Angela Slatter’s short story, The Angel Wood, appears in the Autumn 2006 issue of Shimmer.
Questions About the Story
Where did the idea come from?
Two sources – I was watching one of those British crime movies (as is my wont) and a murder was set in a place called the “Angel Wood”, and I thought “cool name”. So that was floating around in my head as a title; then a couple of nights later I couldn’t sleep, so got up for some appalling late-night TV watching. There was a program about the Black Death in London in the time of Charles II, and they’d done these excellent re-enactments of how life was then: how the sick stayed in doors during the day but came out at night for some fresh air, while the well stayed inside their locked houses. So, the two ideas came together, about a wealthy family fleeing the disease, basically going back to the mother’s old home, which she’d never spoken to her kids about. I liked the idea of it being a homecoming for the kids even though they’d never known about the place – it’s sort of a story about finding home wherever it happens to be.
How did the story change as you developed it?
I sliced off the first three hundred odd words which basically covered the escape from London – it set the atmosphere really well and I loved it, but in the end it was not really necessary to the rest of the story. I was sad to see it go, but the story stands better without it, it’s much tighter. I also had a character called Melisande, who was the great-grandmother and Sybilla was an aunt (like a bride and a handmaiden), but a friend pointed out that they were really just reflections of each other, so I cut Meilsande out (she was slightly malign anyway), and made Sybilla a more rounded character. She works much better.
You know the advice “Sometimes you have to kill your darlings.” Was there a scene or line that it really hurt to cut, but cutting it made the story stronger?
Sure, here t’is:
We escaped London almost intact. Only my father, virulent blossoms decorating his body like funeral wreaths, succumbed. He was one of the last to have a proper funeral, all the pomp and ceremony quite pointless; it was, by then, obvious that wealth and power held no sway over the disease.
Our flight was organized in a rush, with my mother paying off the remaining servants and sewing her jewellery into the hems of our cloaks. When we walked the fabric drifted heavily, like a slow snowfall. Jeremy-Charles, only three, wailed as Mother gutted his favourite bear and stuffed pearls into the cavity. When I handed it back to him he sniffed suspiciously at the new stitching before snuggling up to it and firmly lodging his thumb in his mouth. The twins, Millicent and Mathilda, sat quietly, self-contained, until asked to do something. They helped at once and, when finished, sat again and waited patiently.
Our single trunk we heaved into the carriage, too anxious to bother with tying it to the roof. Mother and I each had a set of Father’s pistols snugly sitting under our cloaks.
The carriage ride through London that evening was like traveling down a reeking tunnel. At night, the well and the as-yet-not-ill hid inside their homes so that the already ill and the soon-to-be-dead could roam the streets and take in what passed for fresh air. Mother drove, whipping the horses until we’d left the plague-infected city and its walking corpses behind.
Now, with the city just a memory, the air is so sweet it creeps up our nostrils and makes us sneeze at its strangeness.
How is this story like your other work?
It’s like the rest in that it taps into that folkloric kind of pool that I’m interested in, but it isn’t based on any particular fairytale. I guess the green man idea is an old one but I didn’t write the story for it to be a re-written fairytale. It was more about the idea of coming home, of your family always being part of your blood, even the family you don’t know.
Questions About Writing
How long had you been submitting before you made your first sale?
Um…probably only a few months. I was very lucky that my first sale was to Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, and my second to Shimmer, and those were within a couple of weeks of each other. Those two sales have been so fortuitous because other magazines see Shimmer and LCRW on you writer’s bio and they go “oooh!” and are much more inclined to view your work with a tender eye, rather than a harsh one. It was weird – my first story to be sold was the one I thought no one would buy. So, what do I know??
Do you work with a critique or writers group?
My Masters supervisor is also a writing buddy, and I have about 8 readers. Four are other writers, so we work in a group; the other four are avid readers, so I get both perspectives on my work: the technical p.o.v. and the readerly p.o.v., which I find really valuable in developing my work.
What authors, if any, have had the most influence on your work?
Um. Angela Carter and Emma Donoghue are both superb fairytalers. I love John Connolly’s work, which mixes fantasy and crime and some seriously scary stuff all together – his writing has a superb voice, it’s cleverly written, great pace, and has a real depth of knowledge behind it. I really admire that. I don’t know if that makes them the ‘biggest influences’ – they are certainly writers I admire. I think your influences change over the years and it’s a hard question to answer!
Favorite short story you’ve read recently?
Two by Aimee Bender in Her “Willful Creatures” collection: “The Meeting” and “Ironhead
Do you believe in ghosts or the supernatural? Why?
Yep, because I have relatives who are still hanging around! Science kids itself that it has the answer to everything and that everything’s logical. It’s not, end of story, get over it! You can’t explain everything.
Fast food: Yea or Nay?
Damn it. Like everything, it’s okay in moderation. But, please, McDonalds as a health food joint?!
Name one place in your hometown that you love to go to and would recommend to others to visit.
Avid Bookstore at West End, coz it’s cool.
Is there anything that you would “sell your soul” for?
Do you have a secret skill that you never get to show off?
No, no skills at all. Or none I’m admitting to.