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THE WILD GIRL - The story behind the Grimms fairy tales

Sunday, February 23, 2014

To celebrate THE WILD GIRL being named Most Memorable Love Story of 2013 by Australian readers, I'm going to share some vintage Wild Girl posts this week - I hope you enjoy!

The Story Behind the Grimm Brothers’ Fairy Tales
Once upon a time there were two brothers who lived in a small kingdom in the middle of a crazy patchwork of other small kingdoms, each with its own prince or archduke to rule it. Some of these kingdoms were so small the princes could fire at each other from their castle walls. 

The two brothers – named Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm – were the eldest of a family of six, all boys except for the youngest who was a girl named Lotte.

Next door to the Grimm family lived a family of six girls and one boy named the Wilds. They lived side-by-side on the Marktgasse in the medieval quarter of a town named Cassel, famous for its palace set in vast gardens and forests. 

Jakob and Wilhelm and their family were desperately poor. Their father had died, and the two elder brothers struggled to feed and clothe their siblings. 

One day a mighty emperor called Napoleon decided he wished to rule the world. On his way to seize the thrones of the other great kings and emperors of the world, he took over the Grimm brothers’ small kingdom and mashed it together with many of its neighbours to create the Kingdom of Westphalia. He set his young brother Jérôme up as king. In his first week, Jérôme played leapfrog in his underwear with his courtiers through the empty halls of the palace, then spent a fortune ordering new furniture from Paris. 

Life was very hard for the Grimms. Everything changed under French occupation – the laws of the land, the weights and measurements, even the language everyone must speak - and censors meant the newspapers only printed what Napoleon wanted people to know. 

Partly as an act of defiance, and partly in the hope of making some money, the Grimms began to collect old stories from their neighbours and friends, with the aim of publishing a scholarly book. 

The Wild girls who lived next door knew many stories, particularly Lotte’s best friend, the fifth daughter, who was named Dortchen. She told Wilhelm many tales, including ‘The Frog King’, ‘Hansel and Gretel’, ‘Six Swans’ and ‘Rumpelstiltskin’.  

Wilhelm and Dortchen fell in love, but the Grimms were so poverty-stricken they could only afford one meal a day. Wilhelm’s and Dortchen’s only chance to marry was if the fairy tale collection was a success.
Unfortunately, the book was a failure. It was criticised for being too scholarly, too unsophisticated, and filled with too much sex (some of the stories were indeed ripe with sexual innuendo).

It was a time of war and terror and tyranny. Napoleon marched on Russia. The fields of Europe were burned black, and many hundreds of thousands of people died.

Wilhelm struggled on (his elder brother Jakob was now busy with other scholarly undertakings). He collected more tales, from Dortchen as well as from other storytellers, and he rewrote the stories to make them more palatable to a middle-class audience. He added such terms as ‘once upon a time’ and ‘happily ever after’, and made sure the princess did not take the frog into her bed anymore. 

Slowly the war was won, and peace returned. Slowly the fairy tales began to sell. Slowly the Grimm brothers’ reputation grew. At last, thirteen years after they first fell in love, Wilhelm and Dortchen were able to marry. They lived together with Jakob happily until their deaths. 

This is the story that I tell in my novel THE WILD GIRL - a story of love, war and fairy tales.



RECIPE: Dortchen Wild's damson plum jam cake

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

To celebrate THE WILD GIRL being named Most Memorable Love Story of 2013 by Australian readers, I'm going to share some vintage Wild Girl posts this week - I hope you enjoy!


Last week I went to talk to a Book Club in Sydney that had read and loved my novel THE WILD GIRL. One of the club had cooked the damson plum jam cake that Dortchen Wild cooks for Wilhelm Grimm's birthday (the recipe was included in the Book Club reading notes in Australia - its an adaption from an old German recipe).

I cooked this cake a lot when I was writing THE WILD GIRL, but I had forgotten just how good it is. I thought I'd share the recipe with you all.

The picture of Damson Plum Jam comes from First Look, then Cook

Dortchen’s Recipe for Damson Plum Jam Cake 

2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 cup caster sugar
1/3 cup canola oil
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 cup dried cranberries
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup damson plum jam

Preheat oven to 350C. Grease and line a loaf pan. In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, nutmeg, allspice, cinnamon and salt. Beat the eggs and sugar until combined. Add the canola oil. Slowly beat in the flour mixture. Stir in the buttermilk. With a spatula fold in the cranberries and walnuts. Swirl in the jam in three to four strokes. Pour into the loaf pan and bake for 50 minutes or until a cake testor comes out clean. Allow to cool in the pan for 25 minutes, then turn it out onto a rack. Allow to cool for 5 minutes or so, then serve warm. This cake lasts a week well covered.

SPOTLIGHT: Fie on the Feisty Heroine!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Fie on the Feisty Heroine! I say.

I’m been a little troubled recently by the plethora of ‘feisty heroines’ in the historical fiction I’ve been reading.

Don’t get me wrong. I love a strong woman!

Yet the truth is that the way that many of these heroines speak and act is utterly anachronistic. It rings untrue, and that breaks the spell of enchantment the book should be casting over me. 

In truth, strong women in the past were, more often than not, broken by their society. They were beaten, locked in scold-bridles, burnt to death for petty treason, stoned or imprisoned or locked away in towers or convents. Most learned very early on to do as they were told. 

Of course there were exceptions. Women who ran away to war, dressed as a boy, and were not discovered for years, for example (Wikipedia has a fascinating list of them

Joan of Arc being burnt at the stake

And history is full of women who were rebellious and rowdy, passionate and powerful – Cleopatra (killed herself with an asp). Boadicea (committed suicide rather than be taken captive by her enemies). Joan of Arc (burnt at the stake). Eleanor of Aquitaine (kept locked up by her husband for years). Emmeline Pankhurst (imprisoned and force-fed) … 

Emmeline Pankhurst being arrested

Of course I’m being selective here to make a point. There are many amazing women in history that lived mostly happy lives and achieved astonishing things. Empress Theodora. Elizabeth I. Marie Curie. Florence Nightingale. Mary Wollstonecraft. 

Marie Curie, a woman alone in a world of men

However, these are the exceptions, not the rule. 

This poses a difficult problem for historical novelists. On the one hand, we want to write books with strong, interesting, clever heroines. On the other hand, we need to be true to the times in which our heroines live.

It can help if we write about heroines outside the cultural norm. In my historical children’s series The Chain of Charms, which is set in the last few weeks of Oliver Cromwell’s life, my heroine is a Rom. This means she is free to gallop about the countryside and have adventures instead of sit quietly and sew her sampler as girls in the mid-1600s were expected to do. 

I recently read Act of Faith by Kelly Gardiner, which is set in the 1640s. Her heroine, Isabella Hawkwood, is the daughter of an Oxford don and philosopher and has been taught to read Latin, Greek and many other languages, as well as to think deeply and clearly. She is headstrong and impetuous and does many things that would be considered utterly scandalous in that period of time. However, she is constantly having to hide her intelligence and her learning, and she is also afraid and unsure, giving her character greater depth. (Here's my review of Act of Faith)

I ran up against this problem all the time in my novel The Wild Girl, which is inspired by the true untold love story between Wilhelm Grimm and Dortchen Wild, the young woman who told him many of the world’s most famous fairy tales. How I wanted Dortchen to be feistier! But she was the product of her time and her culture – the strict, puritanical and patriarchal world of Germany in the early 19th century. I could make her long for a world in which women were free to make their own choices, but I could not give her that world. 

Dortchen could not marry without her father’s permission.

She could not go to school past the age of 14, let alone go on to university.

She could not get a job. 

She could not even choose what to wear.

And, to tell you the truth, I think that my Dortchen shows greater strength and resilience in finding her way forward in the life she was given than if I had made her dress up as a boy and run away to fight in the Napoleonic Wars. Because the life I have created for her is as true as I could make it. It doesn’t turn history into a fantasyland where women dress in tight leather corsets and can kickbox (though, mind you, I do love a good, kick-ass, leather-clad heroine too! Just not in a historical novel).

In The Wild Girl, I have tried to show how difficult life was for women in the past, so that we can make sure that we don’t forget all that has been won for us. 

This is why I say: Fie on the feisty heroine! 

Give me women who are vulnerable as well as strong, conflicted as well as determined, kind-hearted as well as quick-witted, and who have to truly struggle to make their way in a world that does not pretend to make life easy for women.

One last final note: did you know the word ‘feisty’ comes from the German word feist, a derogatory term for a lapdog? 

What about you? Do you love a feisty heroine, or do also you think they are perhaps becoming a little cliched? 

Let me know what you think by leaving a comment - I always love to know what you think.

WINNERS ANNOUNCED! Plus a round-up of what I discovered with my survey

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

As part of the Australia Day blog hop, inspired by Shelleyrae at Book'd Out blog and the gals at Confessions From Romaholics blog, I ran a survey about my blog and had some very interesting results.

How do you choose the next book to read?

Most visitors to my blog choose their next book as a result of word-of-mouth recommendations, either from friends or from book blogs. Goodreads was another very popular way to choose a new book (and really this is another form of word-of-mouth recommendation, isn't it?). Many others said they chose the book by browsing bookshops, either in real space or on the internet, and were swayed by the cover and blurb. I must admit I always am! Facebook and twitter were also quite influential, but traditional media such as newspapers and magazines had much less impact. 

I found this very interesting - but it does reflect the changes in my own book choices.

How could I improve my blog?

Most people said they would like more posts about the craft of writing, which really surprised me. I had thought people must be so sick of writers writing about writing. But no! About 70% of the respondents wanted me to give them more insights into my own writing process, and more writing tips. So I shall! I'll need to think about the best way to do it ...

Most people also said more reviews and more interviews - I'll try!

A few made suggestions about the look, and the ease of moving around, and other practical tips - thank you so much! I plan a redesign in the next month or so - please feel free to tell em what you think!

Favourite Genres

Not surprisingly, most of you love fantasy and historical fiction, which are my own favourite genres. A few asked for more romance, which makes me happy as I was planning a Romance Month in February. A few also asked for more crime and mystery, which I must admit I don't read and review as much. However, I love this genre too so this is no stretch for me. 

Should I Give My Blog a Name?

NO! was the resounding answer (though some had some very funny nor lovely suggestions - thank you for these)

So, finally, who are the winners?

Well, I had 55 comments and only 5 books to give away and so this one is a real toughie!

Here is what I've decided:

Tracey Allen - Dragonclaw, Book 1 of 'The Witches of Eileanan'

Alissa Callen - The Starthorn Tree

Eily - The Starthorn Tree

Riz Bulatao - The Starthorn Tree 

Jo-Anne - Bitter Greens

Jen - Bitter Greens

Jess S - Bitter Greens

Allison Tait - The Wild Girl 

Kirstie - The Wild Girl

Teddyree- The Wild Girl

Angelya - The Wild Girl

Lisa Wardle - The Wild Girl

Emma Tingay - The Wild Girl

Jeffrey Doherty - The Wild Girl

Tash - The Wild Girl

Sam - The Wild Girl

Maureen - The Wild Girl

Sharon - The Wild Girl 

Elspeth - The Wild Girl

Spike - The Wild Girl

So that's TWENTY books I'm giving away instead of five. Whew! 

It'd be really good if you could all email me and let me know if you want an e-book or a p-book - and where I can send it. 

Anyone who doesn't email me, I'll try and get to you in the next week or so - please be patient as I am overwhelmed with work at the moment.

Anyone who didn't win a copy - I'm so sorry! I really appreciate your feedback and your support, and I'll try and hold another giveaway soon.

Many thanks!

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