If Only The Grimms Had Known Alice

It’s a simple thing, really. I’ve always loved fairy tales and monsters and magic. One night a few months ago I was reading from Italo Calvino’s Italian Folk Tales, and started reading out loud. I began to read the men as women, substituting she for he. Immediately, the stories became more interesting to me, imagining women in the protagonist roles. I’ve blogged a little about this on my personal blog if you’re curious about that.

I decided to make this idea into a project. I found the Grimms’ tales I wanted to work with on Project Gutenberg, then edited them one by one as Google docs. Even after just one or two passes, I was excited to start laying them out. I’d never made a book before. I chose Blurb, because they do print on demand, and have a handy tool called Bookwright, which easily handles the pretty simple layout I had in mind. I set about bringing each story in from Google.

I got a couple of test copies sent from Blurb as soon as it was all hanging together. That was exciting! There really is something about holding a book you’ve made in your hands. You should try it. It was useful to have the physical version for a couple of different reasons: 1) It’s A Thing. I could hand it to friends as I was telling them about the project, and actually, that’s where the decision to keep the cover plain and simple came from. More than one friend said they liked it, so I went with it. 2) Copy editing. Bookwright isn’t great for this, I have to say. But, having the book, it was easy to see that I’d missed a few flips, and I also took the chance to edit a bit of the older style language. I’ll probably do more of this if I ever make a second volume.

First draft of my side project. It's a book of old fairy tales edited to contain female characters. Exciting to hold a copy. Prepare to buy one!Table of Contents from my side project, a book of fairy tales edited to contain female characters. Remarkable that there's no sign of a girl or woman in loads of Grimms. Prepare to buy one!

Illustrations were going to make the project special, instead of just a black and white, bland book. I also thought it would be good for kids who are just starting to be able to read on their own, or even as they’re being read to. I deliberately set the font size and leading a little larger than normal for them too. I tried a search for “huntress,” and eventually found Kevin Nichols.  His work is magical, and I knew it would suit the project, so I got in touch. He was into the idea, so we worked together over the next couple of months to settle on the selection of illustrations (via email, since he’s in Atlanta). From all reports, he had fun working on it too. Thank you, Kevin!

Here’s Kevin’s huntress and pack set on a new backdrop he made for the book, alongside the postface I wrote:

yay

I made a simple website for the book, and set it for sale on Blurb on Monday, December 1. I don’t know anything about the marketing of books (yet!), so I basically just told all my friends on Facebook and tweeted about it, and then quickly realised how small my network actually is because it hasn’t been picked up by the London Review of Books or the New York Times yet. I’m experimenting with having a Page on Facebook for it. There are a few more images over there, and you’re welcome to comment, if you like (and tell all your friends).

No matter! I had a lot of fun making it, and reading phrases like this, which invert my expectations in a simple, but profound way:

The lass, full of joy, set out homewards, and took the Golden Apple to the queen’s beautiful son, who had now no more excuses left to make.

It’s not just for girls, either. It’s so important for us to create great girl archetypes for everyone. I hope, actually, that it’s adults who will find this most stimulating, and it might help us realise just how ingrained the “he default” really is. Please consider purchasing a copy.

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