Tag Archives: Margret Helgadottir

Monster Writing Contest

WINNER OF THE MONSTER WRITING COMPETITION
The mission with our Fox Spirit Books of Monsters book series is to give the monsters their comeback, to reestablish their dark and grim reputation, and to bring into the spotlight the monsters hiding in the far corners of the world. We published volume three of our Fox Spirit Books of Monsters: Asian Monsters last November and Margret Helgadottir is now editing volume four: Pacific Monsters, to be released this November. 

To celebrate the monsters, we have had a writing competition the last months, inviting authors to send in their best monster flash stories. We are thrilled to see that authors still know how to tell a good monster tale. We know it is quite challenging to both write a good monster story and to tell it with few words. 

Margret has now read all the flash stories and selected the winning story and the two runners ups. She says it was a really tough decision and that there were so many good stories she sadly had to put aside. 

She has picked the dark story “Momma’s Embrace” by Heather Johnson as her favourite, you can all read it here on the blog tomorrow morning. Heather will receive a copy of the three first monster volumes, plus a Fox Spirit Books Tote bag with our awesome new notebook and pen. 

As the two runner ups, Margret has picked the two stories “Waking Up Underground” by Richard Marpole and “At the Water’s Edge” by Shona Kinsella. We will publish these two stories here tuesday. Richard and Shona will both be sent a tote bag with our cool Fox Spirit note book and pen.

Congratulations to all three authors! We wish to thank all that sent in their stories for the chance to read them. 

The stories will later be added to the free fiction page for people to carry on enjoying. 

Editing Round Table

I reached out to a whole bunch of my favourite editors with a few basic questions around short story collections and the editors perspective.  For today’s session I am delighted to welcome Jonathan Oliver of Solaris/Abaddon, Mhairi Simpson and Margret Helgadottir who have edited for Fox Spirit and Farhana Shaikh who runs Dahlia publishing. 

When you put a call out do you already know exactly what you are looking for?

Jonathan Oliver : I start with a theme, so generally I know what I’m looking for, but when I put together submissions guidelines, I always say to authors ‘here’s the brief, but play with it, stretch it to its limits.’ So, I want to give my writers as much room as possible to explore within the theme I’ve given them. After all, I don’t want to end up with an anthology of similar stories.

Mhairi Simpson : No. When I did my first call I had a very specific idea in mind. By the end of it I realised I knew nothing and was just happy to be astonished at the wide variety of tales even a relatively narrow prompt can produce.

Farhana Shaikh: I try not to be too clear about what I’m looking for because I don’t want a piece of writing to fail before I’ve had the chance to consider it properly. This is especially true for an anthology because the breadth of style tends to be so broad and different writers respond to themes in such different ways.

What I’ve realised though is that a short story is successful as long as it does what the writer set out to do. In the simplest of terms, I could try and break down what that success often looks like. For example it might mean strong characterisation and a refreshing voice, but I find those terms can be reductive because it might also just be a beautiful story told in the simplest of ways. 

Margrét Helgadottir : I have only put out an open call one time, for the Winter Tales anthology. I knew then what kind of stories I wanted – a strong voice, an interesting plot, atmosphere, and also a more unspoken chill of the dark and cold winter season – but other than this I tried to be very open both in the call and when I read the submissions. As for the monster books (working on volume four now), they are invitations only. I am hunting for monster stories. They can be written in all genres but they have to have something monstrous about them and they have to be dark. I am very clear in the invitation what I am not looking for (satire, erotica etc).

 

What things will make you discount a story quickly?

Jon : Badly presented and with obvious errors. The other thing is if the story has completely ignored the brief. So, if I say this anthology has to be about a haunted house, and I get a submission that’s about a mutant spider or something, with no haunted house in sight, then that will be pretty quickly rejected. Fortunately it’s not something I have to worry about a lot as all of my anthologies are invite only.

Mhairi  : Condescension on the part of the author. A pushy author asking if I’ve made a decision yet when the submission period is still open. Any mention of sexual assault which doesn’t feel right in the story.

Farhana : My pet hate is writing that is cluttered with adjectives or flowery language. I tend to steer away from writing that is trying too hard or clever, or where the writer clearly hasn’t worked out what the heart of the story really is. Having said that, I do like to re-read writing (this is especially true for short stories) because I don’t like to make too rash a decision about whether something works or not. Editing is after all, hugely subjective and sometimes I have to challenge myself to work with writing that is not necessarily to my taste.

Margrét: Except for not following the guidelines and the idea of the book, I will quickly put a “no” on any story that uses racism, rape, violence, discrimination of gender or sexual orientation, when it is clear that it doesn’t do anything for the plot. I don’t discount a story because of bad grammar or language if I see a potential—a core in the story that will shine if the story is polished in the edits. I have had 2-3 stories in all the volumes I have edited that required more work from me and the author than the other stories but I am very satisfied that they are part of the books today.

 

Would you consider taking a story that doesn’t quite fit the idea behind the call and whatever your answer, why?

Jon: I like to be pleasantly surprised by submissions. So, for example, we all have an idea about what constitutes a haunted house and a haunting, but I also like to see new takes on such traditional subject matter, new twists on the formula. Sure, I’m a sucker for a traditional ghost story, but more so I love the possibilities that new fiction explores.

Mhairi: Yes. I’ve initially said no to a story which didn’t seem to quite fit the call. I had something else in mind. Then as more stories came in I realised I had an opportunity to show ideas which weren’t in line with my own thinking, because none of the stories quite fit the call, certainly not what I’d been expecting to get. It was a learning experience – I learned not to make assumptions about what did and did not fit. It broadened my mind and was a tad humbling, too.

Farhana: I’d be reluctant to accept anything that was too far from the initial concept, purely because I think collections have an odd way of working in that the stories once ordered have their own life and rhythm. I’d be reluctant to upset the balance of that. But as I’ve said, the scope for an anthology tends to be quite wide, so it’s rare that such a thing happens. Where this has been the case, I’ve simply asked the original contributor to submit something else.

Margret: No and yes. If it’s far out from the book idea, no. If the book is about Europe I will not include a story that takes place on the Moon. However I can include a story if it plays with the boundaries of the sub call but still has one foot inside the frame. I have done this a few times but only when the stories were so excellent in both language and plot that I just couldn’t say no. Often they can be shaped a little bit in the edits so they fit the book better.

How do you approach running order?

Jon: You want to start with a belter right out of the gate. You want something substantial in the middle and you want to end on a story that packs some sort of punch. In between you can get the reader settled and explore all the wonderful variations on the ideas your authors have sent you.

Mhairi: I try to find a thread or arc which links all the stories together and then decide where each story falls along that arc. For Tales of Eve it was a genre thread, varying from hard sci-fi to high fantasy so I started with the hardest sci-fi and ended with the highest fantasy. It was actually really difficult!

Farahna: By the time I get to a running order, I’ve probably read the work separately a good few times and something will be emerging about how I’d like to start and where I’d like to begin. Of course, a reader may choose to go in whatever order they wish, but sometimes as an editor I think such things are important.

Margrét: I try to put the strongest stories up front and in the back. You need to catch the readers right away. A short excellent story as number one is a very good tactic. It sets the tone of the rest of the book quickly. The last two stories should be the after thought of the book, something to make the book live a little bit longer in the readers’ minds, make them reflect a little bit about the book theme. Other than this I am concerned about putting the stories in anthologies in a natural flow, vary it a little for the reader. This goes for both the length of the stories, style and theme. I don’t put two vampire stories next to each other of the other ten stories are about were wolves for instance.

Cover by S.L. Johnson

What are some of the things you think people underestimate in regards to the time/effort involved in the anthology editors role?

Jon: Coming up with the theme always takes the most time. You want something iconic enough that people will pick the book of the shelf, and bring some sort of expectation, but you also want something different enough that you stand out. In an invite only situation you know to some extent the strengths of your authors, so editing the stories is the easiest and most pleasurable part of the whole affair.

Mhairi: It’s not the typos – if a story’s got that many mistakes I’d send it back and tell them to run it through spellcheck or a beta reader. When it comes to figuring out what a story is trying to say and if it can be said better, however, that can take a while. It’s usually a clarity issue – I’m not sure what’s going on and the author makes some changes and through the various changes we get closer to the diamond at the heart of the tale.

Farhana: I don’t know if anyone does underestimate what an editor brings to a collection but of course, they bring a whole deal of experience and expertise. It’s the editor’s role to not only select the stories and collate these in some order, but often it can mean a lengthy battle with contributors to undertake revisions, and ensure these come back on time, as well as project manage the entire thing. It’s fine, if you have around ten contributors or so, but once you start veering in to the twenties and beyond it can become challenging. An editor may also be involved in promoting the book, and keeping all the contributors in the know, so it’s a huge effort with lots of emailing back and forth. If the editor is also the publisher, as in my case, then there’s lots more going on behind the scenes away from the anthology with regards to choosing the title, managing the jacket cover designs, and working with suppliers to ensure the project can be delivered on time and on a shoe-string budget.

Margrét: I think many don´t realize what the editor job is. If you are editor for books from small presses you must involve yourself in the book production and getting the book out there. In addition to the editing of the language and grammar, editing of the story flow and angles, proofreading and all that, I would say that at least 30 percent of my tasks in a book production is preparing the book production (researching the book, invitations to contributors etc) and all the work when the book is published with marketing, trying to get reviews and spreading the word amongst the thousands of other titles. I spend a lot of time researching what magazines and venues which might be interested in looking at the book. The monster books are a challenge since I try to reach book bloggers and media also in the continents we cover: Africa, Asia etc. It is hard work but it is so satisfying when you see results.

 

African Monsters : The Editors

As they are the editors of the Fox Spirit book of African Monsters, we thought it could be a good idea to let Margrét Helgadóttir (MH) and Jo Thomas (JT) start the little blog tour we are having here at the Fox Spirit Books since the book is now published. In the coming weeks we are going to let the contributors tell about their monsters or other things on their minds. Let’s start with Jo, who has something she wants to say first:

JT: ‘Last year, we did a question and answer session between the two of us explaining where the Monster anthology idea came from. This year… Well, this year, you have a blog post. A slightly hi-jacked blogpost as I (Jo) got to write the first draft and have a few things to say personally. So, this year, I’d like to heap some praise on my co-editor, Margrét, and my publisher, Adele at Fox Spirit Books, for working like Trojans the last few of months in order to get everything in place. Anyone who knows me knows I’ve been moving and starting a new job, so I haven’t had much time for putting African Monsters together. So, three cheers for the hard-working team that did! And now on to the main event.’

The original intention a few years ago, the idea that formed with a Twitter conversation, was a “look at the whole world of monsters.” This eventually narrowed down to look at the monsters in our own pond, the European monsters. We were fairly eager to extend in to further volumes for other continents quite soon after imposing the restriction for European Monsters and happily Adele agreed this was a good idea.

JT: ‘This is, of course, a source of argument between we two editors, with one being raised with the five-continent model of the world and the other with the seven-continent model of the world.’

Africa became the next place to visit on the world tour. It is, of course, a continent we’re both happy admit to the existence of and we had the benefit of Margrét having spent some of her formative years there so that she had a familiarity with a number of regions and folklores. As with European Monsters, the anthology was invitation only and so we used and abused Margrét’s contacts while also researching new ones. It was important to us to make use of authors and artists who lived or had connections with the areas they were working on. Although we had hoped to have been able to have solely African authors in the book, we have not been able to secure a hundred percent African talent for the resulting anthology, mostly due to time constraints and communication problems. Also, since we mostly have authors who write English in this book, the geographical representation, is sadly not a full reflection on the world’s second largest and second most populous continent.

african

MH: ‘I feel we have learned much from editing these books when it comes to getting a good representation in the books. In following books we will try to have at least one translated story from a non-English speaking author. The key is to have the right amount of time, some luck and a good network.’

There is a wealth of skilled artists and published writers to look into and we consider our own anthology a jumping off point into the world of African fiction. But nevertheless, we have covered a small part of a large continent that we hope you enjoy. This is not the colonial “Dark Continent”—or, perhaps, not just the colonial, as that era is part of the history that formed the present day—but the stories we have gathered give grim glimpses of a darkness where the scariest thing is sometimes the bright light of day.

African Monsters Table of Contents

African Monsters, the second in the FS Books of Monsters series that started with European Monsters, is due out this Christmas. There will be a launch party in London early in 2016, please keep an eye out for more details.

In this collection we explore the old myths and monsters of the continent of Africa in short stories and art.

Edited by Margret Helgadottir and Jo Thomas and with Cover art by Daniele Serra we are pleased to reveal the table of contents for African Monsters:

Nnedi Okorafor: On the Road

Joan de la Haye: Impundulu

Tade Thompson: One Hundred and Twenty Days of Sunlight

Jayne Bauling: Severed

Su Opperman: The Death of One

T.L. Huchu: Chikwambo

Dilman Dila: Monwor

S. Lotz: That Woman

Toby Bennett: Sacrament of Tears

Chikodili Emelumadu: Bush Baby

Joe Vaz: After The Rain

Dave-Brendon de Burgh: Taraab and Terror in Zanzibar

Nerine Dorman: A Whisper in the Reeds

Vianne Venter: Acid Test

Nick Wood: Thandiwe’s Tokoloshe

James Bennett and Dave Johnson (artist): A Divided Sun

The book will also have illustrations from Su Opperman, Kieran Walsh, Mariam Ibrahim, Eugene Smith and Benali Amine.

The third book in the series will be Asian Monsters coming Christmas 2016.

European Monsters

European Monsters

 

Winter Tales Update

Well, the nights are drawing in and winter is coming, so it seems a good time to share a little more about forthcoming anthology Winter Tales, edited by Margret Helgadottir and due for release in early 2016

WINTER TALES

Frost pierces through everything. Your bones ache in the icy wind. Harsh winter storms rage and the sun is leaving, not to return for many months. The cheerful men arriving to the mountain bothy in the midst of the winter storm, why do they unnerve you so much? The hunter who follows after you on your way home from the store, what does he hunt? The old neighbour lady seems so innocent, but you know the truth: you saw her that night. Why will the police not listen to you?

Dark, grim, beautiful and grotesque. We are delighted to bring you a collection of speculative winter stories and poems from new and established writers. The collection is edited by Margret Helgadottir. Winter Tales will be released in early 2016 from Fox Spirit Books.

Cover art will be by S.L. Johnson

IMG_0027 (1)

Contents

Mat Joiner: The frost sermon
Su Haddrell: The Bothy

Sharon Kernow: The Wolf Moon
Ruth Booth: The love of a season
Masimba Musodza: When the trees were enchanted
Fiona Clegg: Sunday’s Child
Tim Major: Winter in the Vivarium
Lizz-Ayn Shaarawi: Snow Angel
Amelia Gorman: Under your skin
B. Thomas: Among Wolves
Eliza Chan: Yukizuki
DJ Tyrer: Frose
G.H. Finn: Cold-Hearted
David Sarsfield: Voliday
Kelda Crich: Coldness Waits
K.N. McGrath: The Siege
Jonathan Ward: Spirit of the Season
James Bennett: The Red Lawns
Anne Michaud: Frost Fair
Jan Edwards: Shaman Red
Adrian Tchaikovsky: The Coming of The Cold
Verity Holloway: The Frost of Heaven

Winter Tales – Submission Call

Frost pierces through everything. Your bones ache in the icy wind. Harsh winter storms rage and the sun is leaving, not to return for many months. Winter seems to never end. There is however beauty and magic. The snow covered pine trees reaching for the sky, the green northern lights dancing over the mountains, the wolf packs howling at the moon, and the snow crystals glinting like stars in the pale moonlight. When the temperatures drop, people and creatures gather around the camp fires to share warmth, friendship and tales, to chase away the frost and try to ignore the terrifying creatures lurking in the darkness.

We are now collecting winter tales, to drive away the grim winter and bring you the wonders and magic of the season. Fox Spirit Books will publish the Winter Tales anthology in the beginning of 2016. The anthology will be edited by Margrét Helgadóttir. We want unusual and elegant speculative fiction stories with full plot and strong characters. We are seeking diversity. The stories can be light with a touch of romance or humour, or dark and terrifying. Stories about creatures, monsters, animals and shapeshifters are welcome. The stories can be within speculative subgenres such as the weird, fables or folkloric, magical realism, adventure, dystopian, cyberpunk, mystery or fantastic, but we ask that the stories take place on Earth and have the winter as frame. Poetry is welcome. We are not looking for nonfiction or fanfiction. We are not looking for satire, erotica, paranormal romance, splatter or overly gory stories.

Submission details

Submission deadline: June 15th 2015. Response will be given by end of October 2015 at the latest. The manuscript must be written in English. Stories should be 1500 words up to 7500 words. Any stories below or above this will not be considered, with the exception of poems which should be no longer than 30 lines. In this instance we are not accepting graphic stories for submission. No multiple submissions, simultaneous submissions, or reprints. We do not want stories that have appeared on your blog or other public websites for this anthology E-mail your submission to narjegerredaktor at gmail dot com. Put SUBMISSION WINTER TALES as the subject of your email. The submission email must contain your real name, your writing name if different, the title and word amount of your submission, and a 100 words bio. There is no need for a submission letter other than this.

Document title should have the story name and your name or initials for easy identification. Documents must be in .docx or .doc (word), or .rtf (rich text) formats. The story document itself needs your name and email at the top, then the title of the story and the name you want it publishing under followed by the text of the story. Please format your document according to the guidelines on the submissions page at Fox Spirit Books.

Payment and rights Fox Spirit is a small independent press and at present we can only offer a token payment of £10 for stories with a copy of the print book and a copy of the ebook. We are looking for twelve months exclusivity from the submission deadline and details of rights are on the Fox Spirit submissions page (http://www.foxspirit.co.uk/sample-page/submissions). If you have any questions, send email to: narjegerredaktor at gmail dot com

Happy writing!

The Stars Seem So Far Away

This Valentines Day we are delighted to offer something much better than chocolates or flowers. A new shiny book!

FS Star Seem So-Front 180ppi

‘Margret Helgadottir’s kinetic prose immerses the reader in a future woven from the threads of Nordic history, studded with jewels pillaged from our mythic past.’
– Damien Walter, Columnist for The Guardian
‘Finely observed, beautifully written; Margret Helgadottir’s stories have the chill brightness of new myth. She is a writer to watch.’
– Adam Roberts
FS Stars Quote 3

European Monsters : The Editors

As the editors of the Fox Spirit book of European Monsters, Margrét Helgadóttir (MH) and Jo Thomas (JT) have been invited to contribute to the Fox Spirit blog. Now, they could explain how the book sprang out of a Twitter conversation between the editors-to-be, along with a few other guilty parties, about how monsters have been declawed. They could try to find words to explain how happy they are for their first book as editors to see the light of day. Or they could wax lyrical about the stunning stories and breath-taking artwork.

They’re not, though. They’re going to discuss where monsters come from…

MH: So, you wanna go first? What monsters are you afraid of, and why?

JT: I guess the answer to that is rather trite in that it isn’t monsters that scare me. Don’t get me wrong, if I ran into any of the monsters that made the cut for our book, I’d probably collapse in a boneless heap. But the idea of monsters doesn’t scare me as such because they just do what monsters are supposed to do.

In other words, it’s human beings that scare me. As I can’t read them especially well and don’t know what to expect of them–particularly the ones I don’t know–I find human beings unpredictable. So humans are probably my biggest phobia.

Next to mirrors in the dark, but that’s another story.

So, what scares you?

afraid-of-the-dark-copy21

MH: I think I would say something similar. I am very scared of the dark. I’ve always been. I used to check under my bed before turning the light off–and sometimes I still do–I think I would probably die of shock if some day, something was staring back at me. But it has become easier as I have become an adult and more rational. But still, once in a while, I can’t turn off the light. But like you, it’s the humans who scare me the most, more than monsters. I think I can read humans quite well, but maybe that’s the problem. Sometimes I look at a person in a crowd and I think she or he has cold eyes, and it frightens me. When you think about what humans are able to do to other humans or animals–That’s scary.

I always cover my large mirror before I go to bed.

So, what do you think has been most important in shaping your ideas about monsters? Fairy tales, popular culture, something your neighbour told you?

JT: The first monster I remember being in the house was the three-toed snorty-blog. Something to do with a birthday card from an aunt and, obviously, the monster was supposed to be cute and cuddly. I spent several years thereafter being told I was actually the three-toed snorty-blog–what with my being unable to breath properly (I had near permanent colds).

Technically, though, I suppose the first monster in the house was my older sister being told that there were witches hiding down the toilet and they’d eat her if she went at night. This was my dad’s attempt to stop her going to the toilet in the night and she still has to turn the lights on if she wakes up in the night. I do, too, but my monsters are in the mirror, not down the toilet.

Anyway, that’s what monsters should be as far as I’m concerned–a way of explaining something that doesn’t make sense away that can be as good or as bad as it likes–very much like Nature. It might be misunderstood, it might be good at heart, but it probably doesn’t care about you either way. I think the sea monster stories in our book in general capture that well but the Icy Sedgewick story we collected does a particularly good job.

How do you think of monsters?

Boogeyman

MH: To do the academic approach first, I agree with you. I think monsters throughout our history have been merely products of humans’ inability to explain things, be it the strange mountain shapes, thundering and lightning, or the neighbour who died so sudden. Several of the stories in European monsters is based on such folklore and legends. Aliya Whiteley’s story, for instance, builds on a myth about ‘the beast of Exmoor’, a very interesting legend about an enormous phantom cat roaming the wilderness of Exmoor, most likely a cat which escaped from the zoo, and sadly not so much a real monster. I think also some people in a position of power, be it parents—like your story about your dad and sister–bishops or the elders of a society, have used an idea of a monster or something evil as an efficient tool, as a way of controlling people. And then we have the freak shows and carnivals lurking in our cultural past, and the horror stories told by the camp fire. I think people just love to be scared.

Personally I adore monsters and the idea that there are monsters. Have you experienced how you sometimes can wake up in your bed in middle of the night, certain that you are not alone in the room, but you can’t move, not a muscle? And the air feels icy, and you are terrified that if you open your eyes, something really is in your room? What if the thought that you don’t dare to say out loud–that there is a nightmare, a monster there–is true? How terrifying, but wonderful.

JT: Ah, sleep paralysis and nightmares. I sometimes get that, complete with padding paw-steps coming up the stairs. The first time I had one, I was enraged at being unable to move. I wanted to invite the dog on to the bed but couldn’t because I was paralysed and unable to speak. I was too asleep not to realise the dog I heard wasn’t real as I didn’t have one at the time, but too awake to find the situation scary.

(I’ve also heard other people talking about the same or very similar. Some of them interpreted it as a haunting, some as alien abduction.)

MH: Why do you think monsters have been so overused and watered down?

JT: I think I just unintentionally covered that in the sleep paralysis story I just shared. We start to sympathise with monsters–recognising something of ourselves in them, maybe–or think their powers are pretty awesome and we wouldn’t mind having them as pets if we can’t actually be them.

I guess that’s what bothers me about the Urban Fantasy / Paranormal Romance tendency to de-claw by making monsters love interests. It ends up being an unhealthy, obsessive kind of romance about an ideal on a pedestal instead of a recognition of the individual who has dangerous potential. That said, much as I love reading romances, I find romance is right next to insanity when observed in real life so I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. Anyway, this is why I wanted to work on a project like European Monsters, a project that gives them their teeth back and takes away the romance.

What particular monsters do you consider overused?

MH: That is exactly why I wanted to do the European Monsters project too. I think especially the humanoid monsters like the vampires and the shapeshifters might have been used too much, if you can say ‘used’ about monsters. I have read hundreds of books about vampires, for instance. I adore these creatures, but I think the images of them in the western popular culture the last decade might have become stereotypes. After Anne Rice introduced the vampires as melancholic and beautiful monsters who are outsiders of the (western) human society, and who only long to be humans and part of the human society, maybe find the true love, we have seen so many interpretations of this. This goes for many monster stories of today, not only stories about vampires: the lonely monster who only wants to be friends with the humans. Many of these stories I think can be read as stories about patterns in the human psyche. But that’s not bad. I love these stories. I have even written a few myself. But sometimes I want to be introduced to different monster stories where the monsters just are monsters, and no philosophy around their existence. Many of the monsters we know are based in western popular culture. I look forward to get to know monsters from other parts of the world, as we continue with the book series.

lestat

And about nightmares. I think humans’ fears are often revealed through the nightmares: The monster that stalks you, and how you are glued to the ground not able to run away. Or being eaten alive or invaded. I think there is much to Freud’s theories about dreams. I believe our minds work with our anxieties and worries when we sleep just like they renew our cells and heal physical injures or sicknesses. And sometimes in this process our minds produce dreams that might relate to the worries you have, or something you have witnessed, like many trauma victims who suffer from awful nightmares. Yet, now and then I wonder if our dreams are something entirely different, something we have no names for yet. I write some of my dreams down and use them in my writing. But not all these dreams and dream monsters can be tracked back to something I have witnessed or experienced. Some of these monsters, what if they just were there? I don’t make sense now, do I?

You have written about werewolves yourself. When you have been writing these books, have you been conscious about werewolves in western culture?

JT: Yes. I made a conscious decision to “dial back” to an older version–the putting on a wolf skin is a part of the mythology that has been abandoned with the more modern Western / Hollywood version. However, I haven’t been able to escape the idea that werewolves are, at least in part, humans. Which means that some of them are good or behave well because that potential is in all human beings. Not that most of them act on it, as those people who choose to become werewolves are generally after the power, not being nice and fluffy. So, I didn’t go far enough back to ensure that they were driven to do ghastly things, only ensure that they were physically capable of doing it and often inclined to it.

This thing of werewolves, though, really comes from the idea that the Hollywood version wouldn’t work nagging at me. Obviously, the magic for my kind of werewolves doesn’t exist, either, but it feels more consistent and logical, closer to how the world seems to work to me than the glamorous Hollywood version. I wouldn’t have been able to puzzle that out if I hadn’t spent time creating characters and situations to act it all out for me.

What monsters do you feel you need to put some time into to find out how they work? What calls in your dreams or sits in the back of your mind when you’re writing?

MH: I have written a couple of stories based on Norwegian folklore, like our stories about the grey people and the goblins, who are far scarier than the Hollywood version. I have also written a few stories about unbalanced humans, but it’s the shapeshifters who have mainly been haunting my monster writing. Shapeshifters fascinate me, because of the balance between the parts that are human, animal, wild and monstrous. But maybe mostly about how different from humans they are. I don’t have any particular favourite yet and I have written about several kinds. One of these shapeshifters, a lion, has the putting on skin mythology, that you mentioned. It was a belief that existed amongst the sami people and even the vikings. Not any of my shapeshifters have changed by being bitten yet.

I’m also very fasinated by the folklore around shapeshifters and how humans long for the animal characteristics, strength etc. In Norway it’s been common since the old Norse days to name boys after animals (Bjørn-bear, Ulf-wolf, Are-eagle, Orm-snake, Rein-reindeer etc), mainly because one thought the boys would get the animals’ attributes too.

What calls in the back of your mind when you are writing?

JT: Pack. More precisely, the awareness that even if I don’t understand the wider world, I have two dogs that I have to live with and care for. They are my immediate family (barring parent, siblings and their offspring) and I wish I could understand them better. I guess I envy their not being human… But I wouldn’t choose to be a werewolf as I suspect that one can’t be a particularly good wolf unless one knows how to socialise with other wolves.

Roots. I was born outside of the UK, although we returned while I was still a toddler. My parents and grandparents moved quite a bit and I was always encouraged to remember the traditions of the places we came from and had been as well as the places we were living at the time I grew up. So a lot of what I write often appropriates from all over Europe with a touch of the Caribbean. It’s not intentional, more an echo of the material that went in with reading.

Nature. I grew up rurally–although not as wild as it could have been in other parts of the country–and I think it shows. Nature is a true beauty, no matter how tamed you think it is. It can also be monstrous. It doesn’t care, it can as easily be bad for your health as it can be good for you, it works on a grand scale and yet so much of it is made up of critters so small we can’t even see them. I should find a way to include it as a protagonist more often. Perhaps working with monsters is actually part of that.

I guess this leads to asking: As you’ve moved around a bit yourself, how do your travels reflect in your writing?

MH: That is a very difficult question you are asking. So far my stories have been heavily influenced by my Nordic background, Norway and Iceland, where I have lived most of my life. I have a work in progress that takes a place in Africa. I have been thinking about trying to write more stories from Africa for a while. I have moved lots around in general, which has led to a sense of rootlessness and homelessness. I think this might be reflected in my writing. Many of my characters are on the road and on hunt for a home or themselves. This also includes the stories about shapeshifters. I’ve written one story about a young shapeshifter girl who has lived in an orphanage, not knowing who she is or where she is from, but when she becomes a sea eagle, she instinctively knows where her home is.

I think also many of the stories in the anthology European monsters address this balance between the human society and the wilderness and nature, as we have talked about now. And many of the protagonists are searching for something. The girl who lost her boyfriend to the lake monster in Kirsti Walsh’s story, the monster in James Bennett’s story who longs for his home land, or the girl who travels across the world to a woman she doesn’t know in Nerine Dorman’s story.

…And now you know a little bit more about where our monsters came from.