C is for Castles

Perhaps the highlight of the entire trip was castle spotting.

Whilst I absolutely love living in Australia, the laid back way of life, the climate, the land and the people, it is a sad fact that for all this we, as a relatively ‘new’ country, miss out on the history that countries in Europe have to offer.

One of the perks of said history is the castles.

Standing in front of a Katy sized doorway at Wawel Castle, Krakow

Big or small, new and old, crumbling or unspoiled, extravagant and simple. I don’t care how they come, but boy oh boy do I like a good castle.

The idea of secret passageways, miniature doorways and hidden rooms just makes me all warm and fuzzy inside. Of course, this all stems from my love of fantasy stories, naturally. But what amazes me most is that no matter how many castles I see I still feel as if I am being transported back in time to a moment when castles were alive with nobility, scandal and intrigue. The feeling is so overwhelming that I’m certain were I to close my eyes, I could see the nobles wandering the castle grounds and the stable boys attending to the horses.

Like I said, I do love a good castle.

The first castle that caught my eye was in Krakow, Poland. We visited Wawel Castle at night when all was a bit eerie, but it was still perfectly beautiful, made even more so by the fact that it sits on the hill that hosts the Dragon’s Den, a limestone cave said to have been inhabited by the legendary Wawel Dragon.

My Auntie and I with one of the canons my grandfather made

Whilst the cave is closed during the winter months, the appeal of a city and a castle built upon the ashes of a dragon was all quite extraordinary to this impressionable young mind.

Now to England, where we find ourselves in the ancient town of Rye, which happens to be where my father grew up, his father before him and, some many years later, where I also did some growing up of my own. But more about that in another post.

Ypres Castle was built in 1250 and is one of the oldest surviving buildings in Rye. Once used as a prison, it now hosts the Rye town museum.

It’s a small fortress, but I love it all the same, especially after hearing of my grandfather’s part in the making of the canons that now sit outside the castle, as well as my father’s accident falling off one of the castle walls. Boys will be boys.

Ypres Castle, Rye, England

When I was 16, I went on a student exchange to Italy where I stayed with a host family for three months in the small town of Ferrara, about an hour south of Venice. The following year I went back to visit my host family. About three years later I moved there to study for a year. A few years after that I returned again for a visit. And this year, just over a decade after my first visit at the ripe age of 16, I returned once more to my host family, host town and host country.

Castello Estense, Ferrara, Italy

Needless to say, Ferrara and Italy both hold a place close to my heart.

Did I mention Ferrara has a castle? And a moat? AND a drawbridge?

Yep, The Estense Castle is pretty impressive. Smack bang in the centre of the city, this moated medieval fortress has bared witness to every stage of the city’s colourful history since its foundations were laid in 1385. Whilst some amazing stories about the castle have been told to me in Italian over the years, I’d be well pressed to do them justice with a poor translation and my dreadful memory, but I would nonetheless recommend a visit to this beautiful castle if you’re ever on your way North to Venice.

My first view of Edinburgh Castle, from the Grassmarket

The last castle I’d like to share with you is the gem of them all.

Having never before been to Edinburgh, I was absolutely taken aback by its beauty. The streets, the buildings, the architecture – it was all nothing short of amazing. Of course Edinburgh will get its own post, but its castle, well, it made such an impression that it probably deserves its own post too. Alas…

When I first spotted this magnificent structure, I was being taken on a tour through the streets by my dear Italian friend who now studies in Edinburgh. The irony of an Italian showing around the British born Australian was not lost on us, although it was even more prevalent when I found myself cooking her my Italian host-mother’s pasta sauce recipe. But I digress.

Edinburgh Castle, Edinburgh, Scotland

We were walking down the cobbled stone streets of the Grassmarket, admiring the beautiful bookshops, architecture and quaint little narrow passageways between buildings, when one of the wider side streets opened to reveal a towering rock cliff face, which literally morphed into the castle perched atop it.

I was absolutely speechless. Without getting all melodramatic on you, it was for me so overwhelmingly magnificent that I actually felt a bit choked-up.

Truly, this is the moment and the place that will stick with me as the absolute highlight of the entire trip. I was completely enamoured. I felt like I was standing before a castle from a fantasy story, in Westeros or in Middle Earth.

It made such an impression that I was compelled to write a poem about it. As I’ve said before, poetry is far from my forte and this is certainly no prize winner. But raw as it is, the meaning is clear: I love you Edinburgh Castle!

A Kingly Embrace

I walk cobbled streets
You hide behind stone
But with each passing crossroad
I catch glimpse of your throne

As cliff becomes castle
Turrets touching the skies
All turn to your fortress
With passionate sighs

You observe from above
The tenderness of others
The embrace of a friend
Brushing lips of two lovers

But when friends have long gone
And love starts to wither
The distance between us
Brings a tremble, a shiver

For in heart and in soul
I belong in your towers
Perched upon rock face
Dreaming for hours

And though distance remains
Between me and your grace
Please await my return
To your kingly embrace

Edinburgh Castle emerging from the cliff face

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The Giant and the Leprechaun

I not long ago discovered this wonderful and charming little website for short stories, called Shortbread Stories.

Whilst browsing through the stories, I came across this beautiful fantasy/fable story/poem and loved it so much I had to share it with the world, with the author’s permission of course.

Head over to the site to leave the author, Steve Douglas, a comment or to read more stories by him and other writers.

The Giant And The Leprechaun by Steve Douglas

The giant and the leprechaun were walking by the sea,

The giant towered ten feet tall; the leprechaun but three,

He crossed the sand quite easily in mighty giant strides;

The leprechaun ran breathlessly along right by his side,

But both were quite oblivious to the turning of the tide.

*

They talked of great philosophers, the power of the mind,

Of which belief could be the greatest use for all mankind.

They both agreed that true salvation always lay within,

That there was no such thing as God, or Judgement Day, or sin,

And all the while along the shore the tide came pounding in…

*

The leprechaun said every living thing had equal worth;

The giant thought the strongest should be rulers of the Earth.

He said that giants everywhere should rise and take command;

The leprechaun disputed that one race should own the land,

And both were too absorbed to spot the softening of the sand…

*

The minutes passed, the sea swept close, but on went their debate,

And when they thought of turning back they found it was too late,

The giant found that he was trapped, the sand around his knees,

And from nearby he heard his small companion’s desperate pleas –

The leprechaun and he were at the mercy of the seas…

*

They struggled with the sucking sand and tried to stay their fears,

And being good philosophers exchanged their best ideas.

“I’m powerful and strong! I will survive!” the giant said,

The leprechaun replied, “the sea is almost at my head!

And if you don’t act quickly then you know we’ll both be dead.”

*

The giant’s weight had carried him too deep into the sand,

So he was glad to hear his smaller friend had something planned.

He crouched beside the leprechaun and faced the rushing sea,

Then using every ounce of strength he slowly pulled him free,

And held him high above his head, so powerful was he!

*

The sea now at his waist, the giant’s plight was really grim,

He knew that he was fortunate the leprechaun could swim,

That he could swim to land and find whatever help lay there,

But also knew that there was not a moment left to spare,

And all that he could do till then was face the sea and stare.

*

Just when he thought that death had come, submerged beneath the sea,

He heard the sounds of giants, who had come to winch him free –

He heard the sounds of cheering crowds above the ocean’s roar,

And saw that all the leprechauns were lined up on the shore,

And knew he’d owe a debt to leprechauns forever more.

~storytelling nomad~

A Storytelling Utopia: Melbourne Writers Festival 2011

So I mentioned a few posts ago that I had a number of reasons for my recent absence, and today I’m going to share with you one of them.

In Australia there is an ongoing rivalry between the city of Sydney and the city of Melbourne.  Those who live in Sydney claim that they live in the superior city, and those who live in Melbourne claim much the same.  The general consensus, however,  is that Sydney is a financial city, and Melbourne a cultural city.  The Melbourne Writers Festival plays a significant role in this widespread understanding and the number of highly acclaimed national and international guests that attend from year to year, is testament to the festival’s success and the city’s appeal.

This year, I was lucky enough to be selected as a volunteer for the Melbourne Writers Festival.  Woo!  The festival is an annual event that has been running since 1986, and this year joined forces with four other international festivals to form the Word Alliance, now made up of:

  • The Melbourne Writers Festival
  • The Edinburgh International Book Festival
  • The Bookworm International Literary Festival in Beijing
  • The International Literature Festival in Berlin
  • International Festival of Authors in Toronto.

Totally rad.

So what kind of guests are we talking? Pretentious editors? High literature writers? Celebrity journalists?  Well yes, I suspect there are some of those, but the Melbourne Writers Festival is far more than that, and unique in that it observes all kinds of storytelling, not just the award winning, ostentatious kind.  The website elaborates:

Each year, MWF invites novelists, playwrights, poets, screenwriters, journalists, songwriters, bloggers – anyone who’s part of the world of words. We host politicians and artists, policy wonks and pop culture icons, crime writers and high culture theorists. The festival program features an enormous range of literary activity including entertaining discussions, debates, readings, film screenings, interviews, literary banquets, performances, workshops and book launches, as well as a lively schools’ program for primary and secondary students.

Festival Background

Last year they hosted Joss Whedon.  Enough said.

The Golden Ticket

So, as a volunteer I get to make sure people are being orderly, scan their tickets, give directions, have a chat, make sure the guests are comfortable and answer any questions that patrons might have.  My fellow volunteers have so far been awesome, the shifts fun and the patrons very well behaved.  I also get to wear a groovy volunteer shirt.  Win.

The major perk to this gig, however, is my volunteer pass, which gets me into any event over the entire festival.

When I attended my orientation day a few weeks ago, I was astounded at the wide array of events, panels and workshops that were taking place and began to get quite excited at the prospect of attending these events in between my shifts.

One event, the Martin Martini In(k) Concert, merges sounds and image with musician Martin Martini playing in concert whilst four artists illustrate to the tune and inspiration of the music, their images projected onto the walls of the venue.  A totally unique experience, demonstrating that the art of storytelling is far from limited to just words on paper and can be inspired and influenced by anything around you, even sound.

Author Kate Grenville

Today, I attended a session called Why I Read, featuring prominent authors Kate Grenville (pictured left), Tess Gerritsen and Chris Womersley, all discussing the books that they read growing up and the impact it had on their calling as writers.  They also discussed how reading has changed, an echoing theme throughout the festival, and how we can encourage children and teenagers to read more.

Another highlight of the festival is the collection of city walks.  From specialist bookshops to the city’s origins, the guided walks highlight the Melbourne that is inspiration for writers, readers and storytellers.  My favourite of the walks is called Melbourne’s Hidden Dragons, and it takes you on a tour of the stone guardians and silken mascots that are scattered around the city and explores the mythology of the beasts and their presence in storytelling.  Seriously cool right?

One of Melbourne's hidden dragons

And, on Tuesday evening I hope to attend Edinburgh Unbound, described as “Part reading, part gig, part party”.  Basically it is a fusion of Scottish and Australian musicians and storytellers coming together to present an evening of performance, music, film and stories in celebration of the partnership between the Melbourne Writers Festival and the Edinburgh Book Festival in our sister UNESCO City of Literature.

It is heartening to note that the attendants of the festival have so far ranged from toddlers to grannies, with no gaps in between.  I like to think this is a positive indication in light of recent discussions regarding ‘the death of the book’ and even ‘the death of the reader’, which today I was assured were both myths.  Yes, fellow writers, you can rest easy.

Young and old, we are still fascinated by the art of storytelling, whether it be through the traditional or graphic novel, music or art, the written or the spoken word.  How we tell the stories may be changing, evolving even, but the fact that we are still telling them and interested in how others tell them is what’s important and is what will keep the art of storytelling alive for a long time to come.

The festival runs from Thursday 25th August to Sunday 4th September and all the information can be found on the Melbourne Writers Festival website at http://www.mwf.com.au/2011/.

~storytelling nomad~

Last Night, Death Came

A strange thing happened this morning.  Firstly, I awoke to that horrible feeling that creeps over you after having had a nightmare.  In this nightmare, my friend had died and it felt as if I had spent the entire night grieving her loss, with my mum comforting me.  As tends to happen with dreams, the memories and images of it started fading pretty quickly, but the sick feeling remained.  The second thing that happened, was that I went to tell my mum about my horrible nightmare, but when she saw me, before I could say a word, she said “Katy, I had a horrible nightmare last night that Jack (our dog) died.”  My mum rarely dreams or has nightmares, so needless to say we both thought it was rather creepy that we had both dreamt of death on the same night.

I find that because I read a lot of fantasy books (and quite possibly also due to my over-active imagination), I’m prone to start conjuring supernatural scenarios when this sort of thing happens.  I imagined death as a shadow passing through town inspecting all the houses and plaguing dreams as it stalked the night.  I saw it come right through our house, carefully scrutinising each inhabitant for signs of weakness and frailty, ready to hungrily seize us at the slightest scent of vulnerability.

Having realised that I’ve spent a lot of time lately writing about writing, I thought it might be a good idea to do some actual writing and put my over-active, albeit sinister, imagination to good use.  A short, and pretty rough, poem was the result of this wild, untamed resolution.  I might just add here, that even though this is the second poem I’ve posted on here (the first being Bones of the Wicked), I’m not actually a poetry writer.  I’m not sure what makes a poetry writer, but I’m fairly certain I’m not one.  I rarely read it and more rarely write it.  But alas, a poem is what came to me today and so a poem is what I wrote, so forgive me for that.

Image courtesy of sharenator.com

Last Night, Death Came

The sun set early,
A shadow rose.
Last night, death came,
To seize its foes.

The moon shone dimly.
The air was still.
Last night, death came,
To haunt. To kill.

Our dreams, it haunted,
With screams and cries.
Last night, death came.
I longed to rise.

When morning came,
Death faded fast.
Last night, death came.
Last night, death passed.

~storytelling nomad~

Bones of the wicked

I had a crack at the Word Pool exercise I mentioned earlier in the week (see Stuck for Ideas?).

Bones of the wicked

I smile. He laughs.
We dance in the night.
We fly with the angels,
The stars in our sight.

But darkness remains.
He shouts. I cry.
He conceals the evil,
The truth. The lie.

I tremble. He sniggers.
I fall to the floor.
My body is heavy,
It serves me no more.

The shadows, they threaten.
He tenses. I’m rigid.
In him I discovered,
The bones of the wicked.

My pool of words were:

Void
Existence
Energy
Light
Bone
Art
Courage
Intelligence
Affection
Hate
Skate
Hollow
Wicked
Laugh
Tremble
Shatter
Bake
Cool

And my combinations:

Courage is skating
Energy laughs
A hollow intelligence
The void trembles
A cool existence
Hate’s light
Bones of the wicked
Affection bakes
Shattered light
Void art

~storytelling nomad~