storytelling

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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Australian Fairy Tale Society

You may have heard of the Australian Fairy Tale Society. You may even be a member – if so, you know how amazing this group of people are. If neither of the following apply to you, then you’re in for a treat.

The AFTS is national society, with branches in several states and territories, that aims “To explore fairy tales through an Australian perspective and to stimulate the creation of Australian interpretations: academic, creative, and performative.”

The society is an incredible mix of academics, artists, storytellers, musicians, writers and fairy tale lovers; a full spectrum of knowledge and enthusiasm that makes for a magical mix.

In a few weeks the AFTS are holding their annual conference, this year in Melbourne at the Glen Era Town Hall, on Saturday June 24th. If you’re remotely interested in Fairy Tales and their influence on our history and culture (and vice versa!), or art, or storytelling, or literature, then this is the where you need to be!

I’ll be up on stage talking about my creative process and previewing new illustrations from the upcoming book Vasilisa The Wise, and selling prints too, including a very limited edition (for now) of a print that won’t otherwise be released until the book is! It’s one of my very favourite illustrations from the Vasilisa, and one that only a few people have seen.

Thankfully I’m up fairly early, so I can listen to the wonderful array of presentations without breathing into a paper bag. Just look at that fantastic line-up! I hope to see you there!

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In addition to the yearly conference, the AFTS produce a bi-monthly ezine, which truly is a wonder to behold. The current issue on Sleeping Beauty comes in at a whopping 60 pages! It includes a round table discussion with Rebecca-Anne Do Rozario, Kate Forsyth & Belinda Calderone; short stories; performance scripts; an interview and sneak preview of Kate Forsyth’s upcoming book Beauty in Thorns; artwork by Kathleen Jennings, Spike Dean and Erin-Claire Barrow; and so much more.

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To get your copy become a member of the AFTS here. It will cost you a mere $25 a year. A true bargain, considering the incredible online magazine, opportunities for meet-ups and gatherings, the yearly conference, and the experience of being welcomed into a group of wonderful new friends. Go on, head over and sign up. In fact if you become a member after reading this, let me know and I’ll mail you one of my artwork postcards with a little enthusiastic note about your incredibly wise and clever decision!

Review: Marina Warner’s ‘Once Upon a Time: A Short History of Fairy Tale’

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Imagine the history of fairy tale as a map, like the Carte du Tendre, the ‘Map of Tenderness’, drawn by Parisian romancers to chart the peaks and sloughs of the heart’s affections… (Loc 50)

So begins the prologue to Marina Warner‘s new book on fairy tales Once Upon a Time: A Short History of Fairy Tale. At 226 pages it is a much slimmer follow up to her 1996 book From the Beast to the Blonde, but no less enlightening or engaging. Warner weaves her dialogue beautifully, sometimes slipping into a metaphorical narrative much like fairy tales themselves. This could come across as strained or twee in clumsier hands, but Warner is a confident and self-possessed writer. The great history of storytelling comes to flourishing life under her deft touch. In chapter three, Voices on the Page, while discussing the essence of fairy tales, she writes:

Think of it as a plant genus, like roses or fungi or grasses, which seed and root and flower here and there, changing species and colour and size and shape where they spring. Or think of it as a tune, which can migrate from a voice to a symphony to a penny whistle, for a fairy tale does not exist in a fixed form or medium. The stories’ interest isn’t exhausted by repetition, reformulation, or retelling, but their pleasure gains from the endless permutations performed on the original. (Loc 606)

I have a confession to make. Often, while reading academic writing, my mind tends to wander; my eyes skip over the words. I can get to the end of a piece of writing and hardly be able to tell you anything I just read. I may make something up. Not so in this case. Warner’s language is clear and poetic. She leads you along an open forest path with sure footing and a bright torch. We see fairy tales as they are; not a dusty collection of old and irrelevant stories, but stories that travel, adapt and take on new meanings. She reminds us, on every page, why fairy tales are still relevant and important today. They have never existed in solitude, and Warner leads you through their connections to psychology, feminism, fantasy and the supernatural. She evaluates their history, their meaning, and the way they have woven (and been woven into) our very lives.

The chapters in Once Upon a Time are divided into themes. They range from the factual ‘Voices on the Page’ which introduces many of the tellers, writers and translators of fairy tales, to the barely constrained rally cry of ‘In the Dock: Don’t Bet on the Prince” which details the post-war feminist subversion of the fairy tale. Interestingly, the title references Jack Zipes’ book of feminist fairy tales Don’t Bet on the Prince. Here she celebrates, among others, the feminist works of theoreticist Ruth Bottigheimer, poet Anne Sexton and all-round-fairy-tale-feminist-superstar Angela Carter. One thing that makes this work so engaging is Warner’s refusal to stay neutral. In her dissent from fusty academic writing, she gives us sentences like “Aroused by Freud’s question, ‘What do women want?’, which lies at the centre of conjectures made by (mostly male) analysts, [feminists] seized hold of fairy tales and shook them till the stories choked, spat out the poison, and sat up ready for a different day… Fairy Tales were denounced as a blunt tool of patriarchy, the bourgeoisie, cosmetic surgeons, the fashion industry, physchoanalysts bent on curbing girls’ energies and desires.” (Loc 1522)  I heard a whoop in there, didn’t you?

The ideas in this book run deep. If you’re after light bedtime reading, this is no Disney-esque romp. Like tales of old, Warner’s book does far more that skim from ‘once upon a time’ to ‘happily ever after’. There is darkness with the light, and deliberation and passion in her words. While Warner’s writing isn’t hard to read, you’ll still need to put the book down every now and then, to take a walk or stare out the window, to allow the information to sink in. The path she leads us on is clear, but the forest is dense. Your head will fill quickly with new ideas and information. But don’t see this as obstacle. You will finish this book wiser about, and more in awe of, fairy tales, human nature and the many threads that tie our world together.

Thank you to NetGalley and Oxford University Press for the advance reading copy of this book.

Fairy Tales and Narrative Structure

As you all know, I’m working on a project about the lost strong girls of fairy tales. The project involves searching out old tales with strong female protagonists, and illustrating them with my artwork. Another aspect of the project, and a part I’ve only just begun working on, is the rewriting of some of the tales. I tossed up whether to leave them as they were, or re-write, for a long time. I like the idea of keeping them as they are, in their own culture context. Unfortunately the cultural context is all over the place. Some were recorded in the 1700s, some early last century. All were originally taken from the oral tradition, removed from their true context anyway, as a story told in the moment; to a group of listeners, a child caught wandering to close to the woods, around the dying embers of a fire. The storyteller was the holder of these stories, a role vastly different to the author. A storyteller brings stories into everyday life, an author sweeps you away from it. Many of the stories were rewritten several times over several generations, to fit the fashion and morals of the time. Some stories I’ve found are on webpages that look like they haven’t been updated since 1998; without references, and with no mention of whether the story is taken directly from an old (and out of copyright) collection, or written in 1998 by the owner of the website, and therefore very much in copyright.

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All of this has lead me to a point where I feel, I think, that I’d like to start afresh; to take the framework of the stories and weave my own narrative between the bones. One, because it feels like it will be a more cohesive book; two, because I want children to enjoy reading them (some of the stories are pretty hard to wade through, or written for a vastly different era); and three, because it’s fun! Really fun.

It has also got me thinking about things like narrative structure, all that cultural context (as above), and the difference it writing between eras. When I write fiction, I usually write short stories. That’s the genre I’m most comfortable in, so to me it’s important to frame my ‘new’ fairy tales within the appropriate constructs of short story. Not in all cases, but often, fairy tales go something like “Intro to characters, moral supposition, this happened, then this happened, then this, the bad people die, the good ones get married and/or untold riches, moral conclusion, everyone live happily ever after”. That, you cannot get away with in a contemporary short story. Readers want to know what characters are feeling, and why they are feeling it; they need to be shown and not told, and they don’t want to see everything laid out in black and white. The best short story, to me anyway, is made up of a whole lot of shades of grey. But not, ahem, fifty.

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I feel I’m going to have a whole lot more to say about all of the above, but for now I’m still grasping for ideas, writing, and thinking about writing, and frankly, having a lovely time.

Hedgespoken

I tried to work out yesterday how long I’ve been following Rima Staines at The Hermitage. A few years? As long as ten? I really couldn’t tell you. I feel like her work has seeped its way into my being; like it’s been there forever.

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Rima’s work feels both contemporary and a very real part of the myth and story of her heritage; as if it has been in our collective conscious for the whole history of storytelling. Her work is about storytelling, and myth, and history, but it has the magic of speaking not as an observer of all that, but from within. Which is why I was so exciting when she announced her new project Hedgespoken.

Rima and her equally incredible partner Tom plan to convert an old Bedford truck into a travelling, off-grid theatre, and home for the two of them. It’s the kind of thing many of us dream of doing. It’s a ‘one day’ thing. But Rima and Tom are doing it now. An artist and a storyteller, both a little of each other, will roam the countryside telling stories; bringing some of their magic to all they touch.

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I’ll let them describe a little bit more themselves.

With its drop-down stage, fancy awning and proscenium arch, Hedgespoken will serve as a stage wherever it goes. Whether it’s Tom and Rima telling tales and making mischief with handmade puppet shows, or it’s other actors, musicians or sword-swallowers using the stage-space as part of the Hedgespoken travelling show, our aim is to spread a little old magic by doing what we love. Hedgespoken has the wherewithal to act as a mini-theatre, a cabaret stage or acoustic music venue, anywhere. Perhaps your village green, or that disused urban space, wayside or park – Hedgespoken arrives, makes magic, plants seeds of imagination, and then leaves, in the tradition of wandering bards, travelling storytellers and itinerant puppet theatres and circuses that are so much part of our heritage.

Don’t you wish they’d roll into your town? Tomorrow, at the latest, thank you. I’m writing from afar, and it will be a very long time, if ever, before I see the fruition of their labour in the flesh, but it doesn’t make me any less excited for their project. I have made a donation, for which there are incredibly generous rewards, and I hope you will too. It’s an investment in a dream – one they are living for real, and one I will be living vicariously, all the way down their winding road.

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You can follow Rima, Tom and Hedgespoken on Twitter, donate to Hedgespoken on Indigogo and visit Rima’s website and blog to see more of her work.