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Rewriting fairytales with Suze Hemming

We’ve got the wonderful Suze Hemming joining us for this week’s #LWLbookclub to chat about her new book The Queen Engineer and her mission to give fairytales a much needed makeover.

Can you tell us what your new book is about?

The Queen Engineer is about a young princess called Florence, who loves maths and science and dreams of becoming an engineer. Her father, the King, thinks she should be happy growing up to become Queen, so Flo sets out to show him what she's capable of, and why everyone should be able to follow their dreams.

What inspired you to write The Queen Engineer?

When I first started writing, it was to see if I could rewrite traditional fairy tales to change the messages that children receive. After the success of my first book, She's Not Good for a Girl, She's Just Good! I wanted to take this idea, and write about a princess who wanted more than just a prince to save her. I also loved the idea of encouraging girls to consider maths, engineering and science as a career choice. I like that Flo wears more than one hat in life, a crown and a hard hat, which all of us do! Not a crown and hard hat for most, but just the many hats we all wear; none of us is just one thing in life. Why limit children to just one hat?

Princesses in children's stories and fairytales in general tend to adhere to damaging stereotypes. Was it important to you to shake this genre up?

Very much so. I read fairytales and watched princess movies as a child, but it was only reading and watching them as an adult that I realised the messages within were potentially damaging. I blogged about it before I decide to write stories. Lots of people think stories are just that, but children take everything in from books and movies, and very literally. If girls spend their childhood learning that they must be beautiful and gentle and kind, how likely is it that they'll grow up to realise that their value lies in more than just their looks. Especially as the media and world in general places so much worth on a woman's appearance. And it's not just girls; little boys grow up believing they have to be the strong rescuer; people tell them not to run / throw / cry like a girl which both teaches them that being a girl is inferior to being a boy, and that they can't show any emotion. We live in a time where 84 men a week commit suicide as they live their lives believing they should 'man up' rather than seek help. We're also experiencing a shift in society with #metoo and #timesup; if little boys are taught that girls are their equals, and that there's nothing inferior about being a girl, they will hopefully grow up to become young men who stand side by side women in the future.

Keira Knightly has recently received criticism over banning her 3 year old from watching Cinderella. What are your thoughts on stopping children from engaging with these types of stories completely?

I agree with much of what Keira had to say about these movies, but personally I draw the line at banning them. My daughter and I watch many of the films that Keira mentioned, and I try to use them as an opportunity to discuss the messages. Also, telling someone they can't do something often turns the thing into such forbidden fruit that human nature causes us to do quite the opposite! I'm hoping that if I talk to my daughter about these kinds if things it'll carry on into her teenage years and she won't rebel too much! But come back and ask me how that's going in about 10 years!

Is Flo the kind of role model you’d like for your own daughter?

She is. Flo stands up for what she believes in, accepts people for who they are, and loves her family. Pretty good qualities I think!

You can find The Queen Engineer and other books from Suze over on Thea Chops Books now.

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