Logs ago and far away,
Far away and long ago,
The World was honeycomb, they say,
The Worlds were honeycomb.
HONEYCOMB is a different project to anything else I’ve ever written. This is at least in part because it was written in a different way to any of my other books, and via a different medium; that of social media.
I started to write these little stories some years ago, on Twitter. Under the hashtag #Storytime, I would write them, live and from scratch, to a Twitter audience, whenever the spirit moved me, at odd moments during the day. I wrote them on trains; in airports; in response to current events; and because they were fables and fairy tales, I wrote them in a rather particular language, using the character limitation imposed by Twitter to create a deliberately stylized and performative manner of storytelling. And I always began with the following phrase:
There is a story the bees used to tell, which makes it hard to disbelieve.
One of the most interesting things about social media is how intimate it feels. Telling stories on Twitter feels much more like a live performance than a merely written one. And little by little I began to understand that these pieces of ephemera – originally meant to be sent out on Twitter like seeds on the wind – were part of something larger; a world of returning characters and interconnected storylines, fitting together organically, like a piece of honeycomb.
I started to keep my stories, instead of letting them disappear. Many people asked me if I was planning to publish them. At the time, I had no such plan, but a couple were published in magazines, one made it to an anthology, ambitiously subtitled “The 100 Greatest Short Stories Ever Written”, 2 years after the editor, David Miller read it on Twitter. I used some of them as a basis for a live show with the band in which I had played since I was in my teens – stories are naturally volatile, crossing naturally from one medium to another, and they translate well both to music and to illustration. After three or four years of #Storytime, I realized that I had already written over a hundred of these stories, some dark, some funny, some moving; all set in the same fictional multiverse as Runemarks and The Gospel of Loki, as well as that of Orfeia, The Blue Salt Road and A Pocketful of Crows. Some are only loosely interconnected, others are part of an overarching storyline that had evolved naturally over the years. I started to toy with the idea of putting these stories together to create an original, illustrated book for adults, in the tradition of the classic golden age of fairytales.
It took me some time to persuade Charles Vess to illustrate my stories. But I’d always loved his work, and I knew he’d understand what I was trying to create. There are so few fairy painters left who actually believe in fairies: and for this project, I needed someone who could recreate the magic in a different medium.
This book is the result of that: a labour of love in so many ways, and a testament to the power of the oral tradition of storytelling. These are all new stories, and yet to me they feel intimately connected to those collected by Grimm and Perrault, or set out in the Child Ballads. Perhaps this is because such stories are all part of a larger narrative; that of our shared experience, the story of our hopes and dreams.
I hope you’ll find yours there, too.