Today as part of our commemoration of the 9th annual Women in Horror Month, we’re featuring a story by Priya Sharma called “The Nature of Bees.” We also had the chance to interview Sharma about her work, which has been featured in Interzone, Black Static, as well as several annual “Best Of” anthologies. Sharma’s story “Fabulous Beasts,” available at Tor.com, won the British Fantasy Award and was nominated for the Shirley Jackson award. Sharma lives in the UK where she works as a doctor. Her new collection, All the Fabulous Beasts, features both stories and is out in April from Undertow Press.
Weird Fiction Review: What was your introduction to horror and the weird?
Priya Sharma: I was lucky to grow up in a house where books and films weren’t censored. I’d have to say Roald Dahl in both his children’s books and short stories, Daphne du Maurier, Hitchcock films, the darkness of Thomas Hardy, Twin Peaks, Ray Bradbury, then Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling’s alternative fairy tale collections, Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber, Stephen King novels.
WFR: Is there such a thing as “too weird”? When your work is called weird, is that a compliment?
PS: I’m delighted for my work to be called weird. As to what is “too weird” I think that’s very subjective. Who defines what’s weird and when it crosses the line?
WFR: What inspired your story “The Nature of Bees”?
PS: I was staying with friends who used to keep bees. I went out onto their smallholding for a walk. It was early in the morning and their was a slight heat haze that hadn’t burnt off yet. I heard the swarm before I saw it. It hung in a massive ball. I remember feeling real awe in that moment. And backing away very slowly.
After that I started reading about bee society. It’s truly brutal. I also was thinking a lot at that time about attitudes towards single women who are 30+ and women who don’t have children.
WFR: Your work often tends to feature biological elements (bees, snakes, sunflowers, etc). Where does your interest in biology come from?
PS: I love the science and the art of the nature. I do a fair bit of research, even for short stories, and I find that very invigorating. It makes me stop and look at the world again and it never fails to excite me. I did Medicine at university and the human body and disease processes are fascinating.
PS: I’m very grateful to Mike Kelly, the editor, who has a real eye for putting a collection together. He stopped me from chucking in stories that would have jarred.
This is a difficult question to answer without going into specifics. The stories in ‘All the Fabulous Beasts’ concern themselves with nature and the environment, feminism, and sexuality, life, death, and rebirth. They show how the past haunts us. Place and setting are integral. We never escape where we come from. Nostalgia is powerful, but we can’t let it kill us. I don’t set out to convey a message. And hopefully the stories are entertaining, not didactic. I’m interested in people, places, mythology, and ontology. After all, we are all just fabulous beasts.”
WFR: Given that this month is Women in Horror Month, do you have any favorite women writers that have inspired your work?
PS: Jeanette Winterson, Angela Carter, Daphne du Maurier, Toni Morrison, Katherine Dunn, Sarah Hall, Alice Walker, Shirley Jackson, Sarah Waters, Jumpha Lahiri, Isabel Allende — to name just a few.