Saturday, 1 December 2018

Interview with Ephiny Gale

Our friend Ephiny Gale (whose lovely story “The Light Princess” appeared in TFF in 2013, and “Five Tales of the Rose Palace” in 2018) has released a collection of her fantastic and unconventional short stories this week, under the title Next Curious Thing from Foxgrove Press. To celebrate this release, we have invited Ephiny to tell us a little more about her work.

An otherworldly banquet of contemporary fantasy, dark fairy tales and soft science fiction, Next Curious Thing collects some of Ephiny Gale’s best short fiction from 2013 to 2018, including ‘In the Beginning, All Our Hands Are Cold’ (Syntax & Salt Editor’s Award winner) and ‘Wrecked’ (Tangent Online Recommended Reading List). Known for her ability to mix the extraordinary with the relatable, darkness with splendour, and heartache with hope, Gale showcases a wide cast of fascinating female and queer characters in the most curious of situations. In addition to its previously published stories, Next Curious Thing features six brand new tales original to this collection.

TFF: You first appeared in The Future Fire in 2013 with “The Light Princess,” which is maybe not so much a fairy tale retelling as a new fairy tale-like story. Can you tell us a bit about the genesis of and inspiration for this piece?

Ephiny Gale: Occasionally I’ll read the title of someone else’s story, get an idea of what that story “must” be about, and then be disappointed to learn that my assumption was wrong. “The Light Princess” owes its existence to an 1864 Scottish fairy tale of the same name (found via Wikipedia’s “List of fairy tales”) which is about a princess who weighs very little, while I wanted it to be about a princess who was very bright. Thus, my story “The Light Princess” is not a retelling of the 1864 fairy tale; rather, it’s what I immediately hoped the story would be based on its title alone.

What is the clearest golden thread running through the stories in Next Curious Thing? Was that deliberate in your writing and editing, or did it only emerge as you began to collect the stories for the volume?

‘Fairy tales versus superheroes’ is something I’ve been thinking about a lot over the last few years, especially with the recent explosion of superhero movies. Both are fantasy sub-genres, but superhero movies tend to be about extraordinary people saving the world (or at least part of it), while fairy tales tend to be about ordinary people trying to save themselves (or their families) from within that world. The power difference is huge: superheroes are about enacting their power on the world, while fairy tales are about reacting to the (often oppressive) power that the world has on you.

Even though not all of my stories in Next Curious Thing are fairy tales, I think this is the golden thread that runs most clearly through the collection: that these are ordinary people, often in extraordinary—and magical—circumstances, who are trying to survive in spite of the world around them, and shape and improve it in the small ways that we can on an everyday basis.

This thread wasn’t a deliberate choice throughout my writing and editing, but it doesn’t surprise me that this element of fairy tales has spread out into my science-fiction and contemporary fantasy work. I find it much more relatable than stories about superheroes and chosen ones and world-shakers—I can certainly enjoy those types of stories, too, but I’m not sure that they’re the stories I personally want to tell.

Illustration by Margot Jenner © 2018
You have also worked in theater. How does writing for the stage differ from writing prose, for you? Do the specific constraints of theater as a medium make it particularly challenging to tell non-realist stories?

There are definitely restrictions on the kind of non-realist elements you can show on stage, particularly if you’re making theatre with a relatively low budget. I don’t write anything into my stage scripts without first understanding how that might be able to be produced (for instance, with lighting or fire paper or a scrim). Alternatively, for a couple of my shows I’ve chosen to have anything magical or sci-fi occur off stage, and focussed instead on the aftermath or implications of those things.

There’s a lot more freedom with what you can “show” your audience in prose, and also a lot more freedom with structure and the speed at which you can tell a story. Stage scenes are generally confined to the one location (although I’ve enjoyed playing with elements like montages and quick-cuts in my plays before) and build upon each other more directly than prose narration, which might include several jumps between location and time and character in a single paragraph. Depending on the style of writing, too, what might take me an hour to tell on stage could take me just 2,000 words to convey through prose. Prose has a lot more flexibility, but sometimes it’s wonderful to write for the immediacy and atmosphere and constraints of the theatre, too.

Which story or work would you most like to adapt for the stage?

Right now I’d be most excited to adapt the final story in Next Curious Thing, called “The Secret Death of Lane Islington.” It involves a famous teenage singer bringing her non-famous doppelganger back from a parallel universe, so the trickiest parts would be casting actresses who looked enough alike, and working out how to show a portal opening in the middle of the stage. Definitely doable, though.

What is your favourite modern retelling of a traditional tale?

I’m not sure if the Wizard of Oz is considered “traditional” enough, but assuming it is, I have to pick Gregory Maguire’s novel Wicked. Wicked has been one of my favourite books for a long time; I love its world-building, its complexity, and its unexpected quietness. Harking back to what I said earlier about fairy tales versus superheroes, it turns the Wicked Witch of the West from a supervillain into the heroine of her own fairy tale, which is exactly my cup of tea. As you might have guessed from “Five Tales of the Rose Palace” (published earlier this year in The Future Fire) there are a few stories in Next Curious Thing where traditional villainesses receive similar literary treatment.

Ephiny Gale was born in Melbourne, Australia, and is still there, alongside her lovely wife and a small legion of bookcases. She is the author of more than two dozen published short stories and novelettes, which have appeared in publications including GigaNotoSaurus, Daily Science Fiction, and Aurealis. Her stories have featured on the Tangent Online Recommended Reading List, as a finalist in Nestlé’s Write Around Australia, and have been awarded Syntax & Salt’s Editor’s Award.

You can purchase Ephiny’s new story collection Next Curious Thing from any of the booksellers listed here, or better still request your local independent bookstore or library to order it.