Risingshadow has had the honour of interviewing Rebecca Lloyd.
Winning the 2008 Bristol Short Story Prize for her story 'The River', Rebecca Lloyd, a writer and editor from Bristol, UK, was shortlisted in the 2010 Dundee International Book Prize and was a semi-finalist in the Hudson Prize for a short story collection in the same year. Her novel Halfling was published by Walker Books in 2011, and in the following year she was co-editor with Indira Chandrasekhar, of Pangea, an Anthology of Stories from Around the Globe, with Thames River Press. In 2014, her short story collection Whelp and Other Stories was shortlisted in the Paul Bowles Award for Short Fiction, and her collection The View From Endless Street was published by WiDo Publishing.
Click here to visit the author's official website.
AN INTERVIEW WITH REBECCA LLOYD
- Could you tell us something about yourself in your own words?
Although I wouldn’t describe myself as solitary, I certainly do need regular periods of time to be alone in, that might be when I’m doing things in my garden, like sieving compost, or when I’m writing, or researching for writing. I’ve taken to cooking in the last year as well, although I’m not someone who is in love with food as so many people seem to be these days. If I’ve been hanging out with people for a while, and not getting on with writing or thinking about writing, I have to turn off my mobile, not answer the house phone, not look at Facebook or any of those other deeply distracting things that mimic sociability, and turn my whole attention to work. I’m sure what I’ve said here would resonate with other writers too. I’m not sure if my friends quite understand my disappearances though.
- What inspired you to become an author?
Life itself did... the complexities of being human, the ugliness, the beauty, the bravery and the things pitiful.
- Have any authors, novels or stories been an important source inspiration to you during the writing process? Have any of them influenced your writing style?
I’m a self-taught writer and no other writer has had any direct influence on me as far as I’m aware. I began writing before I was really much of a reader; my reading life started later. I can’t think of any writing or writers who’ve been a source of inspiration to me as a writer either— although there are a few writers whose work I love. It’s what I see and experience in my everyday life that feeds my compulsion to write.
- You've written many stories which can be classified as literary strange fiction and dark fiction. What inspires you to write this kind of fiction? Have you always been intrigued by dark stories?
This might seem like an odd thing to say, but I didn’t know until quite recently that my writing was strange. I knew it was literary, rather than genre-type writing and that’s all. As for the dark, that’s hard to answer properly too. I could well have been a morbid child, as I was a loner although I came from a large family. So I suppose the dark might be in me. I’ve certainly never been drawn to romantic fiction in the ordinary sense of that word, or any other genre fiction, but some of my works are romances in the true sense of passion and adventure, for example Oothangbart which will be published in Autumn 2016. It is really a book of light. Oh, and there is love in it.
- Is it difficult or challenging to come up with new ideas for stories?
Yes, it’s definitely difficult to come up with new ideas that are good enough to invest time in to write as stories, and when I do stumble across good ones, I’m really happy. I’m always on the lookout for them, and they could come from anywhere, a moment on the street, an article in a newspaper, the look on someone’s face, a peculiar object in a junk shop, and so on.
- Your short story collection, Mercy and Other Stories (Tartarus Press, 2014), contains many different kinds of stories. One of the stories, "Gone to the Deep" (originally published in Strange Tales, Volume IV / Tartarus Press, 2014), is a beautifully written and atmospheric Aickmanesque story. "The Bath" is also a fascinating and strange story, because it's a story about a man who thinks that his wife is a dolphin and the wife pretends to be a dolphin to please her husband. How did you come up with the ideas for these stories?
Gone to the Deep arose from my own love of the sea and my fascination with slightly cut off small townships, or fishing villages and the way people who live in such places might behave. I guess my social anthropology background really did leave its mark on me. The Bath is one of my explorations of married life. I’m interested in the curious patterns of thought and distortion that married people, once separate entities, can create between them over time and which they use as ‘scaffolding’ for the marriage itself. I wonder if that makes sense to anybody else? Another of my stories about marriage is The Reunion, also in Mercy and Other Stories and then reprinted in Best British Horror 2015, [Salt Publishing], http://www.amazon.co.uk/Best-British-Horror-Johnny-Mains/dp/1784630284
- You examine life, love, loss, marriage and sibling relationships in an intriguingly ambiguous way in Mercy and Other Stories. Do you deliberately write this kind of fiction in which readers can reach their own conclusions about what's going on?
It’s true that some of what I write can be ambiguous, but then if you’re writing about any of the things you mention, or for that matter about ghosts which I am doing at the moment for my new collection, ambiguity seems to be a very natural element. I do write about worlds in which ‘reality’ and ‘fantasy’ overlap, [I suppose you could call that a form of magic realism, as in the Bath], and that’s because I think I see the world that way, or at least, I don’t necessarily favour ‘reality’ above fantasy. But to get to the point, I expect the readers of my books to come to their own conclusions, although I don’t consciously write that way for them.
- You've written a few stories from the point of view of a male protagonist. Do you find it challenging to write from this perspective?
It was a bit the other way around for me at first; writing women was the challenge. So female protagonists are more visible my later works. I found it difficult to write ‘women’ in the early days because, being essentially wild, I wasn’t sure what ‘tame’ women are supposed to sound like, or think or do. I still have a really powerful aversion to the word ‘lady’ in our language. Anyway, I got over that, but if I have weak female characters, not necessarily protagonists, they are there for a specific purpose, such as Isobel in The Reunion who is clownishly feminine, [another form of suburban horror to my way of thinking]. I write women okay now.
- When I read Mercy and Other Stories, I noticed that you interweave the past with the present and write observantly about the characters and their strange deeds. Do you make any notes about the happenings and the behaviour of the characters during the writing process to keep up with all the details?
Maybe I do, I’m not sure. I certainly pay a lot of attention to research and if I’m setting a story somewhere that I have no knowledge of, I research fauna, flora, weather, the language usage of the people, habits, types of names and so on, and I hope that studying those elements and weaving them into a story can give the thing credibility, dignity and atmosphere. I was watching a woman the other day standing in front of a shop she worked in. She was eating and smoking at the same time, so she had the fag in front of her mouth between her fingers while she chewed, then she’d take a drag on it, then a bite of her sandwich. God knows when I’ll get that into a story, but I will somewhere because it’s very particular. Sometimes I see people in the street who seem to fit a character I’m writing quite well so I’ll study them, the way they move, what they say, how they look and so on. But I think this goes on all the time in me without me being aware of it. My kids sometimes say to me ‘Mum, you’re staring!’
- Mercy and Other Stories was recently nominated for a World Fantasy Award. Was it a surprise to you when heard about the nomination?
Yes, it was very surprising; I didn’t know it had been entered. Tartarus Press put in a couple of collections this year and a few were nominated, so I’m delighted for Tartarus as well as for me and the other nominees. Although I’m not very up on awards, so had to ask other writers about the kudos of being a nominee.
- You've written about many different locales and characters in your stories. Do you do any research when you write about different locales and new characters?
Yes, always, and sometimes extensive research — obsessional even. But the internet opens up the entire world for writers, so we can at least approximate a known locale and its inhabitants. At the moment I’m studying the Appalachians and its people for a ghost story, so rather than just write ‘we were drinking whiskey under those small trees’ it could be ‘we were drinking whiskey under those sugar maples.’ I love to find videos to watch online for research purposes. The writer idea that you sometimes hear, ‘write what you know’ is silly because what we know is so very small.
- The View from Endless Street: Short Stories from the South of England (WiDo Publishing, 2014) was published last year. What kind of a collection is it? Is it different from Mercy and Other Stories?
The stories in The View from Endless Street are just as strange as the stories from Mercy and there are some dark stories in that collection such as No Angel about John Wayne Gacy, and The Snow Room about a near suicide. But there are also some tender stories that I hope show some of the beauty of friendships. The two collections were published at the same time, so they represent a great bulk of my writing work.
- You've also written a novel called Halfling (Walker Books, 2011) and you've co-edited an anthology called Pangea (Thames River Press, 2012) with Indira Chandrasekhar. Could you tell us something about these books?
Well, Halfing evolved from my short story The Bath. A boy discovers that his neighbour Mrs Seeping who he always liked, has not disappeared from her house after all, but is living in the bath as a porpoise and her husband John is feeding her fish. Eventually she escapes to the sea. It’s for children between the ages of nine to maybe thirteen, but if you were reading it as an adult, perhaps the symbolism of it would not escape you.
Pangea, An Anthology of Stories from Around the Globe, is a collection of stories written by different writers whom Indira and I knew from a writers’ site called Writewords, something I was involved in as host of the short story group for around a decade. They are great stories and a few of the writers are now quite well known. I think these stories show so many different styles and ways of writing that for people who are interested in the short story form, it would be a useful as well as enjoyable book to own.
- Many readers (and also critics) have said that this is the new golden age for dark fiction. How do you feel about this statement?
Oh, I would love it if that was true, I’m not young, and although my writing goes on, and especially when I am encouraged by good reviews, it would be great if things got a little easier for all of us, the writers and the publishers who support us— independent publishers I mean, rather than the great fortresses of the publishing world with their watchmen, [agents], prowling about.
- What are you currently working on?
I am working on three projects at the moment. I’m trying to finish an absurdist novella, Woolfy and Scrapo, that could be read happily by adults and children. I am writing my last two or three ghost-ish stories for my new collection which might be called For Two Songs. And I am working with Pillar International Publishing on my novel Oothangbart which I wrote while I was still obliged to work in stuffy organisations for money to pay off my mortgage. I used to write Oothangbart in my lunch hour. The book is the purest kind of fantasy and involves the building of a tower of bagels, and reminds my publisher Mark Lloyd, [not related to me .... in the flesh anyway], of Orwell’s 1984 and of Beckett. I would like every office worker in the entire overbuilt world to read it, recognise it, and take comfort from the absurdity of it. One day you will be free, I would like to say to them.
- Is there anything you'd like to add?
Only thank you Sami, it has been a great pleasure to have this interview with you.