Heather Parry is a Glasgow-based writer, editor, event chair and podcast host. Her short stories have appeared internationally in numerous magazines and books, including The Stinging Fly, F(r)iction and Gutter, and have been performed at festivals across the UK. Her fiction explores self-deception, transformation, the grotesque and the body.
We often feel that some of the best gothic literature happens outside of the gothic genre. If you strip away the tropes and the familiar imagery, what do you feel is at the heart of gothic literature?
For me it’s the death of old powers. It’s where you get the traditional big decaying houses and castles from, because (in the classic gothic stories) the families that would usually fill them are losing their wealth and cannot look after them, and it’s also why you so often have things like ancestral curses and lingering secrets; with certain systems dying, the tide of their power recedes and all these things are uncovered. It’s also how you get the big emotions and the maniacal behaviour; when people’s power and status are threatened, they are more likely to behave like cornered cats, screeching and lashing out at anything they can get their claws into. For me it’s the combination of the gothic’s obsession with death/rebirth (for the aforementioned reasons) and its interest in differences in power that make it an enduring (and endlessly fascinating) genre. In fact I think it’s becoming even more relevant again, as we come to what seems to be the violent end of another economic period, and as power will shift from those who’ve long held it.
How do you feel This is My Body, Given for You fits into that conception of gothic literature?
That’s a great question! I think there are certain elements of the traditional gothic there—the big, imposing ‘house’, the religion aspect, the violence of the (largely off-page) behaviour—but I think at its heart it’s about the ingenuity of those given so little power. The girls in the story are systematically dehumanised but yet they find a strength within them and they exploit the small freedoms they’re given. They claw the power back from those who’ve become complacent with it and ultimately use the greed of their oppressors to gain their own freedom—but not without enacting a satisfying revenge in the meantime.
Can you speak to any inspirations or influences for the piece?
I take most of my story inspiration from things in the real world; I’m very into the science side of cooking and find things like fermentation and the changing nature of substances really fascinating, so the structure of this story undoubtedly came from reading The Art of Fermentation from Sandor Katz. However the theme of female revenge is one that is enduring as an interest of mine, and more broadly how the relatively powerless struggle against seemingly insurmountable oppression is another. There’s undoubtedly some Shirley Jackson in there too, as I love the way she writes about food and abandoned women. Having finished the piece and with a distance from the process of writing I have also realised there’s a good dose of Matthew Lewis’ The Monk, which I haven’t read since university. Clearly it struck a (weird and dark) chord.
Place and setting are integral aspects of gothic stories. How do place and region play a role in your fiction?
I don’t think of myself as a writer that explores place in a huge way, but most of my stories are set in a particular setting for a particular reason. They’re either set in the undefined space (intentionally) or given a very specific location. I’ve written a novel that’s partially set in Cuba and partially in Florida, and these are essential to the plot and characters, but I don’t think I tend to do this with my short fiction. Take my story in NGR; the plot of it implies the location and the reader is expected to bring place and region to it. We aren’t really given any description of the building its set in but your mind fills in the blanks, and I think that’s a very powerful way to have the reader bring themselves and their own life to what can be very distant stories. An Irish reader and an Italian reader will build very different worlds around this story and that’s something I like to make space for.
What is your writing process generally like? Where are you most productive? Any interesting quirks?
I am not one of those writers who can sit down at the same time every day of the year and just work; through a combination of a freelance work schedule and my personality I just can’t do it. I tend to do a lot of thinking around a short story or a novel, letting it sit in the back of my head and reading around it. It’s the equivalent of not looking directly at a constellation, I suppose; if I look around the sky the picture will slowly come into focus but if I direct my attention to it before it’s ready, it dissipates. Finally when I’ve grabbed hold of the general picture I write in a hurry; I try to remove everything else from my field of vision (not easy when you juggle so many work projects and responsibilities) and write. I will generally first-draft a novel in 4-6 weeks, sitting down in the mornings and writing with no internet to distract me, but I’ll then put it in a drawer for at least 3 months before I come back to it for what always turns out to be an enormous rewrite. Short stories are similar. I also can’t function without my workshop group, who I am endlessly grateful for. I’ve no idea whether a story is working or not until they’ve read it, and I trust them to tell me if a story isn’t up to my usual standard. Every writer needs a group like this, in my opinion!
What authors are you reading that you’re particularly excited about?
I’m just catching up on Ottessa Moshfegh’s last few books so I can get to her new one; I love the way that her output is beyond easy categorisation and she’s not afraid of genre or plot. I’m also currently reading Lote by Shola von Reinhold and I am so enamoured with the way they’ve brought together the elements of the book to both challenge a Euro-centric orthoxody and also create a new Black modernist history, one that’s queer and revolutionary, all while maintaining the sort of eccentic manner that I can get lost in for days at a time. I like writers that aren’t afraid to do new things and throw themselves into it without reservation; Hanya Yanagihara does this, and it would make my 2020 to hear she’s got a new book coming out too.
What’s your favorite horror movie monster?
I’m not sure if he really counts as a horror monster but I’m afraid it’s Godzilla. As a manifestation of US imperialism he is just perfect and he’s more than a little gothic; he’s a throwback to past times, reawakened; he’s an unstoppable force clinging on for life; he arrives always at the crux of a shifting society. I also am in love with the way he’s been rejuvenated by Hideaki Anno; it’s so difficult to take an iconic character and keep its core and history intact whilst also using it to explore modern tropes and fears and that movie did that so well. The combination of the endless bureaucracy of the situation with the almost comical appearance of Godzilla and then his transformation into something that reflects the current technological and nuclear arms race is just genius. I would honestly watch that film five nights a week, with the originals on the weekend.