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Book Update

Things have been busy on the news front here, so I thought I’d put together a quick blog post to keep you (and me!) up to date on book happenings.

VASILISA THE WISE AND OTHER TALES OF BRAVE YOUNG WOMEN is available for pre-order from www.serenitypress.org. A proof copy is making its way to my letter box this very moment, and I’m so excited to hold it in my hot little hands! Here’s a photo of it from Serenity Press.

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There will be a Castlemaine launch of VASILISA at 5:30pm, December 7th at the Castlemaine library. Please come along if you’re nearby. Further launches in capital cities to be announced! Yippie!


Serenity Press has announced two more books I’ll be working on with them over the next year or so, and I’m so pleased to keep working with Monique and Karen. They are the most incredibly supportive and passionate team.

I’ll be illustrating a book based on a Crane Woman with Irish writer Sharon Blackie. She wrote the wonderful If Women Rose Rooted (say that sentence quickly five times!) and I can’t wait to illustrate her fairy tales. It’s due out at the end of 2018.


While we’re in Ireland, I’ll also be working with the wonderful Jane Talbot on a collection of Celtic Tales. If you’ve read her powerful collection The Faerie Thorn, you’ll know why I’m so thrilled to be working with her. You’ll have to wait a bit for this one though – it’s coming out at the end of 2019.


Right now, I’m illustrating a collection of short stories by Castlemaine writer Jennifer Lehmann. Her stories are beautifully and sensitively crafted, yet have a keen eye for the subject. Based around the concerns of social work in regional and remote Australia, some are darkly funny, others will break your heart a little. Keep an eye out for it from April next year. I’ll have more news on that, and a story excerpt, popping up on social media soon. For now, here’s a sneak preview from the title illustration for The Fox.

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There’s more news in the works, but for now my lips are zipped. And phew, that’s enough for now! This is my three year planner before I started filling it up…

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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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Brave Girls of Fairy Tales

For those new to my work, I thought I’d give you a brief introduction into what I do. My recent artwork has been focussed strongly on strong girls and women in fairy tales.

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Vasilisa

They may be Vasilisa who outwitted the Baba Yaga and her own wicked sisters, the Scottish single mother who rescued her son from the faery-like Sidh, the Japanese daughter of the Moon who refused an earthly marriage, the African Moremi who questioned her people’s blind faith in those disguised as gods and ventured alone into an enemy town. They are the women who acted bravely and independently within a male dominated society, and those who ruled their own. They are the girls who survived and prospered because of their own bravery, kindness and wisdom. They are the characters and protagonists who all but disappeared in the face of the Victorian era’s dictates on the female place in society. They are the girls and women who deserve to have their stories brought back to new readers.

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Baba Yaga’s House

The advent of the fairy tale’s golden age in the late 19th and early 20th Century was a boon for the cultural spread of traditional stories, and for fairy tales as we know them today, but a great loss for the representation of girls and women in those tales. The imposition of Victorian values onto the stories meant that any female character with a whiff of independence or initiative was rewritten, or written out, completely. My hope is to bring those protagonists back to light.

 A Mother’s Gift I & II

A Mother’s Gift I & II

A Mother’s Gift I & II were created as illustrations for an old Gaelic fairy tale; The Stolen Bairn and the Sidhe. The story evokes the power of a mother’s love, in the telling of a woman who bribes her baby back from the fairies who have taken him, thinking him an orphan. She makes a harp from driftwood and bones, and strings it with her own hair, and a blanket woven also from her hair. As they were given of herself and made with a mother’s love, the blanket is the softest ever felt, and the harp the sweetest sounding. The fairies can’t resist her gifts, and she is reunited with her baby boy.

When not directly interpreting fairy tales, I often still use them as inspiration, as in Wild Swans below.

Wild Swans

Wild Swans

All of my work is created through the medium of photography. I photograph each element of the image separately, then digitally manipulate and montage them together. In the case of A Mother’s Gilft I & II, about twelve individual photographs were used for each image. Many of my other images have used upwards of fifty. I will talk further about my process in a future post.

If you’d like to see more of my work, you can visit my website here, and watch the short video below.

The Impostor Mother: Stepmother as Scapegoat in Fairy Tales. 

When you think of the ‘bad’ mothers in contemporary readings of fairy tales, what do they have in common with each other, apart from a selfish and wicked personality and, more often than not, unenviable looks? It is the distancing from the real mother, that important and literal step away from true motherhood. The stepmother in fairy tales, unlike the true good mother, is unmoved by the presence of the child; often she is actively aggressive towards the story’s small protagonist. She is the maleficent other.

In reality, what mother hasn’t felt like the evil stepmother some days? We are flawed and human, and complicated. We are not ‘just’ mothers. We feel anger and jealously and frustration, and sometimes, inevitably, our children feel the impact.

So why, in children’s stories, do we divide the mother so starkly? A true mother is perpetually kind, patient and lovely (and usually dead before the beginning of most fairy tales, but that’s a subject for another day) while the selfish and snappish parts of us are embodied by the impostor; the stepmother. She will be a threat, a hateful thing, and usually dead, this time by the end of the story. She won’t be grieved.

This wasn’t always the case. In early versions of the Grimms’ telling of Snow White for example, as Marina Warner points out in her chapter on the absent mother in From the Beast to the Blonde, the Queen felt rage and jealousy towards her own daughter. The brothers later demurred, and transformed her into a stepmother. But why?

Undeniably the stepmother, especially in European tales, has been a common presence. In the 18th Century, when many stories were being recorded for the first time, divorce was not common, but death was; through illness and childbirth. The single father was a rare and impractical thing indeed, so widowers were quick to remarry. Not for love, but as a mother for their children and runner of their household. Widows on the other hand were absorbed back into their families. So, with their mother not long dead and barely given the chance to take in their loss, let alone grieve, children were often placed in charge of a new mother, childless or sometimes bringing her own. But is this enough to explain the power and abundance of the wicked stepmother in fairy tales?

Freud claimed that a child cannot possibly comprehend the coexistence of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ in their own mother, and needs to split them into two distinct beings. Fairy tales help to delineate the difference, and give the child comfort in the reinforcement of their mother as benevolent and kind.

Lorena Carrington @2014

However, I feel the denial of the flawed mother in stories might be more related to our own adult ideals and desires. Children are cleverer and more perceptive than we give often them credit for, while were are often blind to our own faults. Raised on fairy tales ourselves, we want to be on the side of good. Sometimes we hurt our children with careless words. Sometimes we are jealous of them. Our children know we are flawed, but by giving them the safety of the good and pure mother in stories we construct an ideal of ourselves which they (and we) hold on to, because what is the alternative? The cloak swishing, claw fingered impostor mother. She might make an appearance at the end of an exhausting day, or in the third hour of an interminable car trip, but when we tuck our children into bed at night, we are ourselves again, the gentle, kind and true mother. Stories let both our children and ourselves hold onto the conviction that, at the end of the day, the wicked impostor has been banished and truly we are good.

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Further Reading:

For a modern and deliciously terrifying interpretation of the impostor mother, read Neil Gaiman’s Coraline.

Danielle Wood doesn’t shy away from duality and complicated emotions of motherhood in her recent book Mothers Grimm. Based on four of the Grimm brothers’ fairy tales, she writes unflinchingly about contemporary motherhood.

If you’re interested in the meaning and history of fairy tales, Marina Warner’s From the Beast to the Blonde is deep and wonderful. You’ll need to read it several times to absorb the wealth of information held within.