Priya Sharma’s fiction has appeared venues such as Interzone, Black Static, Nightmare, The Dark and Tor. She’s been anthologised in several of Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year series, Paula Guran’s Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror series, Jonathan Strahan’s The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy 2014, Steve Haynes’ Best British Fantasy 2014 and Johnny Main’s Best British Horror 2015. She’s also been on many Locus’ Recommended Reading Lists. “Fabulous Beasts” was a Shirley Jackson Award finalist and won a British Fantasy Award for Short Fiction. She is a Grand Judge for the Aeon Award, an annual writing competition run by Albedo One, Ireland’s magazine of the Fantastic.
She is a Shirley Jackson winner, British Fantasy Award nominee and and Locus Award finalist for “All the Fabulous Beasts”, a collection of her some of her work, which is available from Undertow Publications.
Interview with Priya Sharma
Congratulations on All the Fabulous Beasts winning the 2018 Shirley Jackson Award in Single-Author collection category.
A Locus Award finalist, it made the short list for British Fantasy Awards 2019 for Best Collection, and the short story A Son of the Sea had made it to the shortlist for Best Short Fiction.
Tell me more about the seed and inspiration behind that story and the collection as a whole?
The engines for the collection are familial dynamics, the natural world and transformation. The book represents approximately half my short stories and I was lucky to have Mike Kelly of Undertow Publications as an editor as he curated which stories worked together as a cohesive whole. I hadn’t realised just how much I return to those themes until I saw all the stories together in one book.
The great Pat Cadigan says that one idea is a premise, two ideas make a story. “A Son of the Sea” was the marriage of two different things. I love aquariums – I visit them whenever I go. I became fixated with seahorses for a while. The idea for the story started there but it wasn’t until I found a setting which helped drive the plot that it started to work as a complete piece. I was lucky enough to visit Hong Kong a few years ago and stayed on an idea, where there was a partly abandoned fishing village. I knew right away that I wanted to write about that place. It was eerie and beautiful all at once.
You have new publication with Tor books in October with Ormeshadow.
Tell me about the thought behind this, and what can we expect from this work?
Ormeshadow is very different from my short stories. It’s a historical fantasy rather than horror or weird fiction. It’s about a boy who relocates with his parents to the rural family farm, on which there is an outcrop called the Orme. Orme is the Norse word for worme or dragon. Despite the fantasy elements it’s about rural poverty, sibling rivalry, thwarted ambition, and abuse. I like my fantasy very rooted in reality.
What do you hope to communicate with your writing in the world?
If I’m being totally honest, I write to figure out how I feel about things without being too concerned how a story will be received. A reader brings their own ideas and feelings to the work and choose what they take away. I respect that.
Writing, when, where, and with what do you do it?
I am ashamed to say that I don’t write every day. It goes it fits and starts. When I’m in the thick of something, I’ll work on it whenever I can, be ten minutes at bedtime or a few hours that I’ve been able to carve out.
I start with handwritten drafts and then type them up, editing as a go. Depending on how much work it needs, I might then handwrite the whole thing out again and then move between the two versions. It’s usually a bit of a patchwork. I think best with a fountain pen and an A4 notebook. Preferably plain, not lined.
I don’t like to limit myself as to where I write. On the sofa, in bed, in a café. I have, for the first time in my life, a shed where I can go and work. It’s quite strange to have my own space and I am still circling around it like a cat that can’t settle.
What writing advice would you give to the aspiring author?
I’m still aspiring myself! One thing I wish I’d learnt earlier is to silence my inner critic during the start of writing a story, where I’m still laying down my first ideas. You know, the voice that says This is rubbish in your ear. Not caring if it’s rubbish or not is valuable. It gives you a chance to play, to explore, the push themes to their extreme. It’s in those unguarded moments that you find the really exciting ideas. You can then sort the whole thing out in the rewrites. At least you have something to work with that way, rather than staring at a blank page.
Chloe Anthony Wofford Morrison (born Chloe Ardelia Wofford (February 18, 1931 – August 5, 2019)
On 5th August 2019, there was a great loss in the literary world. Author of ‘Beloved,’ and many other great works of fiction and nonfiction, a scholar, teacher, critic. She had impacted many people with her words and works. What did she mean to you, and how do you think she made an impact in your writing and reading, and the world in general?
Toni Morrison’s ‘Beloved’ was a revelation to me-a story rooted in real life horror, and the resulting scars that reverberate through generations, the complexities of race, power, and family, all wrapped up in a book about a haunting. “The Bluest Eye” explored abuse and ideas of beauty. “Paradise” explored racism through its inversion, generational division, and the marginalisation of women who dared to be different.
Toni Morrison is inspirational to me because she wrote about the world that she saw, she wrote brilliantly, she wrote without fear. She was brave, inventive, imaginative, and challenging.
I can’t talk about her impact on the world, just of her books on me. Like ‘The Bloody Chamber’ by Angela Carter, ‘Oranges are Not the Only Fruit’ by Jeanette Winterson, ‘The House of the Spirits’ by Isabel Allende- they showed me that great fiction doesn’t just entertain, it challenges us.
Which characters from fiction, short stories, or long fiction, do you re-read and recommend?
I’ve only ever reread two books. ‘The Bloody Chamber’ by Angela Carter and ‘The Great Gatsby’ by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Both were very different experiences the second time around and I loved them both. There are so many things I’d love to revisit, but don’t as I’m scared of missing out by not reading something new.
Characters that have stayed with me are Hilary Mantel’s version of Thomas Cromwell in ‘Wolf Hall’ and ‘Bring Up the Bodies’, Marion Halcombe from ‘The Woman in White’ by Wilkie Collins, Olympia Binewski from ‘Geek Love’ by Katherine Dunne.
Book recommendations from authors, they help with the flood of books out there.
I found out about your new work in my interview with Brian Evenson.
Which books, including your own, are your recommendations? (include why if you want)
Rather than recommend specific books, I’m going to recommend some of the smaller presses who are all doing interesting work at the moment.
If you want pocket-sized collections of horror, then check out the Black Shuck Books ‘Shadows’ range. It includes some terrific UK writers like Thana Niveau, Penny Jones, Phil Sloman, Andrew Hook, Gary McMahon, and Simon Bestwick, just to name a few.
Thank you for your time and this insight into your writing life.
Thank you for the thoughtful questions!
Ormeshadow published by Tor/Macmillian publishers.