Mother’s Milk Books has just published The Forgotten and the Fantastical 2, the second in their annual series of fairy tales for adults. I’m very pleased to have a short story included – a retelling of Rumpelstiltskin called Trash into Cash.
The call for submissions asked for stories inspired by traditional fairy tales, Angela Carter, and Women Who Run With the Wolves. I had great fun writing my story, immersing myself in fairy tales, and in re-reading The Bloody Chamber. (If I ever felt constrained by all that standard writing advice – don’t use three words where one will do, avoid adverbs, eschew exclamation marks! – reading Angela Carter is the perfect antidote…
While I’m sure such advice helps to rein in some of the more purple prose that writers, myself included, might otherwise indulge in, it’s invigorating to see her shamelessly and breathlessly breaking all the rules.) My story sees the tale of Rumpelstiltskin unfold in a modern metropolis, where instead of spinning straw into gold, our heroine must find some way to transform a mound of rotting food scraps into cash. I also managed to work in some of my particular passions and preoccupations – including mothering, breastfeeding, and the power of magic words!
The stories in this collection engage with fairy tales in all sorts of ways. Many breathe new life into familiar narratives, adding emotional complexity to these well-known stories. Lindsey Watkins looks with fresh eyes at the apparent ‘happily ever after’ ending to Hansel and Gretel’s adventures. Elizabeth Hopkinson’s take on Sleeping Beauty re-casts the evil fairy as a force for positive change, and contains some really gorgeous imagery. Sarah Hindmarsh’s retelling of the Lambton worm is a startlingly tender take on the Northumbrian folktale. Rebecca Ann Smith also tells the story of Rumpelstiltskin, following the consequences of the choice that the miller’s daughter makes, and exploring themes of creativity and self-realisation.
Other writers draw on archetypal images to tell new stories – Jane Wright’s Fox Fires creates a moving origin myth for the Northern Lights. Anuradha Gupta’s story, set in a jungle thrumming with otherworldly power, takes us into a world of sacrifice and goddesses. Some of the stories are set in a traditional fairy tale past, whereas others take place in the harsh reality of the present or recent history – for instance, Nathan Ramsden’s Icarus is found in a WW2 prison camp, and Ana Salote’s fairy confronts the ugly underbelly of 21st century materialism. Marija Smits’s story, set in the near-future, takes on classic sci-fi themes of AI and androids, but with a distinctive focus on femininity and empathy (aptly for Mother’s Milk Books, a press which aims to promote just these things). In between there are magical mirrors, selkies, and apples, and all sorts of re-imaginings of ancient magic.
It’s fascinating, especially in a world where it seems we’re always in search of the next new thing, to see how the same themes and images reappear and echo throughout the collection, and yet how distinctive these stories still are, and capable of moving us or shocking us to see the world in new ways. I was very interested to see how my own story and Rebecca Ann Smith’s both use Rumpelstiltskin as inspiration, but take it in entirely different directions. Which of course, is the essence of fairy tales – stories that have endured for countless years, being told and retold, always the same and always becoming something new.
There’s lovely cover art, and each story is prefaced by a thoughtful and intricate illustration by Emma Howitt, recalling the illustrations in fairy tale books (the kind I used to pore over and relish as a child) which will make you ask why more grown-up books don’t have pictures!
You can browse reader reviews, as well as some of the writers’ thoughts on their own stories, over at the Mother’s Milk blog. Submissions are also now being accepted for the third book in this series – full details are also on their website.