Award winning author A.G. Slatter was kind enough to take some time to chat with Grimdark Magazine. She is the author of several supernatural crime novels as well as multiple short story collections, The Girl with No Hands and Other Tales, Sourdough and Other Stories, The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings among them. The upcoming gothic novel, All the Murmuring Bones takes place in the world of Sourdough and Bitterwood.
[GdM] Can you please talk a little bit about yourself and your writing?
[AGS] I’m a writer! 😊 I’ve been writing as a freelance career since 2011, but publishing stories since 2006. It’s the thing I love most in the world and I’m so grateful that I get to do it as a living. I write urban fantasy/supernatural crime, fairy and folk tales, gothic fantasy, “proper” horror, and anything in between. I also teaching for the Australian Writers’ Centre, mentor a few writers and until recently ran The Flensing Factory doing developmental editing for private clients. I’ve won some awards, and I’m working on a few secret projects at the moment.
[GdM] What drew me into All the Murmuring Bones was the dark fairy tale feel that harkened back to older stories. What led you to write a gothic sort of fairy tale?
[AGS] I’d actually written it initially as an historical novel, which showed me that I was very bad at historical novels and not interested in writing them – but I knew there was a core there that worked, and once I started thinking about it as a Sourdough world story, it came together. I’ve always loved the gothic tale, and it felt like the natural progression from the Sourdough and Bitterwood fairy tale mosaics. I loved Jane Eyre and Villette and Wuthering Heights, Angela Carter’s and Daphne au Maurier’s writings, obviously Dracula and Frankenstein. I liked the idea of a protagonist running from one large creepy house to another, and I wanted to do something that used the original fairy tales I’d written previously as the background stories for this character – that all those tales were the stories she was told growing up. I’m interested in folk tales and rumours, the ways stories move and evolve, so this is sort of a way to interact with that process.
[GdM] The creatures in the book seemed to be a combination of the original legends, and an extreme amount of creativity on your part. How did you go about making creatures we have all heard of so unique and different?
[AGS] I didn’t want the mer to be “The Little Mermaid” – my most hated fairy tale! – I wanted them to be strange and terrifying. I think it probably started from that idea of sirens and mermaids singing sailors to shipwreck, then rusalkas singing people to their deaths too. I thought that in the core idea of the song being used as a lure, that was the real nature of the mer – something really dangerous. The kelpie also, I loved the idea of a creature that was basically terrifying being helpful because it needed someone to help it – fairy tales are all about bargains after all.
[GdM] If I remember correctly, rusalky and kelpies, two different creatures that are spoken of in your book, originate in different parts of the world. How much of a deep dive did you do to choose the basis for your fairy tale additions?
[AGS] The Sourdough world is, in general, just the mashed-up fairytale world in my head, based on everything I’ve ever read. Rusalkas are Slavic, but they’ve got counterparts like Melusine in France, nixies in Germany, morgans in Welsh and Breton mythology … so my rusalky are along those lines, maidens who’ve drowned (or been drowned). The kelpies are Scottish but there are different versions around the place; like the Welsh Ceffyl Dŵr, and the tangie in Orkney. It’s basically a mix of British and European folklore and mythical beasties because my ancestry is that sort of mix and those were the tales I was read as a kid. What I do at this point – because I’ve been reading this stuff all my life, so the deep dive has already been done – is light reading, reminder reading, just to figure out what’s the canon and then decide if I’m going to keep it or depart from it.
[GdM] With the story taking place in the same setting as some of your other works, such as Sourdough, did that affect your world-building at all?
[AGS] Made it easier? 😊 Well, a bit difficult because I have to keep in my head all the things I’ve written before, the mythology I’ve created for my own world. After three mosaic collections, two novellas, a few standalone stories, it’s getting a bit challenging. I have to go back and re-read what I’d done. “Oh, wait. What did I say about how ghosts work in this world?” I’m working on The Path of Thorns, the next novel set in this world (not a sequel to AtMB) and having to check back on the ghost lore. Hopefully not painting myself into a corner.
[GdM] Were there any crossovers with characters, settings, or creatures between books? How did that play into the storyline?
[AGS] I have mostly mentions of places and because AtMB has the element of fairy tales within a big fairy tale, I created some more compact versions of some of my old stories, like “The Little Mermaid, in Passing” and “A Good Husband”. I also had read Mike Mignola’s Hellboy version of the Brothers Grimms’ “Three Wishes” about mermaid sisters, and asked if he was okay with me doing a version of that – he was, so I did.
The main crossover character, I guess, was Bethany Lawrence, the Robber Queen of Breakwater. She features in the mosaic collection The Tallow-Wife and Other Tales (from Tartarus Press) – the stuff we see of her in AtMB is sort of mid-way in the Tallow-Wife timeline. I’m fascinated by how stories shift and change over time – how different people tell different versions, so I sort of try to do that in these books, recreate a version of that shifting.
[GdM] I loved Miren’s personality. She crossed lines in a bid for survival on her terms, without seeming to feel regret or guilt. On the other hand, she was also capable of forgiveness and great compassion. How were you able to combine such disparate personality traits?
[AGS] I think women spend so much time feeling vaguely guilty about everything that I just wanted a character who said “Fuck it”. Who wasn’t going to be polite because every said girls should be polite. You know that meme? “Do no harm, but take no shit”? That’s Miren’s motto. If she were the sort to embroider, she’d put it on a cushion – but I think she’s more likely to have it tattooed somewhere. Basically, we don’t have to be a dichotomy, constantly split between good or bad, independence or need. You don’t need to be a doormat for the world in order to be forgiving or compassionate. You can maintain your boundaries, still feel those things, and get on with your life.
[GdM] What would you say are some of the main themes explored throughout the book?
[AGS] The themes I pretty much always work with in my stories are home and family. The family you’re born into, the family you make for yourself, and the idea of home – where do you find it? You’ll have more than one home in your life, I think, so I’m always interested in where my characters wash up. I read a Clive James quote once (which I’m going to paraphrase badly), which was basically those who’ve left home always recognise it wherever and whenever they find it again. That’s always stuck with me. I’m also (obviously) interested in themes around the place of women in society.
[GdM] What were your favorite parts to write?
[AGS] Ah, I loved coming up with the mini fairy tales … but also the killing scenes. ‘Nuff said.
[GdM] I loved the fairy tale book that was included in All the Murmuring Bones! Was it difficult to keep the cadence and feel of the book within the book separate from your writing style for the actual story?
[AGS] I think it wasn’t too bad because some of those were fragments I’d already written and others were summaries of previously published ones. The new ones weren’t too difficult because it’s a tone I’ve written in before a lot, so it was just a matter of switching gears. Mind you, I’m working on some for the new novel and those ones are being difficult as most are new!
[GdM] Do you have favorite authors, or authors that have inspired you over the years?
[AGS] So many! But a short list: Angela Carter, Tanith Lee, Clive Barker, Kim Newman, John Connolly, Mike Mignola, Nancy Kress, Sheri S, Tepper, Barbra Hambly, Stephen King, Jane Gaskell.
[GdM] What can we expect to see from you next?
[AGS] The Path of Thorns – a novel from Titan Books, set in the Sourdough world, a sort of Jane Eyre meets Frankenstein.
The Bone Lantern, a novella from Absinthe (PS Publishing) – set in the Sourdough world and it has some links to both AtMB and The Tallow-Wife.
The Wrong Girl and Other Warnings – a new short story collection (12 reprints and one new one) from Brain Jar Press.
And I think about 5 short stories in various places!