Catriona Ward is a writer of Gothic novels; her debut, The Girl from Rawblood was described as ‘like Frankenstein only better’ and her second, Little Eve, is out this week. (and it’s stronger still than Rawblood, thus making it much better then Frankenstein). We spoke to her.
Both books have a really strong sense of place. Do you start with the setting or the story?
I think they’re inextricable. There were very different origins for the two places that the books found for themselves. I gravitate to wilder, less explored landscapes, because there’s more scope for telling terrible, Gothic stories. I spent a lot of my childhood on Dartmoor (the setting for Rawblood) and I had an experience there which taught me what the fear of the supernatural was like. the landscape became associated with the uncanny for me.
We lived in a Devon longhouse and the walls were six-foot thick granite and I used to wake up with a hand in the small of my back just pushing me out of bed; it was fucking terrifying. I would try to sleep but the hand would push me and I would have to go and sleep in my sister’s room. It never stopped, it just got more and more frequent, and the thing I remember most about it was the sense of intent. There was something there and it wanted something, and I didn’t what it was but it wasn’t a human need, and it wasn’t anything you could communicate with. It was like being in a room with a force of nature – like a strorm was angry with you,. It seemed to come from a sense of being in an older, untouched place. And maybe it’s a manifestation of my feelings. A deep and savage experience for a deep and savage place.
Though I’m not sure i can keep writing stories about frightened teenage girls on moors. I’d like to try something that wasn’t set in a wild place.
I love the way neither book feels like ‘historical fiction’.
I think that’s sometimes a perjorative term for things people don’t think are very good. A bit like horror or romance. They’re just words used to create a hierarchy of genre. David Mitchell said ‘you have to set books some time’ and the choices are now, then or the future. It’s just a choice of which resonances are going to feed into your narrative. Mine are oppressive Gothic disaster narratives where the worst things happen to the characters, steadily and in quick succession. It’s useful to have the constraints of the past especially if your characters are women.
Strong female characters run throughout your novels. Would they behave very differently if the books were set now?
I wonder. We have more political and civil rights, but I do wonder if the sense of oppression isnt something that still speaks to us today. I think the concerns are still alive.
Little Eve reminds me of cults and Waco etc.
I know! It’s weird that there’s a person out there taking children from their mothers as we speak. And who sees the familiar bond is the greatest threat to autocratic power.
Little Eve is partly about the dangers of family bonds though?
Definitely, Though I hope it’s about families coming in all shapes and sizes. The strongest families in the book aren’t the ones related by blood, they’re the ones built out of love and desperation.