Life is beautiful and ugly at the same time. There is a little indent in the concrete on the road I live on shaped like a heart. It’s remained constant through the things I can and cannot bring myself to pick up and put in the nearest bin on my way to work (coffee cups and bus tickets, yes. Things that are more moist than those things, no). There is a privet hedge in one of my neighbour’s gardens, and it’s full of little sparrows and they make sounds and have disagreements. Sometimes, all at once, they’ll move out of the hedge, smoother than clockwork. Living, breathing soft. That hedge reminds me of the different kinds of life inside the world. The birds breathe and the hedge breathes. I breathe with them. Sometimes horsing coffee down my throat.
The world is full of different kinds of magic, if you look for them. I’m moving house at the moment, away from the hollow pavement heart. Today, inside a jewellery box, I came across the key to the house I grew up in. It’s been knocked down. When I pass by, there are new houses there, and old ghosts too. One of my closest friendships was made because we both, at one time or another, invented an imaginary cat for different purposes.
I have, at different times collected, milk bottle rings, scouring pads, salad tongs, a certain type of textured plastic lizard, pringles tubes, twigs with bark that was satisfying to peel off, and feathers for the people I work with. Noticing these things has made me more shameless about seeking the textures I like within the world. The not quite smooth but almost dusty texture of a bay tree. The fat purple aubergines of seed-pods that droop from fuschia in the summer, autumn.
The world is full of little satisfactions. Heartbreaks too. When I began writing Tangleweed and Brine, it was in the middle of a long obsession with fairy-tales, and their retellings. I had incorporated retelling and old stories into my work before, but this was different. It wasn’t a part of something. It was the whole. I worked, at the time, in an old convent building, with a walled garden. Apples and pears dripped and dropped and rotted through the autumn. The glasshouse full of broken shards and briars, was fenced off.
Some said that it was haunted, and it was to me, in the way that all convent buildings are, by the shadow of what they church has done to women and children in Ireland. The ghost of that knowledge gnaws at the edges of a lot of us, I think. Nibbling away the comfort of childhood ritual, until what soothed you once now makes you sad. I still bless myself when an ambulance passes. Still light candles for a friend in need. And sometimes, I still pray. Mostly in Irish. It feels more like a poem. A magic spell.
Tangleweed and Brine is a book about women within fairy-tales. And their internal lives, as they realise their place in the world. How trapped they are. Some of them rebel, and some retreat. I wanted to write about different sorts of women, quiet ones and strong ones, women with different shaped bodies, different shaped brains. I wanted to take the stories of my childhood, and put the things we learn early on into a world where marrying a stranger is seen as a happy ending, and pride is something women shouldn’t feel.
I wrote stories in the first, second and third person, because a lot of these realisations are universal when you are born inside a woman’s body. Objectification, assault, silencing happens and is happening to me, to you, to us. We need to listen to each other, and support each other. To recognise our struggle and our luck. The tales of my childhood, of princesses and castles and adventure and talking animals companions are also stories about being valued for their foot-size, not their brain, of women who cannot avoid assault, in a coma, in their coffin, in the woods.
Some days, when I look at the heart on the footpath, it’s a friendly little shape, and other times a missing piece. Light and darkness permeates the world. Snow blankets the mountains. People die on streets. It’s a strange and difficult world to negotiate, this one we have to live in. When I write, I’m trying to explain it to myself. And, since I was a child, stories have helped me do that. Taught me what will build and break a girl.
And to keep trying.
(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.