Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Interview with D.L. King

D.L. King is a YA and picture book author, currently querying literary agencies for representation. Her first YA novel, Scarlette Hood, is a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood set in 18th France, against the backdrop of the Beast of Gévaudan 'werewolf' attacks of 1764-67. While retellings of fairy tales (including Little Red Riding Hood) are big box-office business at the moment, I was intrigued by King's project, and the influence of French 'werewolf' history on her work. I caught up with her recently to find out a bit more.

She-Wolf: So, tell me a little bit about your book...

D.L. King: Scarlette Hood is a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood set in 18th-century France against the historical Beast of Gévaudan 'werewolf' attacks. Laced with horror, romance and Gothic undertones, this novel explores the dark side of the fairy tale, yet is grounded in historical reality. It answers the question: what if Little Red Riding Hood had been a real person.

SW: What made you decide to rewrite the story of Little Red Riding Hood?

DL: Back in January 2010, I was looking for some hip cross-stitch patterns. After doing some research, I found a really cool design by the Japanese designer Gera, which was a scene from Little Red Riding Hood.

SW: Fantastic! And the idea grew from there?

DL: As I was stitching away, some questions pulsed through my brain: what if LRRH was a real person? Where would she have lived? And if she was real, wouldn't that make an awesome YA premise? My fingers walked over to the keyboard, and before I knew it, I came up with a rough outline and notes for Scarlette Hood.

SW: A few retellings of Little Red Riding Hood have replaced the Big Bad Wolf with a werewolf (I'm thinking particularly of Angela Carter and Catherine Hardwicke's new film). What interests me about your work, though, is that it is based on a historical case of werewolf attack. Tell me more about the Beast of Gévaudan.

DL: A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away - well, June 30th, 1764, in the Gévaudan province of France, to be exact! - a fourteen-year-old girl named Jeanne Boulet was tending her flock near the town of Langogne. It seemed like any other day, until Jeanne encountered a strange animal. Little did she know she was about to become the first victim in a series of killings committed by an unidentified animal known as La Bete, the Beast of Gévaudan. The Beast was responsible for brutally killing almost one hundred people between 1764-1767, in the Gévaudan province (now the department of Lozère and part of the Haute-Loire department), but oddly enough this monster only attacked humans, never the livestock attended by peasants.

SW: This must have caused quite a panic! What did the Gévaudan people do?

DL: Many hunters, locals and soldiers tried to kill it, but the beast was too elusive. Finally, the case gained national attention when King Louis XV put up a reward of 6000 livres and sent his royal Gun-Bearer and soliders to the province to slay the animal.

SW: And did they?

DL: As the story goes, the King's Gun-Bearer M. François Antoine did indeed shoot a large wolf and brought it back to Versailles, claiming it as the monster and collecting his reward. But as the peasants were about to find out, this wasn't the end of their nightmare. More people were found dead and further sightings of the Beast surfaced. And like every great story of old, a hero was needed...

SW: And who was the hero of this particular tale?

DL: As local legend tells, a roughnecked native named Jean Chastel supposedly shot the Beast through the heart with a single silver bullet, putting an end to the monster's bloody three-year reign. And, allegedly, this was where the Hollywood idea of the silver bullet came from. Anyhow, after Chastel shot the animal, an autopsy was conducted. Inside the carcass, the surgeons claimed to have found part of a child's femur bone. This was enough evidence for the peasants to dub this monster as the Beast.

SW: And what did they do with the body after the autopsy?

DL: The animal was stuffed with straw and brought to Versailles by Chastel. However, King Louis basically laughed him out of the court, saying that the Beast had already been killed. Dejected, Chastel went home and left the carcass. It was then that it began to reek and was thrown out like last night's chamber pot contents.

SW: So, where did the Beast go?

DL: Just like the giant top secret government warehouse filled with countless crates in the Indiana Jones films, there is a rumour that the Beast's remains can be traced to the Paris Museum of Natural History's underground secured storage. However, no-one can be sure, and the Beast continues to be a cryptozoologist's dream - and one of the greatest werewolf mysteries of all time.

SW: It's a fascinating story. What is it about this tale that interests you in particular?

DL: I would say the actual mystery of what the Beast was is one of the most fascinating aspects of the legend. The local peasants thought it was a werewolf, but I've heard theories ranging from the Beast being a sub-species of hyena that escaped from a French menagerie, or some type of animal that escaped from a travelling circus, a pack of wolves that became accustomed to human flesh after scavenging battle fields, to an animal trained by a serial killer to do the murderer's dirty work - Jean Chastel has been accused of the crime.

SW: What's the strangest theory you've heard?

DL: The most outlandish idea I've heard was that the Beast was the infamous French author and aristocrat, the Marquis de Sade! After discovering this, I couldn't resist adding the Marquis in as a character in Scarlette Hood.

SW: What made you decide to combine the story of the Beast with Little Red Riding Hood?

DL: After reading Charles Perrault's version of LRRH, I was shocked to find that his original tale was much darker than the common story we all grew up with. Told as a cautionary tale warning young women of men's wolfish sexual appetites, this early version was very moralistic and resulted in a tragic ending for the heroine: the wolf 'devours' her.

SW: So this was the inspiration for your own telling of the tale?

DL: Even though I borrowed from all versions of LRRH, I knew I wanted to make my story dark like Perrault's and set it in France. But I also thought the novel would be more interesting if the wolf in the fairy tale was a werewolf. Lo and behold, as I was reading all the different versions of the tale, I found another French translation entitled The Grandmother where the wolf was in fact a bzou - a werewolf. [ed: 'bzou' is an Old French word for werewolf, and appears in some medieval French versions of the Little Red Riding Hood tale] So, I had my werewolf, knew I wanted to use a dark angle, and set the story in France, but I still wanted to pin down a real setting to use as a backdrop. After a little more digging, I got lucky. I found out about the Beast of Gévaudan after researching werewolf history and mythology. So I dressed up the wolf in the original fairy tale as the Beast, and wrote Scarlette Hood as if Little Red Riding Hood might have really happened.

SW: The Beast of Gévaudan is not a widely-known story - where did your interest in this period of French history begin?

DL: I've always been interested in history, but in college I had a roommate who loved the movie version of The Scarlet Pimpernel with Jane Seymour. Based on the novel and play by Baroness Emmuska Orczy, it a secret agent tale about a man who tries to save French aristocrats from the guillotine during the Reign of Terror. We watched it together, and I loved it. That was probably the start of the real love affair with French history. I also read Germinalby Emile Zola for a college class (it tells the tale of a coalminers' strike in northern France in the 1860s), and this further fed the fire. And finally, I read Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities and watched The Count of Monte Cristo and Les Miserables around the same time, and I was hooked for life.

SW: What about your interest in 'real' werewolf attacks?

DL: I've always liked werewolves, vampires, etc., but really my interest in 'real' werewolf attacks evolved out of this project. I really wanted to place Little Red Riding Hood in a historical setting and use a werewolf instead of a wolf in my novel. So I rose to the occasion and, by researching, I learned of the Beast of Gévaudan attacks.

SW: You must have had a lot of research to do.

DL: Oh man, I did a ton! In addition to reading as many versions of Little Red Riding Hood that I could find, I read a bunch more books including: A History of Everyday Things by Daniel Roche, The Great Cat Massacre by Robert Darnton, Little Red Riding Hood Uncloaked by Catherine Orenstein, Wolf-Hunting in France in the Reign of Louis XV by Richard H. Thompson, and watched the History Channel's documentary on the Beast entitled The Real Wolfman.

SW: You're writing for a teen audience, but do you think this story would appeal to adult readers as well?

DL: As I tell people about it, I notice there's a lot of adult interest as well.

SW: Is this the genre of novel you like reading yourself?

DL: I will read anything as long as it's a good story. It doesn't matter the genre. Although, I do tend to lean more towards the supernatural.

SW: Of course! So, I guess the obligatory question is... werewolves or vampires?

DL: As far as paranormal, really, anything goes!

SW: Couldn't agree more. Thanks for talking to me. And best of luck with the book.

D.L. King is currently querying agents for representation. For more information about King, and about Scarlette Hood, please visit her website.

Friday, 15 April 2011

RIP Larry Cat

A little bit of a self-indulgent post from me tonight, but it's my blog and I'll cry if I want to.

As some of you know, my cat died in the early hours of Tuesday morning. He was a wonderful companion, and I thought I'd mark his passing here. Yes - some might consider me a little strange for writing an obituary for a cat, but what can I say? I am, indeed, a little strange.

I adopted Larry from Bleakholt Animal Sanctuary in Ramsbottom in 2004. I'd decided that I wanted to adopt a young-ish cat (rather than a kitten), and I thought I probably wanted a ginger male. The nice staff at Bleakholt showed me round the sanctuary and introduced me to all the cats who were awaiting adoption: females, tortoiseshells, 8-year-olds. They were all adorable, but I didn't quite click with any of them. I said I'd think about it, and maybe come back another time. Just as I was turning to leave, the kennels assistant said, 'Oh... well... you might not be interested, but there's one other cat...' She took me through to the isolation pens, where they house the cats who have only just come in to the sanctuary. She opened up a pen, and a beautiful ginger cat climbed up and on to her shoulder. He looked straight at me - and that's when we decided to adopt each other.

A couple of weeks later, Larry moved in with me and my then-fiance. This is when things turned a little nasty. Larry was a placid and friendly cat; unfortunately, my fiance was not placid and friendly. He was, in fact, an abusive and bad-tempered man. Shortly before I adopted Larry, he'd hit me for the first time. Like many women in that situation, I'd forgiven him because he insisted that he loved me.

The first few weeks that Larry lived with us were great, but he soon started to show some signs of distress. He started to refuse to come in the house. He cringed whenever my fiance went near him. He wouldn't eat, and when I carried him in to his dish, he'd just hurry some food down then hide under the kitchen sink. Whenever my fiance entered the room, Larry would start to howl. It was the most distressing noise I have ever heard a cat make.

Things finally came to a head after a few months. My fiance insisted that there was something wrong with the cat, and that we should take him back to the sanctuary. He took his anger out on me, and said that there was also something wrong with me if I wanted to keep such a weird animal. He even said the immortal phrase: 'Either that cat goes or I do.' I think it was around that time that I realized he'd been hitting the cat.

So... one day, when he was out, I locked and bolted the doors and refused to let my fiance back in. I think I could just about put up with him abusing me, but the thought of him hitting my beautiful, defenceless cat was too much to bear.

Eventually, my ex-fiance agreed to come and collect his belongings - I owned the house, and he had never really contributed financially. The day he took his stuff was horrible. He arrived with his entire family, and they cleared the entire house. I couldn't do anything to stop them. They even took the towels, and when I stopped them taking the DVD player my brother gave me for Christmas, his mother slipped the remote control into her pocket.

After they'd gone, I sat in my empty house on the sofa (one of the few things they left me). I was so upset, I didn't even notice the front door was open. Suddenly, I noticed Larry - walking into the house for the first time in months. No howling, no cringing - the happiest cat in the world. He came and curled up on my knee and started purring. That's when I knew we'd be ok.

Me and Larry had 6 more happy years together. He was the most sociable cat I've ever had. He'd charm the pants off any friends or visitors who came to the house, and my neighbours all adored him. He had a particular soft spot for my younger brother, and would make a beeline for his lap as soon as he sat down. When just the two of us were in the house, he'd sometimes place his paw in my hand as he went to sleep - a little gesture that I will miss with all my heart.

Sadly, Larry was diagnosed with FIV just before Christmas. He had been scratched by a stray a couple of years earlier, and I think this is when the virus was transmitted. He became anaemic, and lost a lot of weight. Despite this, his demeanour didn't change. He remained the soft, friendly creature he'd always been.

This Monday, Larry's condition deteriorated rapidly. His heart began to struggle, and he was unable to stand for long. By Monday night, he was fading. I stayed up with him, and lay on the sofa with him. Eventually, he took himself off to a cushion in the corner, and closed his eyes. I stroked his head, said goodbye, and his little heart gave way at 4.30am. Sweet-tempered to the end, Larry was still trying to purr right up to the end.

I'll miss my cat - my companion and fellow-survivor. He was a good pet, and I'll never forget him.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Call for Submissions: Read in Tooth and Claw: Shapeshifters in Popular Culture

This proposed collection seeks essays on any aspect of shapeshifters in film, fiction, online, even on architecture. We are interested in essays dealing with any time period or genre. Please send 500-word abstracts and 1-page CVs to the editor. Deadline fo abstract submission: June 1, 2011.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Childlore and the Folklore of Childhood

The Folklore Society's AGM Conference 2011
Friday 15 to Sunday 17 April 2011

The University of Worcester, St John's Campus, Henwick Grove, Worcester, UK

The conference will take place at The University of Worcester's St John's Campus, which is about 15 minutes' walk or a short bus ride from the centre of Worcester. At 2 p.m. on Friday 15th September, the conference will begin with The Folklore Society's Annual General Meeting (approx 45 minutes), which all FLS members are encouraged to attend. Also on Friday afternoon, at 2.45 p.m., there will be the Presidential Lecture which everyone is welcome to attend. At the end of the Friday afternoon session, a wine reception will be hosted by the University of Worcester, Dept of Film and Media Studies. The Conference Dinner will take place at 7.30 on Friday evening at The Quay restaurant, South Quay, Worcester, which is about 15 minutes' walk from St John's Campus. There are also regular buses between the city centre and St John's Campus.

Accommodation is not provided but a list of hotels is available here.

Saturday's proceedings will be from 10.00 to 5.30 and lunch is included in the conference fee. On Saturday evening, delegates will be free to explore Worcester and/or meet up informally with other delegates for dinner and drinks.

Sunday 17th's programme will begin at 10. Lunch is included in the conference fee, and the conference will close very shortly after 2 p.m.

The Conference Fees are detailed on the Booking Form. The conference fee includes lunch on Saturday and Sunday, coffees/teas between sessions and the reception on Friday. The Conference Dinner at The Quay at 7.30 on Friday is optional, price £21 excluding drinks.

A provisional programme is available here.

For more information, and for updates of the programme, please email The Folklore Society or telephone 0207 862 8564.