AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Louise Hughes

"I used to write characters running away from arguments, or the unexpected, because I would put myself in their shoes. I felt I was being realistic for portraying this withdrawal and readjustment."

Louise Hughes is a speculative fiction writer from north-east England. She is also a time traveller, likes to be at the top of mountains, and has spent much of the past year knitting socks. Her work has appeared in Strange Horizons, Daily Science Fiction and Interzone. She can be found on twitter @timata87.

Tell me about a recent work you released - a short story, a poem, a book, a game. What one work of yours do you hope readers will go out and read today? What's it about?

My most recently published work was “The Path to War”, a short story in Interzone 278 (2018). It’s about going your own way, telling the stories you want rather than according to an established narrative. The main character is a storyteller, one of many who travel about relating history and current events to audiences. She’s considered a bit strange because she favours melancholy stories over stories of hope and this doesn’t make her very popular during the outbreak of a war.

What do you enjoy most about writing?

Researching and conveying place. I enjoy studying maps, and accounts and old newspapers and photographs, and immersing myself in them until I can distill the setting into a paragraph or two. Particularly with historical settings and the details of the every day. I read non-fiction history books, but I always prefer to go to the primary sources if I can, as well as fiction being written at the time. It’s a bit like exploring a new place. I usually walk around a lot to map out its overall shape in my head, then go back to sitting and focusing on the details after that.

What is most difficult for you about writing?

Dialogue. Conversation. People interacting for more than two sentences. I am revising a novel right now and the scenes in need of full re-writes are almost entirely scenes with arguments. I used to write characters running away from arguments, or the unexpected, because I would put myself in their shoes. I felt I was being realistic for portraying this withdrawal and readjustment. My characters also don’t want to spend time explaining why they’re doing something (including, unfortunately, to readers). They don’t ask for, or want, help from others. This feeling can stem from already knowing how they’re going to go about a thing. Help gets in the way of the plan. If they do ask for it, they won’t allow themselves to think much about that decision, for fear of losing the confidence to do so. All of this feels perfectly natural to me in my interactions with the world but in fiction, there needs to be more explanation.

Tell me about a special interest of yours. Have you found yourself incorporating your special interests into your fiction?

Social history, particularly in industrial England. Over Christmas, I researched the theatres and entertainment venues of Tyneside in the mid-1800s to early-1900s, after reading a book on the rise of mass entertainment in Victorian England. I searched local newspapers, and my friends got sent a lot of clippings of pantomime reviews and details such as a theatre reassuring potential patrons that it was “disinfected with Jeyes Fluid”. As part of another project, I’d found someone on a census who worked as the assistant manager of a skating rink in 1911 (featuring “the best rock maple floors [and] up-to-date music”) and it opened up a different side of the town from the factories and shipyards that employed so many people. I still don’t know what “sinister allusions” so concerned the Newcastle Board of Guardians in 1882 that they weren’t sure whether to accept free panto tickets for the children and adults of the parish. I’m in the editing stage of a novel set in the area in an alternate 1870s, and one of the characters is a music hall singer, which was one of the reasons I read the book in the first place. Several of the stories I’m currently working on use this period and region as their settings.

What's the biggest thing about the publishing industry that you wish would change?

At the moment, the need to self-promote and engage. I’m someone who doesn’t instinctively share things. I listen to music with headphones because I don’t want to impose on other people’s audio space and when I was younger, I made up what my favourite music was or simply didn’t answer when people asked. I was, and still am, a Star Trek fan. But I never sought out other people who liked Star Trek when I was a teen. I was happy enough watching it, reading it, enjoying it by myself. It’s difficult to work against this innate way of interacting with the world. Writing is a kind of self-promotion, but because its reality is fictionalised, sharing it is easier. It is a more natural way of communicating. Adding another layer of pseudo-factual sharing is much harder.