In this interview, the fifth in a series of interviews with SPOTLIGHT authors, we speak to Tara Gould, whose story The Haunting of Strawberry Water is published by Myriad Editions.
Spotlight Books is a collaboration between Creative Future, New Writing South and Myriad Editions to discover, guide and support writers who are under-represented due to mental or physical health issues, disability, race, class, gender identity or social circumstance.
See all interviews in this series.
What are the challenges of your own life experiences, and do these present in your writing, as concerns, themes, ways of thinking about writing?
As a single mother working three part-time jobs, with a home schooled teenage daughter, ring-fencing time to write is a constant challenge. I have to get up early. The goal is to write daily but that’s not always possible – so I grab snatches of time and write in short bursts. I try to always carry a little notebook. Money worries press on your creativity, it can be hard to find the mental space to write when you’re constantly worrying about whether you can pay next month’s rent and bills. My life experiences always show up in my writing and have politicised what I now write about to a certain extent, either directly or through the back door.
Is there a writer you particularly admire, and what about their work is powerful to you?
I don’t have one writer who has inspired or influenced me above all others. My tastes and obsessions change with each phase of life. More recently my stand out favourites have been Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders, Grief is a Thing with Feathers by Max Porter, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong and the Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels.
When I was writing The Haunting of Strawberry Water, I revisited some of my favourite scary stories – The Turn of the Screw by Henry James, The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters, The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived at the Castle by Shirley Jackson, The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. I’ve always enjoyed the place where the supernatural and psychological disturbance meet in literature. I wanted to write a traditional ghost story with universal themes but to update it so that it had relevance now, especially to women. I drew partly on my own experiences of childbirth and postnatal depression to explore that most sacred of bonds, the mother daughter relationship and transport it into the territory of the uncanny, to the uncomfortable margins between the paranormal and the psychopathological.
All too often women are not given enough support during their first pregnancy, and after the immense shock of childbirth. With the recent cuts to NHS this support is less available now than ever. This raw and vulnerable period of new motherhood can trigger ambivalent feelings, where the pressure to present the hearts and flowers version means that woman may not be properly supported or listened to. This can have all sorts of repercussions. In writing my story I was also influenced by Freud’s essay ‘The Uncanny’, which explores the aesthetics of anxiety where the safe domestic space becomes a place of terror, the trusted objects become alien, a parent or nurturer becomes a threat, and the child, innocent and good, is perceived as corrupted.
What are you working on now?
Right now I’m working on a longer story exploring themes of home, the land, theft, teenage anxiety and unconventional motherhood.
What made you apply for the Spotlight Books project and how has it had an impact on you?
I was attracted by the Spotlight project because it was one of the few competitions where I didn’t have to pay an entry fee, it allowed a longer short story (10,000 words), and meant that if I was fortunate enough to be chosen, I’d have a book published by Myriad Editions with just my name on it and receive professional development and support throughout and beyond. This is gold dust. The consequences of which have been a dramatic injection of renewed motivation and opportunities.
See all interviews in this series.
Tara Gould studied visual arts at Brighton University and an MA at Sussex University. Her short stories have been published in anthologies including the Asham Anthology for Women Writers, and her plays have been broadcast on BBC Radio 4. In 2016 she was Writer in Residence at Creative Futures. She lives in East Sussex.