Baba Yaga Books

The Baba Yaga is one of my favourite mythic characters, and she seems to be making a bit of a cultural reemergence, so I thought I’d share a few contemporary books where she plays a starring role.

Out recently is Sophie Anderson’s wonderful The House on Chicken Legs. I loved it so much. It’s a delightful and moving take on the role of the Baba Yaga, and explores the finding your own path in life, despite what others may have planned for you! It’s aimed at a middle grade audience, but I think you should buy a copy for a young person in your life, and one for yourself too.

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Jane Yolen’s Finding Baba Yaga is due out in October 2018, and if you’ve read any of her other work, you know it’s going to be good. If Tor would like to send me a review copy, I would not complain. Hint Hint.

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Baba Yaga Laid an Egg is a novel that explores women, ageing and feminism, based around the Baba Yaga myth, and involves “a gambling triumph, sudden death on the golf course, a long-lost grandchild, an invasion of starlings, and wartime flight.” Yes please.

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Baba Yaga is a book I’ve been coveting for years. It’s a collection of twenty nine Baba Yaga tales, accompanied by information about the different tales and their history, and illustrations from artists spanning 200 years. Unfortunately as an academic book, it’s pretty pricey. One day…

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While we’re on academic texts, a friend of mine stumbled across this book on the Baba Yaga in the op shop! And even better, she gave it to me! A good friend is one who will stumble across rare academic texts and think of you… It’s a dense exploration: small type and lots of pages, but don’t let that turn you off. It’s an incredibly comprehensive deep-dive into Baga Yaga’s history and folklore.

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Ask Baba Yaga is based on a fantastic advice series that featured on The Hairpin. I’ve included an example below. Baba Yaga as Agony Aunt? What could be better?

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Baba Yaga’s Assistant looks fantastic. A graphic novel, it looks both delightful and just the right amount of terrifying:

…The fearsome witch of folklore needs an assistant, and Masha needs an adventure. She may be clever enough to enter Baba Yaga’s house on chicken legs, but within its walls, deceit is the rule. To earn her place, Masha must pass a series of tests, outfox a territorial bear, and make dinner for her host. No easy task, with children on the menu!

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Another graphic novel, this time for more of an adult audience, I’m off to order a copy of Baba Yaga and the Wolf as soon as I finish this post. The art is beautiful:

Visually influenced by the dense forested landscape of British Columbia, Baba Yaga and the Wolf tells the story of Katerina and the journey she takes to the edge of the Underworld and its gatekeeper, Baba Yaga, in order to save her husband Ivan from a terrible fate.

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And of course, our very own Vasilisa the Wise and Other Tales of Brave Young Women. Vasilisa is soon to be released as a paperback. Yay! You can pre-order your copy here.

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Do you have an favourite books that feature the Baba Yaga. We’d love hear about them!

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The Making of a Dress

I spent much of last week making a dress. The best thing? I didn’t even need a sewing machine. The worst? I can never wear it, and I really want to!

Kate and I are working on the follow-up to Vasilisa the Wise, and I’m in the wonderful phase of dreaming up new illustrations. I couldn’t resist throwing myself into the most complicated one I’ve thought up so far. It requires a dress, embroidered all over with blue roses.

My first task was to visit my mum. My parents live in her family home, which has been passed down through several generations, through the maternal line. I grew up in that house, as did my mother (and her sister) and her mother before her. It was knocked down and rebuilt into its current incarnation in 1946 after my grandparents were married – so my grandmother grew up in the old house, but the ‘new’ one reused the old window and door frames. We all went to the same primary school, walked the path down to the shops, and looked out over the same valley of lights at night.

So, with all that history, I knew I’d find a treasure trove of lace and embroidered linens. I needed roses, so we pulled great piles of linen out of the hallway cupboard. I sorted through them and found 20 or so pieces that would work for what I needed. Aren’t they lovely?

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The stories behind many of them are lost to time, but they are a lovely connection to my family’s history.

When I brought them home, I photographed them all, in their entirely and in detail.

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Then into Photoshop we go… I started by isolating the design and removing the background, which is more complicated than it looks, especially when working on pieces with a deep fabric weave. Several of them required a steady hand, as I drew around the stitched design. Once they were selected out and put against a clean white background, I converted them to black and white, and changed to colour balance to turn them all a different shade of blue.

There was a lot of lace too. I photographed those on a black background, darkened the exposure and dialled up the blue.

As I went, I placed each one onto a silhouetted photograph one of my own dresses. To make it clearer, I recorded a screen cast of some of the process. This is taken from a few sessions of the digital process, sped up by 20,000%! If only I worked this fast.

It took me two full days to get this far. The illustration is far from finished, but just making the dress feels like a good achievement. The dress itself may change a little for the final illustration, but here it is for now: several generations of everyday history rewoven into a new life.

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Castlemaine Launch

Last Thursday, Castlemaine Library hosted the first launch of Vasilisa the Wise and Other Tales of Brave Young Women. About seventy people came along and shared the celebration, one that’s been several years in the making.

The wonderful Carmel Bird gave the launch speech and began:

Once in a kingdom far far away there lived a kind and wonderful witch. In her generous witchy heart she nurtured a deep desire – she longed for a great book of stories, a book that recognised and celebrated the courage and cleverness and power of young women. The wonderful witch mixed a potion, stirred it in her cauldron, and watched the blue and green mist as it rose mysteriously from the pot. It was perfumed with lavender and honeysuckle, eucalypt and wattle, and it wove in and out of the treetops until it began to form into words that hung like spider webs on the branches. And the message was:

By Light and By Dark; By Night and By Day:

Summon Lorena Carrington; Summon Kate Forsyth; Search the wilds of Western Australia for Serenity Press.

And so she did. And lo – you now have before you the self-same book that the good witch desired.

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Many of you will know Carmel’s work. She’s a true literary genius, so I was rather pleased to keep my (relative) cool on stage next to her. She was incredibly gracious and clever and wise, and spoke deeply about the book and its place in the world.

This book comes at a time when women across the world are suddenly speaking out very loudly about the violence and oppression that have been accepted as a normal expectation in western society. Fairy tales, for all their pleasures, are a subtle and powerful way of speaking out. The term ‘sisterhood’ became current, I think, in the seventies, and what is being heard now is the voice of the sisterhood united and enabled by current technology. This book adds its voice in a dramatic and sometimes subversive way.

I spoke afterwards about the power of social media. How one well-timed tweet affected the course of several professional lives, and triggered the creation of a book (and more to come)! I also garbled a lot of thank yous and tried not to go wobbly in front of a theatre of friends and strangers. I also pulled a lot of weird faces.

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We had originally planned to hold the launch in the foyer connected to the library, but had to move the formal proceedings to the attached theatre due to large numbers (yay!). Here is some of the crowd milling about in the foyer afterwards.

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I’m so grateful to our local bookstore Stoneman’s Bookroom, and especially the dedicated people who work there. Here’s the incredible Katherine – oh and look, a pile of books!

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Castlemaine Library went above and beyond in their hosting of the launch, and I can’t thank them enough – just look at these lanterns they made!

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While it felt more than a little strange to have this first launch without Kate and Serenity Press (the pitfalls of geography and time…) they were certainly here in spirit, and there will be more launches to come! It was also a fantastic reminder of the wonderful community here in Castlemaine; filled with fellow creatives and supporters of the arts.

You can order Vasilisa the Wise from the Serenity Press website. Or win a free copy over at Goodreads! The giveaway is open until Jan 10th.

Or support your local bookseller: if they don’t have any in stock, ask them! They will be happy to order it for you, and it helps us too.

Thank you so much to all who came last Thursday. It was an incredible turn-out for a week day evening in a country town. And for those who live elsewhere, do keep an ear to the ground for launches in select capital cities early next year. We can’t wait to see you all!

Seven Podcasts for Fairy Tale Lovers

If you’re anything like me, you use podcasts to get you through the day – out walking, in the car, cooking dinner: all the stuff where sometimes it’s great just to have some else’s voice in your head for a while! I also spend a lot of time at the computer working with images and, strangely enough, listening to other people talking can help the work flow. I do try to keep the subject vaguely related, so over the years I’ve been collecting fairy tale and folklore related podcasts. Here are some of my favourites.

Singing Bones

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Clare Testoni knows her fairy tales. Every episode is meticulously researched, and she brings an enormous amount of knowledge to each one. She tells a version of the tale,  and discusses its variants, where it sits in a historical and cultural context, and its hidden and not so hidden meanings.  Try her episode on Rapunzel, which happens to feature Kate Forsyth talking about her book The Rebirth of Rapunzel: A Mythic Biography of the Maiden on the Tower.

Follow the podcast on Twitter at @singingbonespc and Instagram at @singingbonespodcast.


Deviant Women

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I love Deviant Women. Yes, and this podcast too. *boom tish* To quote them: “Each fortnight, hosts Lauren and Alicia delve into a ‘deviant’ woman from history, fiction, mythology and the contemporary world: those who aren’t afraid to break the rules, to subvert the system, to explore, to seek and to challenge the status quo.

Not strictly a podcast on fairy tales, but they come armed with a lot of fairy tale knowledge (and least one PhD on the subject) and they often focus on a woman from fairy tales. Check out their latest episode on Juleideh, a variant of what you might know better as All Kinds of Fur.

Follow them on Twitter at @DeviantWomen


Feminist Folklore

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I only recently found Feminist Folklore, and I’m so glad I did. Great conversations around folklore from a feminist perspective, with a relaxed presentation and great mix of intelligence and humour. Check out their recent episode on The Juniper Tree.

Follow them on Twitter at @femlorepod and Instagram at @feministfolklorepodcast.


Myths & Legends

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Jason Weiser retells Myths and Legends with varying degrees of modern language. In his episode on the Kelpies, the Scottish Cheiftan’s sons are ‘bros on their party boat’ before they fall foul of the Kelpie horse. The podcast has been around for a couple of years, and it shows in the slick production value and smooth presentation.

Follow Myths and Legends at @MythPodcast.


What The Folklore

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What the Folklore is a funny and slightly irreverent look at folklore and fairy tales, but it’s well balanced by the fact that they know what they’re talking about. There are a couple hundred episodes, and the three presentors have a great rapport. Check out their episode, A Certain Grimminess for their take on the Grimm tale The Seven Ravens.

Find the on Twitter at @WTFolklore


The Folklore Podcast

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The Folklore Podcast is excellent. It definitely has more of a leaning towards folklore over fairy tales, but there is plenty of crossover. Mark Norman is a knowledgeable host, and his guests are interesting and well informed. Check out the episode on Fairy Lore and the Witch Trials.

Follow the podcast on Twitter at @folklorepod.


 

Wallflowers Stories

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Sadly, Amelia and Josh aren’t producing Wallflowers Stories anymore, but it’s well worth going back and listening through their backlist. Fairy tales retold, with a mix of entertaining interjections and intelligent analysis. Try out their episode on Sun, Moon and Talia. I miss them.


 

Okay, so I can’t stop at seven. Here are few more I’ve just discovered and/or haven’t had the chance to listen to much yet, but look interesting.

Malicious Mamas is brand new to me, and I’ve loved the first episode I listened to (Baba Yaga). I can’t wait to delve deeper.

I’m really looking forward to listening to Six Stories, Told at Night, a six part Canadian audio drama about Faeries, writing and the Otherworld. it looks fascinating.

Another fictionalised podcast I’m looking forward to is The Infinite Fairy Tale, a “Dark, surreal and ridiculous comedy inspired by fairy tales and recorded in the moment.”

The Mythology Podcast explores myth, folklore, and legend from throughout history and from all over the world.

When Wishing Still Helped looks at “the surprising and upsetting gruesomeness found in the original versions of well known tales as well as uncovering forgotten oddities.

The Celtic Myth Podshow retells and explores, you guessed it, Celtic Myths in history, culture, landscape and literature. They also play Celtic music, recite poetry and share news. I only just discovered them, but consider me subscribed.

And there are SO MANY podcasts that focus on straight readings of fairy tales. Search them out if you’re in the mood for a bedtime story. I’ll dedicate some listening time to finding some good ones and share them in a future blog post.


 

And now’s your chance to tell me what I missed! What are your favourite fairy tale and folklore podcasts? What gets you through your commute?