Last week Katy of Chichester Copywriter attended an evening with Salley Vickers at Chichester Cathedral where she discover just how inspired Salley’s writing is by traditional fairy tales.
Local author Jane Rusbridge (The Devil’s Music and Rook, Bloomsbury) interviewed Salley about her latest novel, The Cleaner of Chartres, in Chichester Cathedral on 27th June as part of Festival of Chichester. The book is set in Chartres Cathedral and Chichester in West Sussex is twinned with the same French cathedral city. Salley Vickers is touring UK Cathedrals to talk about her 2012 novel but Chichester Cathedral, with its links to Chartres, made for a pertinent setting – especially for our Chichester Copywriter.
As Jane interviewed Salley about her writing inspirations, it became clear that fairy tales play a key role, especially with regard to The Cleaner of Chartres. Salley talked about how the novel’s main character Agnes, who was found as a baby in a basket by a river with no trace of origins, could be compared to a changeling.
Also, the psychoanalyst turned novelist highlighted how Agnes has a presence that tends to influence her counterparts as the story unfolds. She brings out the good in those who are noble at heart, such as the Abbé Paul and Alain, and exposes the bad in vindictive characters such as Madame Beck. This sort of power is evident in traditional fairy tale heroines, from Snow White to Cinderella.
Another similarity to the fairy tale genre, in true Brothers Grimm style, is the dark vein that runs through The Cleaner of Chartres. Without revealing any spoilers for those who haven’t yet read the book, a chain of events from Agnes’ past rears its ugly head in her present and threatens to upset the new life that she’s making for herself.
Just before going to hear Salley’s talk, Katy listened to The Cleaner of Chartres and Aphrodite’s Hat, a collection wonderful of short stories, on audiobook. It seems that Salley is inspired by fairy tales when writing short stories just as much as when writing novels. Brandon Robshaw of The Independent sums up Aphrodite’s Hat best in his 2011 review:
“With most short-story collections, you need to take a pause between each tale before immersing yourself in a new set of characters and a new setting. Not this one.
The stories in Aphrodite’s Hat are so light, the characters so interesting, the situations so immediately appealing that you can devour them one after the other, like crisps.
Some stories are light-hearted, such as “The Indian Child”, a sprightly re-telling of A Midsummer Night’s Dream; some have a touch of the supernatural, such as “The Fall of a Sparrow”, in which the ghost of the Romantic poet John Keats puts in an appearance; some are tear-inducingly poignant, such as “Moving”.
What’s more, in the author’s note at the end of the collection, Salley says:
“Some of the stories that have influenced my own were by Sylvia Townsend-Warner, who is not known as well as she should be, I have borrowed from her the notion that: ‘Only lonely fairies fly’”
This extract from Aphrodite’s Hat goes some way towards explaining why Agnes is engaging as a main character in The Cleaner of Chartres. It’s certainly true that characters with life experience and a bit of raw substance are easier for the reader to relate to, they are often more likeable too. This also brings us back to that idea of the fairy tale and Elizabeth Buchan of The Sunday Times said the following of The Cleaner of Chartres:
“The fairy-tale elements of Vicker’s novel are delicately layered into a contemporary moral and psychological drama every bit as absorbing as her Miss Garnet’s Angel.”
This quote compares Salley’s latest novel to her début novel, which is set in Venice, and further suggests that fairy tales are a recurrent theme and inspiration throughout her writing.
The Cleaner of Chartres is just one example of a modern fairy tale; a theme that comes up time and again in the YA fantasy genre, Katy’s own creative writing passion. Katy is a particular fan of Once Upon a Time (Channel 5, Sunday evenings) and loves to see how myriad fairy tales weave magically together week after week, combining with elements and situations from the modern world to create new, exciting stories.
Our creative copywriter is looking forward to reading Miss Garnet’s Angel and looking out for more fairy tale features. Salley Vickers’ début novel has already joined the ever increasing To Be Read (TBR) pile at Chichester Copywriter HQ!