This is the last 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.
“Beauty and the Beast” remains one of the most beloved fairy tales in the Western canon, possibly in large part due to Disney’s animated feature film released in 1991. Its original source was a lengthy tale written by French novelist Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve in 1740 which was later abridged and rewritten by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont in 1756 (both titled in La Belle et la Bête). An English-language version was also included in Andrew Lang’s Blue Fairy Book, a part of the Fairy Book series, in 1889.
I confess to adoring the Disney movie when I first saw it, especially its representation of the Beast. (My relationship to the film is somewhat more complicated now but it’s one of the few Disney fairy tales I can still watch without too much rancour, so there’s that.) I knew I wanted to include a sequel as part of my Never Afters suite, set many years later, revolving around the relationship between Beauty and her Prince. What happens when you fall in love with a beast but end up marrying his human counterpart? Would you still love him? Or would you miss the beast? What would that marriage look like? Although a variant of the opening scene was kicking about in my head for several years, I didn’t have the actual story worked out until right before I sat down to write it. Winterbloom is the last piece I created in this series, and I like to think it’s a gentler story than many of the others. There’s certainly less violence and bloodshed, in any case. Unless you count the roses.
One of the things I enjoyed most about writing this tale was the historical research. Although none of the Never After tales are explicit in their setting and time period, I tended to use the primary origin story as my own personal guide which meant I was looking at mid-18th Century France for Winterbloom. You won’t see too much of the research in terms of lavish descriptions of time and place, but the details are there. I learned how to play the old French card game Piquet – a complicated affair I have since entirely forgotten through lack of practice – studied fashions and fabrics, and went down many a rabbit hole involving the history and propagation of roses. I’d had no idea that the beautiful diversity of the roses we currently enjoy is a relatively recent development, nor of the level of precision and low-key violence involved in their selective breeding. I found myself side-eyeing the several rose bushes we have in our own garden and wondering what new varieties I might coax into being …
The other wonderful thing about crafting a sequel to “Beauty and the Beast” was that I was at last able to write about fairies. As many readers of fairy tales will know, the fey folk aren’t actually a feature in most of the traditional stories. But here we have a fairy who cursed a prince to become a beast until true love released him, and another who turned Beauty’s rather awful sisters into statues until they learned to play nice (that last is often left out of modern version, including Disney’s). There is such a wealth of tradition and folklore around fairies that changes through culture and place and time, and it gave me great scope to fashion the kind of fay that would work for Winterbloom. Although we never pass beyond the veil in my story, it was a delight to explore how fey magic might work, what mindsets the fay might possess, and how their worlds might intersect with our own – and with what consequences!
Several years into their marriage, Beauty and her once beastly husband are at a crossroads. Though they still love each other, they have not been able to have children nor talk about the problems that have beset them since the fairy curse was lifted. Instead, she devotes herself to the roses in their garden while he composes music to charm the most discerning Parisian audiences.
But Beauty secretly longs for the Beast with whom she fell in love, and her husband fears he’s no longer the creature she most desires. When Peregrine, Beauty’s enigmatic fey sister-in-law, comes to visit, she sparks off a chain of events that will either heal the marriage or leave it in irretrievable tatters.
Winterbloom will be released on 29 November 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 3): After Midnight
Never Afters Story Notes (Part 4): Braid
Never Afters Story Notes (Part 5): By the Moon’s Good Grace