Sleeping Beauty Episode One

IMG_0169This isn’t really a sensible post of any kind. It’s just playing. Almost all of the writing I do now is Goal Orientated Behaviour, writing to a deadline, writing with a definite purpose, usually to fit an idea I may have sold to a publisher months, or even year ago. Because I’ve always written for work, to make a living I hardly ever allow myself writing playtime, but today, after a long stretch of writing to contracts and visiting schools I’ve done a few hours of playing. Revising stories that I’ve posted before ‘Mother Cary’s Butterknife’ and ‘The White Hare’ and thinking about other ways of using that ‘fairy story’ space, maybe not as a way of writing for dosh, but as a playground I can run about in sometimes.

So here is something from the playground. It’s the start of a retelling of Sleeping Beauty. It’s written for grown ups because that’s another thing I don’t get to do much these days, write for adults. Retellings are total holiday to write because, rather like working with non fiction, you don’t have to invent the basic set up, all you have to do is decide where to place yourself in that set up, walk around and choose a place from which to observe, and speak. The other great thing about re tellings is that you can use the stuff that’s already inside your reader’s heads. This means you don’t have to write everything, all you need to do is remind them of what they already have lying around in their brains and they will do the work for you. There’s huge comedy potential in this too, and in the characterisation that’s available to you with well known stories – you can play with the stereotypes and mess with your audience’s heads in a way that entrtaining for you as a writer, and hopefully for them as readers.

Maybe one day I’ll give myself to do a whole series of these fairy story retellings and read them on camera and post on vimeo…maybe over the Summer.


But in the meantime here is Sleeping Beauty episode one

The thing about magic, real magic that is, not the stuff that exists in your world, the thing about it is that it’s practical. And specific. Very specific. Why? Well I don’t know why do I? I’m a witch, not a physicist. And the thing about witches is that they are very pragmatic. We don’t do theories. Most Witches are also old and female (most, I said not all) so their perspective on what is useful and practical, and therefore worth making magic about, is, well, old and female. When it comes to gifts, they tend to give the sort of gifts they wish somebody had given them. This can seem like the magical equivalent of the husband who gives his wife two litres of white emulsion or a a set of golf clubs for her birthday. It’s also how it all started – the forest of thorns, the economy asleep for a century, the whole Sleeping Beauty phenomenon.

It began with a very stylish seventeenth birthday party. You know the kind of thing, marquee in the grounds, seven hundred meters of colour coded fairy lights, mini burgers and thimble sized fish and chips, served on scrubbed roofing slates. A famous eighties band playing because a cousin had once snogged the drummer. This was a family with connections, fingers in a multiplicity of cultural and political pies.

And their only child was a daughter, Beauty. Nothing, absolutely nothing, was too good for their special little girl. Especially on her birthday.

But Beauty had been doing some freelance, off piste growing up. She wasn’t what you’d call a straight A student. In fact, the only letter of the alphabet in which she had expressed  consistent interest was e. She’d climbed out of so many of the upstairs windows of both her parents’ house and her very exclusive school, that she could easily have been apprenticed to a cat burglar. Often, when Mummy and Daddy thought she was safely tucked up with her teddies, she was either pole dancing, or in bed with something a lot more anatomically correct than a genderless furry animal.

Of course, none of us knew that, not then. And on the afternoon of her birthday party Beauty was being the perfect daughter. Fresh-faced and mascara free, in a demure little linen frock and flat pumps, she greeted Aunts and Uncles, and the stream of old family friends – potters and musicians, radical backbenchers and actors who you thought you remembered seeing in a TV drama three years ago. She wasn’t just pretending either, because, whatever anyone says about her, Beauty wasn’t a bad girl and she really did love her parents and her family. So, on that afternoon her manners were perfection. She smiled at every single one of the Senior Coven members and treated them with charm and grace. She didn’t turn a hair at the eccentric behaviour exhibited by a bunch of women who spend much of their time alone And Don’t Get Out Much, and managed to be complimentary about outfits that would have made Vivienne Westwood and Zhandra Rhodes blanch.

All of us brought gifts for Beauty. Terribly carefully chosen – like I said, this was a very connected family – and of course, as is the case with all magical gifts, hand made. You can’t schlepp into Harvey Nicks and buy an off the peg spell! Each one must be tailor made for the recipient. It must also be formally accepted within twenty four hours of it being crafted and given, or it simply goes off, like pears do in the fruit bowl the moment you turn your back.

The gifts we brought were particularly good, taking into account Beauty’s particular strengths and weaknesses as we then knew them. And they were very, very specific, because one of the reasons that magic is specific is that it guards against the evil of unforseen consequences.

The gifts we brought included a charm against stretch marks, another to prevent bingo wings and still another to allow lifelong sunbathing without getting a decolletage like a crepe bandage by the age of fifty five. There was a lovely little spell to keep black spot off your roses and a perfectly made pelvic floor charm that meant that Beauty would never have to visit the Tenna Lady counter in Boots. (I must say, when I saw that one on the pile I was tempted to take it home and modify it for myself. No, no, I really mustn’t laugh!)

So all fantastically valuable and useful presents, that any woman with good sense and foresight would be delighted to receive. But at seventeen, who has sense and foresight?

The gifts lay displayed on the dining room sideboard, while we made free with the champagne, hoovered up the smoked salmon and moaned about the VAT on wands. And while we were not paying attention, one last guest arrived; a guest none of the witches expected, but, had we had the sense and foresight we later berated Beauty for lacking, we should have.

A male guest. A male witch. Yes, most witches are female, but not all. He arrived, snake hipped in the levis he’d been wearing since 1976, still with most of his dark, wavy hair and eyelashes like a paintbrush. His hooded, green eyes peeped over the top of his Ray Bans, and his mouth, even embedded in dodgy white stubble still made you think…well, really, do I have to spell it out?

He brought a gift that was neither practical nor specific, but it was fresh; hot, you might say, from the oven. Rushed to the door on the back of his Italian motorbike, wrapped in scarlet paper and tied with a lizard-skin thong: speed. A gift dripping with unintended consequences. And like all hand crafted spells, made to last a hundred years, because a fifty year spell just makes you look like a cheapskate or a pessimist.

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