Third in our series ‘My Fantasy World’, author and zombie shoe owner Emma Jane Davies pulls back the curtain on what inspired her to get into writing fantasy.
Fantasy and science fiction have always been a part of my life. I grew up in a house where it was normal to have long chats about astrophysics over dinner. My dad raised me on a diet of Doctor Who and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and I read my way through his battered old sci-fi paperbacks by authors like John Wyndham, Frank Herbert, Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Philip K. Dick, H.G. Wells, and Arthur C. Clarke.
So far, so sci-fi. I developed a particular love for fantasy obliquely, through watching Star Wars. Despite being a space opera, it also has the mythic qualities of a fairytale – and when I started to crave more stories like Star Wars, fantasy films and books were my natural path.
I developed a great affection for films with a fairytale influence, such as Labyrinth, The Dark Crystal, Legend, and The Company of Wolves – Angela Carter’s version of Little Red Riding Hood. I wanted to be the archetypal heroine who falls out of the real world and goes on an adventure in fairyland, making friends along the way and triumphing over adversity, whether it was Sarah in her conflicted quest to win her baby brother back from the Goblin King, or Alice in Wonderland, or Dorothy in Oz.
I read The Lord of the Rings when I was only seven, though I was disappointed that there were hardly any girls in it! What was important to me was to be able to relate to the main character in the story, and I found books about boys boring. Fairytales are different in that respect. They are often about girls who have fallen into difficult situations, who have to learn to use their wits. Their content can be unexpectedly dark, gruesome, and adult.
This is especially the case with Angela Carter’s stories, and her dark, bawdy and lyrical folk tales had me spellbound. I was also drawn to the captivatingly visual YA novels of the inimitable Tanith Lee, and the florid, gothic vampire novels of Anne Rice (at least, before Memnoch The Devil, things went downhill after that…), and all of these stories fed into the kind of fiction I wanted to write.
A wide variety of other authors have influenced me, including H.P. Lovecraft, Edgar Allan Poe, Poppy Z. Brite – but while I’ve read a great deal of horror, I often find it to be a bit too traumatic, depressing and even samey. Though I like my writing to have dark and sinister undertones, I’m also influenced by writers like Alan Dean Foster, Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams, and a whole range of children’s fantasy authors, such as Ursula Moray Williams (Gobbolino, Bogwoppit), Sheila K McCullagh (Tim and Tobias) and Jill Murphy (The Worst Witch), whose stories have stayed with me.
I write fantasy for the magic and wonder. That’s part of what drew me to fantasy as a teenager. I found school very dreary and un-challenging, and I spent most of my spare time in the library looking for stimulation. The ordinary world was a very dull place for me, with little to offer to keep me engaged. Fantasy and science fiction fed my imagination in a way that regular fiction books about high school teens failed to.
Fantasy is such a good vehicle for metaphor. I have literary pretensions – and I love the way that you can manipulate fantasy tropes and fairytale symbolism to create layers of meaning in a story.
I prefer to write contemporary fantasy, though I’m not averse to writing both high fantasy and science fiction. Contemporary fantasy is a great vehicle for creating a sharp contrast between the real world and the world of imagination, using one as a metaphor for the other.
I’m a fan of the ‘speculation’ in speculative fiction – I often find myself working through thought exercises, thinking, ‘what if this happened?’ I like to take something hackneyed, turn it on its head, and try to give it a new breath of life. I’m also a romantic – this comes from having read too many books by Brontës when I was younger. I have no objection to a good old-fashioned love story, as long as it breaks a few social conventions!
I really enjoy writing character-based stories, and fantasy gives you so many unique ways to explore character – through the tropes like werewolves and vampires, or by putting characters in fantastical situations. I’ve always been a fan of the superhero genre, and I like testing characters who have developed unusual gifts purely by chance, or who’ve ended up in impossible circumstances. There’s so much potential for them to crack under the pressure, but what gives your characters strength and depth is how they deal with the things you throw at them.
If I could change anything about the fantasy genre, it would be to make it more open. My only grumble would be that when a subgenre becomes popular (like paranormal romance, or horror mash-ups), publishers will publish anything to chase the market, and the quality of material drops through the floor. The same thing happened to the vampire genre shortly after the release of Interview with the Vampire. In my desperation to read more of the same, I read a great many pulpy vampire novels and I remember thinking, ‘I can write better than this!’
I’d like to see fantasy go in new directions, with more fantasy-sci-fi crossover books or even crime-fantasy, noir-fantasy, whatever-prefix-you-want-to-choose-punk, and more rule-breaking and blurring of the boundaries. Too often, books on the boundaries are compartmentalised as ‘fiction’ as if this affords them a veneer of respectability that’s otherwise lacking from true genre – I’d like to see fantasy reclaim them.
Emma Jane Davies is a writer of weird and wondrous fantasy and science fiction. Her short stories, The Cyclamen and If You Believe In Me have been published in Hub Fiction, along with an opinionated commentary on Amy Pond. She lives in Sheffield and is currently at work on a novel that might possibly have a female lead and be ever so slightly fairytale.
- 100 Days of Fantasy, Day 39: Tales From The Vulgar Unicorn (bookstove.com)
- What are the great rural fantasy novels? [Books] (io9.com)
- Fiction Affliction: Diagnosing October Releases in Urban Fantasy (tor.com)
- Authors prepare for battle in World Fantasy awards (guardian.co.uk)