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  • Writer's pictureastrid v.j.

My Book-Baby

Updated: Apr 24, 2019

How I wrote Elisabeth and Edvard: The Siblings' Tale

I have always loved writing. In high school it became an obsession, and it was rare to see me without my enormous hard-cover folder under one arm (because notebooks are so flimsy). I spent the hours waiting for my sister to finish her ballet lessons, or waiting for our mum to fetch us, writing and writing. In those days, I did not even own a computer. We had a family PC at home, but no tablets, no laptops - I lived a pretty gadget-free existence. I wrote everything by hand.

Towards the end of my schooling, I read Ella Enchanted and this novel sparked an idea. Having to prepare for exams, I only dreamed the idea, but I took a gap year and that was when I was finally able to put pen to paper (literally) for what has now become Elisabeth and Edvard: The Siblings’ Tale. Yes, just like the novel that inspired this work, this is a fairy tale retelling; nevertheless, my German heritage gave me an advantage: the full scope of the Grimm Brothers’ Collected Fairy Tales. And my all-time favourite just happens to be a relatively unknown fairy tale in English. So I went ahead and picked that one.

Of course, dear reader, you will have to wait, just a bit longer, to find out exactly which fairy tale I have retold here. There are other things I wanted to talk about in this post...

Although this is not the first novel I have written, it is the one which has come up repeatedly as the years passed. I wrote the first draft during my gap year, in the summery sun at my aunt’s house near Geneva, but a few months later, I returned home to South Africa and began studying. As life would have it, English literature, Psychology and Anthropology, my three majors, have all woven their way into this story. When I completed my basic university studies, my fiancé took me to his home-country, Mexico. My observations from the four years we spent there, and my continued studies in Anthropology, have also influenced Elisabeth and Edvard: The Siblings’ Tale.

After finishing my Masters’ thesis, I had a few months with little to do. Not being one to wait around, I spent those weeks productively: typing up this novel, an expanded version of what I had jotted down in my little notebook some seven years earlier. I had also grown, become more aware of human relationships and interactions. Experiencing new cultures opened my eyes to how easy it is to fall prey to stereotypes and misrepresentation. As I grew, and learned new things, so did my heroine, Elisabeth. What had at first been my own search for a romantic fantasy evolved into something far greater than even I could have predicted. Following the structure of the underlying fairy tale only made the story stronger, and I knew that I was on to something.

Then we moved countries again; to Sweden this time. The experience of becoming a mother and raising our son, helped me understand Elisabeth even better and developed certain scenes in the second part of the novel. I spent many hours editing and polishing the manuscript. Then, I finally worked up the courage to ask my sisters to read it. Their feedback was so overwhelmingly positive that I decided I could let my mum read it too.

I have had a rather rocky relationship with my mum, but in Mexico I realised something: I am incredibly lucky. Not only are both my parents alive and still living together - relatively happily married - but my mum is also incredibly supportive - in her own way. When I received the red-inked manuscript from her, with hundreds of comments in the margins, I mustered my strength and went through every point. Thankfully, my perfectionist self took on the challenge, rather than shrinking away in self-doubt and criticism. I reworked the manuscript again.

By this time, my husband had gotten so intrigued by the whole thing, he insisted that I let him read it. It is truly the strangest thing, to watch a reader of one’s own book. The desire to know what part they are reacting to is really quite overwhelming. Although this is a book primarily aimed at young women, my husband showed me that men can enjoy it too - at least if they are able or interested in "communing with their inner fifteen-year-old girl" (as he put it).

Not long after, I found work and we moved cities. The manuscript lay untouched for almost two years. Then, during my maternity leave for our second child, my mother encouraged me to take a course in self-transformation and suddenly, publishing this book became paramount. Thirteen years have passed since I wrote the first draft... it’s about time I let this baby out into the world!

The last three months have been an incredible whirlwind. I decided in January that I was going to do this, and had to face the choice of traditional or self-publishing. I chose the latter because I realised that my story, although undeniably high fantasy, breaks away from the mould too much. Traditional publishers are not going to be easy to convince when there are risks involved - I build on the recipe, I do not follow it blindly. Then I reached the question of how, how do I self-publish?

That, my friends is another story, and another post which will be forthcoming. However, for now, I am excited to say: this novel has taken its full form and will be available very soon. It has been an incredible journey and Elisabeth’s tale reveals quite a bit of my own. I am grateful for this journey and everything I have learned so far. I look forward to seeing where Elisabeth and Edvard will take me next - and all of you readers, too!

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