Saturday 15 September 2018

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Once Upon a Bookcase: The Navigator's Touch by Julia Ember

Once Upon a Retelling

Welcome to Once Upon a Retelling! I'm a huge fan of retellings, and I'm really interested in hearing about authors' own love of the original stories, and what inspired them to retell those stories. And so Once Upon a Retelling was born, a feature in which I interview authors about their versions of well-loved tales.

Today, I'm really pleased to have Julia Ember stop by the blog to talk about her Peter Pan retelling, The Navigator's Touch!

Julia EmberCan you tell us a little about The Navigator’s Touch? What kind of a retelling of Peter Pan is it?

I guess you could call it an “alternative villain origin story!” Following on from the events of The Seafarer’s Kiss, The Navigator’s Touch tells the story of Ragna, a Viking shieldmaiden who has lost her hand to a devious enemy, and is putting together a mercenary crew. At the beginning, Ragna is young and inexperienced, still reeling from the loss her family, but as the story goes on, she really grows into her own as a commander. The duology also draws inspiration from an Anglo-Saxon poem called The Seafarer, which tells the story of a sailor lost at sea. In the first book, I wanted to meld the story of The Little Mermaid together with that elegy to create something new. The second book is also a composite of fairy-tale and poem, this time with Peter Pan. There are original adaptations of the poem in The Navigator’s Touch that I loved working on!

Why Peter Pan? What drew you to this classic children’s story? And what inspired you to retell it?

I find the idea of Neverland so fascinating, especially for Captain Hook and crew. Peter, the lost boys, Wendy – they’re all children, and it makes sense to me that they would seek an escapist world where there is no pressure to change. But with Hook, I always wondered why a character with obvious ability to lead, and ambitions, would choose to remain in a place beyond time.

What do you bring to the Peter Pan story with The Navigator’s Touch?

I really wanted to offer a possible fleshing out of the character of Captain Hook. He’s often seen as a really selfish character. I think I planted the seeds of a character who would put ambition and control above all else with Ragna, but I also wanted to give her a sympathetic background. She makes the choice to enter what is effectively the book’s Neverland to save other people.

How does The Navigator’s Touch differ from other retellings of Peter Pan out there?

There are Vikings and Norse gods! I’ve also written the Captain Hook character as a lesbian woman, with an on-page female love interest.

The Navigator's Touch by Julia EmberWere there any difficulties in tackling a retelling of a story already known, over writing an original story? Anything that was easier?

I love retellings! I get so much inspiration from classic texts and there’s a real joy in inverting and reshaping it – and definitely in making it queer. I don’t tend to stick super closely to the original in my retellings, so constraint isn’t really a factor for me.

I would say the main difficulty comes in marketing, in a way. There are a lot of YA retellings, and while they are popular, it’s sometimes hard to convince readers who didn’t enjoy the original fairy-tale (for whatever reason) to give your book a shot. Conversely, a lot of readers do have very specific expectations of retellings because everyone has a different aspect of a story that makes it a favourite. For me, with The Little Mermaid, my favourite aspect was always the question of voice and agency. As a kid, I used to get really riled up watching the Disney version because I couldn’t believe Ariel would trade her voice for a man! (Maybe if Eric had been a woman, I would have understood a little better, but still). In The Seafarer’s Kiss, I wanted to ask those same questions about voice and agency, but do so in a way that made it about the character’s own ambitions.

What do you hope readers get from The Navigator’s Touch?

Pleasure? I hope they enjoy reading it! I also hope that queer girls who are looking for stories about ambitious queer women who kick ass will find it!

What do you think makes a good retelling?

I really love retellings that challenge my expectations. I don’t tend to love retellings that follow the original (or DISNEY) too closely because then I’m left with the feeling of reading something predictable. My favourite retellings start in a familiar place, and set you up to think that they will follow a story you already know, then diverge wildly!

Are there any retellings you would recommend, either of Peter Pan, or in general?

I really love the entire The Language of Thorns collection by Leigh Bardugo because the stories are such original takes. With some of them, it took me a while to even realise which classic they were based on – and I love that, because when the realisation hit, it was that much sweeter!

Others I’ve loved:
Peter Darling by Austin Chant (Peter Pan)
And I Darken by Kiersten White (Retelling of the history of Dracula)
Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust (Snow White)
Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao (Snow White)
The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh (1001 Nights)

Anything you would like to add?

Thank you for having me on your blog today! :)

Thank you, Julia, for such a fascinating interview! It was really interesting to read that Julia prefers to read - and write - retellings that don't stick too closely to the original! I guess something we should keep in mind when reading retellings is that we're not necessarily going to get the story we expect, and that can be quite refreshing! Be sure to visit Julia's website, follow her on Twitter and Facebook, and check out The Navigator's Touch, which published on 13th September!

The Navigator's Touch by Julia Ember
The Navigator's Touch by Julia Ember

After invaders destroyed her village, murdered her family, and took her prisoner, shield-maiden Ragna is hungry for revenge. A trained warrior, she is ready to fight for her home, but with only a mermaid and a crew of disloyal mercenaries to aid her, Ragna knows she needs new allies. Guided by the magical maps on her skin, battling storms and mutiny, Ragna sets sail across the Northern Sea.

She petitions the Jarl in Skjordal for aid, but despite Ragna’s rank and fighting ability, the Jarl sees only a young girl, too inexperienced to lead, unworthy of help. To prove herself to the Jarl and win her crew’s respect, Ragna undertakes a dangerous expedition. But when forced to decide between her own freedom and the fate of her crew, what will she sacrifice to save what’s left of her home?

Inspired by Norse mythology and J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, this companion novel to The Seafarer’s Kiss is a tale of vengeance, valor, honor, and redemption.
From Goodreads.

If you enjoyed this post, check out the other interviews in the Once Upon a Retelling series.

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