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BOOK REVIEW: The Beast's Heart by Leife Shallcross

Saturday, June 09, 2018



The Blurb (From Goodreads):

A sumptuously magical, brand new take on a tale as old as time—read the Beast's side of the story at long last.


I am neither monster nor man—yet I am both.

I am the Beast.

The day I was cursed to this wretched existence was the day I was saved—although it did not feel so at the time.

My redemption sprung from contemptible roots; I am not proud of what I did the day her father happened upon my crumbling, isolated chateau. But if loneliness breeds desperation then I was desperate indeed, and I did what I felt I must. My shameful behaviour was unjustly rewarded.

My Isabeau. She opened my eyes, my mind and my heart; she taught me how to be human again.

And now I might lose her forever.


My Thoughts:

The Beast's Heart by debut Australian author Leife Shallcross is a retelling of the classic French fairy-tale ‘La Belle et la Bête’, told from the perspective of the Beast. Like many lovers of fairy-tales, it is one of my own personal favourites and I have drawn upon its symbols and structures in my own novel, The Beast’s Garden, which is set in Nazi Germany.

Leife Shallcross’s novel is a much more conventional fairy-tale retelling, set in a magical world of castles and forests and curses. I do not call it conventional as a perjorative: I love this type of story. Authors such as Robin McKinley, Juliet Marillier, Helen Lowe, Shannon Hale and Edith Pattou have all enchanted me with their reimaginings of old tales, and The Beast’s Heart deserves to take its place amongst the best of them.

The original tale was written by the French novelist Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve and published in 1740. It was then greatly reduced and simplified by Jeanne-Marie Le Prince de Beaumont and re-published in 1756, just thirty-three years before the French Revolution. It is Mme Beaumont’s version which is best known, and which Leife Shallcross has drawn upon rather than the 1991 Disney animated film.

One key difference is that Belle has sisters in the original tale, and their challenges and love affairs add action and humour to Leife Shallcross’s tale, as the Beast watches them through his magic mirror.

Leife Shallcross writes beautifully, and there is a great deal of charm in the depiction of the Beast and his longing for friendship and love. The Beauty of the tale is also brought to life with depth and complexity. She is called Isabeau, which is a name I love (I called the heroine of my own debut novel Isabeau too!)

I also loved the depiction of the Fairy and the unexpected reasons for her casting the curse.

There has been a fashion in recent years for depicting fairy-tales as dark, violent, and sexually charged fantasies, but I prefer this more lyrical and romantic style. The action of the plot unfolds slowly and sensitively, and time is taken to bring the magical world vividly to life.

A compelling and surprising retelling of ‘Beauty & the Beast’, this debut offering from an Australian author is filled with peril, darkness, romance and beauty. Utterly enchanting!

You might also be interested to read my post about my favourite fairy tale retellings.

I was lucky enough to interview Leife Shallcross for the blog this week, you can read it here.

Please leave a comment, I love to hear your thoughts.

INTERVIEW: Leife Shallcross

Saturday, June 09, 2018

 

Today I welcome Leife Shallcross author of The Beast's Heart, to the blog.

Are you a daydreamer too?
Ohhhhh yes. Incorrigible. I think it's a really important part of being a storyteller! My desire to write stories is absolutely rooted in the (possibly excessive) daydreaming I indulged in as a kid. I can even remember the moment I decided to try turning my daydreams into actual stories! That yearning to escape into a daydream is what drives all my stories and underpins my reading choices. I still daydream all the time - and, in fact, I've discovered recently just how important it is that I make time in my life for daydreaming (having a book published soaks up your spare time in a thousand different ways and I'm only just realising how much I need to protect that precious "quiet time" for my dreaming mind.)

Have you always wanted to be a writer?
Part of me certainly always did. I still have a bunch of stapled-together stories I wrote and illustrated as a child, and, as I said, I've always indulged in daydreaming. In high school I had a wonderful English teacher (the Australian poet, John Foulcher) who ran creative writing classes after school. That was when I realised how much I was in love with words and when I really started wanting to "be a writer". I came from a generation that weren't encouraged to consider artistic pursuits as serious careers, however, so it was very much only a hobby for me until my mid-thirties. I also took a long time to realise exactly what it was I wanted to write. I kept waiting to grow up and start writing "serious" literature. So at age 35 or thereabouts, I suddenly worked out fairy tales were my jam, I didn't want to write anything else, and, dammit, I was going to give writing them for publication a red hot go. I've been extremely fortunate in my publication journey and, by way of a happy ending, my English teacher turned up at my book launch in April! It was really thrilling to be able to see him and tell him how much I owed to his early inspiration.

Tell me a little about yourself – where were you born, where do you live, what do you like to do?
I am a Canberran born and bred. I've live here most of my life, and I love it. Right now autumn has just finished; that's my favourite season and when the city is shown to its best advantage. There are beautiful autumn colours everywhere. Mornings can be cold and grey, but usually by 10.30 you get blue skies and glorious sunshine. I did live in London for a little while after I finished university, working as a nanny and soaking up as much as I could of the London atmosphere as I could and travelling around the UK. I think London is my favourite city. I would definitely love to go back and spend some more time there. When I'm not writing, I love baking, especially baking to share. And I'm one of those people who is not good at sitting still without having my hands busy. So if I'm watching TV with my kids, I tend to be doing something crafty at the same time - quilting or needlepoint mostly.

How did you get the first flash of inspiration for this book?
I started writing it long, long before I ever thought I had a hope of being published, and I just wanted a way to lose myself in one of my favourite fairy tales. So the Beast's chateau and gardens were probably the first "character" that really crystalised for me , as I created a fairy tale world to just go and live in for a little while. The rest of it grew from there.

How extensively do you plan your novels?
I'm still working that out! I've found different stories require different levels of pre-planning, although I naturally tend to sit more on the wing-it end of the spectrum.

Where do you write, and when?
I still have a day job (which is currently pretty demanding), so I like to get up early and write for an hour or so before the rest of my family gets up and the day starts. I try to spend bigger chunks of time on my WIPs on weekends and I've just started taking myself on a writing date at lunchtime at least once a fortnight. Then I snatch any other bits and pieces of time to write as I can.

What is your favourite part of writing?

Those times when a scene just explodes into being in your head and just runs like a movie and your fingers almost can't keep up a typing speed fast enough to catch it all. They're rare, and the bits in between can be a bit of a slog, but, God, those moments are so good.

What do you do when you get blocked?
I've been thinking a lot about this lately as I try and write my next novel! Going for a long walk, a run or a decent drive in the car often helps. Recently I've been working on synopses for a couple of my works-in-progress - this is a great exercise for distilling down the book to its purest essentials and clarifying exactly what it is you are trying to write. I also use music a lot to help me channel the mood for particular scenes.

How do you keep your well of inspiration full?
I read! Or consume stories via TV or movies - not zone-out TV, it's gotta be quality story-telling and brimming with vibrant characters. Good screen-based story telling can teach you a lot about how to tell a tale. I also love throwing myself into research. That's always a good way of finding things that spark the imagination. I have a tendency to get lost down research rabbit holes, but that's half the fun, isn't it?

Immersing myself in art is always wonderful for inspiration. I feel like there's two kinds of inspiration. Firstly, there's direct inspiration, where something lights a spark that starts all sorts of fires for your story. And then there's general inspiration, which doesn't necessarily give you any particular ideas, but is useful for helping you get back to the grindstone when things are challenging. Immersing myself in other people's art can give me that direct inspiration I need for new ideas, but often it's just seeing what human creativity is capable of and remembering it takes hard work and reigniting my determination to be part of that endeavour to create beautiful things.

What do you consider to be good writing?
My favourite kind of stories are the ones that sweep you away into a whole other world and, when you stop reading, you want to just find your way back. Someone asked me once to describe what it is I do without using the word that describes it (ie, "writer"), and I said I create portals to magical worlds where people can lose themselves for a little while.

What is your advice for someone dreaming of being a writer too?

1. Just write whatever it is that you love to write. Don't try and fit some preconceived notion of what you should be writing.
2. If you really want to write for publication, find your writing community. You will learn so much from other writers - about writing as well as about the industry. A good place to start is by joining your local Writers Centre.

What are you working on now?
I have a couple of projects on the go. First is another YA fantasy, but less of a historical retelling and more of a steampunk action adventure. This one borrows from Cinderella, but my Cinderella has faked her father's death to save him from his disastrous marriage to the evil stepmother, and then becomes embroiled in trying to foil a dastardly plot that threatens the throne. The second of my WIP is the beginning of a series set in 18th Century London and involves runaway heiresses, dissolute viscounts, magic and murder. So much fun!

You can read my review of The Beast's Heart here.

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