Beneath the sound of rain striking against the tent’s roof, authors Camilla Grudova and Helen McClory talked us through their short story collections and the eerie, mythical worlds they possessed. The event was chaired by Philippa Cochrane, Head of Reading Communities at Scottish Book Trust, who navigated and unpacked a fascinating discussion (spanning from dream logic to the castrati) with ease and enthusiasm.
Helen McClory is an Edinburgh-based writer who was at the Book Festival to talk about her newest short story collection, Mayhem & Death, whilst Camilla Grudova came from Toronto to give us an intriguing insight into The Doll’s Alphabet. Titled ‘The Dark Side of Us’, their event explored the compelling links between both collections, providing space for a discussion that looked into the need to view the real world from different angles, to address the ongoing issues with the representation of women writers, and the strength of the short story as a form.
The rain amped up as both authors read carefully through their stories, giving the audience just a glimpse into their layered worlds that are both surreal and mesmerizing. Both excerpts were high in description, conjuring images that demanded to be seen, whilst a gentle, unassuming lyricism pulled the audience along, word by word.
Following both readings, the conversation moved on to openly discussing our society and the threats surrounding us. Both authors kept coming back to the need for fiction to be able to represent and reflect the dangers and uncanniness of our own lives in a different light. When talking about her interest in the surreal, the dreamlike, McClory said “it’s the idea that the world is becoming uncanny, or that it has always been uncanny but it’s getting much worse.” Grudova, very much in tune with this idea, added that it put her in mind of the Emily Dickinson quote ‘Tell all the truth but tell it slant.’
This brought Cochrane to address “the difficult Angela Carter question” in relation to their experiences as women writers and the common comparisons made between themselves and Carter. Grudova said, “Whenever a young women publishes a book, or there is something slightly strange or sexual, there is this comparison to Angela Carter, who, of course, none of us can live up to.”
McClory agreed, adding, “It’s also that people don’t understand fully what Angela Carter was as a writer. She gets her edges shaved off of her, and is seen within that label of magic realism.” This formed an interesting part of their conversation as they touched upon the links between magic realism and women writers. McClory asserted that it is often “a term used to diminish female writers” and place them in a group they might not want to be in – a perspective which chimed with many members of the audience.
The last question came from an audience member who asked them to expand further on their use of language, and the role it played in creating their highly visual worlds. McClory responded, “I feel like I’m following the image and the way that it shatters and rejoins…and that dictates the language.” Grudova paused before beautifully surmising, ‘I see language kind of like an iron wrought fence that you’re looking through at something…I want to notice the fence and its decorations but also see an image through it’, leaving the audience with a way of viewing the unique uncanniness of both collections.
For more on the Edinburgh International Book Festival click here.