Thursday, October 8, 2009

Interview with Editor of New Fairy Tales Magazine, Claire Massey

Today I'm pleased to present an interview with Claire Massey, Editor of the wonderful UK based New Fairy Tales magazine (available online). I mentioned her wonderful blog in an earlier post today HERE and discussed the magazine a while back HERE.

Let's get right to the questions - Claire has lots of interesting things to say about new fairy tales versus old!

FAIRY TALE NEWS HOUND: Hi Claire! Thank you for agreeing to answer a few questions for Once Upon A Blog. Your magazine focuses on new and original fairy tales as opposed to retellings. Can you explain how 'new fairy tales' are different from writing a piece of fantasy?

CLAIRE: For me, part of it is the form, like the traditional tales a new fairy tale is usually written in short story format (although of course there are fairy tale novels and I think it's in those in particular that the lines can become quite blurred between fairy tale and fantasy) and like a traditional tale events usually follow a certain pattern - for example things happening in threes. A new fairy tale will also draw upon the wealth of motifs that we have inherited from both the oral and literary traditions; new fairy tales can’t exist in isolation, they are created in conversation with the tales that have come before.

When writing fantasy you are free to create any kind of world you’d like for your story but following the traditions of the form new fairy tales usually take place in our world (even if it is a ‘once upon a time’ version of it), or in faerie, or at a meeting point between the two. Also, in fantasy that's based in our world characters may express surprise at the fantastical events they become embroiled in but in a fairy tale nobody ever questions the fantastical, anything can happen and nobody bats an eyelid.

FTNH: You obviously love fairy tales of all kinds. What was the inspiration for the magazine/how did its initial creation come about? Why did you decide to focus on original/new fairy tale only?

CLAIRE: I'd been re-reading Andersen's tales and I was inspired to have a go at writing fairy tales. At the time I didn’t really think about the divide between original tales and retellings, as I got more drawn in to the genre I re-read the Grimms, Oscar Wilde and George MacDonald - again not differentiating, I just loved the stories. It was only as I started to do more research and reading that I began to appreciate that there are two distinct types of literary tale. Although I love both I was particularly intrigued by the new tales and a lot of the online and print magazines that existed seemed to focus mainly on retellings so I decided to create an online space for new tales. The name New Fairy Tales seemed like a good choice and I later discovered that this is the same name Andersen used for several of his collections, Nye Eventyr in the Danish.

The Owl Encounter
by Karen Wendy Hurd
(Her work will be featured in the next issue of New Fairy Tales)

FTNH: How is writing a 'new' fairy tale different from writing a retelling? (apart from the lack of story template)

CLAIRE: Apart from the lack of story template I think there's actually a lot of common ground between the two. Whether you're writing a new fairy tale or a retelling you have to start from a love of the old stories, you have to be immersed in the form and motifs and you have to have the desire to create something new; for a retelling this will be a new version- your version of a tale, for a new fairy tale it will come from a different starting point but it will still be influenced by all the other tales you've read.

I suppose one of the main differences I've seen, in terms of what's submitted to the magazine and the retellings I read elsewhere, is that a lot of writers base new fairy tales in the realm of 'once upon a time', whereas writers of retellings often seem to feel freer to use contemporary, or strikingly different settings; they know a reader will recognise the characters and the plot, which they can then follow or subvert, and the story will still be read as a fairy tale. I think new fairy tale writers feel they have to try harder to make something feel like a fairy tale for it to be classed as such and so I get sent a lot of tales which carefully emulate the old tales. I do enjoy these but I would also like to see more new fairy tales in contemporary settings and/or addressing current issues; in the way Andersen used the form to address aspects of 19th Century society; and Kurt Schwitters, the Weimar and Nazi periods in Germany.

FTNH: Hans Christian Andersen is often considered the father of the literary (or original) fairy tale. Who are some of your favorite original FT writers (historical and/or contemporary)?

The Butterfly Woods
by Karen Wendy Hurd
(Her work will be featured in the next issue of New Fairy Tales)

CLAIRE: Along with Andersen, Wilde and MacDonald I love to read A.S. Byatt – her ‘The Story of the Eldest Princess’ from The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye is one of my all time favourites. I’m also a big fan of the work of our (the UK’s) current poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy. Her fairy tale books are marketed as being for children but true to the form they contain some deliciously dark elements and should be equally savoured by adults. I’ve also recently read and enjoyed Jane Yolen’s Tales of Wonder and I’ve got a long list of other books by her I want to read!

FTNH: Regarding 'old' fairy tales (not just the European classic canon but ones from all over the world throughout the ages) - which ones are your favorites and why?

CLAIRE: It’s always so hard to choose, but two of my favourites were collected in England; the first is ‘Mossycoat’, a gypsy tale that contains similarities to ‘Cinderella’ and ‘Catskin’. It was collected in 1915 from a town in Lancashire called Oswaldtwistle, which is near where I grew up. The tale’s written in dialect and it’s got a brilliant energy to it. A girl’s mother spins her a wishing coat from moss and golden thread and she uses it to get to a big house where she goes to work as a servant and keeps getting whacked on the head with a skimmer. I quite like the fact that Mossycoat isn’t a perfect heroine; on her mother’s advice she takes advantage of a hawker’s affections in order to get fine clothes and shoes. The text isn’t available online but it is contained in The Virago Book of Fairy Tales, edited by Angela Carter (Ed. FTNH: This book is titled the 'The Old Wives' Fairy Tale Book' in the US).

I also love ‘The Buried Moon’, which can be found in Joseph Jacobs’ More English Fairy Tales, it’s slightly mythic and it’s packed with beautiful and eerie images - like the moon being buried in the dirt by bogles and other creeping evil things - it’s a great atmospheric read.

In terms of my reading to this point I do feel I have been guilty of concentrating on European tales - I think part of it is feeling overwhelmed - there are so many tales out there to read, where do you start? For me the answer has been to start with the tales that I grew up with and then to work my way outwards, it might be impossible to read them all but I'm hoping to make a good sized dent!

Thank you so much for chatting with the Fairy Tale News Hound today. We 're looking forward to the next issue!

Writing an original fairy tale is a fun challenge. If you're interested in submitting to New Fairy Tales, please check the submission guidelines HERE. Submissions to New Fairy Tales are open to everyone, though you should be aware the standard is high and inclusion is not guaranteed. The deadline for the Winter issue is looming : OCTOBER 20TH!

Please note: New Fairy Tales is a supporter of Derian House Children's Hospice a center for the care and support of children with life threatening diseases and terminal illnesses and encourage you to show your support for the magazine by sending donations to them. You can read more about the hospice HERE.

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