I had been lying in the snow ready to give up; ready to die; and then I saw her. She was leading her little sister through the snow, both their arms fill of wood, still a meagre haul for all that; their rags dragging through the snow scrawling strange designs behind them in that bitterly cold winter. They didn’t see me, of course, with my coat so white. She couldn’t have been more than twenty-one or less than seventeen. I tried not to shift, straining instead to hear what was making the little one laugh.
“Again, Tara!” she demanded in delight.
Her older sister complied, singing the rhyme again. A curious one, but a fine one; and hugely funny unlike the singing and tellings of the courtiers. It was hard not to chuckle myself. It was then I chose not to die. If these two desperately poor girls could still find joy on a bitter winter’s day then maybe my plight was not as fatal as I’d thought. It was easier getting up than lying down had been. I followed the two girls.
From: The Bear–Redemption by Anushka Haakonson
We spoke to Anushka about her story in SeethroughIt Magazine Issue 2 and her obsession with bears.
So bears seem to be a regular motif in your recent work. Tell us about the bears.
Well, I’ve always liked bears and bear stories. We would watch Paddington Bear on TV when I was little. And I used to love the Bernstein Bears too. The one toy I didn’t outgrow was my teddy bear. I had gotten it when I was three, and used to drag it around because it was bigger than me at that stage. So, I guessed I’ve always loved bears.
Tell us a bit about The Bear-Redemption. It’s based on a fairytale, isn’t it?
Redemption is my take on my favourite fairytale, East of The Sun, West of The Moon. It’s a northern fairytale, originally from the Baltic regions, I think, then with Scottish variants like The Black Bull of Norroway.
In the original fairytale, a prince is bewitched into the form of a white bear. If he doesn’t find a wife who truly loves him within a set period of time, and who will live a year with him without looking upon his true face, then he has to marry the witch’s daughter. He pays the dowry for a beautiful, kindhearted peasant girl. And though she grows to love him, she looks upon his face, and dooms him into marrying the witch’s daughter, unless she finds her way to the castle lying East of the Sun, West of the Moon.
So she spends the next seven hard years searching for her husband, and eventually wins him back just before he’s set to wed the witch’s daughter.
I’d always wondered what the prince’s story would have been. Why had the witch done what she had done? The Bear-Redemption is my version of events, following the prince instead of the heroine.
So, the bear, the prince, is the one seeking redemption?
Yes, he is. But, in a way, as in the original, so is the heroine.
Do you think redemption is a theme your readers identify with?
Yes, we are all seeking redemption for something–big or small. We all hope that we’ll be given a chance to redeem some part of ourselves, at least. And how we seek it determines how our life goes.
Changing topic for now, what we all want to know is more about The Life and Times of Gilbert MacDiarmid. When did you first start writing those stories?
I wrote them mostly during 2000 and 2005. For me, they’ve stood the test of time; and I’m still very fond of Bert. I think he’s loads of fun.
So will there be more stories about Gilbert?
There are one of two I’d like to see published later this year or early next year. And I have some ideas on the back-burner that I might work on over the coming years.
It takes you quite a long time to develop these stories then?
Yes, and no. The ideas can come quickly, but getting them done and ready to publish can take a while; especially with me working on my new novel at the moment.
Is this new novel also set in Gilbert’s universe?
No, this novel, Bears Tears, Wolf’s Fears, introduces a world that’s very close to me. It draws a lot from Northern folklore and mythology, along with very modern ones. It’s a lot more girly that my other stories, but still manages to bring magical realism into things. It was inspired by Sarah Zettel’s A Sorceror’s Treason.
One last question. Can you tell us which is your favourite Gilbert MacD story?
My favourites are ‘Minding’ which was written very quickly, and Kieron’s Tale, which I loved writing. But if I had to pick one, it would be ‘Kieron’s Tale’. I remember laughing out loud while writing it, and people giving me funny looks (I was in a coffeeshop). Kieron’s such a great narrator. I could just hear his voice telling me the story; I still do when I re-read it. My favourite scene is the one with the otter. It always cracks me up when I imagine Kieron’s face. He’s such a great storyteller–the kind of guy who you never really know whether to believe or not.
You can find Anushka’s The Bear-Redemption in the second issue of SeethroughIt Magazine, out March 16. It’s available on pre-order for only $0.99 (around ZAR15). From March 17th 2015 it will revert to its usual price of $1.99 (around R35).
So have a look any buy by Friday 😀