a conversation with Claire Massey
It takes a sort of courage to champion something new. It also takes courage to defend something old.
It takes a certain level of sheer chutzpah to embrace something new and old at the same time.
Claire Massey is among the most significant new voices in the reinvention of the fairy tale. As a freelance writer and the founding editor of New Fairy Tales, she has embraced the new-old adventure to rediscover new stories and new traditions, within the old framework and the old folk-ways.
Claire spoke with Mr. Pond from her home in Lancashire.
Welcome to our conversation.
PARADOXES: First of all, I wanted to let you introduce yourself. Who is Claire Massey?
CLAIRE MASSEY: Oh gosh, that’s an interesting question. Well, I edit New Fairy Tales. I founded it in 2008, and set it up just working by myself on it at first. But then over time I’m lucky to have got other people working with me, which has made it even more enjoyable as something to work on. I’m also a student. I’m on an MA doing creative writing.
And I am a full time mum as well. So, I don’t get out much other than that, with two toddlers. But it’s interesting, I’ve found since I’ve had children and even less time than I ever could have imagined to work, I’ve actually become more productive than I ever was before, and seem to have managed to get a lot more done.
And I’m absolutely obsessed with fairy tales—just reading them, writing them, reading studies and academic works on them. I’m drawn to them, so it’s what I keep coming back to. Which is part of why I founded the magazine. I just wanted to explore the idea further with other people. And the possibility of writing new fairy tales rather than retelling them.
The most distinctive feature of New Fairy Tales is that it is new fairy tales. Why is that emphasis there? How did that happen?
I’ve always loved fairy tales. I think as a child it was mostly the Grimm’s tales that I was reading again and again. And then I kind of drifted away from them. And I remember at twenty-one being on Euston Station in London, and coming across another collection of Grimm’s tales in a bookshop and buying it. And then that was it, from that moment I kind of just went back and reread everything I read as a child, and all the Anderson tales. Then I started exploring things I hadn’t read as a child, like the George MacDonald tales and more kind contemporary stuff—Angela Carter and A. S. Byatt.
I wasn’t differentiating at that point between what were retellings and what were original tales. I was just reading fairy tales for the love of it. And I started trying to write them without really thinking about the fact that what I was doing wasn’t retelling them. I was just stealing bits, you know, motifs and rhythms of fairy tales and folktales, but trying to come up with new things and trying to play with that. The more I read about it, the more I realized that Andersen was probably the most renowned person to have done that, or the most recognized. So I was reading a lot about him and what he’d done.
I looked at what was online already—I knew I wanted to start some kind of journal—I looked at what was online. I’d been reading the The Endicott Studio and everything for a while, and Cabinet de Fées as well. And I thought, well, they concentrate mostly on retellings. So actually, is there something in this—what can we do if we try to write an original tale?
But having said that, I’m always very wary of using the word ‘original’, because of this kind of idea that there can’t be any originality. Because everything’s been done before—and I think particularly when you’re sourcing ideas and material from old tales. But there’s definitely a difference when you consciously set out to retell a tale and setting out to tell your own tale, a new tale.
And New Fairy Tales, actually, after I’d set it up, it was only at that point I realized that Anderson had called one of his collections New Fairy Tales, Nye Eventyr [og Historier (1852-1871)].
I do love retellings. I love The Bloody Chamber and all that work. But to me, I’m more attracted to the idea of seeing what else can be done rather than writing the five hundredth—no, the five thousandth—version of Cinderella.
Where do you see the New Fairy Tales going from here?
I suppose I’m interested in the internet, in the possibility of putting up different forms, I suppose, using multimedia work, looking at how you can use film and audio and different things. At the moment the magazine is very much writing and illustration. We’re hoping to get a second batch of the audio stories recorded as well. But I am interested in film. And just different ways of telling a story.
And the fact that the internet allows you to do that in kind of a way that hasn’t been possible before. And distribute it for the cost of your hosting. It never ceases to amaze me that I can work with people from all over the world, and gather together that stuff, just sitting here in the northwest of England, on my laptop, in my bedroom. That’s magical, to be able to do that.
So, I want to kind of keep going with the magazine, keep building on it. We don’t really have an intention to move to print, although people often ask me if I will make it a print journal instead. But to me, there would be an awful lot of setting it up as a business and things that aren’t what I’m in it for, because I’m doing it for the love of it. The idea of having to start doing invoices and tax returns and all kinds of horrid things would take away from that.
Also, it wouldn’t reach as many people, You’ve got to fight for people to subscribe and then keep them subscribing and it’s like—well, if I put it on the internet, anybody can look at it. And that’s brilliant.
Although I think there’s still very much a bit of an attitude that if it’s not in paper, if it’s not print, then it’s not as well respected.
Claire Massey lives in Lancashire, England, with her husband and two young sons. She is the founder and editor of New Fairy Tales and she blogs about fairy tales at The Fairy Tale Cupboard. Her fiction, poetry and articles have appeared online and in print in an assortment of places including Cabinet des Fées, Enchanted Conversation, Rainy City Stories, Magpie Magazine and Brittle Star.