Thursday, January 22, 2015

Fiona Price - author of "Let Down Your Hair" - talks about researching for her book


My name is Fiona Price, and my debut novel, ‘Let Down Your Hair’ has just been published by Momentum. It’s a coming of age story based on the grittier early version of the ‘Rapunzel’ fairytale. A big thanks to Lauren to inviting me to post on her blog!
 
When researching a novel that’s based on ‘Rapunzel’, you don’t expect to end in a strip club. But two drafts in, that’s exactly where I was, making notes on the patrons and the d├ęcor. That’s what can happen when you decide to retell a fairytale in the twenty-first century.
 
The journey which ended in a strip club began when I got my idea for the tower. I decided to milk the term ‘ivory tower’ and set the novel in a university, with a controlling professor as the Witch. Once I’d laid down these details, I needed to answer two important questions. How did this professor find herself raising a baby girl? And what would drive her to lock that girl in a tower when she turned twelve?
 
In the fairytale, what drives the witch is protecting her turf from men. When a man steals her herbs for his pregnant wife, she terrifies him into giving her the baby. She calls the girl Rapunzel and locks her up at twelve—around the age when girls hit puberty—presumably to protect her virginity. When the Witch discovers Rapunzel’s affair with the Prince, she cuts off Rapunzel’s hair and banishes her to the wilderness.
 
In ‘Let Down Your Hair’, the witch is Professor Andrea Rampion, a hardline feminist who’s driven by the same motivation in updated form. When a married man gets Andrea’s teenage daughter pregnant, Andrea is left raising Sage, the baby. Determined to stop Sage turning out like her mother, Andrea shields her from all sexist messages. She bans TV and the internet, vets everything Sage reads, and educates her at home in isolation. When Sage turns twelve, she inducts her into the feminist ivory tower with a field trip to Andrea’s idea of a wilderness: the local red light district. Which is where Sage ends up when Andrea discovers she’s having an affair with the Prince. And where I ended up, with clipboard in hand, taking notes on what it’s like in a strip club.
 
In my first draft, I based my chapter in the strip club on the strip shows I’d seen at people’s hens’ nights. But when I handed the manuscript to a male beta reader, he quickly set me straight. “Have you been to a strip club?” he asked me, and I had to admit that I hadn’t. “Well, maybe you should,” he said, avoiding my eye, “because they’re really not like this.” I was tempted to ask for more details, but he looked so embarrassed I decided I’d better spare him. Instead, I recruited a burly female friend as my bodyguard and organised a trip to a strip club.
 
Inside, the low lights and dark red wallpaper made me feel like I was sitting in a mouth. I sat on a stool near the pole-dancing table, and tried to think like Sage. How would this place look to a sheltered young girl brought up by feminist control freak?
 
There were twenty or so young women in the club, wearing high heeled shoes and lingerie. One was rotating on the pole by my table, and the rest were wandering around and chatting to the men. Andrea would have taught Sage that these women were victims, who were being demeaned and exploited. Others would argue that that these women freely chose their job because it made them feel empowered and desired.
 
From what I could see, the staff didn’t seem to feel victimised or empowered. When I watched the women trying to chat with the men, the word that came to mind was awkward. As for the pole dancer, the way she kept checking her watch could only be described as bored.
 
Most of the patrons were middle-aged professionals, sitting in groups at tables. Andrea would have pointed out that the patrons had far more money and status than the staff. But what struck me was how self-conscious most of them looked. I sneaked around to eavesdrop and heard stilted conversations about real estate, work and sport. Most seemed to be pretending to their friends that they were too jaded and manly to check out the girls. Unless the girls attempted to strike up conversation, most patrons barely glanced their way.
 
Even Sage couldn’t have felt too shocked or threatened by what I saw in my first hour in the club. I was wondering if I’d chosen too tame a venue when a patron gave twenty dollars to the pole dancer. Suddenly the atmosphere changed, and the whole room turned to watch. And there, just a table away from the pole, I watched the dancer strip naked and give that patron a lap dance.
 
For the first time, I felt how Sage might have felt in a den of unfeminist sin. I’d never seen a lap dance and had naively assumed that two people’s laps were involved. When I realised it was actually one lap and one face, my bodyguard and I turned and fled. As we hurried to our car, I made a mental note to amp up my feelings of horror and give them to Sage in the book!
 
If you’d like to read ‘Let Down Your Hair’, it’s available from all major digital platforms. Thanks again to Lauren, and I’d like to wish her and her readers happy reading in 2015!

Genre: Fairy tale/women's fiction
Publisher: Momentum
Publication date: December 11th, 2014

One modern-day Rapunzel. One naked man. Two very different wicked witches.

At 22, Sage Rampion has barely spoken to a man, but she’s read a lot about them. She was raised and home-schooled by an expert on the subject: her grandmother, a Professor of Womyn’s Studies (spelt with a Y).

When Sage meets the male nude model she saw from her grandma’s office window, her sheltered world begins to unravel. She starts asking questions about how she was brought up, and the teenage mother who abandoned her. It looks like the battle of the sexes is way more complex (and far more fun) than she’s been told …

About Fiona...

Fiona Price has a lifelong passion for words. She has studied multiple languages, talks too much, and spent her teens exchanging long letters with penfriends all over the world. After declaring she was going to be a writer, aged six, she began work on her first masterpieces: a novel about a wild pony and an incisive satirical song called ‘Baa Baa Rainbow Sheep’. Since then, she has attempted just about every form of writing, from bush verse and screenplays to elegies and academic articles.

When not writing, Fiona uses her storytelling skills as a cross-cultural trainer and public speaker. She runs workshops on cultural diversity issues, is a member of Toastmasters, and was MC at the 2014 Chinese New Year Dinner for the Museum of Chinese-Australian History. Her non-fiction book Success with Asian Names was published in 2007, and she was a co-author for the HarperCollins International Student Survival Guide in 2014.

Fiona is plotting further novels based on fairy tales, and is currently working on a fantasy trilogy for young adults. She has an Australian father and a Chinese mother, and she lives in Melbourne by the sea.

Check out Fiona's blog
or connect with her on Twitter



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