Polly Crosby on This Tale is Forbidden and fantasy books for teenagers

This Tale is Forbidden by Polly Crosby. Book cover and author photo.
The second book we've shared with our Macaw subscribers this month is This Tale is Forbidden by Polly Crosby, a dark fairy tale-inspired fantasy with a thrilling dystopian storyline and an intriguing back story. We fell in love with lead character Nesta, who we think young readers will find immediately relatable. Like this month's other book, On Silver Tides, this has such a classic feel but plenty of contemporary relevance and no doubt will spark some fascinating debates! Here Polly tells us more about what inspired the book and her favourite fantasy books for teenagers.

What inspired you to write This Tale is Forbidden?

In the pandemic, I sat down to write my next adult novel, but a persistent voice kept whispering in my ear. Nesta Tenniel - the protagonist of This Tale is Forbidden - is not one to be quietened, and in the end I had to stop what I was doing and listen! I’ve always loved fairy tales. I think I’m drawn to their darkness and that twisted creepiness that always gives me a delicious shiver. I wanted to write something that was the opposite of the sickly sweet princess story.

Did writing the book make you look at fairy tales in a different way?

Fairy tales have been told and retold for centuries throughout the world. I read a lot of versions whilst writing this book, and it’s incredible how much changes from author to author as a story is retold, and how much gets mixed up or changed in translation, a bit like the way a piece of gossip grows more and more scandalous the further it’s spread. I love that we are finally giving a voice to the girls and women who so often before now have been written as docile and sweet. Now these girls are beginning to shout!

‘History is a dangerous thing.’ This quote really stood out to us! To what extent do you think this is true or not?

I think history is fascinating, but all accounts of history are flawed - we can only ever know part of the truth. Nowadays, with glossy social media, and algorithms only showing us what we want to see, it’s even harder to make our minds up. History is hindsight - it should enlighten us, help us choose the right way forward. In itself it’s not dangerous, but the ways it is told can be.

Both the woodland and city settings are so vividly described. Were they inspired by any particular locations?

I trained as a forest school leader, and I love nature and being outside. I spend a lot of time in the woods, walking my dog, Nell, a scruffy lurcher. I write novels for adults too, and these are often anchored in landscape and nature. I live near a city, and love the contrasts of these two places. I think in my novel, the city represents technology and modernity, and the woods is more like my own childhood - far less distractions! In the woods, I can barely get a signal on my phone! It’s a calming, inspiring place. A good place for dreaming up stories.

What do you hope young readers will take away from the story and how it unfolds?

When I was growing up, I loved reading about girls who knew their worth, and weren’t afraid to speak up. I had hoped as I got older that there wouldn’t be a need for stories like these, but although we have come some way since then to ensure gender equality, there is always more work to do.

As a teen, I wanted books that reflected my own thoughts, that fuelled and inspired my passion for the world. I want to inspire that same fire and determination in others. We all have power - we just need to work out how to use it.

Why did you choose to write books for this age group?

 I’ve always read books for teens. They deal with important topics in a very direct, punchy way that is rare in adult fiction. Despite being a mum now, I still feel about sixteen inside! I think there’s probably a very vocal teenager in there somewhere, shouting to be heard!

Do you have a favourite place to write?

I write everywhere. Train journeys, on walks, in bed at 4am when I can’t sleep! I have a writing shed in the garden, but at this time of year I’m more likely to be curled up by the fire. The only problem with this is as soon as I sit down, both the dog and the cat flop down on top of me! I end up using them as a sort of lopsided laptop stand, typing with one hand whilst stroking them with the other.

Which other dark fantasy books for tweens and teens would you recommend our subscribers read next?

I love Francis Hardinge’s books. I recently read Deeplight, which had a strange glittering magic to it. I adored Kiran Millwood Hargrave’s The Deathless Girls, an imagined story of the brides of Dracula. And of course I couldn’t not mention His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman, which I have read so often that the pages have started to come away from the spine!

Copies of our This Tale is Forbidden pack, including a copy of the book and loads of fun activities to go with it, are now available for individual purchase. Grab a copy while stocks last!

This post includes affiliate links to our bookshop.org page, meaning we receive a small percentage of the sale should you purchase through them. Additionally, a percentage from all sales on the platform goes directly to local UK bookshops which is an initiative we're delighted to support!



Children's book news straight to your inbox

Sign-up now