In the bad old days when child-rearing had scrambled my brain and I couldn’t write, I studied the classic fairy tale and the less well-known variants on their themes. It got the muse going again, and I wrote a few of my own. Some were modern versions, others were my own variants. For instance, I wanted to do a version of the beast bridegroom story.
How hard would that be? Characters and plot are all outlined already. All I needed was to decide how I would vary it. I decided my groom would be daft rather than ugly or scary. We all know ugly bridegrooms are not a problem (in fairy tales, anyway) and the modern girl is not easily scared. A daft animal? A goose. A goose also has Christmas connotations. That’s it, I’d do a Christmassy version. I brought in the three kings as helpers. It wouldn’t be fair to say I dashed it off, but I was quite happy with the results, and when I was invited to contribute something to a fairy tale retellings anthology, I submitted it to my online writing group, Scribophile, for feedback.
The style was a big issue in the feedback. Yes, it captured the flavour of classic tales, but modern readers wanted motivation and description. Personally, I love the mystery of fairy tales; we can decide for ourselves what the motivation is. But as I thought about it, I saw that there are hundreds of classic tales, major and minor, that do this already. I needed to let go a bit, not constrain myself within a certain archaic style.
I completely rewrote the story. I used the first person, to make it more intimate. The three kings, the Christmassy theme and the bizarre wedding ceremony – there originally for decoration – went out, replaced by a hard journey to the northern lands. Whereas before, the un-named heroine betrayed her husband by letting her sisters see the marital bedroom, now she, as Freya, drove him away by complaining about his constant honking.
This second draft was an improvement. The theme of acceptance was appreciated. The style was much more suited to modern tastes. But the relationship was too unbalanced, I was told. Freya made all the adjustments for Lars (the goose), and he did very little for her. And how horrible she was, driving him away like that!
I was still too reliant on the original format; girl accepts groom, girl betrays groom, girl seeks and saves groom.
On to the third draft. I toned down what Freya said to Lars. I developed the scene where she wins him back so that you could see him struggling to meet her, not just her working for him.
The first half of the story went down well. But the second half would not do at all, I learned. Readers could not accept that Freya searched out of love, rather than obligation, and now that she was less cutting to him in their argument they felt Lars was being ridiculous in flying away. In fairy tales the growth of love is seldom documented. The prince in Cinderella fell for her in three dances, but it was doubtless mainly a physical attraction, and she probably married him because he was royalty and a way out of misery and into luxury. But while readers could see that Lars and Freya had grown together, they couldn’t see the reason. What did Freya get out of it? As it was, it sounded like she married him because her father pushed her into it, and searched him out because he had gone into a sulk. A story that was meant to show acceptance and give and take was actually coming over as reactionary, teaching girls to give in to men.
So the fifth draft would mean a major rethink. Freya needed to choose Lars for herself. The readers needed to see him as a real and attractive character. And the argument needed to be developed, so the reader could see both sides. This would be a challenge. What could a goose offer a girl?
Flight. A girl can’t fly, but a goose can. This time, instead of Freya being offered to the goose as a bride, she chose to fly away with him to escape danger. The danger I put her in involved a story line where she moved from brave and kind to someone more acerbic, but hopefully more to the taste of a modern audience.
So this was the final version. With a few tweaks from other writers in the anthology, I submitted it to the anthology and it was published early December 2017. Just like Freya, I’d made a long journey in which I learned a lot about the world and myself. And now I’ve got the bug! I want to stay in the world of Faerie and take another story to retell, and another, and another!
Read "The Goose and his Girl" in the anthology "From the Stories of Old" ed Heather Hayden, available now from Amazon.