Author Interview: Allyse Near

Allyse NearAllyse Near is a 24 year old writer and university student based in Australia. In her biography she writes that she is fond of Sailor Moon, Harry Potter and Tarantino movies. Her debut novel, Fairy Tales for Wilde Girls, was released by Random House Australia on June 13. Allyse describes her novel as a “pulp-fable about grunge girls, Victorian ghosts, and slightly sinister talking rabbits.” It’s still only available in Australia but interested readers can purchase it from Fishpond.com. You can find Allyse at her website, on Tumblr or on Twitter.

Structurally, Fairytales for Wilde Girls almost playfully challenges the conventional novel, using a variety of alternative narratives, such as text speak, illustrations and character lists, to tell the story. What was the aim in using these alternative narratives, that is, what did you hope to achieve with these alternative narratives that you would not be able to with a conventional, prose only, novel? Do you believe that the target audience would react better to novels interspersed with alternative narrations or do you think this is just another way storytelling is evolving?

I’ve always adhered to the idea of the writer ‘painting the page’ with their words, quite literally, and I think that the layout of my book makes it quite interesting to look at and absorb. Words are, quite basically, the only tools in my arsenal with which I can (hopefully!) absorb a stranger into my imagined world, and I’m competing with so many mediums that combine multimedia that I need to work extra hard to keep my reader’s attention. I always try to make my writing quite sensory, with lots of references to smells and tastes and textures, and I’ve experimented with different techniques to draw the reader’s attention to specific aspects of the story. I think the wonky structure allows me to almost reach out and control the reader’s pacing, to make them linger on certain bits of imagery.

Dramatis personae are used in playbills to introduce characters, but they’re quite tricky in what they truly reveal, since you don’t want to spoil the story by spelling everything out.

Other elements like the dramatis personae (character lists found at the beginning of a playbill) and the scenes written as if from a screenplay reflect the pros and cons of different kinds of storytelling. I also liked had these techniques gave the finished novel a hand-made, patchwork quality, reflecting Lileo Pardieu’s storybook from within the text itself.

The portraits are a brilliant touch, if I do say so myself! Courtney Brims was my illustrator, and I’ve loved her work for years – I actually suggested her to my publishers at Random House. She crafted those portraits from just reading a few chunks of text, with very little input from me, and it’s like mindreading in pencil. I adore them.

 What I really loved about the novel is that though the set up and narrative is fantastical, the primary characters are very human and very flawed, not just in their habits but also physically. Were you ever tempted to pluck out a character from a fairytale and use them in the novel and if so, which character was it?

 

Thank you! From the beginning stages of drafting, I had a firm idea in my head that each character should give the reader the sense that they could carry the weight of their own story; that each of them, particularly the princes, could be central characters in books of their own. We’re all the protagonists of our own lives, after all, and I think remembering that fact helped me to thicken their flesh somewhat.

I think Isola is something of an amalgamation of fairy-princess tropes; she’s got the gentle nature of the old-world princesses – usually the demure ones under sleep-curses – as well as the moxie of the journeying maidens – those hand-knock girls who have places to go and a great many things to do and they’ll be damned if they let a dragon/wicked relative/generally unpleasant thing get in their way! As far as borrowing from other stories goes, I’m certain Isola’s something of an Alice – so many thanks, Lewis Carroll!

What was your favourite tale when you were growing up? This does not have to be a traditional fairytale but any folktale that you have heard and kept with you through your formative years.

Oh my goodness, there are so many – I’m sure I’ll forget some worthy contenders, but one that really stayed with me was a story called ‘Roseken’ from this big book of children’s stories I had. I’ve never managed to find the story in any other format, so I’m not sure if it’s well-known of obscure. It was magical but it had an honestly sad ending, which really made an impression me. The basic premise was that a child called Roseken befriends the fairies that live in her village, and visits their homeland one day. Upon returned home, she finds that years have actually passed, and her parents have grown old and don’t recognize her at first. Roseken marries her childhood friend and has a daughter, who also plays with those same fairies. Roseken tells her husband about their daughter’s friends, and explains what had caused her own disappearance, and her husband doesn’t believe her. Roseken takes her husband to show him their daughter speaking with a fairy. When they realize the husband has seen them, the fairies flee. From that point on everything goes terribly for the village, for without the fairies’ magic, the crops fail, the weather turns, and everything’s generally depressing. I think it taught me about using darkness and mood to enhance a story, plus I called my own faerie Rosekin!

I think Enid Blyton was a pretty big influence on me, as well – she managed huge casts with finesse and she had the most brilliant imagination. Can you believe there still isn’t a Magic Faraway Tree movie? I have a not-so-secret dream to someday write the screenplay for that one.

Nature plays an extremely important part in your novel. Vivien’s Woods is a character in its own right and is the center of conflict between Isola and Florence. Is this an allusion to the woods that seem to be synonymous with many canonical fairytales or is Vivien’s Woods a reflection of your own connection to nature?

It’s definitely a nod to the forests of classical fairytales, which have always entranced me. Symbolically, forests represent the unknown; they’re borders between urban and wild, mundane and magical, sometimes even life and death. Because conflict is the core of all stories, and woods feature prominently in fairytales, they’re nearly always dangerous, usually supernaturally so. Using a forest as a setting in traditional fairytales sets up the protagonist for a personal (and actual) journey; one must pass through the forest in order to escape it, of course. I really enjoyed getting to twist that concept with Vivian’s Woods in Fairytales for Wilde Girls, because it was both friend and enemy, at least as much as a setting can be. Sometimes it was this enchanting, secret universe that Isola had all to herself, all soft scents and gooey sunlight; other times it was claustrophobic and oppressive and downright frightening. I also found it a bit funny that Isola had to travel through it every day, at least for some of the story. She had to play out this princess’s ritual so frequently – most fairytales characters only have to pass through it once!

Lileo Pardieu’s dark book of fairytales is very reminiscent of the Grimm tales. What were your inspirations for this novel? Did you draw from any other texts or stories besides fairytales?

Thank you so much – that’s exactly what I was going for. The idea for Fairytales for Wilde Girls actually came to me in two separate parts. The first was a long-cherished pet project that I’d been mentally composing for some time. It was supposed to be an original book of short fairytales, steeped in Post-Grimmism, full of modern cultural touchstones and thieved imagery from the past. I wanted them to reflect everyone’s ideas of what a classical fairytales should be, while still being my own inventions. While working on these stories, I had a new idea, this one a slightly disturbing concept about a character living through a prism of fairytales; a girl with six ‘imaginary’ friends. It seemed a natural step to combine the two, and the stories from the Grim-project became the tales of Lileo Pardieu, and feature in Fairytales in excepts, a kind of book-within-a-book.

What is the most Australian thing about your novel? To elaborate, what element of your book do you believe is a reflection of your own identity and location? What do you think would be different had you been a Canadian writing the same book in Canada?

Grape, definitely. She’s supposed to be this Japanese-British girl but I find she has such an Australian sense of humour! I really enjoyed writing her scenes. If I were a Canadian? Hmm, I think the final product would be much the same, except I’d write ‘cold’ a bit better, to be honest! I’ve only seen snow a handful of times, and I’m sure it shows in my wintery scenes!