Thursday, November 8, 2018

Fairy post #39 - Reviews of The Stolen Button, Love Struck & Taffies

Faerie News

Australian Fairy Tale Society's guest Ezine Editor, Dr Rebecca-Anne C. Do Rozario, recently published her long awaited research in a hardcover academic tome:
Fashion in the Fairy Tale Tradition: What Cinderella Wore (Springer, 2018).
A journey through the fairy-tale wardrobe, from glass slippers to red shoes, capes, bonnets and glittering gowns, it explores how the mercurial nature of fashion has shaped and transformed the Western fairy-tale tradition. Unveil patronage, intrigue, privilege and sexual politics behind the most irrepressible, irresistible fairy tales!


Album: Long Time Travellin’ 

music by South Australian group Saltwater Taffy

There is a granular ethereality to this music, whose members include founders of the legendary pagan mythic rock band Spiral Dance. Song titles such as ‘Lady Of The Wood’ and ‘The Gardener’ have one foot in fairy land, probably also a belly button, boot and boob. If it’s possible for a sound to be both grainy and hazy at once, this album shows how.

First, spread out Kim Brown’s digi-design to drink the dusty spell of a cemetery, a rusty bus-stop sign and half-submerged railway bridge, complete with old suitcases, watch-chain or monocle, plaits, hats, sepia photos, eucalyptus in its full spindly glory, a banjo resting on a tombstone, blood-red blooms and wild briars, not to mention a stray chook, and you’re ready for the rustic dream of Saltwater Taffy.

The Taffies specialise in 4-part harmony with (to quote their intro), ‘Old Timey stringband style backing’, playing songs traditional and contemporary; ‘front porch’ Americana songs that migrated from the British Isles into the mountains of Appalachia and back down again. Tune into melodies from the cotton fields and mills, plank roads and abandoned railways, civil wars, ghost-shacks and gospel, songs that twisted, turned and kept on travelling. Launched unofficially at the Fleurieu Folk Festival, their official launch is at the Wakefield Hotel. They’ve also played at Wirinna Bluegrass Festival, folk clubs and other venues over the past 5 years, culminating in this studio recording.

Now, I’m partial to the word ‘Taffy’, as a daughter of a Welsh immigrant, though these cheeky Taffies hasten to point out that they’re not a Welsh Sea Shanty band! To counterbalance my Celtic bias, I deplore America in the Trump era, but the poignant patience of this music reminds me that not all is lost in the deep South, especially as the Dems won back the House in the Midterms on the very day that this music spun cotton in my CD player. Salty sweet, indeed! And it’s mighty good to have a taste of Gillian Welch’s compositional charm in this diverse yet cohesive collection. Her song ‘Caleb Meyer’ is one of the darker pieces; no spoilers here, but be sure to listen carefully to the narrative. Pussy Grabbers beware!

The album opens a cappella, an arrangement recurring every second or third song, wholly or partially, with seamless balance of volume between each vocal line, along with integration of tone or timbre. It’s evident that these folks have sung together awhile, and that their producer knows them as well as apple cider. I particularly like how the vocals are mixed suddenly into the foreground in ‘Wind and Rain’ when all the other instruments drop out, as if the singers have moved up to sit beside me while we wait for…a cart, or bus, or train, or the jester in Twelfth Night, or the next chapter of our lives. Really, it’s a brilliant interpretation; the bass enters and re-enters with an eager saunter, almost a swagger but sweeter. 

So far, along with ‘Wind and Rain’, my favourite track is ‘Morning Come’, which I adore for its fey harmonic suspensions and tinkling banjo. Another fave is ‘The Lone Pilgrim’, a 19th century ballad by William Walker, reminiscent of ‘Amazing Grace’.

Meet The Taffies: 

Artwork by Kim Brown, musician in Saltwater Taffy
Adrienne Piggott (Vocals, Mandolin), Bron Lloyd (Vocals), Kim Brown (Vocals, Tenor Banjo, Resonator Guitar, Mandolin) & Nikkei Nicholson (Vocals, Guitar, Mandolin). 
Guest artists: Kath Kennedy (Fiddle), Nigel Walters (Bass) & Nick Carter (Vocals, Jaw Harp, Bass, Guitar), the producer.


When: 2nd December
Where: Wakefield Hotel, 76 Wakefield St, Adelaide, South Australia

Find the Taffies at Facebook
Find their album at Bandcamp

Review by Louisa John-Krol

Reviews continued...

Two books by members of the Australian Fairy Tale Society

Photo courtesy of multi-award winning author Eugen Bacon

Love Struck by Eugen Bacon

Publisher: Fiction4All
Genre: Romance

Among Eugen Bacon's new offerings is a chapbook Love Struck, the poetic prose of which I find empowering and invigorating. 

A charming series of vignettes - portals of experience, imagination, perception, mystique - complete with singing trees and dawn tides, it includes such delectable lines as: 'a gilded sun cartwheels with the world out yonder, as the tram ting tings! and groans its way into a vigorous city' (p.56);  'the hush of you and me in the whirligigs of the sea, our anxious thrill at the cusp of a new literature' (p.8); 'You purr abandoned in sleep, peaceable like a tot, chin cradled to palm, in the indulgent cream of a feather eiderdown' (p.15); 'The goddess... she told me it is a drink from a chalice overflowing with milk-white blood and sunburnt honey and you will speak in tongues' (p.48). 

Featuring a preface by award-winning author/scholar Dominique Hecq and an eclectic mix of pics, this lush, glossy, elegant, ebony, slim volume slides lightly into the hand, and opens like moth wings rushing to a flame, drawn by a street sign spelling Love, broken yet impossibly still hot, lit up from within. There the book hovers, gleaming and glowing between genres, ageless and free of category, liberated and sweet as a freestone peach.

Eugen Bacon is a multi-award winning African Australian author who has published over 100 stories in multiple anthologies. 

One of Australian Fairy Tale Society's latest members, she recently sold her PhD novel A Woman’s Choice (literary speculative fiction) to a publisher Meerkat Press, based in Atlanta. Find it here. Meanwhile, we are ever so proud that she has agreed to contribute to our fairy tale compendium, too! 

Discover her writing if you dare, at Eugen Bacon's website

Take this poet's advice, and be sure to pluck yourself 'figs and almonds and pomegranates... pour wine from the 'sun-gorged fruit of the Barossa Valley' (p.11). While you're at it, I recommend my own salves for the soul: dab your kitchen with lemon myrtle oil, love cats, bathe in a tub of butterballs sprinkled with lavender, and breathe deeply of a rose. All in the name of literary luxury.

Review by Louisa John-Krol

The Stolen Button 
by Marianna Shek (author) & Leila Honari (illustrator)

Recently on a country train, I read this unique book - twice, thrice - from cover to cover. It’s amazing. More than quality, in my view it’s a classic. The ending is indelibly sad, poignant, haunting, even terrifying. 

Although perhaps a cautionary tale (really, a sort of punishment for lack of respect or gratitude), it’s also tragic from a feminist perspective, because Mei Ling suffers for having curiosity, boldness and dissent. She is spoilt and at times cruel, yet some of her antics are funny and refreshingly bold, e.g. pointing out the flaking fake gold dust on the coin in the general’s presence… I love her for that. 

Like Hans Christian Andersen’s ‘The Little Match Girl’ (minus the sentimentality), or Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Happy Prince’ (equalling his enchanting vocabulary), it dances between cruelty and beauty, without compromising either. Along with the legacy of Andersen and Wilde, this story deserves longevity. Moreover, it demands to be lining the shelves of bookstores and libraries in countless editions, set in school curricula (primary or secondary? I’ll come to that), deconstructed at university tutorials and seminars, discussed in book clubs and festival panels, and hailed as a permanent fixture in the fairy-tale tradition. Indeed, while reading it I found myself imagining those two great fairy tale spinners reincarnating into female form, exchanging their Dutch and British heritage for Iranian and Chinese, transplanted to Australia. Fun, eh?

First, it would need to push through a major flaw in our current publishing industry, around categorisation. According to some experts in commercial book retailing, categories are divided by genre in every age-group except children. The children’s market alone is divided by age, not genre. And picture-books are officially limited to children. As such, this book’s horizontal picture-book format typically fosters a misconception that it’s for children, when really its language is more sophisticated, while its plot and themes are also suitable for middle-grade, YA, or older readers who love fairy tales. This doesn’t mean it couldn’t sit happily in a primary school library. It could. There are gifted youngsters who would devour these pages with pleasure, undeterred - even stimulated - by unfamiliar words stirring initiative to look up and learn, lured and guided by entrancing imagery that provides cultural context as well as casting a spell. (On that note, congrats Leila Honari on the superb illustrations. Together with the writer Marianna Shek, she has brought a rich tapestry of skills and talents to this display.) Enthusiastic teachers, librarians, parents, carers, or other mentors, can play a role in such extension. Unfortunately some mothers are reluctant to give their children stories with sad or frightening endings. I disagree with this fear. Traditionally, fairy tales often served as warnings. We probably now need a whole new genre of cautionary tales to warn children about the dangers of positive thinking! Generally, the book would hold appeal for teenagers and adults who haven’t quite finished with the magic of childhood. I used to teach secondary students, years 7 to 12; that experience underpins my suggestion that many teens would love this book. Others might struggle with the vocabulary. If teaching this book as a text, I’d lead in with a glossary of challenging words or phrasing, along with pre-reading activities. Certainly I adore the author’s choice of words. Exquisite! 

If you’re into fairy tales of any era, ancient or modern, this book will grace your collection with enough spices to make your caravan fly.

Buy at the artists' website, or at other online stores.

Review by Louisa John-Krol

Friday, July 27, 2018

Fairy post #38 Review - Child of the Twilight by Carmel Bird

Faerie News

Dr Rebecca-Anne Do Rozario published her bookFashion in the Fairy Tale Tradition: What Cinderella Wore (Springer, 2018). A journey through the fairy-tale wardrobe, from glass slippers to red shoes, capes, bonnets and glittering gowns, it explores how the mercurial nature of fashion has shaped and transformed the Western fairy-tale tradition. Unveil patronage, intrigue, privilege and sexual politics behind the most irrepressible, irresistible fairy tales!

Dr Eugen Bacon recently sold her PhD novel A Woman’s Choice to a publisher Meerkat Press, based in Atlanta. We are so proud that she has agreed to contribute to our fairy tale Anthology too! Eugen is a multi-award winning African Australian author who has published over 100 stories in multiple anthologies. Discover her writing here

Dr Robyn Floyd is an invited speaker at the Sussex Centre for Folklore, Fairy Tales and Fantasy at University Chichester about Australian Fairy Tales in November. The conference focuses on the importance of fairy tales as a creative force behind literature (including the fantasy genre) and culture in general, embracing international diversity:

Rachel Nightingale published her novel Columbine’s Tale on Odyssey Books. Rachel is a writer, playwright, educator and actor. With a passion for storytelling and theatre, it was natural her first fantasy series would feature both!

Wassail !
Saturday 28th July - 12pm till late
Twin Valley Estates, 113 Hoffnungstal Road, Lyndoch, South Australia
Cobbleys Cider and Spiral Dance host their fourth annual ‘Wassail’.
The custom of Wassailing has its roots in paganism; the idea being to protect the cider apple trees from evil spirits and to ensure a plentiful crop in the coming season. The word wassail comes from the old Anglo Saxon ‘wes hal’ meaning to be whole or in good health. This ancient tradition is still upheld throughout England and Wales, particularly so in the West Country, home of cider, and although ceremonies and songs vary from place to place they all follow similar lines. As previously, the hosts Spiral Dance will plant two more apple trees at Cobbleys Cidery and have a Ritual and Wassail to celebrate the trees and Cobbleys Cider. Programme: Nikkie Nicholson, Adelaide Empire Band, Singing & Music Sessions, Saltwater Taffy, Hedgemonkey Morris, Hot For Joe Morris, Wassail Rite & Tree planting, Normus Gurt Bonfire, Spiral Dance, Apple Pie & Crumble Competition


Child of the Twilight - a novel by Carmel Bird 

Review by Louisa John-Krol, Winter 2018

Carmel Bird adores words. She plays with them like a cat with prey, letting them float and fly before pouncing on them, then letting them run off, knowing she can catch them again, yet ready with a nonchalant shrug if they escape, never to return. If they soar far above, or lurk in cryptic nooks and crannies of perception, all the better.

In the foreground is a banquet of alliteration: ‘Round and Round the rugged rocks the ragged Rascal ran’, a reference to folk tunes like ‘The Gypsy Rover’ or nursery ditty of Mother Duck, ‘over the hills and faraway’ (p.81), revisited with Shakespearean puckish magic ‘over hill, over dale, over those hills and faraway’ (p.172). There’s a generous dose of assonance, with ‘the glass-blowers of Murano and the lace-making on Burano’ (p.192) and ‘Humble-Bumble, Hocus Pocus’ (in the eighth chapter title). Nursery-rhyme playfulness with Little Boy Blue (p.134), Pudding and Pie (again, eighth chapter title) or ‘Ride a cock horse to Banbury Cross, to see a fine lady upon a white horse’, gives the narrative a medieval sparkle, like stars on a Flemish Limbourg sky - the kind on the interior of a dome that Montaigne, that great French essayist, might have gazed up at from his bed - or the pert oranges in a pre-Raphaelite orchard. Or, for that matter, the beading on the gown in Samantha Everton’s 2009 photograph ‘Chrysalis’ gracing my edition of this novel; an eerie quality of this picture is the illogical logic, or logical illogic, of perspective in the positioning of blue feet on a chair’s inner back of brocaded velvet. Samantha Everton's website is worth a visit.

cover photo by Samantha Everton
In the background blow the winds of sensuality: lush descriptions of food, flowers and walnut beds carved with a peacock’s head (a witty hint at Bird’s own authorial gaze?) perched over generations of lovemaking. A wafting of curtains, breath of seasons, and sighs of love, remorse or grief, blow across these pages in great billowing gusts. 

In the middle-ground flows the fluidity of Furta Sacra, which rings to me like sacred furtiveness: the ability of a statue to choose when it moves from one site to another. Whether it travels via theft, purchase, miraculous translation or postage (disguised for its own protection), slumbers beneath waves or hides in plain sight beneath an auction house, it has an uncanny knack of shifting itself around. Furta Sacra was invoked in the Middle Ages, ‘the hey day of relics’ (p.34) to explain the ‘movement’ of statues. The focal point of this pageant is Bambinello, the Infant Jesus to which women pray for fertility, or for protection of their babes, in the Franciscan church of Santa Maria in Aracoeli. Bird’s description of the Bamb (as the narrator affectionately calls him) would sit happily in an old French or Italian fairy tale: in 1892, when Rome suffered an epidemic of typhoid, Prince Alessandro Torlonia lent his gilt coach for the Bambinello to travel in, drawn by a pair of chestnut ponies and ‘driven by coachman in blue livery with silver braid’… The baroque surface of the coach was knobbed, embossed, curlicued, feathered, fanned, flowered all over. High on its topknot was a golden cross on a gleaming globe’ (pp 23-24). It’s not only the Bamb who goes missing. It’s a baby-bunting, missing from the arms of a little cherry-wood statue called Le Sourire (The Smile), also known as La Souris (The Mouse), embracing the air as if her child is still ‘smiling-dimpling’ up at her, long after she was found floating in a spring. Other statues march through the book, such as the Infant of Prague, enabling the Bamb to operate in a chamber of echoes, as if the story itself were a crypt or cavern.

Around it all is the frame of a young woman, Sydney Peony Kent, grappling with the mystery of her adoption, ruminating on possibilities of her ancestry, collecting diaries or letters of the deceased, and exposing twin pillars of fertility and infertility that spin a turn-table (a metaphor for The Wheel of Fate?) at a convent, Le Sourire. Upon this dias, grieving mothers place their dead babes, only to receive living ones from nuns presiding over births of the unwillingly pregnant, cloistered within. No need for cynicism here. It matters little whether these mothers believed the infants ‘returned’ were their own - miraculously restored - or at some level guessed the trickery; the magic is in the sheer practicality of it all, the bizarre logic, the deftness at solving problems at both ends.

Over it all hangs an atmosphere of breathless, soulful suspense. Not the kind one finds in a slick plot stuffed with action, but the musing that hovers in a private, ‘perpetual shrine’ of remembrance to a dead child. Or a crypt of statues, as in the Chapelle des Enfants. Or generations of marionettes hanging from a ceiling of Le Théâtre Royal de Toone, clay feet dangling, faces poised, rapt, watching shows go on beyond their dancing days. Or the patience of a kingfisher in a pool. Or the waiting of sylphs in tree-boughs, ready to swoop across a field of lavender and swags of poppies in Woodpecker Point, Tasmania. Or a valley of forget-me-nots between towns like Olinda, Emerald or Sassafras in the Dandenong Ranges. 

Poetic prose hovers near the edge of surrealism and magic-realism, but never quite slips over into fully fledged psychedelia, adhering to the more stately iconography of European art history and global Catholicism, especially Italian, Irish and a diaspora of both. 

Book Wizard with Pentacle - photo by Louisa John-Krol
Literary allusions pop up throughout the story. They include T.S. Eliot’s lines from ‘Sweeney’ about nightingales singing near a convent, a note on Proust’s reliance on postcards for Remembrance of Things Past, novels by James, Hardy, and McEwan, and multiple references to Shakespeare, including the handsome Romeoesque Rufus being cut out in little stars by his lover Cora, a reference perhaps to the star-seedpod of an apple core, associated with Kora, echoing earlier praise of silkworms weaving cloth of apple-green. Bird cited Nabokov’s advice to authors, that to tell a dream is to lose a reader (p.100), then rebelliously went ahead and recounted one anyway. (I found it enthralling, and it was from that point that the story swept me into its wings. Until then I’d felt unsure of my footing. Dreaming is my element.) Rosita was named after the heroine of Lorca’s play Rosita the Spinster, subtitled The Language of Flowers.

Primavera by Sandro Botticelli

Among these literary gems, Bird scatters pearls from Fine Arts, with such natural flair that Veronica’s ‘titian curls’ don’t warrant a capital T; the great painter’s name settles into the prose as a casual adjective. One imagines the word reclining nude, stretching its legs. Bird’s visual tributes range from overt appraisals to subtle hints, an example of the latter being the skin of a pomegranate ‘ripe upon the branch’ (p.59), a charming simile reminding me of the legendary fruit man motif, which the self-portrait by Arcimboldo depicted in the 16th century. Bird also cites a Chinese painter Claude Zhang and a Spanish station, Perpignan, that Salvadore Dali considered the centre of the world. Architectural features are lovingly outlined, such as wooden finials, fascia boards and gules in an early nineteenth century colonial Tasmanian mansion. (I had to look up the definition of ‘gules’. Besides the alliterative glee of googling gules, I learned that they are bands of red colour shaped like a heraldic shield. Paired with coinspots in Bird’s description, they are painted glass.) Rosita, apropos the author Lorca, was nick-named Flora-n’-Fauna for the botanical focus of her drawing and painting, weaving her with Botticelli’s Primavera, one of my favourite paintings of any era, anywhere. Like one of Bird’s travellers Diana, I too wept before that painting and its twin, Birth of Venus, which when I visited the Uffizi in Firenze during 2003 were positioned in the same small room, so that their beauty enfolded one like two giant wings. Their size was overwhelming compared with seeing them in miniature, in books or postcards; it was as if their frames were windows, through which one gazed at an orchard with real people strolling only a cooee away. If we threw an apple core out of that imaginary opening, one those figures might catch it. As I watched them, music - ‘Trittico Botticelliano’ (Three Botticelli Pictures) by Respighi played in my memory, in gusts of scented blossom. Then there was Cora’s wedding scene, in which her green gown evoked a painting of the marriage of the Arnolfinis, and another entitled May in the medieval Book of Hours for the Duc de Berry.

Apple picking fairy, Image Graphics

Ah yes, there is music in this novel, like zampognari (bagpipists) and pifferai (flautists), along with the song of birds, true to our author’s surname. When a couple in the tale make love, they play a CD of a violin concerto by Vivaldi. I love her phrase ‘troubadour green language’, the language of birds, which Cosimo acquires from drinking the blood of dragons (pp.67-68). There is delight in musicality of language, as in doucement, doucement (slowly, slowly), to describe the arrival of a mysterious ship at Boulogne-sur-Mer, after losing all its crew but for The Black Madonna; or in mingling Italian and Irish accents. Bird sets up historical echoes, such as the British convict ship Amphitrite, burning and blown off course years later near the aforementioned French town, whose fishing boats and beaches would come to bear witness to mines of war (pp.74, 81). Music by Sibelius, Language of the Birds, plays at Cora’s wedding. Cora the Fertile is, I assume, a personification of the deity Kora.

Antique book photo by Louisa
Another element I enjoyed is the mythological or folkloric content. From a pagan/ polytheist perspective, I might otherwise have found the Catholicism a little overbearing. Overlapping, bridging, coalescing, or at least complementary motifs such as the Wishing Well and Black Madonna, effectively mitigated any overt religiosity: ‘The wells and the Black Virgins connect this world to the next… Just as once the shrines of ancient goddesses, often black as well, marked the intersection between life on the surface and life beyond’(p.39). Indeed the characters, especially Cosimo, often wax lyrical about Graeco-Roman goddesses such as Athena/Minerva and Hera/Juno. I flinched a little at the narrator’s identification of an indigenous girl in a portrait as a ‘Black Virgin’, for it seemed a bit of a stretch, sweeping divergent icons together under a collective portmanteau, with an interpretation in which the conquered tribe had no say whatsoever. My reservations are not reproachful, rather a scratch in the throat of Australia’s culture-cough. And after all it was the narrator, not Bird herself, staking a universalist claim. Back in the European setting, I revelled unequivocally in the manifestation of a witchlike matron in a cable car who served - even embodied - the Black Virgin of Montserrat. An eerie touch. 

In particular, I love Bird’s cheeky tone. Or more specifically that of her narrator Sydney, in her asides with the reader. Here’s my favourite: ‘I have earlier drawn attention to the letter motif in literature, and like a postman I will now deliver. Reader, You’ve Got Mail.’ (p.239) The reader is addressed again further within Roland’s letter, as if the author’s finger penetrates the Fourth Wall twice, through a double layer of fabric: ‘May I take you back to that rainy night…?’ (p.241). 

The ensuing lines by Bird’s character Roland are supremely eloquent: ‘I am flooded with thoughts of the dangerous quest and of the malevolent guide, seeing myself as that guide, and I am occasionally overwhelmed with the spectre of blind meaninglessness and the wasteland that is my soul’s country’ (p.242).

'Hot Air Balloon' by Lorena Carrington
It interests me that Bird mentions a hot-air balloon (p.132). Before I received this book from Carmel, I’d bought a framed picture entitled ‘Hot-air Balloon’ by an illustrator we know, Lorena Carrington, depicting fairies sailing air-bound on a dandelion made from photographed steam. Both Bird and Carrington live in the same town, where Carrington launched a book of fairy tales, Vasilisa the Wise and other tales of brave young women, featuring writing by Kate Forsyth and her own illustration. Carmel Bird opened that launch. All four of us - Bird, Carrington, Forsyth and myself - are members of the Australian Fairy Tale Society, and this imagery resonates in my appreciation of the historic township, combined with whimsical, ethereal delight in nature. Further, Bird invokes a Celtic tale of a mother retrieving a child stolen by fairies that is a favourite of Carrington, retold by Kate in the aforementioned book. Bird’s character Rosita is ‘like a parent of an abducted child who will… follow every single lead, every gossamer thread… into the twilight and the glory of Tir Nan Og, where all the little children who have ever been spirited away by fairies and gipsies and old men in tweed overcoats romp and play forever in the fields of bliss’ (pp.171-2); it is here that we encounter the essence of her book’s title and theme. There is humour and darkness and magic here. The word ‘forever’ is not donned lightly. Nor is the tweed overcoat.

1592 Pied Piper painting copied from glass window of Marktkirche, Hamelin
As I write this appraisal, the last group of rescuees are being fished out of Tham Luang Nang Non, a cave in Thailand’s Chiang Rai Province, where their charismatic coach had unwittingly become a Pied Piper, ushering his loyal league into a mountain that swallowed them whole. Their parents are praying to a rain-god whose name, like Hamelin’s handsome gypsy, consists of two alliterative P’s, and a one-syllable word followed by a word with two syllables: Phra Pirun. I cannot help but wonder if Pied/Phra, or Pied/Thai, or Pirun and Piper, might have danced across dialects or handwriting over the centuries. Further, it’s not the only Siamese-Germanic link that I’ve stumbled across. This Thai cave type is ‘karstic’, a term derived from the German name for the Karst region  (Slovene: Kras, Italian: Carso), a limestone plateau above Trieste in the northern Adriatic. Now bordering Slovenia and Italy, in the 19th century it was part of the Austrian Littoral. Migration theories of Hamelin, a town in lower Saxony, point to Transylvania as the stolen children’s destination; it suffered Mongol invasions of Central Europe, led by two grandsons of Genghis Khan, dating from the earliest appearance of the piper legend in the 13th century. The word ‘karst’ was introduced to European scholars in the seventeenth century and became the subject of geomorphology, hydrology and speleology toward modern underwater cave exploration. Karstic topographic features include limestone, dolomite and gypsum (gypsy?). Did Europeans in the middle ages typecast a foreigner in colourful clothing (‘pied’ means multicoloured) as a threat, associated with invaders from the East? All this leads me to wonder if the Pied Piper is a Siamese-Germanic topographical deity, a spirit of rock and rain, an outsider, a transgressor who moves and morphs, like water, across borders. The Thai Caves that captivated the world with this rescue mission are at the border of Thailand and Myanmar. In the media monsoon, many have asked why one diver’s death drew more attention than one hundred deaths to a contemporaneous Japanese flood. Answers range from the dichotomy of human error and intervention, to the emotional drama of blame and forgiveness, or simply visual reportage. I suspect there is more to it. Somewhere deep in our evolution, the lure of a mountain that swallows children is primal. Moreover, transgression of water through caves mirrors our border-crossings through the ages, like the Furta Sacra of a statue that shifts of its own accord.

The following was my own faery prayer for the boys and their rescuers:

Please Phra Pirun, have mercy. Hold back the floods. May sharp, slippery rocks be sentries, not demons in the dark. Bambinello, please bless the waiting parents. Kora, Flora, Inanna, all ye goddesses, please bring the children home, and their brave cave divers. For families of those who perish in floods or other terrors, may the Grief of the Ages be bearable, like the invisible infant in the cradle-arms of Le Sourire. May children of refugees find their parents, too. May all those who cross borders seeking refuge find welcome. Fairies, elementals, guides, let us unite. May our kisses rain, swirl and dance like cherry blossom. Spirits of apple and amber, please help our broken humanity to heal. Let there be a homecoming for our human tribe. Hooyah!

- Louisa John-Krol, Tuesday evening Eastern Standard Time, 10th July 2018

Carmel Bird is an internationally acclaimed Australian author.
Her novel Child of the Twilight, reviewed above, won the 2016 Patrick White Award.

Carmel Bird, photo by Grant Kennedy

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Fairy post #37 Faerie news, puppet float, conference report & Korean folklore

Faerie News

At our fifth Australian Fairy Tale Society conference this Midwinter, I met an inspiring storyteller from South Korea, Seung Ah Kim. She travels the world sharing folktales and culture. Her current tour is supported by her family association Andong Kim, which has more than 1,000 year long history from the founder (one of the grandsons of the last king of Silla Dynasty), keeping the oldest family tree book in Korea. To quote Seung:

"We have 500,000 members and 15 branches in our association. One of the branches owns a village. They have lived there for more than 620 years. Participants will stay in the village and experience Korean tradition, culture, and meet elders, villagers and my family members and hear a lot of stories."

Fey folk, she'd love you to share her ad with your artistic, folkloric networks:

A unique tour of South Korea unfurls from 16-25 October this year. Travel through time as you stay in a temple and historical homes. Listen to stories from elders and monks. Experience traditional music, calligraphy, cooking classes, a traditional memorial service, making rice wine and more. You cannot ask for a better guide and translator than Seung Ah Kim. Contact her at

photo by LJK of antique fairy book

More Faerie News:

Congrats Reilly McCarron, one of Australian Fairy Tale Society's co-founders, on publishing a story in the Snow White edition of Timeless Tales Magazine! Read here.

Dr Lucy Fraser published her academic book The Pleasures of Metamorphosis: Japanese and English Fairy Tale Transformations of "The Little Mermaid" recently.  It explores Japanese and English transformations of Hans Christian Andersen’s 1837 Danish fairy tale "The Little Mermaid".
Lucy is a Lecturer in Japanese, School of Languages and Cultures at The University of Queensland. View her profile & journal article & buy the book.

Frank's Fantastic Fairy Tale Theatre performed rambunctiously at our conference. The talented puppeteers are running a crowdfunding campaign with the Australian Cultural Fund (a tax deductible platform), raising money to turn a horsefloat into a portable puppet theatre. More about them later in this blog under 'Presenters'.

Thanks Gypsy Thornton for this recommendation:
The Faery Folklorist
Gypsy's own site, Once Upon a Blog, remains one of the world's leading sources of fairy tale news & commentary.

Press Release from Sophie Masson:
Pitch Independent, a gathering of indie publishers, an opportunity for writers & illustrators:
W: here

News from Georgina Ballantine:
An anthology call-out for fey stories on the theme of 'Oath and Iron': here

Sydney's Royal Botanic Garden blogger posted an interview with me, Louisa John-Krol, about The Australian Fairy Tale Society here

Fairy Tale Conference Report:

Australian Fairy Tale Society's 5th annual conference unfurled this midwinter at the Royal Botanic Gardens of Sydney, entitled 'Gardens of good & evil: growing life, plucking death'.

All day: Visual arts included glass slippers, keys and mandalas by Spike Deane, with illustrations by members such as Leila Honari, Lorena Carrington and Erin-Claire Barrow. An accompanying book stall featured writing by attending author-members such as Marianna Shek (The Stolen Button), Thang Dac Luong (Refugee Wolf - new education edition), Monique Mulligan (several titles) of Serenity Press, Phillippa Adgemis (Melpomene and Andonis) and our Keynote, Dr Kate Forsyth (Vasilisa the Wise and other tales of brave young women and her novel Beauty in Thorns).

Noon-2pm was a free public segment, comprising a fairy tale garden tour by Jo Henwood and map with designs by Debra Phillips, puppetry (Rapunzel and Spinach) by Frank's Fantastic Fairy Tale Theatre, storytelling & music by Louisa John-Krol (me) improvising with puppeteers and Les Davidson as impish Green Jack to understudy a cancellation, and Liz Locksley of Thrive Story, with her true tale of Goblin's Gold and the Tardigrade, a super resilient moss.

Sessions morning and afternoon for registered attendees included anthro-botanical research on fairy tale rings, storytelling about an Australian wildflower princess painter, a literary panel (publisher/ writer/ illustrator), Q&A around fairy tales from The Silk Road and presentation of our Fairy Tale Award to Dr Kate Forsyth, this year's Keynote.

Bios/Intros of presenters are below, but first let's thank the dedicated fairy folk who made the practical wheels of this event turn:

Attendees from our main Committee, besides myself:

Spike Deane from Canberra designed call-outs, fliers, printed programmes, web banners and social media promo. Spike also participated in the exhibition with her glass art, and brought along the glass sculpture she created, on which we engrave names of our fairy tale awardees.

Jo Henwood from Sydney, as public officer, Ring Maiden and co-founder, was head of venue liaison this year. She also handled catering & quilting (collecting and sewing fairy tale patches from members for quilts as gifts for the homeless), hosted dinner and led a fairy tale garden tour.

Patricia Poppenbeek from Melbourne volunteered far more than her share of time to stall-minding, and helped set up rooms on the previous day, together with dedicated members of the Sydney Fairy Tale Ring. [Patsy, an author and editor, chairs our sub-committee for a proposed Anthology, South of the Sun - Australian fairy tales for the 21st century.]


Last year's bursary recipients, Georgina Ballantine and Joe Vandermeer, assisted with a number of tasks, from catering to filming, while this year's recipients, Danielle McGee and Monique Mulligan, helped to mind the stalls. Notably, Monique was also a presenter and panelist, as an editorial director of Serenity Press, an indie publisher in Western Australia.


Shirley Way stepped into the role of MC at a week's notice after a cancellation, travelling from Brisbane; she performed admirably amidst several late changes to the programme.

Nicole Logue as part of her course on event management, assisted with many tasks from catering to publicity, and wrote a stunning press release.

Erin-Claire Barrow as Returning Officer for this year's AGM, carried proceedings with aplomb. She also participated in the exhibition with her beautiful art. Erin illustrated last year's Fairy Tale Award certificate. [This year's Award illustrator was Jane Carlisle.]

Apologies in advance for any oversights in this list of thanks. If you notice any gaps, please let me know.

Now for details of our presenters and exhibitors! This might appeal to those of you who missed the conference, or attended but missed a presentation; there are web-links here for you to seek them out yourselves:


Kate Forsyth: Keynote - “Edward Burne-Jones’s obsession with ‘Sleeping Beauty’ and the motif of the rose”: Her acclaimed novel Beauty in Thorns is the story of Pre-Raphaelite artist Edward Burne-Jones’s lifelong obsession with the Sleeping Beauty fairy-tale and the symbolic meaning of flowers, such as the wild rose in ‘The Legend of Briar Rose’. Kate is one of Australia’s best-known writers, with over a million copies sold around the world. Later in the day, Kate - an accredited storyteller - performed the tale of Katie Crackernuts. Her performance was utterly bewitching. Afterwards we presented her with our annual Fairy Tale Award for her contribution to scholarship, storytelling and writing in this field. Her book signing unfurled in the Moore room during our noon-2pm segment for families. Discover more about this fascinating Australian fey woman here

Robyn Floyd, Phillippa Adgemis, Christine Shiel: “A garden always has a point.” ―  Elizabeth Hoyt (The Raven Prince): What is the point of the garden, the bush, the landscape in folktales? We followed Christine, Robyn and Phillippa down a wonderland ‘rabbit hole’ as they explored the impact of transplanting traditional tales into new natural environments: the garden, the bush, the island. They presented a dialogue (trialogue?) that questioned effects of natural settings on mannerisms, behaviour and appearance of characters in fairy tales & mythologies. Find out more about Robyn's PhD on Australian fairy tale maven Olga Ernst, amongst other topics at her blog.

Graham Ross: Storyteller & Historian - “The Australian Fairy Tale Princess”: performed an historically allusive biography with fairy tale elements (palace, royal garden, fairy godparents, magic), helping to deepen interest in the life & work of the Australian painter Ellis Rowan (1848-1922). Graham has been telling stories in an oral tradition for many years, sometimes under the auspices of the local chapter of Storytelling Australia (SA). He is President of this chapter and convenor of the South Australian Fairy Ring. He comes from an eclectic background of psychology, teacher education & performing arts.

Natalie Phillips: Postgraduate Student - “Fairy Tale Rings”: The fairy ring is an intriguing natural phenomenon. Scientifically it is the result of mycelium (fungal threads) absorbing nutrients in the soil - a ring of darker grass, or dead grass, or mushrooms (Rutter 60). Its presence in folklore is more convoluted; a trap, luring mortals; or a portal to a magical world, protection or fortune. This academic paper explored the fairy ring in folktales, art and literature, breaking down elements intrinsic to this phenomenon — magical, scientific, symbolic [Rutter, Gordon. “Fairy Rings”. Field Mycology 3.2 (2002): 56-60. ScienceDirect. Web. 15 Jan. 2018.] Natalie is a doctoral candidate at Western Sydney University.

Helen Hopcroft: Manager of Frank’s Fantastic Fairy Tale Theatre - “Rapunzel and Spinach”: Frank's is a portable puppet theatre in Maitland, telling traditional fairy tales in new ways. All their puppets, stories, costumes and props are handmade, loosely based on the Queen’s Theatre at Versailles. Plays are between 5-20 minutes, appealing to children aged 4-10 years. With a crew of six including a storyteller, MC and sound technician, Frank's (or may I say, Helen's!) transported us into imagination with humour and glee. Truly a highlight of our day, it helped weave the kind of playful, quirky, mischievous, whimsical magic that leads seamlessly into storytelling. Helen has a PhD in English & Writing at the University of Newcastle, focusing on the Arabian Nights and Western-European fairy tales. She’s co-published an article in Marvels & Tales. A reminder to support their crowdfunding for a converted horse float for safely transporting their portable theatre.

Louisa John-Krol: I understudied ABC presenter Cheralyn Darcey ('The Language of Flowers in Fairy Tales'), as other acts weren't suitable for children, and this was a segment we'd publicised as family entertainment. Years of fairy festival experience came in handy as I improvised with puppeteers and Les Davidson who was clad in green, playing Jack, in an impromptu pantomime of storytelling and music that included Rapunzel's Wraggle Taggle, an Italian tale 'Cecino the Tiny', a melody I'd set to a Keats' poem, and an original song 'Moon Willow'. My discography on ethereal labels, with other faerielore, abides here.

Liz Locksley: founding Storyteller of Thrive Story - “Goblin’s Gold”: a storytelling experience - A fragment of Goblin’s Gold, is snatched from behind a wizard in a cave on the wooded escarpment of Alderley Edge. In it lives a Tardigrade, one of Earth's most tenacious creatures. We heard the tale of a lifelong quest, of Goblin’s Gold and the Tardigrade. Goblins’ Gold, also called Schistostega pennata and luminescent moss, is known for glowing and growing in dark places. Unlike other moss, the Tardigrade, or Water Bear, is perhaps the most resilient creature on Earth. It can survive a wide range of temperatures and environments, perhaps even cosmic catastrophe. Liz Locksley is founder of Thrive Story.

Marianna Shek and Leila Honari: “The Silk Road - Cultivating a Hybrid Garden”: The creative journey behind The Stolen Button book, a fairy tale on the Silk Road. They discussed themes of migration, displacement and multicultural stories in an Australian landscape. The Silk Road is a hybrid garden, a space to portray an exotic other, where wands, dragons and goblins mingle with nagas, djinns and huli jings. This Q&A led to an exhibition of Leila Honari’s art. Leila and Marianna worked on The Stolen Button while teaching and completing PhDs in the animation dept at Griffith Film School. Marianna is a transmedia writer working with non-linear narratives. Her latest work If The Shoe Fits won first place in the 2017 Conflux Short Story comp. She has forthcoming works in anthologies by Tiny Owl Workshop. Leila’s research investigates the mandala structure of Persian mystical stories. Her projected installation Farsh-e-Parandeh (Flying Carpet) is available for exhibitions. Find out more here.

Monique Mulligan: Editorial Director of Serenity Press - “Growing beautiful stories: Keeping the flame alive”: S.P. is a small independent publisher now focussing on folklore, fairy-tale retellings and original fairy tales, keeping traditional stories and storytelling alive by fostering understanding and enjoyment of folklore, fairy tales and myth. An editor, author, founder of Stories on Stage in Perth, and journalist, Monique published Vasilisa the Wise and Other Tales of Brave Young Women retold by Kate Forsyth, illustrated by Lorena Carrington*. These tales of courage and cleverness, an antidote to the assumption that classic fairy-tales feature passive princesses. Set in forests, secret gardens and wild seashores, they invoke nature – a doll made of wood, a hazel-twig wand, roses, a silver castle hanging from oak trees, a wooden flute that summons a griffin, primarily created out of detritus from forest floors – leaves, bones, moss, twigs, seeds, mushrooms. Discover more here - and buy the book!

Exhibitors included Erin-Claire Barrow, Spike Deane, Debra Phillips, Leila Honari, Marianna Shek, Jane Carlisle (in absentee) and one of our panelists Lorena Carrington*, who explores lost or forgotten fairy tales. Her work delves into themes around life and death, created from her garden and surrounding landscape.

Fairy Carriage by Lorena Carrington
*Lorena, Monique and Kate united for a fascinating panel discussion in the afternoon.

Fey Regards,

Louisa John-Krol
Australian Fairy Tale Society

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Fairy post #36 - Serenity & Button pre-conference

Faerie News

New Music from Melbourne, Australia

Ambient Pop by Elvan

The Stolen Button
a new fairy tale by Marianna Shek and Leila Honari
who shall co-present a Q&A session
at the 5th annual conference of the Australian Fairy Tale Society

flying from Brisbane to Sydney:
When: Sunday 10th June 2018
Where: Botanic Gardens of Sydney
Art & books by other published attendees will be for sale there too.
Or buy The Stolen Button online now,
so you know what to ask if you attend!

Join us at the Australian Fairy Tale Society's 5th annual conference
on Sunday 10th June 2018 at the Royal Botanic Gardens of Sydney,
'Gardens of good and evil: growing life, plucking death'.
To register, click here 
To view our programme, click here
Liz Locksley of Thrive Story with Goblin's Gold and the Tardigrade
a most resilient moss!

Our panel trio comprises Monique Mulligan (an editor of Serenity Press) of WA,
our Keynote Dr Kate Forsyth (scholar, storyteller, bestselling author) of NSW,
and illustrator Lorena Carrington of Vic, whose pictures will be in our exhibition,
like the gorgeous floating castle below, shared here with her kind permission,
from Vasilisa the Wise and other tales of brave young women - more info here

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Fairy post #35 - Cassandra interview, news & reviews x 3

Faerie News

Hey Ho!
Been about a year 
since my last post, 
so ample news & reviews 
are brimming here.
- Louisa John-Krol

In 2017, after a decade's hiatus, 
I released two new albums in the faerie genre:

cover painting by Belinda John,
Excalibur sword by Rachael Hammond


A compilation of water music from our various albums on indie record labels, celebrating nymphs, nixies, nereids, mermaids, island witches and other aquatic magic. Between each song is a recording of rain, rivers, oceans or Australian waterbirds. Discover wetlands, dream of voyages beyond the estuary, rest by a stream, trace a forest lane in the rain. Torlan is Welsh for 'from the river bank'. Many other languages are cited in poetry throughout the lyric booklet, laced with lush photographs, from fey waterfalls to haunted billabongs.


A double album soundtrack for my unfolding fantasy chronicles, set in an enchanted land below a river. Featuring 50 musicians from 15 nations with eclectic instruments - and an illustrated booklet with illuminated borders - it draws upon magic-realism, fables, mythology and fairy tales, mingling Celtic neo-medieval balladry with dreampop and classical ambience, from the melodic whimsy of Violin Velvet, to baroque blues of The Dwarf of Barberry, plushness of Escalder The Green Lady and shimmering energy of Evander the Unicorn.

Both albums are available via PayPal from my website shop, 
in eco-friendly digipaks. Click here

Display of our open digipak with illustrated lyrics, sleeves & eco-friendly materials.

antique book plate
photo by Louisa John-Krol

A mysterious fairy in contemporary Australia!
Here is Adele as Green Lady.

Reviews by LJK 2018

(i) Music Review



an album of faerie music by 
Karen Kay & Michael Tingle
Pixie Publishing

Intricate coustic guitar plucking sparkles in the foreground like raindrops, with luminous keyboard sounds that glow, echoing faerie lights of the sleeve art: lanterns lighting a secret path on a lake. Inside, bright green leaves unfurl across internal panels of the digipak. These effects are offset by the sensual, smoky, sultry vocals of Karen Kay, reminding me at times of The Visions of Vespertina, an American ethereal gothic project on the German darkwave label Hyperium in the 90’s; also a trip-hop group Baxter, shades of Kate Bush in Never Forever, Wendy Rule in recent albums such as Black Snake, and the singing of Chloé St Liphard on the album Vernes-Monde by the great French neo-baroque chamber art-pop outfit, Collection d'Arnell~Andréa. Karen’s lyrics, particularly in the opening track, carry sharply defined folk lines reminiscent of Australian mythic rocker Adrienne Piggott in Spiral Dance. 

This album’s musician, producer, arranger and visual designer is the multi-talented Michael Tingle, who co-wrote the songs with Karen, except for #7, ’Stars in Puddles’, by Armorel Hamilton.

One of my favourite tracks is #2 ‘Faerie Feeling’, which arrested me initially because the melody reminds me of the verses in a Clannad divine song ‘Magical Ring’, but it also has a charming counterpoint of aforementioned plucking, mixed close-up like fey fingers tickling earlobes, or splashing dew along one’s skin as we venture farther into woodlands. Who knows which sprite in Titania and Oberon’s retinue might be near?

Another fave is #5 ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, which lives up to being the album’s fifth track by a gorgeous vocal melody with leaps in fifths to the word ‘dream’ (and occasionally octaves, to the word ‘joy’), closing key phrases. Loving Shakespeare, and having a numerological obsession with the pentacle/ pentagram, the combination of ‘dream’ + 5 is hard for me to resist. Moreover, it’s a memorable tune. I also enjoy its reverse-recording motifs, one of my longtime favourite sonic effects. Further, lyrically I like the reference to seeing a dragonfly out of the corner of one’s eye; a nod to the peripheral vision so characteristic of faerie glimpses.

Congrats Karen and Michael on pooling your talents to bring us this crepuscular caress. Long may you and your faerie clans prosper.

- Louisa John-Krol

(ii) Art Review

‘All The Better To See You With’ - Fairy Tales Transformed

Exhibition (23 Nov 2017 - 4 March 2018) 
Potter Museum of Art, University of Melbourne

Renowned Australian author and Australian Fairy Tale Society member, Carmel Bird, opened this bewitching exhibition, which featured twenty-one contemporary artists exploring anxieties around such themes as injustice, exploitation, transformation, hope and empowerment with stunning diversity of medium and mode, from a lace crafted venetian blind, to printmaking, installation and animation. One of my favourite pieces was The Table of Moresnet, 2016, by Zilverster (a collaboration between Sharon Goodwin and Irene Hanenbergh), a 19th century wooden table upended vertically, upon which the artists had engraved flourishes arising from conversations together, pictured on pages 114-115 of the catalogue. The latter is a substantial book with eloquent articles by Dr Athena Bellas (‘Prohibition, transgression, transformation’), Kelly Gellatly (Director’s Foreword), and Samantha Comte (Curator’s title-essay). Both cite Marina Warner, beloved of fairy tale buffs here and abroad.

The show’s provocations linger long afterwards. What niggles is a quizzical quibble with our era’s zeitgeist: that seemingly the only way adults may access fairy tales profoundly is through disturbance, horror, eeriness or at least a sense of unease. Why? Granted, fairy tales can be horrifying, but that's not all they are, is it? Many modern practitioners of fairy tales feel compelled to remark that not all fairy tales end happily ever after, as if this phrase is a code to enter the dialogue. Dystopian art can be great, but why such preponderance of it? The Jungian preoccupation with embracing our shadow self has its worth, but may we sometimes let in a little light? Maybe it’s trite to claim that fairy tales are ageless or timeless, but they can appeal at any time, age or mood. They operate on multiple levels without needing to be gloomy, any more than they need to be twee. The binary of ‘cute for children, creepy for adults’ may well be a culturally arbitrary boundary, no less limiting than binaries of good-bad, black-white, rich-poor, urban-rural or left-right. Fairy tales play in liminal spaces. They thrive on eluding expectations. Hopefully intellectual mistrust of fey, sweet, gentle whimsy is just a transitory phase that the global intelligentsia is experiencing.

This concern might already have been working itself out through the exhibition, as expressed in Samantha Comte’s quotation of Angela Carter on ‘heroic optimism’ and her allusion to Marina Warner’s observation that fairy tales are a conversation of centuries, highlighting the fluidity of this subject through historical change, intercultural dialogue and shifting landscapes of the psyche. Comte is fascinated by how fairy tales respond to social context, transforming over time, and this exhibition effectively encapsulates that fascination. Themes of lost children have dominated Australian expression, from Frederick McCubbin’s depictions of bush landscapes in oil paintings (images of which wallpapered the storytelling room of Wonderwings Fairy Shop in Richmond, Melbourne, in the last decade of the 20th century, before moving to a similar venue Myths and Legends in Gisborne, country Victoria, still running after over a quarter of a century); to Joan Lindsay’s novel Picnic at Hanging Rock. This not only evokes fairy tales such as ‘Hansel and Gretel’ or ‘Babes in the Wood’, but - as Australian author Sophie Masson wrote in her 2016 essay ‘Fairy tale transformation: The pied piper theme in Australian fiction’ (M/C Journal 19,4) - carries motifs of ‘The Pied Piper’; a mountain swallows the young, led by Pan, invoked by panpipes in the soundtrack of Peter Weir’s 1975 film Picnic at Hanging Rock.  In flux, yet perennial.

Another point on which I agree with Samantha Comte and Marina Warner is that whilst fairy tales don’t always contain fairies, they do carry magic. I wrote about this is in my 2017 essay ‘Gracing, Musing and the Wishing Well’ (TEXT Journal, 43). 

Thank you to the Curator, Director, Artists and Sponsors for this haunting exhibition.

- Louisa John-Krol

(iii) Book Review

Jack of Spades

 (2017 Eagle Books)

 a novel by Sophie Masson 

Rosalind Duke, Linda for short, cuts a classy heroine with her plucky attitude and acuity. Daughter of a Shakespearean scholar dabbling in espionage, she sails from London to Paris in 1910, unchaperoned and nearly penniless, with her only clue: a Jack of Spades card that a stranger mailed to her home. Raised in a family of avid card players, she interprets that cryptic gesture as a summons, but the handwriting on the envelope isn’t that of her father. Linda finds herself in the cosmopolitan Latin Quarter frequented by students and travellers, sporting a new hairstyle and identity, quite the chic fashionista dashing about in carriages through an international set of spies, detectives, bank robbers, book dealers* and bombs. Oh, and the most delicious confectionary ever! [*bouquiniste: French for second-hand book dealer.]

Descriptions of Parisian streets carry profound love of the culture from which Masson hails. Her entire family is French. Staying with her grandmother Mamizou in France, she learned many tales, and her parents made her speak French at home. (This novel is dedicated to Masson’s mother, Gisèle Masson, who died in 2016, a year before its publication.) The Australia Council awarded Masson a 6-month writer’s residency in Paris. We learn how, in 1910, the district’s main street had been transformed into ‘one of the elegant, wide boulevards’, yet how ‘at its heart lay  a bustling, colourful area reminiscent more of the Middle Ages than the early twentieth century’ (p.17). There is an allusion to the hall of tall mirrors, La Galerie des Glaces (p.173).

Cheekily, Masson breaks the Fourth Wall: ‘Don’t be silly, she chided herself. You’re not in a detective novel. This is real life. And in real life, gentle, unworldly Professors like her father didn’t go around playing Sherlock Holmes’ (p.50). 

Whilst less ethereal than her Snow White or Sleeping Beauty re-spins (Hunter’s Moon and Clementine respectively), Jack of Spades carries several fairy-tale motifs such as riddles and quests, a girl rescuing her father, disguise, hidden allegiances, numerical games, the subliminal or seductive properties of flowers, and the presiding presence of trickster Jack in his guise as joker, referred to as the ‘Wildcard’.

Of all sensory interplay, most prominent is sense of smell, as in the aroma of lilac and violet. Ah, but no spoilers! Suffice it to say the novel Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Süskind sprang to mind. Additionally, our protagonist cites The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy (p.189). Indeed this would make a lush film! I agree with Anthony Horowitz’s praise: ‘Nobody weaves history, romance and adventure like Sophie Masson’. This novel combines the clever espionage of her Trinity duology (for adult readers) with the accessibility and pithy charm of her YA fairy tale re-spins such as Hunter’s Moon or Clementine.

It is also politically timely. Reading about 19th nihilism sent a chill down my spine, hinting at conspiracies of our own era: the rise of American libertarians with anti-government bravado; Brexit in the UK, fascist uprisings across Europe, with strident nationalism backed by the Kremlin; Russian troll farms spreading Fake News on social media, stirring civil unrest; nefarious misuse of data by Cambridge Analytica to manipulate voters, linked to an Alt-Right movement fostered by such websites as Breitbart and Infowars; and socio-economic fragmentation, with each tribe expressing loss of trust in established institutions. We also have the rise of Islamic extremism. Nihilists in this novel go by the name of The League of the Black Dagger: ‘international political extremists who for decades had waged a campaign of terror all over the world. Believing the world would be better off without governments, they had bombed courts and Parliaments and killed several heads of State’ (p.56); ‘New groups spring up like mushrooms all the time. Secret societies. Revolutionary cells. Hothead rebels. Most are harmless - just vain, turbulent fools who love to shout slogans and shake their fists and talk big’ (p.57). This reminds me of Trump followers shouting jingoistic chants like ‘Crooked Hilary’, ‘Lock her up!’, ‘Build the Wall’, ‘Make America Great Again’, ‘Drain the Swamp’ and so forth. The description then takes a more chilling turn: ‘But a few harbour much more lethal intentions’ (p.57), calling to mind today’s gun-slinging neo-Nazi protesters in Charlottesville and a murderous motorist, or the powerful lobbying of America’s National Rifle Association, or a recent attack with nerve gas upon ex-Russian spies in Britain, or the fact that President Trump’s father was a member of the Ku Klux Klan. 

- Louisa John-Krol

Storyteller Anne E Stewart has begun holding workshops at her Story House And Garden in Daylesford. She continues her lifelong storytelling adventures via such inspirations as Words in Winter & the Art Gallery of Ballarat, and still finds time for fey mischief:

"All fairies most welcome" - Anne

left to right:
Mary-Lou Keaney, Anne Atkins, Suzanne Sandow, Anne E Stewart

Anne E Stewart at Nutcote 2017

PSST: I heard it was Unicorn Day 9th April, and there's another coming up 16th June... ride with joy!

Australian Fairy Tale Society 

In 2017 we presented our inaugural Australian Fairy Tale Award, with this certificate illustrated by AFTS member Erin-Claire Barrow for awardee Belinda Calderone:

Australian Fairy Tale Society Award illustration by Erin-Claire Barrow, Australia 2017

To view our society's sculpture by glass artist Spike Deane, onto which we carve names of annual awardees, please visit her blog - direct link to the page here. You'll find heaps of amazing pieces & posts! 

Oh, and don't miss our fifth annual Australian Fairy Tale Society conference! 
When: Sunday 10th June 2018
Where: Royal Botanic Gardens of Sydney
What: 'Gardens of good and evil: growing life, plucking death'
Who: internationally acclaimed bestselling author, storyteller & scholar Dr Kate Forsyth as Keynote, and a host of other talented writers, researchers, illustrators & performers. 
Frank's Fantastic Fairy Tale Theatre,
courtesy of Helen Hopcroft,

pictured here as Marie Antoinette.
Day includes free-to-public show at noon with fairy garden tour, storytelling & puppetry! Roll up for 'Goblin's Gold' (Thrive Story), Frank's Fantastic Theatre (Rapunzel & spinach) and find out about 'The Language of Flowers' in Fairy Tales! 

Register here


with Brisbane author Kathryn Gossow

about her novel Cassandra 

(Odyssey Books 2017)

Introduction/Short Review: 

Quoting from one of my favourite poets, C.P. Cavafy, won me over even before the first line of the novel, after the title and haunting cover art had mystified me. After all, Cassandra not only resonates as one of the great classical stories through the ages, but also serves to illustrate ‘HSP’ explored in The Highly Sensitive Person by Dr Elaine Aron. According both books, prescience, the gift of prophecy or at least an eerie sense of foreboding, is not limited to a few sibyls and oracles, but can manifest in the girl next door, and may describe a perceptive person with more imagination, foresight and empathy than most; he/she is likely to envisage ramifications several steps after a decision, or could function as a sort of canary in a cage in our workplace, before disastrous new trends such as open-plan offices/schools are inflicted on an unsuspecting population. Rather than dismiss our Cassandras as toxic troublemakers, we have an opportunity to embrace them as useful guides. Too often we fear or shun them, as happens in Monteverdi’s opera Sir Orfeo, when the Messenger bears news to Orpheus of his beloved Eurydice’s death by snake bite. Interestingly there are echoes of this in Gossow’s novel, when a snake with orange flecks on its belly rears up and bites our heroine Cassie. Is this a tangible event, through which poison transfers some under worldly magic to a receptive child? Or is it more figurative, a symbolic coming of age, a transformation from inquisitive child into prescient mystic? I love the way these possibilities remain mysterious. It’s a mark of good writing that our imaginations are not limited to only one interpretation. Without giving any spoilers, I’ll add that a plot twist in the last couple of chapters was truly arresting.

L: How did you come to publish this novel, and who were your manuscript mentors along the way? I gather that you have been involved in at least one book club or writing group.

K: I was too scared to let my book club read Cassandra until it was published. It’s like how it is easier to give a speech in front of strangers. Or is that just me? I live in the country so I joined an online writers group. The women in that group, who were from all over the world, where incredible at helping me hone and polish my writing at a sentence and word level. Then I won an Australian Association of Authors mentorship and worked for a year with editor Judith Lukin-Amundsen. Winning the mentorship and working with Judith was important for my confidence. I think most beginning writers struggle with knowing when their writing is good enough to be published. The Queensland Writer’s Centre is also a great resource for writers here. Through QWC I did a Year of the Edit course with Kim Wilkins. She is an engaging and clever teacher. I recommend any opportunity to do a workshop with her. Through courses at QWC I have also met writers who have become my friends and supports. I won’t tell you how long I worked on Cassandra. It is too embarrassing. Eventually Odyssey Books picked her up and published her with the most beautiful cover ever. I am so in love with it.

L: Your subtle weaving of Classical Greek mythology into contemporary Australian rural culture is clever. It doesn’t feel at all pastiche; rather, it’s authentically integrated. Some of this occurs with references to iconography that invokes deities at a subconscious level, such as the presence of olives, traditionally associated with Athena. Others are more raw and explicitly in the foreground, such as the near-ravishing of Cassie, alluding to the ambiguity of reporting around Cassandra’s possible rape in Troy. What are some other devices you used to link ancient Greek mythology with our own time and place?

K: Most people don’t have an extensive or even basic knowledge of Greek mythology. At first I had chapters with the voices of the gods talking about themselves and Cassandra because I thought the book would only make sense if people knew the something of the original myth. On the advice of my beta readers I dumped them. It was hard because I liked hearing Apollo claim he did nothing wrong in cursing Cassandra and Zeus believe his womanising was acceptable.

I realised the story needed to stand on its own so people with no knowledge of Greek mythology could enjoy the book. Most people may have heard of Cassandra of Troy but would not know her role in Greek myth, they might just vaguely know she could predict the future. The mythology nerds would pick up on the references, like the olives, or Zeus welding his sculptures together as though lightning were coming out of fingers or Cassandra’s visions of the Fates.

Instead of retelling Cassandra of Troy’s story I have transplanted the characters to 1980’s Queensland and imagined what would happen if a girl could predict the future and how isolating and confusing that would be. I imagined Athena as an independent, feminist know-it-all who never had a mother. I put her in a ramshackle farm house with her arrogant worldly womanising father and made her quest for scientific knowledge greater than her concern for Cassandra’s wellbeing. Essentially Cassandra and Athena moved into my childhood home!

L: You are a member of the Australian Fairy Tale Society. How did you find out about us, why did you join, and which projects or activities do you particularly hope will flourish?

K: I am pretty sure Aunty Google told me about AFTS. I signed up and paid my membership and then found out to my utter pleasure that there were fairy tale rings! I have since discovered a community of amazing people with astounding fairy tale knowledge. I’m ring leader of the Brisbane Ring, in the bureaucratic role of making it happen. Rebecca-Ann Do Rozario with her wonderful fairy tale knowledge helps me facilitate on the day. I hope we will be able to grow the Brisbane Ring and bring more people along. I am also excited about the planned anthology.

L: How do you interpret the word(s) ‘faerie’, ‘fairy’, ‘faery’, ‘fey’, etc. whether as nouns or adjectives, and what resonance do they hold for you?

K: I just finished reading Susanna Clark’s Jonathon Strange and Mr Norrell and I think her fairies are my fairies. The Gentleman with the Thistledown hair is arrogant, self-serving, volatile, unable to fathom the other’s thoughts or feelings, oversensitive, scornful… The world of magic and fairy in her novel are dangerous and charming. (That’s no sort of academic answer. I live my life in fiction.)

Cassandra by Kathryn Gossow,
2017 Odyssey Books, Australia
L: Cassandra represents for many of us, the pain of being misunderstood. Which aspect(s) of her personality or experience drew you to her?

K: I was first inspired by Apollo’s curse. He said that no one would believe Cassandra’s prophecies. If Apollo taught or gave Cassandra the gift of prophecy and she had promised herself to him in return, then perhaps she had already seen he was going to betray her. Is that why she reneged on the agreement? In which case she caused the curse trying to prevent the curse. In part I was exploring the tension between fate and free-will and whether we believe we have control over our destinies. At the same time there is a danger to being future focussed. We all do it, plan our weekends, holidays, worry about things that could happen. We risk forgetting about the moment we are in.

Cassandra’s loneliness and isolation drew me to her as a character. She just wants to be loved and liked but she has this crazy ability to predict the future and it consumes her. Many of her experiences are the way I felt at her age and naughty things I did. The drunken parties on the riverbank, trying to fit in with the crowd, falling for the wrong boy. I also fell in love with Athena. She is the girl I wish I was when I was a teenager. I have a clear memory of the moment I imagined her a young feminist interested in science instead of boys.

Review & Interview by Louisa John-Krol, May 2018

Art by Alyz Tale (when editor of Elegy Magazine), Paris
inspired by my song 'Blackbird' (on Ariel*&
accompanying her story 'Louisa'
published in her collection Mon dernier thé.
* The Ariel album, on French record label Prikosnovenie, is long out-of-print
but set to return in a new collection soon.
* * * * *

Firebird by Edmund Dulac 1916
Australian Fairy Tale Rings are currently exploring 'The Firebird' fairy tale. Enjoying Igor Stravinsky's music by that name, brimming with flurries of plucking and piping in the foreground to depict feathers, conjuring, rustling leaves or a sense of hide and seek, of avian caprice, afore lofty, swirling, arcing vistas.

Patricia Poppenbeek now leads Victoria's Fairy Tale Ring and chairs a sub-committee for publishing an Anthology, giving me a chance to focus on duties as President & Acting Secretary of the Australian fairy Tale Society, a national charity. This year AFTS reached membership of 100 for the first time in its history and rapidly exceeded it.

We've released our 6th edition of the Ezine, thanks to Editor in Chief Claudia Barnett and Sub-Eds Erin Hallowell-Gartlan & Spike Deane, with support of a talented troupe. We are grateful to founding Editor Gypsy Thornton for her beautiful templates on CANVA, and look forward to issue #7 with editorship of fairy tale fashionista Dr Rebecca-Anne Do Rozario & incoming fairy, Sub-Ed Avleen Masowan. Welcome!

Firebird by Ivan Bilibin 1899


In earlier posts I used double inverted commas for quotations and titles. Lately I’ve come to prefer italics for titles and single inverted commas for quotations. After a year away from blogging, I've decided to adopt this preference here.

Future reviews or interviews are set to include more Australian fairy tale works such as Vasilisa the Wise - stories of brave young women - retold by Kate Forsyth, illustrated by Lorena Carrington (Serenity Press); The Beast's Heart by Leife Shallcross (Hodder & Stoughton); The Stolen Button by Marianna Shek, illustrated by Leila Honari; and Child of the Twilight by Carmel Bird (Fourth Estate); and more ethereal music too!

Fey regards,

Louisa John-Krol

Homepage of ethereal music