Hearing that Renata Hopkins is currently away from her job as a Shortland Street scriptwriter looking after her eight-month-old son, Rowan, I can’t help but wonder if he was in any way responsible for some of the thoughts that went into The Cry Baby, Hopkins’s winning entry in our Brothers Grimm story-writing competition.
“No”, she says, “I would actually have to say his sister is a little bit more the genus. She was a slightly more unsettled baby! So, yeah, it was a little bit of write what you know.”
Hopkins’s daughter, Eva, is at four-and-a-half now of an age where fairy tales are a favourite – Grimm ones included, although not all of them. “Some of them I’ve been a bit loath to read her. The more raw ones. In my collection, at the end of The Sleeping Beauty, I think the wicked stepmother is made to dance in iron shoes that have been heated in the fire until she dies [laughs]. ‘Mmm, I might edit that bit out.’ But I do think the appeal of that whole genre is the darkness of a lot of those stories. And I think children are always fascinated with that.”
Hopkins hasn’t read Eva her own story, either. “I’m not sure what she’d make of it. She’s very interested in me telling her stories, so we have a number of running stories that I just make up more of every day - and sometimes get throughly sick of before she does. But I’m not sure how she’d take on some of the things in The Cry Baby.”
Hopkins has caught the tone of a Grimm Brothers story very well, but was it hard to get into the style? Were there a few aborted attempts?
“Yeah, there were. There were actually three stories I was writing simultaneously and just kind of trying to find the point at which one of them took, really. And this was the one that took. Because I think the whole idea of writing a fairy tale for New Zealand, there were early attempts that were reading a little bit like the Lonely Planet guide to New Zealand or something. They had so many kitschy references in them. So I had to clear all that out of the way.”
The possum – a nice touch that culminates in a terrific pay-off at the end of the story – “just arrived pretty fully formed. Because at one point I was thinking of doing a kind of version of Rumpelstiltskin and there are elements of that story I suppose in what I’ve done. Initially, there was a little man that pops up somewhere, like there is in that story. But then at some point it was suddenly a possum.”
A Grimm story is, I’d imagine, a liberating form for a writer – especially one working on Shortland Street. You can be nasty in so many different ways.
“The thing I love about those stories is they kind of dispense with cause and effect. To a great degree, things just happen and that’s just part of the story and you just take that on. I think there was a version of Rumpelstiltskin I read that starts off something like, ‘A farmer once told a king his daughter could spin straw into gold.’ And you think, ‘Well, whyyy? Was there just an awkward pause in the conversation and you thought you’d say my daughter can spin straw into gold?’ You really just can go anywhere you want with the story.”
Vinnie Kruse et al had better look out when Hopkins returns to her day job.