Feature: Alternate Histories – Victorian Fairytale Landscapes

TheButterflyGirl-300dpi Ishbelle-Bee-Author-PictureIshbelle Bee writes horror and loves fairy-tales, the Victorian period (especially top hats!) and cake tents at village fêtes (she believes serial killers usually opt for the Victoria Sponge). She currently lives in Edinburgh. She doesn’t own a rescue cat, but if she did his name would be Mr Pickles. In this short piece, she explains some of the roots of her tales…


I write Victorian fairy tale horror and my books are set within an alternate Victorian England. The Singular and Extraordinary Tale of Mirror and Goliath is played out during the Jack the Ripper killings in London, Egypt, Whitby and Liverpool, revealing a variety of unusual and colourful characters, including fraudulent psychics, secret cults, a photographer of the dead, a death mask collector, Jack the Ripper and bewildered Scotland Yard detectives.

The second book of the series The Contrary Tale of the Butterfly Girl is set nearly a year later and follows the adventures of two orphans who go to live with their Uncle, a retired undertaker in a weird little Kentish village called Darkwound. There they happen upon Mr Loveheart and the butterfly obsessed Professor and become embroiled in a dark plot. Village life in this second book is examined and its quirky scenarios are counterbalanced by the grittier London scenes where the arch villain the Prime Minister presides.

Because my books are character based, my alternate England is very much secondary and I view as a backdrop. Therefore I don’t really do any world building – nor do I work out complex magic systems or political and economic setups. My landscape is fluid and morphs to fit the characters and however the plot evolves. I view my imaginary world as a theatrical backdrop – a stage set for the characters to perform within and I don’t obsessively overindulge in a need to be historical accurate and enjoy a blatant disregard for it at times. However, saying this, I did do a lot of research and I have a great love and interest in the Victorian era but I did not want my world to be limited to the constraints of historical accuracy, just inspired by it. For example, if I want a rocket launcher or an ice-cream van (of a Victorian persuasion) then I will put them in.

Mirror&Goliath-144dpiWhile I was writing this book I had been researching Egyptian and Aztec mythology and Celtic underworlds to underpin and counterbalance the more restrained high London society and give a sense of ‘ otherworlds’ and ‘other beings’ below the surface. Alongside this I read a lot about Victorian Spiritualism and I came across lots of peculiar rituals and cults for honouring the dead during this period, involving Psychic Trays (a variant of Ouija boards) bees, photographs of the dead, séances. All these motifs inspired me and some I threaded within the plot, such as the photographer of the dead, Dr Cherrytree and his sinister waiting room.

There is also a lot of food in both books and mention of eating and cannibalism, which is a theme which reoccurs in mythology and fairy tales. Many scenes are built around the theme of eating – for example dinner parties, birthday parties, tea rooms and taverns. There are a great many scenes set in weird little bakeries, chocolatiers and collapsing haunted pubs.

The themes of eating and cannibalism are reoccurring motifs within my alternate Victorian England and the characters subject to the laws of a magical ‘food chain’ where you literally eat your rivals to absorb their power or to honour them in some way, or as an act of revenge, to completely decimate them through digestion.

The Contrary Tale of the Butterfly Girl is released in the US on August 4th and in the UK on August 6th. Click here to order it from Amazon.co.uk


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