Finding The Fay: On Being Inspired to Write Fairytale Characters, by Suzy Davies
A question I am often asked is where I find the inspiration to write my fairy tales and their characters. “The Snow Queen,” my new fairytale, draws on many sources which fired my imagination and propelled me forward, the most important source, of course, being Hans Christian Andersen’s original story.
I read this story as a child one Christmas, and I remember tracing patterns on the glass and gazing wistfully as snowflakes began to fall, half-expecting to see The Snow Queen in her sleigh riding the wintry skies.
As an adult, I visited my favorite fairytale again, and what took me by surprise were the many metaphorical layers of meaning in the original tale. Here we have a story about innocence, wonder and the beauty of nature, but Andersen’s story is also a dark one about unrequited love. Even though the original lead characters Kai and Gerda are depicted as brother and sister in his tale, it is my belief that Andersen covertly disguised the sadness in his own life in this story; in real life he fell in love with an opera singer, but this love was not reciprocated. I am reminded of the song that inspired the “butterfly” theme in my retelling of the story - “Elusive Butterfly of Love.”
“You might wake up some mornin’
To the sound of something
Movin’ past your window in the wind…”
Later in this beautiful song “Elusive Butterfly of Love,” by Bob Lynd, it becomes clear the singer is chasing love,
“... It’s just me pursuing
Something I’m not sure of..”
and the enchantment of it all:
“Across my dreams,
Through nets of wonder…”
I listened to this song again, and it captures Adam’s giddy infatuation with Dulce, The Snow Queen in our book, as he chases this beautiful butterfly through the snowy streets, through Covent Garden, to the train station where he is swept away… and lost.
Andersen’s original papercut in the paperback version of our book, kind courtesy of Museum Odense, captures the mood perfectly - the butterfly is depicted with ballerinas - something that suggests beauty, agility and the dance of light and dark on ethereal wings.
My depiction of Adam in the early stages of my novella is one of a fey boy enticed by the fay charm of The Snow Queen sorceress.
I gave our Snow Queen the name, “Dulce” because it means soft, and the name comes from music. The allure of The Snow Queen in our book is not only her outward appearance; her voice is magnetic and haunting.
I will not spoil the denouement of the book by saying too much about the fate of the Snow Queen in our version of the story. Suffice it to say that “The Picture of Dorian Gray” was a major inspiration for the revelations later on.
Indeed, magic is a central theme to my tale, and now I will turn to my inspiration for the wizard. You may be surprised to learn that The Pirates of The Caribbean inspired me to make our wizard a seafarer. If anyone were to play the wizard in a movie I could think of no-one better than Johnny Depp.
The wizard’s ship was inspired by a real ship, “The Admiral Benbow,” and, in particular, the prow, which can be seen at a very famous public house in Penzance in England. In my story, the wizard is a kind of pirate because he acquires the ship through foul means.
The wizard’s culinary prowess (excuse the pun) owes much to the very animated kitchen equipment and has echoes of Bedknobs and Broomsticks.
The sea itself is a character in the book. I was inspired by the stormy seas of the Aberystwyth of my childhood to personify the ocean as a devourer of all things evil; we all have to navigate the storm, but in the end, only the good survive.
The most important character in my book is Bryony. She is one of the Roma people - strong, independent, feminine and feisty.
Her characterisation came initially from her voice, and she is something of an Eliza Doolittle - a rough diamond who blooms in her own time. Unlike Eliza, she does not have a mentor to guide her - she fights her own battles, and rises to become a “self-made” woman, who writes her own story. I drew on Virginia Woolf’s, “A Room of One’s Own,” for this notion.
One of the questions I asked myself when writing her storyline was: How can a woman be independent and feminine at the same time? Sometimes, there is a confusion in society which suggests that women are only liberated if they reject the idea of marriage altogether. This, of course, is an extreme position. Our Bryony finds a way to have her cake and eat it as you will find out.
I had fun depicting the dark side of Bryony’s character - she is a rebel, and a bit of a schemer. It may surprise you when I say these lines from Sade’s “Jezebel” provided a starting point for her character:
“ Jezebel, Jezebel
Won’t try to deny
Where she came from
You can see it
In her pride
And the raven
In her eyes
Try, show her
A better way,
You don’t know
What you’ve been missin’
And by the time she blinks
You know she won't be listenin’
Reach for the top she said
And the sun is gonna shine
Every winter was a war she said
I want to get what’s mine”