Sunday, 28 May 2017

Rewriting Myths - Clémentine Beauvais

I will be starting work soon on a commissioned book for a French publisher as part of a series of novels that rewrite Greek myths, Histoires Noires de la Mythologie (Dark stories from mythology).

Some examples below (there are dozens)

 They look great, don't they? Gotta love Icarus's fit bum.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes. It's a pretty great series, one of those collections of books that are widely read in schools and primarily have an educational purpose, but nonetheless manage to be very literary and interesting.

The challenge with that book, as I'm discovering, is that it has to be quite long (90 000 characters) (I mean characters as in letters and punctuation, not 90 000 dramatis personae, though that's doubtlessly achievable with Greek mythology). And Greek myths aren't that long to tell - so you really need to spin them quite a bit.

The myth I chose is that of Io, which has always been a favourite of mine, and miraculously wasn't already taken.

The need to stretch it means that, essentially, you have to get into the heads of the characters very much, and be quite psychological about it all; give them distinctive voices, personalities, desires, and therefore probably break down their archetypal 'nature'. 

Of course, great writers who retell Greek mythology or other legends and myths do that all the time. But they don't have the constraint of keeping it school-focused. It still needs to be educational, a good 'parascolaire' product, as we say in French. We can't stray far from the 'accepted' versions of the myths, so that they stay in tune with the curriculum ('founding texts of world civilisations' is on the Year 7 programme).

And also, we can't only delve into pure psychology and internal monologue, because the readers probably don't really care very much about Zeus's midlife crisis. So things need to happen.

But it does give us space for interesting questions. What does it feel like to be a cow? What is it like to gallop freely through Mediterranean landscapes? Why would a young woman fall in love with a god?

More evidence, if it was ever needed, that commissioned work can be extremely satisfying and give birth to (hopefully) high-quality stuff. I'll keep you updated.


Clémentine Beauvais is a writer in French and English and a lecturer in Education at the University of York. Her published work in English includes the Sesame Seade mysteries (Hachette, 2013-2015), the Royal Babysitters series (Bloomsbury, 2015-2016), and Piglettes, a translation of her French YA novel Les petites reines (Pushkin Press, July 2017).


Sue Bursztynski said...

I'd be interested to see how you can rewrite the story of Io for children. In the end, it's about sex and adultery(something Greek gods were well known for!) Ursula Dubosarsky managed to do the story of Romulus and Remus for children by being vague about how it ended, ie with Romulus murdering his brother. She just says she wished she could say it all ended happily, but didn't give any details.

On Some Visual(King)Arthurs

Rowena House said...

What an amazing series. Sounds like a brilliant commission. Will look out for them, definitely.

Catherine Butler said...

Oh, that sounds a lot of fun! I always get Io mixed up with Europa, I have to admit...

David Thorpe said...

Great commission. Would love to do some of these myself! I'm a big sucker for myths and legends.