Categories
Guernsey Guernsey Literature Painters, Poetry

Keeping Guernsey Legends vibrantly alive

Guernsey Legends by Jane Mosse & Frances Lemmon, Blue Ormer Publishing

jane-mosse-and-frances-lemmon
Jane Mosse and Frances Lemmon

Screen Shot 2018-03-09 at 14.53.39The stories in the gorgeously-produced Guernsey Legends by Jane Mosse and Frances Lemmon are not remote reconstructions from some antique past. One story, about an enormous spectre of a nanny goat, played a real part in my own island childhood. Le Coin de la Biche was a stone’s throw away from my family home on La Rue des Grons. My grandfather always accelerated past this corner at night. Although we used to laugh nervously about La Biche as we sped past, by night a fiery-eyed giant nanny goat leaping out of the hedges certainly seemed possible.

The book’s introduction also mentions Jane Mosse and Frances Lemmon’s debt to the peerless Marie De Garis, the author of Folklore of Guernsey (1975).  But the text of Guernsey Legends, contains stories collected by Sir Edgar McCullough and Edith Carey, which were first published in 1903. These stories are then responded to in poetry, by Jane Mosse, and visually, by Frances Lemmon.

It is a huge relief to see we are in such safe hands. Writer Jane Mosse is well known on Guernsey not just as a fine poet, but for championing Guernsey literature, and the memory of G.B. Edwards and The Book of Ebenezer Le Page, the best book written about the island. In this collection Jane Mosse’s poems are typically playful, engaging and full of a folkloric darkness. The effect is often that we are reading rediscovered poems, and Jane Mosse’s conscious use of  anachronisms is particularly effective and sympathetic in rooting themselves into the soil of the original stories.

The Cuckoo is one of these examples, where the poem is almost like reading an old Guernsey spell.

The Cuckoo

When you hear the cuckoo call
Sew you then your wedding shawl.

Count the months before you wed
Head thee to thy marriage bed.

Wedding ring already worn?
Count the years to your first-born.

When you’re agèd list her cry,
Count the years before you die.

This poem about finding a witch caught up in thorns works its magic in the same way.

The Witch in the Hedge

Thorns
tore
at the silken skirt.
Fine tatters
fluttered in the furze,
as the juice of the sloes
leached into her bodice
staining the fragile lace of her shawl.

When old Nicolette
espied the gentlewoman
ensnared by blackthorn,
bleeding midst the brambles
her gentle hands reached
to pluck
barbed spines
from grazed flesh.

Pride wounded,
raven scoop askew,
the hag
spat
out her warning.

‘Hold though thy tongue
speak to no one
lest a single word
of this tale be heard.’

Frances Lemmon is the pre-eminent painter on Guernsey, who unfailingly manages to get to the symbolic heart of the island, with striking compositions that somehow mythologise features of the island. Her style is deceptively simple, employing planes of vibrant colour, and simplified depictions of people and animals. The book is worth its price alone for having collected Lemmon’s stunning and mysterious pictures.

Guernsey Legends is divided into five sections: animals, fairies, magic, rocks and stones, and festivals, and the subject matter is incredibly rich. We learn about an invasion of murderous fairies from the west, drunken (and untrustworthy) Jerseymen who tried to steal Guernsey by hitching a rope to it to, to shape-changing witches and shape-changing rocks and all manner of other matters.

This is a beautiful book. The original stories wonderfully enhanced by Jane Mosse and Frances Lemmon who have gone about teasing out new approaches to the legends with consummate skill. In their hands Guernsey Legends are vibrantly alive, and bring authentic Guernsey folklore to a new generation of readers. This is another timely and excellent publication from Blue Ormer.

Categories
Autobiographical Defenders of Guernsey Guernsey Prose

‘Defenders of Guernsey’ now on kindle

I have revised ‘Defenders of Guernsey’. This second edition, for an 8-to-adult age is now available on Kindle.

As a child my grandparents lived in a road in Guernsey called La rue des Grons. When I lived there as a child, and then stayed with my grandparents on every school holiday the few streetlights went off at 10.30. It was very dark and definitely spooky. Just down the road was a spot that my grandfather, David Marquis, used to zoom past at night. This place was known as Le coin de La Biche (the goat’s corner) and was rumoured to be haunted by the apparition of an enormous nanny goat.

Still the most authoritative book on Guernsey folklore, Folklore of Guernsey by Marie DeGaris devotes a few paragraphs to the giant red-eyed beast and its fearsome sightings, one of which scared a 16 year old girl to death.  I was always happy about La Biche, as it’s not everyone lucky enough to have a star of folklore living a hundred yards or so down the road.

I’ve been working on a children’s character called Skelton Yawngrave for some time. I am now on the sixth draft of a novel which features him. However, when I was invited to the first Guernsey literary festival in 2011 to talk to some children, I thought I would write a longish (13,000 word) short story called Defenders of Guernsey featuring Skelton and La Biche which was published then as a limited edition.

My friend Amanda Milne is developing a board game set on the island, and having read this story borrowed the idea of a terrifying goat. Amanda’s game is now in its a prototype form and being tested by games players. You can read more about the SchilMil game in development here.

Defenders of Guernsey Kindle
Defenders of Guernsey now on kindle. My mother Margaret Hamlin painted La Biche for the cover.
Categories
A Guernsey Double Guernsey Guernsey Literature

La Gran’mère, a Guernsey goddess

granmere%202I am an idolater. This is not something many of us can say in this godless age.

My Goddess is somewhere between three and five thousand years old. She was hewn from a large lump of granite until, around the time of the Romans, she was carved again, adding the garments and, possibly, the face she wears now.

She is known as La Gràn’Mère du Chim’tière, in the Guernsey French of Marie De Garis — whose Folklore of Guernsey (1975) is a peerless source of information about the island’s traditions— or La Gran’mère du Chimquière; the Grandmother of the Cemetery. And she stands just outside the consecrated ground of St Martin’s Parish church, next to the gate that opens into the churchyard. Those who walk into the charming parish church pass something that has existed twice as long as Christianity itself.

She is a bone fide graven image. You can tell this because, in 1860, a zealous churchwarden called Tourel grew furious at the reverence being paid to her by parishioners and ordered the La Gran’mère to be destroyed. This desecration was successfully achieved, and she was broken in half. Such was the outcry among local inhabitants, however, that she was mended with cement and relocated to her current position. To this day offerings of flowers and coins are left on her head.

The Guide to the Parish Church of St. Martin says “the Church stands on the site of a Neolithic tomb-shrine below which two springs emerge. One, La Fontaine de la Bellouse was said to have healing powers.” It is still a pleasant spot, despite the white van that seems to be perpetually parked in front of La Gran’mère every time I visit.

In fact I have been checking in with this Goddess for more than fifty years. I have a compulsion to visit her as one of the first things I do every time I return to the island. And although I don’t quite stand in the lane talking aloud to her, there is some daft part of me that thinks an update on my life is somehow downloaded into the impassive stone.

She is not an insubstantial being whose appearance is unknowable. This divine chunk of ancient history is not fenced off, and stands completely unprotected on the street. You can touch her; she has a tangible reality.

After my own grandmother’s funeral service in St Martin’s church, my grandfather, whose legs had become weak with the day’s events, paused to steady himself, leaning on La Gran’mère’s shoulder completely unselfconsciously.
Gran'mere 25Oct
My friend Richard Fleming and I collaborated on our book A Guernsey Double. We both wrote about about La Gran’mère, but from opposite perspectives. For Richard she is  something to be hurried past: “yet, as I pass with dogs that cringe/ and shy away from nameless harm,/ the day seems darker,/far less warm.” While for me she has become something to which, bizarrely enough, I turn for comfort “Anchor me, Gran’mère,/ my stone tongue/ is tapping my teeth;/ anchor me/in my night storm,/in my heart worn/exhaustion.”

Although I personally worship La Gran’mère I will leave the last words to Marie De Garis.

Looked at during the daytime la gràn’mère wears a very benign look, but photographs taken by flashlight at night reveal quite a different aspect. She then looks a fierce and malevolent object.