Interview: Marian Womack

"Beauty is complicated."

Today we’re pleased to announce that we’re publishing the original short story “Orange Dogs” by Spanish writer Marian Womack. Womack is a graduate of the Clarion Writers Workshop, and a student in the Creative Writing Master’s at the University of Cambridge. She was born in Andalusia and has published two novels in Spanish, as well as contributing to more than 15 anthologies of short fiction, including Alucinadas, the first female-authored Spanish language anthology of SF. Her fiction in English appears in Apex, Supersonic Mag and The Best of Spanish Steampunk, and she has published on Spanish literature, culture and society in the Times Literary Supplement, the New Internationalist, and The Science Fiction and Fantasy Network. Chosen by literary magazine Leer as one of the thirty most influential people in their thirties in Spain’s book sector, she is also a prolific translator and co-runs Ediciones Nevsky, a Madrid/Cambridge-based small press specialising in European & Spanish slipstream in translation. She tweets as @beekeepermadrid and her website is marianwomack.com.

Since “Orange Dogs” is Womack’s first piece at Weird Fiction Review, we decided to ask Womack some questions about her introduction to reading, her favorite stories, and where she draws her inspiration from.

Marian WomackWFR: What kinds of fiction or stories did you read and watch growing up? And how have your tastes changed between what originally captivated you and now, if at all?

My parents weren’t exactly ‘bookish’ types, but our house had plenty of books; we were a working class family, and my parents decided early on that both my brother and me should go to university. From the beginning they invested heavily in our education, and part of this was the number of books and encyclopedias we had access to. They were members of a Spanish catalogue book club, the Círculo de Lectores, and through we it we acquired most of the classics and Nobel prize winners, as well as contemporary authors. They didn’t buy us lots of children’s books; we were encouraged to dig into this amazing well very early on. The first ‘adult’ books I remember reading, and that really had a big influence on me, came from this collection: they were Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment and a compilation of the works of Edgar Allan Poe. I think these two books defined my writing and my personal aesthetic from very early on (I co-run a small press with a strong Russian literature list, and write gothic/weird/horror fiction). I remember quite clearly closing Crime and Punishment and deciding I wanted to be a writer at that moment. With regard to Poe, he is still very much with me, in everything I do. I definitely had a Gothic sensibility from very early on, and one of the novels that most influenced me in my early years was Wuthering Heights. From there it was an easy walk towards the stories of M.R. James, collections of early gothic novels, novellas, and short fiction. My short fiction tastes developed a bit while at university in the UK, where I discovered the wide influence of the gothic mode (to me, one of the main characteristics of English literature) in Victorian fiction, and in C.20th women’s fiction, from Jean Rhys or Elizabeth Bowen, to Susan Hill, who has some amazing gothic short fiction from the 1970s. I also read Angela Carter at university for the first time, and she definitely turned my world upside-down. I don’t think I could properly explain how influential Carter was for me, how much she showed me what literature can do.

WFR: What would you consider your favorite stories, and why?

I have translated into Spanish and edited anthologies of early gothic fiction, of Dickens’s ghost stories, or Mary Shelley’s gothic fiction. Those books contain some of my favorite classic short stories. Basically, English classic ghost and horror fiction, and Russian authors such as Gogol or Chekhov, whose short stories we have also published. Borges and Cortázar ought to be there as well. But if I had to compose a less general list, it would contain for sure the whole of The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter, ‘The Demon Lover’, by Elizabeth Bowen, ‘Clytie’, by Eudora Welty, ‘El Sur’, by Adelaida García Morales, ‘El balneario’, by Carmen Martín Gaite, ‘The arm’, by Ludmila Petrushévskaia. I admire a lot the short fiction of another young Russian author, Anna Starobinets, and of a young and talented Swedish author, Karin Tidbeck, and would recommend, anthologise, translate or teach practically any of their stories.

WFR: What writers were your introduction to the “weird”, whether the Weird Tales kind of weird or something even stranger?

My imaginary as a writer is perhaps a little varied, coming from Spain but being educated in the UK. Gothic fiction is of course very much connected with the ‘weird’, and in a way I moved towards weird fiction from my love of gothic fiction. But the Hispanic tradition was also a fertile ground for ‘weirdness’, with its connections to surrealism in Spain and to magical realism in Latin America. To me, Borges and Cortázar are two pillars of ‘my’ understanding of the weird, and they both sit comfortably with Lovecraft, for example. I must confess I discovered Lovecraft through the role-playing game The Call of Cthulhu in my early teens. I have remained a fervent admirer of the role-playing game, and make a point of collecting add-ons for it when I come across them; perhaps I have fallen a little out of love with Lovecraft himself. But there is also some European fiction and in particular Russian literature that informed my aesthetic from very early on. I have to mention here again Gogol’s short fiction (whose complete short fiction I am in the process of editing now!), and Dostoevsky. He may not be a strictly ‘weird’ writer, but his feverish and obsessive sensibility I can clearly connect with my own understanding of weird aesthetics.

WFR: Is there such a thing as “too weird”? If someone tells you something you’ve written is “weird” is it usually a compliment?

I would personally take it as a compliment!

WFR: How would you define or describe your personal aesthetic as a writer, in your own words?

Beauty is complicated.

What inspires you the most in your writing? Where do you most frequently draw inspiration for your stories?

Absolutely everywhere, with my son in the park, out in the streets of Madrid or Cambridge. A lot happens when I travel; I don’t mean holiday travel, which we don’t get a lot of, but the everyday metro rides, or commuting between the UK and Spain. But the first one has to be reading. We are a family who reads and writes all the time, and to me words breed words in a way. My mind opens in a very particular manner when I am reading, even if I am working on a horror story and what I happen to be reading is poetry. I am not into other kind of modern narratives such as videogames (and always have the nagging feeling that I am losing out…) but we watch a lot of series at home, and I guess television series are helping us find other narrative paths as well. I am a life-long fan of Doctor Who, and I’m sure this has laid down a sediment somehow. And, absolutely seriously, there are a number of sections in the newspaper (I read The Guardian in the UK) that do not fail to provide me with material I want to talk about, whereas is about climate change, social inadequacies, or the economic super-rich playground that London life is turning into… Frankly, Britain is becoming a very dystopian place to observe. On the other hand, Spain is a strange mixture of weird traditions and gothic cruelty, where the wounds of a dictatorship are still self-evident. Its modernity is a very new thing. We are lucky that, coming and going between places, we are capable of remaining creatively fresh in our vision over both Spain and the UK. Despite my life-long love affair with an England that doesn’t quite exists outside of books, films and TV shows (I have to include ‘The Great British Bake Off’ here…), I also have a few stories I would like to write about Spain and Andalusia, where I was born. Catherine Valente suggested me while at Clarion that I should write a gothic piece set in Andalusia. That is what I am working on right now.