As you might have guessed, today I'm talking about what comes next. Last Monday I finished the first, very rough draft of the final Name of the Blade book, and although there's still a lot of work to be done on it, it does mean that my mind is starting to turn to all the other imaginative landscapes that I'm soon going to be exploring and writing about.
Before I move on though, something of interest to U.S. Dear Readers - especially the ones who've been asking me, with various degrees of confusion and annoyance, just WHEN the Candlewick Press version of The Night Itself will be coming out over there. Well, the lovely Bonnie tweeted me a link the other day to this. It's a new Goodreads edition which I assume has been set up by the publisher, showing that The Night Itself will actually be coming out, in a hardcover version re-titled simply THE NAME OF THE BLADE, on the 11th of November this year. It's been a really long wait, and it's not over - but at least we have a date now!
I honestly can't remember how much detail I've given everyone about the book that I'm contracted to work on next. I am so excited about it. I've had the characters and story living in my head for years and years - right the way back to 2011 - and I almost can't believe that I'm going to get to start work on it, like, THIS YEAR. I'm fairly sure that I've let the odd tidbit slip, but I have no idea what the tidbits were or who saw them so I'll just start afresh.
The working title for this story has the initials BotW. I'm not sure if it'll keep that title, so I won't share it right now; when I've convinced my editor, I'll spill the beans. But what is absolutely safe to say is that it's a book following in the footsteps of Shadows on the Moon. It shares the same setting, the Japanese-inspired fairytale land of Tsuki no Hikari no Kuni, or the Moonlit Lands. It's another fairytale retelling, this time of Beauty and the Beast. Once again, this is me tackling what I think the fairytale is trying to say, while addressing all the problematic bits that I personally think mess that message up.
Just as Cinderella is supposed to be a story about virtue triumphing over wickedness, but in most common versions is really is a tale about passive beauty winning out over 'ugly' activity and ambition, Beauty and the Beast is nominally about learning to love people despite their outer appearances - but really, most versions show it as a story of a prince signally failing to learn his lesson and coercing/bullying/emotionally blackmailing a female prisoner into agreeing to marry him not because he loves her, but because he wants to break the curse without really having fulfilled it's terms.
B&tB is one of my favourite fairytales, by the way, and Robin McKinley's Beauty is one of my favourite fairytale retellings ever. But I've never seen anyone really tackle my issues with the story. Mostly the bits where the Beast acts like an irrational monster are just glossed over and then the authors will put a lot of effort in showing that no, really, he's a great guy, and never deserved to be cursed in the first place - so it's OK if he acts like a monster now in order to break free, right? Right?
My major issues?
- The beast lures an old man into his cursed palace, and tricks him into committing a minor indiscretion so that he can then threaten his life and demand the right to hold the man's daughter prisoner.
- Following this successful acquisition of a Generic Girl (he doesn't know her - clearly any girl will do) and in his position of immense power over her (he's huge and strong, she's small and weak, he controls her environment down to where she goes, what she eats, what she wears) he asks her to marry him *every night* without even giving her a chance to get to know him, although he can tell that she's terrified.
- At the end of the story, he magnanimously agrees to let her return to her family for seven days - but tells her that if she doesn't return to him, he'll die. He then ensures that this is the truth by *immediately* setting out to starve himself. Beauty overstays, but that doesn't actually matter because even if she'd come back on time, she would have found a famished Beast passed out on the floor anyway. And the moment that the Beast revives and finds poor Beauty crying and distraught, he piles on the emotional blackmail and asks her again to marry him, AGAIN, even knowing that she's never wanted to before, because he realises she'll feel too guilty to say no.
And the fact that he turns into a handsome prince at the end of the story doesn't fix any of this. He wasn't acting this way because he was a monster. In fact, it was this kind of callous behaviour that got him cursed in the first place!
These sorts of dark, knotty issues always get my creative juices going. I try to figure out situations or character motivations which could make these morally questionable actions read as understandable. Or how to allow those events to take place while ensuring that the narrative doesn't validate them. Or how to flip them on their heads so that something equal yet opposite occurs in their place. One of the key things is usually to put power back into the female character's hands. In traditional versions of B&tB, Beauty supposedly has power because she is permitted to refuse the Beast's advances. But what does this really mean? In practise, very little. She may say 'No' to the Beast's proposals - but no matter what she says, he keeps her locked up and afraid, keeps control of her, and keeps forcing her to endure his presence at dinner and answer his question 'Will you marry me?' day after day after day.
So for me to feel happy with Beauty and the Beast, and feel that it's truly a story of learning to love despite appearances, I needed to find a way to show that the Beast has learned his lesson - that he has become a person worthy of love inside, regardless of how he looks - and that he wants to be with Beauty not because it will break his curse, but because he loves her. And Beauty must not only have agency within the story, but her decision to say 'yes' to the beast needs to be motivated by love rather than guilt and emotional blackmail.
A tall order, yes. But I'm looking forward to the challenge.
My version of the story takes place in the dark, haunted forests of Mount Moonview, which we glimpse but do not visit in Shadows on the Moon. The story is of a young girl - a strong and resourceful village girl, rather than a fragile aristocrat - taking up her hunter's weapons and stalking the deep woods in order to find and kill the beast that attacked her father. The very first line (at the moment) is:
There is a monster in the forest.
Now, as for other things that I'm working on... well, after I've written and submitted BotW, I'll officially be out of contract for the first time since 2006. Which is a bit scary. But I'm hoping that my publisher will be interested in New Secret Project, which I've been working on over the past few days. It's another series, but very different to The Name of the Blade. There's no over-arching storyline. Each book will stand alone, with its own self-contained plots and characters, and you'll be able to read them in any order. They're linked by a unique setting and a theme: timeless love.
More on that later, with any luck!