Interview with Author Angela Slatter

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Specializing in dark fantasy and horror, Angela Slatter is the author of The Girl with No Hands and Other Tales, Sourdough and Other Stories, The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings, and Black-Winged Angels, as well as Midnight and Moonshine and The Female Factory (both with Lisa L. Hannett). She has won a World Fantasy Award, five Aurealis Awards, and a British Fantasy Award. Her short stories have appeared in Australian, UK and US Best Of anthologies, and her tale Of Sorrow and Such was one of the first releases from Tor.com’s new novella imprint. Angela has an MA and a PhD in Creative Writing, is a graduate of Clarion South 2009 and the Tin House Summer Writers Workshop 2006, and in 2013 she was awarded one of the inaugural Queensland Writers Fellowships.

Vigil is Angela’s debut novel (based on the short story “Brisneyland by Night”), and will be followed by the sequels, Corpselight and Restoration in 2017 and 2018 respectively, published by Jo Fletcher Books in the UK, Hachette in Australia, and Quercus in the US.


Amber: Thank you for taking a little time with me today. It’s always appreciated. Let’s start where most of these do. Who are you? Where did you grow up? What would you like inquiring readers to know about Angela Slatter that isn’t necessarily about your writing?

Angela: Oh, wow. Not about writing? That’s kind of a shock since I’m a full-time writer so that’s all I think about really! I grew up in a few different places because we moved around with my Dad’s job (he was a cop for 38 years), so I’ve lived in Brisbane, Ipswich, Cairns, and Longreach—none of which means much to anyone except another Australian! I’ve worked as an administrator in several universities, as an article clerk, as a print project manager, a membership services coordinator, and freelance editor among other things. I occasionally teach creative writing and do mentoring … there you go, back to writing. I have no cat, does that mean I’m not a real writer?? I like cats, my sister has many cats (possibly even my share of them), but at the moment there’s no special cat in my life. I have a husband, though, I’m very fond of him. I love reading, writing, watching movies, walking, and not having to cook my own dinner, so very fond of eating out. I cannot knit, although I can crochet. My mother taught me never to darn socks, to just buy new ones. I love caramel fudge. I drink my coffee black. I have accepted all of my writing awards while wearing evening gowns and no shoes.

Amber: Your writing intrigues me, and as with most writers that intrigue me, I’m always curious as to what it was that made you start writing? Was it teachers, mentors, friends, family, an important event, or was it simply a passion you decided to pursue on your own?

Angela: Thank you! My mum tells the story of how, when I was in primary school they’d changed how they taught English and my spelling was atrocious—so she gave me books. And she kept giving me books, and I never stopped reading. It was also how I learned spelling and grammar. I just loved stories (especially fairy tales) and even when I was little I’d make up alternative endings in my head to books I’d read or shows I’d watched.

So, I always scribbled, but I didn’t really decide to be a writer until about twelve years ago. I was really unhappy with life and thought “I don’t want to get to forty and not have tried this! I don’t want to die and think ‘I wish I’d tried writing!'” So I threw in a highly paid job and went back to university to do a writing course. It kind of started there; I began publishing what I was writing for university in 2006 and just kept going.

Amber: I do find some of your writing to be a little on the dark side, even for someone who is known for writing such. And I’m wondering what the inspiration was for that darkness. Was it movies, books, television, another writer, or something else entirely? Where did your unique take on fiction come from?

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Angela: My mum would read me fairy tales and if you read them yourself you realize how dark the original ones are—I did my MA research on them! I remember Mum reading me “The Little Match Girl” for the very first time, and bursting into tears when she finished, because it was so awful and cruel. My first experience that life wasn’t fair—a small child died because no one would care for her, and she’d done nothing wrong! So, I’ve always been aware that there’s a lot of darkness in the first tales we’re told, which are often the tales we remember most because we hear them repeated in childhood so they get kind of embedded in the subconscious.

Apart from that, I was always fascinated by crime and horror as well. My dad was a policeman for 38 years, he was a homicide detective who spent his days finding murderers and digging up bodies, then coming home to his family. I used to read a lot of historical true crime, like Jack the Ripper books—imagine what I was like when the Yorkshire Ripper popped up in the 80s! I’m fascinated by what makes one person dehumanize another to the point where they can murder them; also what such a person gets out of that activity. Given that women and children are the victims of crime, I’m quite fascinated by the innate horror in that.

Amber: Let’s talk about your novelette Finnegan’s Field for a few moments. First, I loved this. My question is about how you came up with the story. Was it based on actual folklore, or a legend? What was the inspiration for such a dark piece about a child who has gone missing, and comes back as something else? I’m certain this story would give my mother nightmares.

Angela: It would give my mother nightmares too! It gave my sister nightmares, she couldn’t sleep for ages after she read it and she texted me to tell me I was insane plus brilliant. It came from … I’d been thinking about but not writing anything down about ideas we have about the fairies in folklore, and how they’ve been changed in pop culture, how people somehow think it’s great to be taken away by the fairies. And I’d read a Sheridan Le Fanu story called “The Child That Went With The Fairies” as the basis of a tale for a tribute anthology … I wrote a story called “Let the Words Take You” that flirted with ideas about children being taken away. I guess I hadn’t finished with it, though, because I kept thinking ‘What happens if the kid comes back and what if it’s not the kid? What happens to all the grief and joy the parents feel … What if only the mother knows something’s wrong, and what if she has to deal with the problem?’ I wanted to walk the story very close to the edge without pushing it over into something especially gruesome … although there are gruesome bits I didn’t want the story to rely on that for the horror, I wanted the human tragedy to have the greatest impact.

Amber: Also, the scene where we first see the child ‘transform’ is very visceral, but you somehow manage to convey it in a very lean way on the page. Most authors tend to use a lot more words to accomplish the same. What’s your secret?

Angela: I’d say that’s my short story training! I’m always really aware that I need to be economical with my words so I must choose the best description possible for maximum impact. Also, I love a good vocabulary; it pays to spend time with your thesaurus and learn how to use it judiciously to enrich and texture your writing. As I said above about not having the gruesome stuff overwhelm the human tragedy, that’s very much down to being careful and mindful with your words, knowing what they mean and weighing which word or phrase you go with. For example, do you go with ‘sad’ or ‘dolorous’, ‘creepy’ or ‘macabre’, ‘happy’ or ‘ecstatic’. Whatever you choose will feed into tone and the reading experience, so it’s not just about getting the words on the page, hitting your word count, or telling the story—it’s about how you relate the story, the weight and meaning of your words.

Amber: I want to poke at Of Sorrow and Such for a moment. Not only did I think it was made of this beautiful dark magic substance that you seem to produce, but it continued a previous tale, and gave us some more info from characters and story lines that we’d read before. This isn’t something I see very often in short fiction, but I love it. I suppose this is a two part question. What made you want to go back and explore more from some of the shorts you wrote in Sourdough and Other Stories? And what was it about Patience that made you want to give us more of her?

Angela: With Sourdough and Other Stories (and also The Bitterwood Bible) I created this mosaic of short stories that intersected at some points, and some characters reappeared throughout the books. With Patience, she first appeared as the sixteen-year-old viewpoint character in “Gallowberries”, and then again as a secondary character as an old woman in “Sister, Sister”, and I always wondered what had happened in the middle! But Sourdough wasn’t the place to write that story. When I was finishing of The Bitterwood Bible collection, I’d started thinking about Patience again, what she was like in her middle years, and about other characters who appeared in Sourdough, like Selke and Balthazar Cotton; I was thinking about how the sins of our past can appear at any moment, how we often try to do good acts as penance but if we try to hide the original thing we’re feeling guilty about it will often raise its ugly head. Bitterwood wasn’t the place to revisit Patience as it’s a prequel, but Lee Harris at Tor.com invited me to submit to their new novella line … and there was Patience. And all these other ideas that I’d carried around for thirty or forty years, gleaned from reading folk tales, and all these other threads from Sourdough that were just waiting to be woven in.

As for why Patience … I just find her really interesting, she’s practical and ruthless, kind and generous, but she knows where the line is and heaven help you if you cross it or her. She’s very clear-sighted and I love watching how she jumps, the choices she makes. I love having been able to visit her in the three phases of her life, maiden, mother, and crone. She can always surprise me … I never want to write her death scene, I must tell you, I just prefer the idea of her as a kind of Old Woman of the Woods, outsmarting everyone who tries to injure her.

Amber: Everything I’ve read of yours is all short story or novella format. Is there a particular love that you have for the short form? Plus, is there any chance we’ll ever see anything novel length from you?

Angela: I started out with short stories and that’s how I honed my writing craft. I really love the skill that goes into a short story, how it’s just this really intense slice of a bigger picture that you hint at but don’t show. But my work’s been getting longer and longer over the years, which is a good thing as I scored a three-book deal with Jo Fletcher Books last year! My debut novel, Vigil, will be out in July this year, so at the moment I’m going through the final rounds of proofing, getting cover quotes, making lists of reviewers, etc. Vigil is different from the Sourdough universe stories, it’s urban fantasy set in modern day Brisbane. I’m working on finishing the sequel Corpselight right now, and when I turn that in I’ll have to start the third and final book in the trilogy, Restoration.

Amber: You’ve released several collections. At this point, which one would you recommend a new Angela Slatter reader start with?

Angela: Gosh, I think probably Sourdough and Other Stories (Tartarus Press) if you’re going to dive into the world I’ve created. Other works in that world are the novella Of Sorrow and Such (from the Tor.com novella series), and The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings (Tartarus Press) … and I’ve got a third collection called The Tallow-Wife and Other Tales, which finishes off that Sourdough cycle (for the moment), but I’m still editing that one. If you’re looking for a more of a sampler collection, then try The Girl with No Hands and Other Tales from Ticonderoga Publications.

Amber: You’ve been writing fairly steadily for years now, and you’ve got a fan for life with me. But, I have to ask, what can we look forward to next? And will we see more returning characters in the future?

Angela: Thank you! As I said above, there will be the Verity Fassbinder series coming out this year, starting with Vigil. I’ve got a mostly reprint collection coming from Prime Books in the US in October this year, A Feast of Sorrows: Stories, which has two brand new novellas in it (including “The Tallow-Wife” novella from the Sourdough world). I’ve also got a novella called The Briar Book of the Dead, which needs editing, and several commissioned short stories for various editors that I need to write. There are several other tales I’d like to pursue in the Sourdough world, ones that follow up several mysteries from The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings, but they all have to stand in line until I get these novels out of the way. As for what comes next … it will depend entirely on how well the trilogy does and whether I get another novel contract!

Amber: I want to thank you again for your time today. But, before we go I’d like to ask if you have any advice for the future writers of the world?

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Angela:

  • Keep writing.
  • Learn your craft and never, ever think you know it all.
  • Develop a thick skin, but realize that story criticism is aimed at making the story better, not at making you feel bad about yourself. Find people whose opinions you respect and trust.
  • Remember: it’s always better to have someone find problems with a story before you send it out into the world.
  • Networking is about building mutually beneficial relationships with other writers and publishers, not just about you getting what you can.

Find below a selection of publications by Angela Slatter:

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Amber Neko Meador

About Amber Neko Meador

Amber Neko Meador is an indie author, filmmaker, digital artist, and podcast host. Amber grew up in the fundamentally conservative Southeast. She's a devotee of George Lucas, the Wachowskis, Masamune Shirow, Robert Heinlein, cyberpunk, and science fiction.