Retelling Tales

This afternoon it was all ‘debauchery’ and giving classic characters new stories. Well, newer stories. Juno Dawson’s Wonderland is a sort of Alice tale, Kiran Millwood Hargrave has written about the brides of Dracula in The Deathless Girls, and Joseph Coelho tackles Ovid’s Daphne* as a latchkey girl who finds a hidden forest in the library. As you do.

And he should know, since according to moderator Philippa Cochrane he has joined every library in the country.

Juno described Wonderland as ‘trippy and strange’ and said that Alice wasn’t trans to begin with, but she was encouraged to go in that direction, and for Juno it was like therapy. For Joseph it was a case of the ‘characters telling you’ what to write; and how Daphne is fixed in grief. Kiran wanted better for her twin characters, but the ‘story had already been written’. She let the girl with ‘no sense of self’ rely on a best friend.

Philippa warned that none of these novels pulls any punches (but that’s what YA fiction is, surely?). Kiran reckons it is stronger to stay tender, and there is good more than there is bad. Juno said she can’t think of anything worse than Glastonbury, and Wonderland is a bit like it. Joseph laughed and blamed everything on Daphne, who ‘told him to write it’. You can get through difficult situations, and friends and family can help.

Joseph asked the others about their writing habits. For Kiran self care is important. She writes best when healthy, and she needs to get away from her desk regularly, even when the writing tries to keep her there. ‘You matter more’. Juno discovered she needed a job to go to, to see people, to have the commute, after working from her flat in London. It made her crazy. She now has an office in Brighton, but before that she was the monster with the MacBook who sat in cafés, scowling at children.

This was another live event, and one audience question was how much they left of the original stories, and another whether the myths still have any relevance. Also, what characterises a book as YA, and not wider age appeal? We’ve all been teenagers, as Juno said, while both Joseph and Kiran mentioned ‘voice’, and you recognise things, you have lived it, it’s intense.

Kiran really wanted to know which movie the other two would choose if they were to retell a film, saying she herself would pick Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? Joseph chose The Thing, and Juno Single White Female.

Philippa hoped publishers were listening, because we could all want to read those books. And said that she had been cheered up on this dreich day in Edinburgh. I think we all had, dreich or not. Great stuff!

(*Joseph’s book, The Girl Who Became a Tree, isn’t out yet, but is available from the festival bookshop.)

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