Audio Essay: Discovering My Pennington Pedigree

Artwork by Graham Richards

We hope you are enjoying our recent blitz of audio essays.  Each week, Graham and I collaborate on a new enhanced story for your viewing/reading/listening pleasure.  This week, I wrote and recorded the essay, then Graham wrote music, etched the picture above, and transformed all the bits and pieces together to fit on your favorite reading device.  We are navigating new territory, and we appreciate your continued feedback.  Thank you for encouraging us by sharing our stories with your friends.

Download “Discovering My Pennington Pedigree” as ePub (iBooks).

Pre-order your digital copy of our enhanced storybook with your $10 Kickstarter Pledge.

Thank you for listening!

I always wanted to be English.  Alas, I was born in Chicago and reluctantly raised in Texas.  My American childhood was spent living in an imaginary version of Great Britain.  Fueled primarily by an early obsession with Robin Hood and The Black Adder, homeschool enabled my Anglophile curiosity to go unchecked for years.  Armed with a library card and mild social anxiety, I pieced together a colorful history of the slapstick Motherland so happily abandoned by our forefathers.

Our basement was musty enough to emulate a dusty old castle.  My sister and I would fashion courtier bustle’s out of sleeping bags and if our brother got in the way, we’d keep him captive under the pool table until he agreed to answer to his serf name, Baldrick.  Once my loyal subjects were in order, I would go outside to Sherwood Forest, climb up a tree with a book between my teeth, and carefully avoid other children until dinner.

I spent the whole of my education attending any school that offered even a single course in British culture, making me as fickle with majors as Henry VIII was with his wives.  I studied theater for Shakespeare, Literature for Austen, and History for the Tudors.  Though I was of legal drinking age, I holed up in my room for a solid week to devour the first four Harry Potter books.  Today my mind is consumed by genealogical research of my Pennington heritage.  I seek to better understand the influential role my family had in English history as the lords of Muncaster Castle.

In 1208, the wildly unpopular King John granted Alan de Penitone 23,000 acres of prime English countryside.  I can’t help but wonder what Sir Alan did to curry such favor with the sworn enemy of Robin Hood.   During the War of the Roses in 1464, King Henry VI sought refuge at Muncaster.  Sir John Pennington was rewarded for offering sanctuary with the gift of the King’s drinking bowl, known today as the Luck of Muncaster.  According to legend, the Penningtons will lord over Muncaster as long as the bowl remains unbroken.

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Audio Essay: Feena Quayle & the Buggane

Begin the Buggane! Artwork by Graham Richards

Graham wrote this week’s audio essay, and his darling mother, Janet Richards was kind enough to lend her authentic Manx charm.  Please enjoy this original faery tale — it is the perfect bedtime story!  If you would like to learn more about our enhanced eBook, Uncle Ogre and Great Aunt Ghost, please visit our Kickstarter campaign and listen to our first audio essay, Tom Fool and the Ill-Fated Lovers.  Thank you for listening, sharing, and enabling our wild imaginations.  

Feena Quayle & the Buggane

Narrated by Janet Richards
Written, produced, and with music by Graham Richards

A reader’s guide to Manx vocabulary :

Buggane – a type of ogre native to the Island
Bonnag – Manx cake
Them Ones, Themselves – the fairy folk

Once lived an old woman in Laxey called Feena Quayle, and there wasn’t a word goin’ a-speakin against her in all. Her cooking was the bes’ in all the Island, and all were in agreement about that!

Well Old Feena Quayle kept her garden in and about the house, and some said it was magic, even tended by Themselves.

On her way to Doolish one day for market, she passed her neighbor Ned Faragher, a miller to his trade. “What’s doin’ on ya, Feena?” asked Ned.

“Off to market I am, “ replied Feena. “And how’s the world usin’ you, Masthar?”

“Fair to middlin,” said Ned, “Fair to middlin. But tis a rumor goin’ that the auld Buggane from Snaefel is off and about and stirrin’ up trouble, tramplin’ gardens and puffin’ smook down folks chimleys.”

“Let me catch him at his tricks and I’ll larn him, the great brute” said Feena.

“Deed, and do ya say so?”

“Aye, but sooner he pass my house clean by, oh the neck of him!” said Feena.

That night soon after bed, Mr. Faragher opened his eyes and saw the great vicious Buggane in his yard digging up turnips for dinner. The beast was covered with a thick black mane, it had two great tusks, and its eyes were the color of burning torches. The Buggane saw he had been spotted and roared towards Mr. Faragher, who screamed and begged for his life.

“Don’t eat me, Mr. Buggane, sir, and I’ll show thee round a house with better turnips than you’d ever had.”

The Buggane agreed, and Mr. Faragher, under cover of darkness, showed the beastie to Feena Quayle’s garden.

“Off with ya, then,” said the Buggane, and Mr. Faragher ran home full fetch with his torchlight out in front of him.

In the morning old Feena Quayle came out of her house to see her garden trodden upon and her prize turnips eaten. She shouted into the mist, “Who’s eaten my turnips?! I’ll be up with him for that!”

And with that, she tromped off to the kitchen and began cooking. She baked and baked all day long and at the end of the day she had five big lovely bonnags, each the size of a wagon wheel. All of them but one were full of currants and dried fruit and spices and sugar and were delicious as could be.

All of them but one. This last bonnag did not have currants and fruit; rather it contained herringbones and pepper. And there were no spices but instead rotten eggs, and instead of sugar it was salt.

Each night Feena left a bonnag in her garden by her trodden turnips, careful to place it far away from the creme and honey she routinely left out for Them Ones. And each morning, the bonnag was gone, stolen by the Buggane. On the fifth night, she left out the rotten, peppery, salt-laden bonnag and lay cute peeping out her window watching for the villain to arrive.

An hour after dark the Buggane arrived with his belly rumbling and his big red eyes gleaming out of the darkness. He chuckled to himself, “I’ve put a sight on that old woman’s bonnag, and there’s nothing she can do about it!” And with that he scooped up the giant bonnag and bit it in half.

Steam began to come out of the great beast’s ears, and tears began streaming down his cheeks. The herring bones got wedged between his great fangs and he yowled in surprise. The pepper made him sneeze and cough and his great tongue swelled up twice its size. The stench of the rotten eggs overwhelmed him and the salt pickled his cheeks, and he just didn’t know what to do but stomp and tramp around and huff and puff in misery.

“Lesson larned, then Beastie!” cackled Feena, “Good shuttance, and the back of my hand to ya!” And the Buggane raced away in search of relief.

Word spread of how Old Feena Quayle tricked the Buggane, and the tale is still told between folks at the Shore Hotel when there is a drop between them. But to the last of it, Ned Faragher never enjoyed Old Feena Quayle’s cooking again, for she looked at him with too much knowledge in her eyes and in her wry smile. Poor Ned was always afraid of what he may find in his dinner, and if it’s a lie I’ve told then it’s a lie I’ve heard.

Audio Essay: Tom Fool and the Ill-Fated Lovers


Crisman | Richards

Audio Essay:  Tom Fool and the Ill-Fated Lovers

Written and Narrated by Sarah Crisman

Music and Engineering by Graham Richards

Music performed by Dave Richards and Graham Richards

Muncaster Castle has been home to my family, the Penningtons for over 800 years — three generations live there today, along with numerous ghosts.  Muncaster is believed to be one of England’s most haunted buildings.  Paranormal researchers have spent over 20 years studying centuries-worth of unexplained events.  Many eerie happenings are attributed to the most famous castle ghost, Tom Fool, usually heard walking the halls and sneaking up close behind visitors.

Known in life as Thomas Skelton, the last Fool of the Pennington family, Thomas’ 16th century misdeeds were far darker than a few bumps in the night.  Two of the Muncaster ghosts knew Tom Fool in life and death:  Richard, a lovestruck, headless carpenter (reportedly seen wandering the grounds), and my headstrong, weeping ancestor Helwise Pennington — now believed to be the Grey Lady drifting through the halls of Muncaster.  They are known in English folklore as the Ill-Fated Lovers.

Thomas Skelton served faithfully as steward to the lord of Muncaster and as tutor to the Pennington children.  He is said to have known Shakespeare —  even rumoured to be the inspiration for King Lear’s Fool.

In the 2008 documentary Castle Ghosts of England, presenter Robert Hardy explains: “In Muncaster’s long story, there is no more malevolent character to judge by events than Thomas Skelton.”

In 1585, a scandal broke when the castle lord’s fiery daughter, Helwise, fell in love with the village carpenter, Richard.  The rebellious affair would not go undiscovered.  On May Day, Helwise donned a country hoodie and stole away to the May Pole dance in nearby Ravenglass.  When she patently refused to dance with a cocky villager and chose instead the modest carpenter, the lovers were quickly given away.  The jilted villagers followed the couple to Muncaster, where they discovered Helwise was the Lady Pennington and thusly engaged to their hunting buddy, Sir Ferdinand Hoddleston of Millum Castle.  Knowing full well Sir Ferdinand’s pride and considerable artillery, they set off for Millum Castle to tattle on Helwise, thus sealing the fate of her illicit lover.

The disappointed Sir Ferdinand refused to rest until his rival was abolished.  He rode to Muncaster and found a smug Tom Fool laughing about misguiding a traveler off to the treacherous quicksands of the River Esk.  Thomas rose to the occasion, as he believed Richard had weezened sheckels from his pile of shillings.

According to Castle Ghosts of England, Thomas lured Richard to the castle under the pretense of meeting his adorable Helwise.  Once there, he poured a heavy cider until Richard was insensibly drunk.  Thomas used the carpenter’s own tools — a hammer and broad chisel — to hack off the carpenter’s head.

“He’ll not find where I’ve hidden his head so easy he did my shillings.”  said Tom Fool.  H
elwise’ fate was published in 1824 among the Remains of John Briggs:

“Her heart was cold, and no human power could warm it.  The noisy mirth of the hall, she could hear unmoved — the mazy intricacies of the festive dance could not reanimate her — the glowing beauties of the summer landscape were gloomy and dull as December.  She resolved to seclude herself from the giddy world, and brood over her own sorrows in a nunnery.  She therefore retired to the Benedictine Convent of Maiden Castle — the ruins of which are still visible behind the higher end of Soulby Fell; where she passed her few remaining days in piety and silent solitude.”

Thomas Skelton drown in the River Esk around 1600.

To learn more about Muncaster Castle and help bring these ghost stories to life, please consider supporting our Kickstarter Campaign.

Uncle Ogre & Great Aunt Ghost: Meeting My Ancestors at Muncaster Castle

Though thrilled at recent progress America has made, my first love remains with the Motherland I have never seen.  My entire life as a third generation American has largely been spent wishing and pretending to be English.  From Black Adder to Jane Austen and Bridget Jones, I obsessed with all things British.  My American parents and exhausted grandparents wearied of incessant demands to hear more about our lucky English ancestors.  The truth unfolded when my grandmother, Shirley Pennington Gylleck, presented our pedigree complete with the Baronet of Muncaster Castle —  one of the most haunted buildings in England.
My dear creative partner, Graham Richards and I cannot resist a good adventure.  Next summer, we are embarking on a pilgrimage to discover the mysteries of Muncaster Castle — serendipitously, Graham’s family tree is rooted on the Isle of Man, 40 miles across the Irish Sea from my ancestral home.  I am writing and narrating a collection of essays about our journey, Graham is writing an album to coincide, featuring the musical stylings of Dave Richards.  We will release an enhanced e-book of magical non-fiction, ready for your favorite reader and listening device.  We are unlocking mysteries, researching parapsychology (did I mention all the ghosts?), and putting my extensive knowledge of English History to use beyond Jeopardy questions and insufferable Tudors commentary.
Yesterday, we launched a 30-Day Kickstarter campaign to cover our research, travel, and production costs.  We are offering great rewards like merchandise, Artist Biographies, guest spots on The Crisman Show, and personalized theme music by Graham — every donation of $10 or more will also receive the digital download of our enhanced e-book at publication.  Please take a moment to watch our snazzy video to learn more — we made it with construction paper and an iPhone!  Thank you for your time and continued support.
Subscribe to my blog for updates and audio essays over the coming weeks — I can’t wait to share the family ghost stories that have kept me up for months.

Beautifully Mary Walker

Photo by Nash Robert Griggs

I had the joy of working with Mary Walker for the past year.  The former Crisman Show intern is about to drop her first album, Heavy Hearts, and we couldn’t be happier to hear it.  I wrote her biography as thanks for her time spent stapling fliers to jazz students.

Singer-songwriter Mary Walker captures the sweeter notes of a musical life born and bred in North Texas.  Her debut album, Heavy Hearts, balances the intellect of Denton’s focused musicianship with the accessibility of cheeky pop.

Whether perched at the piano or behind her guitar, Mary’s flirty vocals beckon in a playful manner reminiscent of Regina Spektor; lyrics ever deepening as they swirl through the psyche of a charming old soul turning 21 all over again.  Her quick smile indicates mischief is likely afoot.

“I was always very loud and eccentric,” said Mary, a self-professed class clown.  “I was constantly in trouble.”

Continue Reading 

Listen to Mary’s interview and live performance on TCS; and keep an ear out for what our little Imp is up to here.