So… why Treacle?

Treacle  ˈtriːk(ə)l

noun: treacle; plural noun: treacles

  1. a. British: a thick, sticky dark syrup made from partly refined sugar; molasses.

         b. syrup of a golden-yellow colour; golden syrup.

  1.  cloying sentimentality or flattery.

“enough of this treacle—let’s get back to business”

Origin: Middle English (originally denoting an antidote against venom): from Old French triacle, via Latin from Greek thēriakē ‘antidote against venom’, feminine of thēriakos (adjective), from thērion ‘wild beast’. Current senses date from the late 17th century.

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According to various online sources, the word treacle goes back to a borrowing from Old French triacle, a word referring to the sugar-syrup base into which apothecaries would decant whatever nasty-tasting cures they wished their patient to take. The word derives ultimately from a Greek word thēriakē, meaning an antidote against venom, which suggests that its early applications were topical (i.e. slather it on the outside, rather than apply it to the inside).

This dark, viscous product of sugar refining thus gained its name due to its association with apothecaries and their products. All the syrupy by-products of sugar refinement were known as treacle, but later the British firm Lyle perfected the refining process to produce that other, more popular, sugar syrup known as golden syrup. You can still buy treacle – these days it’s often called black treacle (or, in the US, molasses), to distinguish it from its golden cousin.

While sugar can be produced from beets as well as sugar cane, only the latter produces a pleasant tasting treacle.

The 17th century seems to mark the time when treacle made the jump from a medicine to a foodstuff. https://britishfoodhistory.wordpress.com/tag/treacle/ suggests ‘bread tart’ and ‘sweetmeat cake’ as early recipes using treacle, and the earliest recipes for ‘treacle tart’ in the 1870s precede Lyle’s development of golden syrup, even though most modern recipes call for golden syrup rather than black treacle. Gingerbread, which has been around at least since the 1400s, switched to using treacle as an ingredient during the 18th century. But the popularity of ‘Mary Poppins’ suggests that the association of sugar syrup with medicines remains as strong as ever.

I’m rather drawn to the idea that a substance famed for being sickly sweet (as in the famous treacle tart of my story – the favourite dessert of Harry Potter – and the treacle wells mentioned by the dormouse in Alice in Wonderland) ultimately derives its name from medicines which were so bitter that they required a sweet coating. That seems a good metaphor for this story collection.

In Treacle and Other Twisted Tales I take some well-known tales and retell them with a twist, a difference, or a wee flicker of darkness. There are new stories, too, some drawn from imagination and others from experience. There are no entirely happy endings – I don’t really believe in them – but some at least come to satisfactory conclusions. If there’s a moral in the story, it’s that beneath sweetness there is always a small, sharp tang of bitterness, and sometimes the sugar coating is very thin indeed. Life isn’t fair, and nothing ever turns out exactly the way we want it to. These aren’t fairy stories, you know.

As for the second meaning – sentimentality or flattery – isn’t that the business of we fiction writers? I employ my words as the appetising coating to encourage some unpalatable suggestions to go down. Did I sweeten the mixture enough?

And am I genuinely channelling my East End ancestors, or merely mocking Eastenders the soap, when I say to you, “Don’t worry, treacle* – if you don’t like this story, maybe the next one’ll suit you better”?

*Treacle (tart) = sweetheart

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Unintended Guardian

mythos legacy

“The Mythos Legacy, where real myths find real love.” Unintended Guardian is a short (too short) but very tasty introduction to the upcoming Mythos Legacy novels. It may be brief, but it gives a very clear flavour of what you can look forward to. I can already tell that the Mythos books are going to contain humour, fun, a gentle eroticism, and that they will reference a whole world of mythological creatures.

What if myths are real? What if there is another world alongside our own, inhabited by creatures we know only from story and legend? What if they are looking for love – an all too human characteristic? And what if one woman chooses to write a series of books about them – and that woman is Jami Gold, whose writing is clever, clear and sublimely entertaining. It’s got to be good, hasn’t it?

The Guardian here is Griff Cyrus, described by Jami’s protagonist as “a Viking of a man, all long tawny hair and broad shoulders.” In the Mythos world he is a gryphon ( part lion, part eagle) and he cannot bear the touch of sunlight – the sun is forbidden to him until he can undo his great error of three hundred years ago, when he lost the treasure he was supposed to be guarding. Solving his problem, and freeing him to walk in the light of day, require the assistance of his human neighbour, Kala, and the way in which she goes about it is very entertaining. No more shall be said on this point…

The first full-length Mythos novel is the upcoming Treasured Claim – a dragon story with a difference. It promises much.

Jami Gold is no stranger to those of us who are practicing the writer’s craft. She has a very good website, full of useful tips and information, and I’ve featured her in my blog before. I find her writers’ worksheets particularly useful. http://jamigold.com/