There hasn't been an interview on the blog for a while and I'm extra excited to bring you this one! I got a chance to talk to Margret Helgadottir, author of The Stars Seem so Far Away and editor of the Monsters series from Fox Spirit Books. Here's what she had to say.
1) I’m a big fan of the Monsters series that you’ve edited – can you tell us what inspired these books?
Thank you! Actually it all started with a twitter chat about monsters a few years back between Jo Thomas, me and a few others. We strongly felt that the monsters of this world are watered down and overused in the popular media. We demanded that something had to be done, that the monsters needed a renaissance, and pitched European Monsters to Fox Spirit Books and Adele Wearing. Happily she liked the idea.
We knew all sorts of monsters swarmed and lurked around the world but we were frustrated about how only a few of them – and most from Western popular culture - seemed to dominate the public scene. So we convinced Adele it couldn’t stop with Europe, we had to show monsters from around the whole world. So, the monsters books started as one book but has now ended up as a seven volumes series. Huge thanks to Adele for liking the idea and being willing to publish the books.
It was logical to let the authors who know the monsters best tell us about them. So from the second volume, African Monsters, I have searched for authors and artists with a strong connection to the regions we cover. We also felt – since it was a come back for the monsters – they should be in the middle of humans’ life, be visible. So we chose to present the monsters in coffee table books together with lush art.
2) Do you have a favourite of the three you’ve done so far?
That would have to be African Monsters but mostly because I feel very close to this continent, (I was born and lived there parts of my childhood and youth). However, I can’t choose one monster volume over the others because I feel they are all extraordinary, full of wonderful dark tales. I have been very lucky as editor.
3) How did it feel to be nominated for two British Fantasy Awards in the same year?
Wonderful! I was shortlisted in 2016 as author for my debut book The Stars Seem So Far Away (Best Collection) and as editor for African Monsters (Best Anthology), together with Jo Thomas who I co-edited this volume with. I am stunned that my debut book was shortlisted at all. I’m not a native English speaker and there are thousands of books published in English around the world every year. To be amongst the last six nominees for such an award is a huge honour.
I am very happy that African Monsters also was shortlisted, since one of the goals with the monster books is to get some attention to all the talented writers and illustrators from around the world who many haven’t heard about. Award nominations, reviews, attention and fuss really help spreading the word about these authors and their stories. We had great news just a couple of days ago, when one of the stories in African Monsters – “Bush Baby” by Chikodili Emelumadu - was shortlisted to the Caine Prize for African Writing 2017.
4) What made you chose to publish with a small press?
Actually, I didn’t choose a small press the first time on purpose. It was a writing competition about five years ago (I was one of three winners, and one of the prizes was an invitation to an anthology). However, I feel very lucky to have been working closely with several small presses since then. You can’t expect the huge pay check, or expect that your books can be found in book stores or libraries, and you must be willing to help marketing your book. But small presses are just as professional as larger publishers, and you’ll learn lots about the publishing business. Of those small presses I know, most are hard-working creative souls. I have only good experiences.
I am particularly grateful that I have been able to work together with Fox Spirit Books and Adele Wearing for almost five years. In my view, Fox Spirit Books is amongst those independent presses who influence and develop genre fiction today. Fox Spirit Books have been awarded as best independent press and also has books awarded or shortlisted every year.
5) What appeals to you about short fiction?
Short stories are both a possibility to read fiction in between in a busy time schedule but also an opportunity to read stories by new (to me) writers. As a writer I find it both something I have enough time to do next to a day job, but also a writing challenge – you are writing a story with full plot and character building with limited amount of words.
6) What does your typical writing/editing day look like?
I like to have whole days dedicated to both editing and writing, and since I have a demanding day job, that means weekends. I also need to start first thing in the morning, before the world manages to fill my head with social media stuff or I start to notice the lovely weather outside. As editor I can read drafts and do administration and marketing on the evenings, preferably on the couch with the tablet. But when I start on the editing, I need to have several whole days dedicated to it. The time schedule for my books so far has been nice that way, since I can use parts of my summer holiday on editing.
7) Which part of the writing process is your favourite?
Definitely the plotting. I love to create and build a new plot and research the details. My note book is full of plot ideas and my tablet full of articles for research.
8) What are the most important three things you’ve learned about writing, editing and/or publishing?
First, to accept that people are people, good and bad, but no one is better than the other. Being friendly and professional as both editor and writer gets you a long way. Secondly, to be patient. A book production takes time. Some stories need time too, they need to grow slowly before you finish them. And last, polish your language – it will make your work shine in the slush pile. Get people to help you, maybe even hire a copy editor if necessary, it will be worth it.
9) Do you have a favourite quote about writing?
One I read recently has stuck with me. It’s by Franz Kafka: “A non-writing writer is a monster courting insanity." This resonates with me nowadays when I don’t have much time to write.
10) What are you working on just now?
I am working on monster volume four, Pacific Monsters, coming in November. I have already four stories, all great.
11) Do you have any other projects planned for this year?
As a writer I have a few short stories I need to finish before the summer when I plan to work on something larger.
12) What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
I can’t remember who said it. It is something I also say to writers who are struggling: Just write the first draft, don’t over think, and let the words flow. If you can’t find the words or phrase, mark the place and continue, empty yourself. When the first draft is finished, celebrate. Then the hard work starts: cutting and rewriting.
13) Where can we connect with you?
I am @MaHelgad on Twitter and my Facebook page is here: https://www.facebook.com/MargretHelgadottirwriter/ I also have a blog: https://margrethelgadottir.wordpress.com/
Thank you so much for having me, Shona. Can I also tell about the monster writing competition I am running for Fox Spirit Books now? Deadline is July 1st, see the guidelines here: http://www.foxspirit.co.uk/monster-writing-competition/
Thank you for taking the time to be interviewed!
I don't know about all of you, but I'm going to get working on a story for the Monster Competition! Let me know in the comments if you're going to write a piece too.