Happy Wednesday, my lovelies! Today I bring you the interview I did for Fairytale Fortnight over on The Book Rat and Books from Bleh to Basically Amazing - I've literally moved the whole thing over here, which means you get the links to the Shadows on the Moon/The Swan Kingdom giveaway at the bottom, just in case you haven't already entered.
Today's interview is with Zoë Marriott, author of The Swan Kingdom (read Ashley's review), Daughter of the Flames (which Ashley also loved) and the upcoming Shadows on the Moon (which both Misty and Ashley are eagerly awaiting). Zoë has known that she wanted to be a writer since she was finished reading her first book; The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton. She thinks she was about eight, but she decided on being a writer and hasn't changed her mind since then. And boy, are we glad that she didn't! Help us welcome Zoë to the blog today!!
The Swan Kingdom is my favorite retelling of The Six Swans/The Wild Swans that I have come across. You talk about what inspired you to write this one down in your guest post. I loved what you did with the story to make it your own, but your interpretation of the ending to this story is largely responsible for how much I love this book. Without spoiling anything, can you talk about that? Can you share where or how that idea came to you?
So hard not to spoil!! Argh! Okay... well... basically, in the original version of the story, I didn't think the heroine really got a very happy ending. Or enough credit! She's clearly an extraordinarily brave and strong young woman, loyal the her brothers to the end despite all the suffering she's gone through - but she gets stuck with this prince who pretty much *kidnapped* her, and then was going to burn her because he thought she was a witch? That's true love for you, right? And she never gets justice for the wrong done to her family by her stepmother, or any closure, or even to see the land of her birth again! I suppose a few hundred years ago women weren't supposed to care about things like that, but I was sure that for someone like her, the fate of the people she had left behind must have weighed on her mind very heavily. And then, it also made sense to me that in order to reverse such a powerful curse on her brothers through almost nothing but willpower and knitting, she must have had some fairly strong magical power of her own! So I wanted to try and bring those elements into the resolution of the story and bring everything full circle.
Did you have the changes you brought to the story in mind before you started writing, or were these things that came to you after?
Wow, that's a good question! I think some of them were always there, because they grew from the questions I had about the story - the questions that made me want to retell it. I mean, for example: just who was the mother of these royal children? In fairytales the real mother nearly always gets erased in the first line and replaced by a wicked plot-point. But it seemed to me that, particularly in The Wild Swans, where the father is pretty much a non-entity and yet the children are remarkable, that the mysterious, dead mother must have been remarkable too. So I always knew that in my version the mother and particularly her death would be significant and happen 'on-screen' as it were.
In other cases, the changes to the story were due to things that happened to be marinading in my brain at the time. When I was working on the first draft of the story I was watching a BBC documentary series about British pre-history in which there was a lot of information about the hunter-gatherers who built all our long barrows and stone circles. The experts talked about ancestor worship, and about the way that cave art seemed to show animal and human spirts all together, as part of nature. But then as people started to farm and develop agriculture and a more sedentary life, the idea of ownership and kingdoms appeared, and there was a massive shift in the way people lived. Did the hunter-gatherers disappear? Or were they absorbed into the farmer population? So those ideas worked their way into the book, and gave me an interesting and, I think, unique magical system and backstory for the Kingdom.
Is there a fairy tale that you just need to retell, but are waiting to retell, or holding off for now? What are some of the other fairy tales you've considered retelling? Are there any fairy tales that you absolutely do not want to retell?
Sooo many! I've always wanted to retell Beauty and the Beast, but I'm horribly intimidated by Robin McKinley's legacy. I mean, how is anyone supposed to live up to THAT? And there are a lot of less famous stories, for example, from Japanese mythology, that I have ideas about. The one I've never really been interested in is Sleeping Beauty - there's so little for the princess to do, and the idea of falling conveniently in love with your saviour bugs me. But I'd never say never. I always hated Cinderella too, until she started whacking me on the back of the head with a pick-axe demanding I tell her story properly!
You've also written a non-fairy tale story, Daughter of the Flames. How does the writing and the research differ between the two genres? Which do you prefer writing? Do you prefer creating a completely new story and creating the world to fit the story, or taking an existing story at making it your own?
This isn't a very interesting answer, but I can't really put my finger on any significant differences in the process between writing an original fantasy and a fairytale relling. Possibly because I don't stick very closely to the specific events of my fairytale frameworks (as you may have noticed!) which means I still need to come up with my own plot, my own characters, my own emotional conflicts and arcs. Probably more importantly, I don't really think that writing a fairytale retelling is a get-out-of-jail card when it comes to setting. It's easy to slip into that non-specific, Eurocentric, Tolkien-esque world we all know so well. But that is a thin, bland sort place where I don't have much fun as a writer. Creating the world of Shadows on the Moon, for instance, required as much (actually, far more!) thought and research than the world of Daughter of the Flames.
Your most recent book, Shadows on the Moon comes out this July, and I'm crazy excited for it. It's a Cinderella story, but she is most assuredly not your typical Cinderella. You mention why you wrote her this way in your guest post, and I am dying to read about it. There are many fairy tales with rather weak heroines. Are there any other stories that you would like to retell to give the heroines a chance to be strong?
Actually, I think the female characters in fairytales tend to get a bit of a bad rep, overall. In a lot of original folk stories, young woman are cunning, resourceful, brave and loyal. Often men are the weak ones who need to be rescued. Look at Janet in Tam Lin, Kai and Gerda in the Snow Queen , the heroine of East of the Sun and West of the Moon, all those clever young witches and woodcutter's daughters! And the powerful, fearsome baddies are often women too. The problem, I think, is that the Victorians didn't approve of all these bold, adventuring women, and they cut their parts down and sometimes out entirely, in order to make fairytales 'fit' for their children. Not many years later, Disney carried on this process by producing a great many films in which being sweet, obedient and passive (and supernaturally attractive to forest animals) were the heroine's only traits. Later films, like Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid, did allow the heroines to have SOME personality - but their number one desire was nearly always to escape from their fathers so they could find true love, and their princes were the ones with the claws/swords.
It's really only very lately that we're seeing books and films that give women back their original, strong roles (Tangled, for example!) and I'm very happy to be a part of that process.
~Rapunzel is named after lettuce; what odd thing would you be named after if you were in a fairy tale?
Pencils, probably. I always have one on me somewhere! Princess Pen...now, why does that sound familiar? :)
~ Using that name, give us a line from your life as a fairy tale:
"Princess Pen cracked open her stepmother's ribcage and cut out the woman's horribly blackened, twisted, yet still-beating heart; she then replaced it with an artificial one which she had grown within a local farmer's pig, and closed up the incision."
[Misty likes Princess Pen already...]
[Misty likes Princess Pen already...]
~Best fairy tale villain and why?
The wicked fairy from Sleeping Beauty's christening. She's really the only interesting character in the thing!
~Favorite tale from childhood? Favorite tale as an adult? Least favorites?
Childhood favourite was definitely The Wild Swans, and I have to be boring and say it STILL is. Least favourite used to be Cinderella - now Sleeping Beauty.
~If you could be any fairy tale character, or live through any fairy tale "happening," who/what would it be?
I wouldn't. Are you crazy? Those stories are full of utter loonies, and even Princess Pen isn't mightier than the sword.
~Would you rather:
-- eat magic beans or golden eggs? Golden eggs. With a little smoked salmon, on toast points. Maybe they would finally allow me to get a tan.
-- style 50ft long hair or polish 100 pairs of glass slippers? My hair is actually waist-length right now, and I'm about to have it cut off from sheer annoyance, so I'd have to go with the slippers!
-- have a fairy godmother or a Prince Charming? Fairy godmother - and once you've read Shadows on the Moon, you will know why!
[Ashley says- SO mean to tease us this way when you already know how badly I want to read it! :) ]
Fill-in-the-Gaps, story 1: Three Wishes
The strange little man had offered Princess Pen three wishes. But what to wish for? The obvious answer was world peace, but that would never do, for obvious reasons. Princess Pen wasn't naive enough to think that people would ever stop fighting for long. And unlimited money for stem cell research was out of the question, since Princess Pen's wicked stepmother had outlawed it.
The Princess squandered the first two wishes on aiding earthquakes sufferers and cooling down some nuclear reactors, and really needed to make the 3rd one count. There was only one thing to do: he/she would ask her genetically enhanced pig, Francis.
So early in the morning, the Princess set off for her lab where the porcine Francis lived. It was no easy task getting there; Princess Pen went through three security searches and a full body CT scan, and nearly lost hope of ever reaching Francis and making her final wish before she had to go off and do her rounds at Mount Eraser Hospital. Her stepmother's security measures were really getting out of hand.
But in all good time, Princess Pen reached the door of the one person who could help. With great trepidation, (for Francis could be somewhat cranky in the mornings if he hadn't had his coffee) Pen knocked and waited. Finallly, Francis opened the door with one handsomely trimmed trotter and peered out. “Yes?” he said.
Pen launched into the story of the little old man and his three wishes, but Francis merely held up a trotter and said “It’s simple, really. I’m surprised you wasted your time coming all the way out here -- you must wish for your wicked stepmother to agree to heart surgery so you can change her blackened, wizened heart for one which is generous and free of bigotry and unreasoning fear.”
Pen was baffled. Wish for something so simple? Not magic League-Boots to travel the world, or a wheel to spin flax into gold so that she could set up an inoculation project in the slums? However, it wasn't long before Pen realized that if her government was run by someone who actually had a working heart all the other things might one day be possible. So the Princess did the only thing she could, and wished for her stepmother to finally heed her pleas to accept a new heart.
Whether it was the right choice, the world will never know, but for Princess Pen it meant freedom from a great deal of unnecessary red tape in the long run, and the increased well being of everyone within the kingdom. And with all of the wishes gone, Pen lived busily ever after.
Thanks for stopping by Zoë!! We're so glad to have you!
Hope you guys liked the guest post. If you want to fill in one of the stories for yourself, see this post.
And make sure to head over to our awesome guest post from Zoë, and enter to win our prize pack of Zoë's books!