Meena van Praag is here to chat the finale of her trilogy, Child of Earth and Sky:
What do you wish for? We all wish for something and we all contain great (often untapped) reserves of power we can draw upon to achieve what we wish for. However, very often we harbour equally great doubts that can (if not overcome) sabotage our ability to get our heart’s desire. It is this universal longing that I love to write about, in the hopes of inspiring readers to find in themselves the courage and confidence to pursue and fulfil their dreams.
In The Sisters Grimm, the birth of each sister is “born of bright-white wishing and black-edged desire”; likewise every book I write is born of a desire to manifest something life-changing into the world. For Child of Earth and Sky, this was a long cherished wish to establish a refuge for women and children fleeing domestic violence. My first novel, The House at the End of Hope Street, was the story of house I dreamt of establishing for creatives – especially women – who couldn’t afford to dedicate themselves to their craft full time, be it writing, painting, acting, singing, and needed a place to live while they honed their skills. In the novel it was a magical house for ordinary women who’d lost all hope. In Child of Earth and Sky it is an ordinary place for extraordinary women; for those who seek refuge here are all sisters Grimm, tied not by blood but by their otherworldly powers. However, these are women who do not realise the full extent of their powers. In the words of their matriarch, Goldie, they are “stronger than they believe, braver than they imagine, …” And when they arrive at the refuge, battered and bruised, they will discover just how strong, brave and brilliant they are.
The Sisters Grimm trilogy was inspired by the birth of my daughter. I started thinking of all the stories I would tell her and, of course, the matter of fairy tales arose since they are so imbedded in our childhoods. As a daughter, my mother gave me feminist stories inspired by fairy tales, such as The Paperbag Princess – about a princess who prefers dragons to princes – which I adored, and so I wanted to find similar stories to give my own daughter. Naturally, since I’m a storyteller, I thought I should write some of my own. So I started thinking about the fairy tales I knew and quickly realised that none of them would do since they’re all very heteronormative, reinforcing un-feminist values and placing such ridiculous importance on the notions of “true love” and “happily ever after”. I wanted stories that didn’t tell my daughter that she needed to find love in order to be happy, I wanted stories that would inspire her to love herself, to find courage and be empowered to live life on her own terms, whatever those might be. And so, I set out to write my own.
Unsurprisingly then, the trilogy contained a strong theme of motherhood – those who want to be mothers, those who don’t, those who love it, those who don’t – and daughterhood, alongside the magical world of Everwhere where the sisters go to experience their strongest selves and discover just how powerful and brilliant they are. Of course, simply because these women are physically extraordinary that does not mean that they don’t suffer from the same mental wounds as the rest of us: self-doubt, fear, and so on. Thus the reader (who may or may not have magical powers themselves) can empathise with the Sisters Grimm because they too doubt that they are as amazing as they actually are and, hopefully, they can find in the stories the inspiration and empowerment necessary to realise their dreams.
Child of Earth and Sky by Menna van Praag is published by Bantam (£16.99).