In your short story, “Ways to Wake,” you explored the life of an elderly person living in a retirement home. You were rather knowledgeable in your depiction of life inside the facility. Do you have a special interest in eldercare? What inspired your interest in this subject matter?
I don’t actually have any connection with eldercare, other than I know someone who works in a dementia care home. I had been writing another longer piece with a home in it, though, and so I’d done a lot of research into what it might be like. I’d looked at first person accounts as well as the processes and legalities to hopefully get the “texture” right. I’m not sure why I was drawn to the subject matter. I suppose I’m conscious that, as someone who doesn’t have children, I might one day have to sort out this kind of help for myself!
Also, you included folklore about the chordewa, a being that takes the form of a cat, and eats a sick man’s food, which seals the man’s fate. I liked how you wove the tale into your story. Do you always include some type of lore into your work?
Not always, but often! I’m very much drawn to folklore and fairy tales, possibly because I used to adore Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy stories when I was little. They were my first love in terms of books. If I go on holiday, I like to read about the folklore of the area—I like to think it enhances a landscape with the sense of layers of story living within it (though I might just be getting carried away). There’s something magical about drawing on that story pool, and I think that’s why I love it—folklore tells us about the world, but at the same time imbues it with something “other,” and keeps a sense of mystery at its heart.
I read that you won the 2014 Shirley Jackson award for Short Fiction. You’ve written several short stories and novels. Do you prefer writing long or short fiction?
I love them both in different ways. It would be easy to say short stories, because they’re fun, and well, short! You don’t have to wrestle with them for months on end, and can try different voices and places and styles. They’re really a spur to creativity too, and can help recharge the batteries if you’re feeling a bit drained. It’s more of a demanding process to write a novel, but it’s ultimately more satisfying when I overcome the hurdles. When I’m not working on a novel, I start to feel a bit odd and really miss the process. I do find it more challenging, but I think I need that in my life!
You have an impressive publishing history. What can we expect to see from you next?
I’ve been immersed in a new novel called Mistletoe: A Ghost Story. It’s a Christmas story which delves into the folkloric aspects of mistletoe and the history of Christmas, and is set in the present day but has elements from the late Victorian era, too. It’s been a lot of fun to write and it was good to draft it during the winter, though my neighbours probably think I’m mad—I’ve been out in snowstorms in the middle of the night to remind myself how it feels, and it was a bit odd building a snowman on my own for research purposes! I remember doing such things, of course, but there’s nothing like really getting your hands cold to help with the description. Of course, it feels even odder to be editing it in the bright sunshine . . .
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