Honestly, I am always so excited when I see that Ian is releasing a new book. His writing is always so honest, emotional, and thought-provoking. It was going to be difficult to produce another picture book to match the beautiful ‘Nen and the Lonely Fisherman,’ but I think he may just have done it!
Make sure you read Ian’s special piece about how his original story idea twisted and turned into something slightly different to what he’d intended, but became all the more magical and personal for it.
‘Another spectacular story from the king of inclusive fairy tales, Ian Eagleton. An exciting adventure in the ice, to warm the coldest of hearts.
Every Christmas Eve, a lonely woodcutter named Kai carves statues for anyone who might pass by. But one magical night his loneliness is soothed by a visit from the snow prince. Feared by many, Kai sees hope in the prince’s eyes, but as the prince freezes once more, imprisoned in his ice-palace, can Kai break the curse?’
‘Stories are funny things, aren’t they?’ A piece by author Ian Eagleton
Stories are strange things. They’re shape-shifters. Sometimes, even as the author, you feel that your characters have a mind of their own! What starts off as one kind of story can very easily twist and turn and morph into something entirely different.
The Woodcutter and the Snow Prince started off as a story called The Sorceress and the Song of Sorrow.
The Sorceress and the Song of Sorrow was going to be my second fairy tale and it was to be based on one of my favourite stories ‘Jorinda and Joringel’. It’s quite an obscure, dark story about a wicked witch who turns all the fair maidens into little birds, which she keeps imprisoned in her palace in the middle of a strange forest. The men? Well, they get turned into stone statues, frozen in time, until the moon shines at night. The witch is eventually defeated but I was stuck with the feeling that she might have an entirely different story to tell. Was she really evil? Was there a reason she cast such dark magic? Could she be saved? Could she be redeemed? I spent a long time thinking about the witch’s story, but ultimately this story never came to be. I just couldn’t quite get the right balance of magic, sadness and hope and it was difficult to unpick the witch’s motivations and personality.
Sam at Owlet Press liked the story and the idea of a misunderstood villain but suggested that a wintry, Christmas setting might feel more magical and help bring the story to life.
I was initially quite reluctant to write a new story but the thought of an LGBTQ+ inclusive Christmas fairy tale was just too exciting!
Of course, I immediately began to think of The Snow Queen. I have very fond memories of my teaching days, when my Year 3 and 4 classes put on this show for their parents. A young student called Tasmin played the Snow Queen and she was terrifying! So, I returned to the original story by Hans Christian Andersen for some ideas.
I loved the idea of having a woodcutter, lonely and isolated, in the middle of a strange forest. My own nan’s death was probably still on my mind, so I thought about the stories we are told as children by our elders. I wondered if the woodcutter’s grandma might have told him some stories about a wicked Snow Prince and what might happen to Kai, the woodcutter, if his grandma had died.
I also started to wonder what would happen if these stories weren’t actually true. Very often we are told stories about someone, or rumours are spread about them, and we build up a picture in our mind that’s totally wrong. The idea of an evil witch soon turned into the idea of an evil, wicked Snow Prince. Could the Snow Prince be cursed in some way and desperate for love and understanding?
Once I’d hit on the idea that the villain of my story might just be misunderstood, the rest of the story eventually came but was hard work! After the success of Nen and the Lonely Fisherman I was feeling the pressure and very nervous! It took a lot of time and a lot of editing to ensure the story felt different to Nen and the Lonely Fisherman and wasn’t just another re-telling of a fairy tale.
I wanted this story to feel epic and have the same spirit as one of those action-packed fantasy films, so I enjoyed putting Kai through a series of dangerous and exciting tasks. Everything feels much bigger in this story and the stakes are higher. We have swooping, soaring dragons, haunted caves, creepy monsters in an enchanted forest and even flying polar bears. The illustrator, Davide Ortu has created a mesmerising world of adventure, peril and magic.
I’m incredibly proud of The Woodcutter and the Snow Prince and feel like my writing has got stronger during the process of creating this story. It has definitely been influenced by Tori Amos and her ethereal Christmas album ‘Midwinter Graces’ which I was listening to a lot at the time. The COVID pandemic also influenced this fairy tale in that, at the end of the story, it’s Kai’s touch that saves the Snow Prince from his curse. Up until that point, Kai is only ever seen wearing gloves and we felt that gently touching someone’s face was such a powerful thing that so many of us haven’t been able to do in recent times. Ultimately, it’s the touch of a loved one that overpowers any hate, loneliness and sadness.
Writing a story is never easy and I certainly feel like I’ve been on a journey with this one. I’m so glad that I got to write an LGBTQ+ Christmas story and I hope that children and their families enjoy this epic adventure with resourceful, brave Kai and his magical Snow Prince.
Perhaps you even might enjoy it by a crackling fire, wrapped in a blanket, and sipping on a hot chocolate while snow falls outside.
The Woodcutter and The Snow Prince by Ian Eagleton, illustrated by Davide Ortu, is published by Owlet Press. Out now, £7.99 paperback. www.owletpress.com
Ian has certainly achieved his aim of breathing new life into a fairytale classic and giving it a thoroughly contemporary twist. Paired with Ortu’s magical illustrations, the story perfectly captures the aching loneliness felt by Kai and the Snow Prince as they love their solitary lives.
The LGBTQ+ theme is subtlety woven into the story, with the focus very much being on the power of touch and love to break barriers. The joy and warmth felt by the pair by the end of the story radiates from the pages and will warm the heart of anyone reading on a frosty winter’s day.
A magical, sparkling adventure to enjoy by a crackling fire or twinkling fairy lights. Gorgeous!
*Many thanks to Owlet Press for inviting me to be a part of this epic blog tour*