Fairy Tales Gone Bad started with Zombierella and now we meet Frankenstiltskin! Joseph Coelho’s verse fairy tales are gruesome, dark and very popular with readers! Read on for a Q&A with Joseph Coelho!
What inspired you to make your protagonist a taxidermist?
The idea of making Bryony a taxidermist came from a desire to inject the original fairy tale of Rumpelstiltskin with a bit of creepiness, and, since the story hinges around a young woman trapped in a castle spinning hay into gold, I thought it would be nice to have her stitching animal skins instead of hay. Taxidermy is often seen as a creepy craft but so many of us have our first tangible experiences with wild animals via a museum visit – I bet many reading this can recall the childhood wonder of standing in a museum in front of a stuffed lion, or pressing their face up against the glass to see all the different colours in a stuffed bird’s wing. Responsible taxidermy does a wonderful job of educating people about the natural world, so it seemed right to make Bryony a responsible taxidermist/vegan/eco-warrior.
What message are you hoping to send to your readers with the animal theme running through the story?
Rather than me sending a message, I wanted to let my young readers know that their message of the importance of the planet has been heard by me and other adults. I’ve been so impressed by the activism of young people, standing up for the plight of the planet and demanding we act against climate change. This story is a small nod to that movement, showing how one person can change their entire kingdom.
How long does it take you to create your great rhymes? For example, Bryony’s father’s advertising slogans. Do you go through a lot of drafts? What is your process?
It can take a while to get a rhyme that scans nicely and is, in this case, funny. I spend a lot of time dipping into rhyme dictionaries and websites, thumbing through dictionaries and thesauruses, and trying out different takes on an idea until something sticks. Every now and then the planets align and a good rhyme just comes to me, pops into my head unbidden, but these moments are rare and tend to come hand in hand with a period of time searching fruitlessly for some other rhyme that slides off the tongue.
Was writing Frankenstiltskin a different experience to Zombierella? If so, in what way?
It was. Zombierella grew out of a performance piece I had written for the stage and had toured widely, so when I came to write the book the story was very much inside me, both mentally and physically; I had performed the show so many times that the characters and turns of phrase felt very instinctive. When I came to write Frankenstiltskin the tone of the story had already been established; I was revisiting an old friend, putting new words into the mouth of my creepy librarian (who narrates the story) and building on the universe established in Zombierella.