Interviewing Angela Slatter
Angela Slatter (Australia, 1967) is an author of dark fantasy and horror. Graduated in 2005 in Creative Writing, she decided to devote her life to this endeavor. After obtaining her PhD, she teaches at Queensland University of Technology. She has published numerous short stories in collections and anthologies, as well as in magazines and other types of publications. Among her collections of stories, stands out The Girl With No hands (Ticonderoga, 2010), Sourdough and Other Stories (Tartarus Press, 2010), The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings (Tartarus Press, 2010) and The Female Factory (Twelfth Planet Press, 2014). Her stories are included in anthologies organized by renowned editors, like Jeff and Ann Vandermeer or Ellen Datlow. Perhaps, her most popular publications have been published by Tor: Of Sorrow and Such (2015) and Finnegan’s Field (2016), which can be read online in Tor’s web. Some of the many awards she collected are: the World Fantasy Award, thanks to The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings; and the el British Fantasy Award, thanks The Coffin-Maker's Daughter.
Alexander Páez: Sadly, in Spain you haven’t been published yet. Tell us a little about yourself and your background.
Angela Slatter: I’m an Australian writer and I write dark fantasy and horror, and most of my tales have their roots in fairy tales. I’ve published six short story collections − Sourdough and Other Stories, The Girl With No Hands and Other Tales, Black-Winged Angels, The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings, as well as Midnight and Moonshine and The Female Factory (these last two co-written with Lisa L. Hannett) − and will have a seventh collection out in October this year through Prime Books, A Feast of Sorrows: Stories, which will be my first US collection! My debut novel, Vigil, will be out in July this year from Jo Fletcher Books in the UK, with the sequels Corpselight and Restoration coming in 2017 and 2018 respectively. I’m fortunate to have won a World Fantasy Award, a British Fantasy Award, and five Aurealis Awards. My website is http://www.angelaslatter.com/ and I lurk on Twitter as @AngelaSlatter.
AP: You write fairy tales and short stories, but they used to be horror stories, or with a horror environment. Why this genre and why fairy tales?
AS: I’ve always loved fairy tales and they were the first stories read to me as a child, so they retain a place in my heart. They’re a link to our past for me, not just the recent past like childhood, but the distant past where people sat around fires that kept the darkness at bay and told stories that were actually warnings (for example, if you walk in the woods and leave the path you WILL be eaten by a wolf). I guess the genre of speculative fiction appeals to me because it’s the literature of possibility; it allows you to let your imagination fly. As long as you keep your worldbuilding tight, then you can pretty much get away with all kinds of flights of imagination and dreams. As for fairy tales, I love that they are more than they appear; I love that the old forms were warnings, were horror stories for our ancestors, I love that there are coded messages we can read in them. I love that we can reclaim them from Disneyfication and all the ways frightened people try to ‘clean them up’ so the stories don’t scare children anymore. It’s good to be scared! It prepares you for life!
AP: You retell many fairy tales. What inspired this?
AS: When I first decided I wanted to write seriously I tried several genres − one of those being women’s lit/chick lit − but I didn’t really feel comfortable until I started reworking fairy tales. The first one I rewrote was “The Little Match Girl”, and the story came to me so quickly I wrote it in one afternoon. I just knew I’d found my place then.
I like retelling fairy tales because I like a reader to look at the old story in a new way, I like to pick away the civilised, non-threatening layer a lot of new versions have been wrapped in and get to the frightening things hidden inside. I think that’s a challenge, taking something familiar and making it unfamiliar, playing with the German idea of unheimlich. One of the reasons I love Angela Carter’s work is that she does this so brilliantly, and reading her The Bloody Chamber for the first time was like a revelation, a great light that tore the scales from my eyes and opened my mind.
AP: Is this one of the reasons for your desire to reshape and retell fairy tales?
AS: I’ve always said that, at the most base, most crucial level I personally write to manage fears. They might be childish fears, but if I can write them down and rework them then I can be in charge. There’s a reason the first retelling I ever did was “The Little Match Girl” − as a child I remember my mother reading it to me for the first time and I also remember being in floods of tears at the end because it was such a cruel tale! I suppose it embedded in me a not-unreasonable fear of not being loved, of being left alone, of losing my family. When I wrote my version of “The Little Match Girl”, I made sure the main character had agency, got to make her own decisions, made her own fate (even though it’s not a happy ending), but I got to do things that satisfied me. Too crazy?
Or maybe I just like writing fairy tales.
AP: You have an amazing bibliography, amazing critical acclaim and many awards. Also a PhD in Creative Writing and many works published. How do you deal with writing?
AS: I’m lucky enough that I have been a freelance writer for the last four years, so I haven’t had to balance an office job with trying to write − although I did do that when I was studying writing and working to pay the bills and writing and editing stories to build my career and publications list for the eight years before that. I write most days; the days I don’t write I’m doing research or the business side of writing (like answering interview questions!), working on synopses, editing, going over galley proofs, planning and scheduling the next project. The last few months have been tough because I didn’t schedule very well, so I’ve been trying to finish a novel and a novella and two short story collections ... almost done, but I will be much more careful in the future!
AP: What inspired Of Sorrow and Such?
AS: I’d been asked to write a novella and I’d had the character of Patience from two of the stories in my first collection Sourdough and Other Stories − she appears there once as a young girl (“Gallowberries”) and later as a much older woman (“Sister, Sister”). I’d always wondered what happened in between, and I wanted to tell that story. I thought a lot about how our past can come back to haunt us, even if we’ve tried to live an exemplary life and we’ve done all we can to try to make us for the sins of our youth. I’ve always read a lot about witches in history as well as in fiction, and I’ve been carrying around in my head this old folk tale that I’d read in a book my father gave me thirty-odd years ago about witches turning into cats. I wanted to use that somehow, as well as working with and subverting ideas about witches and sisterhood, weaving them into a fairy and folk tale mix ... and have the women come out safely at the end.
AP: What are you working on at the moment?
AS: At the moment I am editing a novella called Darker Angels to go into the A Feast of Sorrows collection. I am about to start editing the novel Corpselight. I have four commissioned short stories to write, I have another novella to edit and find a home for, I have to start researching for a book on the Hammer Horror Karnstein vampire films, and I need to start writing the new novel, Restoration, for Jo Fletcher Books! And then I need to do final edits on a new collection, The Tallow-Wife and Other Tales, which is the third and final book in the Sourdough series.
AP: Your stories have strong female characters. How important is for you to have strong female characters in your stories?
AS: It’s very important: I’m a woman, why wouldn’t I want to write about female characters? It’s important for there to be a female voice in fantasy that doesn’t always say “Oh, won’t some big strong man come and rescue me? My silver bikini has fallen off!”
AP: Do you think the role of female authors has changed in fantasy genre?
AS: I hope so. I hope that we’re gaining broader readership that more readers are coming to see what we can offer through our tales. Not everyone wants to rewrite Conan the Barbarian. There are a lot of women writing amazing fantasy, such as Kate Elliott, Kristin Cashore, Elspeth Cooper, Juliet Marillier, and Sara Douglass’ body of work is quite incredible.
AP: Who is your favourite female author?
AS: That’s too hard to chose just one! I will make a list, which is in no way definitive: Tanith Lee, Angela Carter, Margo Lanagan, Zen Cho, Nnedi Okorafor, Lisa L. Hannett, Damien Angelica Walters, Juliet Marillier, Nalo Hopkinson, Barbara Hambly, Caitlín R. Kiernan, Aliette De Bodard ...
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