“Where there is no imagination, there is no horror.”
― Arthur Conan Doyle
Halloween is almost here, and the creeping shadows and chilly mists of autumn create the perfect backdrop if you’re in the mood to read a few scary stories. There is something magical about October in the fiery colours of the leaves and the golden sunshine that hasn’t quite lost the warmth of summer. But there’s also a sense of foreboding. Very soon, the leaves are going to fall. The days will become shorter. And anything that might be hiding in the darkness will have a lot more freedom.
Today’s blog post is the latest in my Five Fairy Tales series. Two years ago, I chose Beauty and the Beast. Last year, it was Rapunzel. This year, each of the five retellings is different, and because it’s Halloween, they’re all on the darker side.
I think it’s fair to say that most traditional fairy tales started out a little dark. Here are a few examples from the original versions…
It isn’t Snow White’s stepmother but her biological mother who becomes jealous of her daughter’s beauty. When the huntsman returns from the forest carrying what is supposed to be Snow White’s heart, her mother actually goes right ahead and eats it. And when Snow White marries the prince, he forces her mother to dance herself to death in red-hot slippers in front of all of the guests. Not the wedding entertainment you might expect from a fairy tale!
The story of Sleeping Beauty doesn’t end when she wakes up. She goes on to have two children with the prince, and it turns out that the prince’s mother isn’t happy about her new grandchildren. At all. She waits until the prince is away, then she orders her cook to kill the children and serve them for dinner. In an alternate version, the prince is already married, and it’s the prince’s wife who orders the cook to serve the children for dinner… to the prince. Fortunately, in both cases, the children are saved, and the guilty parties are punished. The wife is burned alive, while the mother-in-law is eaten by a barrelful of vipers.
And finally, Cinderella’s stepmother isn’t the only parental figure to mistreat her. Cinderella’s father is alive and well throughout the original version, and he actively helps the stepmother in her evil schemes. Later in the story, when the prince is searching for the owner of the slipper, the stepsisters go to extraordinary lengths to make their feet fit. One cuts off her toes and the other her heel. They are found out when their blood soaks through the slipper. And at the end, the stepsisters have their eyes plucked out by a couple of Cinderella’s vengeful white doves.
I frighten pretty easily, and my imagination needs no encouragement to run away with itself. Full-on gory horror isn’t my thing, but at this time of year, I enjoy reading something a bit scarier. As long as the lights are on and I’m not alone in the house of course!
Here are my Five Scary Fairy Tales accompanied by some short extracts. Does Halloween influence your reading choices? What’s your favourite scary story? Thank you very much for visiting my blog today 💕.
Asleep, by Krystal Wade
Inspired by: Sleeping Beauty
Description: Rose Briar has been committed to an asylum by her parents. Her determination to escape is undermined by terrifying nightmares that make her question her sanity, and she no longer knows what’s real. Can she trust her doctor? Or is Phillip, one of the other patients, right about the doctor’s evil intentions?
Extract (Rose’s first night in the asylum):
This isn’t real.
But the lights wouldn’t turn off.
She tried the switch five more times, ten, fifteen, before movement out in the hall caught her attention.
“Hello?” Rose called again, turning the handle and yanking. Locked. Of course. “Please. Dr. Underwood, if you’re out there, I need your help. Something’s wrong with me. I don’t feel well. Help!”
A tall, dark figure cloaked in black rose from beneath the table where she and the guy had sat earlier. Oh so tall. The figure stood there, unmoving, the cloak billowing as if being blown by a breeze.
Rose rubbed her eyes. Not real, just a dream, she kept telling herself, but she didn’t feel like she was asleep. She didn’t feel like she could wake up either.
Fathomless, by Jackson Pearce
Inspired by: The Little Mermaid
Description: Celia has the power to see a person’s past, a power that seems insignificant until the day she meets Lo. Lo used to be a human and is now a creature of the sea, clinging to the shreds of her former self even as her memories are washed away, one by one. When a boy named Jude falls off a pier, Celia and Lo work together to save him from drowning. They become friends, but their friendship is complicated by their feelings toward Jude. And Lo is desperate to reclaim her humanity by persuading Jude to love her… and stealing his soul.
Extract (before Lo meets Celia and Jude):
And then he was dead.
And nothing else had changed.
Lo stared at her hands, at her feet, waiting for the pale-blue colour to turn back to shades of peach and pink. Waiting for the urge to surface, to gulp air happily, to swim to the shore and run on the sand.
It didn’t come.
“Everyone has to try it for herself,” Ry said gently, swimming closer. The boy’s body listed on the ocean floor like seaweed. Lo felt sick; she doubled over and hid her head. “We all did. But it never works. You can’t make them love you that fast.”
Vassa in the Night, by Sarah
Inspired by: Vasilisa the Beautiful
Description: Vassa lives in the enchanted kingdom of Brooklyn with her stepmother and stepsisters. The nights last a very long time in Vassa’s neighbourhood. Babs Yaga, the owner of the only store open past midnight, has a policy of beheading shoplifters—and sometimes innocent shoppers as well. When Vassa’s stepsister sends her out for lightbulbs, she knows it could easily become a suicide mission. In her pocket, Vassa carries a gift from her dead mother, a tough-talking wooden doll by the name of Erg. With Erg’s help, Vassa might have a chance of surviving the night. But Babs won’t be playing fair…
Extract (Vassa leaves for the store):
“It’s after midnight,” I tell her, moving slowly down the stairs while I’m talking. I’ve decided I don’t want Stephanie to be able to pretend later that she didn’t know. “Steph said I should go to BY’s.”
I can’t see Stephanie from here, but I can see Chelsea’s face waking with outrage as she swings around to glare at her. “Stephanie! You know she can’t do that!”
“Why not?” Stephanie’s voice falls out of the door and bangs around the stairwell, bouncing off linoleum and glossy green paint. “They only kill shoplifters at BY’s. Scummy, sneaky thieves. Why would that be a problem for Vassa?”
House of Salt and Sorrows, by
Erin A. Craig
Inspired by: The Twelve Dancing Princesses
Description: In a manor by the sea, twelve sisters are cursed. Annaleigh has already lost four of her sisters, each to a death more tragic than the last. Disturbed by a series of ghostly visions, she becomes convinced that the deaths were no accidents. The girls have been sneaking out at night to attend glittering balls, dancing until dawn. She isn’t sure whether to stop them or to join them. Because who—or what—are they really dancing with?
Extract (Annaleigh describes her older sister, Octavia):
One of her favorite stories was of a girl who always wore a green ribbon around her neck. She was never seen without it, at school, at church, even on her wedding day. All the guests said she made a lovely bride but wondered why she chose to wear such a plain necklace. On her honeymoon, her husband presented her with a choker of diamonds, sparkling like mad under a starlit sky. He wanted her to wear them, and only them, when she came to bed that night. When she refused, he stalked away, upset. Later he returned to find her asleep in their big bed, naked save for the diamonds and the green ribbon. Snuggling next to her, he stealthily removed the ribbon, only to have her head roll off her body, neatly severed at the neck.
The triplets delighted in that horrid story and asked for it again and again. When Octavia died, they wrapped back crepe around their necks with ghoulish affectation.
Forest of a Thousand Lanterns,
by Julie C. Dao
Inspired by: The Evil Queen
Description: Eighteen-year-old Xifeng is beautiful. The stars say that in spite of her humble peasant roots, she is destined for greatness, that she is meant to be Empress of Feng Lu. But only if she embraces the darkness within her. And to do that, she must spurn the young man who loves her and use the callous sorcery of the god whose magic flows through her veins. A magic that draws its strength from eating the hearts of the recently killed.
Extract (Xifeng encounters the serpent god):
A voice spoke inside her mind, gentle and familiar, one that had spoken at the edge of her hearing many times before but never so clearly. The moon shines down upon us, beloved…
The images melted into each other, but Xifeng could still sense Guma there, sinking to her knees with her hands outstretched in prayer… or apology.
Something shifted in Xifeng’s chest. She had heard its growl of fury earlier when she saw Ning looking at Wei, but this was something else, something new: a lazy, satisfied preening, like basking in sunlight. If she closed her eyes, she might even be able to see the creature’s spiraling coils through the cage of her own ribs.
Embrace this boundless night, the voice said tenderly.
“Leave her,” Guma hissed from where she still knelt. “Let her be!”
Xifeng felt herself falling, heard the crack of her forehead against the edge of the table. Right before she sank into unconsciousness, she thought she saw the strangest thing of all: her aunt bending over her with tears in her eyes… as though she loved her.
Xifeng closed her eyes and let the darkness take her.
Saturday, 16 July 2022
“Perhaps that is the best way to say it: printed books are magical.”
— Jen Campbell
One week ago, at the Young Adult Literature Convention in London, there was definitely more than a little magic in the air ✨. A shared love of stories and the characters that bring those stories to life is a powerful thing. Not to mention the piles of stunningly beautiful books—so much choice!—alongside book-related activities and creative merchandising. And finally, the real-life authors who came along to share their writing experiences, meet their readers, and sign hundreds and hundreds of books.
YALC 2022 was the first book event I've ever attended (and hopefully not the last!). I was there on Sunday 10th July with my two daughters, and today's blog post contains my top three takeaways from an amazing day.
1️⃣ Books, books, books
2️⃣ Authors are awesome
All of the authors we met were super friendly and patient. I guess it goes without saying that the chance to talk about your favourite characters with the person who actually created them is kind of amazing, but even so, it exceeded our expectations.
3️⃣ A little planning goes a long way
all of my concentration to keep my expression neutral. I wasn’t going to make
this easy for him.
“I think that’s another point to me,” I said.
“What about my question?”
“I’ll consider it,” I said. “Truth or Dare.”
He stared at me for a moment. “You’re really not going to answer?”
Have you ever been to a book event like YALC? And if so, how do you manage your TBR list after discovering so many new books?! Thank you very much for visiting my blog today 💕.
“An opening line should invite the reader to begin the story. It should say: Listen. Come in here. You want to know about this.”
— Stephen King
Once a year, I dedicate a blog post to YA books with amazing opening lines. It's usually timed to coincide with spring because that's the season that gets off to the most dramatic start where I live! The idea is a simple one—ten books that made it onto my TBR list before I was halfway down the first page. And it doesn't matter what the cover looks like or what the description says. It's all about how the story begins.
I hope there's a book or two in my latest list that catches your eye, and thank you very much for visiting my blog today 💕.
— Neil Gaiman
Characters are the heart and soul of every story. They bring it to life, allowing the fictional world between the pages to become a part of the reader’s imagination. But more than that, characters evolve. The story is their journey.
It got me to thinking about the writing process and the importance of character arcs. Today’s blog post is a few words about my approach with examples from the Beyond Androva series. I should point out that I’m far from an expert, and no two writers will have an identical experience. Characters are endlessly diverse, unpredictable, and stubborn too! It often feels like they have their own ideas about the way they should be written.
At the start of each new book, I create a basic three-point plan for the protagonist: ⬇⬇⬇
**In this context, plan is not the same thing as a story outline. I’ve mentioned in previous posts that I’m a pantser—someone who “writes by the seat of their pants”—which means I’m not great at planning the story in advance**
I think the protagonist should be someone the reader can root for. They don’t have to be perfect—because perfection isn’t appealing or realistic!—but having a few likable traits is a good starting point. My hope is that readers will care about my protagonist(s) enough to want to find out what happens to them.
Matched in Magic (Serena): She’s brave, loyal, and creative.
Engraved in Magic (Art): He’s kind, modest, and determined.
Lost in Magic (Kellan): He’s smart, adventurous, and funny.
Every protagonist needs a few challenges. Some of the challenges are due to external circumstances while others are more internal. I guess you could call them character flaws, or maybe idiosyncrasies would be a better term! Whatever you call them, they give the reader something to empathise and/or identify with. It’s easier to become emotionally invested in a character that has room to grow, and it helps to define the starting point of their arc.
Matched in Magic (Serena): She’s impulsive. She gets frustrated with her brother’s attempts to protect her. She wants to escape her past by making a fresh start.
Engraved in Magic (Art): He’s been told his whole life that he’s less than, and he believes it. He has no autonomy. He’s scared of the future.
Lost in Magic (Kellan): He’s overconfident. He doesn’t trust anyone but himself. He’s determined not to make any friends or to let down his guard when he gets out of the Dimension Cell.
The protagonist’s journey has to be convincing. Someone shy and retiring, for example, is never going to become super confident, no matter how many challenges they successfully overcome. What they can do instead is learn how to take a few risks and trust their instincts. They can surprise themselves.
I also think it’s important the ending makes sense. Each protagonist should get the chance to defeat their opposing villain in a way that gives them closure. It wouldn’t be great to arrive at the end of the story and leave the protagonist stuck halfway through their arc.
(The character info below is deliberately cryptic to avoid spoilers…)
Matched in Magic (Serena): The people she meets in Xytovia challenge her to think and behave differently.
Engraved in Magic (Art): He discovers something about his magic that forces him to re-evaluate who he is and what he’s capable of.
Lost in Magic (Kellan): Everything he thought he knew about his past is turned on its head, and he has to reconsider the kind of person he wants to be.
If you’ve read any of the Beyond Androva books, you may or may not agree with my character assessments! Right now, I’m working on book four, and I have a brand-new protagonist. Averine’s arc is interesting to figure out because she was partway through her story when her character was introduced in Lost in Magic. That means I’m writing toward a fixed reference point, which is something I haven’t done since Galen’s book.
Do you have a favourite character arc as a reader? I would find it hard to choose because I like all kinds, as long as they end well. I’m definitely a fan of happy endings. I hope you enjoyed today’s post, and thank you very much for visiting my blog 💕.