An Interview With Allyson Bird

Today folks I’m honoured to give to you an interview with  author Allyson Bird .

Described by Joe R Lansdale as 

“Allyson Bird is a rare bird indeed. An original voice in a world of plain vanilla. She rides some dark waves with grace and a heart full of light and shadow. If there’s any justice, she’s on her way to real recognition.”

GNOH – You’ve recently moved to New Zealand, what prompted the move? How are you settling in, and is it true what they say, that New Zealand is like the UK was fifty years ago?

What prompted the move? It is beautiful! If you look at my facebook page I’ve put some photos on there. I’m still living out of a suitcase until the container and car arrive (they are stuck in Australia due to a strike in the port at the moment) so have limited resources but I AM living here in a 1920’s house with single glazing, in winter. Yes. We’ve turned the clock back that far :>). In many ways we will live the dream that some people have but can’t achieve. My husband, Al, had wanted to come out here for years so we hired a small campervan back in 2006 and did the tour taking in both North and South islands. We decided we would try to come and live here. We’ve been putting it off until he got his degree (he’s an excellent IT Consultant) but you get extra points in the immigration system for the qualification so we waited until he graduated last year before coming to the decision to take a chance and move. It was a risk to come here with no job. My base for writing can be anywhere in the world thanks to the internet. We gave ourselves three months for Al to get work, before we really began to worry, and Al accomplished that in two. He now has a great job in Wellington so we can buy land and build a house.

For a small plot of land and a semi back home in, say, London you can have about eight acres and a large house here. We’ll have an orchard and my youngest can climb the trees already there. We’ll build a bridge over the stream so she can go and look at the deer. Less traffic. Less fear of accidents. We went to Ocean Beach the other Saturday. Didn’t see a car for twenty minutes on the drive back to town. Freedom to roam.

One thing happened at my daughter’s school which made me realise that I would grow to really love New Zealand and that was the Maori New Year ceremony and blessings, by the elders, of the most beautiful carvings for the classrooms. We all got up at to be there for dawn. Of course I’ll be the last of us to settle. I know it. We’ll call our house, when it is built, Manaia. The Manaia is an ancient mythical being with a bird’s head and a human form. It is said to be the messenger between the earthly world of mortals and the domain of the spirits. The Manaia is a holder of great spiritual energy and is a guardian against evil. However, I do miss my friends and family back home. I can’t get in the car with John Travis, go to the York Brewery, and have fun with other writer friends, or go to Alt.Fiction but I’ll be back for Fantasycon.

Like the UK fifty years ago? In some ways yes. Freedom from certain kinds of stress, freedom that comes from having space, freedom from too much advertising. Kiwis mostly take the piss out of themselves, and what they are actually selling/trying to change….there is no revolt against political correctness because they never had it…just joking, but they are lagging behind a little. On the highways here they have a poster which says ‘Stay in Mantrol’ in reference to speeding. You wouldn’t see that in the UK. Kiwis can be so blunt and it comes over in the advertising which can be quite entertaining.

When my furniture arrives in a few weeks my landlord won’t be here so he is giving me the keys to his garage for his furniture and the volunteer fire brigade will help me shift it. There is a wonderful retro feel to the place. Kiwis don’t throw things away for the sake of having the shiny (okay didn’t expect to write that but I’m obviously turning :>) because they can’t.

They continuously fix and extend the life of their belongings. I like that. It is an island like the UK and it isn’t that far from Australia but it is harder to get things out here. Distances between supermarkets/stores and where you live are longer than in the UK.  Meat, fruit and vegetables are cheaper; cheese can be expensive which surprised me, as they export it to China. You can buy land much cheaper but fridges, washing machines, all the white goods you need, are expensive.

As far as personal freedom goes…out here even the young kids from around seven years old all go to the park, and library on their own, and my twelve year old joins her friends there some days. I just tell her to be home before dark. Didn’t do that in the UK. Sure she had a hard time of it for a few weeks when she got here but everyone knows everyone else and reputation is important …so no trouble. She uses humour to charm.

Like the UK fifty years ago? In some ways no. When a series of break-ins took place, a few years ago, in my new home town the local people took to the streets with their hunting rifles. The librarian will milk the cows before she goes to work. No one is defined by their ‘career.’ It isn’t important. Putting food on the table is what is important, like anywhere, but there is less of the…I have to be successful, noticed, status, always visible, have many friends/acquisitions to be of worth, sort of thing.

The Kiwis have an inclination to let things be …in that they don’t change anything for the sake of change. If it isn’t broken don’t fix it. If it is they get on with it. They don’t worry about the future. When I was in manic Naples a few years ago I remember thinking how Italians lived in the present and didn’t think too much about the future. What will be will be. I get that feeling here. Back in the UK, in the present, we all seem to move from one nervous state to another about something. Bombarded with information and advertising until we can barely breathe.

So…people are laid back and take their time with everything. NZ is bigger than the UK. Also 4 million people as opposed to about 67 million back home. Most of the population seem to live in Auckland which is probably the same as any big city, but the nearest to me, Wellington, is smaller. Less people. Less competition. Less stress. Room to breathe.

GNOH – Have you done the Lord of The Rings Trail?

We’ve been to one location close by; The Pinnacles….which is part of The Paths of the Dead. My daughter is going skiing in August to Mount Ruapehu which is Mount Doom. Some of the others are over the pass near Wellington. I don’t like driving over that pass so we go in by train, and it would be difficult to get to some locations along the route, but we might take a look someday. The countryside looks like Hobbiton so I don’t feel the need to go to the actual locations :>).

GNOH – Could you tell the readers a bit about yourself?

Youngest of three children born to a mother who had thought she wasn’t going to have any more children. Older siblings who were good to me but who wants a baby/child around when you are a teenager. I was very shy but a little wild, also. Put my foot down at the age of ten and didn’t go to school. Eventually did, six months later, and won a scholarship. Of 10 of ten and wouldn’t go to school. Finally went six months later. Won a scholarship to grammar. Parents separated soon after. Left school at 16 and didn’t get back into education until thirty two, as I mature student. Graduated from Salford University B.A.Hons in Economic and Social History, and English Literature.

Prone to mild depression now and then. Mind you two winters so close together would be a bit much for anyone but we have had some sunny days. I’m friendly enough when I go out but I do feel the need to be alone every day. Bit of a loner. I write in complete silence…that is when my subconscious pushes images to the surface.

Adventurous. Determined. Selfish. A worrier. Thinks too much. Too serious. Won’t tolerate bullying. Outspoken but sometimes not because someone else might be affected. Like parties now and then. Keen on wide open spaces. Hates to be confined. Won’t be told what to do.

GNOH – Just what in the name is that really disturbing picture of a doll on your website about?

Ha! The doll. The very talented Vincent Chong has let me use that. Creepy…isn’t it. It can’t move. The mind trapped in a body going nowhere. On the other hand it is just a disturbing looking doll. I had one like that.
GNOH – And what’s this about you taking a green stone from a graveyard?  Have you never seen a horror film?

I like risk occasionally. Taking chances. Tempting something or other. Is life meant to be taken so seriously? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if after you died someone came up to you and said ‘so….you think that that life is all there is? There is so much more.’ There again perhaps I should be afraid for taking that green stone…very afraid.  

GNOH – How do you liked to be described as, a horror, dark fiction, weird fiction or just a good old fashioned author?

I’m crossing many genres now so difficult to say. Horror is around us every day if you know where to look. I reflect some of that in my writing and I call myself a horror writer but author is just fine.
GNOH – Why do you think there are so many connotations associated with the genre?

Horror invokes fear. Some like to be taken to the brink knowing they can find their way back…they can put the book down. It is the perfect medium to convey emotion. Heightened experience. Violence can be part of horror and we want to see, perhaps, someone escape it. Many people don’t want to face their fears. Some of us play out our fears in the genre. Horror surrounds everywhere … we can’t escape from it except in fiction where it isn’t happening to us. I won’t be watching A Serbian Film though any time soon. Some back away from horror because they think it is all about violence. It has a far more complicated history and place in real life. Some of us like to feel fear. It reminds us we are alive. Some can’t stomach horror in all its forms. The thought of death. Understandable.

GNOH – What first drew you to the genre?

Since childhood I’ve always been attracted to ghost, weird, and horror stories.

GNOH – Who are some of your favourite authors?

Robert Aickman. Lisa Tuttle. Ramsey Campbell. Lovecraft.
GNOH – Your collection Bull Running for Girls won the British Fantasy Society’s award for best collection.  How important was it for you to win this award?

It is important to me that I won it. The year I did the BFS brought in an extra tier of voting so not just recommendations and a vote on them…we had recommendations, then the long list, and then voting on a short list. BRFG’s sold well at Fantasycon …over fifty copies which was great. People read it and then voted depending on whether or not they liked it. It was a good feeling to pick up the award that day!
GNOH – Forgive my ignorance but what is the significance of the title?

I was feeling vulnerable at the time of writing and looking for a stronger Ally. In some ways I found her again in the writing of that book.
GNOH – How did you go about selecting the stories for the collection?

I wrote three stories and sent them to Steve Upham of Screaming Dreams. On the strength of them he asked me to write more. Many were experimental. I did what I wanted as per usual.

GNOH – Do you have a personal favourite, and if so why?

Difficult one. I think I’d go for Hunter’s Moon. In real life the family in the house next door to me died in a fire. We escaped and raised the alarm. That was in Manchester. I split the story between two places, England and Bordeaux. One place where I was traumatised and one where I had been happy. A ghost story where the past haunted the present and the present the past.  
GNOH – Who do you write for?  Do you write for yourself as a form of therapy, or do write for a particular audience?
I write for myself and hope that others will enjoy the journey.
GNOH – Your second collection Rank Wine and Poison was released to a lot of critical acclaim, how does the collection differ to Bull Running?

For WARP the theme was revenge with many of the deadly sins incorporated. The starting point and the first story, The Black Swan of Odessa, which felt like some new development from what I’d written before, was written for ExOccidente and the homage anthology to Bulgakov. The second story in my collection is linked to the first. Most stories are paired up in one way or another. Vesna, who is the intended victim in the story, Atalanta, extracts a form of revenge in Vulkodlak. I played about with working on the story of Beauty and the Beast, like Angela Carter did, and ‘placed’ my story within the world of my new novel, Isis Unbound. The use of the internet with all its curses and blessings plays a part in Vulkodlak. Mythology has a greater place.

GNOH – Is there a reason as to why you are concentrating on the short story side of things?  As a renowned waffler, I personally have a major problem keeping things concise.  Would you agree that it is more difficult to write a good short story opposed to a good novel length story?

I’ve just written my shortest short story ever called Oyster Pink for Willie Miekle’s new anthology out this year. I feel story is whatever length it needs to be. The devil is in the detail…the imagery which is so important…captures a moment not unlike a poem.
Just came across something which is interesting about short film making which echoes my thoughts on some short story writing. I find that some people try to ‘box’ the short story…the below quote is from Jane Campion.

‘’But short films are not inferior, just different. I think the short gives a freedom to film-makers. They can be more like a portrait, or a poem. The great thing is that almost everyone ends up doing something creative with them, even those directors who then go on to make quite boring features.’

GNOH – On a similar note, what do you think makes for a good short story?

Imagery. Something interesting to say. Originality. Subtext. Not marching to the beat of another’s drum. Do your own thing. Take a chance.
GNOH – Are you going to tackle the novel length format?

Just done so. Isis Unbound is out from Dark Regions Press in September.
Inspired in part by Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Percy Bysshe Shelley’s, Prometheus Unbound, and the works of Rider Haggard and R. E. Howard, Isis Unbound is set in an alternate history, steampunk version of 1890’s Manceastre, Britanniae, ruled by a new governor general related to a descendant of Anthony and Cleopatra, who won the battle of Actium two thousand years ago, and where the ancient Egyptian gods are real.
…Only a god can kill a god. Nepythys has killed her sister, Isis, and therefore the dead cannot pass over to the underworld—their ranks are rapidly swelling and they now roam the streets. Chief embalmer Ptolemy Child’s two daughters, Ella and Loli, aged eighteen and ten respectively, are being instructed in the secrets of the mummification process, when the dead begin to wake and walk. And eventually lead the sisters to the greatest mystery of all: Isis, herself…

GNOH – Can you tell us about Never Again?  Published by GRAY FRIAR PRESS

Joel Lane approached me to co-edit it at a time when the BNP were gaining votes. Literature seemed to be a good way to reply. You can’t exactly kill a word…well you can in a way, you can burn books, but there is something quite wonderful about the published word. Set in stone until the end of time. Your thoughts about injustice in short story format. Writers can use their skill to give something extremely valuable. Stories have helped form our lives for thousands of years so what better way to fight back. 
I liked the close work on the editing. Reading aloud each story and looking for strengths and weaknesses. I’d pass on comments to Joel. He’d go through and edit, too. And then we’d contact the authors with suggestions. Some authors of reprints wanted the text to remain the same others felt a word changed here and there would be fine.

GNOH – The contributing authors reads as a veritable who’s who of horror, how did you decide on who got in?  Was it an open submission or an invite only project?

Invite only. Joel made a list. I made a list. I’d been in contact with Joe Lansdale and asked him. He gave us the choice of three. I really wanted Mad Dog Summer but it was too long so we chose Night They Missed the Horror Show. We asked Lisa Tuttle and Ramsey Campbell. As submissions to invites came in occasionally one wouldn’t quite fit so the author would suggest something else. Both Joel and I had to like it…some, inevitably fell by the wayside. It was a long but worthwhile process. This went until we got a good mix of original stories and reprints. We definitely wanted Stephen Volk’s After the Ape and Rob Shearman’s Damned if You Don’t in there. We discussed all the stories and Joel came up with the running order which is perfect for the book.  

GNOH – Did you have any say on who did the cover?  I’m a big fan of Daniele Serra.

Dani designed the cover of WARP so I was in contact with him. We’ve become firm friends. I asked if he would do the cover for Never Again. He didn’t hesitate in saying yes.

GNOH – How do you go about writing?  Do you plot or go with the flow?  And how do you edit, do you finish the whole story first, or do you edit and rework sections before moving on to the next?

With novels I plot and develop with some surprising results, and edit at the end, and with short stories I have a few ideas in mind which eventually combine with what is going on subconsciously. I edit when I’ve finished. I always know when I’m ready to write. Sometimes I wait until I can’t stand it any longer not to write. I’m getting to that stage now. With BRFG’S I remember working on four stories at the same time over a few weeks.

GNOH – How easy do you find it to draw the line under a story?

Never a problem. Yes it can be abrupt but the story finishes where the story finishes.

GNOH – So what does the future hold for you?  Can you let us in on any secrets?

Well, the novel comes out soon. I’m a Stoker judge in the anthology category this year so I have books to read. I’ve a few shorts to finish for invite anthologies…a project with Dani Serra which will be brimming with his artwork. I need to start looking for a publisher for that. Then a new collection or a novel. Find an agent.

Wine Rank And Poison Can Be Purchased Here


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