Marian Womack Interviewed by Charles Tan
Hi Marian! Thanks for agreeing to do the interview. First off, how did you first become acquainted with speculative fiction?
Well, of course, on some level all fiction is speculative fiction, and one of the great developments that has taken place over the course of my life is that some of the themes and ideas that have been traditionally considered as “belonging” uniquely to what was called “science fiction” have expanded beyond their genre boundaries (of course, genres don´t have boundaries, but that is another question…). So, a lot of what I read when I was a child or a young woman was speculative fiction “without knowing it”, as it were. For example, some of Lovecraft’s purer horror stories are very much based on a speculative fiction premise: what if we could re-animate the dead? What if we could come into contact with creatures from other dimensions?
When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
It’s always been there in the background: I’ve always liked words, and putting words together, but there are a handful of key experiences that really led me to want to devote my life to it: reading Crime and Punishment for the first time at the age of thirteen or so, discovering Borges… In a way the idea that it is what I’d do has always been there, even amongst my family and friends. It was sort of understood I would work with books… And in fact I have been a librarian, I’ve done academic research, I translate, publish and write. Short of having my own bookshop, I think I have always been surrendered to books and have lived not only through them, but also from them… Or at least that’s what I try to do!
Who are some of your favorite writers or what are some of your favorite works?
I believe in a healthy reading diet, and my list of “favourites” is perhaps unmanageable… I am also very indecisive… A great many things: from Alice in Wonderland to An Awkward Age by Anna Starobinets.
Where can we find some of your fiction?
I have contributed to a number of anthologies and have published a novel, which I describe as “with a ghost included” rather than being a straight horror story, which is not. The anthologies I have contributed to tend to focus on speculative, fantasy or horror topics, and amongst them I am extremely proud to be one of the only three female authors featured in a seminal horror anthology recently published called Akelarre: Antología del cuento de terror español actual, full of incredibly amazing writers. I cannot tell you how many times I have complained to my publisher that he should have searched for more Spanish female horror writers! All these anthologies fall within the very Spanish trend now for “high-literary” genre writing… This need to specify-redefine can be sometimes a bit silly, in my view… Genre writing doesn’t need to be “saved” by straight literature. There is some amazing writing out there… But perhaps more in the Anglo-American scene than here, I guess.
How would you describe your writing?
I think I’ve got quite a dark mind, and that is reflected in what I write: I am fascinated by the obscure, the half-hidden, what you might in general call “the gothic”. A lot of my friends say that I write in quite an “English” way: perhaps what this means is that I am not as keen on baroque circumlocution as some Spanish prose writers.
How did you get involved with translation?
I was broke. I submitted a speculative translation (of a whole book) to a publisher. It was Lady into fox, by David Garnett, a book I have always been fascinated with… He didn’t take it, but things started coming my way.
What are the challenges in translating into Spanish, especially since you translate both English and Russian works?
More than other European languages, Spanish gets beautiful results on a fairly limited spectrum of emotional tone and nuances of vocabulary. I often feel when I am translating from English that I am trying to fit the Ocean into a bathtub. On the other hand, when something works in Spanish it works in a way that it is impossible to fake. Bad Spanish prose calls attention to its own inadequacies much more than bad English or bad Russian does. I should qualify here that when I translate from Russian it is as half of a translation team, of which I am the “native” Spanish speaker.
Who are some of the speculative fiction authors from Russia that we should be reading? From Spain?
Our Russian list is characterised by publishing gothic or science-fiction alongside more “traditional” Russian writers. One of the last books we have published is a collection of short stories by Anna Starobinets, published in English as An Awkward Age, which are speculative fiction-horror stories that really repay the Russian press’s description of her as “the Russian Stephen King”. Andrei Rubanov is also name to conjure with. In Spain I would highlight a recent anthology called Prospectivas: antología del cuento de ciencia ficción española actual. It’s got lots of major names in it, and it is a very well put together book.
What made you decide to pursue publishing?
We weren’t enjoying academia as much as we thought. We wanted a change of scene and decided to move to Madrid, a place neither of us knew, and to start a publishing house. We began with a list of about one hundred and fifty authors we liked and who weren’t published in Spanish, and went from there…
Could you tell us more about your press?
We started out publishing Russian fiction. We then decided to expand and open up an English Gothic line, so now we essentially have two distinct collections. We are hoping to open up even more to other literatures in the future. We have been going now for over three years, and have published about ten books a year. I don’t know how much longer we’ll keep this rhythm going, but at the moment we’re happy.
Could you tell us more about the anthology Steampunk: Antología retrofuturista?
This anthology has been in preparation for more than four years now: it is the first compilation of its kind in Spain. It was put together by Félix J. Palma, the writer of the bestselling The Map of Time and its sequels, and it aims to do two things: to familiarise Spanish readers with the genre, and also to provide them with an idea of what Steampunk could do in a Spanish environment.
What’s the speculative fiction scene in Spain like? The publishing scene?
I lived in England until recently, and so in some ways I feel like I am a newcomer to all of this, but my impression is that the speculative fiction scene in Spain is healthy: there is a good number of conventions and discussion groups online. The only thing I would suggest is that there is no obvious key figure around whom other authors congregate: not that this is a bad thing, just that the Speculative fiction community seems a little decentred sometimes, or over-focussed on Anglo-American developments. As far as publishing is concerned, the main development over the last few years has been the rise of small unaffiliated publishing houses, a group among which we are proud to count ourselves, which are willing to break down the previously rigid barriers between ‘popular’ and ‘literary’ fiction: the idea that a company such as ours might publish a Soviet novel about a journey to Mars in the same collection as the memoirs of Dostoevsky’s roommate is thinkable now in a way it wouldn’t have been five or ten years ago.
What are the challenges in juggling writing, translating, and publishing?
Everything is tidal: the publishing season in Spain runs from January to June and from September to November; the translation work I get tends to be required within the same period; my writing is something I can only do when the conditions are right (I don’t think I’m a diva, but I have found that unless I can get a good run at a piece of work, unless I know I have a solid week to do nothing apart from write, then I don’t get much done)… So we go from periods of inactivity to periods of immense and complex work, and all the time-management in the world isn’t enough to make everything go smoothly all of the time.
What projects are you currently working on?
We are currently launching the first Spanish translation of Gladys Mitchell, a jewel in the crown of Golden Age English detective fiction. I am working on a series of young adult steampunky novels with the Spanish fantasy writer Sofia Rhei, am preparing a compilation of my anthologised stories, and am starting to take the first steps in writing what promises to be an extremely large-scale literary project, but I don’t want to mention more than that, as it might be years before anything appears. Before that I hope that an anthology I am preparing now, sort of “Spanish-writers-Lovecraft-homage”, will be published. You wouldn’t imagine the number of writers here who are a bit obsessed with him, who worship his work. We are quite a substantial community!
Anything else you want to plug?
For everyone who reads Spanish, Steampunk is an indispensible anthology. We are also about to publish El vivo, a novel by Anna Starobinets, which is amazing. Please visit our website: www.nevsky.es, and thank you for the interview.
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