Fly Away Home & Meeting Marina Warner

Last week, I travelled to the University of Chichester for a talk and book signing with Marina Warner, hosted by the Sussex Centre for Folklore, Fairy Tales and Fantasy.

When I saw this event being advertised I knew I had to go, because Marina Warner. Enough said.

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Instead of reading from her new short story collection, Fly Away Home, Marina read a couple of off-cuts which didn’t make it into the final book. Both of these were inspired by Kiki Smith’s sculptures, which were themselves inspired by stories. I love how art can go on like this, in a chain of inspiration, from one form to another. She also read a piece of her current work in progress, which is a rewrite of a folktale about animals found in Radwa Ashour’s book Specters.

Lot’s Wife by Kiki Smith, a sculpture based on the character of the same name from Genesis. When fleeing the City of Sodom, Lot’s wife looked back and subsequently turned into a pillar of salt. Image from Detroit Institute of Arts.
Rapture by Kiki Smith, a sculpture based on the fairy tale Little Red Riding Hood. Image from PBS.

After the readings, there was a short discussion and Q&A session. Marina spoke about how she believes fairy tales and folktales don’t age because they contain artificial structures. Almost like a grid, these tales have a feeling of a mythical past which can be reworked. So long as that feeling remains in some way, the tales live. They can be altered using their motifs or emotional content, and these changes create new ways of retelling. There is no progress as such, just constant change.

Fairy tales and folk tales are also timeless because they contain relevant topics – love, death, war, relationships, and nature. These will always be important, and so it’s always relevant to retell them.

From what I’ve read so far, many of the stories in Fly Away Home feature characters who undergo change. Transformation is threatening for some people, but it’s impossible to go back in time. As Marina herself said, nostalgia always has to be defeated in order to move on.

Image from Salt Publishing.

Marina also discussed the notion of fairy tales and myths as a way of exploring identity. Storytelling is a cultural activity, and it’s crucial to remember this now with so many people on the move and refugees being driven away from their home countries. We need to remember that they need space for their own stories and heritage in the new places they inhabit. Culture is an exchange, and stories are a driving force behind this.

As well as getting a signed copy of Fly Away Home, I also got my much-loved copy of Once Upon a Time: A Short History of Fairy Tale signed. This is such a useful and insightful little book – it helped me out with a lot of university work, and I highly recommend it to hardcore fairy tale fans and anyone mildly curious about them. It’s small enough to be a great starting point, and in-depth enough to supplement existing knowledge.

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Marina was super friendly, and meeting her was a great experience. Not only is it wonderful to meet writers in person and hear them read/discuss their work, but it’s also wonderful to attend events like this to learn and meet new people.T hank you to the Sussex Centre for hosting this event, and to Marina for attending and being a constant source of inspiration.

Now, it’s time for me to go and bury myself in the rest of Fly Away Home!

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Amelia Starling is a writer and folklorist. She graduated from the University of Winchester with a degree in Creative Writing, and is a content editor for Folklore Thursday. She loves travelling and collecting stories, and spent 15 months living in Japan doing this alongside teaching English. Amelia blogs about folklore and fairy tales at The Willow Web. You can follow her on Twitter @amyelize.

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