Tanith Lee is one of my favourite authors, and this is the book that kicked it all off for me. It absolutely taught me that fairy tales could be dark and luscious and very, very adult. These stories also taught me that fairy tales aren’t museum pieces, locked away in amber, forever preserved and unchangeable. This collection showed me how all the stories and motifs I loved in the tales I’d been reading since childhood could be fractured, tilted and tipped over to reflect new themes, or old ones in unexpected ways. Discovering this book was like being Alice and stepping through the looking glass to find a whole new world of fairy tales to explore that was just as rich and delightful as the world I was familiar with, but with new surprises around every corner.
I was a huge reader as a child. So naturally when I think about the 10 books that had the most significant impact on my life, I’ve gone right back to where I started falling in love with stories.
The Ordinary Princess
M. M. Kaye
I was given this book (with this cover) either for my birthday or for Christmas when I was 6. I still have it. 🙂
I think it might be perfect.
It’s a fairy tale (tick), but it totally subverts all the usual elements of fairy tales (tick) and does so with the most delightful, gentle-yet-slightly-snarky, understated humour (tick). It’s romantic (tick). It’s beautiful (tick). It’s got a strong, independent heroine who isn’t going to let other people’s expectations mess with her life choices (tickety tick tick tick). It’s got castles and forests and fairies (cranky ones) and climbing out of windows and running away…
This story absolutely set my ideal of exactly what a fairy tale princess is supposed to be.
There’s a Facebook thing I got tagged in recently, where you put up ten posts of books that have had a significant impact on your life. But I’m a multi-platform kinda girl, so here you go.
The Enchanted Wood
by Enid Blyton
This was the first chapter book my mother ever read me. I can remember sitting in bed, feeling nervous because she was holding a book that didn’t really have any pictures in it. It’s OK, she told me. There are a few. And she showed me the simple line drawings – maybe one per chapter – that seemed utterly inadequate to my four year old mind. I mean… there were whole pages in there with no pictures. How…? What…?
Oh my sweet summer child.
I have subsequent memories of sitting in bed begging her for just one more chapter PLEASE!!! And I’m pretty certain she ended up reading me the entire series more than once. Then I probably read it a few times myself.
This book is absolutely one of the flames that ignited my imagination. I’m sure I owe my fascination with forests to it. Also, it’s a sterling example of my favourite kind of fiction: stories set in an immersive world that is a character all of its own. Just thinking about it takes me back to leaning out the cottage window, seeing the trees with leaves of a darker shade of green than usual, and hearing the sound of their leaves rustling, wisha-wisha-wisha, as though they are whispering secrets to each other…
I went to the Cartier exhibition at the National Gallery of Australia today. Amongst all the *very* sparkly diamonds (so many sparkly diamonds) and pieces with fascinating stories attached (including Grace Kelly’s engagement ring; a massive duck-egg-sized sapphire that is part of a lost set of jewellery belonging to a Russian Grand Duchess and the tiara that both Queen Elizabeth II and Kate Middleton wore at their weddings, but NOT Meghan Markle, because it was here in Australia ), there was this, which I think was my favourite piece.
This cigarette case is decorated with an actual fragment of an Ancient Egyptian tablet inset into all those chunks of emerald. Imperialist tendencies to loot the antiquities of other civilisations aside, what a marvellous story prompt…
I was doing a bit of a clean up in my study this weekend and made a couple of hilarious archaeological discoveries. Here’s the first.
Context: I have none. I don’t even remember writing it. I must have been about 11 or 12. I remember discovering Alfred Noyes’ poem The Highwayman around that time, so that’s a possible source of inspiration.
(I think she’s kneeling, not pregnant, in that last pic.)
I came home from work today to find a very exciting present waiting for me.
See how it says “artwork”? So excitement. So I opened it…
And this is what I saw. SQUEEEEE! I KNEW IT!!!
Then I turned it over.
Isn’t it completely glorious? I cannot wait to have this framed & up on my wall. (And I got bonus postcards! AND my pre-ordered copy of Vasilisa the Wise – which got launched last Thursday! – will be arriving just in time to make it onto my Christmas reading pile. What is Vasilisa the Wise? Oh my sweet. If you love fairy tales, Kate Forsyth’s enchanting storytelling, or the bewitching, other-worldly illustrations of the extraordinarily talented Lorena Carrington, head over to Vasilisa’s website and check her out.)
If you are a writer, you have probably at some stage of heard of something referred to as ‘the iceberg principle’. It’s pretty simple really. The premise is based on the idea that 90% of the iceberg lies invisible, under the water, with only 10% visible above the surface. This is a metaphor for what you know about your story, world and characters, vs what actually makes it onto the page for your reader to see.
Just by way of example, here’s a sentence from one of my WIPs:
If she had been at home, she most likely would have been abed with a hot brick and one of her housekeeper’s restorative tisanes.
That might have taken you all of two seconds to read. And it probably took me a couple of minutes to craft the actual words that went into it. But that sentence also represents at least 45 minutes worth of internet research on:
18th Century remedies for period pain
Lydia E Pinkham
Liquorice root, including where it grows and what its medicinal properties are
the medicinal properties of Dandelion root
Which is basically just my way of reassuring myself that it’s OK to have only produced 200 words after getting up at 5.30 am and writing for 1.5 hours before the family gets up and we all have to get ready for work/school/etc. And also goes some way to illustrating why it takes so damn long to write a bloody novel.
And now I have had that stupid Lily the Pink song stuck in my head all day. Yeah. You’re welcome.
Conflux 13 is over & it was amazing. I feel like I’ve been operating on overdrive for a week now. Where should I start? OK, highlights.
1. Meeting Ellen Datlow. Idol from my youth. Giant of the fantasy & horror genres. Hard not to spend the weekend in a total fangirl tailspin.
2. The panels. What’s not to like about spending the weekend talking with like-minded and fascinating people like Angela Slatter, Kirstyn McDermott and Aiki Flintheart about things like Fairy Tales With Teeth and Claws, Beastly Transformations, Magic Schools and Deadly Dance?
Kirstyn McDermott & Jason Nahrung on Fairy Tales With Teeth & Claws, courtesy of Cat Sparks
Liz Grzyb interviewing Angela Slatter, courtesy of Cat Sparks
Kaaron Warren interviewing Ellen Datlow, courtesy of Cat Sparks
The Magic School panel: Lyss Wickramasinghe, Angela Slatter, me, Dion Perry
3. Winning second prize in the CSFG/Conflux short story comp for my story Flawless! (Which I’ve now been invited to read at the next meeting of the Canberra Fairy Tale Ring. as it fits neatly with the AFTS November theme of Snow White.)
4. Interviewing Zena Shapter for the launch of her new novel, Towards White, out from IFWG Publishing.
5. Drinking creme de violette bellinis and planning a live-tweeted rewatch of The Lady and the Highwayman and perhaps also A Hazard of Hearts (both movies based on Barbara Cartland novels made in the 1980s).
6. Discovering who was the mysterious origami master leaving perfect tiny dragons and unicorns all over the con.
7. Watching our guests of honour Ellen & Angela, & MC Kaaron opening their thank you goody bags to reveal a beautiful cast glass key by Canberra Fairy Tale Glass artist Spike Deane. I’m given to understand they were well received.
8. And last, but definitely not least – because this is what it’s all about when it comes down to it – is spending time with beloved friends and kindred spirits, both new and old, talking about writing, publishing, reading, movies, games, art, history, research, language and anything else that moves us and connects us and makes us part of the same tribe.
Ellen Datlow & Angela Slatter
Louise Pieper, Ellen Datlow, Kaaron Warren
Me, with Zena Shapter & Tim Napper in the background
Alan Baxter & Sam Hawke
Spike Deane of the magical keys
Tim Napper & Kylie Seluka
(All photos, except the first four, by Cat Sparks.)