Author guest post: Into The Dark; or Retellings for Children and Grown-Ups by Cat Hellisen + win a copy of Beastkeeper (Open internationally)

Today I’m thrilled to have the lovely Cat Hellisen on my blog today. Cat, whose book Beastkeeper, a middle-grade retelling of Beauty and the Beast, is officially out in the wild today (yay! Happy book birthday Cat), has kindly taken the time to write a guest post about one of my favourite topics of all time.

Fairy tales and retellings.

Because who doesn’t love a new twist on a good ol’ timeless tale that spans over and beyond centuries upon centuries?

And with Cat’s book taking a whole new approach to Beauty and the Beast, well, I thought it would be the perfect way to celebrate her book’s release by featuring a post written by her on her love of fairy tales and how Beastkeeper eventually took shape.

Before I hand over to Cat though, here’s some info about her fabulous new book (which I’ll be reviewing soon) 

About Beastkeeper
Sarah has always been on the move. Her mother hates the cold, so every few months her parents pack their bags and drag her off after the sun.

She’s grown up lonely and longing for magic. She doesn’t know that it’s magic her parents are running from.

When Sarah’s mother walks out on their family, all the strange old magic they have tried to hide from comes rising into their mundane world.

Her father begins to change into something wild and beastly, but before his transformation is complete, he takes Sarah to her grandparents—people she has never met, didn’t even know were still alive.

Deep in the forest, in a crumbling ruin of a castle, Sarah begins to untangle the layers of curses affecting her family bloodlines, until she discovers that the curse has carried over to her, too.

The day she falls in love for the first time, Sarah will transform into a beast . . . unless she can figure out a way to break the curse forever..

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Over to Cat
Into The Dark; or Retellings for Children and Grown-Ups
As a child I was spoonfed stories and poems with my porridge. I drank in wonder with my morning glass of milk.

My family owned a fat book of nursery rhymes with annotations on meaning and origins, and a delightful collection of illustrated Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tales.

These books, with their bright words and eerie colour plates, were the diet I grew strange on. Naturally when I turned to writing, they curled through my own work; their tendrils drew my words together.

Even (especially?) as an adult, I've not left fairy tales behind.

A few years ago I took part in an online course (I'm a big fan of always learning, this is the one - and it was interesting to look back on the seemingly simplistic fairy tales collected by the Grimm brothers, and see just how dark and adult the imagery actually is.

Children can take a lot more darkness than we give them credit for. They are not simpletons with no understanding of the complexity of human relationships; they pick up on subtleties that adults assume they miss.

But at the same time, a child is not a mini-adult. They have their own, far stranger, take on day-today life. Their heads are still free, magic is still real. Neil Gaiman knows this – just read Coraline or The Graveyard Book.

My favourite retold stories draw on all that half-remembered darkness of childhood fairy tales.

Even at the heart of some least-likely candidates, the children's stories are waiting for us (read Clive Barker's Weaveworld as an example of what a fantastical horror writer for adults does with those fragments of buried tales and myths).

Retellings can also take a well-known classic and shine away the patina of stale repetition, and give us something new.

An excellent place to look for retellings of your favourite tales is SurlaLune (beware, this site is dangerous, you may end up never leaving).

Have a look for the tale that interests you, and find modern interpretations – here's an example using the Wild Swans, a story that horrifies and fascinates me in equal measure –

Some feel like palimpsests, where only faintly under the new story can you see the traceries of the old, while others are more rigid in their interpretation.

When I set out to write Beastkeeper (A Beauty and the Beast, but only if you squint), I had no particular reader age in mind. I wrote a book I wanted to read. In my head, it was something of a meeting between Angela Carter and Diana Wynne Jones (both authors I really recommend you look into if you haven't already, as they are fantastic).

I began with an image of a 12-year-old girl watching her family fall apart, wanting so badly for there to be a spell, a miracle that could take her out of the reality....and then I gave her magic.

Not in the way she wanted it. I gave her wicked grandparents, parents who were beasts, curses that were driven by love and jealousy. I took a lonely girl and made her lonelier, and I watched to see what she would do.

However the tales are retold, we return to them because they are the secret dreams of where we began, ripe with poisoned apples, healing kisses, beastly humans and human beasts.

Through them we remember magic.

About Cat:
Cat Hellisen is an author of fantasy for adults and young adults. Born in 1977 in Cape Town, South Africa, she has also lived in Johannesburg, Knysna, and Nottingham.

She originally studied graphic design at Technikon Witwatersrand, before realising that she had no interest at all in the world of advertising.

She began writing seriously at age twenty-five but it was not until 2010 that she sold her first full-length novel, When the Sea is Rising Red.

Her children’s book Beastkeeper, a play on the old tale of Beauty and the Beast, is out now!

Where to find Cat online:

And now, time for a giveaway.

I’m offering one lucky reader a chance to win a copy of Beastkeeper. The giveaway is open internationally, but please do make sure that the Book Depository ships to your country, as that is where I’ll be ordering the book from.

All you need to do is leave a comment telling me what your favourite fairy tale of all time is, and why you love that specific tale so much.

Bonus entry if you also recommend some great retellings you’ve read.

Giveaway closes on 18 February.


Sohail Ahmed said…
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