Five years ago today we published The Stars Seem So Far Away. We’ll celebrate this during the weekend with a book sale and a giveaway!
This slender collection of linked short stores is an apocalyptic road tale set in a far-future Arctic world. The last shuttles to the space colonies are long gone. Wars, famine and plagues rage across the dying Earth. Fleeing the deadly sun, humans migrate farther and farther north. Follow the stories of five survivors as they cling to what is left of life in a future North.
Guerrilla soldier Simik fights for independence for his forefathers’ land, once called the Green Land. On a remote island, Bjørg and her great white beasts guard a resource that could help ensure human survival. Sailor girl Nora plunders ships on the northern sea, while Zaki journeys to the promised land in the west. Amongst the legendary skyscrapers of plague-stricken Svalbard, Aida struggles to survive.
The Stars Seem So Far Away was the debut book of Norwegian Icelandic author Margrét Helgadóttir. It was shortlisted to the British Fantasy Awards 2016 as Best Collection, and received several lovely reviews:
“Finely observed, beautifully written; Margret Helgadottir’s stories have the chill brightness of new myth. She is a writer to watch.”
“I loved every minute of it.”
(Thea James, The Book Smugglers)
“Imagine J.G. Ballard rewrote The Odyssey.”
“This is a great curl-up-in-a-ball read that will transport you into your own imagination.”
(Mr.Ripley’s Enchanted Books)
““The stripped-down language and huge landscapes link this short novel to the world of epic poetry and saga.”
The book will be published in the middle of 2018, and edited by Emma Bridges and Djibril al-Ayad. Our monster editor Margrét Helgadóttir will have an essay in the book about the world’s monsters, based on her experiences with editing the Fox Spirit Books of Monsters. To celebrate the monsters and the coming Making Monsters book, she interviewed Emma Bridges about the background for the book and monsters.
What inspired the book?
In October 2017 we held a public event entitled “Why do we need monsters?” at the Institute of Classical Studies in London, where I am based. At the event four academics who have researched different aspects of monsters shared some of their work. It was attended by a mix of people who were interested in contemporary monster culture (for example in films, novels and art) and those with an interest in the ancient world. There were some great questions from the audience and it also generated a lot of interest on Twitter, with people sharing their favourite monster images and so on via the hashtag #ICSMonsters. Certain themes kept recurring in the discussions we were having – conversations around monsters and gender, or monsters and disability, for example. The idea for Making Monsters came from that – it’s a great way of continuing those conversations and combining creative responses to monsters (poems and short stories) with essays written by those (including some of the speakers at the original event) who have an academic interest in the theme.
What do you hope to achieve with the book?
I’m really keen to find ways in which the work which goes on in universities can be shared with the wider public – this kind of “public engagement” is a key part of my role here at the Institute of Classical Studies, which is a centre for supporting, facilitating and disseminating academic research in classical subjects. I’m hoping that the book reaches those who might be curious about either classical myth or monsters more generally, or who enjoy reading speculative fiction, but who haven’t necessarily read anything academic about any of those things. The fiction/poetry and essays by academics will complement each other well as they will draw together some recent research on the topic with new imaginings of classical monsters produced by creative writers. Along with many other classical scholars I’m particularly interested in the contemporary reception of classical myth – the ways in which ancient texts, themes and ideas have been reinvented in new artistic and cultural contexts by writers, artists and other creative practitioners – and it’s also exciting to think that the call for poems and stories will result in the creation of a series of brand new pieces of creative writing focusing on these characters.
What is a monster in your definition?
I think that monsters are often physical incarnations of humans’ deepest fears – they are imagined creatures, often with exaggerated characteristics (like having huge fangs or multiple heads), or whose bodies are hybrid forms combining the physical features of several different creatures. There’s often a sensory element to the way in which we envisage monsters too – they might be imagined as making terrifying noises, for example, or as being unpleasant to touch.
What is your favourite monster?
Rather than having one favourite monster, I have favourite versions of particular monsters. So at the moment I’ve been thinking a lot about Steven Sherrill’s Minotaur in his novel The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break, which takes the Minotaur out of the classical world and relocates him as an awkward, lonely and misunderstood character in contemporary America. It’s a really interesting exercise in what happens when we take a different perspective on a character who was traditionally seen as straightforwardly terrifying – Sherrill helps us to get inside the mind of the Minotaur as a character whose difference from the “norm” makes it hard for him to fit in. In a similar vein I really like the artist Howard Hardiman’s rendering of the Minotaur too – his is a melancholy figure for whom it’s hard not to feel sympathy, and on looking at that image I find myself imagining how terrible it must have been to be confined to a labyrinth, away from contact with the outside world except for the delivery of a consignment of humans for his next meal. For sheer gruesomeness in visual art, though, it has to be Rubens’ Medusa for me – she’s pretty terrifying!
Do you think monsters play a role in our societies and cultures?
Since ancient times, it seems that humans have always imagined monsters in their stories and art – so, for example, in Homer’s epic Odyssey we find characters like the many-headed Scylla, who terrorises sailors by snatching them from their ships and devouring them, or the one-eyed man-eating Cyclops who is cast by the poet as representing the very antithesis of civilised society. I think that monsters like these have a role to play both in showing the extent of the human imagination and also in illustrating the things that people have always found frightening – often that’s about the fear of the unknown (such as the anxiety associated with undertaking a voyage across unfamiliar seas, as in the case of the Scylla), or about the subversion of what is perceived as the “correct” type of behaviour in any given society (as in the case of the Cyclops).
Has this changed in modern times? Is it important to pay attention to modern incarnations and reception of classical mythology and literature?
I think that the continuing appeal of stories and films about, for example, werewolves or vampires, shows that the fascination with supernatural creatures who have the power to inspire terror has never really gone away! Where contemporary receptions of classical mythology are concerned, to me one of the most interesting things is the way in which old stories and characters are continually being revisited and adapted in new contexts. Any new version of a mythical story can influenced by, for example, the artist or writer’s own interests or personal beliefs and experiences, as well as by the contemporary political, social or creative context within which it is produced.
I’ve spent a lot of time talking to practitioners for the journal Practitioners’ Voices in Classical Reception Studies and I’ve learned that the motivations for adapting myths in a particular way are as varied as the artists and writers who reinvent them. Looking at these new versions and talking to the people who produce them also helps me and others to understand more deeply some of the ancient texts which I study. By definition myth is fluid, not fixed – there is no one “correct” version of a story – and just as the ancient Greeks and Romans reinvented their own stories in new contexts and using different genres or artistic media, so that remaking of the stories still goes on now.
Thanks for joining us, Emma! Best of luck with the book!
Robin Kaplan, also known as The Gorgonist, has given permission to use her image “The Lonely Gorgon” as cover art for the book.
Read more about the forthcoming book Making Monsters here.
Links to the Pacific Monsters blog posts are available on the book’s page.
by Margrét Helgadóttir
Pacific Monsters is out and one year of work is completed.
Pacific Monsters is the fourth volume of Fox Spirit Books of Monsters, a seven-volume series with titles published annually from 2014 to 2020. As editor it is a fun challenge to work on a book series stretching over so many years. At the same time as I have to concentrate on each book production – it takes about a year from when I start to research and plan the book until it is published – I need to bring out the word about the other volumes and work on the series as a whole. The to-do-list never seems to become shorter.
I love it!
It feels like I am on an adventurous journey around the world. I am so grateful to Adele Wearing and Fox Spirit Books for wanting to publish this series. The books is a world tour exploring old myths, folklore and monsters tales continent by continent. One of the greatest blessings with working on this series is the opportunity to meet authors and the artists from around the world, and to have glimpses of the multitude of cultures and monster folklore within and between all the continents.
For those not familiar with the book series, one of the goals is to show all the talented artists and authors from around the world, probably many you haven’t heard about. I spend much time researching each book. I strive to have diversity in the series and the voices and topics represented. I want to have a wide-stretched geographical representation, and I encourage the authors to tell their monster tales using many genres, like horror, fantasy, science fiction, post-apocalyptic, YA, crime, and the more literary. It is amazing to see how many of the authors challenge themselves and use genres new to them, and how many of them manage to put old myths and legends about ancient monsters into a contemporary setting.
This tells me that not all of the monsters have lost their meaning and place in this world.
I am fascinated by how humans of all times, regardless of geography, culture or demography, have created monsters. No matter where you are in the world, monsters have been something to blame when bad things happen or a way to explain things like thunder and lightning. Many monsters also challenge our thoughts and fears of what will happen when we die, or the relationship between humans and animals in the wilderness.
One mission with the book series is to give the monsters a renaissance as real and scary monsters, a comeback so to speak. I have started to think that despite all the monsters crawling around our world, all the important roles they fulfil, can’t they be allowed to be just scary monsters? Can’t we just allow them to put terror in our hearts? Do we have to categorize them all and try to make meaning of them all? These are questions I will ponder further.
It might seem that the monsters today are either forgotten or watered down and overused in the popular media. Also, only a few of them dominate the scene—vampires, werewolves, ghouls, demons, zombies—and they are almost all from Western popular culture. Another mission with the book series is to bring all of the world’s glorious and terrifying creatures out in the open.
Some monsters are universal. You will always find the shape-shifters, the flesh-eating walking dead and the great monsters of the lakes and sea. But what is important to one culture might not be so vital to another. A signifier in the third volume, Asian Monsters, is the close link between spirits and ghosts and Asian folklore. This is very different from the second volume, African Monsters, where the stories were more about place and origin, about immigration and going home—maybe a strong witness of how much soil means to the African authors.
In Pacific Monsters we present you 14 tales of beasties from Australia, New Zealand, Antarctica, and Pacific islands like Hawaii and Guam, told by authors who are either from, have lived in, or have another strong connection to this wide stretching region. I had been warned and sadly it turned out they were right; the search for authors able and willing to contribute from the Pacific islands have been extremely difficult. It is thus with regret that we can’t give you more stories from authors on the islands. I feel however that we are still bringing you enough stories to give you a small hint about the immense folklore and diversity of monster tales in the Pacific region.
When I edited Pacific Monsters, I was struck by the strangest feeling of being at the end of the world, isolated, where the sun arrives first and you are surrounded by the vast ocean, the stars and the weirdest and breathtaking wildlife and fauna.
A large amount of the monsters the authors chose to write about, reside in water. One reason is of course the endless Pacific Ocean, being both a threat and a blessing from ancient times, and the Antarctic Ocean, a world of extremities. But, even a few of the stories from Australia, even though they take place in the bush, the monsters still dwell in fluid environments—billabongs, lakes, rivers, swamps. There are some monsters here I have truly fallen in love with, they are so hideous and horrible, they don’t sparkle or want to be our friend. They are the truest monsters.
I hope you will like this volume as much as I have while working on it.
Welcome to Pacific Monsters. Editor Margret has again risen to the challenge, researching and inviting authors who really understand the horrors of the Pacific Region, covering New Zealand, Australia and the Pacific Islands. The great joy of this series is of course that exploration of a regions own monsters and the way some horrors are both universal and extremely local.
Today is the launch of the 4th Volume of Monsters, a collection of short stories, graphic stories and art. We hope you enjoy it and the blog posts from some of the authors that started yesterday and will continue for the next week.
We have had an incredible busy year and launched a wonderful range of titles but we are not done yet!
Coming up before the end of the year we have the Sledge.Lit launch of The Girl in the Fort by Tracy Fahey, we will also be bringing some of this year’s other new titles for a public viewing. If you can’t make Sledge but would like Tracy to sign your copy of Girl, we have done some simple foxy bookplates so let us know.
We have some free fiction to add to our collection which I am looking forward to sharing with you all, from new to us writers.
Of course we also have three more titles to launch.
As you know every Christmas we release our newest Monster title and this year it is Pacific Monsters, which an incredible selection of stories and art as ever. Margret Helgadottir has once again worked hard to link up with writers from the region to tell their monsters their way.
We are also delighted to say that the multi award winning Daniele Serra will be staying on as cover artist to complete the series.
We also have a poetry collection by the fabulous Jan Siegel who was pure skulk recently on First Date celebrity edition. Jan has guest poems in this collection from people better known in other creative arts including Pat Cadigan and Helen Lederer, who all demonstrate their adaptability here. Multiverse is a wonderful collection, dark, funny, reflective and including cake.
Approach with Caution! The second volume of the Pseudopod Tapes is almost here! A new collection of outro essays from Alasdair Stuart, one of the UK’s best genre voices and author of our own Not the Fox News column. Whether you are a listener or not the host of the world renowned horror story podcast once again offers a collection of essays on genre and life that are more than worth the price of entry.
We would also like to remind you, if you join your kids up for the Fennec Kit’s Club they get a Christmas card and goodies from Aunty Fox and Kit, so let us know, there are limited places this close to Christmas.
Asian Monsters is presently on the short list for the British Fantasy Society award for best Anthology and Chikodili Emelumadu’s short story Bush Baby from African Monsters made this year’s Caine Awards shortlist. 2017 has proven to be a good year for monsters.
We are pleased to announce that Pacific Monsters is due out this November. Pacific Monsters is the fourth volume in our world tour exploring horror continent by continent, beginning in Europe. See more about the series and the monsters here.
In this collection, we explore the old myths and monsters in the Pacific region with short stories, graphic stories and art from Australia, New Zealand and some of the Pacific Islands. Margrét Helgadóttir is once more the editor.
Our gorgeous cover series by Daniele Serra will continue for this fourth volume. Dani is a previous BFS Best Artist winner and is up for the award again this year.
Table of contents:
Tina Makereti: ‘Monster’
AJ Fitzwater: ‘From the Womb of the Land, Our Bones Entwined’
Rue Karney: ‘The Hand Walker’
Michael Grey: ‘Grind’
Octavia Cade and Dave Johnson (art) : ‘Dinornis’
Raymond Gates: ‘The Legend of Georgie’
Jeremy Szal: ‘The Weight of Silence’
Simon Dewar: ‘Above the Peppermint Trail’
Iona Winter: ‘Ink’
Bryan Kamaoli Kuwada: ‘All My Relations’
Tihema Baker: ‘Children of the Mist’
Kirstie Olley: ‘Mudgerwokee’
Michael Lujan Bevacqua and Dave Johnson (art) : ‘I Sindålu’
AC Buchanan: ‘Into the Sickly Light’
The book will have illustrations by Laya Rose, Lahela Schoessler, Kieran Walsh and Eugene Smith.
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 Marpoleand“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.
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.
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.