This week’s guest is the incomparable Nigel Bird whose story Sing a Song of Sixpence appears in the newly released anthology, Grimm Tales.
THE HARD-NOSED SLEUTH: What attracted you to the challenge?
NIGEL BIRD: I’ve always been a firm believer in the fairytale as a way for children to engage with stories and with nascent fears. The older stories are an amazing mix of excitement and darkness, drawing in the listener like the characters are drawn in to their own personal journey through dreams and nightmares.
There’s also such a lot of moral ambiguity to work with. Rumplestiltskin does everything he should to get the baby to the point of saving a life, yet he’s denied by a mother who’s married the man who imprisoned her and threatened her with death, a greedy despot with few redeeming features. How the hell does that make any sense?
I also love the random acts which take place. Take the soldier in the Tinder Box. He retrieves the box, comes out from beneath the tree and slices off the old woman’s head.
It’s perfect for the re-enactment by crime-writers.
HNS: We've all taken dark and twisted turns on these already dark and twisted tales. You, however, worked human trafficking into ‘Sing a Song of Sixpence’. What triggered that???
NB: Maybe it’s because I find fairytales almost perfect already that I decided to go for a nursery rhyme instead. This was the one that popped into my head first.
The structure was easy once I decided that I’d need to quote the rhyme for those who didn’t know it – without it, I wasn’t sure it made sense.
Human trafficking? Liverpool has strong associations with the shameful slave-trade. It’s one of those things that stuck with me since I first heard about it, the injustice and the economic driving force behind it all. It’s something that was around in the North West of England where I grew up, the centre of the industrial revolution, a success story built on the backs of slaves from Africa and from rural Britain.
Black birds became African women (is bird also an unpleasant slang term for a woman in the US?), hence the easy switch to human-trafficking.
And as with many of my pieces, once it took off it found its own direction.
I read the other entries at the time and was bowled over by the standard. Putting out an anthology was a great idea and it will entertain anyone who dares to take the plunge. Just follow this trail of breadcrumbs. . . . . . . . . . ....
HNS: I think you had a pretty good 2011. What's next?
NB: 2011 was a great year. I think it had to be to top 2010.
The truth is that most of what happened in 2011 was unplanned. The only thing I intended to do was to put out ‘Dirty Old Town’ and to complete a novel. Everything else came about through some combination of happy accident and obsessive impulses. ‘Pulp Ink’ was great fun and a lot of hard work and ‘Smoke’ was sent to Trestle when they asked if I had anything ready (it had been on my computer for a year as I wasn’t sure people would like it, then it had five top-five read picks of the year. Imagine that).
This year I have less planned and will wait and see how things to.
The novel I finished last year is out for consideration. I’m pretty sure that it will come out this year in some form.
I intend to write another novel based on a number of thoughts I’d like to mix into a cocktail. That won’t begin until February.
Recently I wrote a short story along with Chris Rhatigan and I’m in the middle of another which I hope will polish up well enough to get into the Lost Children anthology in the summer.
If these things come off, I’ll be delighted. I’m also hoping for a few short stories to pop into my head, so keep the competitions and projects coming folks.
HNS: Thank you, Mr. Bird!