Margrét Helgadóttir is Norwegian-Icelandic and lives in Oslo, Norway. Margrét’s stories have appeared in several literary magazines and print anthologies. She was shortlisted for the British Fantasy Awards 2016 as writer with the debut book The Stars Seem So Far Away, and as editor for African Monsters, both published by Fox Spirit Books. She is editor for the Fox Spirit Book of Monsters, seven annual anthologies published between 2014 and 2020, and the anthology Winter Tales (2016). Find out more about Margrét on her blog or Twitter.
World of Monsters seems like a hugely ambitious project, with each book aiming to cover a huge range of folklore and mythology. How did you go about trying to get a representative sample?
Well, it is ambitious. Not only do we want a broad range of monsters, but we also wish to show the world authors and artists in the different regions, many largely ignored in the western popular culture. So from volume two (Africa), I have searched for authors with a strong connection to the continent or region who can either tell a tale of monsters based on local folklore or create a new monster. This means that I need both information about the background of the writer plus knowledge of their writing style. I spend lots of time in the beginning of each book project researching and building up the table of contents. I want writers from every corner of the continent. It is a goal but I can't succeed hundred percent with this. It has something to do with language, if there exist writers at all, and if I can reach them and they want to participate. It is always sad when a writer backs out of the project at some point because he/she is carefully selected and is not only a good writer, but also a representative for this part of the continent in the book.
This is of course not a guarantee that the writers will write about their country or a monster from the local folklore. I am always talking with the writers early in the project to make sure they don't select a monster which is already picked by other contributors. We can't have a book with fifteen stories about vampires for instance. There are always one or two monsters which are more popular than others so I try to challenge the writers to think broader. As the book slowly builds and I know a little bit about what monsters will be featured, I can usually see what direction the book is leaning. I might then give hints and directions to the authors who haven't made up their mind yet, about what kind of monsters that are neglected. Also it is a balance. At the same time as I want a representative range of monsters I must respect that each region often has a folklore dominated by this or this kind of monsters. In Asia it was clear that demons, ghosts and spirits was the thing. In the Pacific Ocean it seems to be (of course) monsters in the water.
So it is an unusual and time-consuming anthology method since I am slowly building it up and taking lots of risks since I never know how the stories will turn out. Great fun!
Any illustrations in books (at least, outside of children's books) are enough of a rarity these days. What made you decide to go all the way in the other direction, with such a gorgeously and comprehensively illustrated book?
It has been our mission to give the monsters a renaissance as real monsters, a comeback of sorts with gorgeous art and in the style of a coffee table book, with short stories, art, and graphic stories. We really felt they deserved to be put on the coffee tables in the glamorous style right there the middle of the humans' homes. I am very lucky that the publisher Fox Spirit Books shares this vision as these books are quite expensive to make.
I'd never expect you to choose a favourite story or illustration, but is there something unique about the Asian monsters that you can share with us?
Oh I do have favourites but I would never share them! In the continent of Asia you find same monsters as in other parts of the world but what has struck me while editing this volume is all the spirits and ghosts who exist in much of the Asian folklore. Also, I would say that home is an underlying theme in Asian Monsters, but it’s not so much about the place but about the family itself and the strong relationships between loved ones, dead, living or not there.
American monsters seem timely, but Australian monsters are pretty cool. Which will be next?
We discussed the order quite long but Pacific Monsters is next volume up, covering Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands, including Hawaii. The next two volumes after Pacific region will cover South, Mid and North America, including the Caribbean Islands, while the last volume in the series will take us to Eurasia, including Russia, much of Eastern Europe and the Balkan. So, four more volumes to go!