Fairy tales can be retold with contemporary themes. At the Perth Writers Festival 2015,  two Australian novelists discussed their latest novels, based on fairy tales. Interestingly, both writers use the story of Rapunzel as a starting point for very different stories. You can read a translation of this fairy story  by the Brothers Grimm here.

This was the first of many sessions I attended. I was enchanted. Now I have two new books on my ‘to read’ pile and can’t wait to read them.

An additional bonus for me was that the session was chaired by Delys Bird, who was my first lecturer in literature as part of a Women’s Studies program I undertook as a (very) mature student. I am very grateful to Delys who encouraged me to think about women’s writing in a very different way from before.

Fairy stories are deeply embedded in our culture,’ she said in her introduction to the session. ‘They serve as a meaningful commentary.’

Danielle Wood
Danielle Wood
Fairy tales with new twist
Fairy tales with new twist









According to author Danielle Wood, her novel Mothers Grimm is not for little girls. It links four stories about motherhood based on fairy tales. Now I’m dying to find out how anyone can tell the story of Rapunzel using a contemporary pregnancy yoga class. Or Hansel and Gretel using a child care facility.

The cover states that it is ‘Wickedly dark, astonishingly funny, happy endings are not guaranteed.’ Instead, Danielle says that the stories are about love and pain, and the wonder of contemporary motherhood.

Cover of Bitter Greens
Cover of Bitter Greens

forsyth, kate







Kate Forsyth also writes about Rapunzel in her novel, Bitter Greens. She said, ‘Rapunzel is locked away from the world in her tower. But, she falls in love, falls into bed, falls pregnant. That’s a lot of falling!’

Points about fairy tales

Kate Forsyth said this about fairy tales

  • We have complex relationships with fairy tales
  • Fairy tales are women-centred.
  • They are almost always about women’s power
  • Women in fairy tales are not passive
  • They have a powerful voice
  • They are often healers.

Danielle Wood said

  • I like re-purposing, and using fairy tales to write a novel is a form of re-purposing.
  • Different fairy tales mean different things at different times in our culture
  • Now we think about different forms of ‘romance’ – family romance, mother-daughter romance and the love between sisters are different forms.

I attended four more sessions after this one. Each was interesting in its own way. But the idea of fairy stories and the way they are deep in our psyche fascinates me.

The Perth Writers Festival 2015 (which was held on the beautiful campus of the University of Western Australia, Crawley) was off to a good start. It was good to catch up with some many writer- and reader- friends over three days.


10 replies on “Fairy tales and modern novels”

  1. Whatever – entering the land of fairy was my introduction to the magical world of story, of words I found hard to enunciate. I revelled. I found my niche. But then something changed – I developed a belief I had to let go of the land of fairy – I had to enter the real world. OMG! Had I made a drastic mistake – should I not have hung onto that which had sustained me? Was there yet another life lesson to painfully learn – that the land of fairy does indeed hold centuries old wisdom, that the age-old stories hold much to all who are open, to all willing to listen. Shit, where I have I stacked my age-worn copy of The Grimm Brothers?

    1. It is so sad that there comes a time when children are encouraged to let go of their beliefs about all that is magical so they can join the real world. One thing that happens is that kids go to school, and have the creativity and beliefs quickly knocked out of them. I remember, also, when I packed away my beloved stories of fairies and other magic. Then, forty or so years later, I rediscovered that those tales are archetypal stories that feed our culture on a very deep level. And they unlock wisdom, too.

  2. I found fairy tales dark and grimm (see what I did there!). Red Riding Hood, Hansel and Gretel, Snow White, Jack and the Beanstalk—they all had horrible witches or giants or wolves wanting to eat children, and they frightened me. I never bought a book of them for my kids, although others did, but I never read them aloud to them. I would have loved to have seen this session to hear a modern take on them, and perhaps these days, they’re told from kindlier perspective!

    1. I must have been lucky, Louise. My parents read (and told) us many fairy stories and I don’t remember being frightened. Perhaps they sanitized them! The stories certainly fed my imagination. One of my favourite books when I first learned to read was a beautiful illustrated book called ‘Peg’s Fairy Tales.’ I’ve no idea who wrote it but it inspired me to see beauty and to create stuff. In time I found out that the Grimm Brother stories were not meant for children, and that fairy stories serve a darker purpose. I was reintroduced to them as a mature student when undertaking women’s studies in the 1980s. Can’t wait to get onto some new writing using fairy tales for inspiration. The idea of writing about old women – witches and crones – excites me. Our society dislikes powerful women of all kinds, but old women in particular. Time to dispel some myths!

  3. I loved this session, too, Maureen and so glad you did too. It was interesting how differently these two writers approached the task. I loved both Kate’s books, and Mothers Grimm, and I will now be aiming to read Rosie Little. I also might try out using fairy tales in my own work.

    1. Hi, Emily. Thanks for commenting on my post about fairy tales. I bought Mothers Grimm and Bitter Greens at the Writers Festival, and haven’t done any more than sample a page or two but I know I’m going to love them. I’ve almost finished editing (re-editing, really after a publisher said they thought it was a bit too heavy and needed lightening) my current book. Then I’m planning to use fairy tales in some way in whatever I write next. Perhaps we could keep in touch if we are thinking along the same lines? That would be good.

  4. I didn’t get to this session, Maureen, but now I wish I had! Saying that, I thoroughly enjoyed every session I did get to. It was a great weekend overall, and my to-read pile is growing so high that it’s about to topple over.

    1. Good to hear from you Melinda. I think we are very lucky to have such a wonderful Perth Writers Week every year. This one seemed even better than the others. It’s a pity about the ‘to read’ piles!

      1. It’s not the to-read list that’s the problem – it’s the time to read them! Saying that, given the long weekend and the time to escape to the south coast, I’ve managed to read almost two novels iin three days. Bring on more weekends like this one.

        1. That sounds like heaven, Melinda. A great way to spend a long-weekend.

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