Guest Post By Leenna Naidoo: My Personal Quests Within A Quest
When Mliae invited me to write a guest post, I was a little daunted. You see, Mliae’s one of my best blogging friends and I’ve loved Lifexperiment since I first came across it back in 2015 or so when I was on my own quest to get into this awesome thing called Blogging. I didn’t want to disappoint Mliae, and I didn’t want to disappoint you, either. But, what to write about? I could talk about my new book, Quest For Wholly Pale, and how excited I’m to finally have a paperback available globally! But, I’ve been talking about that for a while and it didn’t quite feel right. Still, this got me thinking about Emrys, his quest and his travels…and that got me thinking about my quest to be a writer and how my own travels contributed to it—to me! So, now that I’ve done this long and probably pointless intro, let me get on with it.
Leenna’s Quest For…
My quest to be a writer began at an early age and (not sadly) continues till this day. In fact, I can see it continuing indefinitely, which is probably a good thing. After all, how can I fail at being the writer I want to be if I’m still questing for it, right? Right? Nevertheless, I’m very grateful to be on this journey and to have experienced so many places, people, events and magical situations I never dreamt I could. This may have been, in part, because of some of my more eccentric real-life quests. Take that time I went in search of fairy tales in Scotland…
Leenna’s Quest For A Sense Of Scottish Fairy Tales
Imagine the Borders of Scotland back in 2000-2001 (yes, during the Foot&Mouth disease outbreak, and may the Belties recover), when summer was late and cool. I’d decided to visit the land of Michael Scott (mysterious wizard and scientist), Tam Lin (dubious but very cute romantic hero stolen by fairies then rescued), and Thomas The Rhymer (less mysterious but more enigmatic, who either ran away to the fairy queen or vanished into an abbey). I quickly came to realise that Michael Scott research was better done in books and, perhaps, in Spain, so here I’ll share my quests for the two Toms or Tams.
Thomas The Rhymer/True Thomas
With a friend hailing from Rhymer’s home town, it was fairly easy to complete my quest to experience something of Thomas the Rhymer, Laird of Eirceldoune. It was a Saturday’s (or was it Sunday’s) adventure: bus from Edinburgh to Galashiels, remembering to jump off at the Earlston (modern name of Eirceldoune) bus-stop. Vicki had said there was no museum but that the best coffeehouse/cafe in town looked right onto the remains of Thomas’ pele-tower house. She recommended the shrimp sandwich.
I followed Vicki’s word and wasn’t disappointed despite the drizzle. The sandwich was excellent, the location more so, and the ruins, though small, quite beautiful. There I discovered brilliant yellow daisies cling precariously to old stone and make for gorgeous photos. While I saw no white harts, it was still a peaceful, magical day.
My second Thomas The Rhymer quest was not so successful, having more in common with Emrys’ quest for the Wholly Pale.
It was a few months later—July 2001, that I spent a weekend in Melrose, Scotland. I walked confidently along the country road a mile or so out of town (but don’t take my word for it as I’m terrible at gauging distance without a speedometer) and turned up a winding road in search of the Eildon Tree where Thomas is said to have first met and fell in love with the Fairy Queen. My guidebook informed me the Tree was ancient even in Thomas’ time, and was protected by law. My confidence didn’t falter as I strode up the steep hill because I’d noted the tourist information sign at the turning which had an icon of a tree and the words ‘Eildon Tree ¼ mile’, and I was pretty sure that meant it was less than a kilometre’s walk. No prob, right? Right?
After what seemed like 20 minutes of walking but may have been less, I took a breather opposite a graveyard with a huge, beautiful yew tree standing royally at its centre. That must be the Eildon Tree, I thought, but what is it doing in a graveyard? Nevertheless, I tentatively took some steps into the cemetery. A family watched me quizzically but not unfriendly, probably wondering what a tourist was doing out there. I approached with hesitance as a man advanced in the same manner. I asked him, beginning to feel embarrassed, if the yew was the Eildon Tree. He smiled widely. “Ah, no! It’s aboot a quarter mile up the road!” He pointed further up the steepening hill. I thanked him and walked back to the tarmac to resume my climb.
Ten minutes or more later and certain I’d come over that ¼ mile, the road curved dramatically around the hill. Quickening my steps, I thought with relief, It must be somewhere just around that corner.
If it does, I shall never know.
The road continued curving around, but my path was blocked by a chain-link fence right across the way with a construction site beyond. It was deserted. No friendly soul to ask if the Tree was another ¼ mile up that hill somewhere, or if the Fairy Queen had spirited it away just to annoy me. There was nothing to do but to retrace my steps: defeated, forlorn and longing for a good cuppa tea, and wondering if the Eildon Tree can only be seen by a few like True Thomas…
In August (or was it September) 2001, I hired a little car (Peugeot) and spent a couple of days in Dumfries and Galloway (that’s the western side of the Scottish border with England, as opposed to the Eastern side of the Scottish border known as The Borders. Don’t ask. I tried, and…Just don’t.). I’d decided that it was time to discover more about Tam Lin, a figure I’d had a crush on ever since reading Diana Wynne Jone’s Fire And Hemlock, which is based on the traditional ballad and fairy tale of Tam Lin (Tamlane). Earlier that year, I’d journeyed to Lauriston in the Borders where his purported family, the Roxboroughs, have their estate open to the public (yes, like Rhymer, he was a real person). While an interesting visit, I couldn’t find any references to Tam Lin, and eventually asked a distinguished elderly woman (who, I’d like to think, was probably one of his descendants) for help. She was kind enough to direct me to another younger, enthusiastic scholarly woman who very kindly copied some references in an old book for me and who directed me to Abbotsford, but that’s another story.
So, on my D&G trip with the car handy, I was determined to visit Tam Lin’s well—the site where he met and fell in love with Fair Janet, or rather, she fell for him.
It was a long and hairy drive up the famous old pass on the Old Selkirk Road that leads from D&G into the Borders. Negotiating 80 degree bends (but don’t take my word for it) and bleating sheep was exhausting. I found Tam’s Well with little difficulty by following the road signs and indications in my guidebook, and…well!
They were right. It’s a very spooky place. I was glad it wasn’t yet Halloween.
But there is a well!
Which was kind of an anticlimax. No roses. No Tam Lin. No faint call of Fairy Land…or maybe there was. I stood there for a good ten minutes or so, just in case ol’ Tam wanted to turn up after all even though he had been rescued. I grew colder, uneasy, looking across the road to the trees and tangled undergrowth across the road, and trying not to shiver. When I’d had my fill of water (not from Tam’s well, I’m not that stupid!), I decided to call it a successful quest and head off for lunch and nice cuppa tea, which, in my humble opinion, is the best way to end all quests—or at least, quests within quests.
Thank you for journeying through my Scottish quests with me. I hope you’ll join me in discovering Emrys Lailoken’s and friends’ in Quest For The Wholly Pale, and where my personal quest as a writer takes me next.
In the meantime, I wish you well, fortitude, and much wonderful magic in your own quests, be they personal or professional.
About Quest For The Wholly Pale
A young wandman on a fool’s quest. A six-fingered former thief with a taste for a good brew. An animate parchment born of magic and a boy’s despair. The one’s Emrys Lailoken, the other his best friend and companion Dierder, and the third, naturally, is Parchment. Together they will learn what disaster spells like, how randomly love casts its nets, and just how far a bad old-fashioned pun can take you. Full of feint-hearted wizards, feared less young witches, and the occasional needling demon, this story will have you seeing stars…and the odd planet.
Available At Most Regional and Online Book-stockist as well as specialist stores including:
Leenna writes cross-genre suspense, romance, and dabbles in sci-fi/fantasy. She also reads the tarot. Her short stories have appeared in Mad Scientist Journal, SciPhi Journal, and Cosmic Roots And Eldritch Shores where she also serves as editor’s assistant to the Myths, Legends and Fairy Tales department. Her most recent attempts to channel Terry Pratchett-style fiction can be found in Quest For The Wholly Pale. When not writing, she often tries her hand at anything vaguely artistic. She blogs and shares updates on her writers blog and her creatives blog. Her tarot resources and videos are shared on her Patreon and her YouTube channel as Writerstarot With Leenna.