{Guest Post} Are Fairy Tales Still Relevant Today? By Hester Velmans, author of 'Slipper'

Saturday, 16 June 2018

Fairy tales can be some of the earliest stories we are exposed to, helping children learn about the age-old battle between good and evil, and overcoming a quest to reach that happy ending. But how can we still relate to these messages as we get older? For today's post, Hester Velmans, the author of 'Slipper', a Cinderella retelling, has stopped by to share her thoughts!

Are Fairy Tales Still Relevant Today? 
By Hester Velmans, author of SLIPPER 



Fairy tales have never really gone out of style, of course, but it wasn’t until I’d finished writing Slipper that I realized a whole industry in fairytale retellings of one sort or another has sprung up in the world of YA and adult literature. I can’t say it’s all that surprising, given that these familiar stories set off some deep-buried recognition in the reader; they ring the bell of our most primal emotions.

For a tale to ring that bell, it has to have the elements that drive the best stories. One is the presence of obstacles that have to be overcome by the hero or heroine. Once the dragon has been slain, the impossible task fulfilled, or the evil stepmother outwitted, it is the resulting relief and triumph that make for the most satisfying kind of conclusion any story can give you.

Then there is wish fulfillment. There’s something wonderfully appealing about putting yourself into the shoes of someone who has been put through the wringer, but still manages to attain great wealth, gorgeous clothes, the love of a lifetime, or fame beyond her wildest dreams.

But the question that nagged at me as I was adapting the story of Cinderella was: in our cynical, unsentimental age, are happy endings still necessary? Can fairy tales be given a modern feminist twist, considering that they were first conceived many centuries ago, when a girl’s place was to be quiet, passive and obedient, and the only way out of your hopeless situation was to have a convenient fairy godmother? Given, of course, that you also possessed a sufficient dose of modesty, dazzling beauty, and unusually small feet. Really! Can that kind of simplistic story fly today? 

That’s when you have to start digging into the story to extract the core nuggets of truth — the universal messages that resonate even today. In the case of Slipper, I found that many of the most classic fairytales can be recast to fit real, present day concerns. Who, for instance, hasn’t hoped and wished the boyfriend-frog will turn into a prince if we humor him enough? Who hasn’t gone to a dance bubbling with high expectations, only to go home with her hopes smashed like a pumpkin in the mud? Who hasn’t felt like the family underdog, scorned by mean siblings or neglectful parents, and secretly hoped it wasn’t her real family? 

The reason that I chose the story of Cinderella as the starting point for my historical novel is that it is the most archetypal, and I think the most satisfying, of all the fairytales. It addresses the universal desire to be recognized for your “true”, or better, self. You may be misunderstood, exploited, despised; but in the end, all those sneering naysayers will be forced to admit that secretly you really were the bravest of heroes all along, or the most beautiful girl in the world… or just the coolest kid in school. Won’t they be sorry for the way they treated you, once your true identity is revealed!

Come to think of it, this Cinderella theme comes up in all the most popular stories of our time. It's there in Pride and Prejudice, in Harry Potter, in Jane Eyre, in Superman, Spiderman, Mean Girls, and Grease. It’s in every story where the wallflower, the loser or the nerd wins the prize in the end. It’s about getting through adolescence and coming out OK in the end. It’s about facing adversity, and finding your inner strength or your true worth. If that isn’t relevant today, what is? 


PRAISE FOR SLIPPER 

"Slipper is the most engaging novel I have read in a long time. Part romantic love story, part fairy tale, part feminist commentary, this is a wonderful, old-fashioned novel to be savored. It is as if a graduate student had stumbled upon a handwritten, 19th century manuscript in the British Library, read it, and declared, 'There was a fourth Bronte sister -- and she was the most talented of the brood!'"

-- Daniel Klein, best-selling author of Travels with Epicurus and Plato and Platypus Walk into a Bar
"An unexpectedly honest modern novel clothed in the traditional tropes of historical romance. Despite thematically re-imagining the origins of several popular fairy tales, as a bildungsroman the story is refreshingly authentic in the growth of the heroine from an unfettered idealist to a nearly-perfected realist. ...The charm of the protagonist is more than potent enough to draw the reader along through a story that both pointedly charges us with taking command of our own fate, and tasks us with deciding for ourselves what the moral of our own story should be."

-- Thomas A. Peters, Readers' Favorite
"Although this novel mainly pays specific homage to Cinderella, Velmans laces the book with references to the other tales. The author builds this network with remarkable care, and although the resulting novel is a complex web of influences, it's never a confounding one. Furthermore, she writes in a delicate, ornate prose style that has a transporting effect, bringing readers back to Perrault's time and nestling them in a thoroughly alluring narrative. A satisfying blend of history and myth that breathes new life into Cinderella." 
-- Kirkus


Watch the book trailer on Youtube
Available at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble.com, Indiebound.org
More info at Hestervelmans.com

Hester Velmans is a novelist and translator of literary fiction. Born in Amsterdam, she had a nomadic childhood, moving from Holland to Paris, Geneva, London and New York. After a hectic career in international TV news, she moved to the hills of Western Massachusetts to devote herself to writing.

Hester’s first book for middle-grade readers, ‘Isabel of the Whales,’ was a national bestseller, and she wrote a follow up, ‘Jessaloup’s Song,’ at the urging of her fans. She is a recipient of the Vondel Prize for Translation and a National Endowment of the Arts Translation Fellowship. 

Review: Our Magic Hour by Jennifer Down - Are these the best years of your life?

Monday, 11 June 2018




Our Magic Hour by Jennifer Down
Released: 24th February 2016
Published by: Text Publishing Australia
Genre: Australian Fiction/Adult Contemporary
Source: Library
Pages: 274
My Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Audrey, Katy and Adam have been friends since high school—a decade of sneaky cigarettes, drunken misadventures on Melbourne backstreets, heart-to-hearts, in-jokes. But now Katy has gone. And without her, Audrey is thrown off balance: everything she thought she knew, everything she believed was true, is bent out of shape.

Audrey’s family—her neurotic mother, her wayward teenage brother, her uptight suburban sister—are likely to fall apart. Her boyfriend, Nick, tries to hold their relationship together. And Audrey, caught in the middle, needs to find a reason to keep going when everything around her suddenly seems wrong.

Evocative and exquisitely written, Our Magic Hour is a story of love, loss and discovery. Jennifer Down’s remarkable debut novel captures that moment when being young and invincible gives way to being open and vulnerable, when one terrible act changes a life forever.
This review also appears in Vertigo 2018: Growing Pains

Jennifer Down’s earnest debut captures the moment where the feeling of being carefree and indestructible is overcome by events uncovering deeper vulnerabilities we’d rather keep hidden. Our Magic Hour is a novel that anyone in their twenties will be able to relate to at some level. Within its pages are scenarios which speak of this euphoric decade so often exalted as ‘the best years of your life’, balanced with the inevitable apprehension of leaving your teenage self behind. Marked by a  tragedy which changes their friendship circle forever, the characters all discover how grief can spark a second coming-of-age, into a world that does not shine as brightly yet holds the smallest gleam of hope.

Later, when they were all adrift, Adam in his frenzied grief, Audrey had imagined she might have come across a signal or a clue. But Katy was a dark blur. She’d left no explanation, no notes, just an exhausting blackness that yielded no reason. She was an insect caught in amber, a leaf in resin. She’d never be anywhere but in the front seat of that car with its windows sealed.

Friends since high school, Audrey, Adam and Katy had been inseparable. Embracing the recklessness of youth, they’d shared each other’s secrets while nursing drinks in the offbeat bars lining Melbourne’s city streets, laughed at jokes nobody else would understand and lived life to the full in the present moment. As that dynamic is suddenly broken, Jennifer Down writes with notable insight of the gaping loss and confusion at losing someone you thought you’d understood, and the moral reckoning that follows. As young adults, we so often measure our value based on how much we matter to those around us, questioning whether the impact of our existence is truly realised. This idea is brought to the fore in a storyline that evocatively portrays the void created when a friend is gone forever. Told from Audrey’s perspective, Down takes readers on a journey that depicts not only the shattering reality that life will never be the same, but the fragile steps to mend the relationships that are left.

She was very alive at that moment. She felt her eyes wide and tired; she felt her body made of blood and bone and nerves and something else, something harder, like steel. She could have run for days.

This is a book that in true Australian form refuses to sugar-coat raw emotion. Yet while the plot unflinchingly bares the resulting strain in Audrey and her boyfriend Nick’s relationship alongside the worryingly erratic behaviour of her mother, it still captures life’s gentler moments. Our Magic Hour has been written in a way that tenderly explores how people evolve in these early years of adulthood, imagining the prospect of infinite possibilities which lay ahead despite the sadness of an old life left behind. For Audrey, nestled among the turbulence of moving to Sydney and involving herself in new social circles is the promise of renewal. Adulthood is a time of constant transformation, learning from the events which have shaped us and what it takes to face the world head-on. It’s rare to find a story that so accurately recognises these experiences, reinforcing that there is no single definition of normality, whether your sense of self has been tainted by grief or otherwise.

FINAL THOUGHTS

In all, Our Magic Hour is a memorable novel that knowingly illustrates the recklessness of youth curtailed by an unexpected drop into a new reality. In reading this you can’t help but realise that the adage ‘you’re only young once’ rings true. These years might not be perfect, but there is magic to be found in the memories of who you are today, and hopes for the person you could be tomorrow.

{Blog Tour} Starry Eyes - Author Interview with Jenn Bennett

Saturday, 2 June 2018


Starry Eyes by Jenn Bennett
Released: 1st June 2018
Published by: Simon and Schuster 
Genre: YA Contemporary
Source: Publisher
Pages: 417
My Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Ever since last year’s homecoming dance, best-friends-turned-worst-enemies Zorie and Lennon have made an art of avoiding each other. It doesn’t hurt that their families are the modern-day version of the Montagues and Capulets. But when a group camping trip goes south, Zorie and Lennon find themselves stranded in the wilderness. Alone. Together.

Zorie and Lennon have no choice but to try to make their way to safety. But as the two travel deeper into the rugged Californian countryside, secrets and hidden feelings surface. Soon it's not simply a matter of enduring each other’s company, but taming their growing feelings for each other.
Starry Eyes is a YA contemporary novel that has a cute romance, realistic depiction of friendships and heartwarming ending. This is the best-friends-becoming-enemies-then-something-more situation, with its own unique charm! A big thank you to Simon and Schuster Australia for hosting the blog tour, and Jenn Bennett for her time in answering my questions. For more about Zorie and Lennon's story, keep reading...

Author Interview with Jenn Bennett

After releasing Alex, Approximately and now Starry Eyes, what are some of your favourite things about writing contemporary YA novels? 


First love is exciting, scary, and fun. But I think the best part about writing these stories is that they take place before the burden of adulthood and all that comes with it—careers, children, marriage/divorce, work stress, hospital bills, credit scores—starts weighing down the characters. Contemporary YA takes place when anything is possible and every path is open.

I really loved how you described all the settings and nature so vividly to set the scene for where all the drama unfolds. Do you think Zorie and Lennon's story would have turned out the same way if they had found themselves together somewhere else? 


What a great question! Say, if they had been left behind on a trip to Paris with no money or way to get home immediately? Or stuck in an elevator for hours, or maybe in a DIE HARD situation, fighting their way out of a building being held hostage by bad guys? Honestly, I think whatever situation you'd put them in, the most important thing about it was that this is a couple who were not talking and NEEDED to talk—and to realize that they could rely on each other. The result would be the same in any situation.

You also described how friendships change and that there's definitely more to people than what meets the eye. What messages about friendships and relationships in general do you hope readers will be able to take from this book? 


 In ALEX, APPROXIMATELY, the main friendship is much different: Bailey and Grace are kind of falling in BFF love, and they are better and stronger for their bond. In this book, there is the childhood friendship between Zorie and Lennon that was abandoned when things got complicated. There's a friendship that Zorie has with a girl who shares her interests and is a positive influence and quietly supportive. And there is the friendship between Zorie and a girl that has become toxic. I try to avoid heavy-handed messages in my books, but I suppose if there's anything I was hoping to show the reader, it was that friendships aren't always forever. That people change, and it's not always for the best. And that it's easy to overlook quiet friends who have been in your corner all along.

Zorie was a really interesting main character who grew a lot throughout the story. What were the best, and most challenging things about developing her character? 


Zorie has issues. Her home life may be in turmoil. Her birth mother died, and she's not completely over that. She has a medical condition that's exacerbated by stress. So she's been trying to control the chaos in her life by planning every little detail of it. The most challenging thing about writing this was that I worried readers would get frustrated by her hand-wringing and constant worries, or that all of her worrying and risk-avoidance would prevent her from having agency as a character, especially at the beginning of the story. This isn't a girl who's tough and ready to fight the world when this book starts. And it's harder to write those kinds of characters in a way that's appealing or sympathetic---perhaps because those characters are a mirror of our own anxieties or weaknesses, and it's tough to face those things.

Without giving too much away, is there a particular line or moment in the book that really stood out to you while you were working on it? 


One of my favorite moments in the book takes place in a tent cabin at the “glamping” part of the trip. During a group conversation, Lennon is seemingly asking innocent questions about the storage of another character’s cologne (dumb, beautiful Brett), and whether it will attract bears. But the subtext is that Lennon is trolling Zorie, trying to get a reaction from her, and everyone in the tent is oblivious but the two of them. I laugh every time I read Lennon’s lines. But what's more, I think that's the moment that Zorie wakes up and begins actively changing from Strict Planner to I Can Roll With the Changes. And giving her space to grow is the reason I wrote the book.

You can find Jenn Bennett on her Twitter | Instagram | Website

Don't forget to check out the rest of the blog tour here!

Review: The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin - "As long as you can transform, my friends, you cannot die."

Tuesday, 8 May 2018


The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin
Released: 11th January 2018
Published by: Headline Publishing
Genre: Adult fiction
Source: Bought
Pages: 352
My Rating: 4 of 5 stars
It's 1969, and holed up in a grimy tenement building in New York's Lower East Side is a travelling psychic who claims to be able to tell anyone the date they will die.

The four Gold children, too young for what they're about to hear, sneak out to learn their fortunes. Over the years that follow, the siblings must choose how to live with the prophecies the fortune-teller gave them that day. Will they accept, ignore, cheat or defy them? Golden-boy Simon escapes to San Francisco, searching for love; dreamy Klara becomes a Las Vegas magician; eldest son Daniel tries to control fate as an army doctor after 9/11; and bookish Varya looks to science for the answers she craves.

A sweeping novel of remarkable ambition and depth, The Immortalists is a story about how we live, how we die, and what we do with the time we have.
This review also appears in Vertigo 2018: On Thin Ice


If you found out when you would take your last breath, how would you spend the moments you have left? The Immortalists confronts the reality of our mortality in the form of a sweeping family saga. Featuring four siblings over forty years, Chloe Benjamin’s poignant work follows the Gold’s as they navigate the rest of their lives after a visit to a fortune teller reveals the day each of them would die. The result of this singular event is a story which branches into the relationship between faith and fate, transformation of familial ties and whether profound knowledge acts as a blessing or a curse.

The novel’s structure brings particular attention to the Gold children at different periods in their lives, examining the subtle yet irrevocable shift in consciousness that comes with supposedly knowing when their time would be up. Would the predictions morph into a self-fulfilling prophecy, or is it possible to rebel against a fate written in the stars?

Where this book makes its biggest impact is through Benjamin’s prose that captures her characters’ deepest insecurities with remarkable clarity. Simon in particular struggles to find his place in the world. A young idealist, he begins his new life in San Francisco to break free from the constraints of his widowed mother Gertie.

Is this not what he wanted? His mother has relinquished him, given him to the world of which he’s longed to be a part. And yet he feels a spike of fear: the filter has been taken off the lens, the safety net ripped from beneath his feet, and he is dizzy with dreadful independence.

Alongside Simon, Klara also wishes to subvert her fate. As a magician with her signature ‘Jaws of Life’ act, she embraces a lifestyle which is equally exhilarating and precarious. It is interesting to note how the author has juxtaposed these two with Daniel and Varya whose paths are arguably more conservative. However, while Daniel works as a military doctor deciding which men are fit for the perils of war, Varya’s occupation as a scientist brings her to the brink of discovering the secret of longevity. Even as their lives diverge so drastically, Benjamin tenderly brings to light the invisible thread of kinship holding families together through their darkest hours.

She could not bear that kind of life: dangerous, fleshy, full of love so painful it took her breath away.

The complex characterisation probes the reader to wonder ‘if I knew when I would die, how would I choose to live?’. In The Immortalists it seems that people either adopt an affinity for facile hedonism, or measure each waking minute according to the minutiae of every decision to be made and where it will lead. The former is pure recklessness, the latter a recipe for a tedious existence devoid of joyous spontaneity. Perhaps it is only as we live with cautious awareness of our return to dust that we can appreciate all aspects of the human experience; from the crushing weight of loss to the soaring weightlessness of pure happiness.

FINAL THOUGHTS

If there’s anything to be learnt from The Immortalists, it’s that the future will always be uncertain, with cracks formed long ago from the mistakes of years gone by. Nonetheless, there is comfort to be found in the surety that as long as our hearts keep beating, nothing compares to the sensation of feeling well and truly alive.


{Blog Tour} The Things We Can't Undo - Author Interview with Gabrielle Reid

Monday, 30 April 2018

The Things We Can't Undo by Gabrielle Reid
Released: 1st May 2018
Published by: Ford Street Publishing
Genre: YA Contemporary
Source: Publisher
Pages: 300
My Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
There’s no backspace key for life’s decisions.

Samantha and Dylan are in love – everyone knows it. So it’s no big deal when they leave a party for some time out together.

But when malicious rumours surface about that night, each feels betrayed by the other.

Will Sam make a decision she can’t take back?
Author Interview with Gabrielle Reid

Something I found really interesting about this book is how you really delved into the issues of the perceived ‘grey area’ that can surround the idea of consent between Dylan and Samantha. What was the catalyst for you to write a book that explores these topics?


Without wanting to go into too much detail, there were some personal experiences that led me to being very aware of how “no means no” is an insufficient standard. The world has been coming to realise that too, with cases involving victims who didn’t fight back or say no, because they were drunk or drugged, assaulted in their sleep, groomed by someone in a position of power, or stopped protesting after their first few “no”s were ignored. There were many times as a teen - not just when it comes to sex - where I froze or felt unable to stand up for myself and allowed things to happen that I didn’t want to. And some of that is part of being human and learning to be my own advocate, but I think when we are talking about sex, the standard needs to be higher.  It can feel like such an intense violation to have someone encroach on your body - the parts of your body that you try to protect most - so it’s more important to have clear consent. When I was writing, it was also important to me to demonstrate that “the perpetrator” can be the nice guy you trust who doesn’t think of himself as a rapist, so Dylan had to miss some signals that Sam was trying to stop things as best she could.

The impact of social media and how it can act as both a support network and rumour-mill in the wake of a tragedy or scandal was also quite prominent throughout the story. How much of an impact did it have on the direction of the plot?


That aspect really came about by accident. I was writing alternate chapters in epistolary format, so social media accounts were just a natural part of how to do that when setting a book in 2018. But then as the story went on, the bits I was writing from those accounts started to take more of an influential role, which again, I think reflects the way social media does influence people’s lives. Social media is really just a modern communication tool with a uniquely extensive reach, and people do communicate in both positive and negative ways..

It was good to see a focus on not only the teens in this story directly involved in the scenario, but the families around them as well. How did you find striking a balance between portraying how the students were reacting in comparison to the adults behind them?


The editing process helped! One of the earliest criticisms of my early drafts was that there was too much adult perspective (from teachers, counsellors, witnesses) so I did pare it back a bit. But for most teenagers, parents and teachers are an inescapable part of life and when an event as huge as this happens, they’re going to be involved whether teens like it or not. It is a YA novel though, so I tried to keep the majority of the focus on how the adult responses impacted my teen characters and how the teens decided what to share with the adults. I think the main “rule” I tried to stick to was to have the teens make their own decisions and mistakes, with the families there to react and be part of the consequences without making the decisions for them or directing where their lives go.

What are the most important messages you hope readers can reflect on from The Things We Can’t Undo?


I hope readers, male and female but particularly young men, will reflect on how much better things are with a clear “yes”. It’s not just about whether something is illegal or *technically* one thing or another, it’s about having high enough standards to want good sex with an active participant.
More generally speaking, I hope readers think about how their decisions impact those around them. The thing Sam can’t undo has a devastating impact on her family and friends, and Tayla’s good intentions don’t protect anyone from the consequences when she loses control of her message. I don’t want people to be afraid to act, but I do think trying to make sure our actions are active and helpful rather than reactive and vengeful, can prevent some regrets.

What was your biggest challenge in writing a novel compared to the shorter works you’ve had published before?


It’s a different process, that’s for sure. I actually find short stories the hardest, anything from about 2000 words to 20 000. Flash fiction means I can focus on a particular moment, event or action and just explore that without thinking too much about the backstories and deeper character profiles, whereas in a novel I feel like the length gives me freedom to create whole people with realistic lives, thoughts and relationships. I have written a couple (not published). I’d say the two biggest challenges are 1) running out of motivation midway through and having to push to get to a point where the end is in sight and it doesn’t feel so unachievable, and 2) finding people to offer ongoing constructive criticism to help improve it. I’ve been lucky with the latter in that I now have a “team” who will stick with me, reading the latest bits every week and brainstorming through all the plot changes and rewrites that happen before I get to the end of a complete draft. A good writer’s group is pure gold.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received as an author which you would share with other writers who hope to get published?


I think I just shared one about a good writer’s group, but if I’m allowed a second, I’d say don’t get too hung up on one project. The Things We Can’t Undo isn’t the first novel I’ve written, and I only started it (rather than spending all my writing time on editing, polishing, and continuing to pitch my previous manuscript) because I had an agent already trying to find me a publisher for the previous book. That was ultimately unsuccessful, but I know writers who after several years are still obsessing over their first unpublished manuscript. Sometimes, like first loves, it’s better to let go. Besides, if it does get picked up, your readers are going to want to know about the next thing!

Could you give us any hints as to what you’re currently working on?


See, you conveniently proved my previous point ;-) I’m in the ugly stage of brainstorming whether I should continue trying to fix a project I keep getting stuck on, or starting something new. I have vague plans for either option - the current manuscript deals with issues like eating disorders and Australian asylum seeker policies, while the new idea is mostly about family relationships and the closeness of two sisters who are separated by distance.



You can find Gabrielle Reid on her Website | Twitter/ Instagram @reidwriting | Facebook

She is also represented by Creative Net for school workshops