Thursday, May 29, 2014

Author guest post: 5 important things you should know about the magical realm of Sunthyst (the book world in The Guardian’s Wyrd) by Nerine Dorman

Today I’d like to welcome South African author, Nerine Dorman to my blog. Nerine’s no stranger here as the last time she guest posted on my blog, she wrote a feature on 10 Indie/small press titles that she thinks are definitely worth reading.

This time around, the focus is on her and her latest book The Guardian’s Wyrd, a young adult fantasy novel set in the magical world of Sunthyst.

Now I don’t know about you, but when it comes to fantasy novels and fictional worlds created from scratch, I’m always interested to find out what the world is like, which is why Nerine has kindly agreed to write a post on what we can expect in her book.

Before we get on to the post though, here’s some information about the book to give you an idea of what it’s all about.

About The Guardian’s Wyrd
Sometimes having a fairytale prince as a best friend can be a real pain.

Jay didn't realise that sticking up for Rowan, the gangly new kid at school, would plunge him into the dangers and politics of the magical realm of Sunthyst.

But if anyone is up for the challenge it's Jay September.

With his trusty dog, Shadow, at his side, he braves the Watcher in the dark that guards the tunnels between the worlds, and undertakes a dangerous quest to rescue the prince.

It's a race against time - can he sneak Prince Rowan away from under King Lessian's nose and bring him safely back home - all before the prince's sixteenth birthday?

Or is Rowan's mother, the exiled Queen Persia, secretly trying to hold onto her power by denying her son his birthright?

Jay is ready for anything, except, perhaps, the suffocating darkness of the tunnels. And that howling…

Add The Guardian’s Wyrd to your Goodreads TBR pile.

Over to Nerine

Some of my regular readers will already know that my YA fantasy novel, The Guardian's Wyrd is out.

Many thanks to Tammy for asking me over today to share five important things you should know about the magical realm of Sunthyst where much of the action takes place...

YES, THERE ARE WEREWOLVES

Well, kinda. Okay, we call them wolven,  and they're not very cuddly.  Nor do they shift into human shape. Think of a 12-foot humanoid monster with a wolf-like head, sharp claws and a very bad temper... yup.

That's the wolven for you. Fortunately they're rare because the king's soldiers have warred against them for many years. This is good to know, because if you ever survive a wolven bite, you become moon-cursed, which is kinda like being a werewolf. Just try not to get bitten.

MAGIC IS REAL

Sounds great, right? Maybe. There are small magics, like the goatherd who can speak to birds that will warn him if there are wolves nearby.

There are also big magics, like the royal architect who can construct buildings made out of solid amethyst. But all that magic comes with a price, and the bigger the magic, the higher the cost. Big, complex enchantments can easily blow up, so be careful.

BE CAREFUL, OTHERWISE THE SKREE WILL GET YOU.

Things aren't all wine and roses in the magical realm of Sunthyst.

Not only is the land recovering from a recent civil war that resulted in the exile of a queen, but there are magical beings like the Skree, and you sure as hell don't want to share a drink with them either.

They are tricksy shapeshifters who delight in causing chaos.

WHO'S YOUR MASTER?


You've heard stories about faerie folk kidnapping humans? Well, if you ever wondered what happens to folk who go missing back home, loads of them end up in Sunthyst as slaves or indentured servants.

It's not cool, I know, but for all its wonders,  Sunthyst has its dark side of which you should be well aware, especially since you're from Earth. If you ever find yourself headed to Sunthyst, be sure to blend in otherwise you might just end up scrubbing pots for some wealthy noble who bought you at the market.

BECAUSE, UNICORNS

Yes, there's loads of stuff in Sunthyst that may prove hazardous to your health, but there's some pretty neat stuff too, namely unicorns.

But forget the gentle white beasts of fairytales. Unicorns here can bite, and when you see their fangs, you'll understand why hunters are very careful not to make them angry.

But don't worry. Unicorns won't eat people. Besides, most of them are cleverer than your maths teacher at school too. And it stands to reason, if there are unicorns, then here be dragons too...

About Nerine:
An editor and multi-published author, Nerine Dorman currently resides in Cape Town, South Africa, with her visual artist husband.

Some of the publishers for whom she has edited works include Dark Continents Publishing and eKhaya (an imprint of Random House Struik).

Her fiction sales include works to Dark Continents Publishing, Wordsmack, Tor Books, Apex Publishing and Immanion Press.

She has been involved in the media industry for more than a decade, with a background in magazine and newspaper publishing, commercial fiction, independent filmmaking, print production management and advertising.

Her book reviews, as well as travel, entertainment and lifestyle editorial regularly appear in national newspapers and online. A few of her interests include music, travel, history, Egypt, art, photography, psychology, philosophy, magic and the natural world.

She is the editor of the Bloody Parchment anthologies, Volume One; Hidden Things, Lost Things and Other Stories; and The Root Cellar and Other Stories. In addition, she also organises the annual Bloody Parchment event in conjunction with the South African HorrorFest.

She is also a founding member and co-ordinator for the Adamastor Writers’ Guild; edits The Egyptian Society of South Africa’s quarterly newsletter, SHEMU; and from time to time assists on set with the award-winning BlackMilk Productions.

Purchase The Guardian's Wyrd

Where you can find Nerine online:
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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Mini book review: The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

Welcome to another mini book reviews edition of my blog. For this section of my blog, I usually feature reviews of books that don’t really require them – books bought, books I’ve borrowed from friends and books I’ve taken out at the library.

Because they’re not must-review books, my format of these mini reviews differ in that I don’t work the summary into my review in my own words; instead, I feature the Goodreads summary, followed by a few thoughts on my reading experience.

In today’s mini reviews feature, I share my thoughts on The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater.

About The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater (Scholastic UK)

Every year, the Scorpio Races are run on the beaches of Skarmouth. Every year, the sea washes blood from the sand. To race the savage water horses can mean death, but the danger is irresistible.

When Puck enters the races to save her family, she is drawn to the mysterious Sean, the only person on the island capable of taming the beasts.

Even if they stay together, can they stay alive?

A breathtaking ride that will make your heart race

My thoughts:

Blood, beauty, old magic and the wild call of the sea... if that's not enough to tempt you into reading this, then I don't know what is.

Maggie Stiefvater has always had a reputation for writing beautiful and lyrical prose, and The Scorpio Races definitely lives up to that and so much more.

Admittedly, if you're not a fan of books that are descriptively languid with a slow build up to a climax, then you might want to give this a skip.


I hope you won't though, because Maggie's writing, world-building and character development combined, is something that every reader should at least experience once.

Based on a combination of Scottish and Irish mythology, Maggie brings to life a world that's deadly, untamed and indescribably beautiful.


Take deadly flesh-eating, blood-hungry water horses, add a horse whisperer who is as part of the horses as he is part of the sea and include a feisty, snappishly abrasive but incredibly brave heroine who dares to defy convention.

Mix it with
life on a misty, rugged and rocky island, age-old rituals and traditions, and the result is an exquisitely crafted and drawn out tale that both lulls you with its beauty and unsettles you with each turn of the page.

The Scorpio Races is a book that will make you long to heed the siren call of the ocean to ride untamed horses across an equally untamed sea.

You'll find yourself marvelling at the magic of Sean, whose legendary horse whispering magic has ensured that he's always won the deadly races run every year.

Not only that, but you'll also be rooting strongly for Puck, the only girl who defies tradition by not only opting to run a race on a horse that stands no chance against the riders who make use of the capaill uisce, but chooses to use her pony while standing strong against the sexist attitudes of the older men who think her presence during the races will only bring bad luck.


The romance, while not the focus of the novel, is sweet, subtle and incredibly intense for its subtlety.

The lengths Puck and Sean go to in order to help each other will make you long for the kind of connection they've built-up, while the races they run with their horses will make you long to take some lessons of your own.

And if that's still not enough to convince you to read it, then read it for the beautifully characterised relationship between Puck and her younger brother Finn, who suddenly have to grow up even more after their older brother's announced that he's moving away from the island.

All in all, The Scorpio Races is a book that is so much more than what it is at face value... and one that will leave you with a book hangover for days to come.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Book review: Conquest by John Connolly and Jennifer Ridyard

An earth invader becomes the enemy of her own people when she impulsively decides to save the life of a human boy.

Conquest by John Connolly & Jennifer Ridyard (Headline)

When I first received a copy of John Connolly and Jennifer Ridyard’s Conquest, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.

Books about aliens and alien invasions are certainly no stranger to the science fiction genre, and it certainly seems to be a concept that sells over and over again.

 Of course, many will argue that the idea has reached its saturation point, but I think given the right treatment, any book that employs a commonplace fictional model could be as entertaining to read as the novel that’s being lauded for its distinctiveness.

Connolly and Ridyard are certainly prime examples of that; and while I certainly had my fair share of issues with the book (which is the first in a trilogy, if I’m not mistaken), I have to admit that I was generally very impressed with what the co-authors have offered up.

Beyond the basic concept, Conquest actually proved to be a lot more complex, layered and detailed than I expected to be. 

The book is also not your average us versus them story.

Rather, aside from the rebel joining the resistance forces, it also explores what happens when warring factions extend themselves to infighting; where raging differences in political approaches and diplomatic tactics come to the forefront and threaten to ignite and result in a full-out civil war.

Syl Hellais is a 16-year old Illyri, the first of her kind to have been born on earth. While she’s never seen the place that she’s originally from, Syl can’t help but feel as if she doesn’t belong.

The hostility that she and the rest of her race experience don’t help matters much and only leads to her being forced to remain within the castle grounds where she lives.

Outside of the castle sanctuary, two young brothers, Paul and Steven Kerr form part of a resistance group. Fighting for their freedom and the jurisdiction of their planet, they constantly put themselves at risk knowing that each and every deliberate action could very well result in certain death.

When they inadvertently end up protecting the alien governor’s daughter and friend, they don’t realise how that one action will become their saving grace.

When Syl finds out that the boys who rescued her from the Diplomats (the group of aliens who believe in using violence as a means to subdue humans and who don’t encourage interaction with humans except for the strict purposes of enslaving them), have been caught and sentenced to death, she, along with the help of her psychic friend, Ani and Meia - another character whose identity and alien class classification plays quite a significant role – hatch a plan to help them escape.

Naturally things don’t go as planned, and before she knows it, Syl and Ani are soon on the run from the people she once knew and thought she could trust.

Connolly and Ridyard’s Conquest is, for lack of a better word, complicated. 

While I do think that it’s a good, solid novel, I think it could have been made better if there weren’t so many things being thrown at us in almost all of one go.

To be perfectly honest, I was almost tempted to give up on the book from the get-go, given that it starts out with a rather heavy-handed and dry barrage of information that’s provided in a method that reads more like a science textbook than a descriptive novel.

However, once I got beyond the first few chapters, things started an interesting turn.

When we’re introduced to Syl, an alien girl who’s headstrong and far too curious for her own good, we get the feeling that - given that she’s so protected within the castle walls she resides in - things are a lot more complicated than the humans vs. aliens fight.

And too right we are, because we soon discover that as much as the humans are rebelling against the Illyri forces, the Illyri forces themselves are divided within their own ranks.

The politics within the warring factions are actually very interesting, because not only does it speak of a discontent regarding the methods of governing, but it also unveils a larger plot that’s brewing behind the scenes, one that the corps (the less violent group) are in no way prepared for.

What makes this even more interesting is when the inevitable coup occurs, it reveals an even more sinister force behind the growing resistance, the leader of which is an old and very powerful woman who is constantly on the prowl to recruit more women into the ranks known as The Nairene Sisterhood.

The dynamics between all of them combined, make for situations that are simmering and bubbling over with tension, keeping one on constantly edge because you just never know how they’re going to react in these moments.

When Syl and Paul first meet, their encounter is one that doesn’t allow for any real time to get to know one another, but when situations are reversed, Syl finds herself reluctantly trusting Paul once she’s become an outcast.

Personally I felt like the attraction and culminating of moments leading up to and including them finally getting together, was little too synthetic for me. While the romance is not particularly the worst I’ve come across, I did feel that things developed way too quickly.

And for a pair coming from two entirely different species, the trust that was built up between the two happened way too rapidly to come across as being 100% authentic, even though they did, in turns, save each other.

Other interesting characters include Syl’s best friend Ani, who is one kickass and incredibly gifted alien with psychic powers. I have to applaud the authors here, because generally speaking, the best friend in fiction is often relegated to the background, or only used as a noise filler.

Ani happens to play quite the starring role here; in fact, her powers manifest itself way before Syl’s does, resulting in Ani being quite the awesome sidekick.

The villains in the story are quite creepy. From the leader of the diplomats and his wife (who is part of  the Sisterhood), to Vena and Sedulus, leaders who are on the diplomats side (Sedulus keeps the creepiest buzzkilling creatures as pets), these characters have no qualms about using brute force to achieve their purpose.

The most fascinating part of the novel for me though, was finding out what their purpose is on earth, and just why it is that they’ve left their home planet in the first place.

All I can say is that you should prepare to be thoroughly creeped out – it’s a twist that I didn’t see coming and one that made me forgive most of the issues in the book.

If I can give you one piece of advice though, then that would be to read this book with no breaks in between. I’m someone who reads more than one book at a time, so had to learn this the hard way as I found myself having to revert back in order to remember some of what I’ve read.

But, other than that, I’d say Conquest is a very promising start to a trilogy that shows a good amount of potential.

It’s certainly worth trying out!

Look out for an interview with Jennifer, one half of the author duo, coming up shortly!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Author guest post: For the love of Greek mythology by Chantal Gadoury

Today I’d like to welcome author Chantal Gadoury to my blog.

I’m particularly excited about this post because Chantal, who’s the author of Seven Seeds of Summer, a YA retelling of the Hades and Persephone myth is going to be chatting about a subject that I absolutely adore – Greek mythology.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been a fan of mythological retellings, and Hades and Persephone in particular, happens to be one of my all-time favourites. It’s also one of the few myths that has a relatively open-ended ending; most mythical stories in Greek lore often ending in tragedy.

I could certainly write an entire dissertation on why Greek mythology appeals to me, but I think Chantal covers the topic quite nicely, which is why I’m handing over to her.

You can scroll to the bottom for more information about Chantal and Seven Seeds of Summer.

Chantal, thanks so much for joining me on my blog today!
 
Why Greek Mythology?

Hello wonderful readers, bloggers and writers!

Tammy invited me to write something on her blog today about Greek Mythology, my new and first novel, "Seven Seeds of Summer" and alluring love interests contained in its pages.

I've received the question more often than not, "Why Greek Mythology?"

It really starts back when I was in college, attending my first in-depth "novel" writing class.

Since I was a teenager, I always enjoyed books that stood as retellings of fairy tales; Robin McKinley and Edith Pattou to name but a few.

I knew I wanted to write something just as special and lasting as their words had been for me. And so, in the dead of night, I started to remember a story I had read as a seventh grader in my English Class, about a Greek God named Hades and the love he desired in a woman named Persephone.

I wanted to do something different from the already used "Beauty and the Beast," "Cinderella," and other fairy-tale themed novels. I quickly wrote out a rough draft of simply retelling the story in both of their points of view.

It's always amazing when characters become voices in your head, and your hands can't seem to write down the words fast enough, and this is exactly what happened to me with my main character, and heroine: Summer.

For those who haven't read the book, Summer is a college art student who has always been enraptured by Greek Mythology and most importantly, by Hades.

Hades becomes more than a figment of her imagination, and much more than just a story when he appears on her family beach and takes her away on a whirl-wind adventure of not only discovering who she truly is, but discovering the truth of the love story we all have heard.

When approaching Hades and his appeal to others and to myself, I really took inspiration from novels I had read, and the men who filled their pages.

I watched a lot of "Dracula" (the 1990's version) and "Gossip Girl" (Chuck Bass anybody?) and evaluated my life and the men who had been or were in my life.

I remember sitting down with a librarian I had been close to in high school, as she was reading my rough draft and she pointed out that Hades, at least then, had a lot of the personality traits of people that I had gone to school with.

Hades is also a mixture of characters I've written about before.

At the time, I had just finished writing a short story for a college class that told of two best friends, and finding out they were attracted to each other. Hades's sarcasm and wit came from that character.

It's really amazing how a mixture of movies and books can inspire you and influence characters who emerge onto the blank pages of your book! When I approached the idea of a God, Hades, and a romance with a girl from our time, I really wanted to stay true to how I thought a God would be like.

Often in the Greek Mythology stories, Gods and Goddesses had human characteristics, ranging from jealousy and love, to anger and sadness.

We know that Zeus slept with many women, goddesses and humans alike, and his wife was jealous of anyone who seemed more beautiful or more desirable than her.

I wanted to keep Hades out of the villainous light that Disney had created in "Hercules," and make him human.

I could only imagine a Hades, who had never seen his love again - someone who was capable of love in its truest form, and yet, be dark enough to tend to his "deadly duties." Great pun there, right?

I wanted to make Hades a man who was a girl's "Dark Fantasy," his flaws included and with the help of my fantastic soundtrack, (The Fountain Soundtrack) Hades and his world was born.

I think it's always safe to say that when writing, even when it's fiction, it's important to write what you know, and who you know. It's just all in how you portray what you know.

Romance is something that I like to think I know ; I've grown up on fairy tales and Disney (and I have yet to find a fan as big as me) and as a girl, have always fallen for the "Dark Princes." 

"Seven Seeds of Summer" was my outlet to explore those parts of me, and to write something really fun.

Thanks for stopping by Chantal.

About Seven Seeds of Summer:
What if you were the missing piece in one of the most famous Greek Mythology Romances?

Seven Seeds of Summer follows the story of Summer, a college art student who has grown up in a house full of Greek mythology and legends. Summer grew up with a love for the darkest of all Gods: Hades, which caused tension between her and her mother.

Summer comes home to Point Judith, Rhode Island, to find a mysterious figure on their family beach. The figure comes to her with questions about a familiar myth of her childhood: of Persephone and Hades.

He proceeds to tell her of a new version of the story with a different ending that Summer never knew; an ending that includes herself.

A trip to Greece leads to tragic twists, leaving Summer in the arms of the strange figure whom she had met before. He takes her on a whirlwind through the busy streets of Athens, to the lowest point of Greece where his lair awaits: The Underworld.

Determined to find out the secret of herself and her piece in the story, Summer goes with him, and tries to make herself at home in his world.

Summer has to decide to follow her heart or follow the same footsteps of the mysterious woman in her past life.

Add it to your Goodreads TBR pile.

Purchase a copy from Amazon.
 
About Chantal:
Chantal Gadoury is young author who currently lives in a small town in Delaware with her two cats, Theo and Harper, and her boyfriend, Robert.

Chantal likes anything Disney, plays a mean game of Disney trivia, enjoys painting, and has an interest in British History.

She first started writing stories at the age of seven and continues that love of writing today.

As a recent college graduate from Susquehanna University, with a degree in Creative Writing, Seven Seeds of Summer is her first book.

Where you can find her online:


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Sunday, May 11, 2014

Book talk: I read because I travel and I travel because I read

Not too long ago, I read one of the most marvellous historical YA fiction novels ever.

The book, which is called Revolution, and is about, ahem, a revolution (in this case the French one), features two heroines from two different eras who are connected to each other in ways that overlap in the most unexpected ways.

Now, if you've read Sepulchre or Labyrinth by Kate Mosse (another author whose work I adore), you'll know that she's fond of employing a dual-narrative structure, alternating between the past and present; telling the stories through the eyes of two different women.

Revolution is a novel that employs a similar tactic; one that I'm becoming increasingly fond of. The juxtaposition between cities and landscapes of today, against the backdrop of a yesteryear-come-to-life is something that makes me want to relive that in all of its contemporary and historical glory.

Revolution took me to a world both brutal and beautiful. It's a world where the settings of the story become the catalyst for the modern day heroine's healing.

It's a story of music and its composers (from Bach to Radiohead), and a story of lost kings and street art performers. The novel is imbued with a Paris both alive with promise and rotting with death. It's a time of anarchy and a time of art.

The scents, smells and sounds leapt off of the page, leaving me with a desperate longing to be there.

Yes.

Amidst both the beauty and the tragedy (You can read the rest of my review here).

Doesn't the best kind of novels do that? Make you long to escape the dreary and mundane world we live in? And isn't that why we read? 

Originally sourced from Pinterest
Because we get to live more than one life, while astral projecting many versions of ourselves into different worlds; from contemporary settings (which is the closest to our reality), to the world of make-believe we often encounter in fantasy and science fiction.

Some people say that physical travelling beats escapist reading, but that's because most of the people I've come across who've said that, are people who don't read.

Sure, I can see the merit in physically putting your feet on foreign soil. Basking in all the new sights and sounds, and embracing the wonder of what an exotic culture brings… it's definitely something that I would love to do.

But, since I'm not in the financial position to do so at the moment, I thought I'd focus on the advantages of fictional travel and why there are some things that make this means of travel far better than physical travel.

1. It's cheaper.
  While you obviously still need to pay for books (and I'm talking to those people who support authors and the book industry by buying the books and NOT ILLEGALLY DOWNLOADING THEM - a column which I'll definitely be writing about some time) - in comparison to booking flights, sorting out your visa, paying for accommodation and food - books are the cheapest form of pleasure-travelling you can find. 

2. You can go back anytime you want. Sure it applies both ways, but the one doesn't require that you pay for it a second time.  Sometimes, you don’t even have to pay at all – not when there are so many libraries which you can go to.

3. All the world in one room. Be it your own house filled with an impressive collection of books residing on your shelves, or stepping foot into the library, you have instantaneous access to whichever place you want to be.

And as one advert put it, you really do have the world at your fingertips. 

4. No packing. Unless, you’re unpacking and repacking your bookshelves for the sake of reorganising it. Which, actually, is more therapeutic than trying to ensure that you have everything you need for your trip to Saudi Arabia.

5.  The only dilemmas you have to deal with are the story arcs and your feels about them.
In real life, and in tangible places, you can go through anything from getting sick and losing your ID (oh the horrors of that), to having your luggage stolen and dealing with rude locals who refuse to explain how to get from point A to point B.

I really could go on, but I won’t because I’d rather hear from you.  What’s the last book that had you feeling the same way I did? And what was it about it that made you long to travel to that book world?

Disclaimer:
This column originally appeared as part of Women24’s monthly book club newsletter. Keen to receive this as a monthly newsletter in your own inbox? You can subscribe here.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Author guest post: Why the Disneyfication of fairy tales exist by Eliza Granville

When you think of fairy tales, the first thing that often comes to mind is a story that features a hero or heroine (one who is either brave from the start or starts out as being a hapless soul only to overcome a huge hurdle in life), a hopeless situation, a villain and a happily-ever-after.

While there are certainly bad things that happen in these tales of yonder, the ones we’re often subjected to are the toned-down, Disneyfied versions that have somehow become the face of these stories.

And with good reason because in actuality, the uncensored versions (while still mostly retaining their pleasant endings), are far darker than the saccharinely sweet narratives that are more commonplace today.

In fact, given that themes such as incest, graphic descriptions of violence and sexual undertones have appeared in more than a few of the original versions of the story, parents around the world are probably better off knowing that these tamer versions are at the forefront of children’s literature.

If you’re like me however, and appreciate where the origins of these tales come from, you might be interested in Gretel and the Dark, a recently published book by debut author Eliza Granville.

The novel, which is set in a concentration camp, explores fairy tales as a vehicle and metaphor during a young girl’s struggle for survival.

To give you more of an idea of the concepts explored in the novel, Eliza tells us a little more about how fairy tales have influenced and shaped her story.


Fairy tales in the Holocaust

My novel Gretel and the Dark is set partly in Ravensbrück, a concentration camp which was situated 90km north of Berlin and held mainly female prisoners.

Women and children from twenty-three nationalities were forced to live there, only some of whom were coincidentally Jewish.
 

It was this uniqueness among the camps that prompted me to place my protagonist here, and I did so in the knowledge that minimal recognition is accorded to non-Jewish victims of the Holocaust.

Krysta is the daughter of a murdered German Nazi doctor.

I wanted her to be a truly marginal figure, strange even before her story is told.

Already traumatised by the nature of her double parental loss, she belongs to both worlds, that of the perpetrators and that of the victims … or, perhaps, to neither.
But how to write about a place of such horror?

How to maintain an oppressive and chilling atmosphere without including explicit details of violent acts?


In opting for an oblique method of recounting Krysta’s experiences, through fairytales, nursery rhymes and folk superstitions, I hoped not only to beguile readers – through the implied ‘once upon a time’ and the suspension of disbelief it seems to invite – but also to explore life inside Ravensbrück from a child’s pragmatic viewpoint.

I wanted to avoid dwelling on the hardships endured and refrain from giving descriptions of the extreme violence meted out to prisoners or presenting repellent images unless these were absolutely necessary.

Using some of the more disturbing elements and refrains from  fairy tales, and notably from Grimms’ Kinder-und Hausmärchen (a volume the Nazi party called ‘the most important work among our sacred texts’, and recommended every household should own during the Third Reich) gave me a medium ‘once removed’ through which to convey the atrocities being committed in the camp.

But I also had anxieties about using fairy tales in a narrative centred on a concentration camp, and of particular concern was that it might be seen as trivialising the lives and deaths of those who endured such an experience. 

I was reassured by the works of other authors who have used this medium to illuminate aspects of the dark years of Nazi enchantment.

Foremost among these was Jenny Erpenbeck’s haunting Visitation; part fairy tale, part poetry, part record of superstitious local customs, it is a delicately handled tale of Germany’s serially displaced ghosts told by means of a house and its inhabitants. 

It was, however, The Erl King by Michel Tournier – a dark, twisted fairy story aimed at adults – that provided the most valuable encouragement to me, with its savage incorporation of folklore, myth and legend, chaos and chance, interspersed with fairytale-inspired strokes of good fortune.

Its protagonist, a short-sighted, self-obsessed French giant, becomes a collaborator, enmeshed by the Nazi world of ancient heroes and spurious mystical symbols, one moreover who threatens to out-ogre the ogres before his final act of redemption.

After reading it, I was left with a sense that history, even that of the Holocaust, can never be understood as anything other than a tangle of fairy tales, myth, propaganda, lies – plus the retrospective justifications and wish-fulfilments with which individuals attempt to comfort themselves and with which societies invoke their own national agendas.

My characters Daniel and Krysta never formulate a survival plan while in the camp.

Their determination to stay alive is expressed in their mutual promise not to grieve for their lost loved ones until an indefinite ‘later’, but even more so in their constant retelling of stories, particularly adaptations of Hansel and Gretel, in which they fantasise about gruesome victories over their oppressors.

(For as G. K. Chesterson says in his essay The Red Angel: ‘Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey’.)

The way the children adapt this fairytale as part of their survival strategy shows us something of the malleable nature of the genre, a facet which ensures its survival.

Many of today’s fairy tales are evolved from centuries-old stories that have appeared, with variations, in multiple cultures around the world: they are of the folk hence they must travel with them, acting as a type of social currency.

We know that fairy tales travelled into the concentration camps: Berthe Meijer writes of being told such tales by Anne Frank in Bergen Belsen towards the end of the war. Stories are possessions not easily taken from us.

The tales also travelled out of the camps. Since the end of the war, Holocaust survivors and their descendants – in such anthologies as Nothing Makes You Free – have repeatedly used the framework of traditional fairy tales as a basis for memoirs of their incarceration, casting Nazis as witches, stepmothers and ogres, with survivors as wily heroes.

Thus the metaphors of the fairy tale and the Holocaust blend.

The fairy tale, then, not only speaks of the means of surviving but epitomises survival itself.  And as a form which has overcome countless vicissitudes by constantly reinventing itself, it seemed to me the perfect vehicle for the survival story that is Gretel and the Dark.

About Gretel and the Dark:
Vienna, 1899. Josef Breuer - celebrated psychoanalyst - is about to encounter his strangest case yet. Found by the lunatic asylum, thin, head shaved, she claims to have no name, no feelings - to be, in fact, not even human.

Intrigued, Breuer determines to fathom the roots of her disturbance.

Years later, in Germany, we meet Krysta. Krysta's Papa is busy working in the infirmary with the 'animal people', so little Krysta plays alone, lost in the stories of Hansel and Gretel, the Pied Piper, and more.

And when everything changes and the real world around her becomes as frightening as any fairy tale, Krysta finds that her imagination holds powers beyond what she could have ever guessed...

Add it to your TBR pile here.

Check out the trailer below.


Disclaimer: This post originally appeared on Women24.com,  a South African women's lifestyle website where I manage, amongst other things, an online books section.