I was utterly enchanted by Tangleweed and Brine, a collection of feminist fairytale retellings by Deirdre Sullivan, illustrated by Karen Vaughan. The stories are dark and poetic, and focus strongly on the female experience, and the stunning illustrations tie the book into the rich tradition of lavish fairytale gift books recalling the work of Aubrey Beardsley and Harry Clarke. I will be posting a full review of the book next week.
I am delighted to have a piece from the author and illustrator about the Rapunzel retelling to share with you.
Tangleweed and Brine is published by Little Island Books and will be launched tonight in Easons on O’Connell St at 6pm.
Come Live Here and Be Loved
I wrote this story while thinking a lot about growth and earth and babies. Many of my friends had recently become mothers, and I admired them hugely but did not feel ready to take that step myself. It seemed so huge. To grow a life inside you. It still does. I’m nervous meeting new people at the best of times. In Ireland, our abortion laws are extremely restrictive, and many women are forced to carry babies, who will not survive outside the womb, to term. Carrying a wanted, loved baby inside you, but knowing you will never get to raise them, I can’t imagine how it breaks the heart.
Reading the stories from brave women who have shared their experience to advocate for others, combined with the physical and emotional miracle of seeing people I knew and loved make brand new people, was the seed that this Rapunzel grew from.
When I saw this illustration for the first time, it was a sketch. And I gasped. The witches mouth was a little more open and Karen had put the double row of teeth in. The cultivated wilderness of her magic garden, the husband helpfully gathering Campanula Rapunculus while the women sort things out amongst themselves, it was amazing to see what Karen saw when she read Come Live Here and Be Loved, and it was so similar to what I had envisioned myself, filtered through Karen’s aesthetic, that reminds me of Harry Clarke or Aubrey Beardsley, but is also all her own.
The fat blooming flowers surrounding the witch and the woman reflect the possibility. New life is growing, but not human life. The woman’s face is so tired and resigned. The witch’s is tender and inquiring. They both want the same thing, in the end.
This story was a joy to illustrate. The image came out almost fully formed on the first attempt which hardly ever happens. I wanted to show that moment of understanding and agreement between the two women while the husband busies himself with the task of harvesting the flowers.
There was a minor change made at the end that I think made a huge difference. In the rough sketch, the witch’s mouth was open and smiling, showing her double row of teeth. The more I looked at it, the more I felt it gave her a predatory look which was out of step with the character in the book. She seemed almost joyful in the face of the woman’s misfortune which didn’t feel quite right. The witch is very much of the natural world which isn’t cruel for pleasure or any other vindictive reason, it just is. There’s happiness in her face for sure, but it’s tempered with compassion for the woman who has to give up on her dream of bearing her own child.