Tuesday, 18 February 2014


Hello, Dear Readers! Have some Rihanna to start your day off right:

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? 
  1. 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. 
  2. 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. 
  3. 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.
D*ck move, Beast. D*ck. Move.

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.
A few images that sum up the sort of mood and imagery that I'm aiming for:

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!


Kimberley Ford said...

You're so right about the Beast - there always seems to be a bit of depth of character missing. He needs to have some flaws because he had them before. There's no remorse either for all the pain he causes Beauty. It would be interesting to see a side of the story where he at least tries to fight against the curse, or something that explains why he doesn't and has to go along with intimidating Beauty just because he's a Beast and that's what he's expected to do. So happy I'm studying fairy tales this year! Can't wait to see what you do with it! :)

Zoë Marriott said...

Kimberley: Yes, exactly. His never fighting against the curse is where I think a lot of the problem comes from. There's so freedom built into it - he can chose to send Beauty home when he wants to. This means he didn't have actually have to keep her prisoner in the first place. He could have just asked her to visit him and tried to get to know her/make her love him. Why is locking her away and telling her she'll never see her family again endorsed by the narrative as his only choice? Aand why this is supposed to somehow make her more likely to fall in love with him? It's not! It's only likely to make her develop Stockholm Syndrome which, again. Dick move.

Genie said...

Mmm. Looking forward to this one. I think B&tB is probably amongst my least favourite tales for exactly the reasons that you give.

(I'd love to see see what you could do with the story I hate most of all: "The Tinderbox" - I've never found a single redeeming feature in the "hero".)

Zoë Marriott said...

Genie: Eugh, no thanks. Actually, the next time I look to retell something I think I might delve into Greek or Norse myth. You know, just for a change.

Unknown said...

Super excited to hear about your new book! I love Beauty & the Beast too, but you're right - the beast doesn't really learn his lesson. I'm sure you'll manage the challenge though :) I love fairy tale retellings, there's always so much left unsaid in them to work from!

Zoë Marriott said...

Amy: I'm glad I'm not the only one who has a problem with the Beast! He's generally so beloved that I was afraid I'd get loads of outrage over it.

Alex Mullarky said...

This is SO EXCITING! I love Beauty and the Beast! Cannot wait to read it.

Zoë Marriott said...

Alex: The whole trilogy needs to be out first, though - at the very earliest it could be published late 2015, but I imagine it's more likely to release in 2016. So don't get too excited yet. You might burn out.

Anonymous said...

This is all SO exciting especially since I've been stalking your pinterest boards forever (they're so beautiful!!) and I was wondering when you'd mention BotW! I can't wait to see where you'll go with this retelling, but I know that as usual you'll totally outshine the original fairytale. I think you actually posted an excerpt of the prologue/first chapter a while back, but I might be wrong.
Good luck on everything! :)

Zoë Marriott said...

Isabel: That rings a bell! I think it was more a little bit of brainstorming that I'd done from the main character's PoV than an actual first page through. The real first page will most likely be totally different. Although I think the first line will hopefully stay the same.

Krispy said...

I am so excited for this new project, you don't even know! :) I'm also curious about your newer project, despite the very little hint you drop here.

And yay for The Name of the Blade coming out in the US this year! Lucky me though, I picked one up in London last week. ;)

Zoë Marriott said...

Krispy: I will tell you guys more about New Secret Project as soon as I can, honest! Hopefully it won't take as long to get the OK to talk about it as it did Big Secret Project.

Rachel Balcombe said...

I am so excited about BotW - Beauty and the Beast, despite its problems, is one of my favourite fairytales and I'm actually thinking of studying the contemporary retellings/adaptations of it for my dissertation. I saw an article a while back about how it has a pretty interesting origin story itself, but I haven't had a chance to read it yet.

Also I can't remember if I said before, so congrats on finishing the first draft of book three! XD

Nic said...

Thanks for the link - this US Teen Services librarian has been dying to order the new version of The Night Itself for the collection.

I'm psyched about BotW! Loved the worldbuilding in Shadows on the Moon. I'm especially intrigued by the tiger picture in your post here. A tigerish (tigrish? tigroid?) version of Beast would be new to me, and very cool!

Zoë Marriott said...

Rachel: I didn't see this before! Sorry to have ignored you. Yes, B&tB was actually an original piece of fiction written by a single author, rather than a folktale. The author was a French lady and the original story was really complex - more like a fantasy novel, really.

Nic: Oh, good! I hope it's popular for you. And as for The Beast... *zips lips*

Anonymous said...

I never considered that part of BatB, honestly. I read the entire super-long version by De Villeneuve and there was this massive chunk of backstory explaining that the Beast-prince was cursed because he rejected a fairy who wanted to marry him and she transformed him out of spite, placing restrictions on how he could act as well as changing his form. That doesn't fully explain his actions, but I feel a great deal more sympathy for De Villeneuve's Beast because of it. I regard all the retellings based around a beast who deserved the curse as being inspired by the Disney version, which was far less faithful to the original. There was a time I wished Disney would make a movie out of The Wild Swans, but now I know better. They'd probably kill it and I wouldn't want my favourite fairy tale to come to such a cruel end.

Zoë Marriott said...

Trix: The problem with the De Villeneuve version is that neither Beauty nor the Beast really have any agency within the story. Everything's been engineered from behind the scenes by the Beast's fairy mum and godmother. It rather destoys the Beast's pathos to realise that his female relations have been watching over him protectively the whole time. And then there's that bit where, after all Beauty's done, they try and stop the Beast marrying her after all because she's not supposed to be of noble enough birth, but oh it's OK because it turns out she is after all. I think the various other iterations of the story simplify all this because it removes all these tiresome shenanigans. It's hard to respect a Beast whose mummy is in charge of his life. And it just makes it much more *interesting* if the Beast is looking for redemption, rather than simple freedom from a curse. Those evolving versions of the story pre-date the Disney B&tB - rather than originating with the animated film, they provided inspiration for it.

Anonymous said...

You have a point there, Zoe. Villeneuve's version was beautifully written (at least in my opinion), but there were quite a few details in the backstory that annoyed me, including all the points you mentioned. Sometimes the people who decide to take fairy tales apart and dredge all these hidden meanings out of them, including how females were represented, make me a bit sad because I like the stories. Of course, you aren't one of them. Even though I haven't yet read one of your books, I highly respect your opinions on various matters, and from the excerpts I've read, I'd really enjoy your retellings and your other fantasy series as well. :D

Honestly, I prefer East of the Sun and West of the Moon over Beauty and the Beast, though I've read many variants of the latter and there are good points in all of them. If I ever wrote a retelling of BatB, I'd take the best from a few of them, put my own spin on it and hope it turns out all right. I don't think I'll do an original retelling of it, though. I have a fanfiction idea in the works, but it's based on an EotSaWotM variant more than anything.

And I'm rambling on about things you don't really need to know. My apologies. :) I just love finally being able to comment directly to your blog.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...