Take a deeper look into what’s behind one of the world’s most famous fairytales in Hester Velmans’ “Slipper”
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Sheffield, MA – Who doesn’t know the story of Cinderella? In her first novel for adults, Hester Velmans turns the tale on its head, imagining the trials and tribulations of the all-too-real model for the beloved fairy tale character.
The initial setup is reminiscent of the fairytale’s beginnings — Lucinda is a poor orphaned stepchild treated cruelly by the family that takes her in. From there, however, the stories’ paths diverge as Velmans imagines a life rife with the hardships and dangers facing an unattached, penniless young girl in 17th century England.
Together with her faithful nurse, Bessie (Mother) Goose, she runs away to France in pursuit of love, and ends up a camp follower in the baggage train of Louis XIV’s army in his campaign against Holland. Just as she thinks she has found her one true love, her world comes crashing down when she discovers the shocking truth about her origins.
Taken in by a Dutch artist in Amsterdam, she develops a talent as a painter. Her success eventually takes her to Paris, where she is commissioned to paint a portrait of Charles Perrault, the man who will one day write the first, definitive version of the Cinderella tale. It is he who, upon hearing her story, gives her hope for the future and shows her how she can take control of her life.
Filled with wry echoes of fairy tale themes, Slipper shines a fresh light on the predicaments we still wrestle with today.
Hester Velmans is a novelist and translator of literary fiction. Born in Amsterdam, she had a nomadic childhood, moving from Holland to Paris, Geneva, London and New York. After a hectic career in international TV news, she moved to the hills of Western Massachusetts to devote herself to writing. Hester’s first book for middle-grade readers, ‘Isabel of the Whales,’ was a national bestseller, and she wrote a follow up, ‘Jessaloup’s Song,’ at the urging of her fans. She is a recipient of the Vondel Prize for Translation and a National Endowment of the Arts Translation Fellowship. For more, visit her website at Hestervelmans.com.
About the Book:
Hester Velmans | April 17, 2018 | Van Horton Books
Paperback | 978-0-9994756-0-7 | $16.95
E-book | 978-0-9994756-1-4 | $8.95
Her life is the inspiration for the world’s most famous story.
Lucinda, a penniless English orphan, is abused and exploited as a cinder-sweep by her aristocratic relatives. On receiving her sole inheritance—a pair of glass-beaded slippers—she runs away to France in pursuit of an officer on whom she has a big crush. She joins the baggage train of Louis XIV’s army, and eventually finds her way to Paris. There she befriends the man who will some day write the world’s most famous fairy tale, Charles Perrault, and tells him her life story.
There is more: a witch hunt, the sorry truth about daydreams, and some truly astonishing revelations, such as the historical facts behind the story of the Emperor’s new clothes, and a perfectly reasonable explanation for the compulsion some young women have to kiss frogs.
This is not the fairy tale you remember.
An Interview with Hester Velmans
What inspired you to write your own twist on such a classic fairytale story?
The fairy tales, especially Cinderella, were my inspiration, because they touch on such fundamental romantic desires in young girls (and boys) as they grow up. It’s a way of giving yourself courage – you may think yourself misunderstood, looked down upon, dissed, but little do “they” know that in reality you’re a beautiful princess or dashing prince (or a talented actress, singer, or some other kind of hero or genius), and won’t they regret the way they treated you when the truth comes out and your real identity, or your real worth, is revealed! Many all-time favorite novels are built around this same Cinderella theme (Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, Harry Potter, many of Shakespeare’s comedies, etc.); it’s a tradition I was interested in exploring.
How did you incorporate the fantasy elements of Cinderella and other fairytales into your book?
The fairy tale is the frame on which I set out to hang a more realistic story – what might really have happened to someone living in the 17th Century that could have served as inspiration for the tale – and then I hung as many familiar fairy tale memes on to that realistic framework as I could (eg. Little Red Riding Hood, the pumpkin-coach, Sleeping Beauty, the futility of leaving a trail of crumbs in case you get lost in the forest). I was interested in the essence of Cinderella – the romantic longing, the childhood/adolescent dream that some day you’ll be recognized as someone more special than you are now — but without the magic. I had fun finding reasonable historical explanations for the fantasy elements in the fairy tales
You’ve published children’s books in the past, but “Slipper” is for an adult audience. How was the transition from writing for children to writing for adults?
I wrote my children’s books for my own children. I wrote SLIPPER for myself. My children’s books have magical elements, but in this novel I went for realism, and deliberately left out the magic. Writing for adults means more freedom to write about sex and death, aspects I felt were necessary in telling this story. Yet even though I was writing a book for adults, I wanted it to appeal to the child that’s inside each of us.
How has your work as a translator of literary fiction affected your own writing?
Translating forces you to be aware of every word, of the way language is put together, the dazzling variety, depth and wealth of words and expressions. When you translate, you can’t take language for granted, or rely on automatic assumptions about meaning and interpretation. It’s a thrill and a challenge, like piecing together a very difficult puzzle. It leaves you amazed at human ingenuity, and the infinite ways humans have found to express themselves.
In this book I’ve had fun incorporating some of my knowledge of foreign tongues into the story. Lucinda’s peregrinations take her around 17thC Europe, and I’ve tried to give the reader a feel for the sounds and linguistic structure of the various languages she encounters.
Did you incorporate any of your real world experience from living across Europe into the novel?
You’re always told to “write what you know”, and in this novel I have mined my experience of living in a number of different countries to achieve the authenticity I was after.
Why do you think that Charles Perrault is such an unknown figure?
I don’t really understand why Charles Perrault has been forgotten, whereas most people have heard of the brothers Grimm, La Fontaine and Hans Christian Anderson. Perrault’s name shows up in the fine print, but over the centuries there seems to have been very little interest in finding out more about him as a person. The explanation may be that he made enemies while he was alive who resented him for his influential position at the court of Louis XIV, and decided to discredit him as an unimportant scribbler of old wives’ tales. That judgment must simply have stuck. It may also be that the tales themselves have such primordial power that they’re assumed to have been handed down through the ages without an author’s input.
Do you have a technique to deal with writer’s block?
When I become frustrated with my own stories, I turn to translating, which is also a form of creative writing but does not require me to come up with original ideas. The act of sitting down at the computer and working with language is usually enough to kick-start my own writing.
Besides historical veracity, a strong plot and relatable characters, what other ingredients did the novel need to have for you?
Humor. No overt jokes, but just enough irony to keep you engaged and make you smile.
What’s up next for you?
A novel about Holland’s 1944 Hunger Winter, and maybe a biography of Charles Perrault! I will also continue to translate fiction, because I believe in the importance of bridging borders by giving people a peek into other cultures.
Your novel takes place four centuries ago. Is there anything in it that you think is particularly relevant to our own day and age?
I found myself writing about a time when women were far less free than they are now. Yet in the #MeToo age, Lucinda’s struggles seem uncomfortably familiar. It makes me realize that even with all the strides we’ve made, we still have a long way to go.
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