Friday, 15 April 2011


Hello, dear readers! It's RetroFriday, and never have I been more grateful to be able to mine my archives for posts from the past, because I have noooo idea what I would have blogged about today otherwise.

My brain is no longer dried up, trodden down Play Doh. Now it's sawdust. In fact, I rather look like something which would shamble down the street mumbling 'Brainz...Brainz...' and send small children screaming to hide behind their mother's skirts.

In short, we've reached the stage where FF wants to kill me. If I don't post again on Monday, it has succeeded. I leave my bears to my mother and my books to posterity. Do not mourn me.

On with the Retro!


As anyone who's read my first book The Swan Kingdom knows, it's based on a fairytale called The Wild Swans, which is a Hans Christian Andersen story.

When I actually came to write the book lots of other influences crept in there, like Celtic mythology and some Japanese folklore, but the original spark of inspiration was the fairytale.

This was my favourite fairy story growing up for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I liked that the heroine got to be the one to save her brothers. I also admired how bravely the heroine suffered in silence, and the fact that she lived by herself in a forest and managed to find things to eat on her own and arranged her own shelter. Badass.

But the biggest reason that I loved the story was that when I was fairly young my sister bought me a picture book of it. It was a cancelled library book. It just turned up in the rickety plywood 'For Sale' box one day. If I remember correctly, I had loved the book for some time and borrowed it continuously, and the thought of the book being sold away to some stranger reduced me to tears. With much sighing and tutting, my sister forked over the 25p to the librarian, and the book was mine.

Frankly, I was obsessed with it. It followed me everywhere. I used to use it to lean on when I was drawing (and before I discovered the joys of writing, I drew CONSTANTLY). I stored my completed pictures - maps of fantasy countries and princesses and castles - between the pages. That book, with its curled over plastic cover, its shiny pages and purple end papers, and it's magnificent illustrations, became so much a part of me that I suppose it seeped indelibly into my imagination's landscape.

So I thought I would post some of my favourite pictures from the book here, to show how they offered me inspiration in writing The Swan Kingdom.

This shows the scene where the wicked stepmother turns her stepsons into swans and banishes them. On the face of it nothing from this image - or this event in the original version of the story - survived in my version. But I always remember thinking how very much like clouds the swans wings looked here, and that idea does turn up in the book. Plus, just look at that stepmother's face! Ooh, she looks triumphant and evil.

A picture of the picture book heroine, after she runs away from the palace and her stepmother. This doesn't really happen in The Swan Kingdom. What you can see here though, is that the heroine has red hair, like Alexandra (I just couldn't think of the heroine of this story any other way) although Alexandra has green eyes (like me) and the heroine of the picture book has grey eyes. I also think this picture sums up the way my heroine, Alexandra perceives her brothers throughout the book: as a part of nature which she cannot quite reach. The picture book reads: All night long Elise dreamed of her brothers. Once more they were children playing together, carefree and loved... This may have been why dreams played such an important part in The Swan Kingdom.

Next, an image of the storybook princess on the shore, looking for her brothers. In the original story, the princess meets her brothers here and they rescue her and carry her off across the sea. But in my version the heroine does not see her brothers - only great white birds in the shapes of the clouds - and she walks the beach alone. Until she meets Gabriel...

Here's an image of the hunting party that finds the princess in the woods and carries her off to be married to the King (without asking her, I might add!). Look at those exotic hunting creatures! In The Swan Kingdom, there are no leopards, but there are some very friendly hunting dogs, which belong to Gabriel. He's been looking for Alexandra, and has trained his hounds to know the scent of her magic.

This is one of the final illustrations in the picture book. In the original fairytale, the heroine is about to be burned at the stake by her husband the King! She just has time to throw the nettle shirts over her brothers before the fire is lit, and when they transform back into princes, the heroine is cleared of all charges of witchcraft, and the pyre where she was to be burned blooms with roses. That certainly does NOT happen in The Swan Kingdom, but this image of the roses blooming at the moment of the heroine's triumph stuck with me, and turned into the legend of the King's Rose, which blooms when...well, you'll just have to read the book to find out!

I think what's interesting about looking at the pictures and comparing them to the way The Swan Kingdom turned out, is that you can see how tiny, random details in the original story, or impressions of the illustrations, became so significant to the novel. And how major parts of the original fairytale just fell by the wayside! That's they they call it 'inspiration' I suppose.


I'mDifferentButMe said...

I love looking at pictures in books, but I couldn't stand seeing them in black and white (most of my books are coloured in).
Also, my dad finally pre-ordered Shadows on the Moon for me.

Zoë Marriott said...

I think I may have gotten into trouble for colouring in pictures a few times myself! And I'm very glad you managed to pre-order the book. Less than three months to go now. I hope you like it.

Megha Z said...

This post has always been a pleasure to read! I've tried retelling... no story ever 'suited' me.


Thank you SOOOOO MUCH for recommending The Demon's Lexicon. It was... wow. I was left speechless. Read my review on that link up there.

And for anyone who has not read it, PLEASE DO SO.

(Thank you so much Zoe, and Sarah Rees Brennan. One of the best books in the world.)

Zoë Marriott said...

You are very welcome, Megha - What a great review! I'm glad you enjoyed it.

Isabel said...

I'm sorry I haven't been on over the past few days -- I don't know if I told you I was going on a school trip. Today I'm leaving again for a week, but I will read all of your new posts when I get back!

Angel arrived in the mail while I was gone, as well as my bookplates for The Iron Witch. I'm so so so excited!!! I haven't been able to read much of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms since I started it on the train to Washington D.C. with my class, but hopefully I'll have a chance to really get into it soon.

Zoë Marriott said...

You did tell me, don't worry! I knew you were away. Have a nice trip!

Isabel said...

Megha: Yay!!! I'm so glad you ended up enjoying it. I can't wait to read the second book myself! To anyone who's interested, I wrote a review of it as well, on Goodreads. Here's the link:

There are spoilers, however, so please do not read it unless you have already read the book. (coughcoughMEGHAcoughcough) Also, I reviewed The Iron Witch. Here's the link to that:

Isabel said...

Zoe: Oh, okay. Good. ;) I will, thank you, although right now I have no idea where my camera went! *Bites fingernails*

Vivienne said...

What a beautiful post. I love the fact that you still own the book. I have lost so many of my childhood books over the years as we have moved about. Sigh.

Isabel said...

Oh my GOSH. In my copy of Angel there's a page falling out -- plus the back of that page and one side of the next one is completely blank!!! Plus, it looks like a really action-packed scene, from what I've gathered. I can't BELIEVE this. How am I going to know what's on the page/s????? ARGH akjsdhfkajsdhflkadjfh.

Zoë Marriott said...

Thank you. I've lost a lot of my childhood favourites too, but they'd have to pry this book out of my cold dead fingers - I stil love it as much as I ever did!

Isabel said...

No, wait -- thank GOODNESS the pages that are blank don't skip anything -- it goes straight from page 65 to 66 after the two blank pages. Never mind. PHEW!

Zoë Marriott said...

Isabel: That's terrible - send it back! You're entitled to a refund or a replacement!

Isabel said...

Hehe, you're right, thank goodness at least all the text is still there, one way or another! Now let's just hope I don't lose the page -- it's not attached.

Ashley said...

Oooh! Wonderful! I loved this post!! :) Would you be opposed to this popping up in a link during Fairy Tale Fortnight? As a way of saying- for even MORE awesome by ZM, check out her blog & this post? :) Love it! Beautiful illustrations!

Although, in the original tale that I read, the King's wicked mother, who decided the Princess should be burned ends up being burned on the pyre when her duplicity is discovered with the return of the Princess's speech. :)

Zoë Marriott said...

Isabel: Oh, phew! Seriously - that's like my WORST nightmare. I would cry if a book I had skipped pages like that.

Ashley: I'm glad you liked it, and not at all - link away! I've actually got another picture book of The Wild Swans (written by Berlie Doherty and based on the tale in the Arabian Nights) where the mother gets burned, but this one is my favourite, because of the roses.

Isabel said...

Zoe: I know -- I was freaking out for a moment there. ;) I also found my camera. A relief as well!

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