Emma Carroll chats revamping Hans Christian Andersen in The Little Match Girl Strikes Back

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Emma Carroll reworked the Hans Christian Andersen classic in The Little Match Girl Strikes Back. Along with illustrations from Lauren Child, this book is a brilliant feminist retelling that gives the match girl a much deserved voice. We had the chance to chat with Emma on her book:

When did you first decide you need to retell the story of The Little Match Girl?

A couple of years ago I was thinking about miserable stories, and how I don’t have the stomach for sad endings anymore. I’d a vague idea the original Little Match Girl was such a story, but on re-reading it I was surprised by how brutal it is. I just couldn’t imagine anyone being satisfied by that ending!

And what made you want to retell it? Was it the original match girl’s family dynamics, the sadness and finality in the tale, or something else?

My copy of The Little Match Girl is an old, Victorian version I bought from Ebay. In the front is an inscription: ‘From Mamma to Ada on her 8th birthday, 14 Nov, 1890.’ It got me thinking about what the story might mean to an 8 year old girl like Ada, and how our values + tastes have- thankfully- changed quite a bit from those of the 1890s. It’s the Match Girl herself that interests me the most in the original: I wanted her to be a real person with a name, people she cares about, her own hopes and dreams. The idea that someone living in poverty shouldn’t have those things is, frankly, pretty offensive!

In The Little Match Girl Strikes Back, we explored quite a bit about the match factory, especially the harm it brings to the workers. Why is it important to discuss Bridie’s experience on the streets as well as what her mother faces in the factory?

This is Bridie’s story, so it’s through her eyes we see Victorian London, get a feel for her tenuous existence where poverty itself is the biggest danger she and her family face.

The visions Bridie gets from lighting the matches are very impactful. Did they come easily to you?

To some extent I wanted to echo the structure of the original, which is a classic ‘three wishes’ tale. In the original, the girl’s visions are pretty weird- dancing roast geese etc – so it felt important that Bridie’s magical experiences are of a more ‘helpful’ kind!

And when writing them, did you already have a ‘lesson’ beyond Hans Christian Andersen’s you wanted to tell?

For me, it was more about tackling and updating some of the Victorian tropes in the story. There’s nothing sentimental and cute about being poor, or of dying on the streets of cold and hunger. In the original the Match Girl’s death provides the moral lesson: to help those less fortunate than us. Of course, it’s still a valid lesson, but I didn’t want my match girl to have to die for people to realise this: I wanted her to have a voice, and for people to listen.

Finally, the illustrations. Tell us what it was like working with Lauren Child and why the black and red are so powerful in accompanying the story.

I’m still pinching myself! When Lauren showed me her initial drawing of Bridie the hairs on my neck literally prickled! She’s got Bridie’s strength and directness SO perfectly. And because this is a re-telling, Lauren’s distinctive, strong, textured style really suits the story. The spot colour capturing Bridie’s red hair highlights the flame motif, as well as her determination not to blend into the background. I know Lauren put so much into these images, researching images of the era, wallpaper styles, fabrics, bricks, the paint on railings, and its testament to her brilliance- and that of the whole design team- that the book looks so magnificent.

The Little Match Girl Strikes Back by Emma Carroll, illustrated by Lauren Child is out now. Get your copy here.

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