Interview 13- Rebecca Lloyd
Rebecca Lloyd writes short stories, novellas and novels. Her story collection Mercy, nominated for a World Fantasy Award, was published by Tartarus Press in 2014 alongside The View from Endless Street, a collection with WiDo Publishing. Her recent publications include Ragman and Other Family Curses (Egaeus Press) and Jack Werrett, the Flood Man (Dunhams Manor Press). She was short-listed for the Aestas short story prize 2016 with Fabula Press for her story The Ringers, her novel, Oothangbart, was published in October 2016 by Pillar International Publishing, and her novella Woolfy and Scrapo was published by the Fantasist magazine. Her latest collection, Seven Strange Stories, was published by Tartarus Press in 2017. She is presently working on The Child Cephalina, a Gothic horror novel set in 1850.
1- (i) What draws you to the literary horror genre?
Several different things draw me to this genre— firstly I suspect that it is by far the most difficult genre to write well within, and so it’s very challenging, and I like that, because if writing feels too easy, it doesn’t stretch you and you don’t learn anything new. Secondly, I don’t have any interest in lightweight subjects or ideas like romance or comedy, although I am very happy when other people make me laugh! The original writers of Gothic/horror/dark material were writers that I admire, people like Mary Shelley, Walter de la Mare, Henry James and some of the Southern writers such as Flannery O’Connor, Eudora Welty and Caron McCullers. Although these last three are not thought of at all as ‘horror’ writers, some of their works are dark, Gothic and very strange. In truth, I find the word ‘horror’ in connection with writing embarrassing because B movies and modern writers like Stephen King have put their own brand on the idea and we get left with drawers full of hopeless zombies and shape-shifters of various kinds, all of them terrible clichés. [Although Stephen King has had some great story ideas.]
(ii) In one of our discussions, you mentioned that your work is more like Walter de la Mare than Stephen King. Would you please elaborate?
I think I meant that I would rather my work was thought of as being more like that of Walter de la Mare than Stephen King because de la Mare is a literary writer and Stephen King is a popularist one.
2- I heard of you from Out of Print magazine editor Indira Chandrashekhar’s social media posts about the anthology PANGEA which you co-edited.
How was the experience?
It was great working with Indira on Pangea, we hadn’t met in person at that stage and we communicated and put together the anthology online. I learnt some editing tricks along the way, and I think the experience was useful when I came to work as Debalina Haldar’s editor on her novel The Female Ward.
3- Your story published in Out of Print titled ‘Finger Buffet’ is disturbing and hard-hitting. It is based on an incident you witnessed.
(i)What gave you the courage to write about it and submit it to a magazine?
One of the really good things about being a writer is that when bad things happen to you, you can sometimes exorcise them by making them into a story, so it wasn’t courage I needed to write about the incident, but just writerly instinct. I didn’t write about it straight away however, it took a while, and the police had taken my writer’s notebook because I was the only witness to the crime, so I needed that back before I started the story.
In addition to writerly instinct, I feel it is an absolute human obligation! I spent a lot of time after that visiting their families and consoling their mum and dads.
(ii) Would you call your story fiction or creative non-fiction?
I’d call it fiction because the story is told by a local white East Ender character, and it is his wife who comes across the slaughtered boys. Creative non-fiction tends to stick quite closely to facts, and Finger Buffet doesn’t do that.
4- Do your literary horror stories like in your book ‘Mercy’ that I’m currently reading, draw from the people you have encountered in real life?
No, I don’t particularly think so. Not whole people anyway. Occasionally I might be struck by a particular posture, a way of dressing, a spoken sentence that I come across while I’m out that later on crops up in my writing somewhere, but it doesn’t necessarily happen at a very conscious or contrived level. Although, I have to confess that I once wrote out the entirety of an argument I had with someone, and it worked wonderfully in the story I was writing.
5- Your protagonists in ‘Mercy’ are dysfunctional in their own way posing a potential danger to society. They reminded me of the TV series ‘Criminal Minds’.
Your stories empathise with characters who have a twisted bend of mind and are somehow trapped in it. Any comments?
What I try to do is to write my characters as I see and feel them, and it really is for the reader to empathise or not with them. That’s not to say I am necessarily neutral myself to my characters, but I don’t go out of my way to lay down my personal position in a story, or in a novel. But because in my writing I’m not confined by moral judgements or notions of right or wrong, it probably can appear that I care about my particularly warped characters. But, I should say that I think most living people have warped elements about them, it’s what makes them interesting.
6- Other than the main protagonists I noticed that you pay equal emphasis to the characters who live/interact with such disturbed characters and the impact on them. Any comments?
I don’t ever think in terms of antagonists and protagonists and therefore I probably don’t confine myself to the same kind of writing ‘rules’ that some writers might use. I remember an occasion, a long time ago when one of my characters was a dead man, and the person who was critiquing the work pointed out that I couldn’t have a dead person as a character because he wouldn’t be able to speak … so it wouldn’t be realistic. But that was before the great blanket of vampires, the undead, and zombies came into play in fiction. I think the antagonist/protagonist idea should be booted out too as it is very rigid and restricting… a protagonist can also be the antagonist. I guess that my novel Oothangbart published last year says more about me and my writing than most of my other books put together. The way I feel about fiction is that it really is fiction and a writer can do what he or she wants with it…treat fiction like plasticine and build what you want out of it and ignore other people’s rules . I’m not sure that this answers your question very directly; it might just be simpler to say all characters in a book are important and all have their particular role to play.
7- Have you attempted other genres?
Well, I never particularly wanted to write within a genre in the first place, but I’ll go along with literary horror as an idea… but the part of it that challenges and interests me is the literary, not the horror. The novel I am working on at the moment is set in 1850, and so, theoretically, you could call it an historical novel, and I do make a big effort to do the research needed and get it right. However, the novel is also Gothic, and so like much of my work, it could easily fall between the genres. But not fitting in with other people’s constructs either in real life or writing is fine; it keeps you energetic.
8- You now have 5 short story collections, 2 novels and anthologies to your credit. What next?
The Gothic novel that I’m working on now, The Child Cephalina. I finished the first draft in two and one half months by writing 1,000 words each morning, and now I have to start the second draft… the tidying up process. However, my last novel Oothangbart, has just come out and of everything I have written, this is special to me and I would love it to be read by youngish people who are having a hard time fitting in with the societies in which they live. I’ve never written a story like it before, and never will again. It’s a story of discovery, and it’s a love story and I really hope it moves people.
9- On your website you talk about the New Dark or New Weird genre that your long short stories fall under. What is this new genre according to you?
For me, the new weird or the new dark simply is an attempt to put the literary back into horror, so that a hybrid evolves, a type of writing that is beautiful in its own right, [no pun intended], is sensitive, original, contains not a single cliché either in sentence use or ideas themselves, has dignity, depth and nuance and so on. Put more simply, I hope it’s going to produce some stunning writing, and the one or two writers I’d put in that category are already doing so.
10- (i) Tell us about your new book ‘Seven strange stories by Tartarus Press 2017.
These seven long stories are my last year’s work. This time, I was attempting to write into the horror/fantasy genre deliberately, rather than it simply being where my writing best fits anyway. I particularly wanted Tartarus Press to publish these stories, as I admire Tartarus greatly, the care they take, the beauty of the books they produce, their taste in writers and their knowledge of the world of books. It was very pleasing to be writing long short stories as opposed to highly edited very short ones, and yet which did not quite have the burden and responsibility that undertaking a novel has. It also made a lot of sense of a holiday I went on in Sicily, as one of the stories was inspired by my trip there. Seven Strange Stories is now published, and available from Tartarus Press, or in bookshops.
(ii) You have been published before by Tartarus Press. What is your view on small niche presses as opposed to big publishing houses?
Well, there are two paths you can travel down as a writer looking for publication, and both have their dangers and disappointments. I don’t really have an opinion as such on independent presses and the conglomerates, but I do know quite a lot about both —my novel ‘Halfling’ was published by Walker Books, one of the giants in the publishing world. The onus is upon the writer to thoroughly research any publishing house that they are interested in, and you very quickly come to know which are the vanity publishers; sometimes you only have to glance at their websites to see that they are fake. This is quite a detailed subject and a complex one, but in general, the large publishing houses, whose names everyone recognises, have good distribution for their books and sometimes, good promotion of their different titles. Trouble is, on the whole, you need an agent to get you into one of the big houses, and with a few exceptions, agents are interested not in literature or books, but money, and they will treat your book merely as a commodity and then want 15% of your royalties. If you opted instead for an independent publisher, you might find that there was scant promotion of your book and very poor distribution. On the other hand a good and established independent press might have excellent distribution and promotion and a workable business model, they might pay you individual attention in a manner that the large houses aren’t famous for doing, and they could even have decent book jackets! So, in the end, I don’t have a view on small as opposed to big publishing houses, but I do wish other writers all the best in their quest to find one they feel comfortable with.
11- On a different note, I love your hair. Haha. It looks like fairy hair. What’s the secret?
The secret is being old, or am I really Gandalf’s sister? She’d be ancient anyway.
Thank you for the interview, Michelle, and the interesting questions.
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