Author Interview, Longread, Podcast

Author Interview ~ April-Jane Rowan on Folklore, Body Horror and Tainted Love

Meet the Author and the Gurt Dog Press Team

April-Jane Rowan

April-Jane Rowan was born with a morbid fascination that she turned into writing so she could explain away her strangeness. Luckily for her, she found she rather liked it, so for many years, she has been creating bizarre, dark tales. When not writing, she can be found lurking in graveyards, libraries and museums. She lives in Sweden with her two partners, Linn Sjölin and Nem Rowan, their triplets, and their pack of beasties.

They are the team behind Gurt Dog Press, currently in its third year of publishing LGBTQ+ SFF and Horror fiction, and B Proud PR, the sister company founded by Linn Sjölin, which is a promotion service for LGBTQ+ stories and authors.

Gurt Dog Press was started by Nem Rowan, an author of LGBTQ+ Fiction. His own work has been published by Less Than Three Press and JMS Books, but has now found a forever home at Gurt Dog. He is a transgender man from the UK, and he is especially keen to bring audiences to fellow trans writers in the Horror genre.

Nem founded Gurt Dog Press with the intention of publishing stories for queer readers of Horror and other forms of speculative fiction that don’t focus on the Romance genre as the sole vehicle for promoting LGBTQ+ identities.

April works as Gurt Dog’s Editing Assistant and Social Media Co-Ordinator. She handles the assessment of submissions, creates graphics for Gurt Dog’s social media presence and is the primary point of contact for Gurt Dog authors.

Linn Sjölin is Gurt Dog’s PR manager. Linn liaisons with Gurt Dog authors to provide guidance on promotional campaigns and PR for their releases. Linn is passionate about everything to do with books, especially LGBTQ+ ones, and works tirelessly to ensure every tour she arranges is successful. Outside of the internet, she also works for the charity, RFSL, campaigning for LGBTQ+ rights in Sweden.

New to the Gurt Dog team are Jordan Ray, publishing intern, and L. B. Shimaira, proofreader.

Meet the team at About Us – Gurt Dog Press.

Find out more about April-Jane Rowan: linktr.ee/theliterarychamber


Interview Transcript: Introduction

CMR: Hello, welcome to the next episode of Eldritch Girl, which is our last author interview for this season, and this is with April-Jane Rowan! Hello, lovely to meet you.

AJR: It’s great to be here.

CMR: Would you like to introduce yourself.

AJR: Yeah so I’m April-Jane, I’m originally from the UK, but I now live in Sweden with my two partners and our triplets, and I write horror fantasy with an emphasis on body horror and weird stuff.

CMR: Yay! Body horror and weird stuff!

AJR: All the best stuff!

CMR: And you’re going to read an extract of LOVELORN which is your next novel that’s coming out with Gurt Dog Press.

AJR: The part I picked is when one of the main characters, Harry, discovers a lake, which is very suspicious and he discovers a letter that tells him how he can see the fair folk there at the lake.


LOVELORN: Blurb

In Victorian England, within the sprawling countryside, a small village borders Lovelorn, a crystal kingdom inhabited by the Fair Folk that masquerades as a dense wood. Two unsuspecting mortals stray into the depths of this hidden world.

Harry, a disgraced jockey, stumbles upon a Kelpie and seeks to bind him, intending to use him to regain his former glory at horse racing. He is dancing a dangerous waltz however as Kelpies are a sly and deadly folk, his actions bringing him steadily closer to a grave at the bottom of a lake.


Mabel, a grieving wife abandoned by her husband, searches for her young son, Peter, who was stolen by the Fair Folk, simply wanting to bring her family together again. She makes a bargain with a knight from Lovelorn, entrusting her quest to him, all the while fearful that his word cannot be trusted.

Unbeknownst to them, their paths run parallel. They struggle to navigate the unbalanced and crumbling kingdom, while being opposed by creatures they thought resided only in fables. Can they play by the strange rules of the Fair Folk and win their freedom, or are they fated to lose themselves within the trees?


Extract of LOVELORN

April-Jane Rowan has allowed a longer extract from the novel to be posted here than what is read in the podcast! This is from a pre-published version which is still undergoing edits, as Rowan mentions later in the interview.

The day slipped by, melting like warmed butter, spreading and colouring the sky in yellow and orange before turning into dusk, before I had even realised it was happening. I had been so lost in my mind that I had forgotten that come night fall, I would be in a dire situation yet again and I was not sure I could return to my hiding place beneath the bush once more.

I held the stone in my hand, warming my palm with its smooth edges. Did it really show a different view of the world when it was looked through? The letter had suggested as much. I watched the horses grazing, softly whining to each other and peering over at me when I shuffled or moved slightly. The foal pranced happily, the more daring of the two as he often came close enough for me to touch him if I had desired, only retreating when I waved my stick at him in annoyance, and though I was ashamed to admit, I was afraid. Despite myself, I was too scared to look. With no one to judge me, no one to wound my pride and insult my damaged ego, I could just remain sitting here and not say a word.

Hadn’t I already seen too much?

I couldn’t stop the whispers in my mind, urging me to tame them despite my fear. What started as a means to get home, now was a way to win back the applause, the adoration I had lost in my accident. With such an animal, I could out-race even the fastest mare. No one could stop me and I would be sitting atop of pile of failures, boots digging into their soft, brittle souls as I reigned king. Oh, how I longed to be back upon my throne, more than anything I wanted to rise again, a brilliant bastard that everyone adored. No longer pulling my mistakes around like my useless leg. If I could have such a horse, a grand stallion of the Fair Folk, perhaps I could even cure my leg? Take away the scars and the deep aches it gave me, straighten the bones and make them strong again. The longer I sat, watching them watch me, my fear was swallowed by the hungry, grinning, ambitious monster residing inside me.

Before I could over-think it, I raised the stone to my eyes and looked through at them, telling myself I would see nothing, that despite what I had already seen, it was foolish.

The choked shout that rang through the clearing alerted them, their heads turning towards me. Only they were no longer the long snouts of horses but the faces of men. They had turned from horses to monsters, the foal now a naked little boy and the stallion a large, broad-chested, nude man. They tilted their heads at the same moment, a cruel grin spreading across the man’s face.

Both of them looked human but for their legs slowly turning to that of a horse, tilted back at the knee, covered in fine grey fur and ending in hooves. Their light grey skin was marked with speckles as they had been in equine form. Long black tails hung from their backsides and in the mess of tangled hair, pointed ears stood atop their heads, grey and oval shaped. The little boy’s hair was still plaited around his neck, tickling his belly. The man was also covered in coarse black body hair and his grey eyes seemed on fire, shining in his angular lined face, stubble decorating his jaw. I noticed that they looked wet, puddles collecting round their hooves. Kelpies, lovers of the drowned.

I was unable to move, frozen in terror as they moved forward. The retreating sunset made them into advancing shadows, hooves making hollow sounds through the clearing as I gazed, fixated through the stone.

“Look what you’ve found, little broken mortal” the stallion chuckled, his voice deep and cracked, vibrating through my bones.

The foal neighed, clinging to his side as I struggled to my feet. I realised it must have been him pulling the corpse down into the lake, trying to prevent me from getting the satchel. It must have been them the first night I had been here, dancing and swimming. I shoved the stone back into my pocket, knowing that I couldn’t run whilst holding it to my face, but they didn’t change back. I supposed there was little point now that I knew their true forms.

I hobbled away, my stick sinking into the grass, my progress slow. They seemed in no hurry to catch me, staying back but following my progress.

“Come, broken mortal, let my arms heal you and together we can lounge at the bottom of my lake together” he purred, mouth stretched in a leering grin. “There’s no kiss sweeter than when your mouth is full of water, there’s no love deeper than your soft, yielding flesh. You’d gladly spend your last moments with me and I will treasure you forever. Love is torturous after all. Come mortal, lay with me in my watery bed.”

I shook my head mutely, walking backwards and trying not to lose my balance, my walking stick jabbing into the soft mud. The moment stretched on, like a spider web connecting me to them; I took steps back and they would advance, slowly, slowly. I sensed that if I fled, they would chase just as they now only mirrored me, one terrified stumble could mean my end.

“Don’t come any closer, I know what you are, Kelpies, water folk, and I’ll make sure you’re tracked down and shot. Do you think when people know you’re here they’ll let you be? Let you exist here like a filthy mark on an carpet? These lands are full of proud farmers, they won’t allow you to live” I spat, my false bravery pushing up through my ribcage, puffing me up and making my grip on my stick tighten, my knuckles white.

“Come closer, I know what you are” he purred, face stretched with a mocking smile full of blunt yellow teeth. “A wanting mortal, no longer desired, longing for something you can barely grip in those thin, weak fingers of yours. Do you think once when the folk know you’re here, they’ll let you be? Do you think I will?”

“I am not wanting!” I exclaimed, sneering at him, my cloak of pride rippling around me, warm, comforting, forever a safety net. His taunts burned me even as my leg ached, my jerky movements and the pain only reminding me how true his words were.

“Oh, why ride so far from home, so late at night and so deep, so deep into the woods?” he cocked his head, long black hair falling over one shoulder. “Everyone that enters this wood is searching for something, wanting of something. Ourselves included.”

“Stay back! Just stay back!” I shouted, brandishing my stick at them, trying to keep myself steady as I walked backwards. I didn’t dare look behind me, knowing that if I took my eyes from his deep gaze that he would advance, so fast that I could scarcely blink.

“I’ll love and adore you if you let me; just step into my lake and don’t hold your breath” he whispered, his eyes widening.

My boot sank suddenly and I realised, too late, that I had been pushed towards the water. The frigid liquid sank through the leather of my boots, my arms flailing as I toppled backwards. Seconds before the fall, I saw his face, delight spread across the rough features. The water knocked the wind from me, and I barely managed to take a breath as I sank, my jacket like a fish, trying to float away from me. I was in his domain now, a weak swimmer with only a lungful of breath and a heart beating so fast that it might just stop, just give up. I felt the water undulate as he dived in, the ripples coursing around my sinking body. I thought of the bridle resting at the bottom, caked in algae and mud, my only chance. The only chance I had of living longer than the strength of the air in my lungs.

No fear, no fear.

I began to swim downwards, my lips sealed shut. I could sense him chasing me, his presence closing in. It was so dark down here, bleak and thick, my arms aching from the motion and my lungs burning. I could feel my death slicing through the water, gaining, gaining on me as I sank deeper, deeper into the abyss. Reeds were everywhere, wrapping around me like ribbon wrapped around a gift, concealing shapes in the gloom. No light found its way down here, my bulging eyes straining to make out anything. As my hands cut through a patch of reeds, my fingers curled round something. Startled and fearing it to be the stallion, I pulled back, very nearly losing the air in my lungs as the thing followed me. The corpse of an older woman floated before me, her dress made of layer upon layer of decaying rags that seemed to dance around her frame. Her face slumped onto her chest and hair tightly coiled on her head. Her skin was green, her body bloated and eyes sunken. I frantically turned, gazing around me and began to see each and every one, a graveyard under the water. Countless bodies, resting in the reeds, bones resting upon the bottom of the lake. How many? Hundreds? Men, woman, children and bodies that over time had lost everything that made them discernible. Skulls crushed, bodies destroyed by the roughness of his touch, his love. I continued to the bottom, forcing my tiring body on, my head light and my vision blurred. No fear, no fear. My fingers desperately searched the bottom of the lake, pushing aside bones, stones and oddments, Jewellery fallen from rotten earlobes and wrists. Suddenly, my fingers closed around it, the bridle, and I pulled it from the earth as his hands closed around my waist, pulling me to him. My mouth opened, water rushing in like an invited guest as his strong fingers pulled at my clothes. I struggled, the wooden bridle tight in my grasp.

I couldn’t be afraid; I had to break free. I could see hands reaching for us, so many hands. So many forms floating in the water, watching him cradle me to him, undress me and caress me as my vision blurred, my lungs burning, my heart on fire. I felt his mouth over mine, pushing more water into my throat, his hands down my breeches as their ghastly hands stroked my knotted hair from my forehead. So many white faces peering at me, so close. The ghosts of his victims, bodies pulled apart, smiles full of hate. Soon I would suffer their fate, soon I would be one of them and I would watch the next victim and the next thereafter. Hopeful for it to fill my heart, but it would never dull the pain. The horror of being one of his lovers.

There are no tears under water but I knew soon, soon I would be one of them. My body trapped beneath the water, my spirit wandering aimlessly.

No fear, no fear.

Somehow, I managed to force him away, my eyes focusing past him, past the faces that laughed and grinned, towards the only shaft of light. I swam, pushing up and up, squirming out of his hands, kicking him away as I felt my lungs might explode, bursting with fire and burning me alive. I swam through the gloom, clutching the bridle, feeling him behind me. He was reaching for me, snatching at my clothes but I was nearly there, nearly there, almost, so close…

I burst from the water, scrabbling at the wooden beams of the floor. I had come up into the cottage. I pulled myself up but he grabbed my ankle, and I gave voice to the guttural scream that had hidden inside me under the water. I kicked manically, my boot hitting him in the face and with one last effort of strength, I pulled myself up onto the rotting wooden floor, as it bowed under me. I turned, bracing myself as I raised the bridle. As I had swam through the darkness, it had become a thick twined wooden torc, one fit to circle his neck, and I held it up, breathing deeply.

Suddenly, he shot from the water, enraged, landing on top of me with his hands either side of me, gripping my sides. Before he could rip the torc from my hands, I hastily slipped it over his head, ripping strands of his hair out as it caught on the rough wood. I held fast as he tried to shake it free, the wood already shrinking to cling close to his skin as the floor beneath us sank dangerously, our combined weight pulling it under. Our eyes met, our heavy breathing mixing like smoke and our bodies wrapped together, drenched. His nose brushed against mine, droplets of water falling from his hair to roll down my cheeks. No fear, no fear, but oh, who was I jesting?

I could scarcely take a breath before he pulled me under.

~ April-Jane Rowan, Lovelorn, released August 2021

Find it here at Gurt Dog Press

Interview Transcript

CMR: ooh, I really like that part. [I got to read the full extract, reproduced with permission in the post]

AJR: Thank you. Lovelorn will be coming out at the end of August, so if you liked what you heard here, then you can follow me on Instagram @TheLiteraryChamber, for more updates and fun things about the release!

CMR: So what were the main influences for this story, I think there’s a lot of them, isn’t there? I love all the descriptions of the horses, because that Harry is a jockey isn’t he?

AJR: Yeah, yeah he is.

CMR: Do you ride horses, or…?

[windchimes in the background throughout the interview!]

AJR: Well, I don’t. I’ve never really been interested in horses. As a child, horses were not my go to animal, cats were, so um, I had to do a lot of research into horses and the correct terminology for them and I even listened to the kind of sounds horses made so I could make sure that they really did, you know, when I described them, that they sounded like horses. But I guess the the main influence was… I started researching fairies, and the more traditional stories, and how they weren’t like they are portrayed now I guess, in the main media. I know there’s a lot of stories where they do draw from the traditional tales, but when they’re very dark and sinister and menacing, and they would trick people or kill people, and yeah, I just fell in love with them and kelpies in particular.

I just love that they’re meant to lure people to the water and I guess the the idea for the Earl, which is the stallion, just took root from this kelpie that waits for people, and um. He’s just so convinced that what he’s doing is because he loves them, and he, you know.

CMR: Oh God, yeah. That’s so creepy. That kind of twisted love of something that doesn’t really know how to love.

AJR: Yeah. And it just went around in my head, and then eventually the kingdom of Lovelorn just expanded from that, with the Earl.

CMR: That’s really cool, yeah. What’s the appeal of fairy tales as a genre for you and why did you choose to use them as a mode, for this adult Gothic fantasy?

AJR: I guess, like a lot of people I was raised on fairy tales and you know, like the brothers Grimm and these classic ones and Hans Christian Andersen and I’ve always loved them, but as an adult I’ve grown to have more of appreciation for them when I’ve kind of researched why we have fairy tales and how they’re kind of urban legends of the past, mirroring what people were afraid of, or what they wanted to warn you against at that time. A lot like how we have stories now they’re probably passed on.

And one of my favourite things about them was that there are so many fairy tales from all over the world that have very different themes, even some [with] pretty much exactly the same plot. But there’s stories where people wouldn’t have been able to talk to each other to pass them on, like when travel wasn’t as easy, and completely different parts of the globe. I just love the idea of people’s worries and fears being so universal that they come up with exactly the same story.

But yeah I guess I kind of wanted to write something like that, like my own fairy tales that could like expand and change, about this hidden world within a forest, and kind of draw on all these classic fairy tale elements.

CMR: I love that yes, it’s just so interesting I love the world building and I love the idea of this forest that people enter because they need to find things. The other character is a mother looking for her son in the forest… yeah.

AJR: Yeah.

CMR: And I love the contrast between the two characters as well, so Harry has lost the love of his life, which is being able to ride – and is the fame, I would say, he’s lost the fame and that’s what he loves and that’s what he wants to get back, and he’s such a brilliantly unlikable person. Yeah he’s such a – I guess an antihero but bordering on, like – [uncomfortable noise]/

And Mabel is like – I don’t know like Mabel starts off as quite a bit – as a very embittered woman who really just wants to be a good mum but, like her son reminds her of her husband who’s left her, and she calls him her little ghost.

AJR: Yeah she tries to be a good mum but doesn’t go about it in the right way.

CMR: No and she’s quite cold, and I think she knows that she’s being cold and she overcompensates for that coldness.

AJR: Both Harry and Mabel are not in good places at the beginning of the book.


Tainted Love and Twisted Relationships

CMR: No, and I’m halfway through the book so I’m excited to see how their stories intertwine and interact, and the arcs that you’re taking them on, which is really cool. And so I was just wondering if you could tell us a little bit more without too many spoilers about the central relationships in the novel and why you found those compelling to write about in the first place, what [is it] about those kind of relationships, what about them do you find interesting to explore.

AJR: Well Harry was originally was going to be just one main character, which was Harry and his relationship with the Earl who he sort of tricks into guiding him. He’s, like in the extract I read, he’s trying to find a way to control him to get his fame back. He goes on a quest to find a stronger bridle which will mean that he can order him around.

Mabel was a smaller character but she kind of took on a life of her own. And then it ended up being to POVs [Points of View] because she wanted – I guess she had a story she wanted to get told as well.

CMR: I love that for characters.

AJR: I love that too, it’s like, who’s writing this??

[laughs]

CMR: Yeah.

AJR: And she goes into the woods to find her son and she ends up meeting a fairy knight called Carroway who guides her to try and help her find her son Peter, so I guess, yes, so about two mortals who get lost in the wood and then they each find a guide. Whether they’re actually very good guides or not – um! [laughs] and whether they’re trying to trick them…

CMR: Yeah, because you don’t know, you can’t trust the Fae, that’s like the main… so you know, everyone is very unreliable, you have two unreliable narrators in both points of view to different extents, but you also have the fact that they can’t trust anyone either.

AJR: Yeah, there’s a bit in it, where Carroway says, Oh, you know, the thing about us not being able to lie, that’s false.

Oh, can I believe what I know about fairies because, to make it even more that – like, you know, you have no idea whether they’re going to lead you somewhere good or bad. they’re in a situation where they just kind of have to put their trust in the Fair Folk.

CMR: Yeah, the whole thing is quite disturbing and I love it. I love these kinds of interactions and the just the questioning nature of it, where you’re just kind of it makes for interesting reading experience, where you get lost as well, because you as a reader don’t know what to trust or who to trust.

AJR: Yeah, like what they’re going to come across next.

CMR: It reminds me actually of a very adult kind of Alice in Wonderland logic, which I like.

AJR: Oh cool. That’s a very nice comparison, thank you!

CMR: Or Alice Through the Looking-Glass, you know, where it’s just literally her wandering around finding things and you’ve no idea what’s going to come next and it’s like just this really cool journey to be on. And there’s lots of different kinds of – well, you’ve got the love of the Earl for his drowned corpses.

AJR: His lovers in the lake.

CMR: His lovers in the lake, yeah, and you’ve got Harry and his love for fame, and for horses, to an extent, but like, more the fame. And not really for anyone else, not for any of the other characters.

AJR: No, he’s very self-centred.

CMR: And Mabel and her love for, well, I guess, for her husband, who’s gone, that she did have and then her love for her son, which is compelling her to, but I would say, also there’s a guilt element in that that’s compelling her to look as well.

So there’s lots of different kinds of love in the story which work well with the sort of you know, the Lovelorn kingdom, the name, and what made you choose that as a central theme like was that organic or planned?

AJR: To some extent I’m a big fan of showing all different kinds of love in my writing, and not just the sweet kind, and I guess with this story, I wanted to show toxic love and not just romantic, also between a parent and child or like a kind of toxic love obsession like with Harry with fame, and how that can either get changed and morph into something more healthy, or it can destroy people.

So I guess I was just trying to show the relationships that they have: Harry and the Earl is not a very good one. Also with Mabel and her depression. And yeah, I guess, show a different side to it. It has romance in it, but is it a very good romance?? I guess I want to leave up to the reader to decide how they feel about it in the end.

CMR: I love that. I do like problematic love as a theme. I think there’s just so much more you can do with it. When you explore different kinds of relationships – I was just thinking, it’s very much a theme of this podcast, problematic relationships.

AJR: it’s really good to show those and because love isn’t just like it is in you know, in romcoms [Romantic Comedies], it’s like – there’s all different shades, and it’s… also, you know how love can be problematic, not just between a romantic [couple/group, but] like with friends and family, and yeah I just find it really interesting to look into that and, I guess as a writer, especially with this book, I kind of want to tell their stories. Not to, you know, tell the reader whether the relationships are good or whether you’re meant to like Harry or the Earl or, you know. You can come out at the end and hate them or think the path they chose and how it ended up was awful for them, or maybe you can kind of see their redemption, or maybe see how their relationships going forward could be good for them, or whether you think they’re just going to get destroyed and sink further into the the holes that they’re already in the beginning.

CMR: I like that, yeah, it makes me think of the ending of Jamaica Inn, the bit where she goes off, but I don’t want to spoil the ending for anyone who hasn’t read it.

AJR: I mean, it’s been out for a long time.

CMR: Yeah! Where it’s like oh you’re just going to go off, and this is, this is not the best ending.

AJR: He was like, you know this kind of life, like yeah it’s probably not going to end up well for you, but you know.

CMR: Oh well. And the romantic people can go to the Happy Ever After, “well, at least she’s got a man!”

AJR: By the low standards of the time.

CMR: We watching the watching one of the adaptations of that and there’s a line when he’s like, “oh am I just a horse thief to you” and it’s like yeah mate, you are? Literally how you were just introduced, yeah?

[laughs]

Is that something that you’ve written about before, you know, those sorts of relationships, [do they] come up a lot in your work in general?

AJR: Yeah, so for my novella, Beneath a Bethel, also deals with these same relationships, I guess, that can either be seen as good or bad depending on who’s reading them, and have that kind of unhealthy element and have people with a lot of trauma and I guess trying to find their way out of that.

CMR: What’s that one about, I haven’t got to it?

AJR: Oh no, describe my own book! I’m so bad at that!

CMR: Oh, don’t worry, someone asked me to do an elevator pitch in an interview and I was just like, no. [laughs]. I was woefully unprepared.

[It was with Sam Hirst via Romancing the Gothic, and you can find my Author interviews here and here!]

AJR: It’s about a city called Elbridge, and there there’s a custom that when children come of age, so around teenagers, they have all of their teeth pulled out in ceremony, that is somewhat like a christening. They get pulled out with pliers, and then they get given magical teeth that they can grant wishes with.

CMR: Oh my God. WHAT.

AJR: It’s like a status thing in the city that some people with more money have really amazing teeth and then the poor people just have a very basic set. It follows Angora, who ends up having his ceremony, but it… instead of being full of celebration and light and you know, it ends up ruining him and he’s left without any teeth at all, which in this society makes you a pariah and you have nowhere to go and it’s how he comes back from that.

CMR: Oh my God I have to read it immediately. I’m just sat here with my hand over my mouth. Oh noooo. Okay that’s amazing. What gave you that idea?

AJR: I can’t even remember, I’ve always been fascinated by teeth, I actually have a collection of human teeth.

CMR: Oh wow, okay.

AJR: Mine, my brother’s, my mum’s… my mum has a problem with her teeth and every time she gets one pulled out, I get sent a little box. Her dentist thinks it’s very weird.

CMR: That’s fair. Bodies are… bodies are great.

AJR: Bodies are weird and when you get to keep something that was inside your body… yeah.


Body Horror ~ Films, Books and Writing

CMR: Yeah I love things like that because that kind of plays into the whole tooth fairy thing as well, and I thought for a moment that’s where it was going, and then it went…!! [laughs] and that’s out as well, isn’t it? Fantastic. So what is it about body horror for you, that you like writing?

AJR: I think I just love, I always love horror that is very like visceral and very gross and I’m just drawn to the body horror and bodies betraying people or morphing, or all of the gruesome details of all you know, the fluids and yeah. I just … I just love it. Those are my favourite scenes to write when I’m like, Oh yes, I got a really gross scene coming up, perfect.

CMR: Yeah, I was just thinking of the Cronenberg films. Do you have a favourite body horror type film that kind of got you into it visually, or a book that made you think, ‘yeah I want to do that, I want to write that’?

AJR: One film I used to watch a lot as a teenager was called Dumplings, [2004 dir. Fruit Chan]. It’s more subtle body horror and it’s not very explosive, like gross gore, but it’s about a woman that wants to keep her youth, so this other woman that basically uses foetuses to make dumplings and then you eat them and it keeps you young, but then it starts to change her body, because she’s eating babies. And I watched that a lot as a teenager and it was one of my favourite films.

CMR: Oh wow, okay.

AJR: And Angela Carter’s one of my favourite authors, and The Bloody Chamber is probably my favourite book with all of the strange, fairy tale-esque body horror of people morphing, like with the werewolves and the erlking, and all of that.

CMR: I like those stories. I’ve got that book. Yeah I just, I find Angela Carter’s whole style is very – I don’t know, now whimsical but like it’s told in that kind of a way. Those short stories have got this very fairy tale feel to them. And I really liked that collection.

AJR: She’s a big inspiration for my writing.

CMR: Yeah I can see that. I can see that in Lovelorn a little bit.

AJR: Very descriptive prose. I mean that’s also why I like writing body horror, because I can just go into the descriptions. Lovelorn still needs some editing with my editor, and when I was querying it I cut a few bits out that were very graphic and I was like I’m not sure an agent is going to like this scene, so maybe you’re just trim it down a bit so it’s less gross. And I’m like, maybe i should just put it back in now.

CMR: I think there’s definitely like – extreme horror and splatterpunk and all that kind of stuff is very much a big genre thing now.

AJR: Yeah, I’ve seen a lot more online. I didn’t know about it before, but recently I’ve seen a few books published under it, which is cool.

CMR: Yeah, it’s quite interesting because I wrote – I didn’t think I wrote horror or…

AJR: I was the same.

CMR: This is just like, it’s a bit… you know, stuff happens, but I wouldn’t I wouldn’t call it horror.

AJR: I was exactly the same. I was like oh it’s just dark fantasy right, and then I was … other people reading it were like oh it’s horror, and I was like really…? Oh, I guess, my bar for what is horror is, just… [laughs]

CMR: Yeah and I think that’s interesting because horror is such a massive genre and it’s so subjective you know, because what scares you it’s not going to scare somebody else. And so, if you’re writing something that you personally find quite comforting to write or quite cathartic to write or interesting and fun to write, you’re not necessarily going to think of it as a ‘horror story’, because you’re not setting out to scare anyone, you’re setting out to have a good time, right?

[See my interview with Nita Pan on writing vibes, aesthetics and a bloody good time]

AJR: I kind of now look at it through the eyes of my mum, who does not like horror in any media, and when I first started getting into horror, especially films, I would say, oh let’s watch this film together mum it’s not that gross! And then I would see it and I’m going oh my God there’s so much blood in this, because I wouldn’t notice it.

And now when I write, as she’s started reading my work, she was like, oh it’s very scary! There’s a lot of gross stuff in it! And I’d be like, oh, okay. So when I write now, I think – would my mum think this was horror?? – as I have a higher tolerance for stuff now.

CMR: [I had] people saying that they hadn’t read any body horror before they read The Crows, and I was like – really? sounds fake. [laughs] Okay! I thought everybody read stuff like this.

AJR: It can be so subtle but it’s still like you know this is such a spectrum, that there are some where it’s really graphic and then there’s others where it’s more like a kind of subtle change, or unsettling. So I think a lot of people are watching so body horror without realizing that’s what it is.

CMR: Yeah because there’s stuff that you would put in as obvious body horror, like The Fly, or John Carpenter’s The Thing, which is more obvious with things erupting everywhere.

AJR: That’s my partner Nem’s favourite thing to watch, I’ve watched that film so much. Whenever we’re like, what shall we watch? He’s like, The Thing!

CMR: But other stuff as you say can be more subtle.

AJR: I think the subtle stuff is kind of more eerie feeling or draws on trauma, like Her Body and Other Parties, have you read that book? by – I’m going to really badly say her name – [Carmen Maria Machado], I think it is. It’s a short story collection and it deals a lot with women’s bodies and body horror and that kind of thing. And it’s more like, subtle, but it’s creepy, eerie body horror.

CMR: Ooh. I like that as well, that kind of uncanny thing. What really freaks me out is that kind of subtle horror where you don’t recognise parts of your own body, the idea of your body not being recognisable to you, just that whole idea really bothers me.

AJR: Yeah and kind of being like, is it really happening or is it in the mind?

CMR: Yeah and everything gets very blurred, and you don’t… I think for me it’s that kind of loss of control. And not just over your body, but like within your own mind, where there’s that recognition that kind of the unreality of it, because I get kind of I get moments of unreality anyway. So I find anything that touches on that is very – no. I don’t like that, you know. And that’s very subtle horror that’s not blood and brains all over the place, or like you know zombies or anything, which I also don’t like. But yes, there’s degrees of it, and I sometimes think the more subtle kind is actually worse in many ways.

AJR: Yeah I think so too, more the sneaking kind.


Future Work by April-Jane Rowan

CMR: Yeah! So what are you planning on tackling next in your future work?

AJR: um well, I have a story that needs editing that’s my least favourite part and I have dyslexia, so it takes me a lot of rounds of edits to get it readable for people. So I’ve been kind of putting off a little bit. And I’m also thinking… I have a new story going around in my head, which is very body horror, it’s about – have you seen this film, I think it’s called The Stuff, [1985, dir. Larry Cohen], where everyone eats this, like, yoghurt, and it makes them go crazy?

CMR: Oh God, no. No. No.

AJR: Oh it’s so good. It’s sort of inspired by that where this new fruit is discovered but it makes people morph into these creatures, and this woman who’s dealing with pre and postnatal depression after having her child is thrust into this changed world after coming out of hospital. So I’m toying with this idea.

Postnatal depression is something that I’ve suffered with so it’s quite a heavy topic for me and I kind of want to write something about it to kind of bring awareness to it. But also, I have to be in a good place and good enough place where I can write about it, so it was kind of going around in my head this idea at the moment and I think, maybe I might place where I could start writing it now.

CMR: Yeah I find that as well it’s like writing is a really good cathartic way, but, as you say, like, if you want to write it and tackle it in any kind of way you do have to have that distancing, don’t you.

AJR: Yeah, so it’s not so raw.

CMR: Yeah, especially if other people are going to read it and it’s going to be, you know, a product that people are going to judge.

AJR: Definitely.

CMR: And you just have to be in that position where you don’t mind if people take away different things.

AJR: Yes. I tried writing it before, but it was too fresh so I think you know, maybe now’s the time.


Gurt Dog Press

CMR: What’s next for Gurt Dog Press as well, because that’s a press you run with your partners?

AJR: Yes, so I run Gurt Dog Press with my partners, Linn and Nem, and it exclusively focuses on LGBT speculative fiction across Fantasy, Horror, Sci-Fi. But we kind of wanted to make a publisher that didn’t focus just on Romance stories. So it doesn’t have to have any kind of romance in it, or it can do too, but it was more to just focus on different kinds of stories, not just coming out or romances.

We have our first anthology coming out at the end of the year, called Tales from the Hinterland, which is inspired by folklore, and also in July we have our open submissions for next year for novels and novellas. Very exciting, yeah. This is our third year of publishing books, and we’re really excited to see what stories we get submitted and plan 2022 and what we’re going to bring out there.

CMR: Exciting times! Yeah, I’m looking forward to the anthology. It’ll be great.

AJR: Yeah. It’s been fun to work on an anthology.

CMR: Yeah really looking forward to seeing what what’s coming out now I really like the catalogue as well, like I just go, oh I want that one and that one.

AJR: Oh, thank you. Yeah we’ve been trying to pick very different stories from different genres.

CMR: Yeah it’s lovely as well that, like it’s just, people’s identities are incidental to the story as well, like they’re integral to the character, because it’s who you are, but also it’s not the focus, and I love that I think that’s perfect, it’s just good representation of a variety of things, it’s really fun.

AJR: Yeah, we found there was quite a lack in some other indie presses, and also mainstream ones, where it’s just incidental. Nem had published his stories before, but he felt like he didn’t really fit in anywhere because he does romance but also with a lot horror, so kind of a genre-bending one.

CMR: Horrormance, isn’t it, horrormance is an up-and-coming genre mashup I think.

AJR: He didn’t feel like he fitted with other just romances, so he started – he had the idea for Gurt Dog from that, and yeah, we just want to make it a space for just queer writers or queer stories that can go on, you know.

CMR: I love that, yeah, it’s such a cool – yeah I think Nyx Publishing does something similar as well. Queer identities and it’s – yeah, there’s so few publishers where you can find those sorts of stories and that kind of representation and I yeah I just love it. Thank you very much, guys.

AJR: Especially for horror.

CMR: Especially for horror, yeah, and for dark fantasy. Yes. And it’s been really lovely to have you on, I had L. B. Shimaira on as my very first author interview, which was published with you guys.

AJR: Yeah I love My Lord, that’s one of my personal favourites.

CMR: So yeah, just plugging that one again.

AJR: Yes, you should definitely read that one is amazing. And along with Gurt Dog Press, we also as a family have another company, B Proud PR, which is predominantly run by my partner Linn, and it focuses on promoting LGBT stories and authors. So if there are any authors listening, and you’d like your books promoted, you can check us out for that, because Linn does an amazing job with book tours.

CMR: And that’s all we have time for, thank you so much for coming on the podcast!

AJR: Thank you!


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