Sunday, February 27, 2011

Interview with Allyson Bird

Allyson Bird is the author of two collections: Bull Running for Girls and Wine and Rank Poison. She has co-edited with Joel Lane the anthology, Never Again. Her debut novel, Isis Unbound, is due out in the summer from Dark Regions Press. She won The British Fantasy Society award for best collection, for Bull Running for Girls, in 2009. You can find out more about Allyson Bird on her website.

What drew you to the horror genre?

It started in childhood. I lived at the entrance to a dark wood and during the day I would run out of the house and down the wide path into it. I could be totally alone to think about stories. At night from my bedroom window, the entrance looked like an enormous abyss, and I imagined that anything could dwell there. I had quite a lot of freedom from the age of ten and would wander through the wood to the village graveyard and sit amongst the graves reading the names and dates. One headstone was for a family who had died of the plague in the sixteen hundreds. I liked ghost stories and anything to do with witches, goblins and monsters. I read anything I could get my hands on, including Marvel Comics.  DC Comic Wonder Woman was a favourite. My father was a fan of American pulps, so I read Edgar Rice Burroughs, and detective stories. I read horror stories to have my emotions heightened, in other words I wanted to be afraid, and feel the excitement from that.  

As an adult I can't think of a better genre than horror to convey emotion and I've used it to explore the horror which is actually in the world around us as well as the strange and weird. Everything from misogyny, to genocide, to personal loss, and fear of the unknown. 

What scares you?

The thought of losing my mind one day. When my sister was very ill she said she saw demons and the thought of that is horrible. Doesn't matter if they aren't there...if you believe they are, they are. The thought that the supernatural could exist is a frightening prospect, too. Something that happened a long time ago terrified me. I either had a breakdown, or was drugged, or the supernatural really does exist. I wrote about what happened to me in "Shadow Upon Shadow," in Bull Running for Girls. I'm damn well sure the circumstances that led up to it won't happen again...well, I hope not. The problem is if you really believe that something strange is going on you can create your own reality, and that way leads to madness.

Also the horror and suffering we see around the world each day. The thought that there is a country not far away where people stone women and men for adultery. Shocking. The thought, that on the orders of some despot, or other, people can 'disappear.' That sex slavery exists and that witch hunting still happens in Africa.

Why do you think there are fewer women writing horror than men?

Men will write to a publisher/editor and ask to be included in an anthology...women seem to hold back a little. They don't seem as confident as men in the genre. Nancy Kilpatrick goes into it in great detail in her interview on this site. It wasn't such a long time ago that it was a common belief that women couldn't or shouldn't achieve in the areas men had traditionally dominated, including writing, especially horror, even though Mary Shelley wrote one of the most memorable horror stories of all time.

Who are some women horror authors that you admire?

Lisa Tuttle is outstanding. I'll forget someone if I mention others.

What is your advice to aspiring women horror writers?

Never give up. Push yourself forward and if that means self-promotion just get on with it. Publishers expect you to now, anyway. The small press have no budget for advertising so it really is up to the author to tell people their news about their books where ever they can. Women have been practically invisible to some people for long enough. We have spent years in the background and have been forgotten by history, in science and in the arts. Don't let it happen to you.

What are your favourite horror novels?

Horror...for me, can be within the strange, the weird, the fantastic, and the cruelty and terror in every day life so I'll not mention any particular novel. I'd like to mention my two favourite strange/weird collections. The Wine Dark Sea by Robert Aickman and Nest of Nightmares by Lisa Tuttle. Both writers have been a great influence on me.

Who are your favourite authors? Who influenced you the most?
Mikhail Bulgakov, Angela Carter, Sylvia Plath, Robert Aickman, Lisa Tuttle, Peter Hoeg, Ramsey Campbell, Ray Bradbury, and Shakespeare. Of all I think Angela Carter has influenced me the most. And I've always appreciated poetry, especially William Blake, Swinburne, Keats and Yeats.

You’ve written several short stories. Do you have a favourite? Why?

Two of my favourites are companion stories. The Black Swan of Odessa, is a homage to Mikhail Bulgakov and will appear in an anthology dedicated to him, this year. It is, on one level, about the actual chair in a play by Ilf and Petrov, Russian writers in the 1920's, and the second story, The Twelfth Chair, is set in modern day, in the same place in Odessa, and is connected to the first. One theme in the first is greed and the dominant theme in the second story is abuse of women.

Your first novel, Isis Unbound, is coming out soon. Can you tell us about it?

Inspired by Mary Shelley, Percy Bysshe Shelley's, Prometheus Unbound, and Rider Haggard/R.E.Howard to some extent, Isis Unbound is set in 1890's Manceastre, Britanniae, ruled by a new governor general, Clovis Domitius Corbulo. He is related to Cleopatra LV descendant of Anthony and Cleopatra who won the battle of Actium two thousand years ago. Only a god can kill a god. Nepythys has killed her sister, Isis, and therefore the dead cannot pass over to the underworld. Ella, eighteen and Loli - age ten, are the daughters of Ptolemy Child. The sons and daughters of embalmers are expected to begin instruction in the embalming process at an unusually young age. Against this background we follow the girls on their adventure in Manceastre and Alexandria to discover the greatest mystery of all - involving Isis herself. An Isis who will stop at nothing to ensure her own survival…  

You were a co-editor for the anthology, Never Again, which features stories against fascism and racism. Can you tell us about it?

Joel Lane asked me to co-edit the anthology with him and we are happy with the depth and scope of the work sent to us. There were a few reprints we went after...actually Joe Lansdale gave us the choice of three and we chose The Night They Missed the Horror Show instead of the longer Mad Dog Summer. I definately wanted Rob Shearman's, Hitler's Dog, and Stephen Volk's After the Ape in there, too. We had twenty three stories in all. We very much knew we were preaching to the converted in that those who would buy already had strong feelings about injustice, intolerance and persecution. The authors asked to contribute felt that they wanted to nail their colours to the mast. Some quite amazing stories have been written. I'm delighted to say that Amnesty International have agreed to stock the book, also.

Do you own an e-reader?

I don't own an e-reader. At the moment I prefer the feel of an actual book but will consider it in a year or two.

What do you hope readers get out of your work?

Enjoyment. Transportation away from every day life for a time. Empathy.

What are you currently working on?

I'm working on a few short stories for anthologies and about to collaborate on a book with the artist, Dani Serra. 

1 comment:

frank duffy said...

Excellent interview. Great to see a writer as talented as Ally getting the notice she deserves.