My second-published short story, Skin Holes, appeared in Penguin anthology called Strange Fruit. I was thrilled beyond belief to make into this ‘outre” book, edited by Paul Collins, not least because Lucy Sussex had a story in there and she was, and remains, one of my favourite writers. I’d read her collection My Lady Tongue and Other Stories twice or more, and was inspired by the bravery of her fiction, the outlandishness of it, the normality and the horror.
Here, Lucy talks about a number of sparks. Her short story collection Matilda Told Such Dreadful Lies is just out from Ticonderoga Press, and Thief of Lives is out from Twelfth Planet Press. Both will be added to my library.
“Where do your crazy ideas come from?
It depends upon the genre. The best crime fiction tends to derive from real-life events. ‘The Fountain of Justice’ came from a conversation with someone I will only describe as working at the intersection of crime and justice. They just had to tell someone and it turned out to be me. I altered one major detail, and let faulty memory do the rest of the fictionalizing. That apart, it’s all true…
When editors ask me to do something, that’s a compliment, and I try to oblige. Susan Johnson asked me to write about sex. ‘The Subject of O’ was the result, but it came in after deadline and can’t have suited the anthology. No matter. ‘Thief of Lives’ was originally for Ellen Datlow, topic: vampires. I said I’d write about writers as vampires, feeding off others to fuel their fictions. It proved a bugger to write—‘Well, it would,’ said Ian Mond. ‘Because it would be reflexive, like biting yourself.’ I had to go over sentence after sentence, knowing I was aiming for something but not knowing quite what. Pre-plotting would have helped, but I wasn’t quite sure what the plot was. Having to rewrite and rewrite to get one story was hard work, but the result was actually worth it. Even if I look at the story and mutter: ‘Never again’.
Stories can come out of writing-related work. I was editing a Lonely Planet book on Madagascar, and got so fascinated by the detail that I asked the author if I could use it fictionally. He said yes, and that is how ‘Sagittaire’ (the new story in Matilda) came about. ‘Alchemy’ came from reviewing a popular science book on chemistry, with the sort of juxtaposition I love: the first chemist known was a Babylonian woman called Tapputi; and the Book of Enoch claims demons taught women forbidden arts. The link between them was perfumery, a black art to Enoch, but Tapputi’s profession. Then, as I was writing, another piece of information came to my attention: the US army had built a camp on part of Hammurabi’s Babylon. Sometimes it seems positively daemonic, how the universe throws you details just when you need them.
Or else you can just go out drinking the night someone has something they really want to get off their mind.”