Recently I was asked to deliver a workshop at a local event on the topic of myth. Myth, folklore…it’s all grist to the writing mill! I chose for my theme a little known gem of a story from St Cyrus; the story of Finella, who killed a Scottish king. I’ve been greatly inspired by the woodcuts of acclaimed Scottish artist and printmaker Sheila MacFarlane- view them here, and learn more about Finella:
I asked the participants to re-imagine the myth in their own way. In brief, the tale is as follows: Finella was a tenth century, Angus-born noblewoman, a huntress, whose only son was sentenced to death by King Kenneth II. In order to exact revenge, Finella lured the king to a remote cottage in Fettercairn, where she murdered him with a crossbow. On the run from the king’s men, she entered the woods near St Cyrus (now known as the Den of Finella) and jumped to her death from the top of the waterfall.
Rare orchids now bloom in that location.
Curiously, many of my workshop participants seized upon that almost inconsequential fact and wove their own symbolic and startling narratives. In one piece of work, the flowers become imbued with the spirit of Finella. In another, the blooms reach out across the centuries and connect generations.
I suppose we are continually creating our own mythologies from the remains of the past, both collectively and individually.
Although Finella’s name rarely appears in the chronicles of her time, closer to home, another young woman has left her mark for us to find. If you look closely enough in the Barry Mill basement, the name’ Bella’ can be seen inscribed on the timber in a neat, schoolgirl’s hand. Showing this to a group of writers is always a rewarding experience. At my recent Midsummer Magic writing workshop, one of the participants captured the ‘voice’ of Bella perfectly, imagining her as a turn-of-the century mill child.
I will be including Bella in my next novel The Bone Harp, where she will make her presence felt through that writing on the wall. I love the idea of the past colliding with the present, and the intriguing overlap of art and life.
Pictured: A terrifying leap- Finella’s waterfall.