Vasilisa the Wise

I’m so thrilled to announce that a book I’ve been working on with the marvellous author Kate Forsyth has been picked up by Serenity Press and will be published in 2018!

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Vasilisa the Wise & Other Tales of Brave Girls will be a collection of seven fairy tale re-tellings written by Kate and accompanied by my illustrations. They are stories of independent girls and women; tales of adventure, bravery, kindness and strength.

It’s a fantastic process we’re following, much different to the usual writer/illustrator relationship, and a way of working that is, to an illustrator at least, both rare and wonderful. We’ve both chosen stories we love. Some Kate has written first, and sent me to work with. I have created several artworks for others, and sent them to Kate before she starts writing. We’re inspiring each other, and it really is magical. And such a privilege.

Kate has written a blog post about how we found each other which, speaking of magical, was incredibly fortuitous and an example of the importance of having a social media presence as an author and/or illustrator. Allison Tait, brilliant author of The Mapmaker Chronicles, co-host of the essential So You Want To Be a Writer podcast, and strident advocate for having a good author platform (in fact she even teaches a course on it!) introduced us on Twitter thinking that Kate might like my work. Thankfully she was right! Kate bought one of my prints to celebrate finishing her PhD, and we kept corresponding, hoping that we might be able to work together one day. We came up with a plan, did some work… and two years later, we can finally tell you all about it!

It really has been a project of lucky, magical and fortuitous connections. Around a month ago, Kate posted the following on her Facebook page:

One day I’d like to write #fairytale retellings of little-known tales with brave, clever heroines for teenage girls to read. Would anyone like to publish stories like that?

And Monique from Serenity Press said yes! Now we are three women, from three corners of the country (Sydney, Perth & regional Victoria) working on this book together. With all that each of us have to contribute, it really is going to be a wondrous thing.

Cheers to that!

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The Victorian Writer

I was thrilled to have been commissioned by Writers Victoria to contribute a feature article and a front cover image for their April/May issue. The issue’s theme is around Writing for Young Adults, and I contributed a piece on adolescent transformation in fairy tales. I’m in excellent company, and look forward to settling down in front the fire with a cup of tea to read them all.

Hello to those who made it here from the pages of The Victorian Writer. For those new to my work, I have a (new) website at lorenacarrington.com and also tweet from @lorena_c.

 

Arts Open

Opening up your house to strangers is often a fraught and invasive enterprise. It usually means you’re trying to sell it or, if you’re renting, someone else is selling it out from underneath you. Or the estate agent is inspecting it and, if you’ve kept it nice enough, they’ll let you stay.

In our case, it’s a celebration of Art and the work we’ve made over the course of a year. We transform our living space into a gallery and open it up to the public every March. It’s a fine line between clearing as much out as we can, and keeping it liveable for the times between. This year, we were open last long weekend, and this one, for Arts Open Castlemaine. We scrub the windows, throw art up on the walls, and optimistically buy lots of red dot sale stickers because we always lose the pack we bought last year in the intervening 11 and a half months.

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Despite the occasional bought of nerves, and all the extra cleaning, it’s wonderful. People are lovely and chatty, and ask great questions, and often lead me to new ideas, just by talking about the work. They see a different angle to something that I hadn’t considered, or are affected by different ideas in an image or story. Some respond to something from their childhood, or to the single mother in a story, and some just want to know the technical details. Whatever it is, there’s something about talking about the same thing over and over again to different people over several days that brings out new ideas to me as well: new work I want to make, or a different way of seeing an image I created and know right down to each leaf and twig.

Even if we don’t make as many sales as hoped (there are always some, but I never seem to end the week rolling around in a mountain of cash, tossing banknotes around like autumn leaves; gold coins tinkling around me like rain, and that seems most unfair) it’s an invaluable way to make new contacts, generate ideas, and absorb some of the enthusiasm that people bring with them. Always, the positives outweigh the odd negative. Of course we do get the odd close-talker, looooong-talker, left-of-field theorist or self-promoter. And there always, always seems to be one who is a combination of all of the above. Last week one man claimed something so wacky, and frankly racist, that I was very happy to show him the door. And there was the woman who walked in, cast a cool glance around, said “No, this isn’t what I want to see,” and swept out again. But I treasure these moments too, for they give me good drinking stories.

This year I am exhibiting work with my mum (Hooray!) Jenny Carrington, an incredible artist, book crafter and weaver, amongst many things. Style-wise, she comes from a ‘hard-edge’ background, but her connection to the landscape that is often her subject makes her work anything but hard. It’s imbued with symbolism, spirit and her deep love for the Australian bush.

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Her woodblock prints are uncomplicated, but they’re far from simple.

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And her pen drawing are full of so much detail, even her perfect shading is accomplished with thousands of perfectly placed pen-marks.

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Arts Open is a great chance to visit artist’s studios and see how they work. Castlemaine is an incredible hub of artists: Photographers, painters, sculptors, printmakers, jewellers… You name it, someone here makes it.

So if you’re in Castlemaine this weekend (March 19th & 20th) please do come visit. Our door is open!

 

Port Fairy Exhibition

A few weeks ago we packed up our family (and stinky dog) and made the 4 hour trip down to lovely Port Fairy on Australia’s South Coast. And then the next weekend we did it all again (minus dog). We go down to Port Fairy every year for their Spring Music Festival, and stay with our good friends Anna and Ross, who own a holiday house in town. I’m not saying we choose our friends by their holiday houses… but it’s a bonus. This year the wonderful Jo from Blarney Books had invited me to exhibit in their gallery, and the opening happily coincided with this year’s festival.

I was already very happy to be asked to exhibit in such a beautiful gallery, which FYI is attached to my new very favourite bookshop, but the best part has been getting to know Jo and her family. Our kids get on like a house on fire, and to my delight, Jo and I connected just as quickly. (Hi Jo!)

Check out the stage and trapeze swing IN THE BOOKSHOP. (I told you it was fabulous.)

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Jo and her husband Dean very kindly hung the show for me in the week between visits, and we returned to find this!

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And the angels sang.

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I had made several new works for this show (my sixth, and final – thank goodness! – for the year), some of which I’ve posted about here, and it was wonderful to see them hanging with the others.

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The opening was fabulous, with champagne provided by the generous Jo & Dean, and more people attending that you can see in the photo below. I blathered about fairy tales and art making for a while, and fielded some fantastic questions. Sadly I have no idea what any of them were, as the adrenaline that finally washed out of my system, also washed away all but a faint recollection of events.*

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The exhibition is still up for another couple of weeks, so if you live near by, or know anyone who does, I urge to to go along for a look, and to browse the fabulous bookshop. You won’t leave empty handed!

* I was going to attach my notes from the artist talk but they are a mix of dot points and carefully crafted sentences that I never used. They make no sense at all. 

Fairy Tales and the Adolescent Transformation

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After creating the above image, Metamorphosis, recently, I’ve been thinking about the fairy tale as an allegory for puberty and adolescence. The image itself is about the sense of change as one enters that new stage in life. As a child (on the left) we have a solid idea of who we are in the world, but entering adolescence (the figure on the right), our sense of self can be all but annihilated. For a long time it’s a dance between the two. As we pull away from childhood, we have to rebuild ourselves, trying on all sorts of skins; cobbling together influences and ideas until we remake ourselves as adults. We are bone and feather, leaf and twig; a fragile tangle of scavenged treasures.

Fairy tales perfectly explore this mystifying time: Fingers are pricked and blood is drawn; a drawn-out sleep transforms child into adult (and in some cases mother) before she knows what has happened; a path is travelled and foes battled before the previously young and hapless hero or heroine emerges victorious (and usually married).

Adam and Eve

I’d never really thought about the Adam and Eve story in the context of fairy tales before, and when it came to me in that half sleep state last night, I thought myself a momentary genius. Of course this morning I really wasn’t surprised to find that it has been explored widely as myth and allegory. I still think it would make a great fairy tale: Once upon a time, there was a King who planted a beautiful walled garden. He found two orphans, a boy and a girl, and invited them to live in this lush paradise, under one strict condition… See, it’s perfect. There’s the fantastical garden, a command to be disobeyed, temptation, consequence… And of course, the broken barrier between a childhood innocence and adulthood. Adam and Eve are effectively cosseted children, until the forbidden apple awakens their sexual natures and they head out to find their own way in the world.

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Peter Paul Rubens 004” by Peter Paul Rubens

Snow White

Speaking of dangerous apples! Snow White is the perfect allegory for puberty and the breaking away from the influence of one’s parent. The mother is jealous of her daughter’s youth and beauty, and Snow White must find her way to autonomy. I’m not sure shacking up with seven men is the path I’d recommend, but we all need to find our own way I guess…
Snow White suffers several deaths and rebirths, growing a little wiser each time one would hope, finally emerging as a free adult. Well, sort of. She still marries Prince Charming. And speaking of Prince Charming…

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Franz Jüttner Schneewittchen 7” by Franz Jüttner

Cinderella

As above: escape from the overbearing (step)mother, guided path to self discovery and freedom from parental rule, handsome prince, blah blah blah. (Cinderella is not one of my favourite stories).

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Gustave dore cendrillon4“.

The Sleeping Beauty

Bruno Bettelheim says it best in The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales: “The central theme of all versions of ‘The Sleeping Beauty’ is that, despite all attempts on the part of parents to prevent their child’s sexual awakening, it will take place nonetheless.” (P. 230, 1976 edition)

Yep. Sigh. Sleeping Beauty is cursed to prick her finger (blood=menstruation) and fall into the a deep slumber, and despite all her parents best efforts to keep her from this fate, it is inevitable. Bettelheim also talks about the long sleep in relationship to the fog and flurry of adolescence: “During the months before the first menstruation, and often also for some time immediately following it, girls are passive, seem sleepy, and withdraw into themselves… ‘The Sleeping Beauty’ emphasizes the long, quiet concentration on oneself that is needed.” (P. 225)

Sleeping Beauty enters her adolescent sleep as a child, and emerges as a marriageable women. In Giambattista Basile’s version, Sun, Moon and Talia, poor Beauty, or Talia, wakes up a mother of twins(!) after the prince charmingly impregnates her:

“…she seemed so incredibly lovely to him that he could not help desiring her, and he began to grow hot with lust. He gathered her in his arms and carried her to a bed, where he made love to her. Leaving her on the bed, he left the palace and returned to his own city, where pressing business for a long time made him think no more about the incident.”

Well. There’s a lot I have to say about the infuriating passivity of women in fairy tales (and the accepted male entitlement), and Sleeping Beauty, I think, is a fine bloody example. But that’s for another blog post.

Sleeping Beauty painting by Edward Burne-Jones
Sleeping beauty by Edward Burne-Jones

Little Red Riding Hood

In this tale Little Red literally follows a path through her adolescence. She begins in her mother’s home, and leaves to travel through the wild forest, where she encounters the threat of the wolf (ahem, slick-haired, leather jacket wearing, no-gooder) who attempts to lead her from the accepted path. Depending on which version you read, she is eaten by the wolf after getting into her Grandmother’s bed with him (well, really) or escapes the gastronomic fate of her grandmother. Either way, she is rescued by the hunter (swarthy, check-shirt wearing hipster good guy), and I guess learns a lesson and emerges wiser from her wayward teenage ways.

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Arthur Rackham Little Red Riding Hood+” by Arthur Rackham

I could recount similar examples all day, and get into more complicated stories and readings of them, but looking at these well known tales has edged me towards a little more respect for them. It still bugs me that our most famous fairy tales are those with passive girls who become passive women married to handsome princes (it really does make me grumpy), but at least there’s something more to find in them than ‘be kind and good and wait your turn, and you’ll find eternal happiness and fulfilment in marriage to someone rich and handsome’. Reading them as an metaphor for change rather than instructions for living gives me much less of a stomach ache.


Fairy tales are rich in allegory, for that is really what they are, and there are millions of words written on their deeper meanings. Here are a few you might enjoy. What are your favourite books about fairy tales?

The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales, Bruno Bettelheim.

From the Beast to the Blonde: On Fairy Tales and Their Tellers, Marina Warner

Once Upon a Time: A Short History of Fairy Tale: Marina Warner 

Off with their heads!: fairy tales and the culture of childhood, Maria Tatar

Fates and Furies: A Review

Fates and Furies

Lauren Groff

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While technically nothing to do with fairy tales, Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies draws on, and heavily refers to, mythology  and archetypes… So I’m calling it close enough.

Fates and Furies is the story of a marriage, and while it really is an intensely self-involved portrait of a relationship, it feels bigger. Groff draws a wide net, pulling in a world of mythology, philosophy and experience and concentrating it all down to a simmering and dense relationship between two people.

Her use of myths could have become overdone – there’s an early doomed relationship between Lotto (Lancelot) and Gwennie (Guinevere), a play based on Antigone that reflects themes of the book itself, countless references to Greek works and mythology, many of which I probably missed – but she uses them wisely. We are even interrupted occasionally by small asides embedded in the text: a Greek Chorus commenting on the action. I found my thinking ‘this should seem overwrought, but it works’. Groff’s writing is clever. She know when to hold back, and when to reveal.

I read Fates and Furies as a digital galley, so didn’t realised until l was quite far into the book that it is split into two parts: Fates (from Lotto’s Point of view) and Furies (from Mathilde’s). Mathilde is intentionally keep at arms length in Lotto’s section: we see his obsessive love for her, we feel it, but she is almost a paper cut-out to us the reader. I realised this was intentional, but was glad to cut to her point of view in the second half of the book.

The Fates and Furies are not just used as a catchy title. Lotto himself really is rolled along by fate. Things to happen to him. There are few times when he actively reaches out, but when he does we may find later that maybe the Furies have had some hand in his fate. The Furies, in Greek mythology, “…were female spirits of justice and vengeance. … Known especially for pursuing people who had murdered family members, the Furies punished their victims by driving them mad.” Mathilde is driven by deep rooted anger and revenge. She loves Lotto passionately, there is a ferocity at her core.

Reading Mathilde’s Furies was a deeply satisfying experience after the excess of Lotto’s Fates. Compared to Lotto’s rollicking and ever-increasingly alcohol fogged escapades, it is pointed and well tuned. It fills in gaps, and reveals truths. Some are simply her truths, a changing of our viewpoint to understand her side of their marriage, while others will rock the foundations of what you believe to be true. It is both satisfying and heartbreaking.

I loved this book. There are kindnesses and cruelties, lucky breaks and terrible injustices, love and hate and great (and well written) sex. And there is incredible language: sentences that could have failed spectacularly if not for Groff’s brave and artful writing, a self awareness that could have glared painfully in lesser hands.

I’ll leave you with this excerpt from the first page, which perfectly shows how Groff takes you to the edge of writerly excess, and pulls you back in again, and hope you’ll go get your own copy and read the rest:

For a minute they watched a tidepool full of spiny creatures that sent up curls of sand in vanishing. Then he took her face in his hands, kissed her pale lips. He could die right now of happiness. In a vision, he saw the sea rising up to suck them in, tonguing off their flesh and rolling their bones over its coral molars in the deeps. If she were beside him, he thought, he would float out singing.

Well, he was young, twenty-two, and they had been married that morning in secret. Extravagance, under the circumstances, could be forgiven.

I was lucky enough to receive a review copy through Netgalley. Fates and Furies will be released by Random House UK on September 15th, 2015.

Into the Woods: the Symposium

Last Wednesday, I hopped on the train and made my way to Melbourne Uni for the ‘Into the Woods’ symposium run by History of Emotions. You can find their program here.

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It was a full and wonderful day, focusing on the forest in literature, fairy tales, poetry, contemporary culture and ecology. Unsurprisingly, I’ll focus on the fairy tale presentations I saw. If you’d like an abbreviated version, I tweeted my notes over here. I didn’t make it in time for the keynote speaker, but caught morning tea, and met the lovely Caitlyn, who, coincidentally came down on the same train, from the same town! We live less than 5 minutes away from each other. A lovely way to start the day.

And so, onto proceedings. You may want to read each speaker’s abstracts in the program for a clearer idea of what they spoke about. I’m working solely from my scribbled notes here.

Victoria Tedeschi spoke about the idea that, while we think of the forest as a dangerous place, “Fairy Tales’ most arduous trials take place inside (in the human realm), not in the forest itself.” The forest is actually a place for fostering identity: a place for growth and change. It is in the human domain that danger lies. In the beginning of the industrial age, cities became dirty and full of squalor, and so the first public parks were created… while the ‘wild’ forests were thought to be unruly, even ugly. They were seen to be in the way of agricultural progress. The ‘wild’ fairy tale forest was a place to lose oneself, and find a new identity. It is a means of escape.

I got most excited about Victoria’s reading of Hansel and Gretel. In the beginning of the story, Gretel is completely reliant on her brother. She’s helpless, relying on him to lay (unsuccessful) trails of crumbs and stones. However, after their trek through the woods, and entrapment by the witch in her candy house, she find the power to defeat the witch (by kicking her into the oven) and is the one to lead them home. Hansel, after being caged by the witch, is now lamenting the helplessness of their situation. Gretel, through her time in the forest, has formed a connection to the environment, and even enlists the help of a duck. She finds their way home, pockets full of sweets and jewels, in this way also ensuring her own financial independence. Totally blew my mind. Thanks Victoria!

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By Leutemann or Offterdinger, photo by Harke [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 

Next up we had Rebecca-Anne C. do Rozario with Agony! Misery! Woe!: An Excess of Love in the Forest.  She spoke of the forest as a place of exile and refuge, and also, apparently, full of princes! She discussed the women writers from the court of Louis XIV. They often wrote of exile to the forest while they themselves risked the danger of exile to their country estates if they displeased the King. Not the worst danger they could have faced, but it certainly met social death. Rebecca-Anne discussed Catherine Bernard and Madame D’Aulnoy, particularly D’Aulnoy’s celebration of the male body. D’Aulnoy’s The White Hind explored the idea of a beautiful old woman, much different to the old hag we usually read about in fairy tales, and also the disturbance of the usual heterosexual pairing, with a strong female friendship at the heart of the tale.

D’Aulnoy’s story Le Mouton, features a metamorphosed sheep dripping with splendid jewels, and speaks of him in sensual terms, which leads me to my favourite quote from the day, (from Patricia Hannon): “The indolent sheep is the creation of the female libido.” Don’t you love it? I want it on a coffee mug. Anyway, female writers of the time often led sexually adventurous lives themselves, and didn’t shy away from writing about female desire in their writing.

Back in the forest, Rebecca-Anne discussed Marina Warner’s view of the wolf: he is symbolic of desire itself, and a counterpoint to the old crone, or witch in the woods. The prince too, is an artifice of desire. He is chasing, not the princess in particular, but desire itself.

Athena Bellas spoke next, on An Escape to the Forest in Catherine Hardwicke’s Red Riding Hood.  She discussed the film and its representation of gender, resistance and space; and also the relationship between the film and the Red Riding Hood stories by the Brothers Grimm and Charles Perrault. There is a strong focus on what comes of straying from the path, physically and socially. Interestingly, Athena also discussed the idea of horror being in the home rather than in the wild forest (I’d really like to cover this topic in more detail in a future blog post): In the film, Ringing Hood is escaping her abusive father, and the forest is a marginal space. Through lighting and framing, it is represented as a freeing space for her. Athena has a particular interest in the voice over, where Riding Hood is in control of her own narrative.

She also discussed the differing German and French ideas of the forest in Grimms’ and Perrault’s stories. The German forests are dark and foreboding, while the french are manicured and relatively tame. A place of looming fear vs. a place of wonder.

Amazingly, all the above (and more) was covered in an hour. In the next session we started with Sarah Bartels discussing the the symbolism of the devil in 19th Century English Woodland. She pointed out some of the many plants that were named after the devil, for the simple reason that they were poisonous, spiky, or even just unpleasant to the taste. Sarah looked at the relationship between the natural world (plants and animals) and the supernatural one, and how the balance between the two was negotiated in the beliefs and superstitions of the time.

I then snuck into the other seminar room (multiple presentations make for some very difficult decision making!) to catch Jessica Hancock‘s paper on The Question of Experience and Fiction in Regards to Stef Penney’s The Tenderness of Wolves.  She discussed the postmodern idea of whether the artist can be divorced from the work they make – is the connection important? There is an expectation that when an author writes about a place (even in historical fiction) they should have been there, and the belief that with the physical experience of a place it becomes part of the story, not just background. Stef Penney wrote about the Canadian wilderness as if she had lived there all her life, and people believed she had… until it was revealed that she lived in London, was intensely agoraphobic, and did all her research at the library. Should that make us read her story differently? Many people believe so, and it is hard to keep it out of mind while reading the book, even unintentionally.

David Haworth spoke next on Silence, Speech and the Unruly Forest: From Fairy Tales to Carmel Bird’s The Bluebird Café, where:

 ‘Nature is silent in our culture (and in literate societies generally) in the sense that the status of being a speaking subject is jealously guarded as an exclusively human prerogative’- Christopher Manes.

In fairy tales, the forest is loud with (non human) voices, where in The Bluebird Café, the forest is forced into silence. Speech is an expressive of an internal self, a gift bestowed on the forest in fairy tales. In Red Riding Hood we are unsurprised to hear the wolf speak: he is the seductive danger of the forest: His voice is seductive, as is his ability to spin words. David spoke of semiotics as the ‘other’ of language: Not language itself, but entwined with it. In The Bluebird Café the forest has encroached on the town, taken over it. The town and the missing girl are both ghosts, both silenced. Even in flashbacks the girl is mute. The speaking human has privilege in Western cultures, but Bird’s novel makes space for the non-speaking Tasmanian forest in her narrative.

And… break for lunch. Phew. Our brains were overflowing, but the next hour was a wonderful chance to meet several people I heard speak: Sarah Bartels, Victoria Tedeschi and Rebecca-Anne were all fantastic to chat to, and I’m glad to have made their acquaintance. Working away from my keyboard in a relatively small town means I tend to forget that there are real people out there, talking and thinking about the things I’m interested in. And I can talk to them, in real life. I’m so grateful to the organisers of the symposium, and all the wonderful presenters. I haven’t covered all I sat in on, but these were the most relevant to my work, and this blog.

Many thanks to the ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions, Melbourne University, and whoever the caterers were, for the very delicious lunch.

You can follow Victoria, Rebecca-Anne and Athena on Twitter.