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Interviews

Stories are Fuel: Tangleweed and Brine by Deirdre Sullivan

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Deirdre Sullivan © 12 October 2017.
Posted in the Magazine ( · Children & Young Adult · Interviews ).

I find it difficult to understand writers who claim not to read. Which I suppose is because of they kind of writer I am. All my books have grown from other books- from YA novels that showed me what was possible, to writers like , who showed me that you could thread warmth and humor through serious issues. My first books, the Prim Improper trilogy owed a lot to the writers I loved, from Meg Cabot’s The Princess Diaries that I gobbled up in college to the book of ghost stories I read in Edinburgh on my first anniversary with my person. We tell stories to make sense of the world, and I used the Diary format to allow Prim to retell the stories of her life. And books I’ve loved have developed my empathy and taught me more about the myriad of ways we can be human. And books I’ve hated have taught me what doesn’t work for me. And that’s useful too.

Needlework, my fourth novel, grew from non-fiction and memoirs I had read. Once the tattooing portion of the story arrived, I had to read more books on that. I’ve always been interested in how people process trauma, and though there is a lot of talk about dark YA at the moment, young adult fiction has always been dark. It deals with the transition between childhood and adulthood, and there’s a darkness to that. To the acquisition of experiences that shape the adults we will become, and how we cope with them, for good and bad. Ces, the character in Needlework, uses her art to cope with what she’s been through. And though my childhood was a lot less traumatic than what Ces experienced, I used my writing, pouring all of my frustration and confusion into words. To make sense of the things that don’t make sense. My writing in my diaries, particularly my poetry, is very tied in to what I was reading and loving at the time. The language shifting and changing, growing simpler, growing more complex. The words you write are never yours alone. They grow from books you’ve read, conversations you have had, stories you’ve been told.

Tangleweed and Brine, my most recent book, grew from stories more directly. It’s a collection of thirteen fairy-tale re-tellings. I can remember where I found them first. The Ladybird Books my father read at bedtime gave me The Little Mermaid and The Goose Girl. A book from my childhood that had a very real impact on the collection was The Happy Prince by Oscar Wilde. There was a copy of the PJ Lynch edition in my Mom’s friend’s house and I remember reading the stories aghast. They were so sad. They were so very sad and very true. They gave me nightmares, putting adult worries in a child’s brain. I still love them today. As I grew up, I gathered more fairy-tales around me. The Attic Press series of fairytales for feminists by Irish writers, Disney versions, YA novels, books for adults too. If something had a fairy-tale inside it, I was drawn to it. I found Shannon Hale, Zoe Marriott, Emma Donoghue, Carolyn Turgeon, Angela Carter, Tanith Lee, Anne Sexton, Jack Zipes, Marina Warner, Alison Lurie, Margaret Atwood, Kelly Link, Neil Gaiman, Margo Lanagan, Gregory Maguire and many more that way. Fairytales are like a gateway to other stories. They show us what to expect, and those expectations shift and mutate with every version, every teller’s voice.

When I started writing Tangleweed and Brine, I wondered if I should go back and reread all of the stories I had loved, to charge me up. I ended up not doing that. I re-read Perrault, tracked down the artist that had drawn the picture of Fair Brown and Trembling in my childhood book (John D Batten), re-read some articles I remembered loving. But the research I had to do was into strange things, like fish reproduction and plants that move to the touch. I read a lot about plants and animals, as the collection took shape into the Earth and Water sections. The passive research had already been done by then. The stories that I loved and remembered and worried about were already in my brain. I knew them well enough to make them mine.

Sometimes, when I have a million things to do, paperwork and emails and edits and first drafts and articles and all the other things that clog up my laptop and brain when they all come at once, I feel like reading is a distraction. Almost frivolous. And it isn’t. It’s essential. Like listening during a conversation. You can’t just wait until it’s your turn to talk, again, again. You’ll miss out on the best parts, the whole story.

And stories are fuel. They warm you. Keep you going through the dark.

(c) Deirdre Sullivan

About Tangleweed and Brine:

A collection of twelve dark, feminist re-tellings of traditional fairytales from one of Ireland s leading writers for young people. In the tradition of Angela Carter,stories such as Cinderella and Rumpelstiltskin are given a witchy makeover, not for the faint-hearted. Intricately illustrated with black and white line drawings, in the style of Aubrey Beardsley, by a new Irish illustrator.

`Deirdre Sullivan’s writing is beguiling, bewitching and poetic. Her prose is almost dreamlike, reminiscent of Angela Carter.’ – Juno Dawson, author of The Gender Games

‘Witchy, eerie and beautiful. These thirteen fairytale retellings already feel like feminist classics.’ – Claire Hennessy, author of Like Other Girls

`Sullivan’s prose is delicate and masterful, but there’s a belligerence to it as well – these stories demand that we go as deeply with our reading as she has in her writing – that we listen to the women at the heart of these stories, that we see the shadows beneath the trees.’ – Dave Rudden, author of Knights of the Borrowed Dark.

Order your copy online here.


Deirdre Sullivan is from Galway and is now living in Dublin, where she works as a teacher. Her hugely acclaimed novel Needlework consolidated her reputation as a leading Irish YA author. Needlework was shortlisted for the Irish Book Awards and went on to win the Honour Award for Fiction at the Children's Books Ireland Awards in 2017. Her Primrose Leary series was also widely praised; two of the Prim books were shortlisted for the Children's Books Ireland Awards; and the final one, Primperfect, was also shortlisted for the European Prize for Literature.