Q+A with Gothic Author Heather Parry
I'm so pleased to have had the chance to interview Heather Parry, whose debut gothic novel Orpheus Builds a Girl was published just last month. I know Heather from her work as editor and co-founder of Extra Teeth Magazine, a fantastic Scottish literary magazine publishing strange and wonderful work. Heather is the Society of Author's Policy & Liason Manager; I'm proudly an SoA member and was pleased to read her latest article in the SoA's 'Author' magazine about the state of publishing in Scotland. Heather is a fellow Scottish gothic novelist whose debut has been getting rave reviews. Perfect for Autumn!
In three words, tell us about Orpheus Builds a Girl.
Death, obsession, reclaiming.
What is the most difficult part of your writing process?
I feel like I've got my writing process pretty much down; because of work committments I usually have to "buy" myself a solid time to bash out a first draft over a month or six weeks, then I put it in a drawer and leave it for a while. I'll come back to it with my editing head on and that's the difficult part - knowing what needs to change but not quite being able to achieve it. I'll have a few rounds of that then it will go to my incredible workshop group, who will feed back for another round of edits. Then more edits with agent, publisher, etc . The worst part for me is that self-editing, where it still feels so unfinished and I have to try and push myself to make it what I know it can be, whereas in all the other rounds someone else is helping, and even if I don't make all suggested changes I can at least see how it's landing. The writing usually isn't that bad in comparison. But then again, I tried to write something new in September and every single word was like pulling a particularly painful tooth, so maybe I'm kidding myself.
What part of the book was the most fun to write?
Wilhelm's part was the easiest to write, which I feel probably makes me seem like some sort of psychopath. The hard part was humanising him, but I always knew the role that Dresden would play in the book, and always knew just what sort of character I wanted him to be - that self delusional gothic doctor that's such a classic trope. I also love writing the little scenes like Luci at the piano, or Wilhelm as a child with the marmot; these always appear so clearly in my head and getting them down on page is a pure pleasure.
Let's talk about genre, which feels like such a squishy term. When you were writing Orpheus, did you have an idea in mind for what genre it is? Has that changed since working with a publisher? What genres inspired Orpheus?
I think Orpheus is heavily inspired by the Gothic and can definitely be defined as such. The Gothic has always been an enormous influence on what I write; I grew up reading horror (very much on the Goosebumps to Point Horror to Stephen King pipeline) and taking a Gothic Literature course at university just blew my mind. I love the sociopolitical aspects of it - how it talks about decaying powers, imbalances, social change - as well as how it discusses and is so often situated in the body. I love the body as a site of the political. I love its overwrought emotions - it's me, Cathy! - and its epistolary structures. Yet I don't really write with genre at the forefront of my mind and I think my work generally sits more specifically in the realm of the grotesque, which is a term to describe writing that explores the gaps between human/nonhuman, humour/horror, body/not the body. But this novel is firmly gothic and I think my work will always be influenced by it; I don't think I could escape it if I wanted to (again - it's me, Cathy!).
I love the body as a site of the political. I love its overwrought emotions - it's me, Cathy! - and its epistolary structures.
What music do you recommend readers listen to while reading your work? Do you have a writing playlist?
I always listen to music while writing and it's usually something not that thematic - for me I need it to be repetitive, something I know well and can listen to over and over again, so it sets my brain into a sort of trance state where I'm not thinking about anything other than the page in front of me. My brain is very chaotic so it's difficult for me to calm it down and the right sort of music really helps. The 15 minute remix of Donna Summer's I Feel Love is a classic, or anything by Giorgio Moroder. Having said that, I usually write novels or collections in autumn / winter and when I was at Hawthornden Castle for a month last October I pretty much only listened to The Doors, specifically L.A. Woman and Riders on the Storm over and over again. There's something =so atmospheric and driving about those songs, and I don't think you can get much better on a rainy Glasgow winter evening than putting on Riders on the Storm on vinyl very loud, laying down on the floor with a glass of whisky and closing your eyes. I also love that there is this simmering madness underneath these songs, and when Jim Morrison is just barking and yelping aggressively and it's so compelling but also unsettling, something that you wanted but don't really know what to do with - it sounds strange maybe, but that's what I'm trying to do with a lot of my work.
As a debut author, what surprised you about the 'business' of publishing?
I'm lucky to have worked at very small publishing companies and sort of adjacent to the industry for a while now, and a lot of my friends are writers, so I actually had a pretty good preparation for being a debut author. I did a lot of work trying to maintain a (relatively) stable mental space, and knew that I'd have ups and downs and that these would be normal. I know that high praise can be as damaging to your process as negative feedback, and that your focus has to be on the process and your own improvement, so I've just tried to keep my head down and keep working: it's so easy to drive yourself to distraction wondering if it will win an award, what reviews are saying, etc. I am lucky in that I have a workshop group and peers who will tell me if what I write isn't good enough, so when something goes out into the world having passed their critiques I know that it's the best I could do, and I just have to let it go. I guess the most surprising thing has been that the publishing industry moves at a glacial pace, from the writer's perspective (having been on the other side I know this isn't true, just that there's tons of work going on that you aren't part of).
What's next? What are you working on now?
I've got three (!) books written now, and have just been commissioned to write another, which will be something very different but on a topic I've been obsessed with for ages. I've also been trying to break ground on a new novel, which will hopefully be novel #3; I took myself off to a cottage in Wales for ten days and managed to get 20k words and have a minor breakdown - but it's going to be a tough one. There's a lot about grief, about the difficulty of living. I know what the next two novels will be after that too, and there's one I'm very excited about but am probably not yet good enough to achieve it. I am excited about improving, challenging myself, seeing how far I can push myself, seeing if readers will come with me. I hope they do.