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

Thursday 23 December 2010

The best place by the fire...

It's a little bit naughty to embed these, I know, but I have tried and tried to get The Storyteller on DVD to no avail (copies of the first DVD release are very rare here and the definitive collection was never released in the UK).

I first watched the series on tv when I when I was seven, then somehow over the years I forgot all about it. When the lovely Faye Durston and Cate Simmons mentioned it to me earlier this year I still couldn't remember it, but the second I saw the opening on YouTube I was transported straight back into this magical world. Below is one of my favourite episodes. I think it's important we share The Storyteller so that he can't be forgotten. Hope you all have a wonderful, warm and happy festive season!

Wednesday 1 December 2010

New Fairy Tales Issue 6 now online

Here's the trailer to tempt you to read...

And here is the issue itself...

(this is a flash version of the magazine, there is also a PDF version available on our website)

Thursday 25 November 2010

Chagford Filmmaking Group

Chagford Filmmaking Group
, the intrepid group of fairy tale filmmakers from Devon, have got lots of exciting things going on at the moment. The clip above is the opening of their first feature film, Sir Lanval, a twelfth century fairy tale. They shot it in fifteen epic days in two countries on a budget of just £25,000!

This weekend, as part of the Fantasy, Faeirie and Visionary Arts event at the Flavel Arts Centre in Dartmouth, there is a Talk On The Filming of Sir Lanval by Elizabeth-Jane Baldry (director and co-writer of the film) on Saturday at 12noon. This will include clips from the film and a chance to hear about behind-the-scenes adventures, and tales of pigs, maggots and magical white horses appearing from nowhere. On Sunday 28th at 11.30am, there will be a Screening of Peerifool: An Orkney Fairytale - a tremendous tale about three little girls who outwit an ogre. And it's full of porridge fairies! (Film duration = 40mins).

Also currently at the Flavel is an Exhibition of Costumes and Other Delights from the film, which runs until the end of the month. And at Exeter Castle the Shared Legends Exhibition of newly commissioned artworks inspired by the Lanval story opens on the 6th December and runs until the 18th. And it features the work of internationally known painters, sculptors, and graphic artists such as Brian Froud, Wendy Froud and Alan Lee as well as young rising stars in the mythic arts field (there is a wonderful post by Rima Staines over at The Hermitage about her experience of creating work for the exhibition).

This is all part of the group's Shared Legends Project, a unique cultural exchange between two countries that share a rich mythic heritage, which has been funded by the European Union and South West Screen.

Monday 22 November 2010

'Happily Ever After' exhibition

'Happily Ever After' an exhibition of work by Su Blackwell opens at the Long and Ryle Gallery on Thursday 25th November and runs until the 18th December, 2010

Su says...
As in many recent works I will be focusing on fairy tales, with their haunting, dream-like atmosphere. This exhibition broadly explores the role of marriage within the fairy tale. In many fairy tales, marriage acts as a kind of a closing sequence for the “happy ending”, simply because it was an expected stage of life for women during the periods in which these tales were first told. In these new works, I question a different type of ending.

And the Long and Ryle site gives an insight into the way Su works...
Using a scalpel she cuts and glues the pages of books to create miniature dioramas glowing with lights in wood and glass boxes, like Victorian relics found in a museum of intrigue. She finds her books – or rather lets them find her – by trawling through second-hand book shops. She always reads the book first and this in turn inspires the work.

If you're in London I urge you to get to the exhibition, but if, like me, you're too far away there are at least lots of wonderful pictures to get lost in on Su's site.

Image: Jorinde and Jorindel, copyright Su Blackwell

Wednesday 17 November 2010

Two fairy tale related calls for papers...

George MacDonald among his Contemporaries
30 March 2011

A one day conference hosted by the School of English, University of St Andrews, Kennedy Hall, St Andrews, Scotland

George MacDonald (1824-1905) is most often discussed in terms of what came after: his role in the development of fantasy literature and his influence on writers such as C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien. Though providing valuable insights into MacDonald’s legacy, this emphasis tends to obscure his involvement in his own time. MacDonald was a Victorian. His works attest to his wide knowledge of his time and culture, and his deep engagement with the issues of the day.

George MacDonald among His Contemporaries looks to re-establish MacDonald’s place within his own context. We invite proposals for a variety of disciplines for papers and presentations which offer critical reinvestigation of MacDonald’s work. We particularly welcome papers that look beyond MacDonald’s fantasies to consider other aspects of his works.

Relevant topics might include:

  • examinations of MacDonald and social issues, such as women’s rights and suffrage, racism and abolition, poverty and social welfare, animal rights, et al.
  • genre criticism of MacDonald: historical fiction, sensationalism, romance, et al.
  • gothic influences on MacDonald
  • medievalism in MacDonald’s poetry and fiction.
  • MacDonald and science or pseudo-science: evolution, vivisection, and mesmerism
  • MacDonald’s literary criticism
  • MacDonald and Victorian readings of Shakespeare
  • critical re-examination of MacDonald’s poetry
  • the interplay of poetry and prose in MacDonald’s works
  • the interfacing of visual arts and MacDonald’s narratives, notably his connection to the Pre-Raphaelites
  • MacDonald’s role in the Scottish preaching tradition
  • MacDonald in relation to other Victorian literary figures: Dickens, Eliot, Kingsley, the Rossettis, Tennyson, Ruskin, et al.
  • MacDonald and Scotland: Burns, Scott, Hogg, the Highlands, et al.

Keynote speakers will be Stephen Prickett and David Robb.

Papers will be 20 minutes. Please submit a 300-word abstract, in .doc, .docx, or .pdf format, with biographical information to Ginger Stelle (gs345 [at] and John Patrick Pazdziora (jpp6 [at] before 15 January 2010.


A two-day international conference hosted by the Film and Literature Programme of the University of York's Department of English and Related Literature in association with The Centre for Modern Studies

Myths and Fairy Tales in Film and Literature post-1900

25th-26th March 2011
(please note these are the new, confirmed dates and have been adjusted by one day since I first posted this)

This forthcoming conference invites renewed reflection on fundamental, inherited tales as these have found self-reinventing expression in film and literature post-1900. It seeks to interrogate the dramatic, poetic and visual character of culturally core stories (fairy/mythic/classical/religious/Shakespearean etc), the formal operations and cultural force of their variant tellings (and showings) across media and moment, and the ways in which their psychological, social, political and aesthetic functions have been interpreted and employed.

Abstracts are solicited for individual 20-minute papers on the theme of the conference (interpreted in literary or film terms, or both). Proposals of pre-constituted panels (composed of two or three 20-minute papers) are also welcome.

Questions informing case studies might include (without being limited to):
- Why do some stories endure across multiple retellings while others fall into neglect?
- What primal impulses are encoded, fears expressed or defused and/or desires satisfied in those that resurface repeatedly in altered guises?
- Which narrative elements and characters have proved largely stable across time and place, apparently immune to cultural disruption, and which have been gently or radically adjusted in response to other cultural-historical forces?
- How have particular post-1900 literary and screen engagements with culturally embedded stories appropriated, revivified and disseminated those inherited tales in distinctive and/or culturally illuminating ways?
- How have the behavioural models promoted, social imperatives implied, modes of telling adopted and artistic allegiances embraced in the ongoing lives of particular tales been revised over time to fit new circumstances, new audiences and new media?
- How have theories of transmission, narrative endurance and narrative change accounted for the culturally revealing reinventions of various fundamental story pools?
- Which theories of narrative transmission, inter-medial adaptation and/or inter-textuality can illuminate the ongoing life of a story most tellingly? (And, perhaps, which have proved interpretively diversionary or limiting?)

Panels have thus far been suggested on the following themes: classical subjects, scriptural/religious subjects, Shakespearean subjects, fairy tales for children, fairy tales for adults, the transculturing of inherited myths. Contributors are welcome to submit with these proposed panels in mind, or in any other area in line with the theme of the conference.

Abstracts of not more than 250 words should be submitted, not by attachment but within the body of the email, to:

Deadline for receipt of abstracts: Tuesday 21st December 2010.

A brief personal biog-sketch (not more than 100 words) including institutional affiliation, current appointment/stage of study, principal publication(s) (where applicable) and main research interests, should be included in the same email. All submissions will be responded to, and all contributors notified, by Tuesday 11th January 2011. Registration details to follow.

Conference chair: Judith Buchanan (

Addition to post: There are now more details about the conference here.

Illustration by Dorothy Lathrop from The Light Princess by George Macdonald via the chawed rosin

Thursday 11 November 2010

New tales online

I have't had chance to dip into these yet because I'm busy putting Issue 6 of New Fairy Tales together, but there are lots of Hansel and Gretel tales to read in Issue 4 of Enchanted Conversation and the first issue of Wildberries, a new journal of mythic fantasy, is now online too.

Illustration by Kay Nielsen, from the book Hansel and Gretel and other Stories by the Brothers Grimm

Tuesday 9 November 2010

Once upon a time... short story and poetry competition

Two quick things you may want to know about this before you read further: 1. It's only open to UK based writers 2. There are two categories, under 16s which is free to enter and over 16s which has a £5 entry fee.

The Chapel Gallery in Ormskirk, Lancashire are looking for modern fairy tales and winter poems. Here are all the details you'll need to enter:

Two writing options and two age categories per option:

Short Story
: A Modern Fairytale. Maximum words: 2000. Submission fee: £5.00. Junior Category entries free.

Poem: A Winter Poem. Maximum lines: 45. Submission fee: £5.00. Junior Category entries free.

Adult Category: Over 16. Junior Category: Under 16.

How to enter:
This competition is open to all UK based writers.
* Work submitted must be original and in English.
* Work submitted must be typed in Microsoft Word using Times New Roman font, size 12pt and double-spaced.
* Work should be stapled, bound or held together in a file. Loose sheets cannot be accepted.
* Include your name, age category, address, phone number and email on a cover page attached to the submission.
* Work must be submitted by post AND email to the Creative Writing Competition, Chapel Gallery (address below) AND via email to by Saturday 8 January 2011.

FREE workshops Places are limited. Book early to avoid disappointment.
Short Story Writing: Skelmersdale Library, Southway, Skelmersdale WN8 6NL. Saturday 27th November, 1.30 to 3.30pm.
Poetry Writing: Ormskirk Library, Burscough Street, Ormskirk L39 2EN. Saturday 4th December, 1.30 to 3.30pm.
Book through Chapel Gallery with £5.00 deposit to be returned at workshop on attendance.

Selection process:
The work will be judged by Professor Robert Sheppard, Professor of Poetry and Poetics and Programme Leader for the MA in Creative Writing at Edge Hill University with Ruth Heritage, Director, They Eat Culture / Lancashire Writing Hub and Helen Juste, Arts Development Manager, West Lancashire Borough Council. Works shortlisted will be displayed at the Chapel Gallery plus participating cafés and libraries.

A Modern Fairytale, Adult Category: £250 A Modern Fairytale, Junior Category: Story to be illustrated
A Winter Poem, Adult Category: £250 A Winter Poem, Junior Category: Poem to be illustrated

All prizewinning works will be published on the Chapel Gallery website and the websites of partners involved in the project. There will be a presentation event where prizes and certificates will be awarded and winners will have the opportunity to have their story or poem read aloud. Successful applicants will be contacted regarding the presentation date.

Tuesday 2 November 2010

Wednesday 27 October 2010

Save our forests

I don't think there's anything this vile coalition government we've ended up with here in the UK could do that would surprise me. So they're penalising the poor and the disabled, making them pay for the mistakes of super-rich bankers, they're slyly dismantling the welfare state under the false pretext of it being for our economic good. George Osborne's cuts will devastate lives across the UK, but not, alas, those of the greedy capitalists and idiotic politicians who got us into this mess. Now, looking round for somewhere else to swing the axe, they've hit upon our forests: they want to sell off more than half of them to private firms. This could mean the destruction of ancient forests to make way for golf courses, holiday parks and commercial logging.

Please consider taking a second to sign this petition. We have to start standing up to them on this and on all their other execrable plans.

Illustration 'Forbidden Forest' by Arthur Rackham via Children's Fantasy Illustrations

Wednesday 20 October 2010

Quick Link: Fairy Tale Review's online goodies

There are currently not one but two brilliant things available for free on the Fairy Tale Review website. The first is a web edition of the journal featuring lots of Little Red Riding Hood inspired short stories and poetry, and the second is a minicomic by Jennifer Parks called 'They Met in a Dream'. You can print the comic from a PDF and there are instructions on how to put it together. Lovely.

Monday 18 October 2010

The Word Dress

On Saturday I read a new fairy tale at the Lancaster Literature Festival. And I am incredibly lucky because I got to read it wearing this...

The dress was made by bridal designer Jennifer Pritchard Couchman from several copies of Angela Carter's Book of Fairy Tales (courtesy of Virago Press). The story I read, 'A Book Tale', was commissioned by Litfest and featured a dress made of grass and rain, a dress made of smoke and feathers, and, of course, a dress made from the pages of books. I love books more than almost anything, but I never expected to end up dressed in them. Wearing a dress made from over 2500 pages was one of the most peculiar and exciting things I've ever done!

There are lots, lots more pictures of the dress at every stage of the process here.

The Lancaster Literature Festival runs until the 24th October and there are still lots more fantastic events to come, including a reading tonight from Ali Shaw author of The Girl with Glass Feet, and a brilliant looking storytelling event on Wednesday called The Court of the Queen of Claywood Flats. The Word Dress will remain on display in The Storey throughout the festival.

All photographs by Jonathan Bean @Litfest. Creative Commons: some rights reserved.

Friday 15 October 2010

Quick Link: Silverweed, the beginning

Just a quick note to say that Chapter 1 part 1 of Dorlana Vann's new YA novel Silverweed is now online. She is serialising this dark new take on Little Red Riding Hood on her blog Supernatural Fairy Tales.

Wednesday 6 October 2010

Fairy tale favourites...

Katherine Langrish, over at fantastic children's literature blog Seven Miles of Steel Thistles, has been kind enough to nominate the cupboard for a Unicorn Glitter Award. The award was set up by fantasy writer Katherine Roberts to celebrate bloggers who 'post in the spirit of the enchanted mists'. To accept the award I need to nominate some favourites. This is a difficult task for me because I am terrible at choosing favourite anythings. So to make it a tiny (and I mean tiny) bit easier I am going to nominate favourites that are fairy tale related and that have a good link or two to go with them...

My favourite fairy tale book:
This is almost impossible to decide. To the right is a picture of the fairy tale related books currently living by my feet under my desk (so they are always close at hand!). There are others, too, in piles all over the house. But if I go off the book that is looking most worn, that I turn to most often, that represents everything I love about fairy tales it has got to be The Virago Book of Fairy Tales edited by Angela Carter (it's out of print but has now been published together with the second collection as Angela Carter's Book of Fairy Tales).

Carter was, of course, a brilliant fairy tale writer in her own right (The Bloody Chamber is another favourite) and a translator of tales too. In this book she turned gatherer of tales, and she pulled together an eclectic mix of stories with women at their hearts from all over the world. I love the sections she divided them into, they have titles like 'Brave, Bold and Wilful', 'Sillies' and 'Good Girls and Where it Gets Them'. And her introduction gives a real taste of her knowledge of, passion for, and interaction with fairy tales. This quote, in particular, often comes to my mind:
Ours is a highly individualized culture, with a great faith in the work of art as a unique one-off, and the artist as an original, a godlike and inspired creator of unique one-offs. But fairy tales are not like that, nor are their makers. Who first invented meatballs? In what country? Is there a definitive recipe for potato soup? Think in terms of the domestic arts. 'This is how I make potato soup.'
This is also the book in which I first discovered Mossycoat, one of my favourite tales (sadly that version is not available online but there is a Philip Pullman retelling here).

My favourite fairy tale film:
Another tough one. From my childhood I would say Labyrinth, after that Edward Scissorhands and, although I still love and watch both of those, for the last few years it has been Pan's Labyrinth (there are some snippets of Guillermo del Toro on fairy tales, and a lot else, over at io9).

My favourite fairy tale poem:
The wickedly good lines 'The small girl smiles. One eyelid flickers./She whips a pistol from her knickers./She aims it at the creature's head/And bang bang bang, she shoots him dead' have been etched on my brain since childhood. The poem is 'Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf' by Roald Dahl and it's available online, along with a recording of Dahl reading it, here.

My favourite myth or legend:
The Buried Moon, it's a deliciously creepy tale. It was collected in the late 19th century in Lincolnshire, England from a girl of nine who said she'd heard it from her Gran. But in Legends of the Lincolnshire Cars Mrs Balfour noted 'I think it was tinged by her own fancy, which seemed to lean to eerie things, and she certainly revelled in the gruesome descriptions, fairly making my flesh creep with her words and gestures.' It was later collected as a fairy tale by Joseph Jacobs who removed the dialect (that's the version I've linked to above). Jacobs also noted that the tale had an unusually mythic quality.

My favourite enchanted creature:
Trolls. I have never quite stopped believing in trolls. I have to blame this on my parents' insistence that we re-enact Three Billy Goats Gruff whenever we went over a bridge (a tradition I'm continuing with my children). In my teens I loved a slightly bizarre children's programme called The Rottentrolls (which no one I talk to has ever heard of), and as an adult I've discovered John Bauer's wonderful trolls.

And finally, I need to recommend another blog. All the fairy tale blogs I read and enjoy are listed in the sidebar. If I have to pick just one that deserves recognition (they all do really) it is going to be the Fairy Tale Channel for fascinating and informative posts alongside new translations of the Grimms, and of Lithuanian, French and Icelandic tales too. It's a blog I return to frequently and always get enjoyably lost in.

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.

Tuesday 31 August 2010

The tales of William Palmer

What if all the myths and folktales of these islands were true? And what if they were not only true but present now in our world? All the spirits, existing, as they have always existed, in the gaps between tower blocks, in the shadows under bridges, in the corner of our vision...
(from the Pilgrim programme info)

Stepping slightly off the crooked path of fairy tales and into the undergrowth of folklore that sprawls alongside, I wanted to let you know about Pilgrim, a wonderful series of BBC Radio 4 plays by Sebastian Baczkiewicz inspired by the folklore of the British Isles.

William Palmer is 900 years old—he was cursed by a fellow pilgrim on the road to Canterbury in 1185 for claiming that Christianity would wipe out the old beliefs. That pilgrim was the Lord of Faerie and William must forever walk between the worlds of the Greyfolk (them) and the Hotbloods (us). Pilgrim is a delightful—and frequently chilling—mix of tales old and new. The second series started today with The Drowned Church, and it's available to listen to online for the next seven days. There's also an interesting 'making of' blog post here. It's a series not to be missed!

Photo by Steve Bowbrick CC license: some rights reserved.

Wednesday 25 August 2010

On Anti-Tales

Robert Powell, Lance, 2008, watercolour etching

...most intellectual development depends upon new readings of old texts. I am all for putting new wine in old bottles, especially if the pressure of the new wine makes the old bottles explode...
—Angela Carter, 1983

My two favourite things about going to conferences are meeting fascinating people, and returning with a notebook stuffed with names and links and titles and doodles—all of things I desperately want to find out more about. The Anti-Tales: The Uses of Disenchantment Symposium was no exception. It always takes me a while to unpack when I've been away (over a week later my rucksack still has things in it) but I thought I'd unpack my notebook a little bit here, and share some of the things I got a tantalising taste of and want to follow up on.

Over the course of two days there were 23 papers, 2 plenaries, an artist's talk and 3 fiction readings given. Researchers came from a range of disciplines and from universities around the world. Happily many of the papers given will be collected together and published by Cambridge Scholars publishing in 2011. I can't possibly do justice to everything that went on, so I'm not going to attempt to. I do hope the following links may be of some use though...

(apologies that this is in no particular order, and messy, like my notebook)

Tales and books I now want to read:
  • After hearing about Nalo Hopkinson's reimagining of Bluebeard in a postcolonial setting 'The Glass Bottle Trick', in a paper by Natalie Robinson, I really want to get my hands on Hopkinson's collection Skin Folk.
  • One of my favourite papers was Dr Jessica Tiffin's exploration of the vampiric versions of Snow White by Neil Gaiman and Tanith Lee, and of the unusual interplay between the gothic and fairy tale elements in these tales. I now really want to read Tiffin's examination of narrative and metafiction in modern fairy tale Marvelous Geometry.
  • 'A Suburban Fairy Tale' by Katherine Mansfield, covered in a paper by María Casado, is a brilliant tale I'd not come across before and really should have. It's available to read online here.
  • I was intrigued by humorist James Thurber's tales, covered in a paper by John P. Pazdziora. Thurber has been named as an influence by Neil Gaiman and I definitely want to read more.
  • Hearing about Rikki Ducornet's tales, in a paper by Dr Michelle Ryan-Sautour, was a revelation for me. Why had I never heard of Ducornet before?! I am now desperate to read her collections The One Marvelous Thing and The Complete Butcher's Tales. Hunting for info on her online I've come across this interview and this electronic chapbook (which features several of her tales and some of her artwork for the wonderful Borges story 'Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius'). Ducornet is also the illustrator for Kate Bernheimer's forthcoming collection of fairy tales Horse, Flower, Bird (another book I want!).

Some of the other writers covered (whose work I was already more familiar with) included A S Byatt, Roald Dahl, Sara Maitland, Margaret Atwood and, of course, Angela Carter.

Art and the anti-tale:
As well as literature we were treated to several papers on the anti-tale in the work of visual artists such as Dorothea Tanning (I have included her painting Birthday, to the right) and Paula Rego. The symposium also had a resident artist, Robert Powell (I've included an image by him at the top of this post). He is currently exhibiting his stunning work at the Henderson Gallery in Edinburgh.

In terms of film, a paper by Professor Suzanne Buchan on the Quay Brothers' Street of Crocodiles, followed by a screening of the film was a real treat. Buchan's paper also included what has to be my favourite quote from the symposium, taken from the Selected Writings of Walter Benjamin:
Children are fond of haunting any site where things are being visibly worked on. They are irresistibly drawn by the detritus generated by building, gardening, housework, carpentry, tailoring or whatever. In these waste products they recognize the face that the world of things turns directly and solely to them. In using these things they do not so much imitate the works of adults as bring together materials of widely differing kinds in a new volatile relationship. Children thus produce their own small world of things within the larger one. The fairy-tale [sic] is such a waste product—perhaps the most powerful to be found in the spiritual life of humanity: a waste product that emerges from the growth and decay of the saga. With the stuff of fairy-tales the child may be as sovereign and uninhibited as with rags and building blocks. Out of fairy-tale motifs the child constructs its world, or at least it forms a bond with these elements.

(I found the quote online, in a paper by Buchan on 'Animation Spectatorship: The Quay Brothers' "Animated Worlds"', in EnterText journal)

So what is an anti-tale?
I'm not a literary theorist, or fairy tale scholar, I research fairy tales for fun (and get a lot of inspiration from them for my own writing along the way). Whilst the term anti-tale was used and applied widely at the symposium I think everyone had their own particular idea of what it means. Retellings, reimagnings, subversions, new tales—all can come under the banner of anti-tale if they are employing motifs, or themes, or characters from the glorious ragbag of traditional tales in non-traditional ways.

What the symposium brought to light, for me, was the sheer abundance of anti-tales in literature and art. And although anti-tales can be identified as being contemporaneous with the oldest known fairy tales, within 20th and early 21st century literature they would seem to be the dominant of the two forms.

Anti-tales and fairy tales draw from the same well of material, but, perhaps, where a fairy tale dips a sturdy wooden bucket beneath the surface, the anti-tale is as likely to use a glass bucket, or a plastic sandcastle one, or a shoe. We are lucky to have such a diversity of tales to treasure.

Many thanks to symposium co-organiser Catriona McAra for sending the photo of me above, and to her and David Calvin for such a fantastic event in all respects!

Thursday 5 August 2010

Guest post: Matthew Finch on ZooNation's 'Into the Hoods'

This summer, ZooNation’s Into the Hoods has returned to London at the Royal Festival Hall after an acclaimed 2008 season in the West End.

The ninety-minute urban dance show, which made its debut at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2006, follows a boy and girl who, venturing out of their playground, become prisoners of the landlord of the Ruff Endz estate.

At the outset, a narrator speaks over animations of an illuminated manuscript book and a twinkling music-box refrain, giving the gloss of tradition, but the MC’s announcement, ‘This is theatre…but this is hip-hop theatre, so MAKE SOME NOISE!’ lets audiences know that they’re not exactly in for Danny Kaye in Hans Christian Andersen.

On the Ruff Endz estate, familiar figures from the world of fairytale are updated for the urban present. Spinderella is an aspiring DJ; ‘Prince’ is a Pop Idol reject, the estate’s ‘E-list’ celebrity; Wolf is a money-grabbing wannabe record mogul, while Lil Red dreams of singing stardom, and Jax of being a record producer, while the crimelord Giant does his deals from a penthouse at the top of the tower block.

The landlord makes a bargain with the lost children – he will give them money for bus tickets home if they fetch gifts for the 18th birthday of his daughter Rap-on-Zel: ‘An iPod white as milk, a hoodie as red as blood, weave as yellow as corn, and trainers as pure as gold.’

On their quest, the children interact with the iconic fairytale characters, who play out their stories in contemporary form – Wolf luring Lil Red into an exploitative record contract by impersonating her Grandma, Jax ascending to the Giant’s penthouse for a martial-arts faceoff, and Spinderella empowered to DJ at Prince’s ball, thanks to the gold shell-suited Fairy Gee, who dances to Destiny’s Child’s Independent Women.

There’s a lot of fun to be had in this witty, energetic show – from the spot-on musical choices (Spinderella’s theme is the plaintive ‘Roads’ by Portishead, that of the Ugly Sisters ‘U-G-L-Y’ by Daphne and Celeste) to the inspired choreography, including a couple of eye-popping perspective shifts which allow the Giant to fall ‘away’ from the audience and Rap-on-Zel’s hair to be climbed across stage to the theme from Mission: Impossible.

The whole show is ripe with modern references – the due date for Jax’s rent is counted down as an homage to ‘24’, and pensioners dance off with zimmer frames and wheelchairs in a parody of It’s Like That, while Rap-on-Zel’s room is decorated with posters of Eminem, Foxy Brown and Missy Elliott…and prison-style tally marks scratched on her wall.

For fairy tale lovers, however, the most exciting change to the traditional stories lies in their juxtaposition. What were, in traditional versions, quest narratives with single protagonists, become the linked struggles of a community on the estate. Friendships and allegiances complicate the idea of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ characters – ‘Prince’ is unreliable and egotistical, but he gets on with Jax; the girls show solidarity with one another and are all equally immune to reject Prince’s advances; when Jax is evicted and left homeless, it is Lil Red who is there for him (they share iPod earphones and even have a romantic moment beneath a ‘’ billboard).

The production is punchy, unsentimental about its urban setting, but also true to the tales from which it draws, and positive about the human spirit to the extent that every character gets their happy ending (including the Ugly Sisters, who become a girl group lip-synching to the Shoop Shoop Song).

Kate Prince’s show remains an inspired and vibrant tribute to the power of the fairy tale, loosely adapted from Sondheim’s Into the Woods but by now very much its own work. It’s on throughout the first half of August at the Royal Festival Hall on London’s South Bank, and well worth a visit for any lover of fairytales. You’ll find all the information you need for a visit at

Matthew Finch blogs at

Monday 2 August 2010

Quick Link: Top 10 transformations

A lovely list of transformation stories, compiled for the Guardian by Ali Shaw (author of haunting transformation novel The Girl with Glass Feet).

Wednesday 28 July 2010

My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me

This is a story about a wonderful looking book that is coming out, and also about why Facebook sometimes makes me happy (I'm a late convert). I only found out about this forthcoming title—due out September 28th—because I saw a post from the Fairy Tale Review Facebook page, which in turn led me to the My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me Facebook page, as both journal and book are edited by tireless champion of fairy tales Kate Bernheimer.

The description of the book from the Penguin site says:
The fairy tale lives again in these forty new stories by some of the biggest names in contemporary fiction.

Neil Gaiman, Michael Cunningham, Aimee Bender, Kelly Link, Lydia Millet, and more than thirty other extraordinary writers celebrate fairy tales in this thrilling volume-the ultimate literary costume party.

Spinning houses and talking birds. Whispered secrets and borrowed hope. Here are new stories sewn from old skins, gathered from around the world by visionary editor Kate Bernheimer and inspired by everything from Hans Christian Andersen's "The Snow Queen" and "The Little Match Girl" to Charles Perrault's "Bluebeard" and "Cinderella" to the Brothers Grimm's "Hansel and Gretel" and "Rumpelstiltskin" to fairy tales by Goethe and Calvino.

Fairy tales are our oldest literary tradition, and yet they chart the imaginative frontiers of the twenty-first century as powerfully as they evoke our earliest encounters with literature. This exhilarating collection restores their place in the literary canon.
The title of the book is a line from the Grimms' The Juniper Tree, which is reimagined in the book by Alissa Nutting. Make sure you 'Like' the book's Facebook page as they keep posting up tantalising little tidbits from the tales and links to some great interviews with contributors.

Other fairy tale related Facebook pages I'd recommend are the Cabinet des Fées one, the SurLaLune one and, of course, the New Fairy Tales one.

Teen writing contest

There's still time to work on an entry for the Diamonds and Toads writing contest for teens, they are looking for retellings of Cinderella, and if you are aged between 13 and 18 you can send your entry to them during 'one magical day'—August the 15th. If you're not a teenager yourself please pass this on to any fairy tale loving teens you know. Full details of the competition are available here.

The illustration is by Jennie Harbour, and taken from My Favourite Book of Fairy Tales (1921)

Wednesday 21 July 2010

Anti-Tales: The Uses of Disenchantment Symposium

Registration is now open for this fascinating looking symposium being held at the University of Glasgow on the 12th-13th August. It is free to attend and the full programme is available online here. There is a great range of papers being given and panels with titles such as 'Wicked Women and Feminist Anti-texts', 'Not so, SnowWhite', 'Bluebeard', 'Surrealist Anti-tales', and 'Cinematic Reimaginings'.

John Patrick Pazdziora, whose wonderful fairy tale 'Ragabone' we published in Issue 5 of New Fairy Tales will be giving a paper entitled ‘ ‘‘You Know How Happy Kings Are”: The Anti-Fairytales of James Thurber’. And I am very excited to have been asked to give a reading of my fiction and to talk a little bit about New Fairy Tales. I'll be reading my anti-tale 'Raven', which was published online at Cabinet des Fées, and a new story 'Feather Girls' which is an anti-tale inspired by the swan maiden tale collected by Joseph Jacobs.

At the moment, the anti-tale is an under-researched concept, despite its being a popular form in terms of genre publishing. The symposium's organisers, Catriona McAra and David Calvin, have this to say about it:

The anti-fairy tale has long existed as a shadow of the traditional fairy tale genre. First categorized as the 'antimärchen' in Andre Jolles' seminal Einfache Formen (c.1930), the anti-tale was found to be contemporaneous with even the oldest known examples of fairy tale collections. Rarely an outward opposition to the traditional form itself, the anti-tale takes aspects of the fairy tale genre and re-imagines, subverts, inverts, deconstructs or satirizes elements of them to present an alternate narrative interpretation, outcome or morality. Red Riding Hood may elope with the wolf. Or Bluebeard's wife is not interested in his secret chamber. Snow White's stepmother gives her own account of events and Cinderella does not exactly find the prince charming.

The anti-fairy tale takes many forms. Some revisit and deconstruct familiar narratives (as above) or formulate new stories, characters and ever-afters, relying on and subverting familiar archetypes and plot devices. Following Jolles' seminal, respected text, the subgenre of the anti-tale has become dominant, as writers such as Angela Carter, Neil Gaiman and Phillip Pullman, artists such as Kiki Smith, Anna Gaskell and Kara Walker, and filmmakers such as Matthew Bright and Jane Campion have produced a diverse collage of anti-tales.

(read more here)

The organisers can be contacted with any enquiries at: And I would really encourage anyone with an interest in fairy tales, who can get there, to come along and participate. It would be lovely to meet you (and for people who live too far away, I'll report back here after the event).

Sunday 18 July 2010

Profile: Bluebeard

'Killing wives since 1697'

Name: Barbe Bleue or Bluebeard

Age: The oldest literary version of the story is by Charles Perrault and was published in 1697, but the tale was based on much older oral folktales.

Location: France. There has been much speculation over whether Perrault based Bluebeard on Gilles de Rais, a 15th c. Breton knight who fought alongside Joan of Arc and murdered children in his spare time. Blue-Beard a contribution to history and folk-lore is a book dedicated to the subject, although as the tale is closely related to many other folktales worldwide this link is often disputed.

Appearance: Did I mention he has a blue beard? He does in Perrault's version anyway, a beard which 'made him so frightfully ugly that all the women and girls ran away from him'. He's not to be confused with the pirate, whose beard was actually black.

Relationship Status: Interested in women. But would you want to marry him? Whether you take the tale to be about a psychopathic serial killer, or simply about the dangers of marriage in an age when death during childbirth was more common, he's not a good prospect. Especially if you add to that Perrault's view that the tale is really about the evils of women's curiosity (i.e. serves them right).

Best lines written about him: I couldn't write this profile without getting some Angela Carter in it, in her version of the tale, the title story in the collection The Bloody Chamber, her narrator says of him:
I know it must seem a curious analogy, a man with a flower, but sometimes he seemed to me like a lily. Yes. A lily. Possessed of that strange, ominous calm of a sentient vegetable, like one of those cobra-headed, funereal lilies whose white sheaths are curled out of a flesh as thick and tensely yielding to the touch as vellum. When I said that I would marry him, not one muscle in his face stirred, but he let out a long, extinguished sigh.
Some places you'll find him online:
Bluebeard and the Bloody Chamber, an essay by Terri Windling
An annotated version of the tale, along with history and illustrations on SurLaLune
Bluebeard stories collected by D. L. Ashliman
Bluebeard's Keys and Other Stories, by Anne Thackeray Ritchie
The Grey Woman, a reimagining of the Bluebeard story by Elizabeth Gaskell
Bluebeard's Final Girl, or, The Revisionist, a poem by Veronica Schanoes
The book for Offenbach's Opera of the tale
Bluebeard a 1944 film starring John Carradine (available to watch online)
Bluebeard; or Female Curiosity poster and info about a 1798 performance
Some other tales with murderous grooms: Fitcher's Bird, Mr Fox, The Robber Bridegroom, Cannetella

And if that's not enough Bluebeard for you, you could also try Catherine Breillat's new film. It got a cinema release in the UK on Friday but I've read that it has gone straight to DVD in the US.

There is an interview with Catherine Breillat in The Guardian and reviews of the film in The Guardian and The New York Times.

The illustration at the top of the post is taken from The Sleeping Beauty Picture Book, illustrated by Walter Crane. I love the fact that in this book 'Bluebeard' is published alongside 'The Baby's Own Alphabet', which says something about our changing relationship with the story and with our children.

Previous profiles: Goldilocks, Jack (of the beanstalk fame), Little Red Riding Hood, The Big Bad Wolf