with Steve Jensen of The Black Glove
Steve Jensen: For the benefit of newcomers to your work, please tell us a little about yourself.
Allyson Bird: Allyson Bird is my name and I live on the edge of the South Yorkshire moors in England. My short story collection Bull Running for Girls (for adults) has been published by Screaming Dreams Press and has been recommended for The British Fantasy Society awards for Best Collection 2008 and my short story The Caul Bearer has been recommended for Best Short Story. The story can be found on the Screaming Dreams website as a rather cool Issuu flip-book or PDF. The cover is by the artist Vincent Chong and the process of getting to the final artwork was a wonderful experience. Gary McMahon has written the introduction.
The high spot of my writing career so far has been the following quote from Joe R. Lansdale:
‘Kid, I like all your stories. Your book is killer and a class act for a first collection. Allyson Bird is a rare bird indeed. An original voice in a world of plain vanilla. She rides some dark waves with grace and a heart full of light and shadow. If there’s any justice, she’s on her way to true recognition.’ Cool.
SJ: What is your forthcoming novel, Isis Unbound, about?
AB: Well – it is an alternate reality horror novel. Influenced by steampunk, Mary Shelley, and Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound. Set in 1890’s Manceastre, Britanniae, ruled by a new Governor General, Clovis Domitius Corbulo. He is related to Cleopatra XII, the descendant of Anthony and Cleopatra, who won the battle of Actium two thousand years ago. Manceastre is a city ravaged by one of the super plagues at a time when Clovis Domitius Corbulo is to be appointed as Governor General of Britanniae. The Empress Cleopatra X11 arrives on the steamship, The Alexander, from Rome for the ceremony. Her general and protector Gaius Anthony Sosius by her side. Wth her is Tjuya Meresamun, her oracle, who uses the tarot cards to try and predict the future.
Only a god can kill a god. Nepythys has killed her sister, Isis and therefore the dead cannot cross over to the underworld. Nepythys sends her son Anubis to bring Ptolemy Child, chief embalmer (who instead of being a devout follower of Isis belongs to a cult dedicated to finding The Book of Thoth) to the underworld to reveal any of the secrets he has learned in his ritual practices with the dead. Since she killed Isis, Nepythys has been losing her power…that is just the beginning.
The main protagonists are Ella, eighteen, and ten year old Loli, who are the daughters of Ptolemy Child. The sons and daughters of embalmers are expected to begin instruction in the embalming process at the age of ten. Also – Cleopatra XII, Gaius, Clovis, Aulus and Swin the artist.
SJ: If Isis Unbound receives positive reviews and high sales, what would you then see as the next step in your career?
AB: It would be great if the book sold well with a mainstream publisher. I’d just keep pushing forward with new ideas for novels and collections, working hard at getting more out there.
SJ: Bull Running for Girls has been very well-received across the board. You are an acclaimed author now. Has this response encouraged you in your belief that you should write as you want to, rather than streamline your work in terms of the market?
AB: I write what I want and hope that it strikes a chord. That is what I did with Bull Running for Girls. I always bear in mind that horror has always been in mainstream fiction but has never been acknowledged as ‘horror’ as such. Take Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus, one of the more famous full blown blood bath revenge tragedies. Or One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey and Alice Sebold’s Booker Prize winner, The Lovely Bones. This one is a compelling read about the murder of a child. Horror surrounds us every day. Readers look to identify with characters – sometimes even to see them go through worse ordeals than they do in their everyday lives. People read horror for escapism, identification with emotion – for all sorts of reasons.
SJ: Which books have influenced your thinking, and your writing, more than any other? And whose writing style do you aspire to equal?
AB: Two books which instantly come to mind are Robert Aickman’s The Wine Dark Sea and Lisa Tuttle’s Nest of Nightmares. Robert Aickman and Lisa Tuttle are, to me, my ‘gods of writing.’ Their strange, often ‘unexplained’ stories, linger in my mind long after I have read them.
SJ What do you feel is the most important, fully-realised story you’ve ‘told’ so far, and why?
AB: The best way to answer that question is to let a reviewer answer it for me. Deathside is the last story in my collection Bull Running for Girls. I held my mother as she died and decided to write about the pain surrounding that most awful experience in my life thus far. I had no idea that the same, terrible experience, would be repeated with the death of my sister, Sylvia, last year.
‘It says in an earlier story that there is no such thing as a peaceful death in one’s sleep – and here we are again faced with why that is so. In what turns out to be (as a result of the reader’s rite of passage up to this point) a perfect ending to a thankfully and constructively imperfect book, this wonderful SF fable entitled Deathside describes the need for a form of inverse midwife who, during a plague perhaps similar to one that may soon face us all, helps those who are dying to transit through death without being subsumed by the dangerous things that threaten them during that process. Death may be the ultimate bull-run, indeed. But when the midwife herself is the last left to die, who helps her transit? The author of this book was that very midwife, abandoned there at its end, with only one more note to write. This impels me to shed a form of sympathetic tear in support, having now read that final note. Thanks so much for Bull Running for Girls. A reading experience that will never be forgotten.’ Des Lewis.
SJ: You’ve told us about your novel, Isis Unbound. Is there anything coming out this year from you?
AB: I have a novelette coming out from Pendragon Press called For You Faustine which is to be launched at Fantasycon in September.
The story is set on Coney Island, New York, and involves the Lamia myth, the mafia and Swinburne’s poetry. I’ll also be starting another collection in September too. Not this year but next I‘ll be co-editing an anthology with the highly respected writer and editor, Joel Lane. An anti-racist anthology – I’m really fired up about that project.
SJ: Are there any contemporary artists you particularly admire, and have they had any influence on your work?
AB: Ramsey Campbell, Lisa Tuttle, Joe R Lansdale, and Joel Lane, are in my opinion, perhaps the best writers around at the moment. In five minutes more will come to mind. Amongst collections and novels from all those authors I’d certainly recommend Joel’s collection, The Lost District, which is a phenomenal book. I don’t know of any other writer who gets under the skin of British Society in the way he does.
Allyson Bird was speaking to Steve Jensen.
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