Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Not just about pasties and piskies ...

‘All power to Stevyn Colgan and his project to preserve Cornish myth, legend and song. Who knows; as a result some Penzance Wagner may write the Cornish Ring Cycle and won’t the world be pleased? There’s more to Cornwall than Padstow, pasties and ‘P*** off you grockles’ and Colgan is doing the ancient kingdom a great service.’ - Stephen Fry

It's finally here after two years of translations, budget juggling, editing and illustrating ... my book of Cornish folktales, Henhwedhlow.

In the book I take eight Cornish tales and give them a 21st century tweak. As I explain in my foreword:

'If you know the original stories, you’ll see that I’ve modernised the language, added some new characters, removed others, played havoc with history and taken some diabolical liberties with the plots. I make no apologies for this. I’ve done it all with a genuine warmth and love for the original tales. I’ve also injected a good dollop of humour into what were sometimes dull, gloomy or pointlessly cruel stories. If we don’t make them relevant to children today, they’ll remain the property of academics and our kids will lose sight of them forever.'

I was prompted to write the book after discovering that the children of an old schoolfriend knew Hans Anderson's The Little Mermaid but not the Mermaid of Zennor. And they live in Zennor. It seemed to me that most British fairy stories exist only in dusty academic tomes or regional book imprints. While it's vitally important to archive and preserve our heritage (and I support so many ventures that do) I wanted kids to know them as well as they know fairy stories from Europe, Scandinavia and elsewhere. And that meant making them resonate with modern values and mores. So I set to work re-writing a bunch of them, spurred on by the late Douglas Adams (it's that old a project, bless him) and the wonderful Stephen Fry. Originally, I put them up on my website (here) along with lots of information about Cornish folklore generally. But, in the last couple of years, they caught the attention of Kowethas an Yeth Kernewek (the Cornish Language Fellowship) and I agreed to let them translate the stories into Cornish and publish the book as an aid to learning the language.

I think it's so important that we in the UK don't lose these wonderful tales. I want people worldwide to be as familiar with Bolster the giant, Twm Sion Cati and the Laidly Worm as they are with Hansel and Grethel, Cinderella and Rumpelstiltskin. I hope that authors in other counties do what I've done for Cornwall; take those old tales and give them some resonance with today's children. I'm reliably informed that the book is the largest original piece of Cornish language writing in the world! Wow. I'm so proud to be a part of that.*

I'm hugely indebted to bard Tony Hak for the translation work and to Hazel Alexander for the editing and DTP work. And to Stephen and bard Howard Curnow who kindly provided the cover quotes.

Henhwedhlow by Stevyn Colgan

ISBN 978-1-899342-63-1

‘Long before the Dark Ages and long, long before the Pitch Black Ages, there was a time called the Dim Ages when unbelievably stupid Giants lumbered across the Cornish landscape ...’

Ugly mermaids, a man who eats cowpats for a bet, mischievous piskys and a truly rubbish witch … You’ll meet them all in this hilarious book. Stevyn Colgan takes eight classic Cornish folktales and re-tells them for a modern audience. Here you’ll find wicked Jan Tregeagle, Mrs Trezillian and her fantastic hair, the pisky who made the hole in the Men-an-Tol and Sister Agnes – the killer nun!

Uniquely, the book is published with both English (Sowsnek) and Cornish (Kernewek) text and can be used as an aid to learning the language.

Henhedhlow - Cornish faerie stories as you’ve never seen them before.

Book £14 (£13 for Kowethas members)

Cover quotes from Stephen Fry and Bard Howard Curnow

Publisher: Kowethas an Yeth Kernewek (Cornish Language Fellowship)

Available from Kowethas and Yeth Kernewek: Tel. 01503 220445, e-mail:

Also available from bookshops in Cornwall or Tor Mark Press, Tel: 01209 822101, e-mail:

*Many existing books have been translated into Cornish from Spot the Dog to the Bible. However, Henhedhlow is the largest new original work in the language.

1 comment:

Michelle said...

I'm definitely adding Henhedhlow to my list of must-have books! Actually, I'm going to have to get two... no three... no, several copies so I can lend all but one of them out ('cause I'll never get them back!).