Greetings, creatures! Thursday 18th May was the day Goblin was launched into the world and I had to do the most terrifying thing I’ve ever done – get up on stage and talk in front of over one hundred people.
I survived, I didn’t vom, and it was a great evening – the atmosphere was fantastic, and I was bowled over by how many people came along to witness the Goblin birth. Part of Goblin is set in a fictionalised version of Edinburgh Central Library so it felt amazing to be holding the launch there, especially in the stunning Reference room. I half-expected Goblin to turn up. Many thanks to all the library staff who helped make it a great night.
The event began with a short reading, where Goblin first meets the Crazy Pigeon Woman of Amen Court, followed by a Q&A – I was honoured to have Stuart Kelly chairing the event and he asked many brilliant incisive questions. The event was recorded, but the quality isn’t good enough to share; instead, I’ve extracted a few main points of the discussion and posted them below.
During the signing we sold out of Goblins. If you missed out, Edinburgh Blackwells now have them back in and I signed a few on Friday.
One of the highlights of my evening was when my sister-in-law, Sara Jane, presented me with Monsta, one of the characters in Goblin. Sara Jane had been working away on it in secret over the past few weeks. Monsta is now my writing mascot.
It was a truly wonderful evening – many thanks to all the creatures who came to support us goblins. It feels like such a long journey, after starting Goblin as my final project on the Napier Creative Writing MA in 2011 (and dreaming of being a published author since I was 7). Thanks to Jenny Brown and all staff at Freight for believing in Goblin – it feels wonderful to have my first novel out in the world. Praise the lizards! A salute to Corporal Pig.
(For more information on what I’m up to, I’ve posted info below about some upcoming events).
Extracts from the Goblin Launch Q&A
SK: Although Goblin has a great many very dark moments in it, it strikes me as a rather joyous book. It strikes me as a book which is full of enthusiasm for what humans could be. Were you surprised yourself when you were writing it, that something so dark actually ended up being a book with a real sense of hopefulness?
ED: No, I purposefully wanted to balance out the light and the dark. And I’m quite heavily influenced by the Manic Street Preachers and their album Everything Must Go has what my friend described as ‘desperate joy’.
SK: What a brilliant phrase.
ED: It’s amazing – thank you, Smu! So, I think that influenced the tone of the book.
SK: The British sentimentalise the role of animals in warfare: the statue to Wojeck the bear, the awards given to pigeons. Why did you want to use the animal as a focal point for showing just how traumatic the war was?
ED: I think we have an overly romantic and patriotic view of our involvement in WWII, which also feeds into current politics – and you can see how dangerous that is. So when I heard about the pet massacre and the fact it wasn’t well known, I wanted to, as JG Ballard said ‘rub the human face in its own vomit and force it to look in the mirror’ – another Manics reference. I think we need to face up to these things, the darker side, and not just have this overly romanticised version of our past. And I think we do have this idea that we’re a nation of animal lovers, and the pet massacre problematizes that.
SK: I was surprised at how angry the book was
ED: I’m always angry. Permanently angry. I have this calm exterior…
SK: Is that something you can utilise?
ED: Writing. Always writing. All my life. I’m a very furious person [laughs]
SK: You get this book that is so furious, so indignant, about what’s happening in terms of library closures, the way that capitalism is heading… You wrote it before the whole maelstrom that we’re currently going through. Yet, as I’ve said before, there’s something joyous about the book. And when you’re talking about characters like the wonderful Corporal Pig – there’s something redeeming in these animal characters. Was that a way of off-setting this anger?
ED: It was to show the joy that non-human animals bring to our lives. Also, the amount of books that I’ve read where animals don’t appear at all, or they’re sidelined, or they’re there as symbols or metaphors just really pisses me off. I actually spoke to Stephen Poliakoff [who features the pet massacre in his film Glorious 39] about the pet massacre and he said he used it as a metaphor for the holocaust, and I was quite angry about that. A foreshadowing of the holocaust makes sense, but not a metaphor.
SK: Those were living beings.
ED: Yes, those non-human animals matter in and of themselves, and that’s a big part of what the book is about. We think of ourselves as a nation of animal lovers, but our society is based on subjugating animals. Thousands of animals are tortured and killed every day just so that we can have a momentary pleasure as we eat their corpse.
SK: It struck me that just in the same way that you show animals have more humanity than humans, having the doll [referring to the doll/teddy bear parts that make up aspects of Monsta] at the centre and the doll as a thing which is in a way a reproach to humanity; it’s innocent in a way that we are not.
ED: Yes. And it’s a kind of riff on Frankenstein.
Audience member (Ser): Did you have the character David [Goblin’s brother] mapped from the beginning as a conscientious objector?
ED: Yes, again partly because of the romanticisation of WWII – we associate conscientious objectors more with WWI rather than WWII and a lot of people think, you know, ‘fight the Nazis’…
SK: That’s a very interesting point, as that is something absolutely coded into our literature. WWI is an imperialist war, but in WWII you had to take down the Nazis, it’s a moral fight. I think that’s quite brave, in this case, to reassert that there were conscientious objectors in WWII.
SK: The book is described as being magical realism – you’ve got Monsta, this confection of different things, that seems to come to life, you’ve got various points where something that doesn’t seem to be real is intersecting across the plane of reality. But there’s another way of reading the book, which is that Goblin is so traumatised it’s necessary to create these fictions. When you were writing it, did you sway one way or the other? Did you think more about this being a book about magic as something real, or a book in which magic was a necessary way of dealing with trauma?
ED: Stuart, I’m not going to answer that. Because I want to leave it up to the reader.
SK: It’s one of the great things about the book – it isn’t magic realism in the way we think about a book by Salman Rushdie, where it’s quite clear things are happening which are against the rules of nature. It’s a book in which you can read it with a magical element, and you can read it with a realist element. That’s what’s so impressive about it. All of this could be a complete response to unbearable trauma.
ED: Well, I describe the book as a love letter to storytelling. It is basically about how storytelling can save your life.
Audience member: As mentioned, you cover a lot of heavy themes like war and gender and politics. How do you give those heavy issues due diligence without hurting the narrative, without being on the nose, without being too preachy?
In response to this, I waffled a bit about it being necessary to hold back and not slipping into melodrama and sentimentality, but didn’t answer the question properly. What I should have said is: Goblin is the centre of the story and she kept me on track. There’s some similarities between us, but Goblin isn’t me. While she loves animals, I made sure I didn’t impose my own views on her.
I’d also add that no work of art is politically neutral, and if an author says their work is politically neutral or they don’t deal with politics, it’s likely what they’re really doing is shoring up the status quo – because the status quo seems ‘normal’, it doesn’t feel political. Also, being ‘on the nose’ isn’t necessarily a bad thing – there’s nothing subtle about Animal Farm, 1984, Brave New World or The Handmaid’s Tale, and they’re all brilliant, they all work.
Shoreline of Infinity/Aethor and Ichor fantasy themed event at Banshee Labyrinth on Wednesday 14th June at 8pm (doors 7.30pm) with Eris Young, Daniel Pietersen, and Aurora Engine. I will be reading an extract from my short story Northern Lights.
I’ll be reading an extract from Goblin at Golden Hare Books towards the end of June – final details to be confirmed.
Other events I will tell you about soon – watch this space.