Thank you for visiting the cupboard. I now have a new blog here.

Thursday, 30 September 2010

Lovely things in the post...

I get very excited when lovely things arrive in the post. A few days ago Su Mwamba from Enchanted Times sent me these...

The pictures really don't do these fairy tale newspapers justice. The attention to detail is wonderful, contents include articles like 'Baba Yaga still at large', a supplement on contemporary fairy tale literature, patterns and small ads, and each issue comes with a free gift, like an enchanted needle and thread or pre-enchanted nettle yarn. Su has an Etsy shop and you can find out more about Enchanted Times and read some content online here.

And then yesterday this arrived:

The Wychwood Fairies is the first book by Faye Durston, a good friend who is responsible for the fantastic art direction on Issue 5 of New Fairy Tales, the beautiful picture on our homepage and the banner on this blog.

This is like the Jolly Postman for lovers of stunning illustration and all things faerie—envelopes have letters in them, bits pull out, fairies pop-up. It is a beautiful thing. Again the pictures don't do it justice, you have to have it in your hands to appreciate how good it is.

And look, can you spot the New Fairy Tales picture anywhere?

And if I haven't tempted you enough yet, maybe this will...

Quick Link: new issue of Scheherezade's Bequest

So much to read, so little time, but I will definitely be making time (or stealing some from somewhere) to read the 11th issue of Scheherezade’s Bequest.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

The Magic Carpet Flight Manual

**addition to post: the programme is now available to listen to online or download here**

The name of this programme alone makes me want to listen to it. The Magic Carpet Flight Manual will air online and on the BBC World Service this Friday (times here):

Web-dreaming one day, writer Cathy FitzGerald stumbled on a site belonging to a museum in Iran. It purported to tell the "true history" of the flying carpet and detailed its many uses – military, as a means of aerial attack; commercial, as a vehicle for the transport of goods; and cultural, as a device to help readers in the library at Alexandria reach the high books. The article appeared across the web, rarely with any caveat or credit.

In search of a "real" flying carpet, Cathy tracks down the article's author, Azhar Abidi, who helps her separate carpet fiction from carpet fact. She goes on to meet a physicist working on levitation in the quantum world, and a Japanese astronaut who took a carpet ride in space.

Cathy FitzGerald explores the past, present, and future of the magic carpet and wonders what our desire to defy gravity tells us about ourselves.

from the BBC website

I love the term 'web-dreaming', it sounds so much more inspirational and productive than the haphazard, frantic click-throughs I too often indulge in. Web-hunting, web-scrounging, web-sifting, web-tunnelling all come more easily to my mind, but from now on I will only web-dream. Funnily enough I came across the peculiar museum website mentioned a while ago whilst researching magic carpets for a previous carpet post.

The author of the fictional history of the carpet Azhar Abidi is a writer, born and raised in Pakistan, who now lives in Australia (thanks to Matt at Books and Adventures for the link to his blog). Marina Warner has also been interviewed for the programme and her fascinating podcast on magic carpets, which is well worth listening to, is still available online here.

Photograph by churl CC license: some rights reserved.

Friday, 17 September 2010

Dresses in fairy tales

I have been thinking a lot about dresses recently because I've been commissioned by Lancaster Literature Festival to write a contemporary fairy tale featuring a dress made from the pages of old books. The dress itself is being made by designer and dressmaker Jennifer Pritchard Couchman, it will be exhibited throughout the festival and I get to wear it to read the story(!).

When I first started pulling together ideas for the tale I couldn't get the Disney Cinderella ball gown out of my head, which bothered me. A lot. I'm not a fan of the Disney versions of fairy tales, or of clothes worship or fashion in general. For the past four years I've spent most days dressed in scruffs accessorised with baby sick, snot, paint and porridge (in various combinations) and not been that bothered about it. But I can't deny the power of a beautiful dress.

Disney Princess culture may be malign, with its sparkly nylon tentacles gripped round the world's little girls (and their parents' credit cards), but Disney didn't invent the idea of the fairy tale dress as a garment of transformation. In the Perrault version of Cinderella, from 1697, Cinderella actually gets to wear two dresses to two balls, and after having her 'nasty rags' transformed into clothes made of 'cloth of gold and silver, all beset with jewels' by her godmother she silences the ballroom with her beauty and the King's son falls for her on first sight. (For an excellent dissection of the problems with this version, and the multitude of versions it's inspired, and a look at some more positive Ash Girl heroines I'd recommend Terri Windling's excellent essay Cinderella: Ashes, Blood, and the Slipper of Glass.)

In the Grimms' version of the tale the maltreated Ashenputtel gets to go to three dances and wear three dresses, each more magnificent than the last. There is no godmother but instead a little white bird, which brings the dresses when Ashenputtel makes a wish beneath the hazel tree she has planted on her mother's grave. And we're told 'when she went to the festival in the dress, no one knew how to speak for astonishment'.

In fairy tales spectacular dresses aren't only a magic ticket to get you into a ball, they can also be an important tool for bargaining with. In The Singing, Springing Lark the heroine finds her husband (who used to be a dove who used to be a lion who was really a prince) is about to be married to another woman, a princess (who used to be a dragon). She uses a dress given to her by the sun and 'as brilliant as the sun itself' to get a night with her lost husband...
The dress pleased the bride so well that she thought it might do for her wedding-dress, and asked if it was for sale? "Not for money or land," answered she, "but for flesh and blood." The bride asked her what she meant by that, so she said, "Let me sleep a night in the chamber where the bridegroom sleeps."
In Donkeyskin the beleaguered princess whose father wants to marry her is advised by her godmother to ask for a dress that can't be made. So she tells him she can't give him an answer until he has presented her with a dress that matches the sky, and when (after much coersion) he manages to get her a dress which looks 'as if it had been cut straight out of the heavens' she asks next for a dress of moonbeams and then one of sunshine. Each impossible dress is brought to her and it is instead the skin of an ass which affords her escape from the situation. Although, of course, the beautiful dresses come in handy for the happy ending.

Donkeyskin's fantastical sky dresses bring to my mind Max Lüthi's comments on dresses in fairy tales in Once Upon a Time On the Nature of Fairy Tales:
And in another Greek fairy tale, a fig, a nut, and a hazelnut each contain a dress. On one “the month of May could be seen with its flowers”; on the second “the heavens could be seen with its stars”: and on the third “the sea could be seen with its waves.” One cannot express more beautifully how the world is woven into the clothing of man in the fairy tale, how the enormous patterns of the cosmos are connected with man in a manageable and beneficial form, and how man is securely established in the realm of heaven and earth, and assimilates them both.
Whilst I've been writing my tale featuring dresses for the festival, I've collected together all kinds of dress links and other bits and bobs in an online scrapbook to inspire me. And I've discovered the taste for impossible dresses isn't confined to fairy tales, there have been real fads for dresses made of glass and of paper, there have been dresses made of chocolate and even hair.

The story I read will just be one of the fairy tale elements of the festival. Carol Ann Duffy will be reading her fairy tale The Princess' Blankets, Ali Shaw will be reading from his haunting novel The Girl with the Glass Feet, and Sara Maitland, author of many fairy tales, will be reading as part of the Great Short Fiction Day. And storyteller Dominic Kelly will be sharing Mossycoat with under 5s and their grown ups. And that's all just a fraction of what's going on in the wider festival which runs from the 15th to the 24th October. The full brochure is available here.

Both of the illustrations in this post are of the Grimms' tale Ashenputtel, the first by Arthur Rackham and the second by Elenore Abbott.

Quick Link: Fairy Tale Reflections

YA fantasy author Katherine Langrish, writer of excellent folklore inspired fiction and the lovely children's literature blog Seven Miles of Steel Thistles, has launched a series of Friday fairy tale posts today with her reflections on The Juniper Tree. You can read her insightful thoughts on the tale here. And on forthcoming Fridays she will be hosting guest posts by other well-known fantasy writers about fairy tales. Definitely one to follow!

Sunday, 5 September 2010

New Fairy Tales - call for submissions

We are now inviting submissions for our sixth issue. You can find the full submission guidelines here. The deadline is the 20th October and the issue is due out at the end of November. Looking forward to reading your tales!

The beautiful picture above is by our very lovely art director Faye Durston.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Into the forest...

This is one of those times I desperately wish I had a mossycoat I could put on to travel across country in an instant. Deloitte Ignite 2010 is an amazing looking three day festival of contemporary arts taking place at the Royal Opera House in London this weekend. It is being curated by Joanna MacGregor and the theme is forests. Here are a few snippets from their website to tempt you (or torment you—I'm sorry about that):
For the 2010 festival Joanna has taken her inspiration from forests: forests as a place of quiet, reflective beauty, mystery and discovery, as places of fairytale narrative, as well as metaphorical spaces. She has invited artists to create forests all over the Royal Opera House in different materials: recycled and reclaimed wood, organic materials, old costumes and mannequins, shimmering projections and reflecting pools. There are films, music and dance performances, soundscapes and installations.
Fairy tale highlights include:

Into the Woods: a cinema – unlike any you have visited – will occupy the Clore Studio Upstairs, as distinguished writer and cultural historian Marina Warner introduces and discusses a programme of fairytale-inspired films. The delicious little Russian-language animations Kuygorozh and Little Vasilisa (2007) partner the darker worlds of Joan Ashworth’s How Mermaids Breed (2002) and Alice Anderson’s The Night I Became a Doll (2009).
The German silhouette animator and film director Lotte Reiniger’s magnificently opulent and imaginative The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926) was only discovered and reconstructed in the last few years, and is considered the world’s oldest-surviving feature length animation. Over the weekend it receives four screenings, with a wonderful contemporary score composed and performed live by WARP artist Mira Calix. Reiniger’s better known Fairytales – brief, endearing animations from 1922 – form the basis and backdrop of scorching performances from the Rumanian violinist Alexander Balanescu and Russian accordionist and singer Evelina Petrova, combining the brilliant virtuosity of improvisation with raw, aching qualities of Russian folk music and singing.
There are many more intriguing and tantalising descriptions of events and installations to explore on the website. I'd really recommend clicking though. And if you can get there, book and go and come back and tell us what it was like—the daytime events are free!

Because I will, unfortunately, be nowhere near London, or even a forest, this weekend I thought I would take solace in a couple of my favourite forest links. They are both from the treasure chest that is the JOMA archives: Into the Woods: On British Forests, Myth and Now is an interesting exploration of forests by poet Ruth Padel. The Green Man & the Green Woman: Art Inspired by Forest Myths features a fascinating essay by Terri Windling and is accompanied by beautiful artwork from Windling, Charles Vess, Alan Lee, the Frouds and others.

Photo by Graham Dean, used with permission.