Last week I talked about categorizing faeries into the Seelie and the Unseelie Court, but the Fair Folk is so much more than faeries. One of those creatures that dwell with the faeries is the pooka, sometimes also spelled púca, phouka, or even pwca.
What is a pooka?
The pooka is an Irish goblin with the ability to change its shape. It often appears as a dark horse or goat and will bear some of those animal features when in human form. Like the Seelies and Unseelies, the pookas can be both benevolent and malevolent.
Below is a page taken from Brian Froud’s FAERIES. The text reads:
The Phooka is an Irish goblin with a variety of rough beast-like forms. He appears sometimes as a dog or a horse, or even a bull, but he is generally jet-black with blazing eyes. As a seemingly friendly, shaggy […] pony Phooka offers the unwary traveller a welcome lift, but once astride he is taken for a wild and terrifying gallop across the wettest and most thorny country, eventually to be dumped headlong into the mire or deposited in a ditch. The chuckle is that of the Phooka as he gallops away.
A pooka means no harm
Some people fear the pooka because of that wild ride, but in truth the pooka means no harm. Pookas enjoy playing a few little tricks that might appear malevolent but aren’t meant to hurt anyone. For example, a pooka loves to chat for hours, but he will leave without a word and a trace that he was there in the first place. It is also said that berries killed by frost were turned poisonous by the pookas who spit on them.
Every year in June, we celebrate the right to love whoever we want. We take it to the streets and show the world that we’re stronger than homophobia and prejudices. I feel like the world is slowly changing—at least in my country. People are opening up, offering queers a safe space to live and love.
I believe that some of this change is thanks to books. It’s thanks to writers, queer or straight, who aren’t afraid to give the LGBTQ community the representation it deserves. It’s thanks to queer people who speak out for themselves and others.
To honor some of those wonderful writers who made it their mission to include queer people in the fictional world they create, I compiled a list of books that I’ve enjoyed in the past few years.
No such list should exist without the wonderful SIMON VS. THE HOMO SAPIENS AGENDA. It’s one of the best coming-out stories I’ve ever read and it gives you all the feels. Luckily, Albertalli gifted us with a sequel. LEAH ON THE OFF BEAT is just as adorable and heart-warming as its predecessor and it’s also one of the fewer novels with a bisexual main character. Personally, I’d say this series is an LGBTQ must-read.
Every once in a while you read a love story that completely shatters your heart before putting it back together. In my opinion, this one is a masterpiece of queer fiction. It’s the perfect summer read that transports you straight into the world of Ari and Dante, two characters you can’t help but fall in love with.
This novel is one of those meet-cute stories we’ve all read and seen before, but with an LGBTQ couple at its center. Other than SIMON VS., this story has none of the coming-out angst, but all the fluffy feels of falling in love for the first time. Albertalli seems to know how to write compelling LGBTQ fiction, though I must admit that this one is not as good as her CREEKWOOD series.
It took me quite a long time to pick up this book and I must admit that I hadn’t realized it was queer fiction at first. But the moment I did, I wouldn’t let go of the book. In short, this novel is for people who love magical schools and vampires and two adorable guys falling for each other, despite how miserable they make each other in the beginning. Thank god there’s a sequel coming soon!
Okay, so Clare’s increasingly growing SHADOWHUNTER CHRONICLES is an entire world in itself. When I read CITY OF BONES back in 2013, I was surprised to find not only one but two queer characters in a fantasy novel: the “freewheeling bisexual” Magnus Bane and shy, closeted Alec Lightwood. Over the years, Clare continued the Malec story and added several other queer characters (among my favorites are Helen Blackthorn and Aline Penhallow). Her latest novel called THE RED SCROLLS OF MAGIC focuses entirely on the adventures of Magnus and Alex. At the end of the book, she mentions how difficult it was to convince publishers of Alec and Magnus back when she started out. I’m glad she persisted, because Malec is one of the best queer couples I’ve ever read about.
All of those books add a little diversity to the literary world. They paint a more authentic picture of the world around us, giving queer people a place in it. When I was growing up, there wasn’t much LGBTQ fiction and most of it wasn’t mainstream. Nowadays, whenever I find a queer book, online or in store, my younger self squeals with joy.
Thankfully, the list of LGBTQ books is gradually growing. I’m always on the lookout for new queer fiction that I can fall in love with. Know of any great LGBTQ books? Let me know in the comments below!
The term ‘faerie’ does not refer to one individual type of being, but rather encompasses a whole variety of beings. In Celtic mythology there are many ways to categorize faeries, for example into Trooping Faeries or Solitary Faeries. But one categorization that has intrigued me from the beginning was the Scottish notion of a Seelie and an Unseelie Court.
“[I]n Scottish legends the faeries are often divided into the Seelie Court and the Unseelie Court. The Seelie Court is comprised of the good, kind fairies, while the outright evil faeries tend to belong to the Unseelie Court (Briggs 1976: 222). These courts were not seen as very confining: the faeries of the Seelie Court could be violent when angered, while the […] members of the Unseelie Court could sometimes just have fun in non-lethal ways.”
Faerie Folklore in Medieval Tales – An Introduction by Mika Loponen
Beware: Seelies can be just as treacherous as Unseelies. The distinction, although implied (as seen in the picture below), is not light vs. dark, good vs. evil. All of the Fair Folk lack moral sense and are incapable of understanding human emotions; the Unseelies’ methods might just be a bit more savage.
The first time I came across this distinction was actually in a fictional novel. In the Mortal Instruments by Cassandra Clare, faeries are divided into two courts. This idea always fascinated me, but I had more burning questions: Why were there two courts? Did they used to be one? What divided them? The beauty of story-telling is that we can make up our own answers. And so I went ahead and wrote The King’s Daughters, the first conflict between Seelies and Unseelies in my fictional world of Tír na Óg.
My upcoming novel Seelie Princess will be filled with all kinds of magical creatures. I based a lot of the story and characters on Celtic mythology, but not all of my research made its way into the novel. Over the course of the next few months, I will share bits and pieces of Celtic lore I found during my research. Leave a comment below if you’re interested in learning more!
Have you seen a faerie lately?
Whether you think faeries are real or just a story you tell little children, the truth is that many European cultures have their own faerie belief. Some think of the faeries as small and cute forest creatures, others would say they are more humanoid. Faeries might be benevolent little helpers sometimes, but they can also be tricksters, like Puck in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
The many names of the faeries
The faeries—also spelled ‘fairies’ or ‘fae’—go by many names. Some call them the Fair Folk. The Scottish refer to them as the Wee Folk, while the Welsh know them as Tylwyth Teg. One term that inspired me in particular is of Irish origin:
The (Aos) Sidhe – In Irish folk belief, the Tuatha de Danann, children of the goddess Dana, inhabited the island of Ireland early on. They were seen as a race of divine beings eternally young and unfading. With the arrival of the Sons of Mil, however, they retreated to live under the mounds (Irish: Sidhe; pronounced SHEE) and became thus known as the Sidhe or Aos Sidhe. They are the ever-present second race of Ireland, also called the Faeries or Fair Folk. (Source: The Fairy-Faith in Celtic Countries by W. B. Yeats)
Where did the faeries come from?
Same as with their appearance and etymology, the origin of the faeries varies depending on the culture. As explained above, the Irish think of the faeries as a second race living under the hills. Some believe them to be demons or demoted angels, while others think of them as demoted deities. But perhaps they are some form of elemental or spirit.
If you’re interested in learning more about faeries, here are some resources I used:
Fairy on Wikipedia (a good starting point, but not all of it is reliable)
Faerie Folklore in Medieval Tales (a wonderful introduction to the topic; available for free here)
The Fairy-Faith in Celtic Countries by W.B. Yeats (available for free here)
A Treasury of Irish Fairy and Folk Tales (available on Amazon)
Before we dive into the process of writing my first novel, I have to tell you a little bit about my beginnings as a writer. I don’t remember when exactly I began writing as a child, it must have been in my early teens. Back then it was mostly fanfiction and all of it was still in German (because my English was abysmal). So technically I already wrote several novels back then, but as I’ll outline below, writing a novel is about so much more than just putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard).
In the summer of 2014, after many years of dreaming about writing a book, an idea came to me and I latched onto it. For months I plotted, researched, fantasized, and planned. I let the story play out in my head over and over. And it wasn’t until March the following year that I’d worked up enough courage to actually write the damn thing. Progress was slow in the beginning, because I was so focused on writing the perfect book. Once I had realized there was no such thing, I really got going. I wrote most of the first draft over the following summer.
I wrote something—now what?
And then I abandoned my project. Perhaps it was because I didn’t really know which step would come next. I’d finished stories before, but as a teenager I’d been happy just making up stuff. Now, as a somewhat grown-up, I wanted to take writing to the next level. So I was back to researching: how do I self-edit? How can feedback help me improve my story? What even makes a great story?
For most of 2016 and 2017 I taught myself the craft of writing. Though writing a good story is ultimately a question of talent, I believe, there are still a few techniques and “rules” that can help along the way. So I ploughed through several writing books and websites and even took a class on creative writing during my semester abroad. I gathered feedback from my wonderful writers group. I equipped myself with all kinds of tools so I could face the next step of my novel: the dreaded editing.
I spent the better half of 2018 ferociously editing my novel. In August, I handed it in to PitchWars and sent it off to agents. I was devastated when I didn’t get picked in PitchWars and the rejections apppeared in my inbox. In retrospect, I think I needed those rejections to realize that 1) my book wasn’t ready after all and 2) I’m drawn more toward self-publishing.
What followed were another few months of figuring out how to do the self-pub thing and if it was really worth trying. In the end, I chose the indie path and began revising my manuscript, looking for a cover designer, and researching editors.
Determination and perseverance
At the end of this 5-year journey, I’ve learned many valuable lessons, but I think the most important one is that writing is worth it. It’s worth all the time, energy, and heart I can put into it. It’s worth all the determination and perseverance, the heartache and the fear of failing. I wanted to give up at least a million times. A voice in my head kept telling me that I’ll fail, that I sucked as a writer. And there were certainly times when that voice was so loud I was too paralyzed to write a single word. But I always found my way back to writing, and now I’m on the home stretch to my first published novel.
Click here to learn about my debut novel Seelie Princess (coming September 2019).
Spring is in the air and it’s time for a new look! More than three years ago I published my first short story on Amazon and while I’ve been mostly quiet since then, the year of 2019 will finally see the release of my debut novel. (To learn more about SEELIE PRINCESS, click here.) In honor of the upcoming release, I gave THE KING’S DAUGHTERS a new look, inside and out.
Here’s the blurb: In this first part of a series of magical tales about the Fair Folk, the Faerie King of Tír na nÓg is caught in a battle between his two warring daughters, Titania and Ophira. As one strives to bring down her father, the other is plotting her revenge against her scheming sister. The king now has a fateful decision to make because he can’t save them both.
26 : What would you like to see more of in your genre?
More LGBTQ+ protagonists
27 : Where do you get inspiration from?
All kinds of places, really. Life, books, movies, dreams,…
28 :On a scale of 1-10, how much do you stress about choosing character names?
Maybe 3? I usually know what kind of “vibe” I’m looking for and then I’ll scroll through lists of baby names until I find one that sounds good.
29 : Do you tend to underwrite or overwrite in a first draft?
I’ve done both. The first draft of my first novel was way too long, with a lot of unnecessary scenes I had to cut later. In the sequel, I totally underwrote. It’ll need a lot of revision.
30 :Does writing calm you down or stress you out?
It can do both. Nothing’s more calming than finally solving a plot problem and have the words flow onto the page. But nothing’s more stressful than staring at your screen, unable to produce a single sentence.
It’s the first week of 2019 and the internet is filled with everyone’s new year’s resolutions. And so I have to ask myself: Should I set some resolutions for myself? Is it really worth the pressure? I’ve decided that instead I will start off by looking back at 2018!
Accomplishments of 2018
I might not have published something, but it was a very successful year for me as a writer. I..
wrote 8 flash fiction pieces (as part of my writers group challenge that you can find here)
edited my first novel The Seelie Princess and received tons of great feedback
entered both PitchWars and AuthorMentorMatch with that novel (and even though I did not get picked, I learned how to write a query letter and a synopsis)
queried several agents
tried NaNoWriMo and wrote 22,000 words in 15 days! I could not finish my project, but it was a valuable lesson to learn (read more about that here)
outlined the sequel to The Seelie Princess and wrote approximately 40,000 words
participated in two local writing workshops
went to several Open Mic nights
enjoyed at least one meeting a month with the most wonderful writers group (plus several fun evenings)
read a few good books on writing and editing, including the very helpful Self-editing for Fiction Writers by Browne & King (available on Amazon)
Looking at this list now, I’m realizing how much I’ve accomplished! I’m going to be honest here and tell you that during the last year, at the end of most days, I felt as though I’d done nothing worthwhile. As though I was standing still and hadn’t progressed in my journey as a writer (and life in general) at all. But things look a bit different if I consider the sum of all those days. At the end of 2018, it didn’t matter that there were some days when I couldn’t get any work done (for whatever reason). There were plenty of other days when I was productive and creative, and those days all accumulated to that amazing list of accomplishments.
Goals for 2019
Since I can’t entirely resist the urge of planning this new year, I’m going to go ahead and make a short list of goals for 2019. This year I want to…
revise The Seelie Princess and get it into the best shape possible
learn more about traditional and self-publishing and see what works best for my novel
finish writing the sequel
participate in more writing workshops
continue to meet with my writers group
To finish things up, I want to share a quote that is hanging on the wall right above my computer screen. It has guided me through difficult times in 2018 and it will continue to guide me through 2019. Sometimes we are so harsh on ourselves that we fail to see all the good that we’ve accomplished and that whatever we do is enough. HAVE A GOOD YEAR EVERYONE!
As the year 2018 draws to a close, I am looking at my various Flash Fiction pieces that I wrote throughout the year, but never edited. When I began writing in earnest four years ago, I never thought that there was so much more to it than putting pen to paper (figuratively speaking). I soon learned that editing and revising is just as important (if not more) and quite challenging. But it doesn’t matter that it took me half a year to sit down and actually edit this flash fiction piece; what matters is that I did edit it. So, without further ado, here it is:
There’s one sentence that my Mum is particularly fond of: “Are you really going to wear that to school?” And she says exactly that as I walk into the kitchen in the morning to get some cereal.
I turn around to her. “What’s wrong with it?”
My mum sighs, shaking her head. “Honey,” she says, “why don’t you wear that nice dress I bought you?”
“Mum, no.” I empty some cereal into a bowl, then pour milk over it.
“Why not? You’d look so cute in it.”
I frown. “I’d look ridiculous. And this is much more comfortable.”
My mum eyes me sidelong, then grabs her purse. “You know, it’s not always about being comfortable,” she says. “Sometimes you need to dress a certain way.”
“Why?” I shovel a spoonful of cereal into my mouth.
“Because it shows others what kind of person you are.” She straightens her skirt, then picks the car keys off the table. “I’ll be home late tonight, but there’s food in the freezer.”
“Are you seeing that Gary guy again?”
My mum purses her lips. “His name is Garret.” She comes round the kitchen counter and pecks me on the cheek. I rub the spot with the back of my hand. “See you later, bug. And please change that sweater!”
“Sure!” I call after her. “Have fun with Gary!”
I finish my breakfast, walk into the hallway and stop in front of the mirror. The light here highlights my newest piece of clothing in all its glory. Every single sequin that shapes the mocking bird adorning my front. A beaded eye twinkles back at me.
“Sorry, mother,” I say, “but I am really going to wear that to school.”