A Short Story Inspired by George Mackay Brown

As part of the celebrations of the centenary of George Mackay Brown, The GMB Fellowship are asking for contributions of writing inspired by the famous Orkney writer’s work. 

I decided to take part and add a little twist of folklore into my story… 

Read it here

Prose, poetry and photos on the George Mackay Brown Fellowship website

My piece was inspired by a section of George Mackay Brown’s poem ‘The Scottish Bestiary’. In these poems he focuses on 5 animals: Moth, Lobster, Whale, Eagle – but it was the Raven that really captured my imagination. 

I discovered GMB upon moving to Orkney. It was around the same time I remember hearing the tales of Vikings using ravens to find land when sailing. It was only when I opened my big GMB poetry book after hearing about this project that I discovered he had written about this fascinating detail. 

The big, lovely book where I found the collection of poems ‘The Scottish Bestiary’ by GMB

I have loved corvids of all variety for a long time, and know a little of their ways, as a semi-wild rook is a part of my big animal family. So Corbie, whilst not a raven, features a little in my story.

Have a look at the other pieces of writing people have created here. Click on the title of the piece to see the prose and poems inspired by George Mackay Brown. It’s really exciting to see how some of these pieces will be interpreted into music. 

I think it’s an amazing project and I’m pleased to now be a small part of it. 

Check out the GMB fellowship website to see how else they’re celebrating the centenary of this incredible writer. 

Corbie the rook, flying on high, black upon blue

M.E. Friendly Art Materials

I tried some new art materials recently and I became very excitable on social media and in real life too. There was much squeaking and an actual 3 second happy dance. The goal was to make my art more M.E. friendly and I think I’m slowly achieving that – yay!

A few of you may know, I have quite a severe chronic illness, and have been ill since the age of six. (I wasn’t well before then but six is the official age I was diagnosed.) M.E. makes everything from walking, talking to digesting food difficult. I’m extremely tired all the time. But I make art and I write. Which is hopefully why you’re here! 

So I thought I’d talk about my shiny new materials and quite why I’m so excited. 

Traditional dipping pens and Windsor and Newton Black Indian Ink

Firstly the fountain pen. And ink. 

I use Windsor and Newton Black Indian Ink over my pencil sketch. This ink, when dried, doesn’t bleed when wet. I can paint straight on top of it, colouring with paint all those tiny goblin details. It’s even mermaid tear proof – a substance magically wetter than water. I’ve yet to find a black pen that is completely waterproof – I’ve tried a lot of them and have lost many a drawing to a mermaids weepy critique. For years, I’ve used a traditional nibbed pen dipped in the Black Indian Ink. 

Dipping pens are wonderful, don’t get me wrong. As I draw, I think of them being used by everyone from Beatrix Potter to Quentin Blake. But my hand shakes and the fine nib picks up every little squiggle. Also, jerky fingers causes dreaded ink splats! It’s a delightful way to draw when it works and it’s still taking me time to accept it doesn’t work for me.

The company Cult Pens answered by inky woes and recommended a fountain pen with an ink converter. This pumps your chosen ink into the fountain pen. Trupp-Trink the goblin insisted I picked a dashing orange pen – I gave it a go and it works. Viola! Minimal shakes, no ink splats, and I can even draw from the comfort of the sofa with my feet up. 

Tip: This kind of ink wears down the fountain pens faster than cartridges so don’t splash out on an expensive pen – cheap and cheerful work best here!

My new fountain pen with ink converter and waterproof ink

Now the paints. For a couple of years I’ve been using gouache in small paint tubes. Sprites find this hilarious and squeezed the paints onto their teeth like toothpaste! These paints are lovely and need less layers than watercolours because they’re more opaque. But they’re hard for me to squeeze with my weak fingers and tend to dry up and clot quickly. 

I spotted artists on social media using a shiny new set of special watercolour paints and I was instantly intrigued – and maybe a tiny bit jealous! After doing my research, I decided these were the paints for me. Kuretake Gansai Tambi paints can be used as thickly as gouache or thinly as traditional watercolours – it just depends on how much water you add. So less energy layering paintings and a palette easily accessible to weak fingers. Plus – look at those colours! They’re forcing me to be just a bit brighter than I’m used to which is no bad thing. 

The only trouble is sprites are still a little addicted to paint so are now licking my palette and waggling their brightly coloured tongues in my face. Turquoise and purple tongues are in vogue in the sprite world, apparently. 

Daler Rowney gouache tube paints

I’ve only made these changes recently but already they’re having a big impact on my creative life. Nothing is easy with M.E. and, as enjoyable as it is, art takes a big toll on my health. So anything to minimise that is a pretty big deal. 

I hope you continue to enjoy my artwork and the faeries that occupy my world. Do give me a follow on Facebook at Ellen Forkin Art and Instagram and Twitter too! 

And if you’re an artist, do watch out for those sprites, you’ll find tiny smudges of paint in the oddest of places… 

Kuretake Gansai Tambi paint palette and other art materials

Prunella Flies Her Flags!

Prunella finds joy in the small things of life. Coffee and doughnuts, apples and peanut butter, flowers and herbs, pebbles and seaglass, jumpers and tartan check trousers! She flies the flag for them all. Literally.

Prunella flying her flag for coffee!

Prunella has hundreds of little flags. Probably thousands. Puppies. Peonies. Enamel pins. Rainbows and sunsets. Scratchy pencils and clicky pens. Colourful candles in sparkly candlesticks. She’s got a flag for them all. Prunella is passionate. Which is why I love her so much. But who is she?

Prunella’s a monster who has been told she looks like a pig disguised as a Highland Coo. Seeing as she champions both intelligent pigs and cute Highlanders, Prunella wasn’t the least bit offended. She says her spirit animal is a haggis.

Coffee. She loves coffee. Prunella drinks it black, but sometimes enjoys snuffling up a cappuccino with her snout. She has her own special take-away cup, and a dozen little coffee-cup cozies to match her jumper. All the coffee does make her whirlwind of positivity. She would be annoying if it wasn’t for her enthusiastic oink!

Prunella loves all things bookish!

Prunella has an exuberant Scottish accent that even the most Scottish Scot can have difficulty understanding. She adores dictionaries and uses lots of weird and random words with a few Scottish classics thrown in. Here’s a few of her favourites:

  • Peediesmall
  • Swagdeto relax after a big, big meal
  • Pumple-footedaccident prone, a bit clumsy
  • Shoogleshake, move to side to side, wiggle
  • Polyphloisboisterousnoisy

Despite reading many a long dictionary, Prunella’s spelling is…. interesting. But she usually gets her message across. She also enjoys everything bookish, including Scottish poetry, cook books, rom coms, notebooks, tartan noir and will carefully read any vintage manual to a Singer sewing machine.

The lists could go on and on. (Yes, she likes writing lists.) Prunella has shared with me so many tiny passions I can’t possibly fit them in one blog post. Instead, each and every day, she’ll continue to fly the flag for the small joy she’s loving that day. I think we could learn a lot from Prunella. Even if we can’t always catch exactly what she’s saying…

A few things Prunella loves…

Thanks for reading!

Ellen x

A Wild Unicorn

Shh! Don’t startle this shy creature. For though this wee wild unicorn tiptoes through the wilderness as quietly as can be, it too can be fierce and feisty.

With cloven hooves, a wiggly beard and long lush lion’s tail, this is far from your domesticated unicorn. A beautifully rare beast of Scotland, these unicorns love to roam forests, nibble flowers and occasionally give chase to a hairy haggis!

An illustration of a wild unicorn foal

A very few well guarded wild unicorns do roam the islands of Orkney…

I was lucky to spot this foal, just on the cusp of adulthood, silently sipping from a loch. Perhaps for safety, or simply for the magic of it, wild unicorns are most active at dawn and dusk. The latter is known locally as grimleens, and is truly an enchanted time of day for humans and faeries alike.

Grimleens: Orcadian dialect for twilight, dusk, the magical moment between day and night.

Head to where the four-leaf clover springs up from the ground, where there’s a soft tinkling in the breeze, where rainbows bloom in the sky…

And if you are quiet, patient and granted a large dose of luck, you may be able to spot a wild unicorn too!

Please note: Do not follow directions from local trows, they’ll send you on a wild unicorn race. This usually involves the dizzying heights of Hoy, a boggart attack at Birsay and a possible drowning in Stenness loch. It’s not fun.

The Giantess and the Goat

“Don’t eat me!” wailed the goat. (Well, at least that’s what I thought that bleating meant.)

“But I caught you with my special spoon,” the giantess pouted. It was indeed a special spoon. It had a particularly fusty mould to add flavour and a hook for catching dinner. A dinner like Ty the Peedie Goat.

The Giantess and the Goat

The giantess was called Gerdila. As well as on the spoon, she loved growing fungus in her grey-green hair and green-brown clothes. But the moudilest place of all was Gerdila’s squelchy fungus tongue.

Gerdila the Giantess didn’t like her dinner to be too wriggly. So Gerdila simply blew putrid breath on her prey. One foul puff of her fungus tongue killed most things instantly. She mainly ate sheep and cows – but avoided Highland Coo’s because they are too ‘flooff-full’.

Ty the Peedie Goat was next. (Gerdila stomped right past the alpacas as they are far too floof-full as well.) She hooked Ty round the neck with her special mouldy spoon and plucked him from the herd. The other goats watched wide-eyed and open-mouthed… All except for Chumley who carried on chewing the cud whilst watching a nearby cloud that looked like a fluffy bale of hay. Or so he imagined.

‘Peedie’: Orcadian dialect for small, little.

Ty, perched on his bottom, flopped a little as if already half dead. He bleated pitifully. Gerdila smiled a stinking smile and then blew…. Boooooooooof! Rancid air filled the sky, with little whiffs drifting down to the ground. The stink made the alpacas gag and spit. Ty lay deathly still in a cloud of stench.

“No!” I yelled, bursting out the door, tears streaming. No one heard, as I hopped to get my wellies on.

Ty burped. A giant, gurgly burp right from the depths of one of his many stomachs. We watched it bloat his belly then travel up his neck and finally erupt from his pink, fuzzy lips.

“Ew!” Gerdila the Giantess pouted. “That’s disgusting. And why aren’t you dead?”

“He’s a goat,” I answered, wiping my running nose on my sleeve. “He may be cute and cuddly and small but don’t let that fool you: goat’s breath is the most disgusting thing ever. Even more foul and fetid than yours – no offence.” She eyed me funnily and I started to back away to the safety of the house once more. I cursed for having brushed my teeth that morning.

“And I now you’re beaten,” Ty bleated joyfully. “I banish you from the farm!”

(At least, that’s what I think he said.)

And that is the story of how Ty the Peedie Goat out-stank Gerdila the Giantess. And he brags, and brags, and brags about it to this day.

Ty the Peedie Goat bragging to the alpacas

Goat hugs and giantess kisses,

Ellen x

Neddle the Rambler

Neddle is a cheerful chappy. He loves long, meandering walks with his rambling stick. Whilst he’s holding his rambling stick, Neddle tends to talk on and on and on about feathers, mushrooms and the different types of duck-quacks.

Neddle taking a break with his rambling stick

Despite Neddle’s love of nature – and ducks – he absolutely loathes puddles. He can often be spotted yelling at one as he tiptoes past. Lochs are just ‘big ole puddles’ and are not to be trusted. As are ladybirds. They’re sneaky, apparently.

So if you’re out and about, walking in the countryside, lingering in a wood, hiking up a hill, be sure to say hello to all the little Neddles out there. Just don’t mention the weather, Neddle will point out every cloud in sight and explain it’s unique qualities in high detail. And as we know in Scotland, there’s a lot of clouds.

New Year Auld Hags

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.

Illustration of an Auld Hag holding a cupcake
Auld Hags love cupcakes!

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.

Illustration of an Auld Hag smoking a pipe
Pipe smoking often get in the way of a good, audible curse

“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!

Ellen x

Illustrations of Auld Hags
I really love that all Auld Hags have these fabulous hooked noses!

A Landscape of Tales Exhibition

A Landscape of Tales

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!

Nela Scholma-Mason talking about the exhibtion. Photo Credit: Orkneyology.com

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?

Hogboon

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?

My illustration of a hogboon lurking beneath an Orkney grassy mound

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?

My illustration of the giant trapped within the standing stone

The Exhibition

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!

My hogboon lurking under his hill mound in the exhibition. Photo Credit: Orkneyology.com

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!

Ellen x

A cheeky close up of my hogboon illustration!

A Fantastic Day at Orkney Library’s Fun Palace

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

Little hands getting stuck in some arty faerie activities