Authors: Isobelle Carmody
Tags: #Young Adult Fiction
The caption reads:
Love Survives Ugly Bird Attack
It is about them, of courseÂ âÂ the beautiful Ella with Joshua's arm around her, both of them looking so very happy. It is mostly about how they were brought together by the âterrible' incident with the birds. When I reach the bit about my mum and sister being killed I put the paper down. There is only so much one person can take in a single day.
But before long I pick up the paper again. I still can't bring myself to read the rest of the article, but I can't stop looking at the photo. I stare and stare at those smiling faces, mesmerised. How lovely and open and
they both look. I am suddenly so grateful that Reine and I were not able to carry out our terrible plan to kill them.
they are alive, and so am I. So another miracle is taking place, but this time inside me. It is as though a great heavy chunk of something stinking and putrid is simply sliding away from me and dissolving into the ground.
The old lady in the bed opposite wanders past on her way to the toilet, a plastic wash bag under her arm.
âSo, dear,' she smiles at me, âwhat does the world look like after so long in the dark?'
âOh, it's wonderful,' I smile back, âtotally wonderful.'
You thought that you knew where this story was headed, didn't you? Of course you did! And so did I. But it turns out we were both wrong. Endings always promise more than we imagine, especially happy ones.
I grew up in a rough farming family with six older brothers, a big-boned, ordinary-looking girl with straight hair. I had to feed lambs and chooks every day, collect firewood and ride to primary school on a sweaty old pony. Yet oddly enough (or maybe not), from a very early age I yearned for glamour, sophistication and romance! In fact I'm told that the first words I said after âMum' and âDad' were âlipstick', ârouge' and âbeads'! (I was constantly teased about this for years afterwards.)
âCinderella' is one of the first stories I remember reading by myself. I think it was probably the very sanitised Little Golden Book version, but I loved it all the same.
The basic storyline is such a good one. A poor but beautiful girl, downtrodden and ill-treated by her stepfamily, is eventually elevated to her true station in life by a series of magical events. And by the end of the story not only is she happy and free, but she beats her oppressors at their own game by marrying the most eligible man in the country.
Wow! What could be more satisfying?
The story of Cinderella has everything: tension, pathos, drama, magic, glamour, crime and punishment, not to mention archetypal characters and a blissfully happy ending. I can still see the (very ordinary) drawing of Cinderella in the 1950s Little Golden Book version, rushing away down the stairs from the ball in her gorgeous frothy dress, and in the background the clock showing five minutes to midnight and on the top stairÂ .Â .Â .Â one glass slipper! As a very young preschooler I remember staring long and hard at that imageÂ âÂ at the slipper, the clock and the gownÂ âÂ feeling anxious every time I read it.
Will she make it?
Will the prince find the slipper? Will they end up together?
How I hated those ugly stepsisters with their scowling faces and huge ugly feet. I prayed that mine wouldn't end up like theirs, prayers that were unfortunately never answered. I have terrible feet! And how happy I was every time I came to the end of the story and there she was, the blonde delicate beauty in lace and jewels, on the arm of her prince.
Oh, how I longed to be her.
Of course, years later I became much more critical. What an utterly regressive sexist storyline! No wonder women are so soft-headed when it comes to love if this is the pap they're fed as children! Cinderella is so damned passive. She doesn't
anything except take instructions from the fairy godmother and fall in love with the handsome princeÂ âÂ not exactly brain-taxing! She neither takes initiative nor shows strength of character or even fortitude! Another illustration I remember staring at, my heart full of sympathy, came early on in the story. It is Cinderella sitting by herself on the hearth crying, while the ugly stepsisters are making merry in the next room.
.Â .Â .Â
why the hell didn't she plot against them or poison their food orÂ .Â .Â .Â at least run away?
Later I also railed against the unfairness of equating beauty with goodness and ugliness with evil when in real life it is often not so. Beautiful girls and handsome boys can be shallow and boring because they've never had to bother being anything other than good-looking. Whereas Plain Janes who are plump with bad skin and big noses, and John Does with short legs and small eyes, have had to develop other sides of themselves to make a success of their lives. Intelligence, humour and kindness to others can help you cope with the vicissitudes of life and love if you're born plain.
Yet I wanted to write this story of Cinderella. And when I read the more grisly Grimm version, where the stepsisters' eyes are plucked out at the end, I became even more keen to write it.
The gruesome nature of the Grimm version seemed a nice foil to all the romance and glamour of the fairy godmother and the prince. For a start, the message is less didactic. The Disney version seems to say that those who are good and meek (and beautiful) will win in the end. But I think the Grimm version is more subtle and true. It points to the arbitrary nature of lifeÂ âÂ it can be quite unexpectedly wonderful, full of surprises and possibilities, but it can also go horribly, shockingly wrong in a flashÂ âÂ and for no good reason.
And the punishment does not always match the crime. The punishment can be,
and often is
, far, far worse!
It didn't take long to find the emotion in the original story that really interested me. Envy is one of the seven deadly sins that is so often overlooked and so rarely acknowledged. My gut feeling is that envy affects most people and yet they don't talk about it. Consider how we laughingly admit to being lustful, slothful, greedyÂ .Â .Â .Â but who admits to being envious? Maybe it's because people instinctively know how lethal envy can be. The private sphere of love and families and friendships is littered with examples of the chaos and mayhem that envy can cause. But so too is the wider world of politics and international relations.
So we leave it alone.
Yet the truth is that we do so often want what other people have and are often envious when we can't have it. And that envy can quite easily become overwhelming. It can make us lose sleep, appetite and our own sense of self-worth, not to mention all sense of perspective. Before we realise what is happening, it can poison our lives and relationships, and turn us into monsters in the process.
So I decided I would play with envy within the âCinderella' framework and see where it took me. Because I wanted to get right inside this emotion, I decided the story must be told from the point of view of one of the ugly sisters. This necessitated playing down or omitting some of the elements in the original story, such as the fairy godmother, who doesn't feature so prominently in my story. In fact, hardly any magic remains from the earlier drafts. By writing this story I learned that, as wonderful as fantasy and magic are, they are not my strong points. I decided that I'd better stick with the world as I know it. I'll leave it to the reader to decide if this was the right choice.
Finally, I hope that those same readers will forgive me for the many liberties I took with a story that is so well known and loved by so many.
grew up in a magical kingdom of books which ran adjacent to the real life of suburbia and school. Even now, she can't open a wardrobe without pushing her hand through the coats to see if she could possibly step through. She is wary of apples that look too perfect, fast-talking strangers and not keeping promises, but has come to be persuaded that the writing life is not much different from sitting in a room late at night, trying to spin straw into gold. She has published poetry, short stories and a novel, as well as a number of essays and articles, and she lives in north-east Victoria next to a forest full of bats, lizards and owls. She has a garden full of pumpkins, just to be on the safe side. It's porridge every morning at her house.
was born on a farm and spent her school holidays within sniffing distance of a bacon factory. One unforgettable day, she and her cousins watched in appalled fascination as pigs were slaughtered. Now she lives by the sea in a house built of straw, sticks and bricks, with her son and two fine dogs. Nan works as a freelance editor and writer, and has published over two dozen books in Australia and overseas (non-fiction, fiction plus a few stories). No pigs were harmed in the writing of this story.
grew up in a family of writers and editors who were gently appalled when she became a poet. She ran away from Brisbane with a broken heart and spent some time living in a tower in Melbourne filled with beautiful art. She wrote bad love poems and waited for a prince to rescue her. The prince never came, but the poems improved. Since then she's written young adult and children's novels as well as poetry. She lives in the hills outside Melbourne where she teaches professional writing and editing online so she can pay her overdue library fines.
has published ten books and is currently working on the eleventh, a historically based novel about the Abbotsford Convent in Melbourne. She is very chuffed to be included in a story collection dealing with fairytales not only because her story was great fun to write, but because she has always thought of herself as a very naturalistic writer. Maybe that will change. Maureen lives near the Yarra River in Melbourne. Now that her three sons have left home to fight dragons, rescue princesses and search for treasure, she is thinking about getting a dog.
was brought up in the East End of London by semi-literate grandparents and attended a string of appalling back-street schools. Not surprisingly, he didn't read, didn't love books, and didn't long to become a writer. At age fifteen, he had just enough sense to escape to Central Africa, where he felt that he'd been reborn into a fairytale world of sunlight and plenty. As all fairytales should, it changed him completely, opening magical portals/casement windows/wardrobe doors, etc., onto vistas he'd never dreamed of. Now, many years later, with an academic career behind him, and more books than he dares to count, he still blesses the âgood' fairy who waved her wand over his boyhood self. Though ever wary (he knows about fairytales!), he also keeps a lookout for the âbad' fairy. She hasn't turned up yet, but she's sure to be lurking somewhere.
Up in the hills one day,
smelled tobacco smoke when there was nobody there to be smoking it. She has been searching for the fairy folk ever since. She has published twenty books and won many awards, including the
and the Whitbread (Costa) children's book prizes.