Galway writer Deirdre Sullivan’s fairytale job!

Deirdre Sullivan
Deirdre Sullivan

Lifestyle – Galway writer Deirdre Sullivan has completed an unusual commission to rewrite thirteen classic fairytales.  The fruits of her labour are about to be published. She tells Judy Murphy how she went about it.

As a child, fairytales with a ‘happy ever after ending’ never appealed to Deirdre Sullivan.  She was drawn to darker stories such as The Little Mermaid and The Nightingale and the Rose “because they ended unhappily”.

Those unhappy endings unsettled her and that was part of the attraction, explains Galway-born Deirdre who now lives in Dublin where she works as a teacher and an author.

“Very early on in life, you are told if you do the right thing and behave a certain way, you’ll get the desired result. But in those tales, the characters did all the right things, yet they still didn’t get what they wanted and that felt realistic to me.”

Deirdre, from Clybaun in Galway City, would “stay awake at night worrying about them and how unfair it was”, she recalls with a hearty laugh.

Two years ago, she was given an opportunity to rewrite those fairy tales, offering their characters a happy ending, thanks to a commission from Dublin publishers Little Island. Despite that opportunity, she stayed on the dark side for the collection, Tangleweed and Brine.

The book, which will be published on September 7 by Little Island, is a retelling of 13 fairytales, with a feminist twist. Deirdre is best known as a writer of fiction for young adults but this collection, beautifully illustrated by artist Karen Vaughan, is for all ages.

Little Island commissioned Deirdre to write this book because they knew of her long-time fascination with fairytales.

Her childhood love of them had continued to adulthood, and when she was studying for an MA in Drama at NUIG, she rewrote The Mermaid’s Tale. Some years later, while developing her writing skills, she started doing workshops with young people’s author, Siobhán Parkinson. During those workshops, Deirdre wrote the Woodcutter’s Bride, a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood.

That was the first story in which Parkinson heard Deidre’s ‘voice’ as an author and it led to her first publishing deal. Her debut novel Prim Improper was published by Little Island, which is managed by Parkinson.

It was followed by Proper Order and Primperfect, all written from the point of view of teenager Primrose Leary.

Prim Improper and Proper Order were shortlisted for the Children’s Books Ireland Awards while Primperfect was also shorted tor the European Prize for Literature.

Carving out agency for people who might otherwise have no voice has become central to Deirdre’s work and her most recent novel, Needlework, tells the story of Ces, a 17-year-old who is trying to regain her self-worth after years of abuse and domestic violence at the hands of her father, as her mother goes into meltdown.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.