Folklore Thursday: Teeth. Teeth. Teeth.

Untitled (Ghost Teeth), 2008 Manuel Ocampo Acrylic on canvas

Untitled (Ghost Teeth), 2008
Manuel Ocampo
Acrylic on canvas

I have most of my baby teeth in a box somewhere. One of them took too long to wobble its way out of my mouth, so I used my mum’s car keys to gouge it out. I was a very metal seven-year-old. One by one, they ended up under my pillow in exchange for 20p from the Tooth Fairy, who was a tightfisted little madam in my household.

I don’t really know why I still have my teeth. I keep thinking I’ll make some jewellery out of them. You can’t just bin your own bodyparts, you know? But I’ve always liked teeth. The shape, the various colours, the way they feel, like little irregular pearls. And if you have a pearl, how do you tell if it’s real? Rub it against your tooth.

Teeth and the state of them are badges of age, class, and beauty. Our first tooth may end up in a keepsake box, and our last may help to identify us after death.

At the Wellcome Collection’s recent Teeth exhibition, I got up close with Victorian dental teaching dummies like eyeless Cenobites,1940s toothpaste ads featuring cheerful squirrels, and ancient hand-cranked drills reused in the power cuts of the ’70s. What big teeth you have, grandma. It’s little wonder that, as objects, teeth take on special qualities in the anxious netherworld of folklore.

Western dream dictionaries usually say a dream of losing one’s teeth is a manifestation of the fear of losing control, whereas the Chinese interpretation is that the dream heralds a sad event in the family. But in Maori folklore, if someone grinds their teeth during sleep, it is an omen of abundance for the community. To make a child’s teeth grow and put an end to teething pains, a charm would be recited:

An eel, a spiny back,
True indeed, indeed: true in sooth, in sooth.
You must eat the head
Of said spiny back.

One 1856 source tells of another Maori charm for teeth:

Growing kernel, grow,
Grow, that thou mayest arrive
To see the moon now full.
Come thou kernel,
Let the tooth of man
Be given to the rat
And the rat’s tooth
To the man.

And then there’s tooth worms. That pain in your gums, up until the 18th century, could be explained away by the presence of evil little worms. And it isn’t surprising when so many death historical certificates will simply list ‘teeth’ as cause of death that so many people – there are accounts of this even up until the 20th century – believed hideous burrowing monsters could sneak inside their mouths. Tooth worms could be smoked out with henbane, excised with a hard poke from a literal chopstick, or just yanked out. After all, exposed nerves do look a lot like worms.

toothworm

Positioning of teeth in the mouth can denote character, a la physiognomy. Norweigian folklore has it that someone with teeth packed close together will never stray far from home. The USA took it one step further, that a man with teeth overlapping would always live with his mother.

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Of course, if your teeth are bothering you and you wish to ask for help from someone other than a dentist, you could take a tin effigy of your offending peg to the local church. In South America and southern parts of Europe, you may come across churches festooned with these tiny offerings in the shapes of different body parts hanging from ribbons. More folk custom than strictly Christian, the sight of scores of these glistening Milagros is something you won’t forgot.

Teeth make good amulets. Queen Victoria kept a collection of tooth-set jewellery. Most of the pearly whites came from her children, but some were hunting trophies, including a gold necklace set with forty-four deer teeth, inscribed with dates of death and the words ‘all shot by Albert’. In nineteenth-century Bavaria, deer teeth on watch chains or pinned to the brim of hats were said to bring good luck to aspiring hunters.

Deer tooth amulet, Pitt Rivers Museum

These are a few of the toothy tidbits I collected while writing Pseudotooth. Throughout the novel, Aisling carries with her a rotted tooth she finds in her aunt’s cellar. It’s a talisman of sorts, tied to her fate as much to its previous owner’s. When we first meet Aisling, she is fully immersed in the sterile medical world. Aisling’s internal landscape is all wanderlust and scrapbook anthropology. She’s muddled; banished from her own body and her place in the world. The tooth felt like a fitting motif to take along with her. Teeth store information on our pasts. They can be weapons in times of desperation. But most of all, teeth – a single tooth – are incredibly intimate objects.

When Aisling feels the urge to tell the doctor about the witchdoctors of Tahiti who would take a shark’s tooth to release bad blood, of course, she doesn’t dare. She doesn’t exactly believe in it… but she doesn’t exactly not. Nothing in Aisling’s life is as simple as physical cause and effect. Like the tooth worms, the Milagros and the strange destiny of physiognomy, there are anxieties beneath the surface, bargains to be struck, and rhymes to be whispered when the road ahead is unclear.

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Patronise me

Screen Shot 2017-08-31 at 22.39.47I’ve got a limited number of signed Pseudotooth bookmarks for all new Patreon supporters (including the $1 tier folks). As a patron, you’ll see patron-only poems, stories, and blogs while I embark on this new novel. Maybe even a few cute dog pictures, too.

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The Con Is On (again) – Nine Worlds and Not The Booker

nineworlds
I’ll be talking cityscapes in SFF with Amy Butt, Jared Shurin, and Al Robertson at Nine Worlds on Saturday. I’ll have a bundle of Pseudotooth bookmarks with me, so if you see me, say hi, and I’ll hand some out.

You find us from 11:45 – 12:45 in the Bordeaux Suite.

Panellists discuss the architecture of SFF – how cities are represented and how they can flavour a story. The discussion will range from the dystopian feel of cyberpunk urban jungle to the various flavours of fantasy as well as examining how real world cities are seen in fiction.

While I’ve got you, something cool has happened – Pseudotooth has been longlisted for The Guardian’s Not The Booker Prize! If you’re feeling benevolent, all you need to do to vote is go here and leave a comment in this format:

[yourusername] – Vote # 1 – [Book title only]
[yourusername] – Vote # 2 – [Book title only]
[A short review of one of the two books.]

You have until the 8th of August to vote. Remember to vote for two books on the list, or your vote won’t be counted.

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For your listening pleasure (?), here’s yours truly reading from my novel Pseudotooth. I hope you like Chopin.

Read a free sample and get a copy at Unsung Stories.

And while I’ve got you, I was on Folklore Thursday this week talking about why you should never wander off with any strange pixies. It’s all fun and games until… well, ask Richard Dadd…

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The con is on

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Good morning, sweaty British people. Do you fancy spending tomorrow in a nice air-conditioned aircraft hanger with thousands of people dressed as Pyramid Head?

You do? Splendid. See you at ComicCon tomorrow! Here’s where you’ll find me…

Dream a little Dream – The Importance of Dream Worlds in genre fiction:

Dream logic and Dream Worlds have been a staple of genre fiction for years now, but they can be a very tricky thing to pull off right. Join authors Oliver Langmead (METRONOME) Verity Holloway (PSEUDOTOOTH) Claire North (THE END OF THE DAY) and Catriona Ward (RAWBLOOD) as they discuss the use of dreams in fiction.

Exact time: 10:00am – 11:15am
Day: Sunday 28th of May
Lower Platinum Suite – Author signings afterwards – Books available at Forbidden Planet Int.

Unsung Stories Presents: A Very British Scene

For a tiny island on a very large planet, the British turn out a lot of stories. Why is this, and how do they differ from the wider market? Join Unsung Stories authors Aliya Whiteley (THE ARRIVAL OF MISSIVES) Verity Holloway (PSEUDOTOOTH) and Oliver Langmead (METRONOME) as they discuss the role that Great Britain has played in influencing and expanding the staples found within speculative fiction.

Exact time: 12:30pm – 1:45pm
Day: Sunday 28th of May
Lower Platinum Suite – Author signing immediately afterwards – Books available from Forbidden Planet Int.

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Outings: MCM London ComicCon & Holloway College

Hello. Long time no post.

I’ll be on a panel at MCM London ComicCon tomorrow – Saturday the 29th – talking about horror and dark fantasy with Jason Arnopp and Alison Littlewood. We’ll be on the Silver stage at 12pm. I’ll then be on the SolarStorm podcast talking about my upcoming novel Pseudotooth. After that, I’ll be knee deep in Star Wars merch, so say come and say hello while you can.
londonCOMICOnly a few more days until the general release of The Mighty Healer. All being well, there’ll be a launch evening at Holloway College itself on the 14th of November, where I’ll be signing books and lurking at the bar. More details as they’re finalised.

Whew.

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My road to publication

I’m over on The Literary Consultancy’s blog talking about my journey from scribbles to proofs. I used their manuscript services when I didn’t know where to turn with Pseudotooth, and I’d recommend them to anyone.

After eight years of writing Pseudotooth – yes, eight – I just didn’t know where to go with it…

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Cover reveal!

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The big reveal.

I’m very happy – and a bit overwhelmed – to be sharing the beautiful cover of my novel Pseudotooth, with original art by Christina Mrozik. I love all the little clues she’s left. Get your Jung dream dictionaries out…

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News, the large kind.

I’m the happiest girl in the world.

My novel Pseudotooth will be published by Unsung Stories in March 2017.

I can’t wait for you to meet Aisling and Feodor and David. They’ve lived in my head for so many years, and now they’re venturing out into the world, trailing lighter fluid and toffee wrappers.

In the meantime, a tiddy clue…

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