Vince Haig

Who’s In The House?

Georgina Bruce is in the house, that’s who!

Something a little different here. An author interview. And what an author!

I first “met” George on the Online Writers Workshop more than a few years ago, where it very quickly became clear her writing was beyond standard critique. Since then I’ve been lucky enough to have the opportunity to read some of her work before it got published and won awards, and it’s a very great pleasure to get a chance to interview her here about her new short story collection, “This House Of Wounds”.

“This House Of Wounds”, cover art by Catrin Welz-Stein and design by Vince Haig

This House of Wounds has been generally available in print for a few of weeks now. How does it feel like to have your first collection out there in the world? 
 

Terrible! I mean, brilliant! I mean, I don’t know really. It’s been unofficially out for a while now so I mainly just think everyone is sick to death of hearing my endless pleas to buy it.

How did you decide which stories to include and what order they should appear? Did you outsource curation entirely to Undertow or did you have a particular vision of your own?
 

I sent them a selection of stories, and from that Mike [Kelly] and Carolyn [Macdonell-Kelly] picked out what they wanted for the book. I withdrew one story at a late stage because I decided it just wasn’t good enough. When it came to the order of stories, I totally abdicated all responsibility for that to Mike and Carolyn. I didn’t feel I had enough distance or perspective to see how it would come out. Mike had a kind of vision of the overall book that I just didn’t. I trusted him to create a coherent collection, and he did – in some ways I think it has become more than the sum of its parts.

On re-reading the stories in House of Wounds did you find yourself struck by any recurring images or themes in your stories that you hadn’t noticed before?
 

There is a lot in my stories that is about abuse and trauma, and processing that abuse and trauma. I don’t think I realised quite how much that was a concern until I saw the stories put together. There’s also a lot more violence than I would have laid claim to! The weirdest thing is when reviewers pick up on themes and imagery that I never even noticed. Obviously readers bring a lot to a book, but still. It’s almost like I am a whole different person than I thought.

Do you have a particular favourite story or one you particularly wish to highlight? What is it that makes it your favourite?
 

I really, really love Kuebiko, and I’m proud of it. It’s kind of a puzzle (I like puzzles) but all the answers are there, it can be pieced together. I don’t know if readers will come up with the same answers I had in mind, but the blanks are there to be filled in. It’s a kind of a game about a story, or a story about a game, or both, and I love how it sort of folds in on itself. I’m really fond of stories where the structure is part of the telling. They are super hard to write but that’s part of the fun. It’s the one story I really want people to enjoy – although quite a few readers skim over it, probably wondering what the hell I’m going on about.

What is your favourite short story by another author, and why? (Okay, that’s unfair. There can be more than just one!)
 

For the past few years, I’ve taught ‘Darling’, a very short story by Padrika Tarrant, to my students and I think it’s a really wonderful story. It’s so shocking. She drags you into the perspective of a very marginalised individual and it’s powerful. My students are always quite polarised in their responses: they either love it or hate it, but they all find it very disturbing. All I hear for weeks is, “Oh my god, Georgina, what is wrong with you?” 🙂 I also teach Priya Sharma’s ‘Egg’ which is wonderful for getting students to emotionally connect with a piece of literature. I usually give that to my nursing students and they are thrilled by the medical references, too! ‘The Heat Death of the Universe’ by Pamela Zoline is one of the great pioneering feminist short stories that made science fiction a better genre for everyone. It’s weird and experimental, a bit of a puzzle, a bit wobbly in terms of genre; the world of the story is a sort of product of the internal state of the character, a woman who is falling apart. It’s exactly the kind of thing I love! Another story I think about a lot is ‘Ad Astra’ by Carole Johnson. It’s just a whole world unto itself, and it’s very strange and sorrowful, and everything that science fiction should be. 

Many reviewers have commented on your unique “voice”. Is this something you work on, the effort hidden like swan’s swimming legs, or is it simply emergent from who you are and how you write?
 

This is difficult to answer because I don’t think I really know what ‘voice’ means, or what people mean when they talk about it with regard to my writing. What I do when I write is try to be very open and connected to myself and to the voices of the characters, and I don’t try to control what’s happening until I’ve got most of a draft. I just let the story go wherever it wants, often just following the imagery until I find the story underneath it all. My characters tend to hide stories, they are ashamed or in denial, so you have to trick the story out of them. I usually spend a lot of time rewriting and editing before I’m happy with a story, but I try not to overwrite and kill the initial spark. Sometimes that means leaving in something clumsy or raw. You have to have confidence to do that – when I was first writing, I wanted it all to be perfect and that would kill the emotion.

What responsibility, if any, do you think writers (should) have?
 

What responsibility do any of us have towards one another? We have to try to be honest, and we have to serve something other than ourselves. Beyond that, I think writers have a responsibility to defend freedom of speech. A key indicator of fascism is when academics and writers are stopped from speaking or publishing. This is happening more and more and I sometimes see writers celebrating that and think, what’s wrong with you? Read a bloody history book.

This House Of Wounds is dedicated to “the lost, and the lonely” — do you have a particular reader or audience in mind when writing, or do you write solely to satisfy your own muse?
 

I never really have anyone particular in mind, but since the collection was published I realised that 17-year-old-me would be my ideal reader. I think This House of Wounds is entirely perfect for super-angry, disenfranchised, alienated and passionate teenage girls.

What other material can your fans expect from you in the next few months and years? What grand ambitions do you harbour?

I’m working on a novel and also a memoir, though at some point one of these is going to take over the other. Neither of them are anywhere near publication. In terms of ambition, I’d love to have more readers! And I’d love to have more time to work on different kinds of writing. I started out in screenwriting and I’d like to get back to it at some point. I don’t know – when I was younger I had ambitions to win awards and be remembered as one of the world’s greatest writers, etc. Now I’ll just be happy if I don’t end up eaten by cats. I don’t have a cat so hopefully I’m safe on that score.

[Note: Georgina’s story “White Rabbit“, included in this collection, has won the British Fantasy Society award for best short story.]

“This House Of Wounds” is available directly from Undertow and also from all standard online book purchasing venues. If you’re a super-angry, disenfranchised, alienated and passionate teenage girl — or even if you’re not! — you should rush out and buy this brilliant collection now.