Literaleigh, Writing

A Fairytale Launch


Last week I travelled to Christchurch for the launch of, Wish upon a Southern Star – a collection of retold fairy tales by Australian and New Zealand authors.  My story, Jack and the Alphaget Book is one of the stories chosen by editor Shelley Chappell to be part of this anthology.

This was my first book launch and my first time in the south island of New Zealand so it was all very exciting. When we arrived at our air bnb the hosts showed us the backyard where a clear spring-fed creek flowed (header image). And there in the creek was a magnificent white swan– straight out of a fairytale. This swan was particularly cranky and aggressive towards us so I guessed an evil witch had put a rather nasty spell on it – or perhaps it was slighted because there were no retellings of, The ‘Wild Swans’ in Wish upon a Southern Star.

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Wish upon a Southern Star contains 21 retold fairytales, ranging from the well-known tales such as Cinderella and Rapunzel to lesser known ones such as retellings of Kissa the Cat and Cat and Mouse in Partnership.

I haven’t had a chance to read the collection yet because I’ve been reading a novel that I need to finish. I’m rigid like that I can’t start a book no matter how enticing until I finish the one I’m on (is anybody else like that?). But I am enjoying just looking at it on my bedside table – like a treasure chest of untold wonders just waiting to be opened. From the readings at the launch I know there is a wonderful blend of dark and funny, romantic and prescient.

My daughter and I spent a lovely few days in Christchurch – a city still rebuilding from the devastating earthquakes 7 years ago. There are more tradesman than shoppers in the central district and a mall of shipping container shops. We could have tried to cover more of the south island in the four days we were there but there is something to be said for staying put in a unfamiliar city and trying to get a feel for the people, the culture and the layout. We deduced in our brief time that Christchurchians are above all resilient. Conversations with the locals showed their pragmatism regarding the disruptive and slow rebuilding process and their unshakeable (literally) pride in their city and their optimism for the future.

The book launch itself was held in the South Christchurch Library with individual author talks, book sales and importantly nibbles. It was lovely to meet many of the other authors and share in the thrill of holding the book in our hands.


For me the old adage of ‘no writing is wasted’ had come true. Unlike many of the other authors in the collection I hadn’t written this story in response to the call for submissions but had written it many years ago. Jack and the Alphaget book was one of those rare stories that tumbled out of my head in a few days. However when I sat back to look at it I realised that there was just no market for a  tween story with such a long word count (6000 words). So I put it away for a long sleep among my computer files …. until Shelley my fairy godmother came along for a request for retold fairytales up to 10,000 words! With help from my writing group I dusted off and polished my story and successfully submitted it, and now here it is, in an anthology.  The moral is never throw away any of your old manuscripts – there may just be a market that opens up in the future.

Wish upon a Southern Star is available on Amazon.

Book Reviews

Bitter Greens

By Kate Forsyth            Vintage Books 2012             Adult fiction

Score: 8.5/10                Genre: Historical Fiction & Dark Fairytale Retelling

Charlotte-Rose de la Force has been exiled to an austere nunnery by Louis XIV. The story follows her recollections of her journey from French country nobility to the decadence of the King’s court at Versailles. Charlotte-Rose is neither beautiful nor rich but gains admiration through her quick wit and storytelling abilities. Scandalous love affairs and accusations of witchcraft damage her reputation. Finally, she finds her true love but obstacles of different faiths and status conspire to force them apart.

The Rapunzel-based tale is a story within the story. It is told to Charlotte-Rose by an old nun, Soeur Seraphina while they work in the garden. La Strega is the youth-obsessed witch of the tale and Margherita, the beautiful girl who she abducts and imprisons in a high tower.

This is an ambitious novel blending genres of fairytale fantasy and historical fiction. Forsyth uses a backdrop of real historical figures and events. The settings of 16th century Venice (La Strega’s domain) and 17th century France are described in vivid detail – from the festivals of Venice, to the squalor of the Bastille to the ridiculous fashions of the French court -it is obvious all facets of French and Venetian life of the periods have being meticulously researched. The story of Charlotte-Rose (based on a real writer) could have stood alone as an historical fiction novel but the added fairytale strand inject magic and romanticism.

I wavered between preferring the Charlotte-Rose story and the Rapunzel story but I worried most of the way through about how the plot strands would come together in the end. Rest assured they do. The resolution of this story was satisfying and complete.

This wasn’t a page turner for me. Perhaps it was the inappropriate circumstances in which I read the novel (see below) or perhaps it was the sometimes confusing parade of French noble names or maybe the complexity of the plot didn’t allow enough room to relate intimately to the main characters. Strangely I admired this story more after I finished it than when I was in its midst.

A note about the cover: The quote from the The Age on the front cover says ‘A darkly compelling novel which simply seethes with sex scenes.’ There are sex scenes in this novel some passionate, some violent however to put this as a prominent main descriptor is, I think, a misrepresentation. It is more historical fiction than erotica.

Recommended for: Historical fiction lovers and those who are nostalgic for fairytales. Particularly recommended for those who have travelled or are planning to travel to Venice or France. Take this as a holiday (or post-holiday) read. It will add a level of magic to your view of historical landmarks and the countryside. I read this during a tour of Australian country towns and it just didn’t feel right.

Use for writers: Historical fiction writers – read this book and weep. The rich detail and the historical authenticity is hard to live up to. I believe Kate Forsyth when she says that she read many, many biographies and history books in the course of her research. She also travelled to Venice and France to immerse herself in the environment of the novel.

Writers could also learn a lot from the ending. The concluding chapters tied up all strands of the complex plot and left me, not only satisfied, but somewhat relieved. Like long matted tresses that are magically untangled and tied neatly in a snood.