“The Wrong Girl” is everything that is right in non-supernatural horror. Revenge, cold passion, and the chill of a blade. Tell us about the inspiration behind the story.
I guess I’d been thinking about relationships and how weird they are, female-male friendships and if they can ever work, and about how you never truly know your friends. We share and horde information about ourselves—there’s no obligation to tell a friend everything about yourself, and sometimes that’s a good thing!
And also contemplating family relationships—we’re only connected to family by sheer chance of blood. When do we let that go? When is blood no longer thicker than water? I was also interested in the sisters’ relationship because a lot of my work is based in fairy tales, and that’s one of the mainstays of those stories—and the old adage of be careful of what you wish for.
Ilsa is delicious and sharp, a person with her own agenda, needs, and desires. I loved the slow circle of her admission that Will is entertaining to his final moments in her apartment. Did you find it difficult to write this sort of character, or did she flow naturally onto the page?
She was easy to write—is that a bad thing to admit? Cue: readers stampeding for the exits in fear . . .
When I’m writing a character, good or bad, I basically put myself in their headspace: what would this character do and allow? What are their boundaries? And then I write as if I’m them. Any moral compass that might be mine is turned off; it’s about getting the truth of the character on the page, whether they’re likable or not. It’s about not flinching at anything they do, because you need to transmit to the reader that “yes, this person absolutely would do this” if you want them to believe your story and follow you along. My main aim is to make all my characters relatable in some way—and the worse they are, if I can show a spark of something for a reader to relate to or empathise with (even against their will—especially against their will), then I’m satisfied, I’ve done my job. “I didn’t like that character, but man, I wanted to know what they did, what happened!”
The omniscient point-of-view works very well here, allowing us to peek inside both Will and Ilsa and learn more about what drives them rather than simply relying on another character’s opinions. How important is a reader’s perceptions to your work as a writer? Do you write for a particular audience, or primarily for yourself?
I generally write in first person, so this was a bit of a challenge—and I’m not sure why I did it. It just seemed to be the best way to see both sides, and I didn’t want Will to just be a cardboard cut-out—in the end, he’s actually the more transparent of the two. Will’s a selfish, self-centred serial monogamist, but ultimately, he doesn’t really have a deeper, darker agenda. I know guys like him; they don’t set out to do harm, but they also don’t think about their actions, and they don’t acknowledge their own repeated behaviours. Ilsa’s the one with the secrets and the ruthless will; and she just isn’t interested in putting up with shit, thank you very much.
I write for myself in the first instance. The story needs to be for me—it’s one of the reasons I find it hard to write for “themed” anthologies, because the theme doesn’t always spark an idea for me. I’ll get a first line or a last line or an image, then start scribbling and working out what the story is. When it comes to editing, I’m still writing for myself—the story has to feel “right” to me. Then it goes out to the world, and if some people like it too, then huzzah! I don’t think it’s very satisfying as a writer to write for someone else’s tastes—you’ve got to love your work first and foremost. If people join in, that’s a bonus. This story isn’t for everyone, some readers will really hate it (my mother will be one!)—but that’s their prerogative.
It’s said that writers always leave a little of themselves on the page. How much of Angela Slatter found its way into this story?
Hahahaha! That would definitely send readers running for the exits. I think I gave Ilsa my ability to be an observer and to see people’s patterns when they can’t, and my solutions-oriented attitude to everything in life. But I’m not a painter and I don’t have an attic studio or a range of scalpels! Will’s a composite of men I’ve known who blithely wander through the world, wondering why their ex-girlfriends want to set them on fire.
From short stories, to novels, to editing, you are both accomplished and prolific. What can readers look forward to in 2021?
Oh, thank you. I never feel accomplished. I feel like every day is starting to roll the rock up the hill and keep learning. I’m okay with that as I try not to get complacent with my writing. Next year there will be my first novel for Titan Books, All the Murmuring Bones, a gothic fairy tale set in the universe of the Sourdough and Bitterwood mosaic collections. There will also be the release of The Tallow-Wife and Other Tales (from Tartarus Press), which is the third of the mosaic collections and has some links to All the Murmuring Bones. I’ll be finishing off Morwood, another gothic fairy tale for Titan, and hopefully getting some new short stories written. And there are a few other projects to get finished, like Darker Angels for Electric Dreamhouse, a novella with J.S. Breukelaar called A Holy Darkness, that doesn’t have a home as of yet, and some interesting things from Brain Jar Press!
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