Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Lonesome Ghosts and Ordinary Witches: Interview with Lucy Wood

I recently read and loved Diving Belles and Other Stories by Lucy Wood. The whole short story collection is fantastic but I was particularly struck by "Lights in Other People's Houses," which I thought was one of the finest ghost stories I read this year.

Lucy Wood kindly took the time to answer some of my curious questions about ghosts, books, and the connection between folklore and horror.
1. There is a great deal of absence, longing, and loss in your stories. What draws you to the darker side of folklore? 

Cornwall’s folklore is often seen as a little bit twee or clich├ęd, something just for tourists.  But it is full of very human concerns and emotions, sometimes dark, sometimes funny, always grounded in the real and the everyday. I was drawn to the way that the magical elements of the folklore portrayed complex human situations and feelings. I particularly liked the idea of mermaids acting as a metaphor for absence, loss and longing. 

2. Do you ever read or watch any horror books or films? If so (or even if not), do you see any connection between folk tales and horror? 
I don’t really read or watch any horror. I’m sure there are connections to be made between them, but for me, folklore is more about every day, routine life, whereas horror maybe plays on people’s fears and desires for the out of the ordinary. I was really interested in how down to earth and domestic Cornwall’s folklore was, how the stories depicted events which were magical but ordinary, where it was almost unremarkable for someone to turn into stone or go to see a witch about something or other. 

3. Water imagery pervades your book. Is this a personal obsession or just a by-product of the book's Cornwall setting? Do you find anything especially menacing or haunting about water? 

It is partly because of the setting – the sea is the focal point for a lot of Cornwall’s folklore. I have always been influenced and inspired by the sea and Cornwall’s coastline and wanted the sea to be ever present in the stories, as a way of tying them together. The sea can be menacing and haunting, but also very beautiful, it can cover things over but also wash them up from time to time.

4. What struck me most about "Notes from the House Spirits" was how sad and lonely the ghosts seemed. And both Maddy and the wrecker-ghost in "Lights from Other People's Houses" seem so lost and alone. What emotions do ghosts evoke in you? What do you hope a reader feels when they finish these stories?

Ghosts can evoke a lot of different emotions – sadness, fear, nostalgia, connection. Both ‘Notes from the House Spirits’ and ‘Lights in Other People’s Houses’ are about moving house and change, and feeling uprooted, the desire to belong. So I wanted the wrecker and the house spirits to embody those kinds of feelings, particularly the wrecker. I hoped that these stories might make people look at their houses, and the places they live, from a slightly different perspective.

5. Do you have a favorite ghost story? 

I really enjoy reading M.R James’ ghost stories; one of my favourites is ‘Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad.’ I also really like The Woman In Black by Susan Hill.

6. I've read that Halloween isn't quite as big in England as it is here in the States. Do you personally celebrate "the Halloween season" in any way? Do you even like the idea of Halloween? 

I do like the idea of Halloween. I like carving pumpkins and listening to, watching, or reading ghost stories. The idea of a particular time of year when the worlds’ of the living and the dead overlap is a fascinating and inspiring one.

7. Finally, the requisite question all writers ask of one another: do you have any writing advice to share with authors just starting out? 

My advice is to read as widely as possible, ideas can come from anywhere, a lot of mine come when reading poetry rather than fiction. I find that the imagery in poetry kick-starts my imagination in a particular way, and inspires me to play around with language and structure.

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