This is the third of six posts concerning my Never Afters novella series, published by Brain Jar Press in 2022. Each title re-visions a well-known fairy tale, originally written as the creative component of my PhD thesis. Dark, powerful, and brimming with magic, the Never Afters tales weave a world in which the fairy-tale girls grow up to find both love and heartbreak, family and friendship, loss and forgiveness.
When writing a direct sequel, it’s helpful if readers have at least a passing familiarity with the original story. For this reason, all the fairy tales I chose to re-vision for Never Afters are generally well known but perhaps none more so than “Cinderella”. Arguably, we have Disney’s 1950 animated feature to thank for its immense popularity in the modern age, bolstered by many more subsequent film adaptations (including live-action effort by Disney in 2015). Disney drew from the tale originally penned by Charles Perrault and, while I certainly make several nods to this version, it’s “Aschenputtel” by the Brothers Grimm that is the true source of my own retelling. If you haven’t come across it before, don’t expect fairy godmothers and glass slippers. It’s not a nice story. There’s blood and mutilation and maiming by vengeful birds. You’ve been warned. It’s also worth noting that Cinderella is not a rags-to-riches story, not the way either Perrault or the Grimm wrote it. It’s a riches-to-rags-to-riches-once-more story, with our young protagonist the daughter of a wealthy man, reduced to servitude by a new step-mother and restored to her rightful place – and then some! – by the end. I think of it more as a tale of the rich eating the rich, rather than poor peasant girl makes good, and to be honest, I never much cared for our ash-streaked would-be princess. What kind of queen would she have made, I wondered, with all that wretched baggage dragged behind in her wake? Did she fear losing her station once more, her wealth, her status, her safety? What might she do if faced with a threat to her survival? The problem with being the last princess standing is that you can never be sure of your allies, or from which quarter the next betrayal will come.
Writing “After Midnight” was a very different experience to how I usually work. Mired in an unexpected bout of writer’s block – or possibly PhD burnout – I decided to write the first draft by hand in a notebook, something I hadn’t done since my teens. Seriously, after I laid hands on my first typewriter, you couldn’t tear me away from a keyboard and once word processing became a thing I never looked back. Micro-editing as I write is part of my practice, revising and polishing all the way along so that my “first” drafts are already close to finished. The problem with that process is that a first draft takes a long time to finish and I wanted to get “After Midnight” – some version of it, at least – done quickly. If I wrote if by hand, then I wouldn’t have the luxury of editing as I went. Right?
Here’s the catch. I have to write slowly by hand, slow enough to ensure I’ll be able to later decipher my atrocious scrawl. My creative mind, however, works fast. I found myself micro-editing in my head, often changing tack mid-sentence before I even had the chance to scribble my first thought down. The first draft, when it was finally done and the tedious task of transcription was finished, did require significantly more editing than usual but not nearly as much as I had expected. Because of course I did go back when I was writing it to cross things out and insert lines when I later thought of them, and so on. You know, the sort of stuff I do when I normally write on a computer only not quite as much. Did I get the first draft done faster? Yes. Was the overall time take from shaky start to polished final version quicker? Maybe. Did I hate and resent the process of transcribing my own words into a word document? Oh, hell yes. It was an interesting experiment but I won’t be doing it again in a hurry.
Here’s the truly fascinating part, though. Writing the draft in such a manner had a profound effect on how “After Midnight” turned out, in terms of its style. The novelette is told in first person point of view, as are all the Never Afters tales, but this one is actually written by the protagonist. Somewhere in the drafting, it explicitly became a journal penned by the Queen and it struck me that, of course, she would be writing it the same way I was. Not with a contemporary, ergonomically designed gel pen, to be sure, but still. Paper and ink. Smudged fingers and cramped hands. Errors neatly crossed out or savagely struck through to obliteration. Freudian slips left unnoticed and uncorrected. Even my resentment at having to write my draft by hand (because I am stubborn, even with myself) became hers and seeped into the words we wrote together. I know “After Midnight” wouldn’t be quite the same story if I hadn’t written it in this particular way, and through writing it I felt a deeper empathy for this version of Cinderella than I ever could for the Disney princess.
I still don’t like her, not one bit, but I suspect she cares just as much.
The Queen who’d once swept up the cinders is exiled to a distant wing of the palace, replaced by a younger, prettier girl who can bear her King an heir. Unwilling to accept the rapid deterioration of her power and desperately clinging to fraying strands of sanity, the exiled Queen journals the choices that led to her sorry state… and those she must make in order to reclaim her rightful place in the kingdom.
But there’s more than one prisoner in the castle, and the conspiracy that draws tight around Queen and rival involves graver threats than a return to poverty.
After Midnight will be released on 19 July 2022 and is available for pre-order now from Brain Jar Press.
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The other posts in this series can be found here:
Never Afters Story Notes (Part 1): Burnt Sugar
Never Afters Story Notes (Part 2): The New Wife
Never Afters Story Notes (Part 4): Braid
Never Afters Story Notes (Part 5): By the Moon’s Good Grace
Never Afters Story Notes (Part 6): Winterbloom