If you are reading this it means you have made it through a rather extraordinary year that we will probably not see the like of again.
We are a resilient species, having survived multiple scourges including fire breathing dragons, insatiable trolls, petty and or indifferent ancient gods, vindictive ghosts and mendacious aristocrats. Not to mention wicked sorcerers, mustachio’d bandits, bearded pirates and shiny suited politicians.
So we can give ourselves a pat on the back and wave to our neighbours with a smile that says, ‘we’re okay.’
Christmas is coming and for all of you cooped up with Covid what else is there to do but escape with a story or two? Mandorlinfiore gives you three tales based upon traditional European folk tales, with dragons and bandits, knight adventurers, and fishermen and women all with their own stories to tell.
Free is good, but the paperback edition is also keenly priced and easy to order, so you can enjoy the book in the traditional way, by candlelight too, if you prefer.
This is my book, which you can download for free all day this Friday July 24th! There are three stories between the covers, each of them set on the Mediterranean island of Corsica. A mysterious place, closer to Italy than to its Government in France and with a fiercely proud identity of its own…and, of course, dragons…
Mandorlinfiore is a story of destiny, dragons, a huge pile of gold and a stack of pancakes. A story of romance and adventure, of ghosts and ancient gods. It is a story for all ages, steeped as it is in European folk tale traditions.
What pleases an author more than anything else? Knowing there is a multitude of story-hungry readers out there in the big wide world. Readers with many different tastes when it comes to genre, but all of whom have a desire to discover.
To take a reader on a journey to explore new territories is one of the reasons why an author takes that first step alone. Knowing, hoping, that one day they will be joined by eager fellow travellers.
It took me ten years to complete this particular journey. When I started out I had little idea of where it would take me, but the view from here is pretty wonderful. I hope you think so too when you get to the last page! Enjoy, bold explorer!
I always liked the word burlesque. I thought it meant a horse when I was little because it sounded smooth and flanky, with nostrils somewhere and legs on hinges. Like this book shop. All angles and legs and flared outraged noses. I first read of a “burlesque” when I was fourteen. It’s a type of show, one that is provocative, comedic, and distorted. In the book I read, somebody danced one in protest against a ruling establishment. Something about it made sense. They danced it as if they were a horse. And it trampled the thinking of the day.
Is this story inside or outside of my head. Is it distorted? I wouldn’t like to say for sure because I work in this bookshop by myself.
There’s an alcove directly outside the door, a dip in the shopfronts where people stop to search bags, answer the phone, eat food…
Three years ago I had an idea for a detective novel set in the Normandy city of Bayeux in the 1880s, inspired partly by heavily embroidered and likely inaccurate family stories. Whoever was discussing Great Grandpa, the central myth was that he and Great Grandma had escaped persecution in France by stowing away aboard a sea-going barge.
I was lucky enough to meet my Great Grandpa. He entertained me with magic tricks, palming coins and once, making an egg appear from behind my ear, which made the four-year-old me scream. I had no idea eggs could fall out of my ears! How terrifying!
He lived with his younger wife, who I was to call Great Aunt, in a tiny cottage that smelled of wool and tobacco and rain. The walls were lined with brown and cream striped wallpaper. My memory shows me no pictures on the walls and only a pair of high backed chairs and a small table on which a green vase sat. Once there were bluebells in the vase, another time those tall ‘dog’ daisies often seen crowding English roadsides.
If he had been a refugee from France there was no way I could tell, and certainly not now, from this distance. He was simply a kindly but incredibly old gentleman who I felt would not be with us for long. He would have one eye on me and another focussed beyond the curtain of this world.
It is true to say that my memories of Great Grandpa contributed the spark but I also had a desire to explore other aspects of my family history. There are rumours of links that go back further to the 17th century Huguenot exodus from France.
So what did I discover and what am I writing now? Well, as there is no hard evidence I can point to I thought I would make some up and properly romanticise the family mythology in a work of pure fiction set in the late 19th century.
At the end of August 2019 I began to fill a note book with one case for a young chief of police recently returned from the colonies to take control of the gendarmerie in his home town. On his first day in the job he discovers that an old schoolfriend is dead, drowned in the river Aure, and that his father, the retired magician, is missing. I spilled the words onto paper, a lined hardback notebook, and didn’t stop, or look back until it was full.
Almost a year later and I am penning the fifth book in what has become a series while writing up book one on my computer. The Magician of Bayeux: The Wolf and the Boar, is the story of Inspector Bassé and his first confrontation with the arch criminal Le Loup.
I have no idea when this project will be finished. Perhaps I am just getting started? At times the books seem to write themselves, the characters talking directly to me. It’s like standing in a river of words and I am simply the channel taking the current to the page.
Inspector Bassé’s father is still missing and Le Loup is still at large. There are rumours that the elderly magician has been seen in London and a trail of letters has been discovered filled with hints and clues to the old man’s fate.
What Great Grandpa’s real story is I might never find out. Perhaps one day I will have the time to research through parish papers and registry files. Until then I am happy to enjoy the mythmaking of his sons and daughters while inventing my own.
As has been said before, the pigs of this region are a tough, but curious and friendly breed. They spend their days foraging on the woodland floor for fungi, fallen fruit and nuts, and their nights curled up together under rocky outcrops or in ruined swineherd’s huts. In those days wolves and other wild beasts roamed the interior and a mountain pig was a feast.
The pigs that had made their home in this almond grove were as friendly and curious as any other and so, when they heard the cries of the baby boy, they were quickly snuffling and snorting about him. He was about the size and colour of a large piglet and still retained some aroma of his mother’s milk.
By some miracle of nature, a young sow who had already weaned three litters, took a liking to the child and suckled him for a night and a day.
Now it happened that the King had been followed up the mountain the next day by the merchant from Solenzara, with whom he had crossed the Tyrhennian Sea. The merchant dealt in fine cloth from the East and rare herbs from the North, jewels from the South and gold from the West.
He and his wife had been faithful servants of the Lord and their King and had once had hope that one day they too would be blessed with children. Alas the merchant and his wife had begun to think they would never have a child to call their own.
And so the merchant was in a low mood as his horse and wagon toiled up the rocky path into the interior. By the time he reached the almond grove it was near midday.
From here there was a fine view across the valley down to the sea and the almond trees were in full flower. The merchant thought it a proper place to rest his horse in the shade.
He climbed down from the wagon and tied his horse and then stepped into the grove to rest his back against a tree. As he sat, he noticed a small bundle of rags between the roots.
He made to pick them over when he heard a small cry from within the bundle. Gently he raised up the rags and discovered the baby within. His heart leapt.
‘Praise God,’ he said, and then looked all about for the child’s parents. All he saw were pigs. He called out, appealing for the child’s parents to come forward. ‘Surely there can be no-one able to leave such a tiny creature all alone with these wild pigs?’
He looked more closely at the child and spied the wound on his neck. The merchant knew then that the baby had no other opportunity than to go with him, to be raised as his own. He looked up to the sky and could see only almond blossom.
In ancient days it wasn’t all whizz-bang banditry and spooky goings on was it? Of course not. Accountants who could keep track of all your gold were worth their weight in it were they not? Also, bean-counters could be counted on to keep a promise made to a dragon, couldn’t they?
Read the whole story for free on Sunday 7th June. Download the Kindle version to keep and read without lightening your hoard by as much as a single gold coin…
Based on traditional European folk tales and set on the beautiful Mediterranean island of Corsica, Mandorlinfiore is a tale that will take you through a country peopled by all manner of creatures. Some of them have faded into legend, but, if we look hard enough at the right time of year, when the stars align and the weather is kind, who knows what we will see?
This Sunday, the 7th June, the kindle version is absolutely free to download, read and enjoy.
I can’t give away the paperback I’m afraid, but it is also available at a low, low price, for your reading pleasure.
Follow Mandorlinfiore, as he goes in search of his destiny, dogged by bandits, old gods, stroppy kings and mages. Wonder as he is saved by Princess Belfiore from a terrible fate involving far too many pancakes, and another, involving mackerel, poetry and a dragon.
Sir Guillaume de St Hilaire follows with a report of his visit to the island and his marvellous encounters with enchantments and, of course, bandits aplenty in his search for giants of legend.
After the knight comes Gufi the Fool, a link in a storytelling chain that goes back in time through Sicily, and beyond. His roots, and other points of interest are discussed in notes on the text, while the text is illustrated with original photographs and artwork.
During the medieval era it was common to forage for edible mushrooms, though there is a surprising lack of actual mushroom recipes in surviving manuscripts. Perhaps this is due to upper-class households turning their noses up at any fungus other than expensive truffles, or maybe it’s because physicians assigned mushrooms “melancholic” properties, which were not to be eaten by the elderly. Maybe, as with bread, those with the skill to do so saw no point in actually writing the recipes down. We will likely never know.
From De materia medica Turkey, Istanbul, mid 10th century Pierpont Morgan Library. MS M.652
There are two French mushroom recipes that I know of and both are pies. These are not the only recipes out there; Germans used mushrooms in purees, Italians in tarts and an English recipe – one of my favorites- is a soup that I will release at a later date…
Mandorlinfiore is a tale of destiny and dragons, mysterious tricksters, mustachio’d bandits and greedy kings, based on traditional folk tales from Italy and France and set on the Mediterranean island of Corsica. It has been in production for more than a decade and has finally been put together for you to read for free.
The last time I offered the book for free it reached the top twenty in the Amazon Kindle listings, which was an amazing thing to see!
So please feel free to download and share the ebook as widely as you would like.
The paperback version is available wherever delivery restrictions allow in the current crisis. Meanwhile stay safe and keep an eye out for dragons and mustachio’d bandits!
You might think that a bandit’s life is a hard life and you would be right. No one wants to give a bandit a job, no one wants a bandit to marry their daughter and no one wants a bandit for a neighbour. And so the bandits in this territory roamed from forest to mountain to swamp and hill looking for the end of their lives, for as everybody knows, there is no such thing as an old brigand. One or two might escape the life of a bandit and become an ordinary burglar, or a tax collector, or maybe go into the priesthood, but in the main, the ordinary bandit was a bandit because he could not abide a normal life.
The leader of the three mustachio’d bandits was considering retiring in a year or so, once he had enough loot to set up a small tax collecting office in Ajaccio. He was pleased with the new horse. He would trade it, he thought, it was not a mountain horse so would be no good in the terrain where he currently did most of his business.
The other two bandits were younger and still full of fire, keen to fill their secret hideouts with booty. They were pleased with the fine saddle and other items strapped to the horse and were busy working out what prices they could get and how that would divide up, and how much more they would get once they had killed their leader and taken his share.
The leader knew what they were thinking because they were bandits and he had been as young as them once and had done the same thing many times, but he had a plan, and he would be ready.
They were not ready when Mandorlinfiore blew on his horn. The horses threw the three mustachio’d bandits onto the ground and turned about and galloped back up the mountain as fast as they could go. The three bandits fell and rolled down the steep mountainside until they came hard up against a huge boulder and all the wind was knocked out of them.
They struggled and fought to their feet and looked all around for their mounts, but they were not to be seen anywhere. It took them some time to regain the road and when they did it was apparent that their horses had ventured higher into the mountains.
‘We must follow them and get them back,’ said the leader, ‘and kill the horse thief that took ‘em!’
‘Aye!’ cheered his compatriots, and together they set off on foot, swords drawn.
The full story will be available for free download on Friday May 8th when the links will be posted right here!