Alison Croggon stopped by Lytherus to answer some exclusive questions about her new gothic romance Black Spring. She talks about what it was like writing a dark story with a sad ending, how she used magic in the world, future works, and more! Curious about Black Spring? Check out our review of this lovely, bittersweet tale.
Tell us about Black Spring.
Black Spring is a dark Gothic romance. I stole the structure of one of the iconic works of the genre, Wuthering Heights, and wrote my own version. So this is partly a love letter to Emily Bronte, partly an exploration of the themes of the original, and mostly a story about the power of women and what happens to them in societies in which women are considered second class. It’s about love, and it’s especially about friendship – and especially the profundity of friendship between the two main characters, Anna and Lina! (And also the destructive romance between Lina and Damek).
This is not a happy story. What was it like going into writing it knowing you’d have to go to the dark places like this?
I started rather blithely. I really enjoyed writing the opening chapters, when the not-too-bright poet Hammel has a series of nightmarish visions. But after the middle, when things begin to go wrong, it was rather traumatic! You have to get up and face those characters and the things that happen to them, and most of all you have to feel it, and it was really quite hard. The narrator, Anna, who I think is the true heroine of the book, was the person who kept me sane: I rather fell in love with her, for her good sense and generosity and stubborn dignity.
The start of the book gives readers the ending, in a nutshell, and then the rest of the book is showing us how the story gets to that point. Was the writing experience different, knowing that readers would always have the ending in the back of their minds?
I think it makes the book reflective, in a way. As you say, it’s not about what happens, so much as how it happens. For me it was always about getting there emotionally, making sure that the characters felt emotionally real.
How was writing Lina? She’s such a strong, willful and energetic soul, and the story is not an easy one to read at times, so I can only imagine writing it was challenging.
I actually loved writing Lina. She’s such a lawless character, and so full of contradictions: on the one hand, kind of impossible; on the other, full of generosity and courage. She’s the character who most clearly sees how she wants to be free, and she has no problems articulating her desires. I think that’s why I liked her: it’s often hard for girls to do that.
I was interested in the political setup of this world. So there are three power structures. At the top is the king, who has absolute heredity power. Then there is a rivalry between the wizards and the church. The wizards are not materialistic, but they have horrifying paranormal abilities and they administer the Lore, the ancient law of the vendetta especially. In the end, they are the most powerful of the three, because people are most afraid of them. The king keeps them in place partly by letting the church balance against them; but in reality each power structure supports and reinforces the other.
In this world, magic is only allowed to men. Women born with magical abilities are killed as babies. So Lina, who is a witch but is also an aristrocrat, is a direct challenge to the kings, the church and the wizards, and that’s only the beginning of her problems…
The magic seems to be a means to an end, allowing things to happen, and not about the actual magic for magic’s sake. This felt different, reading it, than it did with your previous magical stories. Did you have to approach it differently?
This was a very different kind of story, so yes. I wanted a magic that felt real and elemental and kind of unromantic, a magic of earth and stone and fire, if you like, that was just there along with everything else that was in that world.
Do you think you’ll write stories like this again in the future, stories with a dark energy like this one?
I don’t know! My next book (title not certain yet, but it might be called SIMBALA’S STORY, or it might be called THE RIVER AND THE BOOK) is a gentler kind of narrative, although it’s also about love and friendship and loss. I wrote it at the same time as I was writing BLACK SPRING, so maybe it’s the other side of the same coin!
What have you been reading lately? And recommendations for the fantasy and scifi readers out there?
Lately I read Cassandra Golds’s Pureheart, which is a beautiful contemporary take on the legend of the Holy Grail. Sad but lovely. And I finally got around to reading the brilliant SF classic Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, which is one of the best SF titles I have ever read.
What’s your next project?
Editing (and titling) Simbala’s Book! I’ve got a couple of ideas, and plan to be writing both of them next year. One of them is an idea for a YA collaboration with my husband, Daniel Keene, who is a playwright – we like co-writing. We did a piece of music theatre together a couple of years ago, but we’ve never done a book before, and we want to do it!