'I’m completely obsessed with the sinister side of folklore': Interview with author Tracy Fahey


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ANDREW GARVEY talks to author Tracy Fahey about her work including The Unheimlich Manoeuvre
ANDREW GARVEY: You started writing short stories in 2013. As a busy academic already, what made you move into writing fiction?
TRACY FAHEY: The answer to this lies in the first story in my collection ‘the Unheimlich Manoeuvre’. In late 2011 I became very ill and was hospitalised. For the next year I continued to work but due to my weakened state I ended up resting up at home. And I started to write. I started to write about home as a place of refuge but also, paradoxically, as a place of unease and tension. I started to scribble small ideas and observations, but then in early 2013 I wrote my first short story ‘Looking For Wildgoose Lodge’, submitted it to Manchester press Hic Dragones who were seeking submissions for an anthology – and they accepted it. From then on I was hooked.
How would you describe your work to someone who’s never read it?
I’d describe what I write as quiet, psychological horror. I aim at inspiring terror and unease. I’m particularly interested in moments of dissolution, when a word or a look or a small revelation can cause the world as we know it to fall away beneath us. I’m a devotee of Shirley Jackson who exemplifies everything I want to be in a writer.
You seem to write a lot, and get a lot of stories published – about a dozen anthology contributions and your own debut collection – is impressive in such a short time. I’m guessing you devote a lot of time to writing.
For me, writing is the most productive part of my day. It’s a pure pleasure. I like to shut myself away in my study (filled with books, skulls, prints, Japanese fans, a comfortable sofa and a large dolls house) and write. I get up early and write before work, or indulge in a late evening session. But I commit to doing one creative thing every day, and usually for me, that’s writing.
The secret to my productiveness is I seldom procrastinate when it comes to creative writing – I look forward to it too much. And I’m very selective about what I watch and when I watch it – I never watch live TV.
That’s some great advice, especially the TV bit! You appeared on a panel at this year’s FantasyCon, discussing real life horror. How did that come about and how did you enjoy the experience?
That was so much fun! The organisers of Fantasycon asked me if I’d be interested in appearing on a panel debating if real-life horror had in some way supplanted horror writing. In my other life I’ve lectured on the Gothic nature of media, and I’m fascinated not only by documentaries like Making a Murderer or Monster: The Josef Fritzl Story, but also by writers who draw on real life horror for inspiration, like Emma Donoghue does in Room, or as Jonathan Safran Froer does in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. It was quite an experience to discuss ideas with Ramsey Campbell, Helen Marshall, Paul Finch and Mark West, and I loved it. I found it particularly interesting to discuss the idea of appropriation of horrific deeds for literary purposes, or when exactly it would be permissible to write about real-life horror, ethical questions that all genre authors think about.
I was at that panel and really enjoyed the discussion. Even if it was a heavy subject for 10 o’ clock on a Saturday morning. Now, Boo Books, the publisher of your first short story collection the Unheimlich Manoeuvre closed down in August, about a month after the collection’s launch. I bet that was no fun.
I wouldn’t describe it as an ideal scenario. It really illustrated for me the pressure that small presses labour under.
However, on a positive note, it was wonderful to be successful in my first pitch. Because of the nature of Boo Books as a small press I also had input on the cover design (by Daryl Duncan and Judy O’Riordan) and even got to contribute the interior photography. Alex Davis, my publisher, also launched my book at Edge-Lit, and through that I really got to know some wonderful horror writers who I’m proud to count as friends including Priya Sharma, Victoria Leslie and Cate Gardner. In short, although it was a shame that Boo Books folded (especially as they were a quality press), I’m happy they launched it (and me) on the UK horror scene.
Without Boo Books, where can Spooky Isles readers get hold of a copy? Will there be a Kindle edition? Physical reprints?
The limited edition hardback run is almost at an end, but I have a few copies remaining, so anyone who wants to buy a physical copy can contact me via my website. At the moment I hold the ebook and paperback rights to The Unheimlich Manoeuvre. I’m currently considering selling the rights to another press, but if that doesn’t work out, I’ll release the ebook on Amazon early next year.
Finally, what are you working on right now and what can we expect from you in the next couple of years?
I’m completely obsessed with the sinister side of folklore and I’ve got three projects related to it bubbling away.
I’ve finished my second collection (working title New Music For Old Rituals), which is a specific kind of Irish folk horror set in the present, but haunted by the resonance of the past. It includes stories I’ve published with Hic Dragones, Fox Spirit Press and A Murder of Storytellers. It’s currently with an editor for consideration, so I’ll say no more at the moment…
I’m also working through my first draft of a middle-grade novel which is very much influenced by my childhood growing up in Ireland in the 1980s, and the prevalence of syncretic superstitions that pervaded everyday life. It’s based on stories about Irish fairies, na Sidhe, who are quite unlike the gentle, fluttering creatures of Victorian lore; they’re pale and human-sized and capable of cruel acts. It’s the first time I’ve written anything quite like this, and I’m enjoying the experience.
Finally, I’m also working on an academic book, Irish Folk Gothic for University of Wales Press, which examines the work of contemporary Irish artists, writers, filmmakers, performers and storytellers, and traces the influence of dark folklore in their work. That’s due in 2018.
After that I might have a bit of a sit down. But not for long – I’ve vague plans to do a collection about the uncanny nature of travel, and another on invisible illness.


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