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Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Literary feminist fantasy fiction by Aliya Whiteley

Aliya Whiteley (Three Things About Me, Light Reading and Mean, Mode, Median) is a Macmillan New Writing friend and she is kindly visiting my blog to tell me about her newest book: a short story collection.

Welcome, Aliya, and congratulations on your first collection of fantasy short stories, Witchcraft in the Harem.  The book has been described as a reading experience akin to “being waterboarded by angels" and it's hard to think of an accolade any author would be happier to receive. 

1. You’re best known as an author of full-length fiction. Are short stories a new departure or have you been penning them quietly on the side for some time?

I looked back through my records and found my first short stories were published in 2003, so that’s a decade of writing them. The short stories have always been my outlet for the wilder side of my imagination. It’s great to collect them together for the first time.

2. Do the stories in Witchcraft in the Harem follow a certain theme? I have heard 'literary feminist fantasy fiction' used as a way to describe them, is this an accurate way of looking at your short stories? 

I’m not keen on labels but I’m not unhappy with that one! The stories are about things that matter to me, manifesting in different ways. I’m interested in how women see the world because I am one (stating the blindingly obvious there). I’ve always loved fantasy writing, because it gives me freedom. If I need a magic box to turn up that contains the secrets of the universe, it can. I think the stories are literary because I’ve always been fascinated by the power of words and I try to experiment stylistically in ways that stretch the reader. So, yes, as labels go, that’s not a bad one.

3. How do you decide the order in which the stories go within a collection? Do characters and settings reappear?

My first thought on putting together the collection was that I wouldn’t be able to find a theme, but when I started to look back through my publishing history I realised I did have a number of stories that dealt with the ideas of escape and capture, particularly for modern women through becoming girlfriends, wives, mothers, whores, witches, bitches, and so on. Then a process of trial and error led to putting them in an order I liked.

When Dog Horn Publishing expressed an interest in the collection, I worked with a great editor who pointed out the weaker stories and I replaced some, and changed around others until it felt right.

Both of my published novels were set in my fictional seaside town of Allcombe, but that doesn’t make an appearance in these stories. There aren’t recurring characters but there are certainly some key ideas in there.

4. Some writers (me included) find short stories more challenging to write than novels, because of the space constraints. Do you find this challenge stimulating?

I like the fact that it takes me a week and not a year to write a short story! Novels take so much energy, and a lot of the challenge of the longer form is, for me, to sustain the characterisation and meaning over eighty-thousand words. Plus it’s difficult to be really free in a novel. I can’t give in to the urge to have pterodactyls appear or to start writing in blank verse instead.  I’d say I find short stories easier to write, but then I’m not one of those writers who produces 100,000 words and cuts down to 80,000. I write 50,000 and have to put stuff in…

5. Are you still writing novel-length fiction and if so, what are you working on at the moment?

I’ve just finished writing a fantasy novel in very much the same vein as Witchcraft in the Harem and feel that I’ve managed to sustain those themes very well, so I’m happy with it. I’m always writing short fiction and have stories lined up to appear in various magazines and anthologies, so it’s going to be an exciting year for me.

Thanks, Eliza, for letting me invade your blog!

Thanks for telling us about the new venture, Aliya.
Witchcraft in the Harem is available from Dog Horn Publishing.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Four or five years ago I wrote a novel, JUBILEE, in which a girl, Jessamy Winter, was abducted and then reappeared, safe, some years later. At the time I had some doubts, believing this might be unlikely, but it was important for the story I was writing that Jessamy turned up again. Research I carried out back then indicated that abducted children did sometimes reappear (Natascha Kampusch, for instance). 

Today I have just read the amazing story of the three young women in Cleveland kidnapped as teenagers, who have finally managed to free themselves. How wonderful for their families.