I am delighted to have a very special guest on the blog today. I’ve been a huge fan of Angela Readman and everything she writes, ever since I first discovered her stories when she won the Costa Short Story Award in 2013. Her fiction and poetry resonate with me because her imagination is fuelled by all the weird and wonderful myths and legends of the world.
My review of her new collection The Girls are Pretty Crocodiles & other fairy stories (published by Valley Press) can be found at the end of the interview below.
About Angela Readman:
NFFD competition and the New Flash Fiction Review Competition. She also writes poetry, her collection The Book of Tides was published by Nine Arches. Something Like Breathing, Readman’s first novel, was published by And Other Stories. You can follow Angela on Twitter @angelreadman.
About The Girls are Pretty Crocodiles and other fairy stories:
Fearless, fierce, vivid and strange stories that crackle off the page – from the multi-award winning master of magical realism. Bold, beautiful and spiky, Angela Readman’s stories are both magical and real. Following her acclaimed debut Don’t Try This at Home, she approaches the fairy tale with a scalpel. The Girls are Pretty Crocodiles reads like a love
letter to girlhood and a ransom note to all the fairy tales we have been told. In her prize winning work The Story Never Told, an illiterate woman sells fairy tales for a book she knows will never have her name on the cover. In What’s Inside a Girl, a class takes lessons on dating invisible girls. Dark, funny and surreal, these stories explore, challenge and ultimately transform the traditional fairy tale narrative. Women learn to be origami, climb into swan skins, feed wolves, flip burgers and snog kelpies. In dazzling prose that remains matter-of-fact, these tales take to task the happy endings we have been sold. Otherworldly, yet down to earth, The Girls are Pretty Crocodiles discovers the hidden voice in the stories we know and reveals the magic within working-class lives. These stories have teeth.
Questions for Angela …
Q. I love everything you write from flash/short fiction, novels and poetry. Your prose is often poetic and lyrical, so I wonder how your process works ... what initially triggers a piece of writing for you?
And do you know the form of the work right at the start, or can a piece evolve or transform (i.e. from story to poem or vice versa)?
You are too kind, it means a lot to hear that. Thank you so much for having me here. Every story is different, approaches vary. Usually, I start with a voice. It might be an observation or an image someone is focused on and their relationship to it. I'll write a bit down and see where it goes. I usually know if it's a story or a poem, though not always. Some characters won't be contained in a poem. They kick off the line breaks and want to smash things.
My story Fish Tail was like this. It started with an image in my head of someone laying a suit on the beach. It rattled around sounding like it a poem until I wrote anything. It kept going. Sometimes an image can unlock a whole story. I suppose that's why it might come across as poetic. Occasionally, a piece transforms when I don't expect it. There's one story in the collection, Twelve Steps for Godmothers, I assumed would be a prose poem until a story started to unfold. Oddly, starting out thinking it would be a poem created a voice that surprised me. There's a contrast of the poetic and business speak. It seemed strangely right somehow, fairy tale Godmother's bug me a bit. I wouldn't go for a pint with one. They seem sugary but I always thought they seem a bit bossy. It's surprising how often things that bug you are stories waiting to be written.
Q. Once you've an idea for a short story how long does it take from that first idea to a final version? When is a story finished for you, are you working alone or do you seek feedback/input from others?
I've written stories that take a few days, others months. It's not that I'm working on them constantly, but I'll start something and set it aside until the writing rush fades and I can look at what it's really about. I like to feel less involved to look a story it again. The fastest write in the collection was a flash about Rumpelstiltskin, it took about 2 hours. Longer stories like Magpies and The Hobthrush, take about 3 weeks for a full first draft. Editing's another story, I can tinker forever.
It's difficult to know when leave work alone, as writers sometimes we have to accept we may always wish it was better. I think a story is finished when it seems like an independent creature. A story is a whole little world with its own concerns. When I find I can't touch it without introducing aspects that seem to belong to a different world, the story is finished and I know I've started a different story. It's rare I get feedback on my work. I'm shy, live in the sticks and don't know of any local story groups. It's something I crave since lockdown, I think, fiction friends. I'd love to be in a supportive story group in the future. I never know if anyone's going to like my stories until a book comes out, it's a bit scary.
Q. Magic realism, fairy tales and myths continually appear in your writing, what are your sources for fairy tales and myths, do you have any beloved/treasured collections?
I have a Brother's Grimm worn as some bibles. The cover's fallen off. I still have the copy of Alice in Wonderland I read when I was seven too, I feel guilty whenever I pick it up because I folded the corners. It's disgraceful. Many of my favourite poetry books draw on myths: Ted Hughes, Max Porter. Robin Robertson's Grimoire and Vicky Fever's The Book of Blood are classics I keep going back to. There's also a TV show called Clash of the God's I love. It's about Greek myths, the graphics are like a video game. The voiceover is so OTP it's like a 50 minute movie trailer. It's awesome.
Q. If you could live out a fairy tale or myth/legend is there any character (human or animal) you'd choose for yourself and why?
And is there a villain or monster from a tale that you secretly admire?
Oow, I love this question! I don't see myself as a heroine. I'm drawn to the outsider. I always wonder about the villains, what happened to make them that way. They're full of stories untold. I'd like to be an animal if I lived in a story. The wolf in Red Riding Hood is interesting. He's a wolf, he has fangs but chooses unusual methods to catch the girl. I imagine he just wanted to see what it felt like to be a person, just for a day. If he'd gotten away, I think he'd spend the rest of his life stealing clothes off washing lines. There's a fantastic sculpture by Kiki Smith of sirens that stuck with me, the sirens are tiny birds/women. Flying would be cool. There's a myth in Mexico and Texas, La Lechuza, about old women who turn into barn owls to right wrongs that have been done in their life. I'm not sure how they'd achieve that as a barn owl, but it would be fun to find out.
Q. Animals (both real and imagined) feature throughout all of your writing, where does this fascination with nature come from in your life? How do you keep yourself close to nature?
It's funny, for most of my life I've lived in a city. I think that's where the fixation with nature stems from, a longing. I lived on a busy road for 17 years and starlings would land on the school field at the back. I'd sit on my doorstep and just listen to them a few metres away. I couldn't get close. The field was locked, all that lovely grass I couldn't sit on. I started paying attention to little things like a bird on the wall, spotting a hedgehog in the lane. I didn't know anything about nature, but was drawn in. 4 years ago, I finally moved out of the city and got a garden for the first time. I like to sit in it for 15 fifteen minutes on my own every morning, just looking. If it's raining, I open the back door and listen.
Q. If you suddenly found yourself with a bonus day-off how would you spend it?
Hmm, a realistic day off, or an anything goes day? I think for an anything goes day I'd like to drive a motorbike. I can't drive, so it's unlikely to happen! In lockdown I started wishing I could, I suppose it's that longing for freedom at a time everything was limited. Realistically, for my day off I'd go to the coast for a walk on the beach. I'd go to Boulmer or Alnmouth, maybe get take-out macaroni cheese to eat looking at the sea. One thing I've always wanted to do is see puffins. There's a boat trip you can take to spot them when they return every year, for years I've been thinking it sounds awesome though I've never been. I'd love to go, I'd like to see what puffins look like when they fly.
Q. Most importantly, where can readers buy The Girls are Pretty Crocodiles?
It's at Valley press, I hope people will give it a try.
My review of The Girls are Pretty Crocodiles:
If you’ve ever wondered how the Grandmother from Little Red Riding Hood felt after being cut out of the wolf then this is the collection for you. Angela Readman writes of people and places that feel recognisable, normal even, but there’s something off-kilter with her viewpoint - the story’s axis is often tilted towards the magical spectrum. This collection of stories peers into the lives of familiar fairy tale characters, but there are also brand new creations too, Readman’s own myths and legends born from her incredible boundless imagination.
Between some of the longer stories are shorter pieces (flash fictions) of only a couple of pages, infused with Readman’s poetic but razor-sharp prose they fizz and sparkle like palate cleansing fireworks. These small interludes often showcase her more boundary-pushing writing, where images and ideas make you marvel at how she sees the world.
In this collection you will find wit and dark humour, but also moments of poignancy and heartache. I cried over ‘Magpies’, which captures the emotional torture of living with teenagers. I cheered on the kick-ass Fairy Godmother and all the other females battling to get their stories heard. And ‘The night we killed the witch’ felt scarily authentic right now, hinting at the grim truth behind the creation of fairy tales. I will return to this collection, again and again, one reason being Readman’s descriptions. Her writing is both beautiful and mind-bending, her use of language is breath-taking and her sentences drip like jewelled fruits, lush and colourful but always leaving you hungry for more, and thankfully each new story brings more …
A magical, readable and unforgettable collection!