Interview with Helen Marshall, author of The Migration
Published: April 04,
2019 | 06:30
Please welcome Helen Marshall to The Qwillery as part of the 2019 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Migration was published on March 5, 2019 by Random House Canada.
TQ: Welcome to The Qwillery. What is the first piece you remember writing?
Helen: Oooh, good question. One of my earliest finished short stories was a sort of weird fiction piece about a young woman and her love who go looking for the lost city of Atlantic off the Isle of Scilly. My favourite bit is the melodramatic final line: "Their love was deep, but the ocean was deeper."
TQ: Are you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?
Helen: A natural pantser! I took some improv classes when I was in university and I've found that even though I wasn't good at acting, a lot of the theory has been very helpful for my writing. The book Impro by Keith Johnstone is brilliant and helped me enormously with figuring out how to write short stories. I've had less success pantsing my novels though, and so I tend to be something of a hybrid there. I often come up with the structure of the novel and some of the major plot elements in advance.
TQ: What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?
Helen: Not knowing what's going to happen next. Because I'm a pantser, the details of the plot are as much a mystery to me as they are to the reader. But unlike the reader I don't have the luxury of knowing that there will be some sort of resolution at the end. In the words of Tim Gunn, I have to figure out how to "make it work."
TQ: What has influenced / influences your writing?
Helen: I read quite eclectically, wandering from science fiction and horror to non-fiction, science writing, poetry and memoir. What attracts me most to a piece of writing is a compelling voice. Well, a compelling voice and zany ideas. I love the feeling of reading something and encountering something genuinely surprising. Some of my favourite writers are Rob Shearman, Kelly Link, Georgina Bruce, Nick Harkaway and Nina Allan because all of them manage to do that.
TQ: Describe The Migration using only 5 words.
Helen: Sisterly love. Birds, birds, birds.
TQ: Tell us something about The Migration that is not found in the book description.
Helen: Ha! That's difficult to do without spoilers. As a teaser I'll just say that it involves the image of bodies "stacked like a macabre lasagne"...
TQ: What inspired you to write The Migration?
Helen: To me, The Migration explores death as a transition, rather than as an end. In some ways, it began as a reworking of the motif of the zombie which I felt had been overdone in recent novels. But for me there was something intrinsically fascinating about the idea of the zombie: the loved one who returns as something changed. Although The Migration is set against the backdrop of global changes, it takes intensely personal and focused look at the way families deal with the trauma of losing a loved one, how they come to terms with their own mortality, and how they find a way to keep living in the face of tragedy.
TQ: What sort of research did you do for The Migration?
Helen: I did a fair bit of research in different areas to construct the central conceit of The Migration. I found Awakenings by Oliver Sacks to be particularly helpful in terms of thinking about a widespread condition with clusters of symptoms. I supplemented this with conversations with my mother, a pathologist (who kindly arranged a visit to the morgue), and fellow writer M. Huw Evans who helped me convert ideas into story. But the elements of the transformation were inspired by insect metamorphosis, which turned out to be an utterly fascinating line of research.
TQ: In The Migration who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?
Helen: The easiest character to write was Sophie's younger sister, Kira. She was one of the main starting points for the novel and her voice seemed the most natural. Sophie's mother was probably the most difficult character to write because her world was so claustrophobic and difficult to grapple with. It was only when I wrote the first draft of the epilogue of the novel that I felt as if I had come to a more sympathetic view of her.
TQ: Does The Migration touch on any social issues?
Helen: In his article, “Apocalypse: What Disasters Reveal”, Dominican writer Junot Diaz turns to the devastating earthquake which struck Haiti in 2010 in order to look at what a disaster might tell us about the world we live in. He reminds us of the Greek etymology of the word apocalypsis, meaning “to uncover or reveal.” The only value that catastrophes of this magnitude offer is that as things fall apart “they give us a chance to see the aspects of our world that we as a society seek to run from, that we hide behind veils of denials”. Importantly, he suggests that disasters provide insights into the underlying conditions which enabled the disaster in the first place so that we can change. The Migration is interested in the revelatory process of this sort of breakdown.
TQ: Which question about The Migration do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!
Helen: I was asked a fantastic question in a Reddit interview I gave, which was: what piece of research did you find most interesting but never use?
I read about an experiment in which a scientist ironically named Wigglesworth was searching for the process by which nymphs--the juvenile form of an insect-- entered metamorphosis. Wigglesworth beheaded two groups of nymphs at different stages of development, then used paraffin wax to join the two insect bodies together, neck to neck, so the blood could flow freely from one to the other. What he discovered was that the two insect bodies behaved as if they had been integrated into one, with different parts of the conjoined body being brought into alignment. I referenced the research obliquely in the middle of the book but I initially wanted to include a horrific dream sequence in which Sophie imagined children as the subjects of these experiments.
TQ: Give us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from The Migration.
"On the bedside table is an old storybook we used to read together. A fragment of Kira’s favourite story floats into my mind. It described a time when the world was underwater—no land to be found anywhere, just endless ocean and endless sky. And birds—hundreds of them, thousands of them, filling up the empty space with their song. Birds like smoke, birds like weather. Among them was a lark. When her mother died, there was nowhere to bury her body. No earth, only water. And so the lark lived in grief, idly circling. Her path was a knot of sorrow. On the third day she buried her mother in the back of her head."
TQ: What's next?
Helen: I'm currently at work on two novels, neither of which follow on from The Migration. One is a bonkers tale of godlike talking tigers, stage magicians and truth and lies in politics. The other is about sentient sludge on Mars.
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
The Migration Random House Canada, March 5, 2019 Trade Paperback and eBook, 304 pages
“A dark fable that somehow feels both timeless and urgently topical. The Migration is heart-wringing and powerful, but over and above that, it’s just vivid and immersive and enthralling throughout.” –M.R. Carey, author of The Girl with All the Gifts
When I was younger I didn’t know a thing about death. I thought it meant stillness, a body gone limp. A marionette with its strings cut. Death was like a long vacation–a going away. Not this.
Storms and flooding are worsening around the world, and a mysterious immune disorder has begun to afflict the young. Sophie Perella is about to begin her senior year of high school in Toronto when her little sister, Kira, is diagnosed. Their parents’ marriage falters under the strain, and Sophie’s mother takes the girls to Oxford, England, to live with their Aunt Irene. An Oxford University professor and historical epidemiologist obsessed with relics of the Black Death, Irene works with a Centre that specializes in treating people with the illness. She is a friend to Sophie, and offers a window into a strange and ancient history of human plague and recovery. Sophie just wants to understand what’s happening now; but as mortality rates climb, and reports emerge of bodily tremors in the deceased, it becomes clear there is nothing normal about this condition–and that the dead aren’t staying dead. When Kira succumbs, Sophie faces an unimaginable choice: let go of the sister she knows, or take action to embrace something terrifying and new. Tender and chilling, unsettling and hopeful, The Migration is a story of a young woman’s dawning awareness of mortality and the power of the human heart to thrive in cataclysmic circumstances.
HELEN MARSHALL is the World Fantasy Award-winning author of two short story collections and two poetry chapbooks. Her stories and poetry have appeared in magazines and anthologies including Abyss & Apex, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet and Tor.com. She obtained a PhD from the Centre for Medieval Studies at the University of Toronto, and then spent two years completing a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Oxford investigating literature written during the time of the Black Death. Helen has worked as a managing editor for ChiZine Publications, and was recently hired as a permanent Lecturer in Creative Writing and Publishing at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge. She grew up in Sarnia, Ontario, and now resides in Cambridge. The Migration is her first novel.
2019 Debut Author Challenge Cover Wars - March Debuts
Published: March 15,
2019 | 05:00
Each month you will be able to vote for your favorite cover from that month's debut novels. At the end of the year the 12 monthly winners will be pitted against each other to choose the 2019 Debut Novel Cover of the Year. Please note that a debut novel cover is eligible in the month in which the novel is published in the US. Cover artist/illustrator/designer information is provided when we have it.
I'm using PollCode for this vote. After you the check the circle next to your favorite, click "Vote" to record your vote. If you'd like to see the real-time results click "View". This will take you to the PollCode site where you may see the results. If you want to come back to The Qwillery click "Back" and you will return to this page. Voting will end sometime on April 6, 2019, unless the vote is extended. If the vote is extended the ending date will be updated.
Clicking on a novel's cover will take you to its Amazon page.
From formerly featured DAC Authors:
Fireweed and Brimstone (Grim Reality 3) by Boone Brux;
In the Valley of the Sun by Andy Davidson is out in Trade Paperback;
The Point by John Dixon is out in Trade Paperback;
Mahimata (Asiana 2) by Rati Mehotra;
The Bayern Agenda by Dan Moren,
If This Goes On: The Science Fiction Future of Today's Politics edited by Cat Rambo;
Pure Chocolate (Chocoverse 2) by Amber Royer;
The Last Dog on Earth by Adrian J. Walker.
Clicking on a novel's cover will take you to its Amazon page.
Debut novels are highlighted in blue. Novels, etc. by formerly featured DAC Authors are highlighted in green.
March 5, 2019
12 Tales Lie, 1 Tells True (e)
H - Collection
The Sea Beast Takes a Lover: Stories (h2tp)
LF/SS/CF - Collection
Creation Machine (D)
SF/SO/HSF - Spin Trilogy 1
SF/SO - White Space 1
DF/CF/AH - World of the Others 2
F/DF - Green Rider 6
Famous Men Who Never Lived (D)
In the Valley of the Sun (h2tp)
Hoka! Hoka! Hoka! (ri)
Gordon R. Dickson Poul Anderson
The Point (h2tp)
CyP/GenEng - Android Chronicles 3
Jacked Cat Jive
CF - Kai Gracen Series 3
Mad Lizard Mambo (ri)
CF - Kai Gracen Series 2
Black Dog Blues (ri)
CF - Kai Gracen Series 1
Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch (ri)
Neil Gaiman Terry Pratchett
The Women's War
F - The Women's War 1
The Far Far Better Thing (e)
F/DF - Saga of the Redeemed
Alice Payne Rides
SF/TT/SP - Alice Payne 2
SF - Collection
The Hunger (h2tp)
F - Another Kingdom 1
The Migration (D)
The Reign of the Kingfisher (D)
Infinite Detail (D)
That Ain't Witchcraft
UF/P/HU - InCryptid 8
F - Asiana 2
While You Sleep
The Bayern Agenda
SF/Th - Galactic Cold War 1
If This Goes On: The Science Fiction Future of Today's Politics
Cat Rambo (Ed)
SF - Anthology
The Unknown Soldier (e)(ri)
Mickey Zucker Reichert
Voices of the Fall
John Ringo (Ed) Gary Poole (Ed)
SF - Black Tide Rising Anthology
SF/SO/SFR - The Chocoverse 2
Today I Am Carey (D)
Martin L. Shoemaker
The Last Dog on Earth
Adrian J. Walker
March 6, 2019
Knowledgeable Creatures: A Tor.com Original (e)
March 8, 2019
Fireweed and Brimstone (e)
UF - Grim Reality 3
Blood They Brought and Other Stories
H - Collection
D - Debut e - eBook Ed - Editor h2mm - Hardcover to Mass Market Paperback h2tp - Hardcover to Trade Paperback ri - reissue or reprint tp2mm - Trade Paperback to Mass Market Paperback Tr - Translator
AB - Absurdist AC - Alien Contact AH - Alternative History AP - Apocalyptic CF - Contemporary Fantasy CoA - Coming of Age Cr - Crime CyP - Cyberpunk DF - Dark Fantasy Dys - Dystopian F - Fantasy FairyT - Fairy Tales FolkT - Folk Tales FR - Fantasy Romance GenEng - Genetic Engineering GH - Ghost(s) H - Horror Hist - Historical HistF - Historical Fantasy HSF - Hard Science Fiction HU - Humor LF - Literary Fiction LM - Legend and Mythology M - Mystery MR - Magical Realism MTI - Media Tie-In Occ - Occult P - Paranormal PA - Post Apocalyptic PCM - Parnormal Cozy Mystery PerfArts - Performing Arts PNR - Paranormal Romance Psy - Psychological PsyTh - Psychological Thriller RF - Romantic Fantasy SE - Space Exploration SF - Science Fiction SFR - Science Fiction Romance SH - Superheroes SO - Space Opera SP - Steampunk Spec - Speculative SpecFic - Speculative Fiction SS - Short Stories Sup - Supernatural SupTh - Supernatural Thriller Sus - Suspense TechTh - Technological Thriller Th - Thriller TT - Time Travel UF - Urban Fantasy VisM - Visionary and Metaphysical
Note: Not all genres and formats are found in the books, etc. listed above.
Guest Blog by Helen Marshall - Borderline Transgressions: On Writing Sex and Death - November 20, 2012
Published: November 20,
2012 | 08:15
Please welcome Helen Marshall to The Qwillery. Hair Side, Flesh Side, Helen's debut collection of short stories, is out this month from ChiZine Publications.
Borderline Transgressions: On Writing Sex and Death
By Helen Marshall
Imagine you're in a hotel room, an ocean away from home, with a man. Not just any man: he's charming, captivating, handsome, energetic, powerful. You know you shouldn't be there but you can't quite help it, there's something electric about being near him, your hair seems to stand on end like there's a current running through you. You touch. It's casual, maybe, or maybe it's not casual at all. Is anything casual with two people in a hotel room? When you know the rest of the party is going on downstairs?
And imagine he's touching you, and this time it is on purpose, you know it's on purpose, and he's peeling back the edge of the collar of your shirt, he's brushing your hair away from your neck, and it is electric, you can feel it all as if the moment is supercharged. Superheated.
And he stops.
You know something is wrong.
He's found something. A spot, maybe. A mole. Maybe. A lump. Something. And his hands are cold now. He's not saying anything. You ask him what's wrong, and he's so quiet. He's so quiet. Why is he so quiet?
And you're thinking, “Cancer.” You're thinking, “Just say something!”
And he does. But it's not at all what you could have expected…
So begins the story “Sanditon” from my debut collection of short stories, Hair Side, Flesh Side: in which a young woman, in the course of an affair, discovers a lost manuscript by none other than Jane Austen written on the inside of her skin. I'm something of an absurdist writer; a fantasist, I suppose. But what has struck me over recent months is how many people find that my writing ventures into the strange landscape of horror fiction.
Horror is a hard category to define. So many writers avoid the term absolutely because they feel it's a ghettoising label. They might not be wrong. Growing up, you couldn't have got me to crack the spine of a horror novel for love or money. I didn't like being scared. I didn't want to spend my time deliberately opening myself up to that. But the funny thing I find now is that the jolt I shied away from as a kid is exactly the kind of jolt that I find myself drawn to now. Because, as anthologist and critic Douglas Winter tells us, horror isn’t so much a genre as it is an emotion.
And because there's such a thin, thin line between sex and death.
A 2003 study published in the Annals of Neurology argued that there was a connection between the size of the amygdala, the centre of the brain which controls emotion and fear responses, and a person's sex drive. Writers have been saying that for years though. Yeats once claimed that sex and death should be the only compelling subjects to a studious mind. They are the bookends of our lives, determining behavior, the key prods of the lizard brain that seems so intent on backseat driving.
Take a look at the new subway ads put out by Penguin Canada to support their romance line, sporting slogans like “Our readers come first” and “Get off here” and “Pleasure yourshelf.”
What do you see in that facial expression? It’s terribly ambiguous. Is it surprise? Is it lust? Is this woman mid-orgasm? Or has she been caught mid-orgasm? Is that a look of shock that someone has found out her dirty secret? That someone is spying on her? That, suddenly, in the midst of reading something a bit sexy she peeks up over the top of her book to discover—what?—a camera?
How easy to mistake those wide eyes, those lifted eyebrows for some other emotion. Shock. Fear. And why not? Penguin’s campaign #50ShadesHotter sports titles like Gabriel’s Inferno and Gabriel’s Rapture. The title Reflected in You itself carries the tagline “The sweet, sharp edge of obsession…” Why? Because there’s something sexy about the line between fear and arousal, between sex and death. There’s something powerful. Something that takes readers out of their comfort zones.
In one light, romance novels are all about playing with the comfort zones of their readers. Opening up spaces for experimentation, for tiptoeing on the other side of the line while still keeping a protected space. There’s a reason that the woman in the Penguin ad is wearing a wedding ring. Penguin wants you to know that whatever is going on in this picture, it’s still a safe space, it’s just a bit of a fun, it doesn’t mean anything. The boundaries between the secret thrill of reading about someone else’s sexcapades and what happens in real life when you’ve got a flesh-and-blood partner never get stretched too far.
In Hair Side, Flesh Side I wanted to play with those boundaries: between sex and death, between horror and humour and romance, between insides and outsides—and I wanted to do it by using the body as a central metaphor. Because the body is the place where all these boundaries become confused and malleable. Where emotions slip into one another. Where the electric sense of your hair raising could be desire or fear—or both.
Where living in a character’s skin might mean the vicarious pleasure of a fictional one-night stand or the sudden discomfort of discovering something unwanted and strange: a mole, a lump, or the handwriting of a dead woman.
About Hair Side, Flesh Side
Hair Side, Flesh Side ChiZine Publications. November 2012 Trade Paperback and eBook, 300 pages
A child receives the body of Saint Lucia of Syracuse for her seventh birthday. A rebelling angel rewrites the Book of Judgement to protect the woman he loves. A young woman discovers the lost manuscript of Jane Austen written on the inside of her skin. A 747 populated by a dying pantheon makes the extraordinary journey to the beginning of the universe. Lyrical and tender, quirky and cutting, Helen Marshall’s exceptional debut collection weaves the fantastic and the horrific alongside the touchingly human in fifteen modern parables about history, memory, and cost of creating art.
Aurora-winning poet Helen Marshall is an author, editor, and self-proclaimed bibliophile.
In 2011, she published a collection of poetry with Kelp Queen Press called Skeleton Leaves (http://skeleton-leaves.net/) that “[took] the children’s classic, [stripped] away the flesh, and [revealed] the dark heart of Peter Pan beating beneath.” The collection was jury-selected for the Preliminary Ballot of the Bram Stoker Award for excellence in Horror, nominated for a Rhysling Award for Science Fiction Poetry and won the Aurora Award for best Canadian speculative poem.
Her highly anticipated collection of short stories Hair Side, Flesh Side, out from ChiZine Publications, hits bookshelves this month. Visit the webpage for videos, artwork and sample stories.