The last time I caught up with Sarah was last year during the release of Mayhem, and I’m thrilled to have her back on the blog to talk about her new twisted fairy tales, Poison (out today), Charm, and Beauty!
Poison, Charm, and Beauty are finally coming out in the US!! I’m very excited to dive into this series (obviously). Will you tell us a little about it?
The three stories, which are retellings of Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty are all interlinked, so several of the characters appear in each of them, and the complete story is told in a circular style. Even though Poison is the first book, it’s actually the middle of the narrative, so the ending of Beauty is the start of Poison. Basically, I prefer people to read them in the order of Poison, Charm then Beauty, but they could just as easily be read Beauty, Poison and then Charm. Each book will still make sense on its own but you’ll have very different ideas about the characters, depending where you start!
Also, although still set in a ‘fairy tale’ world, and written in a fairy tale style, the characters have very modern sensibilities. They’re definitely rounded characters shaped by the world they live in and how they behave is a reflection of that, and the women definitely take centre stage.
What made you decide to tackle fairy tales? What are a few of your favorite twisted fairy tales?
The idea came about a couple of years ago when my UK editor and I were both absolutely hooked on the first season of Once Upon a Time. We met for lunch and she asked me if I’d consider maybe doing three retellings for them. Part of the reason that I set them in a fantasy setting rather than updating them completely to the modern world was that I didn’t want to be too heavily influenced by what I’d seen and loved in that show, but I also love that feel of sinking into another world when reading a fairy tale. As I’ve said, I loved Once upon a time (the first season anyway – I dropped off after that), and I also loved Angela Carter’s retellings.
What kind of research did you do for the books?
I read a lot of versions of Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, especially the really old darker ones which were really quite disturbing. Because I’ve also included elements and characters from some other famous – and less well-known – fairy tales in them I also dipped in and out of the origins of those too.
What did you enjoy the most about writing the series? What do you think makes your retellings so unique?
I was actually really surprised at how much I loved writing these. They’re dark and sexy but also, quite amusing in places. Because they’re fairy tales there’s also true love and romance, and I hope I’ve given as many characters happy endings as possible – or at least as happy as they deserve. What I found hard to start with, was to find my way in as it were. These stories have some very fixed elements (glass slippers, poisoned apples, wicked stepmothers etc) and I didn’t want to lose those or rearrange them too much, but at the same time they had to be markedly different! So the changes had to come from within the characters. I was stumped for a while, and then one day, after doing lots of notes on Snow White, I suddenly thought ‘What kind of man falls in love with a virtually dead woman in a box to the point that he proposes on the moment she wakes up when he’s never spoken to her or knows anything about her? What kind of man does that?’ So once I had that thought about Prince Charming in place, the rest started to take shape.
It’s also very hard to re-write Fairy Tales without some element of gender commentary – most of the original ones were very much warnings to women to know their place, and all that seems to happen to the girls is that if they look pretty they must be good and pure, and if they’re older or less beautiful they must be bad, and everything is about getting a good husband and behaving. Obviously that isn’t necessarily the case in my versions!
It’s been a while since we caught up. Have you read any good books lately?
I’ve been judging the James Herbert Horror award so I’ve read a lot of great horror – just look at the shortlist for that for recommendations – and also I’ve loved Sarah Lotz’s The Four and Antonia Honeywell’s The Ship.
What are you currently reading?
I’m currently reading Victoria Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic.
What’s next for you?
Well, I’m about to start work on a new book – a kind of adult domestic thriller. The Death House (a dystopian YA cross-over romance) has just come out in the UK to great reviews and is out in the US in September from Titan Books, and 13 Minutes (a YA cross-over thriller) comes out in the UK in October, so pretty busy!
An enticing contemporary retelling of the classic story of Snow White. While the the handsome prince, the jealous queen, the beautiful girl and of course the poison all appear, Sarah Pinborough’s charming and provocative spin on the story will captivate fans of the fairy tale all over again.