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  • The Fairy Tale Magazine

Interview with Kell Woods by Lissa Sloan


Can we talk about “Hansel and Gretel”? These two kids survive abandonment, kidnapping, and a horrifying escape to make it back home, hooray! But…it’s to the very family who abandoned them in the first place. That’s a complicated happy ever after at best. What would this experience do to anyone, especially a child? Kell Woods’ debut novel digs deeply into this question and is striking a major chord with readers in Australia, the UK, and the US.


Fairy Tale Magazine’s Fairy Godparents Club was fortunate to have Kell Woods as our guest for our October meeting. We had a lovely visit chatting about writing and fairy tales, and Kell was kind enough to return for a bonus interview.

Lissa Sloan for Fairy Tale Magazine: What was your inspiration for a novel about Hansel and Gretel as adults? At what point did examining your characters through the lens of trauma enter the story? 


Kell Woods: I really wanted to write a book that took a well-known fairy tale and set it in a real place and a real time, with all the grit and brutality that comes with that. 'Hansel and Gretel' quickly became the obvious choice for several reasons: it’s always been one of my favourite fairy tales; it takes place in the deep, dark woods (who doesn’t love a story set in the forest?); it was unchartered territory - as far as I was aware, no one else had written a re-telling of 'Hansel & Gretel' for adults; and the story itself is so dark and compelling. You have loss, abandonment, betrayal, fear, cannibalism, love, witchcraft, bravery.... so much to work with!  


It didn’t take long at all for me to realise that childhood trauma was going to play a major part in the story. I mean, these two characters have lost their mother, their father has re-married (depending on the version of the fairy tale) and they’re abandoned in the forest by the person who is meant to protect them and love them most. They wander for three days in the forest, lost and alone, until a cannibalistic witch kidnaps them, locking Hans in a cage and threatening to eat him. Gretel’s cleverness and bravery saves both children, but at what cost? How would she have felt after pushing that witch into her oven? Could the children have ever forgiven their father for abandoning them? Could he have forgiven himself? These questions, and more, cropped up the deeper I went into the book. When you change your angle and imagine this happening to a real family, and real children, it gets very dark and disturbing.  

 

LS: I understand Kate Forsyth was your mentor for After the Forest. What was that process like? How did working with her change your writing and your book? 


KW: She was! I was lucky enough to win a mentorship with Kate through the Australian Society of Authors. It consisted of a series of structural edits – Kate would read the manuscript, mark it up, and send it back to me with an editorial letter. We would usually discuss her thoughts on the book as well and throw around ideas. Then I would work through the book again and send it back to her. We did this until Kate felt that it was ready to start submitting to agents. Having her feedback and guidance was invaluable – she is an incredibly generous and wonderful human.   


LS: What inspired you to choose the historical setting you did? How did your research trip to Germany help to flesh out the story? Did you make discoveries there to add in? 


KW: I was interested in making the fairy tale as real as possible, and because Hansel and Gretel is a German fairy tale, it made sense to set it in Germany. It is generally believed that the story we now know as 'Hansel & Gretel' had its beginnings during the fourteenth century, during the Great Famine. It was tempting to set the book there, however, I ended up going with the seventeenth century because so much was happening at that time – the Thirty Years’ War was raging, and some of Germany’s most infamous witch trials (such as those at Bamberg and Würzburg) were taking place.  

As far as research goes, travelling to Germany was invaluable in helping me flesh out the story. I’m Australian, so walking through old growth forest in the Schwarzwald was such a gift – you can’t really get the scent and texture and feel of a place from a book. I also had ideas for some key scenes after visiting particular places – for example, the waterfall scene (when Greta’s stays float over the falls and Mathias returns them to her) was inspired by Triberg Falls, and the Sturmfels came from a hike I did that passed by a ruined castle. I also went to a bear and wolf sanctuary in Oberwolfach, which was extremely helpful.  

LS: Though Hansel and Gretel is the primary tale in After the Forest, you do weave in other tales. How did you choose what other folklore and fairy tales to include? 


KW: I was fairly practical about it. I chose tales that were German in origin, so that there would be that natural connection. I also chose tales that are set in the forest. I looked for similarities and connections – symbols or motifs or character tropes. I was interested in weaving something new out of strands that remained instantly recognisable. I wanted readers to be able to feel the bones of the original tales just beneath the surface...  


After the Forest is a delicious concoction of fairy tale magic, adventure, and romance. Click here for my review.

Kell Woods writes books that blend fairy tales, fantasy, history and folklore. Her debut novel After the Forest is out now! Find Kell at her website here, or on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter.


Lissa Sloan is the author of Glass and Feathers, a dark continuation of the traditional Cinderella tale. Her fairy tale poems and short stories appear in The Fairy Tale Magazine, Niteblade Magazine, Corvid Queen, and anthologies from World Weaver Press. Glass and Feathers appeared as a serial in The Fairy Tale Magazine this spring. Print and ebook release from The Enchanted Press will be in 2024. Visit Lissa online at lissasloan.com, or connect on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter.


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