Praise for Twisted Tales Events

'In the past few years Twisted Tales has become a major force in the promotion and appreciation of horror fiction. As well as putting on author readings and signings at bookshops it has expanded into organising larger events, bringing authors and critics together for discussions of the field. I've been involved in quite a few of both and have found them hugely enjoyable and stimulating - I believe the audiences did as well. May Twisted Tales continue to grow and prosper! If you love the field, support them! I do.' - Ramsey Campbell

‘Twisted Tales consistently produce well-organised events for writers and readers of horror. What really distinguishes Twisted Tales for me is the intelligent themes and investigations they pursue, and the high quality of the discussions they always stimulate. As an author I've been invited to three of their events and have been pleasantly startled, to near shocked, by the attendance levels - two out of three were even sold out. I salute anyone who contributes so much to the literary and cultural life of horror fiction.’- Adam Nevill

'Twisted Tales events are wonderful... a great way of promoting 21st century horror fiction. Supported by Waterstone's Liverpool One and really well organised, Twisted Tales brings together established names in the genre as well as new voices and of course readers. Looking forward to much more to come...' - Alison J. Littlewood

Monday, 23 July 2012

Graham Joyce interviewed by Claire Massey

Graham Joyce is an internationally published multiple award-winning British author. He has won the O Henry award for his short stories and the World Fantasy Award and British Fantasy Awards for his novels, which include The Tooth Fairy, The Silent Land, Do the Creepy Thing, TWOC, The Facts of Life, Smoking Poppy, Indigo, The Storm Watcher, Requiem, House of Lost Dreams, Dark Sister, and Dreamside. He also writes under the name of William Heaney (Memoirs of a Master Forger). 

You can find out more about him at his website:

CM: There is a Greek saying that ‘the fairy tale has no landlord’. The urge to retell fairy tales seems to be as old as the stories themselves and the results are varied, but you’re working in what I find to be the more exciting form, taking the seeds of an old story and cultivating something new. What have you found to be the joys and the dangers of working in this way with fairy tales and folklore?
GJ: These old tales have mysterious internal energy, which is probably why they have lasted. They always contain more than they at first appear to hold. This is the great joy of working with them – they connect you to the numinous, they rocket you into the marvellous. I think the secret of this energy is that they posses a dreamlike quality in which much of the furniture of a fairy story or folk tale has an undeclared symbolic power. Of course you can play the game the game of decoding the stories as you can with a dream, but once you do that you are left holding a shimmering pelt but the beast inside it has gone. And that’s the danger. If you rework the thing into a “message” or a rational frame you have deflated it by trying to surface all of its mysteries. I like to leave some of it in an unknowable place.

CM: Each chapter in Some Kind of Fairy Tale begins with an illuminating quote relating to fairy tales and you list a host of inspirational writers in the acknowledgements. Do you think working with fairy tales gives a writer a greater awareness of the interconnectedness of stories and of the wider community of tale-tellers and writers?
GJ: Yes, because fairy tales represent the Mother of all storytelling. They are utterly primal. We have no way of knowing how truly old they are and of course they have all been through an unguessable number of subtle transformations. But – and this is the amazing thing about them – they all observe simple commanding form that on mature reflection turn out to be exemplary storytelling structures. If you are going to ignore them as a writer you’d better be pretty clever at putting something else in their place.

CM: On your blog recently, you talked about writing not being the individualistic work so many authors claim it to be. It reminded me of something Angela Carter wrote in the introduction to the Virago Book of Fairy Tales:
Ours is a highly individualised culture, with a great faith in the work of art as a unique one-off, and the artist as an original, a godlike and inspired creator of unique one-offs. But fairy tales are not like that, nor are their makers. Who first invented meatballs? In what country? Is there a definitive recipe for potato soup. Think in terms of the domestic arts. 'This is how I make potato soup'.
GJ: Yes and this notion of creativity-in-common (rather than the idea of the unique snowflake creator) leads us into Jung's world of archetypes and common dreaming, and I think that's where fairy tales live inside us. They have an extraordinary power to morph and take an exact and meaningful shape inside each individual person's psyche, where they speak of things we know and things we don't know and things we hope and thing we fear. Actually fairy tales are like live things. Scratch that, they are live things. Hmm, this idea could run away with me!

CM: Throughout Some Kind of Fairy Tale, characters refer to the beings Tara claims to have lived with as fairies, but she says they would reject that name. Although they’re very different to the Tooth Fairy, there’s a similar sense that these beings have immense knowledge but also brutality in them. In childhood, most people are subjected to a deluge of flower fairies and sanitised and Disneyfied fairy tales. When did you first become aware of the darker side of fairy tales?
GJ: I have a very old book in which the illustrations are scary. I had it as a child – still have it. It sat utterly at odds with other illustrations. Then much later I began to read people like Jung and Bettelheim et al and it occurred to me that when the shadow steps out, not only is it sometimes not sweet, but sometimes it stays out. The djinn that doesn’t want to go back in the bottle is a much better way of apprehending this than with the sanitised Victorian flower fairy. It led me to speculate how they would feel about being portrayed in this way. But there are other antecedents. Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream is not being compassionate but vicious when he/she says “Shall we their fond pageant see?/Lord, what fools these mortals be!” When you read J M Barrie (as opposed to watching a pantomime or a Disney version), Tinkerbell is a spiteful little creature and Peter Pan was initially conceived as the antagonist, which is why he is  menacing in the early sequences; Barrie said he changed his mind half way through and introduced Hook as the new antagonist. So the real, dangerous nature of these beings is in evidence in literature but it has been obscured by the Victorian lace-wings and the acorn-cup.

CM: In Some Kind of Fairy Tale, the horrifying true story of Bridget Cleary is referenced both in quotes from the court transcript and by Tara’s psychiatrist. Where did you find out about this story and how did it feed into your writing?
GJ: This story was a scandal in Ireland and I stumbled across it in the somewhat academic magazine Folklore, which has been going since 1878, just before the burning of Bridget Cleary. The scandal is better known in Ireland than it is here but the court transcripts detail the full horror. It was after all only a century ago and I read the transcripts with mounting horror. I’m sure some of the defendants believed what they thought they had done. The point was an entire little clan group joined in, encouraged by a shanachie (traditional Irish storyteller) who also acted as wise-man to the community. It’s there in the story to remind us how belief works in a community, but running two-ways. On the one hand it helps you to doubt Tara’s story but on the other hand it shows you how easy it would have been to blame Richie for Tara’s disappearance.

CM: It's absolutely about the belief running two ways and I think you use it to fantastic effect. I'm editing a children's book at the moment based on the 1612 Lancashire Witch Trials and I can see real parallels in terms of the way communities can believe in supernatural powers and the horrifying results of these things being feared and taken seriously.
GJ: I think small communities can be taken over by these things and so can an entire state (Germany under Hitler was in the grip of an occult belief in almost supernatural primacy of the race). But there is always a mythology underpinning these beliefs, reinforced by an authority, whether it's the Irish storyteller/wise-man or the Third Reich.

CM: Some Kind of Fairy Tale really resonated for me in its depiction of the ways we can hide from or acknowledge the realities of becoming a grown-up, whilst The Tooth Fairy took me back to the terror of teenage years. Do you find certain periods in life particularly appeal to you as a writer?
GJ: The teenage years are fascinating because self-identity is still resolving. It exists in a state of potential. Young people try out different versions of themselves (and some people get trapped forever in a version they perhaps never wanted). Tara either didn’t want to grow up or had the possibility of growing up taken away from her. But in that she gained many things as well as lost things. Richie was left behind but he similarly got trapped in time. In some ways the sub-plot with Jack is all about having to deal with responsibility. It’s not so much that particular periods of life appeal to me to write about, it’s more the dynamic between different periods that I enjoy writing about.

CM: Some Kind of Fairy Tale and The Silent Land are both moving stories of love and loss. You brilliantly capture the kind of moments that can seem small and mundane but have beauty and power enough to reverberate through a lifetime. When you first begin work on a new idea do you find your focus pulled more towards the central relationships or the fantastical elements of the story?
GJ: The central relationships come first for me. I think this is why some perhaps dedicated Fantasy readers don’t always feel they get what they want from my books. There is fantasy, there is magic and the supernatural in my books, but those things only interest me for what they reveal about the characters. There are some different traditions of fantasy around and I belong to the tradition that looks for the magical in human beings, not for human beings in the magical.

CM: In your novels it feels like there are two paths before the reader – the fantastic and the rational. We can make the choice to keep a foot on each path or be drawn to walk along one. If you were reading your own novels, which path would you take?
GJ: A foot on each path.

CM: That question was probably a bit daft of me. I suppose I realised you must have a foot on each path – your writing tells me that (whereas as a reader I confess I've read your books with my feet firmly planted on the path of the fantastic and found ways to believe that side over the rational). I'm very interested in the way you make it work so well because the books can be read in such different ways and that must be incredibly tricky to achieve.
GJ: Well as I've said I like to draw on the tension between skepticism and credulity (and it's not a blind credulity, it's a credulity based on sound anecdotal evidence of people close to me. I grew up with a psychic Grandmother. She had this extraordinary talent but the strange thing was that she rejected it and didn't want to explore it. She described it to me as a "nuisance". She had to keep checking with her daughters including my mother about whether someone had just come to the door or whether she'd "imagined" it. She spent her life "managing" a condition that rationalists can't explain except in the most inadequate terms).

But while it's fun for me to ride this shuttle I only pick up those readers who are open to the switchback. Some blogger-reviewers have said they wanted more of Fairyland in the story – as if that was the point – as if the point was to build another insulated kingdom in the traditional manner of High Fantasy. You quickly realise that ambiguity is not a comfortable position for many readers. You say I make it work: but it's genuinely because – for the purposes of creativity – I can hold two contradictory things in my head at the same time while I'm writing. Out-and-out fantasists won't understand the story and out-and-out rationalists can't approach it. Luckily I have a readership who can entertain both positions before making the choice about where they stand at the end. But if that choice is ever unbalanced, the story is over too soon.

Claire Massey was born in Lancashire in 1981. Two of her short stories were recently published as chapbooks by Nightjar Press ( and others have appeared in various anthologies and magazines. She's an editor and project manager at Litfest ( and co-editor of Paraxis ( She keeps a blog, Gathering Scraps (

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