The Rural We: Hester Velmans
Born in the Netherlands and educated in Switzerland and England, Hester Velmans is an author, editor and renowned translator who lives in Sheffield, Mass. She is tri-lingual, speaking English, French and Dutch, and specializes in translation of contemporary Dutch and French literature. Velmans is the author of two children’s books, “Isabel of the Whales” and “Jessaloup’s Song.” She and Matt Tannenbaum, owner of The Bookstore in Lenox, will be appearing at The Mount on Oct. 11 to discuss her new novel, “Slipper,” which is “not the fairy tale you remember.” Watch a trailer of the book, created by Sheffield filmmaker Ben Hillman, on the author’s website.
I grew up all over Europe, spent most of my high school and earlier years in Geneva, and went to college in England. I came to New York in my middle twenties, when I was working for an international TV news agency. I met my husband, who was working in Westchester, and moved there. My parents and his parents had places in the Berkshires, so we came here every weekend as our kids were growing. We moved here permanently 14 years ago.
After I got married, I quit my high-stress job and stayed home with my kids. That’s when I started writing. I helped my mom and dad write their books (Edith’s Story and Long Way Back to the River Kwai: Memories of World War II) and then had the opportunity to translate books. It was a way to get published. My own children’s books followed.
I started writing Slipper when my kids were little. At the time, it was a difficult book to place; there wasn’t a genre for it. Now fairy tales are translated into other languages, and it’s more popular.
I’m absolutely nuts about fairy tales and myths; I love all the anonymous folk-tale type of stories handed down through the ages. When I was a teenager, I was influenced by Thomas Bullfinch’s Mythology, his retellings of Greek and Roman myths. The story of Cinderella appeals to me, it’s so primal. Most of the stories that we love are Cinderella stories. I decided to put that story in a more realistic setting, making it something that really could’ve happened in the 17th century. I made Charles Perrault, the author of the Cinderella fairy tale as we know it today, a character in the book. He’s a fascinating character, the author of Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Little Red Riding Hood, compiled from old tales, written before the Brothers Grimm. Slipper is set during his time at the court of Louis XIV.
A number of local book groups have read it. Sometimes they invite me to come speak to the group, or Facetime with them. It’s very gratifying when your neighbors have read your book.
I’m about to start on another, this one about the hunger winter in the Netherlands in 1944-45, the greatest famine in Europe in centuries. I like to go for stories that should be better known.
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