Adult Fairy Tales

Although I write fairy tale retellings for Young Adult, lately I’ve been drawn more to fairy tales for adults. My favourite author in this genre is and, I suppose, always will be the brilliant Angela Carter.

I had a nosey around and came up with a list that’s grabbed my attention; I want to read them all now. Unfortunately, being in the UK, the network of libraries in my town, although good, don’t have many of these even though they aren’t new releases. I’m going to have be very patient as funds aren’t going to stretch to getting these many books in quick succession.

Here they are, in no particular order:

‘A Wild Swan and other Tales’ by Michael Cunningham

A Wild Swan and Other Tales’ by Michael Cunningham and illustrated by Yuko Shimizu, these are a collection of tales to do with “the moments – dark, perverse and true – that our fairy tales forgot”.

‘The Mermaid’ by Christina Henry

The Mermaid’ by Christina Henry is based on PT Barnum’s ‘Feejee mermaid’ hoax but, here, an actual mermaid agrees to join his show.

‘Some Kind of Fairy Tale’ by Graham Joyce

Some Kind of Fairy Tale’ by Graham Joyce. A contemporary tale, it’s about a young girl returning to her family home after disappearing into the woods 20 years previous. Although full of happy stories, she hasn’t aged a day. Her parents are thrilled to have her back, having thought her dead, but her brother can’t help worrying there’s more to her story than she’s letting on.

‘Tinder’ by Sally Gardner

Tinder’ by Sally Gardner. I have not, personally, come across a retelling of ‘The Tinderbox’. The part I enjoyed most about the original fairy tale was the 3 dogs that could be summoned. This retelling sounds quite dark and the cover is suitably creepy. According to Mal Peet’s review, Gardner “has noted and exploited, ingeniously and powerfully, the connection between The Tinderbox and the story of Prometheus, and this mythic underpinning gives her pell-mell fantasy both coherence and a satisfying richness.

‘Unbury Carol’ by Josh Malerman

Unbury Carol’ by Josh Malerman. This one, I am really looking forward to reading. A loose retelling of ‘Sleeping Beauty’ set in the Wild West. The Carol of the title has a bizarre condition – she lapses into a near-death coma-like state in times of stress. She appears dead, but she isn’t. Only 2 people know of her condition – her husband, who decides its time to let people believe Carol is dead when she’s not so he can have her inheritance, and her outlaw ex-lover who’s in a race against time to save her being buried alive.

‘The True Story of Hansel and Gretel’ by Louise Murphy

The True Story of Hansel and Gretel’ by Louise Murphy. Another retelling which sounds brilliant yet haunting. Set during the final months of the Nazi occupation of Poland, 2 children are left in the relative safety of the woods by their parents fleeing the Nazis. Renamed ‘Hansel’ and ‘Gretel’ as their true names would reveal their Jewishness, they wander the woods until they’re taken in by an old woman, Magda, who the nearby villagers call a ‘witch’. Despite the dangers, she’s determined to keep the children safe.

‘The Snow Child’ by Eowyn Ivey

The Snow Child’ by Eowyn Ivey. I’ve wanted to read this one for ages. Inspired by the Russian folk tale, ‘The Snow Maiden’, the setting is Alaska in the 1920s. A couple, wanting a fresh start in a remote homestead, still yearn for the child they lost years before. They build a snow child one evening, but in the morning, find their creation has gone. They then catch a glimpse of a young girl in the forest, accompanied by a fox. Is she the answer to their prayers or something more?

Have you read any of these? If you have, please share your thoughts, spoiler-free, of course 😊 Are there any others you’d recommend? 

Awe-Inspiring Libraries

I’m going to indulge my love of books and the places you can find them.

I love going to the library though with the busyness of life and the boys being older, I don’t go as often as I used to.

I admit to not paying much attention to a library building or the interior when I visit one, but when libraries look like this, it’s probably fair to say that the books don’t get immediate attention.

The Library of Trinity College in Dublin, the largest library in Ireland, which houses the Book of Kells.

Library of Trinity College, Dublin
Book of Kells, text that opens Gospel of John

Book of Kells, text that opens Gospel of John

Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library is one of the largest buildings in the world dedicated solely to rare books and manuscripts.

Yale University Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library (photo credit: Lauren Manning)

Yale University Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library (photo credit: Lauren Manning)

The description for this Image of the Mezzanine level – ‘to emphasise the beauty of these rare books, they were set up to be the centrepiece of the building. All the books were placed around the core like a large display case. The exterior skin is composed of thin marble panels that allow light to show through but not damage the books’ (curved lines are caused by the wide-angle lens used to take the panoramic photo)

The history of Prague’s Clementinum National Library dates from the existence of an 11th century chapel dedicated to Saint Clement. The library was founded in 1781 and has been the National Library since 1990.

Clementinum National Library, Baroque Library hall (photo credit: Bruno Delzant)

Clementinum National Library, Baroque Library hall (photo credit: Bruno Delzant)

The George Peabody Library in Baltimore is the research library of The Johns Hopkins University. George Peabody was a merchant-banker-financier-philanthropist who wanted to create a library “for the free use of all persons who desire to consult it”.

George Peabody Library (photo credit: Matthew Petroff)

George Peabody Library (photo credit: Matthew Petroff)

Austria’s National Library, founded by the Habsburgs, has its origins in the imperial library of the Middle Ages.

Austrian National Library, State Hall (photo credit: Richard Hopkins)

Austrian National Library, State Hall (photo credit: Richard Hopkins)

Another library in Prague, the Strahov Monastery Library. In 1670, the philosopher and theologian, Jeronym Hirnheim, became the abbot of Strahov. He was responsible for the building of the new library in the Theological Hall, which was completed in 1679.

Strahov Theological Hall, original baroque cabinets (photo credit: Jorge Royan) The paintings are from the 1720s

Strahov Theological Hall, original baroque cabinets (photo credit: Jorge Royan) The paintings are from the 1720s

The Library of El Escorial in Madrid, a historical royal residence, has, over the years, functioned as a monastery, basilica, royal palace, pantheon, library, museum, university and hospital. The library’s collection includes important illuminated manuscripts like the Golden Gospels of Henry III, which is an 11th century illuminated Gospel Book, probably produced under the patronage of Henry III, Holy Roman Emperor. The collection is located in a great hall with marble floors and carved wood shelves. The ceiling is decorated with frescoes depicting the seven liberal arts of Rhetoric, Dialectic, Music, Grammar, Arithmetic, Geometry and Astronomy; liberal arts being the subjects that were considered essential in classical antiquity.

El Escorial (photo credit: 'Xauxa' Hakan Svensson)

El Escorial (photo credit: 'Xauxa' Hakan Svensson)

The Benedictine monastery of Admont is the oldest remaining monastery in Styria, in southeast Austria. Known for its Baroque architecture, art and manuscripts, Admont Abbey houses the largest monastic library in the world. The ceiling consists of seven cupolas, decorated with frescoes showing the stages of human knowledge culminating in Divine Revelation.

Admont Abbey Library (photo credit: Jorge Royan)

Admont Abbey Library (photo credit: Jorge Royan)

The National Library of France – Bibliotheque Nationale de France – has its origins in the royal library founded by Charles V at the Louvre Palace in 1368. It’s the national repository of everything published in France as well as extensive historical collections.

National Library of France (photo credit: Vincent Desjardins)

National Library of France (photo credit: Vincent Desjardins)

The Abbey Library of St. Gallen in Switzerland was founded by Saint Othmar, who’d founded the Abbey of St. Gall in the 8th century. The abbey was destroyed in a fire in 937, but the library remained intact. The library hall was constructed between 1758 and 1767. One of the earliest and most important monastic libraries in the world, the library collection is the oldest in Switzerland.

Abbey Library of St Gallen (photo credit: Stibiwiki, Wikipedia user)

Abbey Library of St Gallen (photo credit: Stibiwiki, Wikipedia user)

Canada’s Library of Parliament is the main source of information and research for the Parliament of Canada.

Canada's Library of Parliament (photo credit: Wladyslaw, Wikipedia user)

Canada's Library of Parliament (photo credit: Wladyslaw, Wikipedia user)

Canada's Library of Parliament, main reading room (photo credit: DavidWEnstrom, Wikipedia user)

Canada's Library of Parliament, main reading room (photo credit: DavidWEnstrom, Wikipedia user)

Favourites on Friday - John Steinbeck, Favourite American Author

I first heard of John Steinbeck, way back when, after I watched the film, ‘Grapes of Wrath’.  At the time, I hadn’t realised that it was based on a book; my main reason for watching it – Henry Fonda.  And it was years later before I finally picked up the book, and thought, Wow!  What a writer.  That book was swiftly followed by ‘Cannery Row’, ‘The Pearl’, ‘Sweet Thursday’, ‘The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights’ … and a few years after that, ‘Of Mice and Men’ – again, saw the film first, then read the book.  I know I’ve barely made a dent in the Steinbeck library, but of the ones I’ve read, these are the ones I particularly like, and which I own.

John Steinbeck was born on 2h February 1902 in Salinas, California, which at the time was a prosperous farming community, and also the county seat.  The geography of the place featured time and again in most of his novels, and was mirrored in his characters’ deep connection with the land.

John Steinbeck's house still stands in Salinas today where it is a restaurant and historic house museum (photo by Naotake Murayama)

From a young age, Steinbeck was already drawn to writing.  In high school, apart from writing for the school newsletter, he also wrote “little stories and little pieces”, sending them to magazines.  But, scared that they would be rejected, he would always use a false name and not include a return address.

In 1919, he enrolled at Stanford University where he majored in English, but left in 1925 without receiving a degree.  In 1923, he enrolled in a biology course at the Hopkins Marine Station, which was part of the university.  While there, the ideas of the eminent American biologist, William Emerson Ritter, struck a chord with him, and he began to develop a genuine interest in science.  The ideas of group behaviour and the ability to survive surfaced in several of his stories.

After leaving Stanford, Steinbeck started working but continued to write.  After an unsuccessful stint trying to earn a living purely through writing in New York, he returned to California where he finished his first novel, ‘Cup of Gold’, published in 1929.  It proved to be commercially unsuccessful.

Working in a fish hatchery in Tahoe City, California, Steinbeck met Carol Henning; they got married in January 1930.  They moved into a cottage owned by Steinbeck’s father near Monterey.  Steinbeck wrote: “Financially we were in a mess, but ‘spiritually’ we ride the clouds … Nothing matters.

Carol and John

Despite the disappointment of his first novel, Steinbeck continued to write, almost obsessively.  In a letter to a friend, he wrote, “ We take our efforts to write with great seriousness, hammering away for two years on a novel … We have taken the ordinary number of beatings and I don’t think there is much strength in either of us, and still we go on butting our heads against the English Novel and nursing our bruises as though they were wounds of honorable war.”  The novel mentioned in this letter is ‘To A God Unknown’, which was published in 1933.

The publication of, first, ‘Pastures of Heaven’, a collection of short stories, and then ‘To A God Unknown’, marked the start of Steinbeck’s writing career.  These and the Red Pony stories showed, without a doubt, his burgeoning ability in portraying his birthplace.  1935 saw the publication of his first critical and commercial success, ‘Tortilla Flat’, about the adventures of a group of friends. 

His next set of books – ‘In Dubious Battle’, ‘Of Mice and Men’, and ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ – dealt with issues like the growing number of migrant workers in California, and the rights of the labourers.  ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ was based on observations Steinbeck himself made on the lives of migrant agricultural workers and their families.  What he’d seen did not sit well with him … “There are about five thousand families starving to death … The states and counties will give them nothing because they are outsiders.  But the crops of any part of this state could not be harvested without these outsiders.  I’m pretty mad about it … Funny how mean and little books become in the face of such tragedies.

Even though ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ was listed as the best-selling book of 1939 by the New York Times, and won, both, The National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, it turned out to be Steinbeck’s most controversial novel yet.  Even in his home area, there were those who responded angrily to his sympathy for the migrant worker.  The book was banned from the schools and libraries of Kern County in 1939 up till 1941.

It’s not known for sure whether Steinbeck retreated because of this backlash and also his growing fame, but he left on a voyage to the Gulf of California with his friend, Ed Ricketts, to collect marine specimens.  Ricketts made a living collecting marine specimens and selling them through his laboratory.  He and Steinbeck remained close friends until Ricketts’ death in 1948. 

Ed Ricketts

The Steinbecks’ marriage had been floundering for a while, and in 1942, Carol and John divorced.  A year later, Steinbeck married Gwyndolyn ‘Gwyn’ Conger; they had two children, Thomas and John Jr.

Gwyn and John on their wedding day

Soon afterwards, Steinbeck was hired by the New York Herald Tribune to report on the war in Europe.  He was sent, first to England, then North Africa, and then Italy.  His war correspondence was later edited and published as ‘Once There Was a War’. 

Steinbeck’s next book, ‘Cannery Row’, was published in 1945, the year after the Steinbecks’ first son was born.  In ‘Cannery Row’, Steinbeck returned to Monterey, breathing life into the characters who lived and worked on Ocean View Avenue.  The novel rose above its initial unpopularity amongst the residents of Monterey and became famous enough that Ocean View Avenue was renamed Cannery Row in 1958.

Even after moving to New York, Steinbeck and Ed Ricketts remained close friends.  When Ricketts was hit by a train while driving his car across the tracks in Monterey, Steinbeck rushed back to California, but was too late.  Ricketts clung to life for three days before succumbing to his injuries; he died in May 1948.  Steinbeck was devastated; not only had they been close friends, the two men had also shared a close working relationship. “…I grew to depend on his knowledge and on his patience in research … And then I went away to another part of the country but it didn’t make any difference.  Once a week or once a month would come a fine long letter so much in the style of his speech that I could hear his voice over the neat page of small elite type … It wasn’t Ed who died but a large and important part of oneself.

Returning to New York after Ricketts’s funeral, Steinbeck was dealt another blow – Gwyn wanted a divorce.  That plus the shock of losing Ricketts plunged Steinbeck into a long depression.  Returning to the cabin in Pacific Grove, he buried himself in his work.

In 1949, Steinbeck was introduced to Elaine Scott; they married in December 1950, and moved to New York, where they would live for the next 13 years.

Elaine and John

In 1951, Steinbeck began to work on the novel he had been planning for years, his “big work” – ‘East of Eden’.  In the diary he wrote alongside the novel (which was later published as ‘Journal of a Novel: The East of Eden Letters’), he explained: “I am choosing to write this book to my sons.  They are little boys now and they will never know what they came from through me, unless I tell them … I want them to know how it was, I want to tell them directly, and perhaps by speaking directly to them I shall speak directly to other people … And so I will tell them one of the greatest, perhaps the greatest story of all – the story of good and evil, of strength and weakness, of love and hate, of beauty and ugliness … I shall tell them this story against the background of the county I grew up in.

‘East of Eden’ is set in the Salinas Valley, and is roughly based on Steinbeck’s own family history, specifically his maternal ancestors, the Hamiltons, who had settled in California.  It took him nearly a year to complete, and was published in 1952.

After this ‘big work’, Steinbeck was finally able to concentrate on one of his life-long ambitions – writing a translation of Thomas Malory’s ‘Le Morte D’Arthur’ for modern readers.  To this end, he and Elaine spent ten months in Somerset, in England, gathering material and working.  He continued his research well into the next decade; sadly the book remained incomplete.

In 1960, Steinbeck decided to travel across America in his camper van, with his standard poodle, Charley, for company.  His aim was to remain anonymous, and meet as many people as he could in truck stops, bars and diners.  The resulting book, ‘Travels with Charley’, was published in 1962.  In it he wrote that the journey was born of his realisation that he no longer knew his own country – “I, an American writer, writing about America, was working from memory, and the memory at best is a faulty, warpy reservoir.  I had not heard the speech of America, smelled the grass and trees and sewage, seen its hills and water, its color and quality of light.  I knew the changes only from books and newspapers.  But more than this, I had not felt the country for twenty-five years.

In 1962, Steinbeck was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature for his “realistic and imaginative writing, combining as it does sympathetic humour and social perception …” ~ Anders Osterling, Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy.

In 1964, President Lyndon B Johnson, with whom Steinbeck was personally acquainted, awarded the writer the Presidential Medal of Freedom. 

Despite his failing health, Steinbeck travelled to Vietnam for Newsday in 1967 to report on the Vietnam War.  He was uncharacteristically supportive of the conflict; this could have been because both his sons were serving in the war.

Suffering a series of, what appeared to be, mini-strokes, Steinbeck died on 2h December 1968 at his home in New York City, aged only sixty-six.

I admire Steinbeck’s talent for capturing people; in a few words, he can convey the essence of the person.  I find his style easy, in that it’s easy to read, not that it’s lazily written – for me, reading a Steinbeck novel is like having it read to me.  The characters speak ‘out loud’, they come alive on the page.  And that’s what I try and strive for in my writing, well-drawn characters who speak like you would expect real people to speak.  

Favourites on Friday - Book covers

I am fond of my books; there are some whose covers I don't really pay much attention to, and there are others that I adore.  Strangely, none of my 'horse' books make this list because the pictures I really love are on the inside!

This is from a series by Time-Life Books, 'The Old West'.  When I was looking for the complete set some years back, this was the only one I could find on ebay. These days, its not only possible to get the complete set on ebay (bit pricey), its also available in Amazon's marketplace ... tempting ... The cover isn't leather but does feel like it, and I like the embossed design.

To date, this is my favourite Marcus Sedgwick book.  I not only like the cover, I also think the title is brilliant.

One of my all-time favourite reads.  This Penguin edition was published in 1979, and I have yet to come across a better cover for this title.

This is Spenser's 'Faerie Queene', which I readily admit to not having read.  We used to have a fantastic secondhand bookshop in the area, which used to be a church.  It was filled, wall to wall, top to bottom with all manner of books.  I'd spend hours in there, and, over the years, found a few gems.  I bought this in 1987, not only for the beautiful, tactile cover, but also because it was printed in 1859, which makes it the oldest book I own.

Don't think this needs much explanation ... and the stories are great too.

This is an edition by The Nature Company, don't know if they're still in business ... gorgeous pictures and interesting text.