good, your spells work magic, and mostly you are not eaten by a wandering ogre. But there are worst ways to go. Like falling in the open mouth of a sleeping ogre and slowly drowning in his saliva.
Like dwarves, I struggle with New Year and the whole New Year Eve celebration. Unlike dwarves, I don’t hide in an underground lair and violently hammer silver into shining wee moons or gold into delicate little stars. I wish I did. Instead I eat a lot, cry a lot and moodily draw dozens on Auld Hags who are grumpier than me.
But what I really wish is that I could be more like the Auld Hags I doodle. They don’t care about New Year – they’ve seen thousands of them. They’ve seen more humans, more heroes, more wonders than they care to remember. They just care about cake. And strong, black coffee. Lemon drizzle is a winner. Weirdly, coffee cake is not. Especially if there’s a walnut lurking in there. That’s a no-no.
To be an Auld Hag, you have to be pretty ancient. And grumpy. And so full of magic, you don’t even have to think how to turn that horrible old human into a miserable old mushroom. It just happens. They’re pretty powerful but not always inclined to use their power.
When they do, they curse people. Slowly.
“By the powers, that be…. [lots of mumbling]… may you never have a pain-free elbow again.”
“By the powers of be…. [lots of grumbling]…. I demand the birds to poo on your car windows.”
“By the powers that be… [lots of mumbling, grumbling]…. may you never find that final episode of that really good TV show you liked with the huge cliffhanger.”
The last one’s a bit of a clumsy curse, but it’s ruthless.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to curse people. And neither do the Auld Hags really. They’re just super ancient and irritiable. But they know what they want. “Strong coffee, no milk. Chocolate chip cookie, no plate.” Whereas I’m still dithering over a cappucinno or hot chocolate or maybe even a passion fruit infused tea…? See, who’s more annoying?
So we could all be more Auld Hag minus the ill-wishing. (Unless they deserve it of course.)
May your 2020 be a good year full of scrummy cake, interesting new mushrooms and more ogre-awareness!
I’m very honoured to be a part of a new Orkney exhibition where I dared to enter a troublesome hogboon and standing stone giant. I hope they behave!
A Landscape of Tales is a fascinating exhibition that explores how folklore and archaeology interact with one another. Orkney is a land of ancient mounds, standing stones, burial tombs and other archaelogical sites that are full of mystery. It’s a place of ancient magic: both in the physical artifacts we’re left with today and the spoken stories that have been passed down from Orcadian ancestors.
‘A Landscape of Tales’ is based on research carried out in Orkney by Nela Scholma-Mason while studying for her PhD. It looks at archaeological sites and the folklore attached to them. It is also accompanied by artwork inspired by Orkney’s folk tales.
Tom Muir at the Orkney Museum
Artists were asked to illustrate this link between the sites and the folklore surrounding them. I was delighted to contribute a wee creature or two… but what would I choose?
Also known as a Hogboy, these impish creatures haunt mounds, as well as the small holdings and households nearby. The famous burial chamber, Maeshowe, is said to be home to a hogboon who many report is more than a bit troublesome! Hogboons like their homes run a certain way, they like to be remembered, respected, and even occaisonally fed a small offering. If you anger the hogboon in any way, then expect nothing but mischief!
Nela Scholma-Mason created a fantastically funny short film highlighting the mischeif-making antics of one such hogboy! You can watch the film at the Orkney Museum on your way to the exhibition.
I decided to illustrate one such little hogboon lurking under a mound, about to chomp a juicy apple. But the question is, was he given it or did he nick it? And what else is stashed away in his grassy home?
Standing Stone Giant
As well as grassy mounds and mystical hillocks, Orkney is a land of standing stones. Many of these standing stones are said to be giants – some of them even come alive on certain nights of the year! The Ring o’ Brodgar is a circle of mysterious standing stones and one of Orkney’s most well-known attractions. One night, the ring of giants were dancing and drinking just a tad too much mead or ale, and not even the blootered fiddler noticed the sun creeping up over the horizon. Sunlight turns certain giants to stone, and there they still stand today.
I illustrated one such giant, eyeing up his dragon’s tooth drinking horn. What is he thinking exactly? Is he wondering what exactly was in that mead to make them so merry that fateful night?
The exhibition has a collection of amazing artworks, artifacts and information.
It runs from 7th December to the 1st February at the Orkney Museum, Kirkwall. The museum is open Monday to Saturday, with opening times 10.30am-12.30pm to 1.30pm-5pm.
The exhibition tells a story around the room. There are books of folklore told by wonderful Orcadian storyteller Tom Muir and illustrated by Bryce Wilson. (The room is full of Bryce Wilson’s original work to – so it was a real treat for me!) You can read all about folklore of the land, sea and stone and you can even see a pair of witch’s shoes and the marks people made to ward witches away!
It’s truly a magical space, full of little wonders, stories, artworks, books and archealogical finds. I hope you can make it along and check the giant isn’t using foul language again! And that hogboon, I can just imagine him clonking around in those rare pair of witch’s shoes!
What magic! A wonderful afternoon spent with all the kiddies (and parents!) at Orkney Library’s Fun Palace 2019. As with last year, I was endlessly impressed with the little imaginations and the tiny hands creating magic, silliness and beautiful colouring…
Before I settled into creating enchanted doodles with the kids, I had a quick wander round – there was a lot to see! Indoor football, kickboxing, massages, spooky crafts, origami, photography, a Lego table, Dungeons and Dragons, the list goes on and on… The Salvation Army band was just starting up and my lovely friends at St Colms were busy providing hot drinks and delish cakes to everyone. My beloved library was buzzing and the mood was infectious.
Heather, who organises Orkney Library’s Fun Palaces, made things super easy for me, regardless of all my health conditions. I also had the help of my trusty ‘Minions’ (aka ‘Mum and Dad’) who tirelessly let me boss them about and did anything and everything I needed. A huge thank you to these three superhero’s – you see what I can do, not my limitations!
We quickly set up and then it was all go, go, go…
In a blink of an eye, kids were colouring Mester Stoorworm dragons, all tangled up in a Celtic knot. Orkney’s Mester Stoorworm could slither it’s body all the way round the world so it was naturally a very hungry creature. What would you feed it…? Pizza, stars, squiggly monsters, fresh meat, a giant frog, and a Cyclops is the answer, apparently.
Meanwhile, Scottish unicorns were getting glammed up, coloured in and decorated with all sorts of fabulous hair accessories. Neon and pastel seemed to be the fashion statements of the day.
Things quickly got witchy, where we were visited by young witch and wizard familiars! Familiars help their witch with magical tasks, spells and all sorts of fun and trouble. Some were cute, some were wise, others tried to lick my pencils! What does your magical friend look like?
Who doesn’t love to scribble? It’s very chilly here in Orkney, especially under the waves, so the kids helped to warm up a few freezing Finfolk with some scribbly, bushy beards! Some beards were metallic, others were brightly coloured, but all fantastic and cosy!
There were so many wonderful drawings – I wasn’t always quick enough to photograph them all and sadly can’t include all of them here. The day’s doodlings ranged from spider-webs, bogies and zombie heads in magical potion jars, to merpups, seabunnies, and a two-headed snake mermaid! *shudders*
And not forgetting, our ever popular ‘fairy pencils’ that change colour when you draw with them! The kids loved these, and created some very cool effects. But how do they do it??? Tis magic.
A truly wonderfuss day! Thank you for everyone, organisers, helpers, friends and kiddies who turned up to make the day simply magical! Hag hugs, elf kisses and dragon fist-bumps to you all! x
Today I’ll be at Orkney Library’s Fun Palace event with my Orkney faerie and folklore activities! You can draw, doodle, scribble all sorts of wonderfuss creatures and magical things!
I’ve also gathered some little faerie oddities, you can chat all things folklore with me, and tie a wishing rag to my magical staff! Ooh, make a wish quick!
All ages, abilities, and drawing skills welcome – I’ll be there from 1pm- 4pm.
Orkney Library’s event is the most northernly Fun Palace and is running from 10am-4pm today (5th October 2019). It’s all free, all are welcome and you can try a variety of different things from kickboxing to yoga, 3D Printing to sewing, massage to musical instruments. (Full list of fun activities below – they really are very cool.)
If you’re in Orkney, I’d love to see you there… even just to say hello!
Note: You better watch out for book imps, goblins, and the occasional witching ‘lose-your-keys’ spell which may follow you home!
If you’re not in Orkney, Fun Palaces are happening all over the place on the 5th and 6th October – take a look at their links below.
I’ve finally illustrated quite a common sight in Orkney skies – flying trows. They scoot about on bulwandsand menace everything from local birdlife to seastacks, chimney pots to washing lines. Crashes, entanglements, ker-splats and so on happen often. On purpose, of course. I wouldn’t suggest anything otherwise.
‘Bulwand’: An enchanted dock leaf, or dock leaves, that trows use to fly.
This particular trow was the wilder side of tipsy. In a bizarre manoeuvre, he swerved towards a telephone cable and got horribly entangled. The mini power cut was blamed on a chirpy bunch of starlings.
I glared at him and the whiskey bottle both. Amazingly, he turned a bashful beetroot red; it’s the only time I’ve got away with any sort of critism of these trickety trows.
The zig-zagging chap happens to be the lesser hairier variety of trow. (Some trows are gloriously shaggy). As you can see, they resembles small wiry-haired, bushy-eyebrowed old men with long crookity toes and noses like a vegetable.
So if you see a trow carreening about over your head, avert your eyes, cross your fingers, and say goodbye to your satellite dish.
All artworks and text copyrighted to Ellen Forkin and an irritable goblin called Trupp-Trink.
A lovely peedie mermaid emerged from my fingers this Mermay…
I don’t know much about Little Ebba of the Waves. She’s seven summers old. She loves sunlight playing on the surface of the sea and how it dapples the ocean below. Ebba is a loyal friend to all starfish and basking sharks. Sometimes she sings to lonely sailors who are missing loved ones ashore. Or sometimes she sings to those on land who miss something else altogether. She sings of bubbles, dancing whales, and sand in your bellybutton.
I drew Ebba at the beginning of May, and she has flowed in and out of my mind ever since. This year has not been too kind, so it’s a comfort to hear the echoes of her songs every time I smell the salt of the sea in the breeze…
After my last blogpost where I hunted for sea-runes, I returned to my special beach to stare at them once more. I thought over all their possible meanings. Wondering if they really are ‘mermaid runes’. Wishing I could just speak to a little mermaid when…
Whoops! I nearly squashed one!
The squidgy mermaid was perched on a rock next to a limpet. I said I was terribly sorry for nearly squishing her. Watery eyes glared at me. Fascinated, I got down on my hands and knees for a closer look.
The mermaid thought I was bowing down to her! Delighted, she blew a bubble right out of her snout.
“I’ve decided to grant you a wish,” she squeaked. The creature explained it was the talk of Deerness rockpools that a stupid human wanted to read mermaid-runes. She would teach me how on three conditions….
It turns out this squelchy mermaid is a Plebble. A royal Plebble, apparently. I noticed she was holding a tiny twig. She told me proudly told me this was her royal ‘trident’.
The squidgy, squishy Plebble is a lesser known type of mermaid. Plebbles are the size of, well, a pebble, or a very squelchy potato. They come in many shades of blubber and excrete a fragrant mucus that gives them their pearly shimmer.
The Plebble wanted three things. I must fetch her two googly eyes. And a dollop of peanut butter. (Peanut butter is quite hard to find in the underwater Pebble Palace. They mostly get jellied-kelp for dinner.) Lastly, I must bow down to her a further seven times in front of all her friends. That way they would finally know she was the Plebble Queen.
I rushed home and pocketed two googly eyes from my craftbox. I then scooped some peanut butter on a teaspoon and rushed back to the beach. The Plebble greedily sucked up the peanut-butter, gurgling and snorting, and wriggling her mermaid tail happily.
We then carefully attached the two googly eyes to Thor, her pet limpet. Thor doesn’t say or do a lot. But he could now watch me bow down to the Plebble Queen. I dipped my head seven times, on hands and knees, in front of a crowd of heckling mermaid blobs.
The sea-runes are commonly called ‘mermaid-runes’ but lots of different types of Ocean FaeryFolk write them. Sea-runes or selkie-runes are also good names. I scooped the slippery Plebble up, not forgetting Thor the limpet, and she pointed me to our first stone.
The Plebble said the stone was carved by a beautiful selkie lass. The selkie was writing about one of her selkie friends. It reads:
“Ugly Urdi trout-face.”
I quickly moved The Plebble along to a rock with Viking-like runes. Ah! The Plebble nodded. A Finfolk man wrote these! Is it about an ocean-deep wrestling match? I wondered. Or how to make a driftwood chariot?
“Left to hidden treasure.”
Exciting! I scrambled to the left, scraping back seaweed and pebbles, until I found… silver spoons stashed in a fisherman’s wellyboot.
Oh well. Silver is treasure to Finfolk. Maybe next time it will be a gold crown? Or chocolate! I quietly added my teaspoon to the collection and moved on.
The Plebble led me to a big, impressive rock. This rock had bold runes carved deep onto it’s face. A giant wrote these runes, surely! A giant with barnacle toes and crabby knees.
No, no, it was written by a mermaid. A mermaid with long, golden hair, all woven with pearls. A mermaid with a silvery tail covered in sparkling sea-shells. The Plebble read out the runes in a dreamy, squeaky voice:
“My bum likes this rock.”
Well, that’s just rude. They’re getting worse! Who knew mermaids were so… urgh!
“Us mermaids have to sit on bumpy rocks for hours and hours!” the Plebble squealed. “It’s cold on our bahookie’s, waiting for silly land-lubbers to fall in love with us. When you find a comfy rock, it’s good to remember it.”
I nodded, but I had hoped for something a bit more magical. A bit more enchanting.
“Enchanting, eh?” The Plebble stroked Thor the limpet, who glared at me from one googly eye. We wandered over to one final rock.
“So what does this last one say?” I slumped down next to it, perching the Plebble on a stone nearby. She waved her ‘trident twig’ mysteriously.
“It’s a sea-spell,” she said. I waited, a tingly excitement building. But the Plebble didn’t speak. Instead she showed me the set of runic alphabet that made up the message. Slowly, I spoke the words:
“Whoever reads this stone will have damp, clammy feet for three full moons.”
Great. Just wonderful.
I heard strange hooting sounds, and saw a whole pod of Plebbles gathered round my wellyboots. They were laughing hysterically, snorting through their snouts. Even Thor the limpet looked amused.
I thanked The Plebble Queen for her wisdom. I waved goodbye and the peedie mermaids waggled their tales back at me. As I trudged home, I felt a dampness in my toes. An icy cold biting my heels. A wet, chill right up to my ankles. The sea-spell was working. Sigh.
So careful what you wish for, if you like warm, snuggly feet…
And if you see a Plebble, give a little bow, and say hi from me.
Have you spotted some sea-runes at the beach?
Want to know what your mermaid-runes say?
Send me your photos and I’ll ask the Plebble to traslate them!
Orkney is a land of runes. These islands were a hot-spot for the Vikings in medieval times who left behind some wonderful runic graffiti. What is not well known, is that FaeryFolk of the sea also wrote in runes – and still do.
These runes are quite mysterious. Not in the least, because most people don’t know they exist. Or if they have spotted them, they’re put down to nature.
I’ve tried to speak to Gnöll, Bannafeet, and Megrani about the runes. It seems trolls, trows and even witches are reluctant to talk too much about them. I did once hear Megrani the crow witch mumble something about ‘mermaid runes’ when she caught me scribbling some silly runic messages. She flapped off before I could ask her more.
So I once more haunted one of my local beaches, searching for these magical treasures carved into the rocks. The more I see, the more questions there are…
Over the years, I listened to the seashells, the whispering tide, the selkies and their distant songs…
They got me nowhere but it was pleasant.
Who writes them? What do they say? Do they hold magical powers?
Instead, I’ve daydreamed about what they could be… Love notes from a shimmering mermaid? Records of important oceanic wars of the Finfolk? Or secret directions to a selkie’s hidden sealskin?
Maybe we’ll never know. But I’ll keep looking and listening and hoping to stumble upon a mermaid one of these days…
Note: Mermaid runes are not to be confused with toothy sea-sluggits trails, ancient witch maps of ocean currents and magical ley lines, or scaly skin shed by juvenile stoorworms.