The Beast’s Garden by Kate Forsyth

Published: 3rd August 2015
Goodreads badgePublisher: Random House Australia
Pages: 512
Format: Paperback
Genre: Historical Fiction/Fairytale retelling
★   ★   ★  ★   ★  – 5 Stars

The Grimm Brothers published a beautiful version of the Beauty & the Beast tale called ‘The Singing, Springing Lark’ in 1819. It combines the well-known story of a daughter who marries a beast in order to save her father with another key fairy tale motif, the search for the lost bridegroom. In ‘The Singing, Springing Lark,’ the daughter grows to love her beast but unwittingly betrays him and he is turned into a dove. She follows the trail of blood and white feathers he leaves behind him for seven years, and, when she loses the trail, seeks help from the sun, the moon, and the four winds. Eventually she battles an evil enchantress and saves her husband, breaking the enchantment and turning him back into a man.

Kate Forsyth retells this German fairy tale as an historical novel set in Germany during the Nazi regime. A young woman marries a Nazi officer in order to save her father, but hates and fears her new husband. Gradually she comes to realise that he is a good man at heart, and part of an underground resistance movement in Berlin called the Red Orchestra. However, her realisation comes too late. She has unwittingly betrayed him, and must find some way to rescue him and smuggle him out of the country before he is killed.

The Red Orchestra was a real-life organisation in Berlin, made up of artists, writers, diplomats and journalists, who passed on intelligence to the American embassy, distributed leaflets encouraging opposition to Hitler, and helped people in danger from the Nazis to escape the country. They were betrayed in 1942, and many of their number were executed.

The Beast’s Garden is a compelling and beautiful love story, filled with drama and intrigue and heartbreak, taking place between 1938 and 1943, in Berlin, Germany. 

The Beast’s Garden is the kind of story that appears to be a simple fairy tale retelling, a classic tale woven through history; but in actual fact it is a powerful and important story, filled with bold thoughts and acts of defiance, bringing history to life under the guise of a mere fairy tale. It is brutal and honest, yet told so wonderfully that amongst the horror of war and the raw subject, you are captivated and amazed at what happens, real or otherwise.

From the first pages Forsyth holds nothing back, showing off the beauty and danger early on, something that remains until the very last page. The combination and close proximity beauty and danger has in this novel is wonderful, the way Forsyth shows how both existed side by side for so long also adds a lot of meaning. The fact day to day life coexisted with such horror, especially in the early years, is incredible to discover, even more so in novel form.

As you read you are immersed in a fascinating yet brutal part of history and the past comes to life revealing Forsyth’s immaculate research skills. According to Forsyth the only created characters are Ava, Leo, Jutta and their families, everyone else is taken from history. The Beast’s Garden includes important and historic figures such as the Goebbels, Mildred Harnack, members of the Abwehr, as well as numerous others on both sides. Through Forsyth’s flawless and bold narrative their stories and movements during Hitler’s reign are brought to life again in a spectacular tale about war, love, strength, and music.

Though a few characters are created, they fit perfectly into the history. Forsyth blends the actions of the real with the desires of the fictional and manages to excel and telling both stories. Real events are woven meticulously and elegantly with the lives of her characters creating a personal and unique perspective on some of the people and key moments during World War Two.

Aside from the historical elements, the detail and style of the narrative is wonderful to read. Nothing is included that isn’t of some importance and everything has meaning in some form or another. Ava is strong and resilient and watching her grow over the course of the story is incredible, truly an example of not knowing what you’re capable of until you have no other choice. Each created character brings something to the story, whether it is the perspective of the Jewish, the resistance, or those caught in between,

Ava’s story is not the sole one being told with many other figures having their stories explored as well, including members of the resistance, Libertas and Harro Schulze-Boysen. Forsyth has woven Ava into history marvellously and with the perspective of others included it brings a lot more intensity to the story than if the events and historic figures were merely background noise to Ava’s own life. Forsyth treats each of her characters with respect, and those taken from history have become as true and honest as they are able with actions, opinions, and fates reflecting what happened.

Forsyth combines the fairy tale and the real together stylishly and with skill. There are quotes from The Singing, Springing Lark opening each section and Ava reads and draws strength from the story of the lark herself, through all its torments and triumphs, each action reflected in her own story.

Coupled with the story of The Singing, Springing Lark and the facts and truths of World War Two, Forsyth’s incredible creativity and ability to mix together what is real and what is not is to be admired. The story spans seven years, from 1938 to 1945, and through Ava’s story you see the world change around her and see it change herself. Through her story and others an understanding is gained about the effect Hitler had on not just the outside world but Berlin and the German people too.

This is a story that is riddled with real faces and real events, connected and combined with characters that are filled with bravery, bold opinions, and incredible strengths. It is a novel told against the backdrop not only of history but of a fairytale, and one that demonstrates the power Germany had shown the world, but it also shows the power hidden within Germany itself. A spectacular story.

You can purchase The Beast’s Garden via the following

Amazon | Amazon Aust

Booktopia | Dymocks

Bookworld | QBD

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Twice Upon a Time: Fairytale, Folklore, & Myth. Reimagined & Remastered edited by Joshua Allen Mercier

Published: 13th February 2015Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Bearded Scribe Press
Pages: 728
Format: ebook
Genre: Fairy tales
★   ★   ★   ★   ★ – 5 Stars

Fairytales don’t always happen once upon a time. Fables don’t always have a happy ending. Sometimes the stories we love are too dark for nightmares. What if waking Sleeping Beauty was the worse thing the Prince could have done? What if Rapunzel wasn’t in that tower for her own protection—but for everyone else’s?

Assembled by The Bearded Scribe Press, Twice Upon A Time combines classics and modern lore in peculiar and spectacular ways. From Rapunzel to Rumpelstiltskin, this unique collection showcases childhood favorites unlike anything you’ve ever seen.

 Both traditionally-published and independent authors will take you on a whirlwind ride through fairytale and folklore, myth and magick. Cherished stories are revisited and remastered into newly-treasured tales of hope and heartache, of adversity and adventure.

Note: I was provided a copy of this book for review

Twice Upon a Time is an anthology of fairytale retellings and cover everything from the Grimm Brothers, Hans Christian Anderson, fables, myths, as well as numerous folklores. Each fairy tale has been interpreted and retold differently and the myriad of authors who contribute have created stories that reimagine fairy tales in beautiful, unimaginable, and captivating ways.

What is wonderful about this collection is each story takes a different approach; while some may stay true to the darker or original story in many ways, others deviate completely and have been reworked into completely new stories that are sometimes a world away from their originals. In doing so, there are delightful stories about romance, magic, and true love alongside stories in other worlds and battles with giants in space, hidden dangers, wicked witches, or dark bloodthirsty creatures from the deep. But no matter how much a story seems to stray from the primary story, there is always an element of the original under the surface, connecting its origins back to the well known classic and keeping the fairy tale alive.

As a lover of fairy tales and fairy tale retellings, each story was fascinating in its approach but some clearly stood out from others. One of my favourites from the collection was Blood and Water, a brilliant story that is beautifully told from the first page and is one that surprises and is dark and delightful. Others like All That Glitters or Princess in Peril were also really enjoyable; these remain closer to the fairy tale style in terms of narrative style but are still unique retellings. There are also modern day adaptations as well, Spear Among Spindles takes a different look at the Helen of Troy myth and it is quite amazing to read about a myth from a new perspective but have it play out with televison, prep schools, and the threat of modern day war.

Every story is different and there is no doubting the creativity and imagination of the authors to recreate fairy tales and fables in such ways. Everything from The Grimm Brothers to and fables and myths in-between is covered, some easily recognisable others not so much, though this all depends on your own knowledge of fables and fairy tales.

There are a few peculiar ones and certainly not all will be to everyone’s liking, but with so many stories and numerous styles of story there are bound to be more than enough to satisfy every lover of fables and fairy tales alike. Even if not every story is appealing, there is no denying the work and creativity that went into each one of these stories. The approach each author has taken to these stories is clever and commendable, and they are certainly stories you can return to and reread over and over again. I really hope that one day this anthology is recognised as a great addition to the ever-growing collection of fairy tale retelling.

 You can purchase Twice Upon A Time via the following

Amazon

Amazon Aust

Amazon UK

The Australian Fairy Tale Society Conference

I discovered the greatest thing this afternoon. I got an email from Sarah Gibson, the filmmaker who wrote and directed the stunning series on ABC and gorgeous website about Re-enchantment, and she was sending out an email to say that her book “Re-enchantment: Ways to Interpret Fairy Tales” was available from the iTunes store for $4.99. That was cool enough, but then, underneath it also had a note to say that Sarah would be speaking at the Australian Fairy Tale Conference on Monday June 9th in Sydney. And I was like, the what now? Now I did not know that there was a Fairy Tale Conference, I thought I had been missing out for years on fairy tale conferences but it seems this is the inaugural year. I am seriously considering going as well; I think it would be wonderful.

The conference is being put on by the Australian Fairy Tale Society with the theme ‘The Fairy Tale in Australia’. The society, which is a national not-for-profit, are focused on “collecting, preserving, discussing, sharing, and creating Australian fairy tales.” according to their website. The conference is being held in Paddington at the Paddington Uniting Church and the standard cost is $95, less if you are a member of the society. The program is also available from the society website where you can see the breakdown of the day plus the special guests. There are a range of wonderful people speaking including Sarah Gibson, Kate Forsyth, as well as a many others.

The conference is on the Queen’s birthday long weekend for those considering going, and at $95 for a day of listening to how Australia plays a role in the creation of fairy tales, it is a pretty good day. You can register your place on the website, as well as check out more about the Society and the conference.

e-flyer

All Your Bits and Pieces Needs
Australian Fairy Tale Society Website
Australian Fairy Tale Society Facebook
Re-enchantment website

 

Also, for those interested in Sarah’s ebook here is some more information.

RE EBOOK COVER 7Written by Jungian analyst and filmmaker Sarah Gibson and designed by Rose Draper, this eBook presents new ways to interpret fairytales in a visually stimulating and immersive way. Chapters explore the hidden psychological meanings of fairy tales symbols and motifs. They unlock the secrets of the emotional power of fairy tales and why they continue to stir our imagination. The eBook features video, audio, animation and stunning visual design. It showcases re-imaginings by over thirty contemporary artists. Be curious. Be surprised. Be inspired.

Buy from iTunes

iTunes preview

 

iTunes Preview

 

Newcastle Writers Festival 2014: Saturday

nwflogoReading Ryan O’Neill’s post last night about his Newcastle Writers experience reminded me I haven’t done my own, then I realised it was no longer a couple of days ago it was an entire week! Where does the time go? So I have finally found some time to tell you all about my awesome time at the Newcastle Writers Festival.

After the enjoyable and amazing time at the opening night on Friday, I was up early and off to Newcastle City Hall for day one of the festival. My first session, ‘From Little Things: Writing for Children‘, was excellent. On the panel was Kaz Delaney (aka Kerri Lane), Wendy Harmer, and Jesse Blackadder with Linsay Knight moderating. The mood in the room was wonderful, there was laughter and joking, each of the panellists played off each other and watching them joke and interact was as enjoyable for them as it was the entire audience.

Stories on writing were discussed and Kaz Delaney told us that she felt she was born to write and told us about her vast collection of books for children. With 69 books under her belt Kaz was first published at 9 with what she called a blatant rip off of the poem “Daffodils” by William Wordsworth. She also mentioned that some people have passions –  animals, the planet etc and her passion is children. I thought that was wonderful. Being passionate about writing is one thing but when you couple that with being passionate about children as well I really think it would help your work.

Wendy discussed her creation and development of her Pearly series. Pearly is a fairy that lives on a fountain in a park and as a big fairy fan,  Wendy said the idea for Pearly came very easily. She also said she wanted to create a fairy that didn’t look like other fairies, those that seem to look like Paris Hilton with wings; she wanted a fairy with daring do.

What I loved about Wendy was the reason she chose to set her Pearly series in a park. She said that most children don’t have gardens, instead they go to the park, Wendy herself took her daughter to the park. Because of this they cannot enjoy the magic of having a fairy at the bottom of their garden so by having Pearly live in the park it showed children that even if they didn’t have a garden they could still enjoy the magic of fairies.

Jesse Blackadder, an author who I had not previously heard of, is someone who bases her stories of real things that happen, she takes them and brings the story to life. Listening to Jesse talk was enjoyable, she was funny and played on the vast success of her fellow panellists and joked about her far fewer books, and amongst the strong presence and humour of the others Jesse held her own quite well.

She told us about her new book Stay, a story about a fibreglass Guide dog statue that had been kidnapped from Hobart and taken to Antarctica. She discussed the true story it was based upon as well as the issues she had trying to make an inanimate object tell its own story. Jesse also told us when telling stories about real events in real places it was important to her to go to the places themselves, and so having been to Antarctica, Dubai and numerous other places she was able to bring the story to life.

The entire session was excellent and one filled with learning, insight and a lot of laughter. All the panellists gave us a reading from their book, and as much as I loved them all I must say Wendy’s was the most animated. Naturally by the end of the session I was eager to read all of their books which resulted in the buying and signing of books from each author.

Linsey Knight, Kaz Delaney, Wendy Harmer, Jesse Blackadder

Linsey Knight, Kaz Delaney, Wendy Harmer, & Jesse Blackadder

The next session I attended was ‘Kate Forsyth in Conversation‘, a wonderful hour where Magdalena Ball discussed with Kate her creative journey as well as retelling fairy tales, and writing best selling works based on fables and fairy tales. So many wonderful lessons were learnt in this session, so many excellent quotes about writing, about fairytales and about creating I could hardly write fast enough to capture and remember it all.

Kate read to us from her novel Wild Girl, gave us insights in her research and her ideas, and even gave us a sneak peek into her new story that she was starting once the festival was over. For Kate immersing herself in the research was important, knowing about every detail about her characters was important, whether it was what they ate, believed, or how they peed. She also explained her four stages of writing, how she developed and planned her ideas, and the influences writing one novel can have on another.

Kate told us that if you have the compulsion to form life experiences into words than nothing should stop you, but she also said you cannot give someone the gift of writing, you may be able to teach it, but it is not the same. This was something I heard later in the weekend as well, and certainly something I hadn’t considered before.

Listening to Kate tell stories about how she started as a writer, how she writes and the work she puts into her books was inspiring, I have seen her a few times now over the years and every time she manages to amaze me more. Once again, more books were bought and signed.

Magdalena Ball & Kate Forsyth

Magdalena Ball & Kate Forsyth

My last session was ‘Once Upon a Time: Exploring myths, fables, and fairy tales‘, again with Kate Forsyth but with John Hughes as well and Jenny Blackford moderating. Discussing the idea of reinventing fables and fairy tales into new inventive stories is something I adore doing and love reading about. John and Kate immediately addressed the incorrect notion that fables and fairytales are just for children, not to mention how and why these stories have lasted for millennia.

Kate said she believes that a story is retold if it is a story of longing and need and some kind of dilemma, and the stories that are retold and retold and shape shift really touch a core in the listeners. As she beautifully put it, she feels like a relay runner carrying on this beacon of stories, behind her is centuries of storytelling. I thought that was a wonderful way to describe it.

This was another session of excellent quotes about us as people, about our need for stories and love of them. From the cleaning up of darker tales in the Victorian era, and the Grimm’s changing the stories as well it was clear that these stories have been evolving for awhile. Naturally Disney poked its nose into this discussion about it taming down of fairytales further, but Kate wisely pointed out that Disney probably is the true source of the fairy tale revival, and that they did a wonderful service by keeping stories alive that may have been forgotten. John also pointed out that you cannot say these stories can only be used for high literature purposes and no other. It is really up to the person telling the stories how they want to do it. As Kate said, with each retelling of a tale the teller brings their own concerns to it. By the end of the session I has learned so much and gotten so many new ideas and motivation to write my own stories. After the session was over, yes, many books were bought and signed once more.

Kate Forsyth, Jenny Blackford, & John Hughes

Kate Forsyth, Jenny Blackford, & John Hughes

At the end of a very long first day I was on a buzz of knowledge and awe and just general happiness to be there. This is what I love, learning about how people write, where their inspiration comes from, but also the chance to broaden your own mind and gain new perspective and welcome new ideas and challenges. I truly adore this (and other) writing festivals. Not only do you learn so much but you also get exposed to great authors you may never have noticed or even considered before.

The Bloody Chamber & other Stories by Angela Carter

Birthday

Today is the birthday of author Angela Carter and in honour of that I am looking at her collection of short stories in The Bloody Chamber. It is an excellent collection, if you are a fan of fairytales, or love seeing fairytales reinvented in amazing ways, then I suggest you read these stories.

Born in England in 1940, Angela Carter wrote many books in her lifetime, sadly she only lived until she was 51 years old. However in that time she managed to write a large collection of stories, poems, radio plays, as well as children’s books and much more. What I found interesting was that before she died, Carter was planning on writing a sequel to Jane Eyre. I think this would have been fantastic, it was supposedly going to be told from the perspective of Jane’s step-daughter Adele, that would have been interesting to see.

Carter was listed on The Times “50 greatest British writers since 1945” in 2008, at tenth place it is a position I agree with immensely, what I didn’t agree was that Terry Pratchett didn’t make that list at all, but we can only just forgive that because of the others that were included.

Published: July 13th 2006
Goodreads badgePublisher: Vintage
Pages: 176
Format: Book
Genre: Fairy Tales/Fantasy
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

The Bloody Chamber & Other Stories is an anthology of short fiction by Angela Carter. All of the stories share a common theme of being closely based upon fairy tales or folk tales. However, she’s stated: “My intention was not to do ‘versions’ or, as the American edition of the book said, horribly, ‘adult’ fairy tales, but to extract the latent content from the traditional stories.”

The Bloody Chamber was published in 1979 and is a collection of short stories that are dark, sinister, and marvellous all at once. What Carter manages to do is turn the fairytales we know on their head, and she makes us look at them in a new light completely. The book comprises of ten stories, The Bloody Chamber; The Courtship of Mr Lyon; The Tiger’s Bride; Puss-in-Boots; The Erl-King; The Snow Child; The Lady of the House of Love; The Werewolf; The Company of Wolves; and Wolf-Alice.

Carter looks at stories such as Beauty and the Beast, Little Red Riding Hood, Puss in Boots, Bluebeard, as well as folklore tales, and what she has come up with are so unique, and so amazing that it is very hard to think of them as their original stories sometimes. There is definitely so much that that can be read into these stories, I know there are hundreds of references alluded to and mentioned in short story The Bloody Chamber that have scholars running about trying to interpret, but what references that are there does not distract from the story, nor does typically knowing the originals, they are easily enjoyed without understanding the origins, but for well known stories such as Little Red Riding Hood, Beauty and the Beast, or Puss in Boots, then it creates an eye opener for readers.

What is wonderful about these stories is that it isn’t just another version of the traditional telling, Carter brings so much more into these stories, she alternates points of view, and she brings in strong powerful women with highly emotional and intellectual insights that create meaning and force in these tales.

Her story The Werewolf, based on Little Red Riding Hood, had a huge impact on me. Very much like the novels of John Marsden’s when I realised stories did not have to be simple and straight forward; what Carter showed me in this story was that fairytales can be complex and may not be as they appear. From this simple story I suddenly looked at other fairytales like Hansel and Gretel in a whole new light, I realised and embraced that even the simplest stories of the Gingerbread man or Snow White could be recreated in an entirely new light, changing everything it was meant to be.

I already had a huge love for fairytales, and when I read Carter’s reinventions it opened my eyes to a world of interpretation, mixing and transforming these classics into something that is powerful and magical, while still showing signs of the history of the fairytales I knew. Personal favourites would have to be Company of Wolves, Wolf-Alice, and The Werewolf, definitely interesting since they are all variations on Little Red Riding Hood, a story that I didn’t like as a child, and yet has become one that I have enjoyed most in adapted form.

 Company of Wolves was turned into a very good film in 1984. It is classified as a British Gothic fantasy-horror film and director Neil Jordon co-wrote the screenplay with Carter. It is another variation on the Little Red Riding Hood story and is set in the modern day. It is a little gruesome at times, but it is an excellent film all the same.

There is something for everyone with Carter’s works and her writing makes you reconsider writing and storytelling, especially for fairytales. They hark back to the originals where it was more truthful and realistic, certainly told as cautionary tales, but also as a representation of powerful women. To steal from Wikipedia a wonderful synopsis: “By contrasting the barren and horrific atmosphere found typically within the Gothic to the strong heroines of her story, Carter is able to create sexually liberated female characters that are set against the more traditional backdrop of the fairy tale.”

A truly wonderful set of stories that stay with you long after you finish them, I wish Angela Carter a happy birthday and I want to thank her for the influence she has had on my own writing, as well as my ideas about fairytales and the power and possibilities they possess, no matter what the form.

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