I recently took the time out to fire some questions at Fiona-Jane Brown, writer, playwright, story-teller and folklorist and here is what she had to say:
Most people would consider Scotland to be a hotbed of folklore without knowing anymore than that. How does the folklore of Scotland differ from the rest of the UK for instance?
Ah, now that’s a question that I can’t really answer – you are better asking how the regions within in Scotland differ from each other! The fishing and farming communities have different folklore, as does the town compared to the country. From what I studied in my Masters, England has as much folklore as we do. It does still follow that more isolated places keep their traditions for longer – when I visited the island of Barra in the Outer Hebrides, almost the whole community are Catholic and very much trust in their religious folk rituals. On the other hand, Shetland, which is the most progressive economic area in Scotland, many of the locals, even those in their 20s are aware of ghostlore and their Norse traditions. You cannot generalise.
You are a noted expert on the cultural beliefs of fishing communities of Scotland. Could you elaborate a little on that?
I received my doctorate in Ethnology in 2010 for writing about the beliefs and identity of fisher people in three areas of Scotland, the North East, where I’m from; Shetland, and the Outer Hebrides. Again, you cannot generalise about people, but there are many traditions which fishermen share despite differences in culture and religion. Nearly every one of the areas I worked in had examples of the “Burning of the Clavie” ritual – fishermen, feeling they were having a run of bad luck, would walk through the boat with a burning rag and chase away the evil spirits/witches that were preventing them getting a good catch. It sounds completely Pagan, but fishermen seemed to resolve two different sets of beliefs – one for onshore and one for being at sea. I love these stories, especially as I come from a long line of fisherfolk myself!
You live in Peterhead in the frozen north!! Why is it called the 'Blue Toon'? Is it because the folk who live there suffer in the cold?!?
Ha ha! Some people think that, but there is a little folk tale which gives us our name of “Blue Mogganers”. Our football team is still called “The Blue Toon” to this day. Away back in the times of big sailing ships, one was wrecked off the Skerry Rocks outside our South Bay. Any time a boat was wrecked, if there were no survivors it was common law that the salvage belonged to the community. This ship had a cargo of blue wool, which delighted the fisherwomen and they began knitting “moggans” which were long gloves and socks which the men wore at sea. The Gaelic word for glove is “miotag” so I guess it may have come from there. So, we were ever after known as Blue Mogganers!
In 2010 you became the Projects Officer for the Arthur Conan Doyle Collection/Lancelyn Green Bequest in Portsmouth. How did that come about?
I applied for the job and got it! I saw it advertised after spending the whole summer after graduating desperately looking for work and thought it sounded fun, never imagining I would get it. But I did, and moved to Portsmouth in November 2010. I loved that job so much and was really upset when the contract wasn’t renewed in March 2011 – basically the recession meant that the council there had very little funding given to them by central government and the local libraries, social work, and many other social and cultural resources were cut, including me. The job itself was fascinating, I was promoting the use of Richard Lancelyn Green’s huge collection of material on Conan Doyle and Holmes to anyone who might be interested. That including meeting with schools, community education groups, art galleries, theatre companies etc. Pity I never got to develop any of the things I set up.
When where and how did you first encounter Sherlock Holmes?
I would have been about 8 or 9 years old, as I remember we had moved into the house my parents live in now, and I was given a copy of the Strand Magazine stories as a Christmas present. I devoured them! I always loved reading from the very beginning. It was the story of Silver Blaze that got my attention first as, like many little girls, I was nutty about horses.
Who has best embodied Holmes on the small or large screen?
Jeremy Brett – without question. Although I do think Benedict Cumberbatch is a stunning 21st century incarnation.
Do your future plans include further plays involving Sherlock Holmes..or perhaps a novel?
Yes of course, Steve Emecz suggested I could carry on creating more new stories for plays. You have to understand, I’m writing all the time, not just Sherlock or my fictional stuff, but I’m currently finishing a historical guide book on Aberdeen. There are a few story ideas I have for Holmes which will only work in prose, so they will come in due course. I am writing my second play Sherlock Holmes and the Riddle of the Dancing Dragons as we speak
There is a birthday milestone coming up next year, which of course, being a gentleman,I won't reveal which one! Do you see any changes resulting from that?
No. Being 40 (I don’t care who knows!) makes no difference to me, and certainly won’t make any difference to my writing. In my head I still feel much younger and when I write fiction, most of my characters are in their 20s and early 30s! The one change I do hope is that I have a new job flexible enough to let me continue with my walking tours and my writing!
Fiona's 'Sherlock Holmes and the Jacobite Rose' is available on Amazon UK, Amazon USA, and for Kindle on both sites. Also as paperbacl and Nook at Barnes and Noble and at Waterstones
What can you find here? Reviews of new and not quite so new Sherlock Holmes novels and collections. Interviews with authors, link to blogs worth following, links to where you can purchase my books and some reviews of my work garnered from Amazon sites. Plus a few scary pics of me and a link to various Lyme Regis videos on YouTube...see what we do here and how....and indeed why!!! Next to the Lyme Regis Video Bar is a Jeremy Brett as Holmes Video Bar and now a Ross K Video Bar. And stories and poems galore in the archives.