One of the things that stands out for me is the theme of personal agency in this piece. I think many people are taught to sublimate their own desires and become dutiful partners—both romantically and non-romantically. I feel like this piece is a beautiful rendering on the struggle to work through this “programming” and discover one’s own desires and needs. But there’s also this deft representation of different levels and types of agency through different characters. Do you feel like this is still an important topic in terms of gender? Or has it become more individual or cultural?
I’m so pleased that this theme comes through, because during the drafting process it became clear that personal agency was something I wanted to explore. The women of “Waterbirds” are its focus, of course—when Celia gets to choose how she presents herself to the world, or Irene breaks away from a difficult situation, I hope readers will see how these experiences are relevant to them as women.
But the characters—and therefore we—struggle against social and cultural constraints as well and I think it’s important to consider those journeys, too, whether it’s the elderly Mrs. Lawson’s fight for agency over her own health, or Irene’s pursuit of art in the introverted, inward-facing town of New Heacham.
I really like the complexity of relationships in this piece, and the difficulty of navigating them. The situations feel real. What are some of things you do as a writer to not only go beyond the standard, basic plotline, but to make a scenario that rings true?
By watching films and TV, reading books, and just observing people—it all adds up when you come to portray relationships, because you have a lot of references to draw from. The arrangement between Mrs. Lawson and Celia is very much like that of paid companions in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, so it’s already familiar, and I made sure to research the area the action takes place in to make the setting feel as plausible as possible.
Adding small details helps create depth to scenes as well. It’s interesting to see what your subconscious will come up with when you’re drafting.
Celia has this personal journey of discovery which has a fringe of danger to it. I mean, one step in the wrong direction and she could end up on the scrap heap, or worse—I won’t talk about what worse would be, but it isn’t hard to imagine given the contexts. Do you gravitate towards positive endings, or were there drafts with darker results?
I like writing bittersweet endings, or endings that hit more than one note, and “Waterbirds” is no different. However, I knew from the start that this story would end happily. Around the same time as I was writing it, there was a lot of online discussion around f/f representation in fiction and the unfortunate trend of killing off queer characters. In light of that, it was important to me to show a positive f/f relationship where both partners survive to enjoy it!
What was your process with this story? Where did it come from, how did it start—was there a single session of frantic writing, or did you edit over and over?
I’d wanted to write a story about a paid companion who falls in love for some time and had tried a few different approaches, but nothing seemed to stick until I thought about setting it on the Norfolk coast. The title actually came first, and I built the plot around the types of birds in the area.
At first, I’d planned to write a literary story with some very slight speculative elements, but once I stumbled on the idea of Celia as an android, I found new layers I hadn’t seen before. I drafted the story over the space of a week and edited it very slightly with the help of a few keen-eyed crit partners. The whole process was so smooth that I think my subconscious must have been busy working on it for some time before I actually started writing!
What do you look for in fiction? What are some of the most inspiring pieces for you?
I love a strong sense of place and of voice. Recently, I enjoyed “Cutting Teeth” by Kirsty Logan (The Dark, April 2018), and “Nitrate Nocturnes” by Ruth Joffre (Lightspeed, April 2018).
I liked this story overall, but I want to call out the craft, because I really enjoyed the craft of this story. The particular attention to detail, for example, the way things unfolded, the bluntness mixed with the beauty, the characters themselves . . . How has your writing evolved since that initial Freeze Frame Fiction story acceptance? And what sorts of things do you do to work on your craft?
Thank you! The mention of Freeze Frame Fiction is a blast from the past. They published my first ever short story, which I wrote in 2013-14, so I’ve had five years’ practice since then! My approach to writing, my attitude and work ethic, even what I like to write—it’s all changed in that time. I dig deeper with my characters and settings than before, and I know now how I want to write, rather than how I think I should write.
Reading as much as possible and swapping crits with my writing group have given me invaluable tools and experience which I draw on for every story.
What are you working on now that new fans can look forward to?
I’m putting the finishing touches on a few new short stories, including a Gothic horror novelette that I’m really proud of. Then I plan to write a novel. I keep changing my mind about which idea to tackle first, though!
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