Today is my spot on the blog tour for the wonderful The Sky Beneath the Stone by Alex Mullarky, and I’m going to be sharing a fascinating guest post on the folklore behind the story.
About the Book
Ivy North is an adventurer and expert map reader who can pitch a tent in four minutes flat. There’s just one problem. She’s afraid to go outside.
When her little brother is transformed into a kestrel, Ivy follows him into Underfell, the strange and magical realm beyond the garden wall.
Battling her dread of being out in the open, can Ivy navigate this extraordinary world of powerful fairies and purple skies to break her brother’s curse?
I adored this book. I grew up in Lancashire and spent a lot of time in Cumbria, so many of the places in the book were familiar to me, but I loved learning more from Alex about the folklore that inspired her story, especially the heart shaped wood I pass every time I make the journey home to visit family.
Alex’s Post: Magic Under the Fells
Growing up in Cumbria, you can’t travel far without someone pointing out a landmark in the hills and telling you its story. Take the Bishop, near Bassenthwaite Lake: a huge whitewashed stone on the mountainside. My parents told me that it marked the place where a bishop had died after a drunken attempt to ride to the top of the mountain. The story may not be true, yet the stone always has a fresh coat of paint.
My favourite is the heart-shaped wood in the Tebay Gorge. This little copse of trees is so startling in the bare valley, so distinctly heart-shaped, that it strikes me every time I pass on the train or in the car. When I was younger, seeing it at the side of the M6 was like a signpost to home after time spent away. Stories abound about the wood’s roots: a memorial to a fallen soldier, ill-fated lovers. I remember hearing it marked the place a farmer’s lover had been killed by a falling boulder.
Not all the tales are about untimely death, though it might seem that way. Cumbria has been inhabited so long, farmed right to the tops of the fells, that stories are written all through the landscape.
Underfell, the fairy realm that lies beneath Cumbria in The Sky Beneath the Stone, isn’t an exact mirror of the world above. Time doesn’t play by quite the same rules. Paths – and roads – appear only when they are remembered. While ancient features of the landscape are mostly the same, places built by human hands are sometimes present, sometimes absent, sometimes caught in a particular moment from history.
It’s a place where figures from legend still live – Bega, the Irish princess who crossed the sea to St Bees in a coracle; Taliesin, bard to the king of Rheged. Fairies still refer to the world above by the name of this kingdom, even though it hasn’t existed for well over a thousand years. They make their home in Saltom Pit, an eighteenth-century mine beneath the sea in Whitehaven.
The places that Ivy encounters in Underfell are those that loomed large in my imagination when I was growing up in Whitehaven, going to school in St Bees. Another person’s adventures in the fairy realm could look completely different; there are so many places I have yet to visit, and always more stories to hear and read.
Underfell is a land shaped by the collective imagination of everyone who has ever lived in, passed through, or told tales about Cumbria. But, if our folklore and fairy tales are the building blocks of fairy realms, then wherever you are, right now, there’s a similar storied landscape beneath your very feet.
About the Author
Alex Mullarky is a writer and veterinary nurse who loves creating stories about nature and magic. As a child she was happiest exploring imaginary worlds in the fields behind her home in Cumbria. Alex enjoys working with wildlife and has bottle-fed joeys in Australia and hiked with wild horses in the Rhodope Mountains of Bulgaria.
Alex lives near Edinburgh with four Australians (two cats, one dog, one human) and can be found wild swimming (sometimes with seals) and playing roller derby. The Sky Beneath the Stone is her debut novel.
You can follow Alex on Instagram at @saesteorra
Thank you so much to Alex for sharing this brilliant post and insight into her story. It’s a brilliant read and one I hope you’ll all consider picking up.