Once again, I’m talking to myself. This time about “St Dymphna’s School for Poison Girls”, which is reprinted in Fablecroft’s Focus 2014.
What was the inspiration for this story?
The title for this story came from a friend’s throwaway line about St Dymphna’s Home for the Wealthy Insane (thanks, Dr Carson). I thought “No, St Dymphna’s Home for Poison Girls” and my mind went off on its own and sat in a corner, conjuring visions of a boarding school like the one in Charlotte Brontë’s Villette except with more murder and fewer French lessons.
I thought about finishing schools for young ladies and the sorts of girls who are sent there, and the kinds of families they come from. I thought about the strife between grand houses caused by matters of pride and honour (not to mention thefts), and wondered what might happen if the female offspring from those grand houses might be taught something useful … which was still misused by said houses. I wondered about the sorts of young women who might not think beyond what their families were sending them to do, who didn’t say to themselves “Sod this for a game of soldiers – I’ve just been taught these great and terrible skills by independent and terrifying women, why should I go off to die in the service of my family? Why shouldn’t I too become an independent and terrifying woman?”
Which is precisely the sort of thing Mercia does think for she’s not one of the herd, although in the end she follows a different path as well. And she’s also been sent off to do something dangerous by her surrogate family, the Little Sisters of St Florian, so in some ways she’s also a pawn but smart enough to break away. Mercia is the youngest daughter of Wulfwyn from “The Burnt Moon”, and the youngest sister of Delling, who frees the ghosts of Southarp in “The Undone and the Divine”. She appears again in the new collection The Tallow-Wife and Other Tales. This story first appeared in The Review of Australian Fiction, Volume 9, Issue 3 – and won the Aurealis Award for Best Fantasy Short Story.
What should new readers know about you?
I work with fairy tale themes. Always. Apparently. Even when it seems I’m not, there’s going to be some line that hints back to a fairy or folk tale. I just do.
And I like to put little links between my stories, just tiny things. For example, in the story “By My Voice I Shall Be Known” set in the Sourdough world, one of the locations the main characters visits is Lady’s Mantle Court; in my novella “Ripper”, which is set in Victorian London, I also have a Lady’s Mantle Court. It amuses me.
Can you remember the first story you read that made you want to be a writer?
I think it was “The Tower” by Marghanita Laski. I always read a lot and loved reading, but I read this one as part of Year 11 English and can still remember the buzz it gave me and that striking sense that I wanted to write things like that.
Name your top five favourite authors.
Angela Carter, Margo Lanagan, Tanith Lee, John Connolly, Kelly Link.
The future of Australian spec-fic is …?
Expanding! Gaining world attention – as it should!