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In Search Of The Stag

Over the last few weeks I've been doing some research for my latest book and I've noticed that a certain character keeps cropping up, sometimes in the most unexpected of places. The stag, long associated with the British countryside, has been making his presence felt in the fictional world as well.

I'd been vaguely aware of the mythological stories about Herne the Hunter leading the Wild Hunt, through The Dark is Rising but didn't really give him too much thought until I started watching Robin of Sherwood as an adult. In this series, Herne is a semi-mythological figure, embodied in the physical form of a man, but with an unexplained power. He is central to the plot of the series, being both guide and mentor to Robin and his men.

The Open University set us an exercise to look at a range of multimedia on a certain topic that interested us and this seemed to present the perfect opportunity to do some research about Herne and about stags in general that might provide opportunities to link to Herne in some way. If I could do this, it would give me a common thread running throughout all the books.

My starting point was the Channel 4 Time Team Documentary about Doggerland, as I wanted to use this ancient landscape as the backdrop to the main part of the children's book I'm writing. This confirmed that not only were there stags in Doggerland, but also that they had played some kind of role in the religious life of the community.

Researching Herne as a mythological figure led me to Gwyn ap Nudd, another alleged leader of the Wild Hunt. He'd found his way into another novel I'd written earlier in the series, but the idea of the stag running through all the books now seemed to be something more achievable.

I also knew that I needed links with William Blake if I could find them, so after a visit to the Blake exhibition at the Tate, I started doing some research into Blake's artwork, to see if there was any link there that might be of use to me. There wasn't much, but I found this one of 'Jacques and the Wounded Stag' which was an illustration from As You Like It. Ostensibly, there is no link to anything useful for my purposes, but as always with Blake, I decided that it was worth pursuing further, as there was usually something unexpected to discover in his work. Sure enough, a Google search turned up the snippet of information I needed to link the picture and I was one step closer to having all the information I needed.

However, the last multimedia research was done on location at Sutton Hoo. I'd been up there with my youngest son as we go to their 'Little Hoo-ligans' toddler group every month and as it was rather wet, we'd been directed into the Exhibition Hall to do a treasure hunt in there, looking for different artefacts that were on display. In the course of this, we'd got chatting to one of the volunteer guides about the Raedwald artwork that hangs above the exhibition and he was showing us pictures in his guidebook that were close up shots of Raedwald's sword and sceptre. On the top of a sceptre was what the guidebook described as a model of a stag. I'd already decided that I wanted to use Raedwald and Sutton Hoo as a location later in the series and now I had my link!

For someone whose first recourse when in search of knowledge, has always been the written word (as a child it was books in the local library, these days, Google is my best friend) this was an interesting exercise to complete. Using a variety of media to research and inspire has given me the missing links I needed for my narrative to make sense and means I have a much more visual sense of where the action takes place and what the landscape might have been like. I obviously don't have to stick to this, but at least it's somewhere to start.

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