Snow by Gina Inverarity

“When I came into the world I brought a deep, soft quiet with me. For that is how the world is when it’s covered in snow. Quiet.” (Snow)

Snow is New Zealand-based Gina Inverarity’s first YA novel. Her concept is brilliant and her writing extremely strong. It will no doubt be regarded as one of 2020’s best YA novels and should be considered for literary awards.

Snow (Wakefield Press) is a retelling of Snow White and is described as a fairytale of the future set in a post-climate-change world.

Thank you for speaking to PaperbarkWords, Gina.

Before we talk about Snow, I reviewed your soulful, symbolic picture book, The Brown Dog, illustratedby Greg Holfeld about a boy’s sadness, for Magpies magazine. It is a beautiful work. What are you most proud of in it?

Thank you, so much! I’m most proud of the illustrations but they’re not my work so I can’t claim credit for those. So perhaps I’m most proud of inspiring the creation of those illustrations. I worked in children’s book publishing for a long time so I’ve seen how difficult it can sometimes be to make the marriage of text and pictures work but this process happened very easily for The Brown Dog. It all had a spooky predestined feeling about it. Everything just fell into place. Which involved some luck but was mostly down to the talent and experience of Greg Holfeld and publisher extraordinaire Jane Covernton.

In Snow, how does your storyline and setting differ from that of the original fairytale? Could you please also describe some of your stunning setting?

Probably most surprisingly, my Snow White is less gruesome and scary than the Grimm brothers’ version. In their ending the stepmother is made to dance in red-hot iron shoes until she dies. I was happy to let go of that cruel medieval sensibility but I did want to explore the sense of the natural world crowding in on humanity that was there in the original folktale. In the 17th century that atmosphere sprang from a fear of the unknown, people still believed in magic, and religion and superstition pervaded every part of people’s lives. I wanted to reinvent that for a new age. So instead of the old idea that nature has to be battled and tamed, Snow embraces the wilderness and tries to work with it rather than against it. So instead of believing in magic, Snow’s senses and observation are open to what is going on around her all the time. I also play into the Disney trope of Snow White having an enchanting effect on woodland birds and beasts. I couldn’t resist that.

The New Zealand landscape lends itself to an other-wordly opposite of the European pastoral idyll. Everything here is inverted, almost a mirror image of what you’d expect. So it’s the perfect setting for a dystopian story. There is drama embedded in that wildness. For example as I write this there is a northerly gale blowing so strongly it’s shaking my whole house, the sea is coated with white-caps and rain is smacking on the windows – and that’s just an average day in Wellington.

How do you create such a timeless feel in your writing?

I think it’s more about avoiding certain language than creating something from scratch. And maybe that’s something I learned as an editor, how important it is to faithfully follow a voice, or a certain tone. Something like actors do – never breaking character. You’re creating an illusion that you have to hold and on a technical level it’s about choosing words and expressions carefully, and if there’s nothing to fit, then you can have fun making it up.

Your characterisation and voice of Snow are excellent. How is your character of Snow similar and different from that of Snow White?

Thank you! I guess largely the same things happen to my version of the character Snow White as in the original folktales but my Snow reacts in different ways. So that reflects a modern feminist sensibility really. And that is one reason I love ‘versions’ of stories so much. Every writer, every era, will see essentially the same character, plot, and setting but through a different lens. And the result reveals and magnifies our biases.

What is Snow’s relationship with Little Bear?

At first Snow is Little Bear’s foster mother but it gets complicated when other humans get involved, to Little Bear’s detriment. Sometimes Little Bear is Snow’s protector, or the other way around, but mostly they’re a team. Little Bear knows things about the environment that Snow can’t quite fathom, and Snow knows people in a way Little Bear can’t. They are companions above all with a very close bond. They understand each other in a non-verbal way. But their relationship is pure fantasy (or fairytale) because I don’t believe people should try and tame wild animals like bears. They will always be unknowable and with that comes dangerous potential for misunderstanding.

The hunter is a wonderful character. What do you find surprising or endearing about him?

The hunter was definitely the most difficult character to write because I didn’t want to follow the ‘prince saves princess’ cliche of fairytales. The hunter’s troubled conscience is there in the original fairytale so I tried to keep that at the centre of everything he does. He shows how he feels, rather than voicing it. He spends most of his time alone so he’s very aware of how his actions have taken a toll on his conscience. And he needed to make amends much more than I was expecting.

The Miners are very different from the Seven Dwarfs. Who is the worst of them and why?

In some ways Bushy Beard is the best and the worst of the miners because his actions are not predictable. Sometimes he advocates for Snow but ultimately he betrays her. She is never sure what his motivations are, whereas she knows for sure some of the other miners are dangerous. That makes it simple to know how to judge them. They are not all bad though, some are there for comic relief but they don’t get very much time on the page.

How do you allude to the plight of refugees?

I first came across the concept of hospitality being a sacred responsibility when I studied The Odyssey in high school. And of course, it wasn’t just the ancient Greeks who practiced such guest honouring, it’s endemic in many cultures, even contemporary ones. But I would argue western culture generally has forgotten its importance. You never know when you might be the one knocking on a stranger’s door for help, so isn’t it in everyone’s best interest to welcome strangers and offer them refuge if they need it? There have always been migrations of people away from hardship and I imagined that this is no different in Snow’s world, especially with the effects of climate change. I feel bad that the refugees are short-changed in my book because they don’t have a voice and instead are there to reveal more about Rain and the Hunter. If there’s a sequel, Snow will find out more about the Voyagers. 

What is Snow’s relationship with trees?

It’s mysterious! And I don’t think even she knows. But I wanted to play with what has been discovered recently about how trees communicate, via their roots and chemical signals. Who knows, maybe it is possible to eavesdrop on what they say if you’re quiet enough.

I read that you own a forest. This sounds interesting. Please tell us more …

My partner and I bought a block of land north of Wellington that has a big mature pine forest growing on it as well as many hectares of native bush. We hope to gradually remove the exotic trees and let the bush take over again. One day we’ll live there but for now it’s a magical place to visit.

What are you working on now?

You won’t believe me but before Covid-19 I started writing a story about a girl who died of measles on an island in Wellington harbour. It’s based on a true story because Matiu/Somes Island was used to quarantine immigrants who showed symptoms of contagious diseases right up until the early 20th century. So during six weeks of lockdown due to a pandemic I’ve been writing about another quarantine that went tragically wrong. 

What else are you reading and keen to recommend at the moment?

I’ve been a painfully slow reader lately. When I’m writing fiction I tend to read non-fiction because I’m always worried I’ll lose my own train of thought. But recently I’ve very much enjoyed Neverland by Margot McGovern, The Weekend because I’m a Charlotte Wood fan, and The Absolute Book by Elizabeth Knox which is a big and complex puzzle I haven’t quite figured out yet. Right now I’m reading The Animals in That Country, which is gripping.

How can your readers contact you?

Via my website, or through my very good friends at Wakefield Press.

Snow is a highly original and most satisfying story. It has a timeless classic feel and will be enjoyed by mature readers in primary school, young adults and adults. Families could also enjoy it together.

My interview with Gina is on YouTube courtesy OzAuthors Online

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