Interview with Lorraine Wilson

Interview by Geoff King

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Lorraine Wilson’s debut speculative novel, This Is Our Undoing (Luna Press Publishing), has been longlisted for the British Science Fiction Awards 2021 and is shortlisted for the SCKA 2022. Her second novel, The Way the Light Bends (Luna Press Publishing), a dark fantasy novel set in Scotland, will be out August 2, 2022. Lorraine is represented by Robby Guilgliori.

Geoff: Your educational background is in behavioural ecology, how and when did you start writing, and what made you decide to pursue it as a career?

Lorraine: I started writing when I had to stop working due to disabling illness. When I realised (or was told quite sternly by my neurologist) that I was going to have to leave academic science, I knew I needed something to do. Something to provide a focus, a mental challenge; a distraction, bluntly, from the dual loss of my vocation and my health. I’ve always loved reading and imagining stories, so trying to put them on paper seemed the logical choice. It very quickly changed from a distraction to a love. I don’t remember a point where I said ‘I want this as a career’, but I guess it’s more about always looking to push my abilities further, to challenge myself a little more.

Geoff: Were you inspired or influenced by other writers? If so, who? What was it about them?

Lorraine: Inspired by a lot of the names you might imagine – Ursula K. le Guin, Margaret Atwood, NK Jemisin, Salman Rushdie, Kazuo Ishiguro…

Influenced by people closer to home, because that word, to me, feels more about the people who believed in you when you were doubting, the people whose own determination and bravery made you more determined, and braver. So for that – my writerly friends, and all the authors out there fighting to create stories that have too long been pushed to the margins.

Geoff: What do you like to read, what are you reading now, and who are your favourite authors?

Lorraine: I’m very eclectic in my tastes, tending to avoid particular tropes rather than genres (excessive gore, endless battle scenes, gender-based violence, missing children, drunk detectives etc). I have just this morning bought Pandora by Susan Stokes-Chapman, so cannot wait to get into that, but am currently loving The Ivory Key by Akshaya Raman. I’m also listening to On Wilder Seas by Nikki Marmery, which is just gorgeous.

I refuse to pick favourite authors, so I’ll just say that some of the authors whose books I most anxiously look forward to are Natasha Pulley, NK Jemisin, Intisar Khanani, Bridget Collins, Erin Morgenstern and Nghi Vo.

Geoff: How does writing make you feel, and does your mood affect how or what you write?

Lorraine: I don’t really know how to answer the first bit of that. It’s a little like asking how it feels to breathe! As for the relationship between mood and writing, I think sometimes when you are writing particularly emotionally dark things that can bleed into your own mental landscape. Likewise, if you yourself are feeling low or fragile it can be hard to get into a more upbeat, bright ‘voice’. In general though, I think our stories are countries inside our minds that we can retreat into. The nature of those countries isn’t shaped by our own moods, but perhaps our ability to navigate them is.

Geoff: What attracts you to writing speculative fiction?

Lorraine: The potential, I think. I am not confined by reality, only by possibility. Fantastical fiction is the birthplace of human stories, so we have an innate understanding of the resonance between the imagination and our own hearts. I think that speculative fiction’s power is because it can make manifest all our many intangibles – our fears and dreams, hurts and hopes and angers.

This Is Our Undoing by Lorraine Wilson. Cover art by Daniele Serra.
This Is Our Undoing by Lorraine Wilson. Cover art by Daniele Serra.

Geoff: Your debut novel, This Is Our Undoing (TIOU), could be described as dystopian. How closely does it match your vision of the future?

Lorraine: When I’m in a pessimistic mood, quite closely! I strongly believe we have the common sense, compassion, and knowledge to build a future that is the polar opposite of the one in Undoing; but I fear we are also too comfortable, too wilfully misled and too accepting to make the changes we need in time.

Geoff: Is there anything in particular that prompted you to write TIOU?

Lorraine: Feeling pessimistic? No, seriously, I was feeling an incredible anger at my own powerlessness in the face of global politics, and I wanted to write that anger down, and write a way towards hopefulness, I guess. Towards reminding myself that whilst I may be powerless at the large scale, my choices still matter.

Also, I’d been staying in a remote house in the Rila Mountains, and thought it made the perfect setting for a murder mystery. That was actually what I set out to write, but then everything else crept in there as well, and … ta da.

Geoff: The protagonist, Lina’s, character is complex, layered and totally believable, brought to life by her inner thoughts. What role does Lina’s introspection and emotional journey play in TIOU?

Lorraine: The story is a character-driven one – it’s the internal psychological ‘journey’ of each character that is driving the plot. So I’d say Lina’s inner landscape, inner conflicts are the core of the book. I was about to say ‘the heart’ but I see Kai as encapsulating that, to be honest – he is both fierce and fragile, caught between the need for safety and the desire to become monstrous to save what he loves. I am drawn towards quite esoteric themes around belonging and identity, so that perforce makes me write quite introspective books I think.

Geoff: How much of the story was in your head before you started writing?

Lorraine: I’m a planner, so quite a lot. I never finalise the action climax at the end of the book until I’m about halfway through, but the psychological climax and all the way-points leading up to that are more or less mapped out early on. I do adjust my plans throughout, as I find different layers to my themes emerging, but the bones of it are quite clear in my head from the start.

Geoff: What did you gain by visiting the forests which featured as the location in the book?

Lorraine: It saved me a lot of research! I think books & the internet are wonderful for learning about places you’ve not been to, but there’s nothing quite like being in that place to know its sensory depths, and the emotional resonance it has. I also shamelessly exploited my own experiences of doing ecological fieldwork in that ecosystem to inform the work Lina and Thiago do in the book. There were very specific reasons for having the story set in such a wilderness (the contrast with the dystopian wider world, the dichotomy of beauty and threat etc), but my familiarity with that setting definitely made my life easier!

Geoff: TIOU has been longlisted for a British Science Fiction Association Award and shortlisted for The Subjective Chaos Kind of Awards. What was it about the book do you think helped achieve this?

Lorraine: Crikey, I don’t know! That I am lucky enough to have found readers who believe in the book enough to have put it forward for those awards. Being with a small press means your capacity for reaching readers is much less than with the big publishers, which makes this even more wonderful. Luna Press is doing amazing work, so it’s fantastic to see it getting this kind of recognition.

Artwork by Jay Johnstone

Geoff: You have another novel due out in August of this year. What can you tell us about it?

Lorraine: I do! The Way the Light Bends is out with Luna Press on the 2nd of August and I’m so looking forward to seeing this book out in the world. It’s a very different book to Undoing, being a dark folkloric mystery set in present-day Scotland rather than a dystopian thriller set in Bulgaria! But it shares themes of belonging, impossible choices, and the ties between the wild and the mythological. It follows two sisters whose relationship fractures after the death of their brother. When one sister (the twin of the brother) vanishes a year after his death, the other searches for her and discovers all sorts of shadowy and fantastical dangers…

It’s a story about the different shapes of grief, about how family can both hurt and heal us, and how sometimes our only hope lies in the shadows.

Geoff: What will follow that?

Lorraine: I’ve another book coming out with Fairlight Press in 2023, but I can’t tell you anything about that yet! Other than that, I’m currently working on a novella set in Iceland and full of vengeance and the sea; and a novel that is all about trust and belonging, hedge-witchery, deadly forests and digital ghosts.

Geoff: How did you get involved with Luna Press Publishing?

Lorraine: I submitted to them during one of their open days. It’s that simple – slush piles do work! I was drawn to them as their list is so diverse, both culturally and in story-form, and I felt like they would be a good home for a book as genre-blending as Undoing. And I was right! I couldn’t imagine a better publisher to venture into publishing with, and am so delighted to be able to carry on working with them for The Way the Light Bends.

Geoff: Does your short fiction differ in themes and tone from your novels?

Lorraine: Not really, I don’t think. There is always the natural world, in varying forms, and usually something speculative. Even when the story and the tone are quite different, I think there’s always an element of my own particular voice. That said, I love the freedom short forms give you to push the boundaries of story structure more, to play with voices that might not work for a longer work.

Geoff: You also write non-fiction. Please tell us about that.

Lorraine: I do – not much compared to the amount of fiction I write, but I have written about some of my experiences working in wildernesses around the world. It’s fun to write those events down, and fun too to play with the storyteller’s voice for truth rather than make-believe! I think it can be incredibly cathartic to write about certain experiences too, and there’s a power in sharing the things that we as a society struggle to talk about. But I think that’s something to approach with care – sharing that sort of thing makes us vulnerable, so we should always be sure of how and why we want to do it before throwing our hurts out into the world.

Geoff: How important is it for you to feature nature in your work?

Lorraine: Not so much important as a default state, I think! I can’t see how I could write something and have nature be absent. That’s partly simply because as an ecologist/nature lover, I am always aware of it so that awareness is present when I’m developing my story settings. But it’s also because I think the natural world is an incredibly powerful setting to have – it has infinite shapes and layers, moods, beauty, dangers etc. It is capable of evoking incredibly strong emotional (and physical!) reactions in your characters either directly or through folklore or superstition. That means you can draw on your setting to do an awful lot within your story, and I love that.

Geoff: Tell us about contracting bubonic plague…

Lorraine: Lol. Let’s just say if you are living in the rural tropics a) don’t let rats, however cute that species might be (and it was very cute), visit you at night to steal your mattress stuffing; and b) if you start to get buboes, take antibiotics sooner rather than later.

Bio:

Lorraine WilsonLorraine lives by the sea in Scotland, writing speculative fiction set in the wilderness and heavily influenced by folklore. She is fascinated by the way both mythology and our relationship with the natural world act as mirrors of ourselves and lenses for how we view others, and with a heritage best described as a product of the British Empire, she is drawn to themes of family, trauma, and belonging. After gaining a PhD in behavioural ecology from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland she spent several years as a conservation researcher in odd corners of the world before turning to writing. She has been stalked by wolves, caught the bubonic plague, and once had a tree frog called ‘Algernon’ who lived in her sink.

She has published short fiction and non-fiction in, amongst others, Strange Horizons, Forge Lit, The Mechanics’ Institute Review and Boudicca Press. Her debut novel, This Is Our Undoing was released in 2021 and was longlisted for the BSFA Best Novel Award. A second novel, The Way the Light Bends is coming out in August 2022.

Geoff King has self-published two novels and is currently studying for an honours degree in Creative Writing at the University of the Highlands and Islands https://geoffkingwriter.co.uk/