31 October 2011

Folklore: Food Offerings to the Fairies

I was going to write up a blog post about Hallowe'en fairy lore, but I'm so stuck into getting my latest short story written that I don't want to take the time. So here, instead, is an extract from my MA thesis (completed in 1999) on food offerings to the fairies. How is this relevant to Hallowe'en? Because the Celtic festival of Samhain was one of the two most active times of the year for the Good People (the other was Beltaine, or May Eve), and thus a time when humans had to be most cautious about fairy encounters. A traditional Irish Hallowe'en fairy offering was a plate of mashed potatoes--the first to be served up from the pot--with lots of butter.

Leaving a food offering for the fairies is usually a domestic event, occurring within the home. The offering is commonly left in the kitchen, either in a bowl on the table or hearth, or in the case of some beverages, poured on the hearthstones. Less commonly, domestic offerings are left outside the door of the house. Non-domestic food offerings, left outside the domestic sphere in liminal areas closer to the fairy realm, may be placed in the barn, at the edge of the woods, or in the sea. These liminal offerings are usually given to specific beings or for specific purposes. Liminal offerings often consist of household provisions like bread, but certain kinds of fairies may require specific food items. Beverages are offered in a bowl or hollowed stone or are poured on the earth, since “all liquids spilled on the ground are supposed to go to their [the fairies’] use” (W. G. Stewart 124). In some cases, it is believed that the fairies eat the food itself, but in other cases it is thought that they “extract the spiritual essence from the food offered to them, leaving behind the grosser elements.” For that reason, food that has been put out for the fairies “is not allowed to be eaten . . . by man or beast, not even by pigs. Such food is said to have no real substance left in it. . . “ (Evans-Wentz 44). Food that has had its essence consumed by fairies may even make humans and animals ill (Evans-Wentz 164).

It is often important that offerings not be made obviously. Fairies are “shocked at anything approaching to the name of a bribe or douceur, yet . . . allow [their] scruples to be overcome if the thing be done in a genteel, delicate, and secret way” (Keightley 358). Though Keightley indicates that some types of food and drink were inappropriate as offerings, it is more important here to note the results of the way the food is given:

. . . offer Brownie a piece of bread, a cup of drink, or a new coat and hood, and he flouted at it, and perhaps, in his huff, quitted the place forever; but leave a nice bowl of cream, and some fresh honeycomb, in a snug private corner, and they soon disappeared, though Brownie, it was to be supposed, never knew anything of them. (Keightley 358)

In the one case the item is obviously offered, and in the other it is quietly left. Drawing attention to the offering can be seen as bragging on the part of the offerer, and gives it the connotation of charity rather than hospitality. Briggs writes about how, in the case of brownies, “the housewife was careful not to offer the tidbit to the brownie, only to leave it in his reach. Any offer of reward for its services drove the brownie away; it seemed to be an absolute TABOO” (Dictionary 46, caps in original). There are also indications in other stories that leaving an obvious offering, especially of clothing, constitutes payment, after which the employment of the fairy is at an end, and it departs.

I've decided to make my thesis available as an ebook, but who knows when I'll get to actually formatting and posting it. At least I have located rtf files of all the chapters, so I know I can actually do it.

30 October 2011

My (Two) Week(s) in Books (October 16-29)

I guess I'm not so good at these weekly update things. I keep being late or forgetting altogether, like last week. Then again, I have been awfully busy in the last month or so. But enough of that, here's what I've been reading the past two weeks.

New Books in the House
I made a trip to Value Village recently and could have brought home a huge pile of books, but I was carefully restrained and only picked up a couple of urban fantasies.

  • Dime Store Magic by Kelley Armstrong (fiction)
  • Greywalker by Kat Richardson (fiction)

Currently Reading
I'm still juggling a pile of assorted non-fiction (mostly), which you can see in previous book posts if you're really curious, but what I'm actively reading most right now are these:

  • The Man Who Found the Missing Link: Eugene Dubois and His Lifelong Quest to Prove Darwin Right by Pat Shipman (non-fiction)
  • The Eerie Book edited by Margaret Armour (fiction anthology)
  • The Art and Craft of Handmade Paper by Vance Studley (non-fiction)

Recently Finished

  • House of Many Ways by Diana Wynne Jones (YA fiction)

    A book by Diana Wynne Jones never, ever fails to cheer me up. The main character in this one is a very bookish girl, which puts me on her side right away. Also, there are improbable houses, odd creatures, a magic dog, and lots and lots of books. Also, Howl, Sophie and Calcifer (from Howl's Moving Castle) put in an appearance. Yay!
  • Common Wild Flowers and Plants of Nova Scotia by Diane Larue (non-fiction)
    There's not a whole lot to say about a book like this. It's a good introduction to the plants of NS, which was exactly what I was looking for. It told me that the woody shrub taking over much of what used to be landscaped garden in my yard is a native plant called sweetfern (which, incidentally, smells like pot if you burn it), and that there are 19 species of goldenrod native to the province.
  • Dragonhaven by Robin McKinley (YA fiction)

    This is rather different from what I expected, based on the many Robin McKinley books I're read, but so, so very good! I don't often have books directly affect me in real life in a tangible way (in intangible ways, they affect me all the time), but this one gave me dragon-headache-dreams (you'll have to read the book to find out what those are). If you think dragons can't be done well any more, read this. These dragons are good.

29 October 2011

Updates of Various Sorts

This was going to be a long long post will all kinds of exciting things (and pictures!), but I'm coming down with some form of sickness and I want to get in some fiction writing time before I fall asleep sitting up. So here's a quick rundown of what I've been up to (with a couple pictures).

I finished reprinting the fox-catching-snowflakes and the blue jay cards (my two biggest sellers), and got a brand new design done, which I've titled "Misquoth the Raven" (anyone want to guess where the title comes from?

I also printed a menu for a client, a photo of which you'll find in the next section (I only have two to show you, so I have to spread them out).

I still have two more cards to reprint (the Pirates Santa) and one to print that I have plates for, plus two more I have film but not yet plates for (the rest of the seasons). I would still like to do a calendar, but it's looking less and less likely. I have a grand idea, but no actual designs, let alone film or plates. I suppose I could see if I can re-use a past year's number plates and do a basic wood type with numbers and maybe add images if I get time.

My intro letterpress class has ended, and my pop-up book class (not letterpress, but I won't have a bookbinding update section because I haven't done much of any recently) just got cancelled. Poo.

My experiments are progressing slowly (slowly because all my time seems to be taken up with doing things for other people) (yes, I get paid, but still). I've had some success with recycled printmaking rag paper, on which I printed the menus for a recent awards gala.

And speaking of said gala, I was there in the reception area for a while, demonstrating papermaking. I have a photo of my set-up (and also of paper-marbling-demo-er Rhonda Miller), but it's still on my phone and I'm too lazy to go get my phone and plug it in (didn't I tell you I'm *sick*).

For the demo, I used a mix of recycled paper pulp and the all-new goldenrod pulp. The goldenrod didn't break down as much as I hoped with boiling, and I was beginning to think I might have to buy some lye (I might still, to do this as a proper experiment). But once I ran it through the blender, the big twiggy bits were minimalized, so maybe I don't need lye. Of course, my blender is rather new (thanks, Canadian Tire, for your fake money that I saved up until I had a huge fat wad that the poor cashier had to count), and therefore sharp, and probably cut up the pulp more than it should have. So another future part of the experiment will be filing the blades dull.

Oh, and a trip to Value Village on the way home from Halifax one day netted me the most enormous canning pot I've ever seen (and my mother has been canning since before I was born, so I've seen canners). It is now my pulp-boiling pot and is currently full of boiled, wet goldenrod waiting to be blended.

The paper resulting from the recycled-goldenrod mix isn't dry yet--maybe I'll take an iron to it if I feel less lazy later--but it's quite dark, and really a rather nice mossy green. I was expecting paler, and golden-browner, especially after seeing the dark gold-brown liquid I poured off after boiling. But it has stubbornly remained quite green through drying and boiling and pulping and papermaking.

Maybe tomorrow, if I am feeling more capable, or less lazy, I will photograph some of this.

I seem to have stalled with Aeryn Daring and the Scientific Detective. I have chapter five waiting to be edited and had hoped to have chapter six written and edited by now. If I can get editing-for-other-people done quickly, maybe I'll get caught up before, well maybe not before the end of the month, but soon.

So Calliope Strange is lazy, and Niko Silvester is anxious to get A Madness of Kentaurs formatted and covered and out at least as an eBook, but that is also stalled, mostly due to lack of time. Sometimes I feel guilty that I am too lazy, but then I actually list all the things I get done in a day and realize that I don't really take any time off except a few times a week to watch TV (even my videogaming is mostly for work these days), and for an hour or so before bed to read. (I rather feel that read should be capitalized. Read. It's very important to me.)

Nic Silver, on the other hand, while not caught up to where he should be (yes, alter ego Nic is a boy--didn't I mention that?), has been writing a fair bit. Brother Thomas's Angel (which will soon have a new title, once I can come up with one) has become insanely long (considering it was originally meant to be a short story), and is still not done. I have about one and a half sections to go, but each section has been around 10 to 15 thousand words. Well, the ones word processed, anyway. The last several are in longhand and will have to be typed. Also he has begun writing "A Pearl Beyond Price" which will be the spooky story the winner of this month's giveaway gets, assuming it is done. I think it's about halfway. Or at least 1/3. I hope. Also it's not so much spooky as kind of creepy. And it will get more creepy, and maybe not in such a good way.

Okay, this ended up being pretty long after all, so I will stop there and apologise for the headlong blather. I have a books to finish now. One that I'm reading, and also one I'm writing. Or several I'm writing.

Oh, wait, one more thing. I have decided that by the end of 2012 I'd like to be making a living solely from writing fiction. Or, rather, making enough from my fiction that I could at least scrape by. Because I don't intend to stop letterpress printing or bookbinding or papermaking or teaching all of the above, but I do intend to stop freelance editing and freelance writing and freelance reviewing and freelance whatever-elsing  and the sooner the better. Yes, it could all go wrong, but I have to try. I've always thought of myself as a writer--a fictionist--first, and a maker-of-things-related-to-books second.

19 October 2011

The Seasons Cards (All 4 This Time) Digital Proofs

I posted the finished version of the summer card a few posts ago, but here are all four designs in digital form (colours are not final--I generally mix them right before printing and tweak them as I go until they look right.

Spring: oak and hare

Summer: bamboo and fox

Autumn: maple and grouse

Winter: spruce and raven

As mentioned, summer (fox and bamboo) is printed. I have the plates made for winter (spruce and raven) and may start printing tomorrow before I teach, though my time will probably go mostly toward reprinting the winter holiday "Catching Snowflakes" fox card and the blue jay card, as they're my best sellers and the first colour on both is a soft black. As for spring (oak and hare) and autumn (maple and grouse), I've just sent the files to film, which (if I'm lucky) might come back tomorrow so I can make the plates. But we'll see.

17 October 2011

My Week in Books (October 9-15)

Yeah, yeah, late again. But here's what I've been reading . . .

Currently Reading
  • Common Wild Flowers and Plants of Nova Scotia by Diane Larue (non-fiction)
  • The Man Who Found the Missing Link: Eugene Dubois and His Lifelong Quest to Prove Darwin Right by Pat Shipman (non-fiction)

Recently Finished
  • The Search for the Red Dragon by James A. Owen (fiction)

    I think I liked the first book in the series better, but this one is still pretty great. If you love books that include real historical people--in this case many, many favourite writers of fantasy from days past--in stories that didn't actually happen (but what if they did?), you should check this out. I won't spoil it and tell you who the three main characters actually are (if you read much, you should be able to figure out two of them, and if you know those two, you should be able to get the third, and if you don't, you need to read more), but if you've read Here, There Be Dragons, you'll already know. Actually, so much of the joy of this book (and this series) is figuring out who everyone is before it explicitly says, and having all the connections snap into place, that I don't really want to say much at all. If you can, though, get the hardcover, because it's beautiful, and the illustrations benefit from the higher quality paper.

16 October 2011

The Pan-Chronic Adventurers Guild

Here's something I seem to have spent most of the day working on (and which has confirmed the fact that I really need a new computer as every little thing I did seemed to take a million years for my poor little old Macbook to process).

There are still things I'd like to tweak, but I wanted to finish it for a contest that ends tomorrow, and I was getting frustrated with how long everything was taking, and I still can't figure out where all the weird grey cloudy bits in the dropshadow are coming from, because (I thought) I got all the weird stray bits of colour out of the original image (results of a background mistake early on). But anyway, for now, it's done.

Once the files are done processing, it'll be available for purchase through Indy Planet (where you can also get issue 1 of Fey).

I do want to do another version, because I was especially happy with how the satyrs' feet turned out, but then I ended hiding them behind the text in this version. Here's just the satyrs so you can see what they look like uncluttered:

The colours are actually rather brighter in the pre-adding-to-Blogger versions, but whatever Blogger does to compress images always seems to dull and blur them a little.

15 October 2011

Things Printed and In Progress

It's only mid-October, but the Halifax Crafters winter sale will be here soon, so I'm madly trying to get at least some of the things I had planned finished and ready to sell. I still don't know if I'll get a calendar done or not. I hope so, and I have a great idea, but with so many other things to finish . . . well, we'll just have to see how it goes.

But I did get one of the four seasons cards done the other day. I still have to trim and fold them, which I will do this evening while I'm hanging out in the printshop for Nocturne (if you're in Halifax, stop by; we're open 6 to midnight and will be doing demos, selling our wares, and helping folks print a keepsake on a vintage Vandercook Universal 1 proof press). I have the plates made for the winter card, and almost have the files for autumn and spring ready to send to film, but summer, at least, is printed:

My letterpress class has been going really well, and last class we had reached the stage where the students don't need my help very often. So while they were busy setting type, I assembled some wood type for the first in a series of fun and silly posters I have planned. I decided to use some of rather venerable, already-cut paper that's been around the shop for eons, and just throw the type on the press and see what happened. Because one press had black ink on it and the other had red, those were the colours I used. Then I added the linocut at home yesterday.

If I were to print this again, I'd shift the red type to the left just a little, to line it up with the black type, which would also put it just about in the centre of the page. I'd probably also print it on off-white paper, but I like the black and red--very bookish colours. Both this poster and the summer card will be for sale tonight, and eventually in my Etsy shop.

And one more fun thing that won't be ready for tonight, but will be done for the Halifax Crafters sale, is this (ignore the smudged line of type--I was trying to proof without actually setting up my press, so it shifted):

It will be available both as a little print on my own handmade paper, as above (it's just a little smaller than half letter size), and on the cover of hand-bound blank pamphlet journals. Also, the type won't be smudged or crooked. It's a linocut with hand-set wood and metal type.

I have lots more in the works, but that's all that's ready to show you.

09 October 2011

Sleepy Dragonfly

Because I am too sleepy from all the food I cooked and ate today to post a papermaking update, here is a picture of a dragonfly taking a break on one of the felts I use in papermaking:

My Week in Books (Oct 2-8, 2011)

Oops, I meant to post this yesterday. Also, it looks like Blogger has disabled the Amazon widget permanently, for various reasons having to do with revenue and them not getting any from it. If I can remember how to paste in links manually, I will, so there will at least be pictures.

New Arrivals
No new books came into the house this week. I'm still working on my pile of library books from last week.

Currently Reading
All of the same books as last week, plus this one:
  • The Search for the Red Dragon by James A. Owen (fiction)

Recently Finished
  • Plain Kate by Erin Bow (fiction)

    I loved this book so much I hardly know what to say about it that isn't gushing. I picked it up because I liked the colours on the cover, and added it to my pile to sign out because I liked the mention of folklore and a craft (woodcarving) in the blurb on the flap. The description reminded me a little bit of Patricia McKillip's work. And after reading, McKillip is still the closest comparison I can think of, though Erin Bow definitely has a voice of her own, and it is lush and heartbreaking and lovely. Not so many things in fiction make me cry anymore, but Plain Kate had me in tears no fewer than three times. I read a lot, and this book is the best thing I've read all year. Maybe the best I've read in several years. I believe Bow just won an award for it, too, which is richly deserved. (One very, very tiny nitppick: horses don't have collarbones.). Just read this book. Please.
  • Zombies vs Unicorns edited by Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier (fiction)

    At first glance, it seems like a silly, though definitely fun, idea for an anthology. But every single story in this book is good. I picked it up because I love editor Holly Black's fiction, and it turns out she's a great editor (or co-editor), too. Though some stories are better than others--a couple of them were superb!--there's not a stinker in the bunch. Read this if you think either (or both) zombies and unicorns have been done to death in fiction.
And I discovered I had actually already read The Time Travelers by Linda Buckley-Archer, though I don't recall where or when. Rather than re-reading, I'll look for the sequel (I think there is one) next time I'm in the library.

So that's it till next week! What are you reading?

03 October 2011

October Giveaway: Quoth the Raven

I didn't get this month's giveaway up right away, because I was trying to decide what the prize should be. But now I've decided.

The winner gets:
  • A matching set of "Quoth the Raven" and "Nevermore" lithographs. Before you get too excited, these are proofs on Mayfair paper, not final prints on heavy rag, so they're not as archival, though they still look nice. I'd love to give away a set of editioned prints, but I only have three sets, and they're all earmarked for an artist's book. They're about 8 by 10.5 inches.
  • An ebook copy of a Nic Silver spooky Hallowe'en story I haven't written yet. It may be called "A Pearl Beyond Price." Or it might not.
  • Some other little goodies that may or may not include letterpress postcards, magnets with art on, little books, etc.
So leave a comment and get your name in. You have until Hallowe'en, but don't leave it too late.

Also, there's a new coupon code for a free short story on my Facebook page. This time it's "Sealskin," a selkie story.

01 October 2011

My Week in Books (25 Sep to 01 Oct 2011)

Since I don't really get that many books in the mail these days, but I have started going to the library again, I thought I'd turn "Monday Mailbox" into "My Week in Books" and put it at the end of the week instead of the beginning. I'll post the books that came into my house, via purchase, library, or friends, and I'll write a few lines about whatever I've recently read.

Note: My Amazon Associates doohickey doesn't seem to be functional right now, so I'll add links and pictures later on, assuming it ever starts working again.

Arriving Via Mail
I did get one book in the mail this week, from a fellow BookMoocher in Ontario. Of course, I have now used up all but 0.8 of my points, and my budget's still a little tight for mailing books out (if you're not in Canada, you would be shocked and appalled at the cost for mailing books within the country), so I'll have to wait a while before I can mooch any more.

  • Little (Grrl) Lost by Charles deLint (fiction)
    There was a time when I would run out and buy every new CdL book as soon as it came out in hardcover (of for the days of nothing but books to spend my money on), but over the years I've been a little less excited at each new release. I do still enjoy his books a great deal, just not as rabidly as I once did. Anyway, this one I hadn't picked up yet, and I got a very nice hardcover for my mooch point.

From the Library
I hadn't been to the library in some time, as I had a fine. My fine turned out to be a whopping fifty cents. Heh. So I paid it, and now I'm going to the library again. This trip, I ventured more deeply into the newly re-arranged kids' section. I was disappointed by the selection of graphic novels, but the YA book section turned out to be pretty good. So all the fiction this time is from the YA section. But I did bring home a few non-fiction, too. Also, I was disappointed to see the shelf of for-sale discards was gone. Maybe they'll do a once-a-year sale instead?

  • The Fossil Cliffs of Joggins by Laing Ferguson (non-fiction)
  • Common Wild Flowers & Plants of Nova Scotia by Diane Larue (non-fiction)
  • The Man Who Found the Missing Link: Eugene Dubois and His Lifelong Quest to Prove Darwin Right by Pat Shipman (non-fiction)
  • The Time Travelers by Linda Buckley-Archer (fiction)
  • Plain Kate by Erin Bow (fiction)
  • Zombies vs Unicorns edited by Holly Black (fiction)
  • The Search for the Red Dragon by James A. Owen (fiction)
  • The Alchemyst by Michael Scott (fiction)

Currently Reading
I actually have quite a list of in-progress books, many of which are non-fiction of the dense and scholarly type that I tend to set aside for long periods at time, or else read in frequent, short chunks. Every now and then, though, I find one so well written I speed through it like it was a novel. I love those ones.

  • Common Wild Flowers & Plants of Nova Scotia by Diane Larue (non-fiction)
  • Meanwhile, In Another Part of the Forest edited by Alberto Manguel (fiction)
  • Song of Innocence and of Experience by William Blake (facsimile edition; poetry)
  • The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin (non-fiction)
  • Into the Mummy's Tomb edited by John Richard Stephens (fiction and non-fiction)
  • Servants of Nature by Lewis Pyenson and Susan Sheets-Pyenson (non-fiction)
  • Artists on Comic Art by Mark Salisbury (non-fiction)
  • Illustrators of the Eighteen-Sixties by Forrest Reid (non-fiction)
  • Written in Bones edited by Paul Bahn (non-fiction)
  • Mechanics of Wonder: The Creation of the Idea of Science Fiction by Gary Westfahl (non-fiction)
  • Dinosaurs of the Air: The Evolution and Loss of Flight in Dinosaurs and Birds by Gregory S. Paul (non-fiction)
  • Only Connect: Readings on Children's Literature (3rd Edition) edited by Sheila A. Egoff (non-fiction)
  • Black Water 2: More Tales of the Fantastic edited by Alberto Manguel (fiction)
Yes, that is a lot of books. But this is the time of year I look with dismay on all the books I started and set aside for one reason or another, and start making an effort to finish them before the year is over. I don't usually manage to get them all back onto their proper shelves by the new year, but I generally get through quite a few of them.

Recently Finished Reading
  • The Alchemyst by Michael Scott (fiction)
    If you saw my Twitter/Facebook rant yesterday, you might be expecting me to say some not very nice things about this book. But aside from having the characters' archaeologist parents discover some decidedly palaeontological fossils (if you don't know why this is annoying, I shall just point out that archaeologists study past humans. It's palaeontologists who study other--often much more ancient--fossil life), and a few other details that jarred me out of the story (really, I don't think anyone still used Altavista even in 2007 when the book was first published), it was actually quite good. Good enough, anyway, that I'll see if the library has the next one in the series. Also, though this is the first fiction I've read my Mr Scott, I have read some of his work on Celtic myth.
  • The Fossil Cliffs of Joggins by Laing Ferguson (non-fiction)
    We were supposed to go to Joggins and Parrsboro for my birthday, but between car trouble and a very lean summer, it never quite happened. As soon as the weather gets better in the spring, though, I am determined to go fossil-hunting. In the meantime, this little booklet about the cliffs was a good bite-sized introduction to the geology of the area. I'll see if there's a new version out when I finally get the the Fundy Geological Museum.
  • The Secret Supper by Javier Sierra (fiction)
    This was a pretty good book, though definitely not a quick read. It reminded me a lot of The Name of the Rose, though not quite as dense. Monks, art, secret heretical religions, codes. Leonardo da Vinci.

September's Winner Is . . .

The winner of my September giveaway--a choice of copper pendant, choice of ebook, and some other thing(s) I choose as I pack the prize for mailing--is . . .


Jen, if you're reading this, please leave a comment or email me at anagramforink at gmail dot com with a way to get in touch with you so I can get your address and send you a coupon code for whichever ebook you'd like (see them all on Smashwords).

I'll post a new giveaway soon, so if you didn't win, I hope you'll come back and try again (and if you did win, you're still welcome to enter again). Also, you can enter from anywhere in the world (unless you live somewhere Canada Post doesn't deliver, in which case you can enter, but I won't be able to mail your prize).

Thanks to Random.org for choosing a winner.