Some of my earliest memories are of books. I was an early reader and spent a lot of my childhood and teens on our isolated family farm with my nose in a wide variety of books, often chosen for me by my mother during her weekly visit to our local library. They ranged from popular science and history to all kinds – and I mean all kinds – of fiction. At around seven I began writing stories which I read aloud to Duncan, my long suffering little brother. As far as I can remember, those early stories often featured animals. No one in my family had been to university at that time, and when one of my English teachers suggested I should do an English degree, a whole new world of possibilities opened up. I was lucky enough to benefit from the expansion of higher education in England in the 1970s, and from a solid education at a state comprehensive school.
After completing a degree in English Literature and History, I spent several years trying to find a way to earn my living as a writer. I hadn’t a bean at the time, and worked in a part-time job in a shop and lived in some very cold rented flats, but the main problem was that I didn’t really know what I wanted to write about. In the end I realised I needed to live a bit more first. I went back to university and pursued a career in archaeology, a subject I that had always interested me, met Ray, produced our son Tim, and eventually joined Ray in running Tartarus Press.
This all sounds pretty idyllic, except that something fairly traumatic happened to me in my forties. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and, as well as some of the inevitable horrors of the ups and downs, sledgehammer medication and occasional hospital admissions this entails, I also have to live with the stigma and prejudice experienced by many people like me. Often, especially by some health professionals, you’re seen only through the prism of your condition. Somewhat under the radar, I managed throughout this difficult period to continue my work for Tartarus Press.
While still being advised to take one of the worst of the pills, and feeling life was hardly worth living, out of a strange mixture of desperation and hope I returned to writing short stories. A few of them were published in anthologies, and in 2010, Brian Showers at Swan River Press in Dublin very kindly agreed to publish my first collection, The Old Knowledge. I think there was some luck involved there. If I hadn’t already achieved some kind of profile as an editor, my stories might never have seen the light of day.
Some of my stories deal overtly with mental illness (especially ‘Bipolarity’), and I have been open about my experience of it in interviews. I wanted to make it doubly clear here that I am writing from personal experience, and not just picking a subject off a peg. I often write about things I have strong views about - some of them political. I don’t think my writing is therapy, more a creative exploration of the things that are most important to me, and which interest me. Sometimes I have no idea where a story comes from.
Since The Old Knowledge I’ve written three more collections, and now Dream Fox and Other Strange Stories has just been published by Tartarus. There are eighteen short stories and a kind of book within a book, ‘Mary Belgrove’s Book of Unusual Experiences’, which started life as an attempt to write a novel. It was supposed to have been a sort of ‘portmanteau’ novel, with various component parts. I wanted to write a novel because they’re generally taken more seriously than short story collections in the wider world of publishing. Also, I thought that if I didn’t at least try now, I might never get round to it! However, I soon had to accept that I was essentially writing a group of related short stories, and, anyway, instead of trying to get away from short stories, I should be celebrating them!
I hope if you decide to read the hardback or ebook of Dream Fox, you will enjoy the stories and find them interesting. I wrote them to be read, and I’m glad they’re out there. The rest is up to you.