My collection of retold folk-tales, Head and Tales, was inspired by a story I found in Irish Folk Tales, edited by Henry Glassie, and published by Penguin Folklore Library in 1985.
In 'Irish Folk Tales', I came across a story, collected in Kerry in 1945, called ‘The Grave of His Fathers.’ It tells of a young man who travels, with a friend, to Northern Ireland to find work. While there he takes sick. He feels that he’s dying, and his dying wish is to have his head cut off and carried home, so it can be buried ‘in my own churchyard.’
I felt that, perhaps, something had been lost from this story – that if it had been told at another time, the head, unable to rest, would have talked to its friend as he carried it home. When I looked up the story for these notes, I found my own pencilled scribble at the bottom of the page: ‘The basis of a story? The head carried from place to place, solving problems, being prophetic?’ (I always make notes to self in the form of questions, to remind me that I don’t have to be restricted by first thoughts.)
These ideas underlie several of my collections of retold folk-tales, such as Telling Tales. They are certainly present in Head and Tales, where, in the framing story, the father’s head, carried by his children, guides, encourages, defends, consoles – and all with stories.