World Fantasy Award-winning author Natalia Theodoridou is a UK-based media and cultural studies scholar, fiction editor at sub-Q interactive fiction magazine, and a graduate of the Clarion West Writers Workshop. “Poems Written While” is Theodoridou’s first appearance in Uncanny.
Uncanny Magazine: “Poems Written While” focuses not just on poetry, but also on the context in which the poems were written. Did your academic background in media and cultural studies inspire the story? To what degree is your writing influenced by your academic work, more generally?
Natalia Theodoridou: One thing my academic studies have definitely instilled in me is the importance of context, yes. As a creator, I think I always tend to go back to Nelson Goodman’s reframing of the question “What is art?” as “When is art?”; it historicizes and contextualizes something that could otherwise be taken as abstract into a practice (by someone, for someone, sometime, for some reason, for a purpose—as my PhD supervisor, Mark Hobart, always insisted). It also resists the idea that the work and the conditions under which it is created can be neatly separated. These conditions, I think, are both material and intellectual; and because thinking is itself a practice, the two are again, in my opinion, inextricable. Which I think also answers your question about the influence of my academic work on my writing; I couldn’t possibly separate them, because my background (academic, historical, political, personal) has shaped the conditions under which I create.
Uncanny Magazine: I love that this story featured a small pocket of kindness in an otherwise harsh world. The characters—Daddy, Luz, Nora—are sympathetic, and they are fighting mostly against a harsh world rather than a human antagonist. Why did you choose these specific characters for this story? Did you find it difficult to keep the story from turning darker?
Natalia Theodoridou: I wrote this story at Clarion West (2018), for Yoon Ha Lee’s week. One of my classmates described the world as a utopia in which people take care of each other, for once. I had not realized that’s what I was writing until they said that. I think part of the reason was the workshop itself; I had rarely been in such a supportive environment before, and had never experienced so much kindness, from such diverse people at once. So no, I did not find it difficult to keep the story from turning darker, which was surprising to me, because my stuff does tend to be dark dark dark. I think my class is wholly to thank for that. The characters themselves are some of the closest to my heart I have ever written, and perhaps, for the first time, I found a way to be kind to myself and so could not bring myself to give them a tragic ending.
Uncanny Magazine: You are both a writer and an editor—how do those things influence each other? Do you try to turn off your “inner editor” when you are writing?
Natalia Theodoridou: I am not a good editor of my own work. The art of rewriting, which I recognize as incredibly important, is not something I excel in. I’m ashamed to admit that my first drafts are very close to my final drafts. That does not mean my final drafts are without flaw; I see the flaws, and my excellent beta readers do their best to help me with them, but I cannot often do the major restructuring that is required to fix them. All that said, I do tend to take a very long time working the story over in my head before I start drafting it. So maybe I do a lot of the editing beforehand? That’s what I keep telling myself, anyway.
Uncanny Magazine: What is your favorite poem? Does it have stars in it?
Natalia Theodoridou: Ooh, that’s a tough one. I don’t know if I could ever choose a favorite, but I do have poems that stick with me, and that changes more-or-less seasonally. Right now, it’s Chrissy Williams’s “Bear of the Artist,” which was highly commended for the Forward Prize for Best Single Poem in 2017. It starts like this: “I asked the artist to draw me a heart and instead he drew me a bear.”
All poems have stars in them, one way or another.
Uncanny Magazine: You recently won a World Fantasy Award for “The Birding: A Fairy Tale” which also features a post-apocalyptic world, albeit one with a very different sort of apocalypse. What draws you to post-apocalyptic stories? What do you find challenging about writing this type of world?
Natalia Theodoridou: I suppose it’s my dark, pessimistic streak? I think the challenge for me is to write a world that is harsh and unforgiving, and then to try and find ways for the characters to fight against the total embodiment of that cruelty—towards each other, if not always towards themselves.
Uncanny Magazine: What’s next for you?
Natalia Theodoridou: I always have several projects in the works (currently: a short story collection, a novella, a few short stories), but the timeframe for most of them is rather changeable. In 2018 I published my first game/interactive novel, Rent-a-Vice, with Choice of Games. That one was dark, cyberpunk-ish noir. I’m currently working on another project for them, a queer, feminist epic adventure loosely retelling The Odyssey. I hope that will be the project I will definitely be able to share with people some time in 2019.
© 2019 Uncanny Magazine