Today I speak with British Fantasy Award Nominee Thana Niveau, author of the short story collections Octoberland, Unquiet Waters, and From Hell to Eternity, about her short story “Into Something Rich and Strange” from the Spirits Unwrapped anthology out now from Lethe Press
DB: You took the idea of a mummy or wrapped spirit into the stars. What were the challenges and payoffs in creating your mummy story in a science fiction setting?
TN: It’s only recently that I’ve had the courage to branch out into writing SF. (Not counting Star Trek fanfic!) I have always loved the ocean, and when I was little, I imagined a planet that was nothing but water – no land masses at all. When the invitation for Spirits Unwrapped came, I immediately pictured underwater mummies, their wrappings trailing like seaweed. We know less about the ocean than we know about outer space, and I loved the idea of combining the two settings. The main payoff here was that I got to world-build in space, go diving on an alien planet, and create a futuristic alternative to cumbersome scuba gear. The challenges were mostly technical. I love hard SF, but I’m no scientist, so I can’t write it. I had to find a middle ground between realistic space exploration and Star Trek technobabble.
DB: In addition to your work you are an enthusiastic fan of genre. What are some of your favorite popular culture genre works? How do they inform your writing?
TN: My main writing inspirations are Shirley Jackson and Ray Bradbury. The Haunting of Hill House is the finest book of its kind, with We Have Always Lived in the Castle right beside it. (They take turns being my favourite.) Bradbury’s stories have been with me all my life, so he’s been an influence since I was little. I don’t consciously strive to imitate my heroes, but Ramsey Campbell says he’s found echoes of himself in stories of mine. The SF story I wrote for a Campbell tribute anthology relied heavily on Arthur C Clarke. And Arthur Machen is a writer whose gorgeous prose I envy. Movies influence me almost as much as books, and you can definitely find a Cronenbergian body horror vibe in some of my stuff.
DB: What are your experiences and thoughts, if any, on the “Mummy” as monster in pop culture, literature, and or film? What appeals to you about the lore?
TN: Like you say in your introduction to the book, there hasn’t been a lot of creativity in Hollywood mummies. They’re basically just posh zombies. I love ancient Egypt, but I was always more fascinated by the peripheral stuff – the pyramids, the tombs, the sarcophagi, the rituals. The actual mummy always seemed like the least interesting part of it. I haven’t read much in the way of mummy fiction, but I do like some of the films. Hammer’s Blood From the Mummy’s Tomb is a favourite, and my husband John and I cosplayed Valerie Leon and Aubrey Morris’ characters from it when the film screened at London FrightFest one year, while friends of ours dressed as Howard Carter and the actual mummy.
DB: Is there any “monster” that you regard as your favorite? Or one that intrigues you as a reader and or writer? If so, why?
TN: For classic monsters it’s definitely werewolves! The Howling is my favourite werewolf movie, and Martin Millar’s Lonely Werewolf Girl is a delightful read. I’m fascinated by the primal duality of the “monster” and I’ve written a few shapeshifter stories. There’s something of wish fulfilment in the concept, along with the horror of being out of control. It’s fun to play with the rules of transformation too. Does the character only change with the full moon? Or at will? Or in response to some other trigger? The possibilities are endless.
DB: Have you been to the British Museum? If so, can you tell us a detail or something mummy related that you saw there that stands out in your memory?
TN: I have been to the British Museum, but not for many years. I saw the Rosetta Stone, and I definitely would have visited any other Egyptian exhibits there. A few years ago I went to Paris and I got to see mummies and sarcophagi in the Louvre.
DB: How does living in the UK inform your work?
TN: It’s given me a whole new world to set stories in. It’s rich in ancient pagan tradition, and full of strange places. Stone circles, burial chambers, remnants of Celtic and Druid civilisation… It’s endlessly fascinating. I’ve been here long enough that I’m no longer a stranger in a strange land, but I can still do “fish out of water” stories. I’ve had ex-pat characters revisiting the States as well as fresh-off-the-plane Americans trying to adapt to the UK.
DB: Can you recommend a UK writer you feel is deserving of more attention in the US?
TN: Ramsey Campbell certainly deserves to be better known everywhere. But for writers whose names aren’t as familiar, I highly recommend Laura Mauro and Reggie Oliver.
DB: What are you working on now?
TN: I’m putting the finishing touches on a nonfiction book about the film The Descent for the Midnight Monograph series. I’m also working on a couple of different horror stories. One I guess you could call folk horror and is partly inspired by the work of Arthur Machen, while the other is set in the Everglades and features manatees. Simmering away on the back burner is an SF novel with the working title Electro-Girl. I set it in the 80s before the 80s became popular again, so I hope the trend continues!
THANA NIVEAU was born to the wail of the Wendigo and the whisper of warp engines. So it’s no surprise that her literary aspirations have combined both the mythic and the speculative. She is the author of the short story collections Octoberland, Unquiet Waters, and From Hell to Eternity, as well as the novel House of Frozen Screams. Her work has appeared in Black Static, Interzone, and numerous anthologies, and has frequently been reprinted in The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror. She has twice been nominated for the British Fantasy award – for her debut collection From Hell to Eternity and her story “Death Walks En Pointe”. Originally from the States, she now lives in the UK, in a Victorian seaside town between Bristol and Wales. She shares her life with fellow writer John Llewellyn Probert, in a crumbling gothic tower filled with arcane books and curiosities. And toy dinosaurs.
DANIEL BRAUM is the author of the short story collections The Night Marchers and Other Strange Tales (Cemetery Dance), The Wish Mechanics: Stories of the Strange and Fantastic (Independent Legions 2017) and Yeti Tiger Dragon (Dim Shores 2016). His third collection, Underworld Dreams is forthcoming from Lethe Press in 2020. The Serpent’s Shadow, his first novel, was released from Cemetery Dance eBooks in July 2019. He is the editor of the Spirits Unwrapped anthology from Lethe Press and the host and founder of the Night Time Logic reading series in New York City which can also be heard on the Ink Heist podcast. He can be found at https://bloodandstardust.wordpress.com, www.facebook.com/DanielBraumFiction, and @danielbraum
SPIRITS UNWRAPPED can be ordered by your favorite local bookseller and also at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and direct from the publisher.