Today I’m interviewing Zoe Harris, head honcho of Tenebris, to celebrate the publication of the very first book on the label, a collection of fairy stories entitled “Willow, Weep No More.”
And of course, you can’t have a celebration without CAKE…
1. Could you please tell us a little bit about yourself, and about Tenebris Books?
I’m originally from Adelaide, Australia, but I’ve been living in Norway for nearly eight years now. I spent most of my professional life working in IT Project Management, but about a year ago I gave all of that up to focus on writing, editing and publishing full time. It’s been an interesting transition, but I love my new life.
2. Tenebris is about to release its first book, “Willow, Weep No More.” Tell us all about it!
Willow, Weep No More is a collection of eleven original, traditionally-inspired fairytales by nine different authors. The idea was to use the traditional style, settings and language of folk tales, but offer readers a more modern exploration of characters and themes, especially as far as the roles of women were concerned. We wanted stories where the protagonist has more to do than simply get married, or defeat an evil foe. What I was really looking for were stories that explored the depth of human relationships and emotions, but that still kept within the deceptively simplistic style of fairytales. It was a challenge, to say the least.
3. The cover for “Willow Weep No More is beautiful. Could you talk a bit about how it came about?
I originally put out a call for artists who were interested in doing a cover illustration with the idea that artists whose submissions didn’t make the cover might be able to be used inside. I approached some artists directly after having seen their portfolios, and others came to us. But in the end, I was met with such a wealth of talent, I decided to find room for all the artists who fit the style I wanted. I asked them to each read one or two stories from the book, and produce an illustration of something that inspired them. We now have twelve original illustrations gracing the inside and outside of the book, and the result is stunning.
The cover art, well! As soon as I saw Liga Klavina’s portfolio on the deviantArt website, I knew she was the one. Her work is simply beautiful, and is exactly what I was looking for. I sent her some information about the stories, the guidelines the authors had followed, and some general images I had in my head, and she came up with our beautiful cover. I couldn’t be happier with how it has turned out.
I must also say that the cover designer, Ken Dawson, has done a fantastic job of framing Liga’s illustration within the constraints of a book cover. He’s a true talent.
4. What made you decide to kick off Tenebris with an anthology, rather than a novel? Do you have any novels in the pipeline?
I have always had a special love for fairytales, and had long thought about the idea of putting together a collection like this, even before Tenebris was established as an imprint. I’ve been involved in the production and editing of two other anthologies for Grimbold Books, so I knew I could pull it together into a really special volume, and the timing has made it the perfect release for Christmas.
However, we do have some novels and other projects in the pipeline. Our first release will be “Dollywagglers” by Frances Kay, which is a story about a woman struggling to survive in post-epidemic England as she makes her way from London to Southwold where she was once a puppeteer. It’s a very dark, and oftentimes disturbing read, but Fan is such a unique storyteller, and presents the story with such confidence, that the hope and light that shines through in places offsets the bleakness to perfection. We’re very excited about this release.
5. You wear a lot of hats, editor, proof-reader, publisher, writer. How do you manage to juggle it all?
Hah! Let me just say the old project management skills are not wasted in this job. It’s a juggling act, that’s for sure, but it means I’m always working on something fresh and new, and that keeps me inspired and motivated. I plan my days and weeks carefully, prioritise and reprioritise constantly, and just try not to shatter into a million pieces when things go awry.
6. What made you want to be a writer? What were your favourite books growing up?
Writing was something I did a lot of as a kid, but as I got older and reality took over, I put it aside for a long time. It wasn’t until a few years before I moved to Norway that I decided to go back to school and study professional writing in the evenings, and even then it would be another four years before I put that to use in a creative way. Nowadays I couldn’t live without it. I was always worried I didn’t have enough ideas to make a career out of writing, but it turns out it’s like a muscle: the more you work it, the more it gives you to work with.
My favourite books growing up ranged from classic fairytales and stories like Winnie the Pooh and Wind in the Willows to Oscar Wilde and Paul Gallico. My parents read to me a lot, always gave me books, and I had a lot of books on cassette. Stories and books were always a massive part of my childhood, and that love has only deepened as I’ve grown older, and now I have a flourishing collection of fairytale books, both vintage and reproductions. These days I read anything from classics, literary fiction and women’s lit, to the types of dark fiction I’m looking for with Tenebris.
7. What drew you to writing and publishing Dark fiction in particular?
There’s still a lot of confusion and argument over exactly what constitutes dark fiction. Many believe it’s horror, and others think it’s ghost stories and paranormal works. Those elements certainly can be present, but what I’m really looking for is stories that explore the whys of human darkness. What turned Norman Bates’ mother into such a control freak that he killed her and took on her persona? Why does a child become a bully? Why do some people seem to court trouble and even death? These are all things I like to read the explorations of, whether or not there are fantastical elements involved.
8. What is your favourite part of writing? Which parts do you find easy? Is there any particular aspect of writing that you struggle with, and how have you overcome it?
My favourite part of writing is when an idea really starts to take shape and I can see its potential. Sometimes the pieces just start to fall into place and you know you can make something out of what you’re doing. There’s nothing like that feeling.
I struggle at the beginnings of novels, particularly if I have a lot of ideas waiting to be included. It’s almost like a blockage in my brain: all the ideas want to come out at once, and as such, they all get stuck.
My other problem, at least in the past, has been remembering to slow down and describe the scenery. Sometimes I’ve been several pages into a chapter and I realise I’ve been so busy describing what the characters are thinking and talking about, I haven’t even mentioned where they are! But that’s something I know I can fix when I edit, so these days I don’t let it hold me back. When I edit, I go back and find the places where description is lacking, and fill it in.
9. Can you share some of your favourite books and movies of the last few years?
From the past few years? Yikes. Well, I absolutely loved The Time Traveller’s Wife (book, not film), The Lovely Bones, The Book Thief, and I’ve recently read and enjoyed everything Gillian Flynn has written so far. Now there’s some dark fiction for you.
Movies—I have a bit of a soft spot for superhero movies, so I’m loving the Avengers and Iron Man franchises, and I really like the X-Men series as well. I’m always interested in whatever Guillermo Del Toro is up to, of course. But all the darkness aside, and quite conversely, I love musicals and old movies as well, so I can often be found watching classics like Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Calamity Jane, West Side Story or Rebecca.
10. What’s the SF and F scene like in Norway?
In terms of the literary world, Norway has to be the crime fiction capital. Every year at Easter, Norwegians rush to the bookstores to stock up on the latest crime thrillers, take them to their cabins, ski all day and read all evening. It’s literally called reading Påskekrim (Easter Crime). But there’s also quite a strong heavy metal and gothic scene here, and that seems to lend itself to the world of Fantasy fiction in particular.
11. What are your plans for Tenebris going forward?
We’re open for submissions now, and are on the lookout for books that fit into the basic framework I’ve talked about here. I would love to see us do another fairytale colletion down the road. In fact, almost all the stories in Willow, Weep No More centre around female characters, so I’d really like us to do a “brother book” that looked more into male protagonists.
You can find us on Facebook: www.facebook.com/tenebrisbooks
Or on our website at www.tenebrisbooks.com
Thanks to Zoe for enduring my gentle inquisition! The ebook of “Willow Weep No More is out TODAY, and the beautifully illustrated hardback will follow shortly.