Drooj

“She is drooj – a magus of the ancient world.”

Hi there.

Here’s the first of a projected series of posts on some of the terminology used in the Glenaster Chronicles, and – hopefully – I’ll be writing about some of the main characters and places, etc. too.

I thought I’d start with the term “drooj”, which crops up quite a bit in both The Witch of Glenaster and The Widow’s Thorn.

Like most of the unusual words that appear in my work, it is real and not made up, and is my (no doubt clumsy) attempt to render phonetically the word “druj”, which comes from Zoroastrianism, the ancient Iranian religion based on the principle of order and truth (“asha”) as opposed to disorder and falsehood (“druj”).

Zoroastrianism was the state religion of Persia for over a thousand years, until the rise of Islam in the 7th Century, but there are still several thousand Zoroastrians worldwide. Fire and water are sacred elements in their belief, and their places of worship are called fire temples, with a source of natural water such as a well somewhere in the grounds, and an inner chamber containing a fire that is tended day and night by magi or priests.

The word “druj” in Zoroastrianism appears to be an abstract noun, but apparently it can also be feminine, and from my limited reading on the subject “Druj” with a capital “D” seems to refer to a female demon.

My own version of the word, “drooj”, is used as the collective term for many if not all followers of the Witch of Glenaster, specifically those with magical or supernatural powers.

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“An English Wood” – A Story

The week in pictures: 6 November 2015 - Telegraph

Photo: telegraph.co.uk

Martins was lost, and he knew it, though he couldn’t decide if knowing it made it better or worse.

Of course, he couldn’t be truly lost. This was southern England, in the 21st Century, not some endless African savannah, or colossal American mountain range. He was in a wood. An English wood. A bit spooky, perhaps, as the evening came on. But hardly dangerous.

No need to be alarmed, then, no need to send up a flare (even if he had one, which he didn’t), no need to worry about the dead battery on his phone. Except that, he had been looking for the path back to the car park for three hours now, and he couldn’t seem to find it, and the wood, he knew, wasn’t that big. He should be out of it by now, back at the road, or at least in some field or other, trying not to trip over the sheep.

At one point he thought he had reached some kind of boundary fence, and through it he had seen, a few yards away, two horses, one white, one black. They had looked at him for a long time, and then wandered over, no doubt expecting him to give them food. He didn’t have any, and stupidly found himself explaining this to them, and apologising. But the horses just went on gazing at him, neither pleased nor annoyed, and when he realised that the field in which they stood was completely enclosed by the wood, and therefore did not provide a way out of it, he walked away, and was somewhat unnerved to discover, when he turned back a few minutes later, that the horses were still there, watching him.

He thought that locating the track leading away from the main gate to the field might bring him inevitably back to the road, but after about half a mile it disappeared into a maze of other tracks, and he was lost once again. He began to wonder if he was going in circles.

When he left the car park earlier that afternoon he had climbed along a path clearly waymarked, with occasional signs indicating the wildlife one might expect to see, and a map of the valley, with “You Are Here” and a large arrow written prominently in red. Likewise, though it was a weekday in February and the sky was overcast, there had been other people about, mostly, like Martins, of a certain age, though they had all said hello to him with varying degrees of enthusiasm as he passed them on the footpath.

But now he could see no markings anywhere, and all the people seemed to have disappeared hours ago, as soon as the already feeble daylight had started to leach from the sky. Martins cursed. He was dressed sensibly, he had his waterproofs, good boots, a bottle of water, even half a Twix. He considered retracing his steps back to the field with the horses in it, and spending the night there, if necessary. He wasn’t in bad shape for a man of his age. A night out of doors probably wouldn’t kill him. Whoever owned the horses would no doubt visit some time tomorrow to feed them, and he could reveal himself, allay their alarm by apologising in a classically embarrassed English way, and they would both laugh, and the stranger would take him back to his car, make sure he was all right, was there anyone he could phone? Perhaps he might like some coffee, or a bite to eat? And Martins would say, No, that’s very kind, thank you. I’m just glad to be out of that wood.

But of course he couldn’t retrace his steps back to the field. He couldn’t retrace his steps anywhere. He was lost.

There was a soft creaking away to his left, that made him turn suddenly. He thought at first it was a lorry or coach changing gear as it came down the hill, and that the sound might somehow guide him back towards the car park, but there was something about the sound – some kind of agency to it, Martins thought – that he felt to be unnatural, and he realised he was really frightened now, in a way he could not remember being for many years, and as he realised this he realised also that it was now almost completely dark.

Of course, his eyes had been able to adjust gradually, so he was hardly blind, but he always forgot how quickly day turned to night in winter, and he had forgotten something else, too, because he had not expected to need it. His torch.

He stood there for a moment in the darkness, thinking. He felt like shouting, or crying, but did neither. The thought nagged at him that he must try and stay quiet, that he mustn’t attract attention, that he wasn’t alone – and that whoever else was in the valley with him was watching, and, in some way that he couldn’t fathom, wished him harm.

He shook his head, rubbed at his shoulder. He ate the rest of the Twix, and drank some water. And then he sat on the ground, and waited.

 

Fine-tuning my insecurity

Starting on a new project always feels so hopelessly daunting that there is a big temptation, for me at any rate, to give up and walk away. It’s like walking towards a rock face, which from a distance looks impressively grand, but up close just gives you impossible feelings of inadequacy, and turns your guts to water.

I really have to gee myself up to do it, and to resist the (many) voices in my head telling me not to bother, it’s not worth it, it won’t be any good. And of course it might not be any good – but unless I take the first step, I won’t know either way.

“You don’t look at the summit when you’re climbing the mountain,” as a friend of mine once said, speaking metaphorically (I’m pretty sure he wasn’t a mountaineer).

So I squeeze my eyes shut, grab hold for dear life, and try and haul myself upward, knowing that when I eventually – hopefully – reach the summit, I will have (mostly) forgotten about all the pain and heartache of getting there, and can just sit back and enjoy the view.

Chewing on Ideas

A friend asked me the other day where my ideas come from.

As I recall, I gave some vague, waffly answer – I never have been good at thinking on my feet, and I fear am a practised expert at l’esprit d’escalier – but, chewing on it a bit more, I realised that the ideas that have “worked” for me, the ideas that have had “legs” and developed into something more than an idea, that have developed into a script, or a story, or a novel, are the ones that “stick” – i.e., the ones that have been rolling around my head for months, or even years, and that my imagination can’t seem to let go.

Once the germ of a story becomes this persistent, then it’s a safe bet it could grow into something reasonably sophisticated, something that just might be able to develop its own means of propulsion, and then go on to use that means of propulsion to go for a good, long wander, initially just to the end of the road and back, but eventually, hopefully, out into the world, where it can make its own living without any help from me.

To stand on its own two feet, in other words.

Failing that, if my brain is broadcasting nothing but static (which it is more often than I would like), I flick through the disjointed scribblings of my various notebooks, and even if I am currently bereft of any good ideas, I can usually spot something glinting amidst the sand and pebbles of my past thoughts.

And I reach my hand in, and try to pluck it out.

Michaelmas

Colyford Goose Fayre, Devon. Photo: seatonbay.com

Today, the 29th September, is Michaelmas Day, the feast of St Michael the Archangel, and historically in England one of the four “Quarter Days” that marked the beginning or ending of legal contracts (between landlord and tenant, or between employer and employee). As such, it often witnessed Hiring Fairs, which started in the reign of Edward III and lasted up until the Second World War in some places, where employers would look for new apprentices, and would-be employees would wear a badge or carry a tool to denote their skill (for example, a crook for a shepherd, or a milking-pail for a dairymaid). Once agreement had been reached regarding rates of pay, etc., the employer would give their new worker a shilling (also known as earnest money, fest, God’s penny or arles) to seal the bargain. These fairs became important festivals, and would, like many similar events, often descend into drunken revelry.

Traditionally, a fattened goose was roasted and eaten on Michaelmas Day, and tenants would often give one to their landlord as part of their rent (which would have been due at Michaelmas, as a Quarter Day). There are still goose fairs held at some places in England today, the largest and most famous of which is Nottingham Goose Fair, which dates from the Thirteenth Century, and two smaller ones in Devon – the Goosey Fair in Tavistock, and the Colyford Goose Fayre in Seaton Bay (see photo above). When the Gregorian Calendar was introduced in Britain in 1752, many people continued to celebrate important feasts on their old dates, several days later (for example, Old Twelfth Night on January 17th), and so the Nottingham and Tavistock goose fairs are now held in early October, and it is no longer legal in the UK to sell live poultry at markets, so the fairs today are more about rides and (cooked) food.

But Colyford’s tiny fayre is perhaps closest in spirit to those earlier fairs, with villagers dressing in medieval costume, local produce for sale, a demonstration of traditional skills such as archery, and a mummers’ play.

Horticulturally speaking, there are at least a couple of flora with connections to Michaelmas – the aster, or “Michaelmas daisy”, is so-called because it blooms late in the year. And then of course there is the legend that, when St Michael cast Satan out of Heaven, he fell into a blackberry bush and cursed, spat or urinated on it (take your pick). According to tradition, that is why blackberries go sour after Michaelmas.

Michaelmas daisies.