Authorgraph No.244

As Gatty, one of your most memorable heroines, points out, ‘… inside our story…there are bits and pieces of all kinds of other stories.’ What’s the first story you can remember being shaped by?

I suppose that most of us can remember bits and pieces of stories, rather than hearing or reading them whole. In my case, it was certainly hearing – sleeping in my bunk bed, in the top half, with my sister Sally in the bottom half, and my father coming with his Welsh harp, sitting by our bunk beds, and singing and saying folktales to us, above all the Celtic folktales that he especially loved. And I think it was the stories of transformations that got me by the throat, and that I kept asking him to tell me again – the tale of the seal- woman who is captured by a fisherman and comes to land and bears children by him and is caught in a desperate quandary when she is empowered to go back to sea again… I think that those stories of transformation were the ones that first began to speak to me.

[As a child], I read very little. The first book I did read, hook line and sinker, and revisited so often that it came off its hinges – and became unhinged – was Our Island Story by H.E. Marshall. Terrible, chauvinistic stories, tremendously well told. And that was the first book I decided to write – a history of England, which I began when I was nine. Before I decided it was a dead loss, I wrote 77 pages.

Your second volume of Norse tales, Stories from Across the Rainbow Bridge, has just been published - and you’ve retold the Norse myths at other times too. What’s the appeal of these particular stories for you – their perennial pull?

Kevin Crossley-Holland interviewed by

Imogen Russell Williams

Kevin Crossley-Holland is an award-winning novelist, poet and storyteller, an expert in traditional tales and an acclaimed writer of historical fiction and retellings of legends and myths. He won the Carnegie Medal with his novella Storm in 1985, and the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize in 2001 with The Seeing Stone, the first volume of his Arthur trilogy. His recent work includes Between Worlds, retellings of British and Irish folktales, and Norse Myths, illustrated by Jeffrey Alan Love. His latest book, a second volume of Norse tales, Stories from Across the Rainbow Bridge, has just been published by Walker.

I think I’ve become more aware, now, than when I first engaged with the Norse myths in the 1980s, of the moral ambiguity of the myths; and certainly more aware of their apocalyptic nature, so that they sing in tune with many of the thoughts and fears that we all have about the way that the world is rushing to its end, and we’re doing precious little to prevent it. They also have a splendid seam of wit, and some extremely well-defined characters, whom we follow through a series of adventures. But it has its master card in the shape of Loki, the trickster, who is like yeast; without him, the stories wouldn’t really develop, and start, middle and end would be much of a muchness. He has his transition, another transformation, from a sort of tease to the architect of the evil that has the globe crumbling – and he is the figure who promotes and enables change within those stories. It’s a tremendous body of material, and it’s been thrilling to revisit it. And I certainly don’t mean to stop yet – unless Time stops me.

Jeffrey Alan Love’s stark illustrations combine so harmoniously with your text, both in Rainbow Bridge and in the first book – and you’ve had a lot of other brilliant illustrators over the years. What do you think illustration can lend a book?

What Sendak wrote is that illustration should be ‘an expansion of the text.

It’s your version of the text as an illustrator, your interpretation.

It’s why you are an active partner in the book, and not a mere echo of the author.’ And Richard Strauss, or his librettist, said something like ‘Ton und Wort sind Bruder und Schwester’ – ‘Brother and sister

8 Books for Keeps No.244 September 2020

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