Operations Manager Jemimah spoke with author and editor Angela Slatter to talk about her new gothic fantasy novel, book re-brandings, and everything fairy tales.
All the Murmuring Bones incorporates a lot of fairytales and mythological elements from different traditions and sources. Was the main idea inspired by a particular tale? And did you know when you started writing what tales you were going to include or did they find their way in as you were writing?
There was no particular folk or fairy tale, it was just that huge amount of fairy tale information that I’ve got in my head after a lifetime of reading and a Masters and a PhD investigating fairy tales. Previous mosaic collections that I’ve written have used fairy tales in that same kind of way, so some of the fairy tales in this novel refer back to my previous collections. I kind of wanted the conceit to be that Miren [protagonist of Bones] refers back to these stories that I’ve been telling as though they’re her childhood stories. And also, I’m not a huge fan of The Little Mermaid, so this was my chance to stick it to Hans Christian Anderson and I put some decent mermaids in there!
You mention having a Masters and PhD in fairy tales and mythology. Did you always like that style of storytelling? Are they the stories that you grew up on and do you still read those kinds of stories?
I’ve always loved fairy tales. Mum was the one who read to us and provided all manner of Grimm’s fairy tales before they got edited and cleaned and turned into Disney tales. So, they were the kinds of stories that I grew up on and I still love reading different versions of those stories. I love seeing how someone else reinterprets them, because after all this time these are the tales that we keep passing on; we keep re-telling them and they sound different and they taste different one very tongue that tells them. So yes, I still read them and I’m always looking for something new, because you do get to the point where you think, ‘Well I must have read all the fairy tales in the world by now!’ But there are always more to discover.
Do you read translations of fairy tales from different places and authors?
I try to. If they’re in translation I will read them. French is my second language so I can generally make my way through that; that’s from my Arts degree to I can generally make a bit of sense of it now, so that’s a way to keep it interesting.
So Morwood is due for release next year. Is that a direct sequel to All the Murmuring Bones? What can you tell us about it?
It’s not a sequel, but it’s set in the same world and it’s kind of like Jane Eyre meets Frankenstein, with not quite the same number of fairy tales embedded throughout it as Bones because I didn’t want it to be a re-do of All the Murmuring Bones; it’s a standalone. But there is a line in there where someone mentions the O’Malleys and someone else says ‘Oh there’s none of them left any more.’ But as far as I’m concerned Miren is living quite happily where she ended up at the end of Bones. And at some point I might revisit her or her children later on. But we shall see… So Morwood is more Jane Eyre meets Frankenstein. This young woman named Asha Todd comes to a grand old house to be the nanny for these three children, but she’s more than she seems.
I noticed that on this book your author name is ‘A.G. Slatter’, but on your other books you’re ‘Angela Slatter’. Is there a particular reason for that?
That’s just a slight re-branding because of the change in publisher, because my earlier series, the supernatural crime series, are with Jo Fletcher Books, whereas these gothic fantasies are with Titan Books.
You have several short story collections out, plus many standalone short stories, and also novels. Do you have a preference for a particular writing style or length, or is it just that whatever the story comes out as, that’s what it is?
I think it’s just whatever the story comes out as. When I first started writing seriously, I started with short stories and I got very familiar with that form, so it’s not difficult for me to write a short story. But when I’d written my first novel and had to switch my brain back to writing short stories it was a real struggle. I like the short story for the ability to craft something that you can often see the end of relatively quickly. But then sometimes I really enjoy the challenge of the novel; it’s a marathon, because even if you think you know exactly what the plot is going to be it will surprise you, it will kick up a u-turn and that’s always a challenge getting around. You have to say, ‘That idea that I thought was going to be brilliant clearly isn’t going to work in the current setup’.
It’s also a challenge to let ideas go when you’ve plotted and you’ve been quite certain what’s going to happen, like a certain character is going to be a focus. I particularly had this challenge when I was finishing Morwood – which will have a different title at some point – because I had a character I just thought I was going to kill off easily and early, but she kept talking and she kept doing things! And she just became much more integral to the story and then when I did kill her off, I was very surprised because I had thought she was going to live! So that was a real surprise. So even as the writer I was quite distressed about this, so you just think, that’s how readers will feel as well as they go on.
Do you find that you do a lot of planning at the start of a novel or do you have an idea and just run with it?
I have an idea and I have a very loose structure so that I have goalposts that I know I’m aiming for, but within that structure everything is fairly chaotic; it’s sort of like chaos soup. But it is important to me as that’s how I manage to finish things; to know, ‘At the end of this 20,000 words this needs to have happened, I want to hit these emotional beats, characters need to be moved to this place.’ But how they actually get there is still a bit of a mystery when I’m writing because that keeps me writing; I want to know!
I saw you also offer your services as a story developer and an editor. Do you find that you tend to prefer editing over writing, or do you mainly just write these days?
I definitely prefer writing, but I do enjoy the opportunity to edit and develop writing with other people because I can help them on with their work and their careers. My aim when I do a developmental edit with someone is to give them a series of tools that they can take away and apply to their work in the future, so they don’t need to come back to me; they’re walking away with fresh knowledge that they can continue to use. So that’s a very valuable thing you can do for someone.
If I could just write for myself that would be great and I’d love that, but like most writers I split my time between editing and I also teach for the Australian Writers Centre, which is good fun because it helps keep my brain jumping! It reminds me of the stuff that I do know, because students will throw up questions and I think, ‘Oh I haven’t thought about that for a while!’, because I instinctively know what to do. So it’s good because it forces you to articulate the things you have just running in the background. It’s really useful because you almost forget it, so you’re trying to solve a problem in a manuscript and it’ll just take a question from someone else that you think, ‘I can apply that to my own writing!’
What is a book that you’re reading at the moment and would you like to recommend any books to our readers?
Absolutely! I am almost at the end of Cynthia Pelayo’s Children of Chicago, which is a horror police procedural using fairy tales in modern day Chicago and I think it’s going to be a series called the Chicago Saga, so I’m excited to see what she does with that. Other things I’ve read relatively recently are Alix E. Harrow’s novella A Spindle Splintered from Tor.com and I am also part way through Elizabeth Lee’s Cunning Women which is about witches around the time of the Pendle Hill witch trials in the UK and that is really beautifully done. You can see a theme in my reading!