The latest Futurefire.net Publishing volume, Fae Visions of the Mediterranean, is an anthology of horrors and wonders of the sea containing 24 stories and poems. One such short story, Lyndsay E. Gilbert’s “The Strangest Sort of Siren,” is one of the darkest pieces, populated by monsters and rulers of the underworld, featuring betrayal and abuse and a naval passage to hell. We asked Lyndsay a few questions about her work.
Lyndsay E. Gilbert is an English teacher from Northern Ireland, where she lives near an ancient castle by the sea surrounded by many pets. She loves lyrical prose, myth, magic, fairy tales and folklore. She writes poetry, short stories and YA novels. You can find her blog at lyndsayegilbert.wordpress.com.
TFF: “The Strangest Sort of Siren” is a very dark, unromanticised twist on Greek mythology—channelling tragedy but not confined by canon. What did the story mean for you?
Lyndsay E. Gilbert: I have always had a deep interest in the story of Hades and Persephone. I wrote this story as a further exploration of a poem I wrote on the topic this year called Persephone Grown. I keep contemplating how Persephone is never given much of a choice, six months with her abductor followed by six months with her mother. She never gets to grow up. She is never given any agency beyond the eating of the fruit in the underworld which is usually seen as an accident. I wanted to hear her voice.
This led next to wondering about the handmaidens who were with Persephone on the day she was taken. Persephone’s mother Demeter was said to have cursed them, transforming them to wicked Sirens. When I started to write on the blank page a handmaiden, held apart from her sisters, appeared immediately and she had a story all her own to tell.
What is your connection with the Mediterranean Sea?
When I saw the call for submissions to the anthology I questioned if I really had a claim on the Mediterranean. Enough to allow myself to enter. (I’m very tough on myself apparently!)
I am from Ireland. We are rich in our own mythology and folklore. It was this folklore that led me to explore other lore from other parts of the world, and I fell in love with the amount of lore coming from the Mediterranean. It molded my imagination as a girl in the same way that fairytales did (and Brian Froud’s Labyrinth let’s be honest—another alluring retelling of the Hades/Persephone myth when you think about it!)
In the end I decided the lore of the Mediterranean was as much a part of my creative self as that of the Ulster warrior Cuchulain!
In your story, sunken ships go to the underworld. Was that simply needed by the plot or do you like to think there is some truth in that?
This is a brilliant question! I think there must be some truth in that considering the amount of ghost ships said to still be sailing the oceans. I was writing “The Strangest Sort of Siren” by the seat of my pants and the idea just presented itself really naturally. In order to be a ghost, a ship must first have a soul. People name a ship and put their lives in its care. So if a ship’s soul goes to the underworld, perhaps someday it too can forget its past and be reborn.
Which underrated English author do you think all your students should absolutely read?
I use short stories to expose my students to amazing new YA authors being published in anthologies quite a lot. The curriculum is awash with the usual white, English dead men. There’s a very real level of snobbery surrounding authors who are still alive it seems! On top of that there’s the academic snobbery surrounding spec fic. Ultimately though, if I had my way, I would unflinchingly bring stories about LGBTQA+ youth into the classroom. We need much more diversity in the curriculum instead of paper thin references to it in school bullying policies. Children of all types of sexualities, backgrounds and races deserve to be represented. So in this vein I guess I’m not suggesting any particular underrated author, I want my students to read authors and stories about people from all walks of life.
What fantastic creature from your part of the world would you most like to go to a party with?
When I first read this question I had a horrible vision of a cartoon leprechaun leaping away with my lucky charms. Terrifying! I would most like to go to a party with a Bansidhe. I think we would have a wail of a time. (I didn’t know I was going to make that pun until it happened and I apologize profusely for it—actually no I don’t, I’m still chuckling at it.)
In all seriousness though, I know a lot of people who have had actual experiences with these disturbing ghost women, and I think Bansidhes deserve to go to a party and have a bit of fun. It can’t be easy having to warn unsuspecting people of an imminent death in their family.
If you were the captain of a ship, what would you name her?
Now that I’ve written my story I might just name her Sappho’s Siren.
What famous work of art would you like to hang over your bed?
Van Gogh, Starry Night. It makes me think of the peace of night time, but also of being in the in-between, not asleep or awake, slipping into dreaming and letting the imagination shift our perspective.
Do you have any recently publications that readers could look up if they want to see more of your work?
My short story “Under the School” was published at Youth Imagination last year, and my novel Blood, Glass and Sugar is a YA urban fantasy retelling of Snow White.
What are you working on right now?
I’m always working on a jumble of things. Right now my two novel projects are the sequel to Blood, Glass and Sugar and a dystopia called The Last Age of Sorrow, where unhappiness has been outlawed. I’ve got lots of short stories on the go too.
Thank you, Lyndsay!
Lyndsay E. Gilbert’s “The Strangest Sort of Siren” can be found in Fae Visions of the Mediterranean.