Interview with Lauren Bell, whose piece of flash fiction, ‘The Man with the Marshmallow Heart,’ can be found in Issue One of Into The Void.
Why do you write, and what do you hope to achieve in doing it?
I absolutely love anything to do with stories and storytelling. My Mom always encouraged me to read from a very young age and this is something that has always stayed with me. Now that I’m older, I get to read anything which catches my eye, whether it’s a short story collection, a novella, a novel or graphic novel.
I find the art of storytelling fascinating, how the process starts off as a very solitary act but ends collaboratively, where you end up sharing your work with others. Writing keeps my mind sharp, my thoughts focused. I have so many ideas floating around in my head, some of them are quite fleeting whilst others are vivid and demand to be written down. It’s nice to be able to put pen to paper and finally explore and flesh out the ideas you entertain.
For me, the writing process is similar to baking, you take your raw ingredients (an idea, an image or a snippet of overheard conversation) and you work with these, constructing a narrative where the words will (hopefully) slot into place and leave you with a completed story. I enjoy seeing my ideas grow and become full stories.
As a writer, I think it’s incredibly important to view the creative process in separate stages, where one thing leads on to another and another and results in your end creative piece.
What are the major themes found in your work, and why?
When I write, I don’t really have a particular theme in mind which I feel the need to communicate but there are recurring themes which do appear subconsciously in my work. Amongst them are identity, a sense of belonging, relationships and the magical in the everyday. Actually, I do consciously try to incorporate this last theme into my work. I love most magical realism books and have always believed that if you look past our reality, the routine we all adopt in our daily lives, if you just scratch away bit by bit, you will be rewarded with something fantastical.
The themes which regularly occur in my work are aspects which we, as human beings, experience in our everyday lives. It’s nice to read about something familiar in an unfamiliar and magical way.
Why is art important?
All mediums of art are vitally important to me because it helps me to pour all of my creative energy into something worthwhile. Writing isn’t a chore, nor is it supposed to be; if I feel passionately about something or inspired, I pick up my pen and write what I think and how I feel, usually within a quirky narrative. I love things which surprise and turn normal everyday events, objects and scenarios into new and fascinating stories.
The appeal is taking your ideas and setting these in motion to create a final product that is entirely you, born from your own hand. I understand why people draw/paint/write music/make films – these are all outlets, ways of channelling the inspiration you feel, or encapsulating your reaction to something you have read or witnessed. They give you freedom and allow you to explore and interpret your ideas in whichever way you see fit.
Crucially though, art and literature are there to make you feel something, to move you in ways you may never have experienced before, and to unite people from all across the world. Art is used a means of communication, a way of getting your ideas across, of showing others what life is and what it means to be human.
What are some of your favourite writers?
Ooooooh, this question always gets me! There are so many brilliant writers out there, it would be impossible to name them all. But, for me, Neil Gaiman embodies what it means to be a successful cross-over writer. He writes novels for adults and children, he writes graphic novels (Sandman being one of my favourite graphic novels ever and he writes film scripts (Beowulf). I’m pretty sure he actually writes more than this but what I love about his work is the wisdom present in his narrative. His narrators are usually insightful, intelligent and you feel comforted by their words. Gaiman has a unique storytelling ability which immediately seduces me and pulls me into his fictional world. His works often read like possible fairy tales and seamlessly interweaves fantasy with reality. I definitely think Gaiman’s work has inspired my love of magical realism.
Tied in with this notion is another favourite author of mine – Ray Bradbury, whose novel, Dandelion Wine, is, once again, one of my favourite books of all time. Bradbury is a master storyteller whose reminiscences of childhood memories in 1930s Illinois are a honey, all-encasing, and leaves you with a tender poignancy of former days much loved and greatly missed.
One author who I feel is ridiculously underrated for her wonderful novels is V.E. Schwab (aka Victoria Schwab) whose work is simply divine! Honestly, she is quite possibly the most consistent writer I have ever had the pleasure of reading, and in my eyes, has never written a bad book. They have all been bloody WONDERFUL! Her world building is unrivalled, her dialogue sharp yet witty, and you can never be completely sure whether her characters are good or bad. I always keep an eye out to see whether she is releasing a new novel, and if she is, then I’m definitely there. Schwab definitely deserves a lot more attention for her literary efforts – if you want a quality storyline which is fast-paced, engaging and highly memorable then look no further. (I also had the pleasure of meeting her in early August and I can tell you now that she is the best type of human being!)
Another author who deserves a mention is Ransom Riggs whose trilogy beginning with Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is an absolute delight to read. Riggs has created something rather unique and incredibly special with his novels about peculiar children with extraordinary abilities (e.g. an invisible boy, a boy who can re-animate the dead, a girl who can create fire, etc.) His world building is extraordinary and I am excited to learn that he is about to bring out a short story collection concerning the origins of Miss Peregrine and her peculiar children.
Finally, and it embarrasses me to say that I have only recently been introduced to this author’s work, is Aimee Bender. Her short story collections are like nothing I have ever read before. Willful Creatures is quite possibly the strongest short story collection I have ever read where each story just gets better and better. Bender possesses a unique way with words creating a distinctive voice which pervades throughout her work. Her imagery is exquisite (I like to think of the mind as a blank canvas but once Bender has finished with you, the canvas has turned into a work of art), she forces you to think about what isn’t being said in her narratives and her characters are highly complex individuals. The situations she describes fall into the realm of magical realism, some of these are quite beautiful, others are downright strange but they all have heart, and you can tell that she has poured herself into each and every one of her stories.
What book are you currently reading/read last?
At the moment, I’m reading three books which is an incredibly recent thing for me. Usually, I tend to just read one book and immerse myself in a single story at any one time, but in the last few months, I have joined Goodreads which has prompted me to embrace reading like never before.
First up is Dear Everybody by Michael Kimball which was recommended to me. This is an unusual concept since the book is composed of letters written by Jonathon Bender (the protagonist), excerpts from his mother’s diary and conversations between his dad and brother which all form Jonathon’s suicide note. It is deeply affecting, witty in places but ultimately, an incredibly emotional read.
Secondly, there is The Graveyard Book: The Graphic Novel Adaptation by P. Craig Russell who has adapted Neil Gaiman’s work, and created a beautifully illustrated companion to the original story. The artwork is simply incredible and the narrative is equally exquisite. I’m reading part 1 at the moment and already have part 2 staring at me from my book shelf.
Finally, I’m reading The Kind of Girl by Kim Henderson which is a collection of flash fictions documenting what it is to be a girl growing up in America. Most of the stories collected here are coming-of-age tales, and make you question your own childhood, how we learn and grow as adults, the implications we sometimes find ourselves in and the experiences which shape us as human beings.
I always try to have two books on the go at the same time (mainly because I have so many books to read and to read them singularly would take forever) but I choose them carefully. I never choose two books which are written by the same author or which share the same themes/subjects. Usually, I read a novel alongside a graphic novel to split things up a bit, giving me variety, or a novel alongside a short story collection. Sometimes, I do all three like I am now.
What’s your favourite piece in Issue One?
Breakfast by Bruce Majors really stands out to me as a work which is pretty simple on the surface but conveys so much when you take the time to study it. The poem reminds me a bit of William Carlos Williams’ work who I really admire as a poet. The images he describes are crystal clear and tell of a failing relationship. He doesn’t use fancy words, he keeps it nice and simple, and this is the reason it works. It’s a short but touching piece. Beautiful.
Where is another place we can find your work?
My stories have been published in print and online by several magazines. You can find my work online in The Pygmy Giant, The Casket of Fictional Delights, Spelk and Visual Verse. More stories can be found in print in magazines such asFlash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine, Firewords Quarterly, Bare Fiction, Breve New Stories and The Fractured Nuance. I am also a contributing writer for Storgy.
What’s on the horizon for you with your writing?
I hope to start putting a short story collection together fairly soon so I’m currently narrowing down the stories I would likely include in my collection. I’m finding that this is a lengthy process since I have to choose stories which are linked thematically in some way. There has to be cohesion within a short story collection so that one story flows or links directly to another, and the sequencing of these is proving tricky. Hopefully though, one day soon, they will arrange themselves conveniently for me.
I also have an idea for a graphic novel which I’m mid-way through writing at the moment but it’s been put on hold for a bit – I should really go back to that.
And then there’s the novel idea which I have had in my head for quite a while now. Last year I wrote over 200 pages but then it suddenly died and I found myself unable to get back on track with it. I still have it and of course I will go back to it, but I’m changing the story all the time. When I next approach it, I hope to have the vast majority of the story all written down somewhere (which often takes the form of random but comprehensive notes) and can finally finish the story I have inside of me.
You can find Lauren on Goodreads.