I am super excited this morning to join Suzannah Rowntree in announcing the release of The Rakshasa's Bride in illustrated paperback! This beautiful retelling of The Beauty and the Beast, which I personally loved, can now come to your personal bookshelf!
so cool i can't even
In celebration of this special occasion, Suzannah is joining me for a wee interview. So pull up a cup of hot cider and some nice doughnuts, and join us for a cozy chat. (Plus, keep reading to the bottom all the way until the giveaway!)
1. The Rakshasa's Bride is a fairy tale retelling. What are your favorite fairy tales, and what attracts you to this genre as a writer?
I grew up on Grimm's Fairytales and also devoured others wherever I found them, so I have a lot of favourites. The Rakshasa's Bride retells Beauty and the Beast, which is obviously a favourite with everyone, including me! Jorinda and Joringel, which I retold in The Bells of Paradise, was deeply comforting to me as a child because of how the power of the witch is so completely overthrown. I always felt a deep kinship with Rapunzel because of the length of my hair, though I've recently had to cut it. The Black Bull of Norroway, with its repeated motifs, is my favourite for telling aloud to children. But my most favourite, for several years now, has been King Thrushbeard.
When I first penned The Rakshasa's Bride I didn't intend a whole series of fairytale retellings. But fairytales are very powerful--sometimes the simplest stories are the rawest, the most compelling. We get lost in the princessy trappings, and forget the underlying meanings that praise humility, diligence, and faithfulness. It's these deep themes, and the raw power of the storytelling, that attract me to fairytales. I don't yet feel completely confident in my own power to invent such tales from scratch--though I am becoming more confident as time goes on--and working on an already-established pattern gives me a creative sandbox to experiement within.
It also gives me an overarching theme within which to experiment with homages to multiple different genres! The Rakshasa's Bride, for instance, is a bit of a homage to what I like best about *ahem* Bollywood movies...
2. Is there a power in fairy tales that other stories can't quite match? What are their unique strengths for conveying a message?
Referring back to my previous answer, yes, I think so! Fairytales are stories that work without a really strong sense of setting or characterisation. They have to rely on raw plot, on situations that everyone can sympathise with. They tend to be deeply mythic, in some ways almost (but not quite) allegorical. In stories like this, it's the plot itself, more than the characterisation, that provides an explanation of the human condition and the divine rescue. Now, fairytales aren't the only stories that work like that - The Lord of the Rings and Star Wars are just two recent examples of mythic stories that have this raw, simple plot power. But myth seems to go closer to the bone than any other kind of storytellings.
As a result, fairytales provide an explanation for how the world works. They lay down certain incontrovertible laws that often echo heavily off Biblical themes - from "He has exalted the humble" to "The elder shall serve the younger". There's a magnificent chapter in GK Chesterton's book Orthodoxy, "The Ethics of Elfland", that explains how reading fairytales as a young man paved the way for his surrender to Christ, by instilling in him an idea of both the fundamental lawfulness, and the fundamental wonder, of the created cosmos. This is not allegory, though it's a close cousin. It's more like catechesis; it makes more definite claims about the way the world actually is.
3. Who's your favorite fairy tale hero?
Well, fairytales tend to be pretty light on characterisation, but I have two favourites from two obscure Grimm's fairytales. There's John from Faithful John, who risks everything to save his master's life. On the more humorous end of the scale, there's the absurd Kate from Frederick and Catherine, who is gloriously dim (we're talking Amelia Bedelia levels of dimness) but endlessly well-meaning, and who winds up saving the day in the end, anyway!
4. Do you love any movie adaptations of fairy tales? Which ones?
Kenneth Branagh's Cinderella, seriously. While the CGI bluebirds and the declarations of faith in fairies are about as much as I can stand, I was deeply impressed to see the original fairytale's essential meaning come through with such shining power. Branagh's Cinderella is a paean to idealism, humility, kindness, bravery, and forgiveness, of a kind that I never expected to see adorning the film screen. For someone who isn't apparently a Christian, Branagh's made some of the most Christian movies of recent years--I suspect his long apprenticeship to Shakespeare may have something to do with it.
I'm not big into the Disney animated canon, and I detested Ever After as passionately as I loved Cinderella, so I think that's my sole recommendation!
5. What's your favorite way to celebrate the completion of a writing project? Chocolate? A fun day? A shopping spree?
Well, my idea of a really good time usually involves silence, solitude, and a really good book, so that's what my celebrations usually look like! Otherwise, I might relax with a favourite movie, or buy a long-awaited book or some listening music. Champagne is also very festive. ;) When I finished the first draft of OUTREMER, my major historical project, I treated myself to a leisurely shopping day with my sisters - sorting through books at a book fair, sniffing and sipping in the tea shop, looking through silk skirts and silver jewellery at the Indian importers.
All of which is fun, but sometimes the most exciting thing is simply getting to move on to the next project!
6. If you could have one iconic item to own from literature, what would it be? (Cinderella's glass slipper, Aragorn's sword, etc.)
Ooh. Oh, let's say Queen Lucy's healing cordial. That's something that would definitely come in handy, plus who else can say they have the juice of the fire-flowers that grow on the Sun?
7. What are your favorite things to do to restore your creativity?
I find all I need is some time away from the writing. It can be as little as a half-hour afternoon walk, or as much as a month juggling toddlers at a friend's place, but stepping away from a deadlock for a while has always been enough to get the creative juices flowing again.
8. Which fictional land would be your favorite place to take a vacation?
I've always wanted to go to Narnia. I still want to go to Narnia, though I suppose it's a bit late for it now; they might not let me in. (Not my fault; I used to sit in my wardrobe waiting to be let through!) In that case, I'll take a holiday in a treehouse in Lorien, definitely.
9. Tell us one little known fact about you.
I am such a tea snob. Loose-leaf, without milk or sugar (unless you've got a good masala chai), is the best way to have it - teabag tea is prone to be bitter, taste faintly of teabag, and not lend itself to reinfusion. Gunpowder green and oolong are particularly good, but Russian Caravan, smoky and smooth, is romance in a mug - one sip and you're making the long trek by camel from China, bearing tea to the aristocrats of St Petersburg. Mmm.
10. Any hints as to your next fairy tale project?
I have a couple of projects in various stages! Nearing completion, there's Death Be Not Proud, a retelling of one of the well-known Grimm tales, set in Jazz Age New Zealand, in the style of a Mary Stewart romantic suspense thriller. Look for that to be published pretty soon! I also have plans to release my other fairytale retellings, The Prince of Fishes and The Bells of Paradise, in paperback at some stage.
I also have a host of little fairytale plot bunnies hopping around in the back of my mind. This week I actually sat down and started to rough out the plot of the next one. I'm keeping this one pretty quiet at the moment, but suffice it to say that it will be a particularly outrageously fun story, and will feature a scene in which a character orders tea in epic detail. *nods*
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