The Girl Who Uncovered Rumpelstiltskin’s Name
by Bonnie M Hennessy
Date of Publication: November 19th 2016
Genre: YA Fantasy
Cover Artist: Andreea Vraciu
An old tale tells the story of how a little man named Rumpelstiltskin spun straw into gold and tricked a desperate girl into trading away her baby. But that’s not exactly how it happened.
The real story began with a drunken father who kept throwing money away on alcohol and women, while his daughter, Aoife, ran the family farm on her own. When he gambled away everything they owned to the Duke, it was up to her to spin straw into gold to win it all back.
With her wits and the help of a magical guardian, she outsmarted the Duke and saved the day.
Her guardian suddenly turned on Aoife and sent her on a quest to find his name, the clues to which were hidden deep in the woods, a moldy dungeon, and a dead woman’s chamber.
This is not the tale of a damsel in distress, but a tenacious, young woman who solved a mystery so great that not even the enchanted man who spun straw into gold could figure it out.
Not until Aoife came along.
Buy Link: Amazon
Book Trailer: https://youtu.be/3SDfW7PY3wY
The morning mist had almost lifted in the village of Stanishire, the farmers and fishermen were readying the market, women were shouting chores to sleepy children, and Aoife was on her way to collect her father from the town brothel, where the painted ladies entertained men’s nocturnal needs.
When she reached the main street, she dismounted and tied her horse to a hitching post. She walked around the corner of the brothel where no one could see her, adjusted her skirt, and ran her fingers through her hair. Practice had taught her how to jiggle the finicky latch so its reluctant grip released and granted her entrance. The back hallway was dark and quiet. Maggie, the young girl who helped cook and clean, was opening windows to release the sweat and perfume-laced air. Broken glass littered the floor, and cards from unfinished games lay scattered on tables.
“Maggie,” Aoife whispered.
Maggie turned into the dust motes in a sliver of daylight. Over the years, Aoife had learned to call her gently and not to sneak up on her lest she startle the young girl as she had done the first time they met here when Aoife was eleven and Maggie just nine.
“Eeeeef-uh!” Maggie’s eyes lit up as she called Aoife’s name. She had always over-enunciated each syllable in what sounded like a sigh of relief.
She took hold of Aoife’s hand, pulling her around the corner and into the kitchen, one of the only places in the residence that passed for a respectable room.
“Wait here,” Maggie said, kissing Aoife on the cheek. “I’ll be right back.”
Aoife looked around at the pots hanging on the wall that Maggie kept so shiny. A rolling pin on the counter was coated with flour and the smell of bread baking in the oven filled the dimly lit room. In the corner was Maggie’s chair with a basket of women’s stockings waiting to be darned. Aoife turned her back to the parlor door and everything that happened there, pretending her visits with Maggie by the fire were no different than a visit with any other village girl. The sight of Maggie humming as she patched up stockings always made Aoife think of her younger sister, Tara, lying under her heavy blankets, sewing away at some pattern their mother had her working on. Aoife felt that Tara and Maggie would have enjoyed chatting over their sewing, if only Tara were not stuck in bed with a perpetual cough and Maggie the progeny of a brothel.
“Aoife. You look quite bright and alive considering the early hour.”
Aoife jumped as Maeve strolled over and pulled a leaf from Aoife’s hair.
“I see you’ve been busy with your studies,” Maeve added.
Aoife touched her hair, searching for more debris. Maeve’s dressing gown exposed her cleavage and her long, dark curls draped over her bare shoulders without apology. Aoife had seen her dressed, powdered, and painted since she was a girl, and she admired the way her gaze, so piercing, seemed to command respect from everyone. But what had captivated Aoife the most was something more powerful and more impressive than Maeve’s beauty. Although crow’s feet now punctuated her eyes, and her waistline had thickened, the most powerful men deferred to her, bowing their heads in her direction when she traveled through the streets.
“I couldn’t resist the path through the woods,” Aoife replied, knowing she could hide nothing from her.
Maeve stared at her. The affection in her appraisal was always slightly distant, stopping just short of motherly.
“Seamus is taking care of things,” Maeve said with her usual calm.
Aoife nodded and looked again at the shiny pots, trying to focus on anything but Seamus’ highly embarrassing ritual of waking her father, the fairly infamous Finnegan, from wherever he had ended his evening and saddling him on his horse. Maggie pulled a loaf of steaming bread from the oven and set out plates, knives, and a bowl of fresh butter. Each of them took their place around the table as Maggie generously portioned out the bread. Maeve let her shawl fall over the back of her chair and straightened up her shoulders, exposing even more of herself. Aoife flushed and bit quietly into her bread, savoring the flavor and the moment.
There was an honesty and warmth in this kitchen that she never felt in the presence of her own mother. Conversation and warm bread was what made coming to get her father for all these years worth the lashings she used to receive from her mother when she returned home.
“I hear that your latest suitor was seen heading out of town yesterday,” Maeve said. “I gather his hasty departure means that there will be no nuptials?”
Aoife shook her head and cast a quick smile at Maggie.
“I can’t imagine why you didn’t want to marry that one,” Maeve said. “Lots of gold, a manor house to the east with more land than you and your horse could ever discover, and handsome, too. What more could a girl want than a man with piles of gold and a good set of teeth?”
“A man who is blind and deaf and preferably feeble – with deep pockets, of course. Then I can live my life in peace and never have to worry about his teeth – or mine for that matter.”
Maggie giggled, and Maeve raised an appreciative eyebrow, offering her signature half-smile, half-smirk. Aoife grinned and took another bite of the steaming bread.
“And what do your parents say?” Maeve asked. Her features had softened, but her thoughts remained inscrutable. “I can’t imagine they find your refusals as entertaining as we do.”
Aoife fell silent. This was an unexpected detour in the script. They avoided direct references to Aoife’s family. It made breaking bread between them possible, since the money Maeve took from Aoife’s father by night was one of the greatest strains on her family’s resources, reputation, and love. The medicine that Tara often went without after her father’s reckless trips was reason enough for Aoife to despise Maeve, but she had learned to avoid dwelling on these realities. She needed Maeve enough to tolerate her father’s indiscretions, since rescuing him had now become a means of escaping her life. Discussing her family jeopardized everything.
“Well, no, they are not exactly pleased,” Aoife replied, her brashness fading.
Maeve wiped the corner of her mouth and cleared her throat. Something in the air had changed.
“You know, at some point, perhaps sooner than you might expect, they will stop coming. First, the young ones with stacks of gold and good teeth. They have the most fragile egos and will seek out friendlier pastures. Then eventually, even the wrinkly ones, with and without gold, will find calling on you not worth the effort,” Maeve paused. “The tales of your beauty will be replaced by tales of new faces with more welcoming smiles. The choices left to you will be slim.”
The bread balled up in Aoife’s throat. She could have had breakfast in her own home if she wanted this type of talk. She suddenly felt incensed that Madame Maeve dared to criticize her.
“My mother mires me in these traps daily,” Aoife dusted the crumbs from her hands. “She appreciates neither the risk to my reputation I take coming here nor the fact that I am the one who has run the farm for years now.”
“This is true. Your family would be in the poor house and your sister probably with God if not for your courage and your brains,” Maeve said. “But I’m not talking about them. I’m talking about you and your future. You must understand that there are consequences for you, whether you say yes or no to the suitors who come your way.”
She raised an eyebrow, which seemed loaded with a warning left to Aoife to decipher. It had a familiar ring to it, like the warnings her mother made so often about the consequences of Aoife’s trips to Maeve’s house.
“No respectable man will ever want to marry a girl who consorts with vile women, not when he thinks he can pay a few coins for her instead,” her mother would say.
Her mother lived in such a dream world she did not recognize that Aoife was trying to protect the family’s reputation and as much of their finances as was possible. Her mother worried more about Aoife’s reputation than the food on the table and Tara’s medicine. And because of that, a chasm had grown between them too deep to ever cross.
“My choices are just as narrow as every other girl’s. I know that,” Aoife said standing up abruptly. Her shawl dropped to the floor, its power to protect her no match for the storm brewing in the kitchen. “But I’d never compromise myself – or give men control over my body for money like you do. Of that you can be sure.”
“I wasn’t suggesting that,” Maeve replied, completely unruffled. “But it’s interesting that you did. And, Aoife, no matter what choice you make – your husband’s house, my house, or the nunnery – you are exchanging control over your body for money. Of that you can be sure.”
“I have given half my life already to protecting my family. Everyday, whether I’m seeing that fields are reseeded and sheep are sheared or carting my father home from here, I am picking up the pieces of my family’s fortune that my father has broken apart,” Aoife said with less command of her voice than she would have liked. “And now, after I’ve done everything I can to save this family, they – and you – expect me to sell myself off to the next buyer, supposedly to protect them? I can’t do it.”
Aoife knew there was no way for a woman to survive in the world without the protection of a man, yet the security they offered was never guaranteed. Her father’s choices still chipped away at the pieces of what was once her mother, Bronagh. Still bedecked in the jewels of their courtship, she found her only solace and comfort in embroidering ornate and regal designs and patterns by the night fire, awaiting his return from Maeve’s as if her delicate hands could somehow stitch back together the girl he had unraveled and the lives he had torn apart at the seams. Bronagh would not even consider selling her tapestries or needlework to help support her family, for that would have been beneath a woman of her status. Aoife, however, was not built to sit and sew while their fortune and Tara’s health deteriorated at the hands of her father. She needed to be on her feet fixing the problem, not decorating the home they were sure to lose if no one intervened.
Bronagh had traded away her soul for a broken promise of safety and love, and she expected Aoife to do the same. But now Maeve, too? Her advice was nothing less than a betrayal.
“For women not made to curtsey obediently through life, there is no easy choice.” A subtle urgency belied Maeve’s calm. “However, refusing every suitor is not a means of controlling your life, but rather giving over control to whatever or whomever is left over.”
“So I should marry the next man who comes along or end up in a whore house like you?” Aoife said, wincing at her angry words.
She was angry that Maeve had taken her mother’s side, but she did not relish wounding the one person who had always been a source of strength and understanding. Despite her words, Maeve’s features revealed not even the slightest hint of hurt.
“What I am saying is that you ought to turn away any option which would leave you without hope of peace and contentment,” Maeve replied. “But do not fool yourself into waiting for a perfect choice to present itself, because it never will.”
Aoife felt her stomach lurch. She needed to get away from this house, this woman, and the truth. Turning around, she marched outside where her father was standing. She walked to her horse and looked to see if he needed assistance. The legacy of too much mead weighed on his haggard figure as Seamus helped him to his horse.
“I’m so sorry to have inconvenienced you this morning, my sweet Aoife,” her father’s worn voice eschewed sadly.
“I know, father,” she replied. “You’re always sorry.”
He swayed precariously in either direction and then took Aoife’s hand suddenly.
“You’re too good to me, Aoife,” he whispered. “You should be reaching for the–”
“Stars,” she finished. “I know, Father.”
He closed his eyes and pressed her hand between his.
“My hand’s grown since we spent our nights stargazing.”
He nodded and Aoife felt a pang of nostalgia sweep over her. She missed the way he used to pick her up from her mother’s side by the fire and take her out of doors to look at the moon and stars. The memory of the polished scent of him from her childhood came back over the stench of mead that clung to him now. He had been a good father once upon a time. She looked up, searching for any fragment of the man who tossed her high in the air as a little girl. The sparkle of a tear danced at the corner of his eye. There he was. She kissed his forehead tenderly and he sighed with the soft smile reserved only for Aoife. His favorite.
Buy Link: Amazon
MY INTERVIEW WITH BONNIE M. HENNESSY
What mindset or routine do you feel the need to set when preparing to write (in general whether you are working on a project or just free writing)?
Quiet. Tea. View.
I have two kids and a dog so finding a quiet space where no one can bark for pancakes or a walk is paramount. This is a huge part of why I get up around 5:30 in the morning to write. I even fill my ears with hemisync music just to drown it all out. Ear buds + music = no breakfast or walks from mom.
Whether I’m sipping my tea, holding it, sniffing it, or warming it in the microwave, I’m sinking deeper into the zone, the zennish zone from which ideas come to me. I have been accused more than once of having the bad habit of leaving half-finished cups of tea all over the house. I would counter that by saying I leave half-filled cups of ideas all over the house that are waiting for me to pick them up again!
Looking out the window at the leaves, admiring my Christmas tree on the other side of the room, or watching my doggy sleeping next to me are all signs that I’m working. These focal points also function somehow as blank canvasses upon which I imagine my stories.
Do you take your character prep to heart? Do you nurture the growth of each character all the way through to the page? Do you people watch to help with development? Or do you build upon your character during story creation?
Before I write a story, I tend to journal a lot. I free write about the characters and the dilemmas they face. I start the process with very little direction. It is just a free association, which often becomes very tangential as I think of other characters and conflicts that they may soon find in their path. A lot of times the characters and plot change when I actually start typing the story, but the genesis of them is always left behind in those journals. I have a hope chest filled with doodles about the characters in my books. They somehow end up feeling very personal, and I can’t find the will to throw them out.
Have you found yourself bonding with any particular character? If so which one(s)?
If I could visit my made up world of characters, I would love to share a cup of tea with Maeve. I love how unapologetic she is about her life. She is the madam of a brothel and she owns it. She is not afraid of anyone, and very little bothers her. I’m much more sensitive to criticism and people’s opinions than I like to admit. I always want to make everyone happy, which is such an impossible task that I am often left feeling like I’ve failed others. I respect a woman who can be herself and not blink at her own reflection.
Do you have a character that you have been working on that you can't wait to put to paper?
Yes! I have been teaching a lot of mythology and recently during our discussions I realized that there is a mythological character whose story I am dying to write. I won’t reveal which character it is yet, because I don’t want to jinx anything!
Have you ever felt that there was something inside of you that you couldn't control? If so what? If no what spurs you to reach for the unexperienced?
I love feeling like I’ve let myself go and let inspiration in. I don’t think I ever experienced that until Twisted. The first time it happened I was writing the scene where Aoife goes back to Rumpelstiltskin’s house for the first time. I had it all planned out in my head as to what would happen in the chapter and even the whole outer frame of the story. Then suddenly, the story turned. The characters did not and would not do what I had planned for them. After a reluctant moment, I took a breath and stopped thinking about the plan and let the scene between them unfold, allowing them write their own dialogue, describe their emotions, and choreograph their movements. When I finished, I knew something special had just happened. I remember telling my husband, “Now I know I’m a writer because I didn’t write that chapter by myself.”
Bonnie grew up a shy, quiet girl who the teachers always seated next to the noisy boys because they knew she was too afraid to talk to anyone. She always had a lot she wanted to say but was too afraid to share it for fear she might die of embarrassment if people actually noticed her. Somewhere along the line, perhaps after she surprised her eighth grade class by standing up to a teacher who was belittling a fellow student, she realized that she had a voice and she didn’t burst into flames when her classmates stared at her in surprise.
Not long after that, she began spinning tales, some of which got her into trouble with her mom. Whether persuading her father to take her to the candy store as a little girl or convincing her parents to let her move from Los Angeles to Manhattan to pursue a career at eighteen as a ballet dancer with only $200 in her pocket, Bonnie has proven that she knows how to tell a compelling story.
Now she spends her time reading and making up stories for her two children at night. By day she is an English teacher who never puts the quiet girls next to the noisy boys and works hard to persuade her students that stories, whether they are the ones she teaches in class or the ones she tells to keep them from daydreaming, are better escapes than computers, phones, and social media.