I adored fairy tales as a child. I still do, actually. Mysterious dark forests, magical mirrors, enchanted princes – what’s not to love? I think I always felt, curled around a volume of Hans Christian Andersen or the Grimm’s collected stories, that there was a little bit of magic hidden away at the heart of every story.
Of course, there’s a little bit of darkness too. I remember sobbing over the fate of the Little Mermaid, who for all her efforts couldn’t make the man she’d fallen for love her back. And then there’s the gruesomeness – heads rolling, feet cut off, eyes put out. In some ways, these are the original horror stories. As a child, though, I don’t remember ever being troubled by the physical violence in the tales. It all happened, after all, in a land far, far away . . .
But what if (ah, the ‘what if’ that haunts every writer) those things weren’t in some distant country, but in the land outside our door? What if they happened to someone real? It was when I began to envisage such things that Path of Needles began to take shape.
Of course, it’s led me along paths of its own since then, and some of them were ways I’d never travelled. If such things happened in our world, the police would be alerted, wouldn’t they? And they’d begin to track down whoever was to blame. So what began in my mind as a dark fantasy blurred with a crime novel and resulted in a whole lot of research and some discoveries of my own.
This was never going to be a hard-boiled detective novel, though – my character is no gruff older man with a drink problem and a pending divorce. Cate Corbin is new to the game, balancing her insights with following procedure, and undergoing a process of discovery herself.
In writing the novel, I also uncovered many new variants of the stories I thought I knew. Some of them found their way into the book; others simply provided me with hours of entertainment and wonder. Who couldn’t love an Italian folktale where the queen’s punishment for the heinous crime of showing her face is to be sent to Peterborough? Wonderful. (It’s in The Enchanted Palace, recorded by Italo Calvino, for the curious.)
The thing that has remained with me the most from my childhood love of these stories, though, is that sense that there is a little bit of magic hidden somewhere within them. Fairy tales, once unleashed, take on a life of their own . . . and so, in Path of Needles, they aren’t content to be retold. They begin to emerge from the woods and to influence the characters and shape the story in new ways. There are still some paths that, once started down, you never know where they might lead . . .