I can’t remember the very first story I ever read or that was read to me. But I’m 99.9% sure it was a fairy tale.
I remember various collections of Grimm fairy tales and those of Hans Christian Andersen on bookshelves at home.
The author who featured greatly in my growing-up years was Enid Blyton. Whatever the controversy surrounding her actual life, as a child, all I cared about was the fun stories she told. My favourite has to be ‘The Enchanted Wood’ series. Climbing to the very top of the Faraway Tree always revealed a new land to be discovered, but I especially liked the folk who inhabited the tree.
I’m pretty sure I read most, if not all, the books in the ‘Famous Five’ series. And the books set in the boarding school, ‘Malory Towers’, made me yearn to go to boarding school, which seemed to be more about having adventures than actual studying!
Apart from Western fairy tales and stories, I also read comic-book versions of Hindu mythological tales. I’d amassed a hefty collection of comic books, all to do with my favourite deities and tales, which I’d brought with me to England when I came here to study. I made the mistake of lending them to a friend over the summer holidays one year back in the 1980s, and never saw her or my comics again. By then, the comics weren’t that easy to find, and I’ve never been able to rebuild that collection. That’s one of the reasons I’m so fussy about who I lend my favourite books to now.
So, moving past my Enid Blyton years, I gravitated towards books in the Fantasy genre. It seemed a natural progression from fairy tales.
Also, my imaginary playtime growing up (and beyond) has always included some fantastical element even if it was set in the real world.
When I started to toy with the idea of writing my own story, it was purely as a way to alleviate the mind-numbing boredom of being stuck behind the till in a quiet part of the shop I was working in at the time. Honestly, sometimes more than an hour would pass before I’d see a customer wander past.
Another reason I started to write was I wanted to read a story that either finished in one book or was no longer than a trilogy. Back then, any fantasy book I picked up was at least a trilogy, each book the size of a weighty doorstop, or longer. So, I thought I’d write the story I wanted to read.
I don’t remember making a conscious decision about writing fantasy, but that’s the story that started to take shape.
Thinking back on the early versions of what would eventually become ‘The Cursed Gift’, I cringe. It was so unbelievably bad, full of cliché and embarrassingly turgid. It morphed into a trilogy with a plot that resembled a tentacled monster. Basically, I’d thrown in all my favourite ideas, but failed to cohesively bind them together.
At the time, I didn’t think I had another story in me, so kept going back to it. I lost count of the number of drafts I wrote and rewrote. The first version was written in 1990 and I eventually self-published the first edition in 2006; my main reason for doing so – to show my mum before she passed.
I was proud of that version. Until I re-read it sometime later after I’d gained more writing knowledge. Oh, my gawd!! I was horrified. I wanted nothing more than to pull the book from Amazon, but it couldn’t be done.
By this time, I was working on my next story. What a delight, to realise I had another story in me! But I kept revisiting ‘The Cursed Gift’, I couldn’t help myself. Anyway, long story short – pardon the pun – I rewrote it, tightened it up, jettisoned as much cliché as possible and republished the second edition with a better cover. Overall, it was now something I was happy and satisfied with.
My second book, ‘The Moon Goddess’, is another fantasy story. I was thinking of making it into a series but couldn’t think where to take it so left it as a standalone. Having said that, since then, I’ve come up with some story ideas involving a couple of the characters, so may yet make it into a series. But I want each book to be a stand-alone.
Well, that was a bit of a digress! Back to the topic…
As I wondered what to write next, I turned to fairy tales. Certain aspects of certain fairy tales had always left me thinking – Sleeping Beauty being awakened by ‘true love’s kiss’ and then happily marrying the prince even though he was a complete stranger; why the giant was punished in ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ when all he was doing was protecting his property from the thief, Jack…
By now, I’d realised there was such a thing as ‘fairy tale retelling’. So, I thought I’d explore those things that bothered me, and tackled the Sleeping Beauty story first, which became my third book, ‘The Spellbound Spindle’.
The book I’m working on now, ‘The Raven and Other Tales’, is a collection of fairy tale/folk tale retellings and a couple of original tales, still with a fantastical bent.
The stories that I have waiting to be written are either fantasy or fairy tale retellings. I find them ‘easy’ to write, they seem to flow naturally once I come up with ideas/plot details.
Having said that, I’d like to try my hand at historical fiction as I love history. Every time I read a historical fiction novel, I’m itching to write something based on history.
So, why haven’t I? Well, first, I’d probably get so lost in the research, they’ll have to send an expedition to retrieve me.
But it’s the second point, which stops me every time. In historical fiction, at some point, the fictional characters are going to interact with actual people who lived back in the day. Or, the characters around which the story revolves could, themselves, be based on actual people. And therein lies my problem. To imagine or reimagine actual people’s lives scares me as I worry if I’ll do them justice. I guess I don’t have the confidence to believe I’m skilled enough to do it well.
Never say never, as they say; who knows what might transpire in the future? For now, though, I’ll carry on with fantasy/fairy tale retellings as I have enough stories waiting to be written.