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

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

Tuesday 13 July 2010

When I went to play at the Manchester Children's Book Festival...

(click on the image to see a larger version)

... I had an amazing time. I ran three family fairy tale workshops, in which everyone, from toddlers to adults, had fun dressing up, drawing and creating new fairy tales together. The picture above was drawn by festival illustrator Dai Owen, who came in and magically captured four of the participants in just a couple of minutes (they were busy trying to work out which key would unlock the bird cage in the golden castle, at the top of the glass mountain—they decided a feather key would do it in the end).

I owe a lot of thank yous; to the festival organisers for such a lovely day, to friends Carys Bray and Elaine Wilson, who did a fantastic job running the New Fairy Tales stall, giving away postcards, badges and selling some handmade chapbooks of our stories to raise money for Derian House Children's Hospice. And, to various members of my family (Mum, Dad, Aunty T & Grandma), who were dragged into making everything from crowns and keys to capes and banners! And thank you to Dai for allowing me to share his wonderful drawing.

The festival website is still online, so if you missed it you can still have a nosey at what went on, and the good news is the festival will return in 2012.