I’m having a bit of a theme this week. yesterday I reviewed African Monsters, edited by Margrét Helgadottir and Jo Thomas, on Friday I plan to review the next instalment in the series Asian Monsters and today I have an interview with the editor of both anthologies Margrét Helgadottir. Margrét is a talented author in her own right, but I focused my questions on her work as an editor on Asian Monsters. I hope you enjoy the interview and check out both African and Asian Monsters!
For those new to my blog and to refresh long-time readers’ memories, let’s start with the basics. Who is Margrét Helgadottir?
I am a Norwegian-Icelandic writer and editor living in Oslo, Norway, fuelled on coffee and a desire to know more. I started to write fiction for publishing about four years ago and I think I’m currently one of the few Nordic authors who write speculative fiction in English, though I also like to write a more literary story now and then. My stories have appeared in a number of both magazines and print anthologies such as Gone Lawn, Luna Station Quarterly and Girl at the End of the World. My debut book The Stars Seem So Far Away was published in 2015 and shortlisted to British Fantasy Awards 2016. I have also been editing several anthologies the last years for Fox Spirit Books. In addition to Winter Tales (2016), I’m editor of the seven annual Fox Spirit Books of Monsters 2014-2020. The second volume, African Monsters was shortlisted to British Fantasy Awards 2016.
How would you introduce people to your Monster project?
The Fox Spirit Books of Monsters is a book series with dark fiction and art about monsters from around the world, from continent to continent. The coffee table books bring you art and dark fiction about monsters based on local folklore, myths and legends from around the world, written by authors with a strong connection the continents.
We have two missions with the monster books. We want to show the world all the great monsters which lurk, sneak, jump, glide, wander or fly around this planet. We are tired of witnessing how the monsters are watered down and overused in the popular media, and we are tired of how only a few monsters have dominated the public scene in the last decades and how they are mostly from Western popular culture.
We also want to have the monster tales told by authors who are either from, have lived in or have another strong connection to the different continents. Who else should tell us about the monsters from their regions but the authors who know them best? I also try to locate illustrators and graphic artists from the regions we visit but have not managed to have this hundred percent in the books.
We were two editors on the first two volumes, yours truly and Jo Thomas, who had a special responsibility for the graphic stories and the art. In the last volume, African Monsters, Jo unfortunately had to step aside for parts of the production. Following up on this, we decided that I will edit the coming monster volumes alone. So, Asian Monsters was the first book I edited alone from the beginning. Hopefully it went well. I was very lucky to meet people in the planning phase who believed in the project. I owe a special thanks to the amazing Ken Liu.
While editing the volume, it became clear to me that what is important to one culture or region might not be that vital to another. I think a signifier in Asian Monsters is all the spirits and ghosts who exist in much of the Asian folklore. The tales create a dreamlike atmosphere throughout the book. This is very different from the previous volume, African Monsters, where the stories were more ground solid and about place and origin, about immigration and going home. The monsters in the African volume were also closer connected to magic and the nature, even an integrated part of the nature surrounding us; the forest growing wild and the deadly water. Home is an underlying theme in Asian Monsters too but here it’s not so much about the place or the nature but about the family itself and the strong relationships between loved ones, dead, living or not there.
Which of the Asian monsters was your favourite? Was there an Asian monster you would have loved to have included but didn’t get a story for?
I would never reveal any of my favourites in my books! If I had the opportunity, I would have loved a story about a great sea monster or a story about a tiger shapeshifter from India.
The collection contained one translation, a reprint of a Xia Jia story previously published in Clarkesworld. Would you have liked to include more translated stories or is selecting original fiction for translation as an editor just not feasible if you do not read its original language?
I would have loved to have more translated work in the monster books. I am fully aware of how limited representation becomes when it’s mostly English-writing authors who contribute to the books. I am grateful for any recommendations of authors who tell great monster tales in other languages than English for the up-coming volumes. But as small press editor I have a limited budget and a tight time schedule so I can’t most likely have stories originally written and then translated for the books. So, I think my best chance at getting more translated stories is both people telling me about great monster stories and me locating stories that are already translated.
Where is the series headed next? Once you’ve visited all seven continents, will you be re-visiting earlier continents to discover more mythic beasts and monsters?
Pacific Monsters is next volume up, covering Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands, including Hawaii. Volume five and six will cover South, Mid and North America, including the Caribbean Islands, while the last volume in the series will take us to Eurasia, including Russia, much of Eastern Europe and the Balkan.
We have discussed if we should include a volume with more non-fiction stuff about the monsters but nothing is decided yet. I think personally it would have been fun to have a volume with monsters in Space! I am working on another international anthology project though, that I hope a publisher might become interested in. It’s not as large as the monster books but based on the same idea of diversity and the world’s folklore. It would combine fiction and nonfiction and I think it would have much potential.
What’s next for you? Any appearances or conventions planned?
This year I plan to be present at WorldCon in Helsinki in August and also FantasyCon in Peterborough in September.
Is there something else you’re passionate about other than writing and books?
As for hobbies, I am a movie junkie. I also love to track down street art, and visit art galleries and sculpture parks. I do a bit of ceramics and drawing myself. I can spend hours in historical museums too, where it is the humans’ everyday lives that fascinate me most. I’m also very concerned about animal welfare, world politics, climate changes and social justice, which I think influences much of what I do. I wish I had more time to work as volunteer, to help.
As a book reviewer, I’m all about the book enabling; I can’t help but want to make people read all the good books out there. But I can always use help. What are your top recommendations of books we should look out for in the coming months?
I loved the anthologies AfroSF volume one and two, edited by Ivor Hartmann. If I am not mistaken, a third volume is coming soon, with short stories from African writers about Africa and space. Definitely something I will read. Fox Spirit Books has just released the anthology Respectable Horror that looks great. I also think writers such as Jon Grimwood, Nnedi Okarofor, and James Bennett have new work out soon.
Finally, I have to stay true to my roots and ask a librarian question to finish off with: Do you shelve your books alphabetically, by genre or do you have an ingenious system?
I shelve the books by author and genre. It is a bit troublesome when an author writes in several genres but it mainly works. I also try to shelve authors by country within this.
Thank you so much for having me!
Bio: Margrét Helgadóttir is a Norwegian-Icelandic writer and editor living in Oslo. Her stories have appeared in a number of both magazines and print anthologies such as In flight literary magazine, Gone Lawn, Luna Station Quarterly, Tales of Fox and Fae and Girl at the End of the World. Her debut book The Stars Seem So Far Away was published by award-winning Fox Spirit Books in 2015 and was shortlisted to British Fantasy Awards 2016. Margrét is editor of the coffee table book series “Fox Spirit Books of Monsters” published every year between 2014-2020. First three volumes cover European, African and Asian monsters. African Monsters was shortlisted to British Fantasy Awards 2016. Margrét is also editor for the anthology Winter Tales (2016).