Monday 25 October 2021

WRITING FAIRY-TALE RETELLINGS by Clare Helen Welsh and Friends

We all have our favourite childhood fairy tales, and so it’s not surprising that writers draw on well-known characters and narratives from traditional tales in their own writing.


This blog post will take a look at the reasons why re-imagined fairy tales are so loved and also look at what to consider when writing your own re-imagined tales.


To do that, I’ve recruited some special guests who’ve agreed to answer my most pressing questions about fairy tales and also offered their top tips!


Gareth is the author of a fantastic series of fairy tale re-imaginings with Loretta Schauer, including Rabunzel and Cindergorilla. I was keen to know how he had found the market to be for fairy tale stories.


What do you think the market is like for fairy tale retellings?

Gareth said:


"Once I had written Rabunzel, I sent it directly to my editor, Melissa at Egmont (now Farshore) Books. It sat unread in her inbox for months but when she did read it, she liked it so much that she immediately called her sales team. They loved it too. She then picked up the phone and called me to tell me that they wanted the book as the first in a series. None of this is normal for me. I think that the story being an original retelling of a well-known fairy tale really helped. A long eared rabbit that gets locked in a high hutch is a joke that everyone instantly gets. Rabunzel Rabunzel, Let Down Your Ears! Whether or not the series will meet my publisher’s high expectations in terms of sales and foreign rights, I can’t say. I certainly hope it does. But I’ve never had such enthusiasm from a publisher about any of my previous picture books and I think a lot of that is down to it being a fairy tale retelling."

Gareth’s Top Tip for Writing Fairy Tale Retellings:

Fairy tales are problematic. They are often dark, weird and teach lessons that are no longer relevant to our world. They are also full of plot points that would have most editors reaching for the red pen if they were featured in an original story. Why doesn’t Cinderella’s slipper change back? In fact, why does the magic wear off at all? All of these things can be resolved, but it does take a bit of work. There are going to be four books in my series and my feeling is that with each one, I will stray further from the source material as I find ways to resolve these problems to create stories worth telling. With an original story you have to ask why this story is worth telling. With a fairy tale retelling, you have to question what you are bringing to the genre that is new, fresh, funny, interesting and worth hearing. I hope I’ve answered all these questions with Rabunzel and CinderGorilla. And I also hope that readers will also be interested to see what I’ve done with Snowy White next February. As for the fourth book? I’ll have to keep you posted on that because I’m not yet sure what it will be.



Former Picture Book Denner, Lucy, is no stranger to fairy tale re-imaginings. She is the author of ‘Little Red Reading Hood’ and ‘The Three Little Pigs and the Big Bad Book,’ published by Macmillan and  illustrated by Ben Mantle. She has also written ‘Rapunzel to the Rescue’ with Katy Halford (Scholastic).


From time to time I hear reservations about fairy tale stories, originating from the fact that they don't always have global appeal. Unfortunately, not all countries have the same much-loved tales, which can make them harder to sell globally. I was curious to know how Lucy’s titles had sold internationally. 

How have your fairy tale retellings sold internationally?


Lucy said:


When I started writing re-imagined fairy tales they were quite popular but there seems to have been a slight shift in the industry and have been a little harder to sell, perhaps  because publishers have found them harder to sell abroad.”

Lucy’s texts, which are also in rhyme, have numerous co-editions. Indeed, the brilliant ‘Little Red Reading Hood’ has been translated into several languages including French, Italian and Spanish. Plus, Lucy and Ben have another re-imagined fairy tale in the works with Macmillan– ‘A Hero Called Wolf,’ which confirms to me that the rumours of co-editions don’t stop a publisher buying a fairy tale story if the concept is strong and marketable in enough markets.

Lucy’s Top Tip for Writing Fairy Tale Retellings:

"Try mixing it up! What would happen if you reversed character roles or wrote from a different character's viewpoint? What would happen if it was the same story but in a different world or setting?"


Tracy has just released her debut picture book – Pumpkin’s Fairy Tale - congratulations, Tracy! The story has been brought to life with fabulous illustrations from Wayne Oram. I asked Tracy how she came up with the idea for Pumpkin’s Fairy tale and what it is about fairy tales that inspires her.


How did you come up with the idea for Pumpkin’s Fairy tale and what is it about fairy tales that inspires you?


Tracy said:


“I've always loved fairy tales, from my earliest childhood. They can be light and magical or dark and gritty, they impart valuable knowledge to readers and they are always evolving, which I find exciting. My idea for Pumpkin's Fairytale came from this deep affection I have for fairytales, my love of pumpkins and my curiosity of exploring a different point of view. I've always thought that, in the original story, Cinderella's pumpkin is rather cruelly cast aside after playing an important role. So, I thought I'd bring it (it became a him) to life and see what he had to say about the matter. 'Pumpkin's Fairytale' is the story he told me.”


Tracy’s Top Tip for Writing Fairy Tale Retellings:

“My top tip is to experiment with writing a version in both rhyme and prose. I think rhyme works beautifully in fairy tale retellings but two agents have now asked me to convert to prose, so why not have both up your sleeve! If you automatically prefer to write in prose, then just run wild and have fun!”



Pippa is the author of the You Choose series with Nick Sharratt. Her fairy tale version allows children to make up their very own fairy tale adventures where they choose what happens next. This is what Pippa had to say about fairy tales and why we love them! 

What do you think it is about fairy tales and fairy tale characters that people love?

Pippa said:

"It must be partly the familiarity of the most well known tales. We’ve heard and seen and been aware of references to them from the youngest age, and there’s something comforting in both that familiarity and the knowledge that we all share those tales as part of our mutual culture. Maybe we sometimes hope for a new slant on that familiar tale? The most well established fairy tales are thrillingly shocking, but safely not in our real world, so we dare to play with big scary things within them."

Pippa’s Top Tip for Writing Fairy Tale Retellings:

"I'd say, think about the emotional heart of the tale. What is it REALLY about at an emotional rather than event level? For example, we all empathise with Cinderella for being the one who is mistreated and left out of things. We can all relate to that. But maybe we could see that from another angle? Long ago (and far away!) I wrote a version of Cinderella from the ‘ugly sisters’ point of view. Who is calling them ‘ugly’? How does that feel? What was it like for them when they acquired this beautiful perfect step-sister? There are multiple stories within each story, and its fun delving in to find them."


And last but definitely not least...


Jane is the author of a picture book fairy tale detective series, featuring Sky Private Eye. Titles include – ‘Case of the Missing Grandma,’ ‘Case of the Runaway Biscuit’ and ‘Case of the Sparkly Slipper’ based on the stories Red Riding Hood, Gingerbread Boy and Cinderella. The stories have been illustrated by Loretta Schauer and are published by Five Quills. I was keen to know how the process of writing these books was similar and/ or different to her other picture book texts. 

Traditional tales need stick relatively closely to the original tale. Did you find this helpful or restrictive or something else? Can you tell us a little bit about your process?

Jane said:

"I found the process of taking the essential elements of a fairy tale and re-jigging the story with an original twist very different from writing other picture book texts. I enjoyed the challenge and had lots of fun adding creative elements to the story."


Jane’s Top Tip for Writing Fairy Tale Retellings:

 "As well as re-telling the main elements of the tale, reflect the pattern of how the tale is usually told. The rule of 3 is big in fairy tales!"


So to sum up, it’s worth bearing in mind that there are lots of retellings out there. As always, it’s important to make sure you are doing something different and/ or doing something in a different way. Is your premise a high concept idea that will cut through the noise and appeal to a wide market? 

But don't let that put you off! 

There is A LOT  of love for fairy tale retellings. They often feature strongly in our childhoods and in school curriculums, too. They are based upon on characters and arcs we know well, creating opportune moments to switch things up and surprise the reader!


Have you written a fairy tale re-imagining? Do you like reading them? Which are your favourites?

BIO: Clare writes fiction and non-fiction picture book texts - sometimes funny and sometimes lyrical. Her latest picture book is a fairytale retelling inspired by the life and work of Lotte Reiniger. Scissorella is out on November 4th 2021. It's Clare's first book with Andersen Press and it has been wonderfully brought to life by Laura Barrett. You can find out more about Clare at her website or on Twitter @ClareHelenWelsh.


ClaireFLewis said...

Great post - really interesting interviews and examples!

Angie Quantrell said...

Great post! I'm revising a fairy tale retelling, so I appreciated the info. Thanks!