Once Upon a Time… (A Valentine’s Day Post from Sarah Pinborough)

Let’s be honest – I’m not exactly the first writer you think of when you think of romance and fairy tale happy endings (well, I shouldn’t be – unless your idea of romance is even more twisted than mine). To be fair, the darkness of my normal writing aside, I’m fiercely independent and over the past ten years or so I’ve rarely been known to have a permanent man in tow. So how am I now the author of three Fairy Tale re-tellings that I’m pleased and excited about? How did this transformation take place?

Well, the blame lies with Robert Carlyle.

Like a lot of women last year I found myself swept up in the US TV series ‘Once Upon a Time’ and adored the way the makers twisted and blended the modern with the traditional elements to create a fresh take on familiar fairy tales. (And yes, I did crumple for Carlyle’s Rumplestiltskin – I DO have a girl gene.) My editor, Gillian Redfearn, was also completely entranced by the show and we’d send gushing texts after each episode about what we loved. A few weeks later we had lunch and she asked if I’d be willing to try my hand at coming up with some fairy tale adaptations myself for the Gollancz line. I immediately said yes, (first lesson of full time writing – the urge to say yes is always strong as the fear of being foodless is stronger), although at the time I wasn’t sure I had it in me. Fairy tales were about beautiful girls in pretty dresses being saved by handsome princes and then getting married and pushing out babies, weren’t they? Not really my bag. But I thought I’d at least try and come up with something that Gollancz would like.

The first decision I made – before even knowing what I was going to write, was that I wanted to keep that timeless fantasy fairy tale quality rather than setting them in the contemporary world. Once Upon a Time had done that. I wanted to do something different. Then I started to re-visit the stories I hadn’t read since I was a child, and also older darker versions from less sensitive times when the purpose of such tales was to act as a warning as much as to entertain. They were good stories and between the various versions there was a lot to be played with. But the central premise of so many is about couples coming together. Fairy Tales, as we know them, are often about romance. But how healthy were these relationships really?

It was while jotting down notes about Snow White that I found my hook. Really – how normal was it for a man to fall in love with an apparently dead girl in a box? I’ve made some bad choices in my time, but even by my standards, that’s a little too kinky. It was then that the characters started to take on a fresh life in my head rather than feeling constrained by the pages of old stories. Suddenly they had modern motivations, even if they were living in a fairy tale world. There could be darkness and light and love and magic, but it didn’t have to be saccharin sweet.

From that point, the stories for all three books started to weave together in my head. As I was writing them and exploring the characters’ relationships and romances with each other, I realised several things about myself and those have become woven into those characters and their actions.

Firstly, I am a romantic. I do believe in true love. Perhaps that’s half the reason I haven’t settled down yet. It’s the ultimate magic, isn’t it?

I love men as much as I love Love. That probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise, but you’d be surprised at how hard it is to like a lot of men in traditional fairy tales – especially from a woman’s perspective. Yes, we all like to be romanced, but we don’t want to owned. Any woman who’s ever lived with a rich man – and I’m one of them – can tell you all that luxury comes with a price. It can smother you. Living with a handsome prince takes a certain kind of woman, whereas an intelligent man who can make you laugh and lets you breathe can be as poor as a church mouse and bring the brightest magic. As well as independent women, there are some interesting men in these books.

And then of course, there’s sex. People have sex in these books. The girls as much as the boys – it always takes two. Sometimes it’s true love sex, and sometimes it’s just two people in the moment sex. Sex doesn’t have to always be about love. Why should it? Sometimes passion can be stronger than love. There are so many kinds of love and so many kinds of passion. Lust is almost as lovely as love. Sometimes, mood dependent  lust is lovelier. I’m a great fan of lust. People waste so much time feeling guilty about sex. They feel guilty about what they like, what they don’t think they should like, what they should do, what they shouldn’t do, who they should or shouldn’t do it with. You know what? We should ditch the guilt. Sex is glorious. We should all have more of it.

Sex and love and even true love aren’t easy, (I’ll get back to you on the last one when I find it) but they should be fun. Life should be fun. You should smile more than you cry. Life should be an adventure. I hope that I’ve brought you some of all of the above in these stories, even if they do have little dark moments. Life has dark moment too, after all.

But hey, it is an adventure. And let’s hope we all get to find our Prince Charmings and live happily ever after….if you haven’t yet, I’m hoping after reading these books you’ll want to.

Right, after all that talk of romance and sex, I’m off to sign up to some dating sites!

(Or not…)

(maybe I’ll just write some more books instead…)

(But ,you know, if you have a witty intelligent single friend…)

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Sarah Pinborough