Kobo Writing Life

Once Upon A Time . . . Retelling Classic Fairytales

Princes Peeking Frame (1899) by W. H. Robinson "Fairy tales from Hans Christian Andersen"

By Demelza Carlton

Have you ever thought about rewriting a fairytale so that the villain gets to be the hero?

Actually, I hadn’t, but an author friend of mine was putting together a box set of such stories and she invited me to submit something.

At first, I said no. I’d written contemporary romance, thrillers, fantasy, science fiction . . . and a 1920s retelling of The Little Mermaid. There wasn’t room in my head for more characters, or twisted fairytales . . . or so I thought.

The idea took hold, as most good ideas do, when I picked up my copy of Grimm’s Fairy Tales. The original version, which is more like Game of Thrones than Disney. Because if I was going to write fairytales, they’d be like the originals, with the sex and violence left in, though maybe not the incest. Definitely not stories for children, anyway.

And by morning, it wasn’t a matter of finding a fairytale I could remake, but which one of a dozen ideas to choose. And when to set it? People have done entire PhDs on the origins of folktales, and they’ve barely scratched the surface. What their research has revealed so far is incredible. Some fairytales, like Beauty and the Beast, date back thousands of years, and there are myriad different versions of them across Asia, Europe and the Middle East.

You see, fairytales are stories that never die. Storytellers breathe new life in them, but the essential tale is the same, because we love those stories so much.

I narrowed it down to three well known fairytales—Beauty and the Beast, Sleeping Beauty, and Cinderellabut in order for the stories to make any sense, I needed to know a bit more about history.

Like . . . when were glass mirrors invented? Or spinning wheels? Or chiming clocks?

A strange pattern started to emerge—all of these things were documented in or around the 12th century, before the Renaissance. It was the time of the Crusades, of Genghis Khan, of the Song Dynasty, the Hanseatic League, Vikings, and incredible advances in both trade and technology . . . no way was I going to be able to stop at just three fairytales.

So I didn’t.

Instead, I booked a plane ticket from Australia to Europe and spent three months researching, well, everything. Medieval towns in Italy and Germany. Cathedrals constructed by the Norman kings of Sicily. Castles built in France at the command of Richard the Lionheart. Churches carved out of caves dating back to Charlemagne. Cloisters and castles in Poland including not one, but two unicorns. Dragon chasing near the Ukraine border and in the Czech Republic. Libraries in Prague that date back a thousand years. Viking settlements and ruined castles in Scotland. By the time I flew home, I had enough research to write twenty fairytales…maybe more.

I took my inspiration for titles from Disney, with Tangled and Frozen—I wanted one word that encapsulated my whole story, and yet was a central part of it. But I didn’t want adjectives—like Disney, or the Divergent series. No, I wanted verbs—ones that spoke of actions the characters would have to take in order to reach their happy ending. Dance for Cinderella, Enchant for Beauty and the Beast, Embellish for the Brave Little Tailor, Silence for the Little Mermaid, Revel for the Twelve Dancing Princesses . . . I could go on, but that’s the thing about fairytales. Once you pick one, you want to read them all. Or write them all, in my case.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about writing fairytales for a modern audience, even if they are set almost a thousand years ago, it’s that no matter how much hell my characters go through during the story, readers must get their happy ending. So after all the battles and intrigues and magic and monsters, I make sure that at least one couple (and my readers) get their fairytale ending. Because in a world where so much can go wrong without warning…doesn’t everyone deserve a little happily ever after?

Demelza Carlton is the USA Today bestselling author of more than thirty books which have sold over a million copies worldwide. Demelza has always loved the ocean, but on her first snorkelling trip she found she was afraid of fish. She has since swum with sea lions, sharks and sea cucumbers and stood on spray-drenched cliffs over a seething sea as a seven-metre cyclonic swell surged in, shattering a shipwreck below.Sensationalist spin? No—Demelza tends to take a camera with her so she can capture and share the moment later; shipwrecks, sharks and all.

Demelza lives in Perth, Western Australia, the shark attack capital of the world.

You can check out her website, or follow her on Facebook or Twitter.