Life’s been hectic this week. I had to rush down to London twice for school visits, and on Friday I went to a
Bradford school, where the children inundated me with pictures inspired by my bo
oks. I’ve also been working on my next little book for Harpercollins and, best of all, correcting colour proofs for the GRIMM’S FAIRY TALES series.
One of the delights of writing gift books is the collaboration with the artist. While I’m writing, I always have an image in my mind of what the characters and locations loo
k like but, once I see the artist’s first sketches, that first impression seems to evaporate and I can never remember hold on to it. It’s a bit like when you’re told you’re going to have a new niece or nephew. An image forms in your mind then, once you see the little tot, he is so perfectly him, it’s impossible imagining him looking any different.
The Grimm’s Fairy Tales series is even more fun because this is the second time
my own versions are being illustrated. The first time around, they were brought to life by the wonderful Emma Chichister Clark, in a gift book called THE SLEEPING PRINCESS. The re-issue, launched last week, has been retitled THE ORCHARD BOOK OF GRIMM’S FAIRY TALES. Emma’s artwork is very sophisticated. Her spreads would look very striking framed on a living room wall, and the colours are wonderfully rich and saturated. She went to town with Grimm, imbuing the illustrations with a subtle sense of humour that echoes the tone of the retellings.
The series, which has eight books in it, is aimed at younger readers. The original idea was that we’d adapt the text from the gift book but, in reality, many of the stories were almost written from scratch. Orchard got a new illustrator on board – Cecilia Johannson – and she brought a very bright, friendly sensibility to even the most frightening of the stories. The main characters look more or less the same age as the intended readers, so that the final effect is that of children play-acting the stories. The baddies look over-the-top grotesque, which tends to make them less the stuff of nightmares.
One thing that has always intrigued me about retelling folk tales – and world-myths – is the licence to include subjects which would be frowned upon in contemporary fiction. Hans
el and Gretel is a story about cannibalism! It would be difficult to get away with a character who ate kids for lunch in an original story. Perhaps the term ‘folk tale’ or ‘legend’ creates a physcological safety net in our mind and we are prepared to suspend our outrage. We go with the story, knowing it has been handed down to us through the centuries, or that it based on sensibilities of yore.
Whatever the reason, I’m looking forward to launching the new series next year, and introducing a lot of children to the wicked world of Grimm.