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David Roberts on illustrating his Delightfully Different Fairy Tales

by David Roberts

This new edition of the Delightfully Different Fairy Tales I illustrated, with the stories retold by my sister, Lynn, comprises Cinderella, Rapunzel and Sleeping Beauty. We completed Cinderella, the first in the series, 19 years ago! Rapunzel followed two years later, and Sleeping Beauty was originally published in 2016. It’s wonderful to see the stories brought together in this new volume, and it’s been really interesting to look back at the series and see how my drawing style and techniques have evolved over time.


Lynn and I wanted to choose unexpected time periods for each tale. The original stories influenced the setting, and in turn each of these settings influenced the retelling of the story. Researching the different time periods was a great pleasure, taking me from the jazz age and art deco aesthetic of the 1920s and 30s through the 1950s mid-century modern style to the platform shoes and music of the 1970s.

Cinderella: An Art Deco Fairy Tale was the first classic retelling my sister and I did, way, way back in 2001. We were so thrilled to get this commission! Lynn wrote pretty much a straight retelling of the story although we had the pumpkin and mice turn into a beautiful car and I had fun giving the tread on the tyres a white mouse design as a modern interpretation of the coach and horses. My background in fashion design made is especially fun to research the wardrobe for Cinderella. I was influenced by the movie stars and magazine covers of the 1920s and 30s, and the backgrounds – the wallpaper and furniture – are all based on real art deco designs. Back in 2001 I was still using a dip pen and ink, making a much scratchier line compared to how I draw now.

After Cinderella, we realised the enormous and exciting possibilities a retelling of a classic can offer. Our next venture into the world of fairy tales was in 2003 with Rapunzel. We set this story in the 1970s and moved Rapunzel into a high-rise tower block. A broken lift results in her aunt’s unusual method of arriving home, by climbing up Rapunzel’s hair! We wanted to explore an alternative storyline for Rapunzel, one where she isn’t ‘rescued’ by the typical ’hero’! In our version Rapunzel finds her own way in the world and ‘rescues’ herself by opening her own business making wigs with all that hair! I enjoyed setting the story in the 70s as I grew up at that time. I looked at old family photographs and magazines to help me remember the clothes and toys I had owned as a child, and incorporated these into the book. I was also able to pay homage to some of my favourite music stars. Rapunzel’s record collection includes Kate Bush, Abba, Bowie, Blondie, Janis Joplin and Joni Michell and, of course, Rapunzel would have a copy of the soundtrack to Hair!

Sleeping Beauty: A Mid Century Fairy Tale came a lot later than the other two, and my drawing style had changed a lot in that 13-year gap. Lynn and I discussed our dreams for this book, which were to show an alternative family, that our sleeping beauty would not be woken by a kiss, and that books and libraries are absolutely still a vital part of life 1000 years hence – we had a lot of fun playing around with time! I love what Lynn dreamed up for this story, with Annabel a 1950s teenager adopted by her Aunts, and devoted to music and sci-fi and robots and visions of a future world. She pricks her finger on a record player needle, falling under the spell of sleep for 1000 years. Lynn and I were keen to move away from the princely hero again, so it’s not a kiss that wakes Annabel but Zoe, a kid with a passion for history and books. Drawing visions of the future based on the 1950s ideas of a futuristic world was so much fun… and Morwenna! I do love a villain! She is inspired by the Disney villains I grew up watching.