Beginnings | BOOKS WITH JEN Ep. 23 | ft. Kirsty Logan

Hi everyone, I’m here today to have a
chat about beginnings, about self-doubt and about the in-between spaces. I had a
chat with my friend Kirsty. Kirsty Logan is also a writer and one time when
she was down in London recently we sat down and we decided to have a chat about
these things. It’s really casual, we’d just eaten some doughnuts, we had a cup of tea
and we had a brief period to record a podcast before we each had to go off
and do our own separate things. We’d been writing in the Wellcome library the
day before and we just wanted to have a chat with you. Kirsty has
written five books; she is the author of The Gracekeepers and The Gloaming, two
novels, and three short story collections we’ve got The Rental Heart, which was
her first one, this one, and A Portable Shelter. Her latest is coming out
next month in October this is Things We Say in the Dark. If you like my fiction
you’ll probably like her fiction and vice versa:
we both like fairy tales, we’re both queer writers, we both like magical
realism etc you get you get the picture. So I sat down with Kirsty and we
just had a really casual chat about writing and what it’s like to write and
starting new projects. If you would like to listen that will be lovely.
This is actually an episode of my podcast BOOKS WITH JEN, so if you would
prefer to download this to listen while you’re out and about there will be a
link in the description box down below, otherwise you can just keep on listening
to this video; the picture will go away and it’ll just be an audio file. If you
would like to catch up with previous episodes of this podcast I’ll also link
them down below. I’ve spoken with many many different authors; I think there
are about 23 episodes of the podcast now and I make them every couple of
months. I’m going to stop hand you over to at… well, me [laughs]
and kirsty, when we were chatting about writing. I hope you have a great week and
I’ll speak to you very soon. Lots of bookish love. JC: We’ve just had doughnutss,
I think that is a that is now my pre-requisite for recording podcasts;
I must fill myself up with doughnuts first. so I’m very full of doughnuts, which is
very nice and we’re in the Penguin flat, which I’ve never been in before, it’s
very nice, very cozy. KL: Yes, I feel very fancy staying here. it’s as if I’m
a proper author or something. JC: You are a proper author. KL; I know but I just keep thinking
“this is not for likes of me!” JC: Oh, we’ve been having these conversations about
self-doubt and how neither of us know what we’re doing… but we kind of do know
what we’re doing. And also we can champion each other, I like that.
KL: I mainly end up having these conversations where you’re so amazed when someone also has
self-doubt and you go ‘yeah, but you’re a proper writer, I’m just an idiot, but YOU, you’re proper.’ [laughs]
JC: we had this conversation the other day when we talking about what we
considered to be ‘big famous writers’ that we’ve met and they all have self-doubt,
and it’s just a whole ridiculous system. KL: Yeah, and I had a conversation with
my agent the day before and a very famous, successful writer that she
represents apparently was complaining that they hadn’t achieved as much as
some other even more famous and successful writers and you just think;
goodness me it just never ends, doesn’t know it?
JC: No, it doesn’t. And, hey, because we have self-doubt, therefore we are writers, because that’s what
writers have! Congratulations to both of us. KL: Yeah. if we were satisfied
with things as they were we would just not make things up, I suppose.
JC: It’s true. That’s true. JC: I wanted to have a chat about the
in-between spaces and the spaces between books, which is where we spend I would
say most of our time, broadly speaking. I mean between the releases of
books, that’s what we spend most of our time but then within that there are
in-between spaces between ideas and trying to figure out what is working,
what point are you at right now in the in-between space, between your books?

KL: That’s just so funny – even as you were saying that I was like ‘is there ever space in between books?’ because the actual release of a book is such a short space
of time and by the time a book is actually published for us, that book is from years

JC: Quite! I have to reread my books when they come out so I can talk about it at book
events because, as you say, by that point I wrote it was several years ago, or at
least one year ago, and I’m inevitably on to the next project by then.

KL; Right! I’ve got a book coming out on Halloween this year but I started writing that book two years ago, so to me that’s
Kirsty from two years ago, that’s her brain and I feel like I’m
such a different person now, but it’s always going to be like that. Also
I’m never not working on a book, so I’m already I’m working on a
novel now, like actually working on it and I have begun writing it, but then I’m
also making notes and planning for about another three or four books, which will
be kind of a long time in the making, so I always say I research books
for three or four years, which sounds like a long time but it’s not as if
every day I’m sitting down eight hours a day researching, it’s just in
your head and then maybe somebody says something or maybe you see a painting or
see something in a film or hear a song or something and you think ‘oh, I can use
that!” so it’s just this sort of gathering of notes and inspirations and colours and
different things in it that by the time in a few years that you actually
sit down to write it, it”s all coalesced and it feels more complete. It’s such a messy
thing and I’m obsessed, I don’t know about you, I’m obsessed with these books about
how to write and I nearly borrowed from the library the other day a book called
How to Write your First Novel, and then I thought I can’t do that because I know
all the librarians and they’re going look at me and think: what are you doing? JC: yeah, “you already did that, Kirsty!” ha.

KL: But it’s you can’t help feeling like that must be an easier way.

JC: Yes, exactly, there must be some kind of method or trick out there that someone’s
not told you, that’s true but to go back to what you were saying: you feel
like you’re a collector of things?

KL: Yes. JC: And do you feel like the things you
collect… I think we’re like magpies, right? We’re all looking for pretty things and
ideas and things… not to steal but to utilise, to borrow and reimagine.

KL: Yes, exactly, you never steal anything wholesale. JC: Oh god, no, but it’s just these
little bits that you shine a different kind of light on. Do you feel like when you’re collecting and
you have lots of projects in mind, you then try to work out whether
pretty thing can into which project? KL: All the time,
and I also have a big notebook for stuff that I don’t know exactly where it will
go. So I spend a lot of time researching things and it’s
basically just reading books and then if something is interesting you write it
down and maybe you can see what it’ll fit into and maybe you can’t but
then you never know… you never know what will spark something in the future.

JC: Can you remember that kind of moment for a book that’s already out? Something that
you discovered and you thought “that’s a big thing that I hadn’t thought of

KL; Yeah, I remember for The Gracekeepers there were a few moments like
that. I remember the initial idea came when I was on a boat and I saw a life
buoy, a cage, over a light, which looked like a birdcage.
That’s how that started. And then different elements all
came together, as well, I remember…I was actually, believe it, or not really
far through the book before Callanish had gills, which is stupid because
that’s the whole point of the book [laughs] JC: Yes but when we’re writing books, sometimes the main point of them alludes us, ha. KL: Yeah, so I was really far through the book and I had been reading
a different book where it wasn’t gills that a character had, she had
some other element to her physical self, I think she had a limp or something, and I was
just kind of thinking about it, thinking that’s really interesting.
I think it’s interesting the way that that physical difference is used within
the story and then it just suddenly came to me ‘oh, you idiot, of course that should
be in this book, it makes everything come together, it makes everything makes sense!”
so quite often it’s not until I’m quite far through that I realize what I’m actually
saying, what the point of it is.

JC: Yeah, you unlock something. I think that’s a fun
thing about writing is that you can plant Easter eggs later, when you
figure something out, almost like you’re the reader of your own book and you’re
like “oh yes, okay, so in order for that to be true I must travel back in time and
put these little things in.” I mean, we like everyone to think that we
have it all figured out from the beginning and that ….you know, actually, I
don’t want people to think that. I don’t. I don’t want people
to think that because that sounds easy, writing isn’t easy, it’s case of
discovery, and unearthing things and then you’re making a mess, as you say,
and then tidying up. KL: You’re building a high wall from
scratch every time and you always think ‘oh, it’s going to be easier this time!’
but you still always have to start right at the bottom, putting the basic
layer on… this is not very good metaphor [laughs] but you know I always think it’ll be
easier next time and it sort of never is but maybe it shouldn’t be because then
you’re pushing yourself every time. JC: We were saying this: when we sit down to
write a new book we forget how to do it. entirely.

KL: I’d literally forgotten. I was so excited. I’d been wanting to start this new novel for ages. In
September I had this residency I was really looking forward to, it I was like
“I’m so ready, I’m so ready to begin!” I’ve got all my notes, I know exactly what the
first few chapters are gonna be and then the very first day I sat down at my
laptop and it literally had forgotten how to write a sentence.

JC: I wonder if writing a book is like giving birth, you know how they say that
you forget the pain otherwise you would never do it again? Perhaps that’s it; you
forget because otherwise you wouldn’t do it! just wouldn’t. We sit down, we think were ‘okay, so how do we do this again?” It’s also a split self
thing, isn’t it? Between the person or the life you have to lead while you’re
writing a book and then what it’s like when you’re promoting said book.
Obviously you are still the same person and you’re just utilizing yourself in a
different kind of way but I do find it very strange, especially if I’m working
on a book while…. which I we both probably always are…. writing a different
book while promoting one. They are such different head spaces and
different ways of being that actually I find don’t help each other. Do you know
what I mean? KL: Yeah, I have two pictures of myself in
my head. One is Tilda Swinton as the ice queen, which is who I try and
be when I’m promoting and I’m onstage.
I try and think Tilda Swinton as the ice queen…

JC: And you do have lots of fabulous dresses.

KL: yes, that always helps to kind of get into character. I mean, it is me but it’s
a more elegant, unruffled me because I am quite a ruffled person.

JC: It’s not you crying at your
writing desk.

KL: Exactly, and the other part of me which, to be honest, is the
ninety percent part of me is Gollum [laughs], that’s who I feel I am inside,
just this kind of like narled little apologetic creature. That’s
who I think I am so in my moments when my confidence is shaken I
literally feel like retreating into a little
cave. That’s how I feel. I know people usually laugh
when I say that but I’m waiting for the day when someone goes ‘oh yeah, I can see that!’ JC: i don’t think that’s going to happen. KL: It’s weird, isn’t it, you wouldn’t think that a
person can be the Ice Queen and Gollum but I think that’s who we are, this kind
of public facing person and we want to be so unruffled and elegant and… well,
that’s why I want to be anyway, but then to be a writer I don’t think you can
write, well, I can’t write elegantly and unruffledly, I have to be a bit of a
little creep in a cave to write because you have to go inside yourself and look
at the kind of unpleasant parts of yourself that you don’t really like in
order to write, I think.

JC: In order to understand humans and therefore write about them? KL: Yeah, because otherwise you’re just
writing about people who were pure surface all the time, which is very
boring… it’s very plain… people aren’t like that.

JC: No [pause]. We’re laughing because we do actually know people like that. KL: it’s 2019, my year of
positivity. I’m not going to deal with people like that. I’m leaving them behind

JC: Can you tell us a little bit about the kind of research that you’re
doing? We spend a day at the Wellcome library, which is a lovely place, you
should all go there… actually, don’t all go there because we would like to get a table [laughs] but some of you can go there. What did you find out when you
were researching there the other day? KL: I was researching middle-aged women
in the Middle Ages which delightfully there were two books about. You
wouldn’t have thought that there would be but the breadth of people’s
research interests is a constant delight to me, so I learned a lot about that and
about how medieval people thought of time. Of course we can never really
know because particularly poor people left no records, so we can never really
know what people thought but a lot of scholars are saying that medieval people
thought of time differently, so you know there’s lots of the memento mori… I don’t
know if you’ve seen those pictures of the skeletons dancing or skeleton parades?
There were lots of relics, famous relics things like that so the the sort of line
between life and death was seen as a bit more porous then we might think of it,
there were you know passion plays and plays where people came back from the
dead and things. JC: That makes sense, though, I mean a lack of scientific answers
but also death was so much more a part of society. People died at home, they
weren’t carted off to a hospital somewhere and death was, not to sound like a cliche, part of life. KL: Yes, many people would have seen birth and deaths, yeah, more so than us. That was interesting, I also
was at the V&A and I learned about glass and I learned that if you
just make glass and don’t add anything to it, it is green and if you want it to be
clear you add a thing to it… I don’t know what the name of it is but if
you add too much it goes pink, so that’s why you get so much green and pink glass.

JC: Thank you for that knowledge. KL: I can’t member the names of anything, it’s such a typical writer thing. JC: I’m like “I found out this amazing thing
let me tell you about it in a very nonspecific way”

KL: It was a guy in this
year and he did this thing and I know all about the thing but I don’t know
who did it or when.

JC: But that’s why we’re storytellers, we just fill in the gaps with
other stuff

KL: I’m researching medieval times and every time I try and talk to someone who knows a lot about it,
they say well what period are you looking at/ Because it’s a very long period and I say well, it’s not set in a specific time, it’s not based on a true story, it’s not historical fiction, it’s sort of
fantastical fiction but set in the past. I think because the real world
is very messy and it doesn’t tell us a neat story whereas we want to tell a neat
story, so there are a lot of witches in the book and there are witch trials but all
that came much later… kind of sixteen hundreds, really, if we’re talking the more
organized witch trials, which doesn’t suit my narrative, so I just say chuck it in! It’s fiction, it’s fiction. I’m not saying it’s historically accurate in any way. I always say that: nothing that I do, you know, if you’re going to find factual
problems with it, I’m fine with that. JC: I remember saying to my friend Jean
“I’ve just read this great book and in this in this book there was this
thing about the relationship between a grandmother and grandfather” and I told it to her and she said ‘that’s not in the book,
that’s my grandparents! I told you that story last week [laughs]. Sometimes the stories just blend together.

KL: I often don’t know if I’ve been to a specific place, whether I’ve read about it,
read about it or I’ve seen it in a film or I’ve just imagined it
and that’s troubling.

JC: No it just means that we exist in all the creative
spaces equally. KL: we have very vivid inner lives.

JC: yeah I mean I said when I was doing the podcast I did with Anne-Marie, I used to lie in my diary when I was younger; I thought I could trick my
older self. I didn’t even make up anything
interesting, I would just embellish my day slightly and so I thought when I
came back and read the book when I was older I would think I was really
cool, but when I read it back I remembered it it was a lie.
Perhaps that’s why we write fiction ha. JC: Okay we’re going to
have to wrap this up and go do some work.

KL: Go do our actual jobs. JC: Where can people find you? You have you’re own podcast.

KL:. I do my podcast is called
Teenage Scream and it is about 90s teen horror, point horror, goosebumps, Fear
Street. We’re also going to start doing some films like urban legend, I know what you
did last summer, things like that and I do that with the writer Heather Parry
and I love it and it’s great, well I think it’s great. you can also find me on Twitter, Instagram, I’m Kirsty Logan on
everything and my website is also Kirsty Logan dot com evil

JC: amazing, you also have a new short story collection coming out KL: Yes, it’s out on Halloween
it’s called Things We Say in the Dark and it is a book of dark feminist horror
stories and it’s amazing.

JC: Get excited KL: Thank you, I wrote some of it with you

JC: Yeah, can I take credit? KL: Do you remember I did have a character in one of my other
books called Jen Campbell; I got so many messages about that. It was a
massive coincidence. I get emails a lot because there’s a
character in world of warcraft called Kirsty Logan, it’s not me, it’s
nothing to do with me, that’s a coincidence, which is a shame. She lives in a Booty Bay. She’s a pirate.

JC: Let’s go there.

KL: OK. [laughs] JC: Bye!

3 Replies to “Beginnings | BOOKS WITH JEN Ep. 23 | ft. Kirsty Logan

  1. Lol the idea of Kristy Logan borrowing from the library How to write your first novel. And knowing the librarians are going to look at her odd. Jen as always your bringing great stuff.

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