What Speculative Fiction Taught Tracy Fahey

tracyAbout the Author

Tracy Fahey loves to write about all things Gothic. She writes tales about memory, loss, the uncanny and otherness.   You can read her latest story, ‘Looking for Wildgoose Lodge’ in the anthology Impossible Spaces’(July 2013), edited by the redoubtable Hannah Kate of Hic Dragones and available at http://www.amazon.co.uk/Impossible-Spaces-Hannah-Kate/dp/0957029284.  Tracy has delivered papers at national and international conferences on Irish Gothic, dark domestic space, ghost estates, castles, folklore, werewolves, the monstrous and fairy tales.  She is creative director of an art collective, Gothicise (www.gothicise.weebly.com) based in Limerick, where she also runs the Department of Fine Art in the Limerick School of Art and Design.  In her spare time, what little of it remains, she is working on a PhD on the intersections between Irish Gothic and folklore .

What I’ve Learned From Speculative Fiction

I could write an epic on all that speculative fiction has taught me.  From my earliest encounters with local folktales and the Brothers Grimm my tastes have been shaped by strange spaces and whatever dwells within them.  Fantasy, horror, sci-fi, and most of all, tales of the supernatural continue to haunt and enchant me in equal measure.

But what have I learned from speculative fiction?  What haven’t I?  Let’s make a list and then mull over one of my lessons learned…

Speculative fiction has taught me

  1. How to dream when the world is a cold and unfriendly place.  Bullied at school?  Unhappy childhood?  Lonely teen?  Speculative fiction is your friend.
  2. How to create new worlds.  Fearlessly.
  3. How to write through endless and thorough reading of excellent work.
  4. How to experience true envy through endless and thorough reading of excellent work.
  5. How to escape from the mundane.  A book is my ticket to ride.
  6. How to crystallise dreams in words, how to trap images in your gossamer net of words.
  7. How to have fun with a pen.  What’s more fun than writing?  You are a GOD!  Settings arise from your imagination.  Characters bend to your will.
  8. How to view academic research area from a different, creative angle.  It’s an extraordinary feeling, like having the multiple, fractured vision of a Picasso portrait.

Most of all speculative fiction has taught me the value of stories.  In stories lie immortality.  Tales, once read, continue to haunt me like a myriad of ghosts.  As I child I couldn’t look behind me when running in the front door at night; if I did the giant from Jack and the Beanstalk would get me.  (To this day I still don’t dare look over my shoulder on a dark night).  The creepy, doomed girls in Misty comics terrified me, lost, abandoned, trapped in paintings, wrong time periods, other realms.  I remember reading Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House for the first time, and the agony of fear that gripped me, the blinding need to get up and switch on lights, any lights, all lights.  My head is continually awash with stories and all they entail – fantastical lands, bloody fairy tales, dark carnivals and haunted houses.

So, stories live on.  We pass through them and they pass through us.

In the world of words, we are privileged to be listeners, weavers, tellers.  As a child I came to realise and relish the dreadful delights of story-telling.  My grandmother, our sole baby-sitter, would commandeer our attention with endless tales of local fairies, banshees, curses, and, most memorably, a story of an Irish Land War atrocity, where an entire family were burned to death by local neighbours.  This story continues to possess me to this very day, and is in fact the basis for my story in the Impossible Spaces anthology – “Looking for Wildgoose Lodge.”  The ghastly episode took place in 1816, but the deed and its subsequent punishment (eighteen men, possibly guilty, were hanged and gibbeted within sight of the Lodge) were deemed so awful that the story went underground, and was only re-told only inside family homes, transmitted orally from family member to family.  It could never be openly discussed as relatives of all the key players – victims, informers and executed criminals alike– all remained living in the same, small, rural area.  Now that the ghost has finally been exorcised in the 21st century, the stories are at last being compared, and it turns out that each family has its own special variant that has been handed down through the centuries, unpolluted by any canonical version.  One family tale has the titular Lodge positioned in a different site, another features a blighted tree growing beside the Lodge, and my grandmother’s version comes with a side-curse on the landed families that signed the warrant issued for the arrest of the murderers.

Telling stories magically connects you to a wider circle of storytellers.  With the tale of Wildgoose Lodge, my grandmother told it my mother, she told it to me, her parents told it to her.   I don’t have children.  But my story, “Looking for Wildgoose Lodge” now sits in a book.  People will read it.  Some variant of it will survive through my transmission.

So for all its magical properties, impossible frontiers, and brave new worlds, the most valuable lesson that speculative fiction has taught me is that I should look to my own experience, my own myths, my own stories, and to re-cast them into tales that might haunt others and in turn, inspire them to tell or re-tell or to re-fashion them into something else in the years to come.  As WB Yeats wrote in one of his late, passionate angry poems, The Circus Animals’ Desertion “I must lie down where all ladders start/In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart”.

Remember your stories.  Then make sure others do.