Book of the New Year

Three Winter Tales of Darkness and Light by Mary Earnshaw. Published by Cosi and Veyn. 2020

Mary Earnshaw's Three Winter Tales of Darkness and Light, published by Cosi & Veyn is a much-deserved 'Book of the New Year' (Book of the Month for December 2021 and January 2022). The Southport writer, who is shortlisted for the Bridport and Julian Lennon poetry prizes this year, published by Black Bough Poetry in several editions, a writer featured heavily by Broken Spine Arts, with work also in Present Tense, Spe​lt, Orbis and Dreamcatcher, has previously published a  winter tale, A Little Match Girl, a re-telling of Hans Christian Andersen's famous story, published in 2018.

Three Winter Tales is a limited-edition, pamphlet-sized publication illustrated by distinguished illustrator Sian Bailey, who has worked for Random House, Scholastic Children's Books, Pan Macmillan and Oxford University Press, to name but a few. 

The three stories take us back deep into the past to the frosty forests and snow-laden landscapes, firstly in 'A Time Before Time', which in style is slightly reminiscent of Alan Garner in its atmospheric yet measured style, although, arguably, there is something more poetic and crystalline about Earnshaw's turn of phrase. 

"Tall trees vie with each other to snare pale light from the distant sun. Branches of oak and ash are leafless skeletons, black against frosty skies. But still there are needles and leaves and berries, trapping each struggling ray before it can reach the earth"

The tale is spellbinding in its descriptions of the woodland creatures and the forest folk as they assemble towards the winter gathering, with Earnshaw displaying a real mastery of poetic prose as the forest folk "harvest the gift of the skies. Catch lights to shine in the midwinter gloom" and "unfurl their woodbine ropes. Hang their silken ladders from lofty branches." 

The stories progress to the medieval period, where 'King Edward's men' hunt in a dwindled forest that still holds from deep within it, the embattled forest folk; with its references to the faery folk, St Thomas's Day and Candlemas, pagan and Christian symbolism, there's an heightened sense of beauty in a book that is beautiful in its presentation of nature. We come to the present day in a final, wistful story.

This collection, with its stunning language and illustrations is a celebration of the greenwood and its associated myths and legends. Though the threat of environmental degradation looms, there is much-needed hope in this period of climate anxiety. This is an evocative collection that is ideal for older children and adults. If you like John Masefield's The Midnight Folk and Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising, Earnshaw's writing displays the same level of linguistic enrichment and symbolism. This deserves a wide readership beyond its limited edition copies and should be shared and taught at KS2 level (upper primary school).

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