The Wild Girl in the Wicked Wood

The Australian Women Writers Challenge, as you may know if you’ve been reading this blog awhile, is a project that promotes the work of Australian women across all genres. 2014 has been my second year participating and this time I signed up to the Franklin level, which meant I had to read at least ten books and review at least six. I also planned to find more books through reviews on the AWW Challenge blog.

Of the eleven books I ended up reading, just over half were speculative fiction, four were historical fiction and one was contemporary. To my delight, I managed to find three fairy tale-inspired works for the Challenge – Allyse Near’s bewitchingly bitter concoction Fairytales for Wilde Girls, Isobelle Carmody and Nan McNab’s collection of retellings The Wicked Wood, and Kate Forsyth’s exploration of a real-life tale-teller, Dortchen Wild, in The Wild Girl. Juliet Marillier’s Shadowfell also draws on British folk lore as part of its worldbuilding and though Ruth Park’s My Sister Sif is really more science fiction than fantasy, it uses mermaid stories and Pacific Islander legends. The vampire element, meanwhile, had representation this year with The Blood Countess by Tara Moss and The Amethyst Curse by Chantelle Thomson.

The Wild Girl contains just a trace of fantasy, but I think it’s more accurately classified as historical fiction. Other books in this genre I’ve read in 2014 include Kimberley Freeman’s Ember Island and two Kate Morton novels, The Secret Keeper and The House at Riverton. While all three of these contain contemporary subplots, the only 100% contemporary novel I’ve read this year was Anita Heiss’s Tiddas. As a Queensland girl, I’m not accustomed to seeing my home state represented much in fiction and always get a kick from an insider reference – Ember Island, The Secret Keeper and Tiddas all have Queensland as a setting.

I would like to count Tansy Rayner Roberts’s serialised space opera Musketeer Space, a genderswapped reinterpretation of Alexander Dumas’s classic The Three Musketeers, but that would kind of be cheating as she hasn’t finished writing it yet. At the time of my posting this, she’s up to Chapter 30 and I am SO HOOKED. There’s swordfights and spaceships and ever so much snark, and all of the story so far is available for free on her blog. Go get addicted too!

Then, of course there are the books to which I’m lucky enough to be a contributor. My stories have appeared in four collections this year, all of them with Australian small press, all compiled by fantastic female editors. Ticonderoga’s steampunk anthology Kisses by Clockwork was edited by Liz Grzyb, Twelfth Planet Press’s Kaleidoscope by Alisa Krasnostein and Julia Rios, Tehani Wessely produced FableCroft’s fairy tale-themed Phantazein and The Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror 2013, edited by Liz Grzyb and Talia Helene, was released just last month. Until I started selling short stories I knew almost nothing about Australian small press – like how AWESOME it is, and how much fun all these people are to work with. I feel so very honoured to be a part of all these works.

So that’s my challenge completed for 2014. It’s been an adventurous year for me as a reader and a wonderful one as a writer. Roll on 2015!

Review No.123 – The Wicked Wood

Tales from the Tower Volume Two: The Wicked Wood – Isobelle Carmody and Nan McNab (ed.)

Allen&Unwin, 2011

In this collection, fairy tales grow between cracks in the mundane surface of a city, a suburb, a small town. From the sinister presence of a wildly ambitious artist to the wolf hidden in plain sight, the mermaid who would trade anything for another life to the uncontrollable craving of two sisters to get theirs back, these are stories of hunger and betrayal, longing and hope.

This anthology is a companion volume to The Wilful Eye, which I read as a part of last year’s AWW Challenge, but has a noticeably different approach. All of these retellings take place in contemporary settings and the fantasy elements tend to be more understated – in a few, there are none at all. There is a similar tone to many of these stories that I personally would have preferred broken up by a wider range settings, but the slants each writer chose to take were interesting and for the most part effective. I particularly appreciated ‘Seventy-Two Derwents’ by Cate Kennedy and ‘The Ugly Sisters’ by Maureen McCarthy. Some of the original sources for this anthology are also slightly more obscure, such as ‘The Wolf and the Seven Kids’ and ‘The Fairy’s Midwife’. It’s good to see retellings that explore beyond familiar ground.

Review No.68 – Tales from the Tower, Volume One: The Wilful Eye

Tales from the Tower, Volume One: The Wilful Eye – Isobelle Carmody and Nan McNab (editors)

Allen & Unwin, 2011

Fairy tales have always held a strange fascination to the storyteller, lingering long after childhood’s end. In this collection six authors find new meanings in the old tales, retold in their full dark glory. A soldier turns his war on the unsuspecting world. A monster lies in wait inside an empty mansion. A lost girl searches an icy urban wasteland. Love faces despair, magic meets betrayal. The dark forest is never so very far away…

I stumbled across this book in the random treasure chest of a library catalogue and could not believe I hadn’t heard of it before. The contributing authors include Margaret Mahy, Margo Lanagan and Carmody herself, with the stories a rich selection ranging between the wry and the gruesome. It is always enjoyable to see familiar fairy tales through the prism of someone else’s eyes and this collection offers some very interesting interpretations. It is the first half in twelve retellings, continuing in Tales from the Tower, Volume Two: The Wicked Wood.