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SPOTLIGHT: Fairy Retellings

Thursday, May 07, 2015

FAIRY TALE RETELLINGS

A few months ago, I gave a speech on fairy tales at the Wheeler Centre in Melbourne. I've had a lot of queries from people who were unable to make it for various reasons (including vast distances) and so I've summarised my speech into a couple of blogs so everyone may enjoy.  Here is a brief rundown on fairy tale retellings and ways to use them in your own creative work ...



A fairy tale retelling is a story which retells or reimagines a fairy tale, or draws upon well-known fairy tale symbols and structures.


Fairy tale retellings deal with personal transformation - people and creatures change in dramatic and often miraculous ways. Many fairy tales hinge upon a revelation of a truth that has been somehow hidden or disguised. 

Fairy Tale Retellings are most often written as a fantasy for children or young adults.


        

Some of my favourite fairy tale retellings for young adults


Not all, however. In recent years, there have been a number of beautiful, powerful and astonishing fairy tale retellings for adults too. 

          
      

Some of my favourite fairy tale retellings for adults

My own novel BITTER GREENS is a sexy and surprising retelling of the 'Rapunzel' fairy tale, interwoven with the true life story of the woman who first wrote the tale, the French noblewoman Charlotte-Rose de la Force . It moves between Renaissance Venice and the glittering court of the Sun King in 17th century Versailles and Paris, imagining the witch of the tale as a beautiful courtesan and the muse of the Venetian painter Titian. 

      

There are many different ways to draw upon fairy tales in fiction. Here is a brief overview: 


“Pure” Fairy Tale Retellings
A retelling of a fairy tale in which few changes are made to the best-known or ‘crystallised’ sequence of action and motifs. Changes tend to be small and subtle, such as adding dialogue or rhymes, naming characters, describing the setting more vividly, or smoothing out any inconsistencies. My picture book TWO SELKIE TALES FROM SCOTLAND, beautifully illustrated by Fiona McDonald, is an example of a "pure" fairy tale retelling. 



Fairy tale Parodies
Stories in this genre parody fairy tales for comic effect – they are usually done in picture book form, though sometimes writers do so in longer fiction also. 



Fairy Tale Pastische
A pastiche is a work of literature which celebrates the work that it imitates i.e. it is a new work which copies or mimics the style of an older literary form. A fairy tale pastiche therefore sounds like it comes from the ancient oral tradition, but is entirely new 



Sequels, prequels and Spin-Offs

Many fiction writers take a well-known fairy tale, and then create new stories that tell of the events which happened before or after the pattern of action in the 'crystallised' tale. 




Fairy Tale Allusion & Intertextuality

Some novels can draw upon fairy tale motifs, metaphors and plot patterns in more subtle ways. 

A girl may wear a red hoodie, or red dancing shoes. 

A young woman may be poor and under-valued, yet still win the heart of the most eligible bachelor

A dark forest may be a dark city … a tower may be a hospital …

My novel DANCING ON KNIVES is a contemporary romantic suspense novel set in Australia, yet it draws upon Hans Christian Andersen's well-known fairy tale, 'The Little Mermaid'. My heroine Sara is not at home in the world. She feels as if she cannot breathe, and every step causes her pain. She is haunted by the ghosts of the past, and must learn to be brave before she can begin a new life for herself. The fairy tale elements are used only as allusion and metaphor, and as a structural underpinning of the story. 




Retelling well-known tales from another Point of View

Another way to reinvigorate a well-known fairy tale is to tell the story from an unexpected point of view. I was always interested in the motivations of the witch in 'Rapunzel', and so knew right from the beginning that she would be a major point of view in BITTER GREENS. Here are a few other books which make the villain the protagonist of the story: 

      


Retelling well-known Fairy Tales in unexpected settings

Another way to revitalise a well-known fairy tale is to set it somewhere startling or unexpected. I have spent the last year working on a retelling of the Grimm Brothers'version of 'Beauty & the Beast', set in Nazi Germany.  THE BEAST'S GARDEN will be released in late April 2015.





Books About Fairy Tales & Their Tellers

As I noted earlier, BITTER GREENS is a retelling of the ' Rapunzel' fairy tale interwoven with the true life story of the woman who first wrote the tale, Charlotte-Rose de la Force. As an author and oral storyteller, I am very interested in the tellers of the tales. In my novel, THE WILD GIRL, I tell the story of the forbidden romance between Wilhelm Grimm and Dortchen Wild, the young woman who told him many of the world's most famous fairy tales, against the dramatic background of the Napoleonic Wars in Germany. 

      
   


Retelling Little Known Fairy Tales

You do not need to only drawn upon the best-known fairy tales. There are many hundreds of beautiful, romantic and beguiling fairy tales that are not as well-known as they should be. In THE GYPSY CROWN, I retell some old Romany folk tales. In THE PUZZLE RING, I was inspired by Scottish fairy tales and history. In THE WILD GIRL, I shine a light upon some of the forgotten Grimm tales. In THE IMPOSSIBLE QUEST, I play with old Welsh tales. 

The only limits are your own imagination!

FURTHER READING:




SPOTLIGHT: Spike Dean & her fairy-tale-inspired art

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Spike Deane is a friend of mine who does the most exqusite fairy-tale-inspired art - she is exhibiting her work at the moment and I just had to share some of it with you. It is so beautiful.





Spike says:


My inspiration comes from stories, particularly those of folk and fairy tales, and I like to read them all! I can’t say enough how reinterpretations and retellings inform my visual arts practice. 

Collecting different impressions of a story, from old tales and new, academic papers, poems, short stories, comics, novels and of course lots of images of illustrations and sculpture (hello Pinterest) assists in critically examining the tales and feeding the creativity well.  All the words and ideas bubble around in my head until one particular concept comes forward, demanding to be made. 



In my work I focus on the narrative elements of metamorphosis and becoming, for folk and fairy tales for me encourage us to believe that change and transformation are essential aspects of the human condition. That is why, I think that Kate’s character Isabeau/Khan’tinka from the ‘The Witches of Eileanan’ series is a favourite of mine, she very much embodies the power of transformation and personal growth.

Whilst many of my glass pieces draw on the magic of the woods and forests my newest body of work is based on the shape changing Selkie. It was Margo Lanagan’s novel ‘Sea Hearts’ which rekindled my interest in Selkie tales. 



From that point I read every Selkie retelling I could get my hands on, though it was an article on Midori Snyder’s blog (on the Swan Maiden’s feathered coat) that really got me thinking about the role that the ‘Selkie’s Coat’ plays in the tales. The skin/coat then became in my interpretation, the symbolic core of the myth. It signified change, transformation or becoming within the story. The shed seal skin, rendered someway in glass was the image in my head, demanding to be made. That was the beginning to these works in glass and textiles.


Thank you to all the folk and fairy tale writers and researchers. Know that your words and ideas have an ongoing effect on my arts practice.

Fragments of poems often become my titles, two pieces I named from Carol Anne Duffy’s ‘Little Red Cap’: ‘the breath of the wolf in my ear…’ & ‘he held a paperback in his hairy paw…’ Duffy’s words are so fitting for the pieces I couldn’t imagine anything better.


One of my favourite quotes from Jack Zipes:

"Inevitably they find their way into the forest. It is there that they lose and find themselves. It is there that they gain a sense of what is to be done. The forest is always large, immense, great and mysterious. No one ever gains power over the forest, but the forest possesses the power to change lives and alter destinies.”



My next exhibition is a group show called Silhouettes - Red Gallery, Fitzroy. September 24 - October 11 2014.

The works for this exhibition are inspired by the fiction subgenre ‘urban-fantasy’; where folk tale creatures dwell in city streets, where a sliver of magic stands out like a rainbow on a rainy day, a glimmer of elusive enchantment. The outline of the silhouette, like a folktale offers us just enough clues to fire up the imagination and then asks us to fill in the detail from our own store of memories and dreams. 

Charles De Lint is one of my favourite authors in this genre. I always loved his character Jilly Coppercorn who paints fae folk in city streets. In my early 20's I wanted to be just like Jilly. Does anyone else have a fictional role model?


SPOTLIGHT: The Little Mermaid

Friday, July 18, 2014

The Little Mermaid

History of the Tale
Many cultures around the world have tales of mermaids and other magical human-like creatures of the sea in their folkloric traditions. 

The first known mermaid tale appeared in ancient Assyria, more than 3,000 years ago. The goddess Atargatis was in love with a handsome shepherd, but accidentally killed him. In her guilt and shame, she leapt into a lake and took the form of a fish but the waters would not conceal her divine beauty. So she was caught as a human above the waist and a fish below. 

In Greek mythology, mermaids are linked with sirens, beautiful yet dangerous creatures that lure sailors to the death with their enchanting and irresistible singing. 


There is a similar tale in German folklore, telling the story of a beautiful young maiden named Lorelei who threw herself headlong into the river in despair over a faithless lover. Upon her death she was transformed into a siren and could from that time on be heard singing on a rock along the Rhine River. 
One Thousand and One Nights includes several tales featuring ‘sea people’, though they do not have fish-tails, but only the ability to breathe and live underwater. 

China has tales of a mermaid who ‘wept tears which became pearls’, while in Thai storytelling traditions there is a character called Suvannamaccha (lit. golden mermaid).  Mermaids and mermen also appear in Philippine folklore, where they are known as sirena and siyokoy.

From Scotland and Ireland come tales of selkies, said to live in the sea as seals but able to shed their sealskins and walk on the land in human form. (I have just had a children’s picture book published called Two Selkie Tales from Scotland). 


Melusine is another mermaid-like creature found in French fairy tales. She is sometimes depicted with two fish tails, or with the lower body of a serpent, and usually lives in forest pools and rivers. The story of Melusine inspired the very popular 19th century book Undine by Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué, in which Undine, a water spirit, marries a knight named Huldebrand in order to gain a soul. 

It is said to have inspired the most famous mermaid tale, Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale "The Little Mermaid" which was first published in 1837. Anyone who only knows the story because of the Disney remake will be shocked to read the original, which is far darker and crueller.  



In the original version, The Little Mermaid is the youngest daughter of a sea king who lives at the bottom of the sea. She saves the life of a prince on a ship and falls in love with him, and so goes to the sea-witch to ask her for a spell to give up her tail. The sea-witch cuts out her tongue, and tells her every step she takes will be like stepping on knives:

"I know what you want," said the sea witch. "It is very foolish of you, for it will bring you to grief, my proud princess. You want to get rid of your fish tail and have two stumps instead, so that you can walk about like a human creature, and have the young Prince fall in love with you, and win him and an immortal soul besides … But every step you take will feel as if you were treading upon knife blades so sharp that blood must flow. … Well, have you lost your courage? Stick out your little tongue and I shall cut it off. I'll have my price, and you shall have the spell."

However, the prince marries another and the little mermaid has sacrificed all for nothing. Her sisters come to her with a dagger and tell her she can only become a mermaid again if she stabs him in the heart, but the Little Mermaid cannot bear to do so. She flings herself in the ocean instead and drowns.The spirits of the air save her and tell her that mermaids who do good deeds become daughters of the air, and after 300 years of good service they can earn a human soul.

It is thought The Little Mermaid was written as a kind of love letter to Hans Christian Andersen’s dear friend Edvard Collin. Andersen, upon hearing of Collin’s engagement to a young woman, wrote to him: 
‘I long for you as though you were a beautiful Calabrian girl … my sentiments for you are those of a woman. The femininity of my nature and our friendship must remain a mystery.’

Edvard Collin turned Andersen down, disgusted. Andersen then wrote The Little Mermaid to symbolize his inability to have Collin just as a mermaid cannot be with a human. He sent it to Collin in 1836 and it goes down in history as one of the most profound love letters ever written. When he died, Andersen’s will left most of his money to Collin. 

The Little Mermaid, as it was originally written, had an even more tragic ending with the Little Mermaid dying. 


Motifs & Meaning Of Tales
Unsurprisingly, most feminist scholars see Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid as both violent and misogynist. 

The Little Mermaid sacrifices her voice, her mermaid tail, and ultimately her life, for the Prince, thus reinforcing a cultural stereotype which subordinates women. 

The scholar Robert W. Meyers describes the cutting out of the little mermaid’s tongue as “the relinquishment of her right to be heard, the loss of her creativity and the wound of castration”. 

According to Meyers, Andersen had a strong feminine identification which he repressed. He then instilled his own subconscious desires into his characters. The cutting out of the little mermaid’s tongue is essentially Andersen’s way of repressing his own feminine identity and sexual desires. He metaphorically removes sexuality from his character.



However, some feminists see the tale as a warning to women to choose not to be like the Little Mermaid – i.e to not accept any kind of abuse in the name of love.

Others focus on the spiritual transformation of the heroine, from a creature of the sea, to a creature of the land, to a creature of the air – showing her spirit’s progress up towards God. This is reflected in the themes of wounding, self-sacrifice and the idea of love defeating death. 


Modern Retellings
In 1961, Shirley Temple Theatre broadcast a television version of "The Little Mermaid", starring Shirley Temple as the Mermaid.

In 1989, Walt Disney made a very popular animated musical fantasy based on the story (though in it the mermaid gets her prince). ‘The Little Mermaid’ was the first Disney fairy tale retelling since Sleeping Beauty in 1959. The film rights of 'The Little Mermaid' had been a Disney property since 1941, with Walt planning to include the much darker Hans Christian Andersen version of the tale in a planned anthology film of his works. The idea was shelved in 1943. 

My novel Dancing on Knives draws upon the Andersen tale in allusion and structure. 


Favourite Books of Mine which feature mermaids or selkies:

Ingo by Helen Dunmore

Mermaid by Carolyn Turgeon

Sirena by Donna Jo Napoli

Sea-Hearts by Margo Lanagan (selkies)

Secrets of the Sea House (selkies)


You can listen to me talking about mermaids with Natasha Mitchell on ABC National 'Life Matters' or read my blog on the History & Meaning of Sleeping Beauty


PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT - I LOVE TO KNOW WHAT YOU THINK

 

BOOK LIST: Best Australian Young Adult novels chosen by Karen Foxlee

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Today please welcome Karen Foxlee, author of the haunting and utterly beautiful THE MIDNIGHT DRESS. I asked her to compile a list of her five favourite Australian Young Adult novels and you know what? I have some reading to do! I've only read two on this list, but they are two of my all-time favourite authors (Margo Lanagan & Marcus Zusak) so this proves Karen has excellent taste. 

I hope you find some new reading here too.





After compiling a little list of my five favourite Australian young adult novels I was very surprised to find what a mixed bag it was!  Some of the novels I read as a teenager, while others I came to later in life.  All of them can be read by adults.  They are novels that I enjoyed immensely, that moved me, that made me laugh and cry and that remain in my mind years after I read them.  In fact, thinking about some of them has made me want to dig them out again and reread!  My list of five is in no particular order. 


1. “The Year Nick McGowan Came to Stay” by Rebecca Sparrow 
I can’t think of a more perfect premise for a contemporary YA novel.  What would happen if the cutest/coolest boy in school had to come and live at your house!  Rebecca Sparrow is such a clever writer and this novel is by turns sweet, sad, and hilariously funny. I was a teenager in the eighties so it all feels so wonderfully familiar.  And I love a main character who makes you feel.  Rachel made me laugh, cringe, worry and cheer.  


2. “The Harp in the South” by Ruth Park
I was in grade nine when I read this novel and thinking about it, straight away, an image of Plymouth Street, Surrey Hills, appears before me.  It’s amazing how the mind works and the power of words a good thirty years on!! Ruth Park bought the slums of Sydney to life, riotously, colourfully, teaming with tenements and razor gangs and brothels.  She tells the story of the Darcy family in Surrey Hills, with two daughters Rosie and Dolour.  I can recall being completely mesmerised by their tale.  There is a thread that runs through the story about Mumma’s sorrow for a missing brother, Thady, who was taken from the streets when he was three which moved me so much.  And I can still remember my horror at the treatment of Johnny, an intellectually impaired neighbour.  I’m heading out to the library to find this one again!


3. “Tender Morsels” by Margo Lanagan
I have more than one Margo Lanagan novel that could make this list but I thought I better just go with my favourite, “Tender Morsels.”  Even the name excites me.  I think it is a wonderful thing to be so moved, upset, confused and compelled by a book.  The story of Liga and her two daughters Branza and Urdda is a powerful one, about past hurts and healing and re-entering the world, and packed solid with Lanagan’s amazingly earthy, raw magic, and wild bears! Oh don’t get me started on the bears.  After this novel was chosen as a Printz Honor book I remember reading lots of comments questioning how YA appropriate it was.  Gosh I hope my daughter reads books like this when she is a teenager! These kind of books make you feel like you’re alive.  


4. “The Book Thief” by Marcus Zusak  
How can you not love a book that starts: “Here is a small fact. You are going to die”.  I read Zusak’s book when it first came out and was hooked from that line.  I love his writing. It is completely audacious, when you think about it, a book narrated by death, but never once does it feel wrong. His writing is so natural, so fresh, and so completely unique.  It’s the tale of girl called Leisel and her acts of book thievery in Nazi Germany.  It stares the brutality of war and death down the barrel, unflinchingly, while somehow, so wonderfully, celebrating words and all the beauty in our brief lives. 





5.  "Thursday's Child" by Sonya Hartnett
This was my introduction to Sonya Hartnett and I came to her writing late.  She is a wonderful writer and her books always stay with me long after I put them down.  I love her dark complex stories and this coming of age story is particularly dark and strange.  Thursday’s Child is the story of a family, struggling to survive in 1930s Great Depression Australia, facing poverty and heartbreak.  It is the tale of Harper Flute but also her little brother, Tin, who is different to the rest and slowly turning wild.  He enters the earth beneath their ramshackle house, and begins to dig and burrow, leaving them behind.  Hartnett’s descriptions of Tin’s subterranean wanderings, the Australian landscape and the harshness of life in that era, made me feel uneasy and anxious but this is also a story, thankfully, of hope.  So different, I remember thinking.  So wonderfully different! 

Thank you, Karen!

You can LIKE Karen on Facebook

PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT - I LOVE TO KNOW WHAT YOU THINK!

BOOK LIST: My Favourite Books by My Favourite Australian aUTHORS

Saturday, June 08, 2013

Get Reading! is running a search for the favourite Australian books of all time. I've given them a list of some of my favourite books by my favourite Australian authors - here are 16 books by my favourite Australian contemporary authors. I will compile a list of my favourite classic authors very soon. 

Vote for your favourites at the Get Reading! website

Jesse Blackadder -  THE RAVEN'S HEART


Geraldine Brooks - YEAR OF WONDERS


Alison Croggon - THE GIFT 



Kimberley Freeman - WILDFLOWER HILL


Pamela Freeman - BLOOD TIES


Kate Grenville - THE SECRET RIVER


Lian Hearn - ACROSS THE NIGHTINGALE FLOOR


Toni Jordan - NINE DAYS


Margo Lanagan - SEA HEARTS


Fiona McIntosh - THE LAVENDER KEEPER


Juliet Marillier - DAUGHTER OF THE FOREST


Kate Morton - THE FORGOTTEN GARDEN


Belinda Murrell - THE RIVER CHARM


Hannah Richell - THE SHADOW YEAR


Kim Wilkins - ANGEL OF RUIN



Marcus Zusak – THE BOOK THIEF


BOOK LIST: Essie Fox's Favourite fairy Tale Retellings

Wednesday, May 29, 2013



Just this week my novel Elijah’s Mermaid was published in paperback – and because that dark Victorian story is very much influenced by the fairytales that obsessed me in my youth – most specifically The Water Babies and also The Little Mermaid – I thought it would be fun to choose some other novels I love that have also been based on fairy tales.





Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan

Over the past year I’ve immersed myself in books that reinterpret, or else are inspired by, traditional fairy tales. I was gripped by Tender Morsels, which has been very loosely based on the well-known story, Snow White and Rose Red. Like the best of the Grimm Brothers’ fairy tales this is a sinister metaphor of the realities of the human soul; where love and kindness are at war with the more animal brutalities of desire. 



The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories by Angela Carter

Having first bought this collection a great many years ago, I was a little wary when coming to read again as to whether or not the stories would continue to weave their magic spell. I wasn’t disappointed. The Bloody Chamber in particular is the most sensual but gruesome revision of the Blue Beard fairy tale. Other deliciously dark encounters introduce us to werewolves and girls lost in the woods. Two of them inspired The Company of Wolves - a gothic fantasy horror film with a distinctly Freudian subtext. Directed by Neil Jordan and co-scripted by Angela Carter, the film – much like the original tales – is broodingly claustrophobic and teeming with symbolic imagery. 





The Underground Man by Mick Jackson

Somehow I missed this exquisitely crafted novel when it was shortlisted for the 1997 Booker Prize. Not strictly based on a fairytale – actually on a real life story, but nevertheless with an otherworldly quality.  Through the voices of various narrators the story is told of an eccentric Victorian aristocrat obsessed with his own physical disintegration – and also with building a labyrinth of tunnels beneath his stately home. As the novel develops we realise the reasons a man might dig so deep, to discover the secrets and tragedies concealed within his past. I loved this book and I loved the duke, whose lonely descent into madness is countered so very poignantly by the warmth and generosity apparent in his character.





The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

I listened to this as an audio book rather than actually reading, but I found it quite enchanting with beautifully crafted prose.



Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth

I’ve had Kate’s book on my Kindle for some time and now have the opportunity to stop work for a few days and read it. I’ve heard so many good things.



Thank you, Essie! So kind of you to include me in your list.


Here is Essie's website

And here my own Favourite Fairy tale Retellings






THE AUSTRALIAN WOMEN WRITERS' CHALLENGE FOR 2012

Monday, December 31, 2012

This past year was the first year of The Australian Women’s Writers Challenge – a call to arms for Australians to support our women writers by reading and reviewing their books, and spreading the word about the extraordinary literary talent we have in this country.

The initiative – begun by Elizabeth Lhuede – aims to redress the gender imbalance in the way male and female writers are treated in this country. Male writers are reviewed more often and win prizes more often, even though they do not write more books than women.

I have to admit I've  always had a strong bias towards women writers – my husband will growl, ‘don’t you have any books by men?’ as he searches my many bookshelves for something to read – yet I have noticed that the major literary papers do not review the type of books I really want to read. 

So I decided to join in the AWW challenge by reviewing novels that I had read and loved on a blog which I began for that purpose. I have reviewed and interviewed both men and women, from Australia and elsewhere – and I have made an effort to read more books by Australian women writers. 

In all, I read 95 books in 2012, 26 less than in 2011.

Less than one-third of these were written by men.

Of the 63 women writers, 35 of them were Australian. All of them were utterly brilliant. If you haven’t read their novels, read them in 2013 and discover for yourself the amazing talent of writers we have in this country: 


Parallel Historical/Contemporary


1. Secrets of the Tides – Hannah Richell
A dramatic story of family secrets and lies, set in London & Devon. Hannah Richell is UK-born, but lives in Sydney so I have counted her as an Aussie. 


2. The Secret Keeper - Kate Morton 
A riveting read that moves between contemporary times and the early days of the Second World War



3. Lighthouse Bay - Kimberley Freeman
One of my favourite books of the year, this book has romance, suspense, a dastardly villain, and a cast of strong, defiant women.



4. In Falling Snow  -  Mary Rose MacColl
A fascinating look at the role of women nurses and doctors in the Second World War in France.


Historical



5. Raven’s Heart  -  Jesse Blackadder
Set in Scotland in the reign of Mary, Queen of Scots, this novel is filled with unexpected twists and turns.


Romance


6. The Reasons for Marriage  -  Stephanie Laurens
7. A Lady of Expectations  -  Stephanie Laurens
8. An Unwilling Conquest  -  Stephanie Laurens
9. A Comfortable Wife  -  Stephanie Laurens
Regency romance novels that are thin on story and thick on sex – but enjoyable nonetheless. 

10. The Perfect Rake  -  Anne Gracie
11. Bride by Mistake – Anne Gracie
12. The Perfect Waltz  -  Anne Gracie
13. The Stolen Princess – Anne Gracie
14. The Perfect Kiss – Anne Gracie
15. His Captive Lady - Anne Gracie 
Sparkling Regency romances with just the right mixture of humour, pathos, intrigue and romance.


Fantasy



16. Sea Hearts  -  Margo Lanagan
A haunting tale of love, betrayal and selkies by one of Australia’s most extraordinary authors. 



17. Shadowfell – Juliet Marillier
The first in a romantic YA fantasy series by one of my all-time favourite authors.



18. Flame of Sevenwaters  -  Juliet Marillier
Another fabulous historical fantasy set in the otherworldly forest of Sevenwaters.



19. A Corner of White  -  Jaclyn Moriarty
A startlingly original book that moves between the parallel worlds of contemporary Oxford and the strange and magical Kingdom of Cello.


Crime/Mystery



20. Poet’s Cottage – Josephine Pennicott
An intriguing murder mystery set in Tasmania, which moves between the present day and the tragic past. 



21. A Few Right Thinking Men  -  Sulari Gentill
The first in a series of murder mysteries set in 1930s.


Children’s/Young Adult



22. The Golden Door – Emily Rodda
23. The Silver Door - Emily Rodda
24. The Third Door - Emily Rodda
A new trilogy of action-packed fantasy adventure novels for 8+, by the brilliant Emily Rodda



25. The Forgotten Pearl – Belinda Murrell 
A fabulous historical novel for 10+, set during the Second World War in Darwin and Sydney.

26. The River Charm  -  Belinda Murrell
A beautiful and very moving novel that moves between contemporary times and New South Wales’ early pioneering days, drawing upon the true life story of Charlotte and Louisa Atkinson, Australia’s first female novelists and journalists (and, I proudly must admit, my sister Belinda and my ancestors)



27. Bright Angel – Isabelle Merlin
A charming romantic suspense novel for 13+ set in the South of France.



28. One Long Thread – Belinda Jeffries
A fresh and unusual coming-of-age story that moves between Australia and Tonga.



29. Moonlight & Ashes – Sophie Masson
A really brilliant retake on the well-known Cinderella story, set in a make-believe Prague.

30. The Madman of Venice – Sophie Masson
A romantic historical novel set in Venice, with lots of suspense to keep the pages turning.


31. The FitzOsbornes in Exile - Michelle Cooper


Memoir



32. You’ll be Sorry When I’m Dead – Marieke Hardy

Next year I aim to read even more books by Australian Women Writers. 
What about you?



BOOK LIST: Best Books Read in 2012

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

I didn't quite make my target of 100 books this year, reading only 95, but I did discover some brilliant new writers. Here are my top reads of the year: 


Best Historical Novel


The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey 

What a wonderful, amazing, magical book! I just loved this and think it’s one of the best books I’ve read in a long while. I wish I’d written it. A retelling of the Russian fairytale, the Snow Child, set in Alaska at the turn of the 19th century, it seems far too accomplished to be by a debut novelist ... I can only look forward hopefully to many more books by Eowyn Ivey.


Raven’s Heart by Jesse Blackadder

I was sure I was going to love this book as soon as I read the subtitle: ‘The Story of a Quest, a Castle and Mary Queen of Scot’. And I did love it! A fabulous, dark, surprising historical novel, with a hefty dose of mystery, intrigue, passion and cross-dressing. This was one of the best reads of the year so far.


The Lady’s Slipper by Deborah Swift

Set in 1666, soon after the restoration of King Charless II, this novel tells the story of how Alice – a young wife and talented painter - discovers a rare orchid, the Lady’s Slipper, growing in a nearby wood. She is captivated by its beauty and wants to paint it, but the owner of the wood —a Quaker called Richard Wheeler, is determined to keep the flower where God intended it to grow. So Alice steals the flower, and sets off a chain of events including murder, riot, witchcraft, betrayal and exile. Brilliant historical fiction.


The Queen’s Vow by C.W Gortner

The Queen’s Vow brings Isabella of Castile, a powerful and passionate woman, to life, illuminates the forces that drove her, and paints a vivid picture of late 15th century Spain, one of the most fascinating of countries. I absolutely loved this book, and loved this place and time in history – I hope C.W. Gortner writes a lot more books, fast!



Best Parallel Historical/Contemporary Novel

Secrets of the Tide by Hannah Richell

Secrets of the Tides is a suspenseful page-turner of a family drama, taking place mainly in Cornwall and London, and moving back and forth between the past and the present. It begins with a girl jumping off a bridge into the Thames. We do not know who she is or why she is jumped, or even if she lives or dies. Slowly the answers to these mysteries are revealed, some of them very surprising. I absolutely loved it, and look forward to more from this debut author.


Lighthouse Bay by Kimberly Freeman

Lighthouse Bay begins in 1901, with a woman – the only survivor of a shipwreck - dragging a chest full of treasure down a deserted beach. The narrative then moves to contemporary times, with a woman secretly grieving at the funeral of her married lover. These two women – Isabella Winterbourne and Libby Slater – are joined through time by a lighthouse and its secrets and mysteries. I raced through this compelling and intriguing book, utterly unable to put it down. Fabulous rollicking read. 


The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes

The Girl You Left Behind starts in occupied France during World War I, with the main character, Sophie Lefevre standing up the local German Kommandant. He sees a painting of Sophie, rendered by her artist-husband who is off fighting the German army. The Kommandant is drawn irresistibly to the painting – and to its beautiful, red-haired subject – and begins to show her favour. This attracts the suspicion and contempt of the other French villagers, and sets in chain a series of tragic events. 
The action then moves to modern-day London, where the young widow Liv now owns the painting and becomes the centre of a legal battle by the Lefevre family to get it back. There’s romance and drama and suspense aplenty – I really loved it.


Best Historical Mystery

The Crown by Nancy Bilyeau

A historical thriller set in Tudor England, this novel features a beautiful young nun, Sister Joanna, as its heroine. The book begins with the burning of Joanna’s cousin for treason, and sees our intrepid nun being thrown in the Tower and then coerced into a hunt for a mysterious crown thought to have supernatural powers. The book moves swiftly along, with lots of danger, suspense, and a little romance. An engaging read.


Where Shadows Dance by C.S. Harris

The latest in a series of great Regency murder mysteries featuring the aristocratic detective Sebastian St Cyr. I really enjoy this series, and buy each new one as soon as it comes out. Begin with the first in the series, What Angels Fear, as part of the pleasure is the unfolding relationships. 


Best Contemporary Mystery 

The Crowded Grave by Martin Walker

The latest in the delightful Bruno Courreges mysteries set in the Perigord in southern France, this one seems a little darker in tone than the previous ones, with terrorists, animal rights campaigners and archaeologists keeping Bruno busier than ever. There are the usual wonderful descriptions of French food and French countryside, and a little romance – I’m just hoping Martin Walker is writing fast. 


Best Fantasy

Sea Hearts by Margo Lanagan

Sea Hearts is wonderful, in all senses of the word. It’s a dark, moody, storm-wracked book of love, longing, desire, and wickedness. Its central character, Misskaella the sea-witch, is one of the most powerful fictive creations I’ve read in quite some time. Her story - and that of the selkies and the men who covet them – is heartbreaking in its sadness, yet also so hauntingly beautiful, so filled with the sweeping rhythm of the sea, and pierced here and there with shafts of light, that  the lingering feeling is one of awe and wonderment.




Flame of Sevenwaters by Juliet Marillier 

The sixth in the wonderful Sevenwaters series, this book is, as always, filled with wonder, peril, magic, romance, courage, wisdom and compassion. Juliet Marillier is one of my all-time favourite writers and she never, ever disappoints. A beautiful, radiant book. 


Best Children’s Fiction

The Forgotten Pearl by Belinda Murrell 

The most recent book by my beautiful sister, Belinda, The Forgotten Pearl is set in Darwin and Sydney during the Second World War. The heroine, Poppy, is a young girl who faces danger, loss, grief and new love during one of the most tumultuous times in Australian history. She lives through the bombing of Darwin and is evacuated to Sydney where she must learn to make a new life for herself. I always judge a book by whether it brings a prickle of tears to my eyes, and this book did that a number of times – a beautifully written historical novel for children set during a fascinating and largely forgotten period of Australian history. 



The Perilous Gard
by Elizabeth Marie Pope

I am so grateful to whoever it was that told me I should read this book - an absolute masterpiece of children's historical fantasy, written with such deftness and lightness of touch. It has become one of my all-time favourite children's books.


Flint Heart by Katherine & John Paterson

Katherine Paterson was one of my favourite authors when I was a child – I absolutely loved ‘Bridge to Terabithia’, and a lesser known book of hers, ‘Jacob Have I Loved’. So when I saw she and her husband John had retold an old English folktale and that it was sumptuously illustrated by John Rocco, the former creative director at Walt Disney Imagineering, I had to have it. It’s a beautiful book in every sense of the word. The writing is simple and pitch-perfect, and the illustrations are strange and sumptuous – after I read it, I gave it to my 8 year old daughter and she loved it too. A lovely antidote to all those sparkly fairy books.


Best Young Adult Fiction

Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George

A lovely retelling of the Twelve Dancing Princesses fairytale, Jessica Day George has a light touch, a sweet romance, and a clever use of knitting – I’d recommend this to anyone who loves YA fantasy and fairytale retellings. 


One Long Thread by Belinda Jeffries

This is a beautiful, moving coming-of-age novel, refreshingly original and beautifully written. It tells the story of Ruby Moon, whose family has been split in half by her parents’ divorce. The mother moves to Darwin to join what can only be described as a cult, and takes Ruby’s twin sister with her. This seems to me so insensitive, so cruel … and, sure enough, the fallout from that decision has tragic consequences. The action of the book moves from Melbourne to Darwin to Tonga – the sections set there are among my favourite in the book. I also loved the use of the silkworm as a recurring motif and symbol. This was the first of Belinda Jeffries’ books that I have read but I will be seeking out more. 


Moonlight & Ashes by Sophie Masson

I really loved this new book by Sophie Masson. I think it's her best book yet, and I'm a long-time fan of her work. 'Moonlight & Ashes' is a retelling of the Aschenputtel fairy tale, the German Cinderella. It is set in alternative Prague, and is full of adventure, magic and romance. It has the most beautiful, dreamy cover too - loved it!


Shadowfell
by Juliet Marillier

The latest book from one of my all-time favourite authors, Shadowfell is a magical quest set in an otherworldy Scotland. I loved it!

Best Historical Romance



The Perfect Rake by Anne Gracie

The Perfect Waltz by Anne Gracie

The Perfect Kiss by Anne Gracie

I read a lot of romance this year, by a lot of different authors, possibly because I am studying my doctorate and so was seeking the very best kind of comfort reading as an antidote to all the academia I was ploughing through. Nonetheless, the three top romance books I read this year were all by the Australian author, Anne Gracie. Such lightness and deftness of touch, such wit and warmth, such sparkling dialogue - she never disappoints. 


Best Contemporary Romance

I didn’t read any this year – I wonder why?


Best Non-Fiction

Napoleon & Josephine: An Improbable Marriage by Evangeline Bruce

An utterly engrossing and illuminating look at Napoleon and his Empress, this thick tome is as readable as any novel. I went it to it understanding nothing about Napoleon and his rise and fall, and came away feeling I understood everything.


1812: Napoleon’s Fatal March on Moscow by Adam Zamoyski

Looking at the single year of 1812 - and drawing on thousands of first-hand accounts from both sides - this brilliant book looks at each step of Napoleon’s march on Russia and his disastrous retreat. Utterly compelling, shocking and fascinating. 



I need to make a disclaimer, of course:
1) My choice is utterly and unashamedly subjective
2) I know many of these writers, and am lucky enough to call some of them my friends. One of them is even my sister! Regardless of whether they’re friends or family, I still absolutely loved their works, though, and hope you will too.
3) Many thanks to the publishers and writers who sent me books this year– I’m sorry if I haven’t read those books yet and I will try to get to them. My reading choices are prompted purely by my own selfish pleasure and so sometimes I don’t read the books I should!
4) This means, of course, that there are many absolutely wonderful books out there which I haven’t yet discovered. I hope that I shall soon. 


You may enjoying reading my interviews with some of the above authors:






PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT, I LOVE TO KNOW WHAT YOU THINK

INTERVIEW: Margo Lanagan

Friday, February 17, 2012

I first read Margo Lanagan a few years ago, when Garth Nix pressed a copy of her short story collection Black Juice upon me at a writer’s conference. ‘You must read this,’ he said.

‘But I really don’t like short stories,’ I said.

‘You’ll like these,’ he answered. And he was right. One of the stories in particular really haunted me – ‘Singing My Sister Down’ was a strange, dark, heartbreaking and yet beautiful story which recounts the last hours in the life of a young woman condemned to death by drowning in a tar pool. We don’t know where or when the story is set, and we only gradually learn some of the reason why. What is striking about the story is the language, which was so unlike anything else I had ever read I was mesmerised. Margo Lanagan’s voice was bold, inventive, and filled with mystery.

I loved it.

So did the rest of the world. Black Juice ended up being a Michael L. Printz Honor Book, winning two World Fantasy Awards, the Victorian Premier's Literary Award, a Golden Aurealis Award, and a Bram Stoker Award nomination.

Phew!

So when I heard a few years later that Margo had written a novel, I was keen to read it. My interest sharpened when I learned that it was a retelling of the ‘Snow White and Rose Red’ fairy tale. You all know how much I love fairy tale retellings!

I finally read her novel Tender Morsels last year (about three years after it came out) and this is how I reviewed it:

This is a truly extraordinary book, and one that lingers in the mind for a long time afterwards. The language is astonishingly good – bold, original, unexpected – and the story itself takes all kinds of surprising directions ... It’s only occasionally that I finish a book with a real sense of awe, but this book delivered me that. If you haven’t read it yet, read it now. Then let’s talk about it. I’m dying to talk to someone about it!

Tender Morsels was a controversial book, dealing as it did with incest, rape, and revenge, and I certainly found some of the scenes hard to read. What I loved most about the book was the firecracker language, and that sense of strangeness and mystery that Margo seems to do so well. It went on to win a World Fantasy Award too, and was named a Michael L. Printz Honor Book as well.

Now Margo has a new book out and I could hardly wait to get my greedy little hands on it. It’s about selkies, I was informed. I love selkies! If you don’t all know how much I love selkies, well, you should be able to guess.

Sea Hearts is wonderful, in all senses of the word. It’s a dark, moody, storm-wracked book of love, longing, desire, and wickedness. Its central character, Misskaella the sea-witch, is one of the most powerful fictive creations I’ve read in quite some time. Her story - and that of the selkies and the men who covet them – is heartbreaking in its sadness, yet also so hauntingly beautiful, so filled with the sweeping rhythm of the sea, and pierced here and there with shafts of light, that the lingering feeling is one of awe and wonderment.

The blogosphere has been abuzz with the book, and so I’m very glad that Margo took some time out to answer my questions:

Are you a daydreamer too?

Yes, daydreaming is very important for idea development. It's very easy to become self-conscious and anxious about a story, and it's important to be relaxed at the beginning, when I'm first approaching the story, idea in hand, looking for a character and a situation to carry it.

With some stories, it's productive to sit down and make notes while I interrogate the idea, Q&A-ing myself about it; others are better if I give them time, bring the idea to the forefront of my brain for a little while and poke at its possibilities, try to imagine what would be the most fun place to take it; then I push it back into my subconscious to cook, until the next opportunity to daydream with it - when it often comes out of the sub-conscious with a new, better, unexpected something attached.

Have you always wanted to be a writer?

I would always have wanted to be a writer if I'd known that normal people could become writers, but that wasn't something I realised until I was in my late 20s. Before that, I wrote and published poetry, but I assumed that real books, full of story, simply fell out of the sky, as a kind of natural phenomena. It was only when I started working in publishing that I realised there was a process for making them from (sometimes really scrappy) manuscripts into finished books, and that I could manage to produce a scrappy manuscript myself, just fine.

How did you get the first flash of inspiration for this book?

I tell the story of this in the lovely book trailer that Allen & Unwin made for Sea Hearts. The short version? I bought some knitting wool!

How extensively do you plan your novels?

I never plan a novel really thoroughly, as that takes all the exploratory fun out of writing it. But during the writing there are usually many points where I have to step back and think about the story as a whole: where all the different bits fit, how each character's story flows and builds and combines with the others. At the start of a novel, I'm very experimental and free, then I stand back and try to sort things out, then let myself off the leash again within the new constraints I've set for myself; if I then find myself launching off in a new direction, I have to pause and sort things out again so that I'm comfortable that I know (but only roughly!) where I'm going.

I don't write character descriptions or biographies unless I need that information for plotting purposes. I don't write timelines unless I start to get confused about the order of things (meaning, for both Tender Morsels and Sea Hearts I wrote extensive timelines, several different versions of them).

Do you ever use dreams as a source of inspiration?

I have occasionally, but only for short stories. The story "Wooden Bride" in Black Juice was largely a recounting of a dream I had. The sorts of dreams that are inspiring are the ones with both strong visual impressions and a strong atmosphere about them. Lately I haven't been having many memorable dreams at all, though. But that's no problem; there are far too many sources of inspiration in the world already!

Where do you write, and when?

Sometimes at the kitchen table, sometimes in my Writing Room, which is a rented room a couple of blocks from my house. I write best if I get up early-early in the morning before I've had time to properly shake sleep off; then I don't get in my own way with doubts or irrelevant thoughts. If I can get in an hour or so's good writing before breakfast, I know I'll get a lot done that day.

When I'm writing full-time (but I've been only part-time for the past few years), I'll write Monday to Friday, from as early as possible until I've written 10 pages, which might mean 11 a.m. and might mean 5 p.m. It depends on how much pausing-and-thinking I have to do to keep things moving along.

What is your favourite part of writing?

Oh, I pretty much like it all, from buying pens and paper (yes, I write first drafts in longhand) to keeping notebooks of ideas, to making the first stab at a story, to coming back and rereading and realising what it needs to make it interesting to me again.

When I'm working, and completely absorbed in whatever story I'm writing, and there's hardly space in my mind to realise it, that's probably when I'm happiest. But finishing a novel draft and listening to the printer churning out the pages for revision, that's satisfying too, and picking over editors' remarks or copyeditors' queries, working up the story towards being polished and finished - as long as any of these stages is not too badly pressurised by oncoming deadlines, I'm very happy spending my days this way.

I know I'm supposed to be all angsty and tortured by the process, but honestly, compared to writing tax procedures for a bank, it's heaven.

What do you do when you get blocked?

Physical exercise. Put the problem out of my head and get some oxygen to the brain. That usually lets some air into the plot-knot as well, and helps me be relaxed about it and regain my faith in untangling it. Also, having faced story-problems for more than 20 years and solved quite a few of them, I've built up confidence that I can crawl out of most holes I manage to dig for myself.

How do you keep your well of inspiration full?

By reading other people's books, good (for inspiration) and bad (for righteous rage). With poetry, music, art, movies and as much travel as I can afford. By taking time off from writing to break habits and patterns my voice falls into every now and again if I write too continuously. By having a social life that involves both other writers and real-world people with real jobs.

Do you have any rituals that help you to write?

Just the getting up early thing. Oh, and eating carrots and Vita-Weets, for the purposes of crunching through plot and scene hitches. And not using pens, notebooks or writing-paper that's so fancy that it intimidates me. Cheap and scuffed is best.

Who are ten of your favourite writers?

  • Anne Tyler
  • George Saunders
  • Anne Enright
  • William Mayne
  • Alan Garner
  • Kelly Link
  • Jennifer Stevenson, on the strength of Trash Sex Magic—I haven't read anything else of hers yet
  • W. G. Sebald
  • Gail Godwin
  • Ursula Dubosarsky

What do you consider to be good writing?

Good writing happens when the author gives the impression (doesn't matter how much sweat and pain have gone into creating the illusion) of not watching the audience but looking with great commitment and fascination at the matter at hand; where you can feel the writing as their exploration rather than a performance they're delivering. Ego-free, intense, well-crafted writing, that's what I like.

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

Forget "being a writer". Focus on the story in front of you. How can you best serve it? How can you learn the most from it? How can you get the most pleasure out of exploring it?

Also, read lots, write lots, and have some kind of life out in the real world as well, not just in your own head.

What are you working on now?

A novel about an Irish seer transported to colonial New South Wales, and a collection (the Blue collection) of not-very-nice stories.


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