How did this story come about?
I’m not entirely sure. I think it started with an image of the paintings: fantastical paintings of a woman. And then I thought about the woman, and the artist who would see her differently from how other people saw her, and finally came the setting, a Southern setting because that was at least partly where I grew up. And that was where I could imagine another sort of very rigid woman, one who insisted on her own perception of the world, and would have that perception brought into question by the end. So it sort of evolved, but it started with the image of Lily, and the paintings of Lily.
Lily seems to have few redeeming characteristics: even her cooking is prone to burning. Why does Andras see such magic in her?
I think she does actually have some very important redeeming characteristics. She’s honest—she’s not pretending to be anyone else. She’s tolerant and accepting. She’s romantic, in the larger sense—she sees the world in a romantic way. In this story, you’re only seeing her from Eleanor’s point of view, but the whole issue is that Eleanor’s point of view is very limited. There’s an entire world inside her sister that she’s never seen. And in the end that realization is overwhelming for her. I think most of us fail to see the worlds inside other people, even when we know them very well.
“Lily, With Clouds” is one of the stories in your collection, The Forest of Forgetting. There is an Emily Gray strand that weaves through some of the stories in the book: will she appear in your work in the future?
Yes, she’s in a story of mine coming out in The Starlit Wood, a fairy tale anthology from Saga Press. The story is called “The Other Thea,” and in it you find out a little more about who Emily Gray really is. Not that much more, I’m afraid. But she’ll be back . . .
In the last lines of the story, Eleanor is referred to as “Ellie.” Can you talk about that subtle change and how it relates to how her view of the world has changed?
To be perfectly honest, I hadn’t realized I’d done that. I suppose I was doing what writer do, which is writing out of instinct, out of what feels right at any particular moment. Perhaps she’s no longer her own idea of who she is, I don’t know. Robert Louis Stevenson said that he had a Brownie (the small Scottish sprite, not the pastry) in his head, writing the stories for him. Perhaps my own personal story-writing Brownie put that in, for reasons of its own . . .
What do you think of the multiple comparisons of your work to Angela Carter?
Are there multiple comparison of my work to hers? I had no idea. I think my work is very different. She’s a supreme stylist: she creates a gorgeously textured surface, and underneath the structure of her stories is primarily thematic. They are held together by thematic elements, by repetition of images and ideas, by their relationship to other stories . . . I think my writing is much simpler. What I’m trying for is a kind of clarity and directness. And the underlying structure is usually a plot of some sort. I don’t think I could write a story like Carter’s “The Erl-King,” which is really a gorgeous prose poem. That said, I love Carter, particularly her short stories. If I’m like her in any way, it’s in rewriting fairy tales, trying to reclaim and recast that literary heritage . . . and in writing about women.
I studied and worked in Hungary—a country of much magic itself. In what ways does its literary tradition influence your writing?
The first books I read were fairy tales in Hungarian, which were always the darker versions. I think those have definitely influenced my writing. But the larger influence is European literature in general: I grew up reading Kafka and Kundera, Sartre and Nabokov, Dinesen and Colette. Part of it was being a pretentious teenager, as I think most writers probably were. But part of it was missing something, and reading anything that contained what seemed to be missing, a certain approach to the world. A sense of old beauty, a sense of age, I don’t know. But I do find it again whenever I go back to Budapest. The down side is that I still haven’t read some American classics, although I read an awful lot of Willa Cather as a teenager. But then, she wrote a lot about European immigrants in a new world, so perhaps that’s the connection. And come to think of it, my favorite American writers, like Hawthorne, Poe, and James, all write quite a bit about the connection between America and Europe.
Any news or projects you’d like to share?
I have two books coming out from Saga Press in 2017 and 2018. They are both about a group of rather unusual women: Mary Jekyll, Diana Hyde, Beatrice Rappaccini, Catherine Moreau, and Justine Frankenstein. The first book is about how they find one another in late nineteenth century London, and the adventures they have together. I’m still working on the second book, but their adventures will take them to Vienna and Budapest. The books have been a lot of fun to write! I’m looking forward to seeing what readers think of them . . .
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