Interview with Nadine Dalton-West, writer short-listed for the British Fantasy Society award
Nadine Dalton-West was short-listed for the British Fantasy Society award and was accepted into the WriteNow 2020 programme with Penguin. She has featured in a couple of anthologies including The Book of Witches.
She is interviewed by Jodie Hammond, a third year student in BA English with a huge passion for literature, poetry and plays.
JODIE: Hey Nadine! Thank you again for engaging in this interview. Our Story Festival’s theme is ‘Transformation’. As budding writers, we want to learn what writers go through when creating something spectacular!
You were accepted in the WriteNow programme with Penguin (Congratulations!). Can you talk about the piece you wrote for the competition?
NADINE: The submission for WriteNow was an extract from my novel, Volta: one of the protagonists, Jonathan, is a gay man navigating a double life in 19th century Melbourne, and in the extract he is going through the precarious business of negotiating a casual hook-up at closing time at a local bar. He goes through a series of contrasting emotions as he reflects on the illegality of his act, and the dangers and erotic thrills associated with it. The reader by this stage also knows that he is both a devout Catholic and is promised in marriage to one of our main female characters, Caroline, and so the character of Jonathan stands in conflict with his faith, culture, legal system, sexual inclinations and responsibilities! The WriteNow scheme is specifically aimed at finding underrepresented voices, and as a bisexual author I wanted to apply with something that touched on the themes of sexuality and taboo embedded in much of my work.
JODIE: You featured in the Fight Like a Girl Anthology, which got shortlisted in the British Fantasy Awards 2017. Can you talk about the story you wrote?
NADINE: I’m still very pleased with this story – it’s one of the first times I’ve set myself the task of pulling off a twist ending! The story is a second-world fantasy, set in a warlike society which prizes prowess in battle and magic. Male and female children are brought up in separate training facilities and pairs of male and female must come together in their mid-teens for a mysterious “ritual” which marks their passage into adulthood: the story begins as our male protagonist, Tey’dor, is about to undergo the ritual, where he believes he will be sexually initiated. Much more would be full of spoilers! Suffice it to say he is entirely wrong, and the end of the story challenges our preconceptions about power and gender – two of my favourite subjects to write about.
JODIE: You also feature is A J Dalton’s The Book of Witches. Can you talk about your female protagonist in the short story?
NADINE: My protagonist in The House in Brooklyn is Baba Yaga, the Eastern European and Russian folklore character. I’m an unashamed Russophile, and have always loved the legend of the old woman in her house with chicken legs: I’m also very passionate about featuring older women and subverting the “crone” stereotypes in fiction. Baba is wise, canny, possessed of great and humbling magic but just as capable of destroying fools with a trick that exposes their arrogance as she is with spells. Baba is funny, pragmatic and reliably the smartest person in the room – and in that, I must admit to borrowing from the very best: Terry Pratchett’s Granny Weatherwax is ever-present in this story.
JODIE: Considering the stories you have told us about; would you say that you have transformed a concept/idea/trope and created something original?
NADINE: With the Baba story, definitely. I wanted to take this folkloric and mythical character and pop her down whole in our modern world, using aspects of both urban fantasy and magical realism – but I knew I also wanted to write a “story within a story” and craft a traditional Baba Yaga tale too. So I had to read a lot of folk tales and create my own storyline, but then make it into a believable example of the genre: at the same time, I had to have Baba interacting with modernity, dealing with crowds of Instagram followers and finding novel uses for handbag dogs…
JODIE: How do you come up with ideas for your writing?
NADINE: They just turn up whole. My novel, Volta, was born perfectly formed inside my brain as I stood in the immigration museum in Melbourne, and saw a 19th century advertisement, intended for the British press, for widowed women to migrate to Australia to help build the colony. In that moment, my protagonist Caroline appeared: young, recently widowed, secretly pregnant, needing a husband to avoid being “ruined”. Who might marry her, I wondered? What about someone who longs for an heir and a conventional family to help hide his forbidden sexuality? And there was Jonathan, complete with boots and waistcoat.
JODIE: Does reading literature help your creative writing? If so, how?
NADINE: Reading literature is everything. All writing is basically a process of stealing other people’s cars and replacing the numberplates and paintwork! So everything you read spills out in everything you write, and the more you read, the greater and deeper that cache of literary knowledge.
JODIE: Is there a certain genre you stay within, or do you branch out and try to write in different styles?
NADINE: I’m definitely eclectic! I write “serious” literary fiction, fantasy, gothic fiction, poetry, humour – and I don’t really believe in genre labels. They help publishers know how to advertise books and authors, but when writing, anything good and original is probably a hybrid of many different genre elements.
JODIE: Which part of the writing process do you love the most?
NADINE: There may be no better feeling than when a sentence turns up that you just know is perfect for the moment: a perfect phrase, simile, word-choice, call-back to some foreshadowing you did earlier…whatever it is, the feeling of pleasure in making decent art is extraordinary.
JODIE: Contrastingly, what part of the writing process do you dislike the most?
NADINE: I am very bad at dealing with rejection! So I’m a complete wuss, and resist submitting work because I can already feel the tears beginning. It’s something I’m working on, because writing is a long series of rejections! Much like exercise, I try to believe that the pain is doing me good…!
JODIE: In your opinion, what do you think is the best way to become ‘good at’ creative writing?
NADINE: Reading everything that you can get your hands on, voraciously, and having a “wine-tasting” mentality about the things you do read: what’s good? What’s delicate and beautiful? What’s robust and gritty? What flavours do you relish and which ones put you off? Then write lots, and be mindful in trying to include some of your favourite flavours in your own work.
JODIE: Lastly, what advice do you have for budding new authors?
NADINE: Three things. Firstly, feel life deeply, and with boundless curiosity. You absolutely must experience life somewhat raw, and meet lots of people and THINK about those people, and want to know what makes them do the things they do. Secondly, never be afraid to try new styles. Are you funny? Can you write horror? Who knows! Try it and see, and don’t be worried about it not being your best work ever: you will learn something from every piece. Finally, finish things. You will never ever regret that finished short story, that finished screenplay: you will have accomplished something that many people never do, and no one can take that away from you.
You can follow Nadine on twitter: @andiekarenina
Follow Jodie on twitter: @itsjodieee