For Books’ Sake Talks To: Kirsty Logan

28th May 2014

When she’s not penning beautifully spun stories, Kirsty Logan is literary editor of the List, writes a column on the X Files for The Female Gaze and can be found cutting out 1950s fashion magazines for a very interesting project. Not only this, but she's previously guested at For Books' Sake, so we couldn't wait to chat to her about her début...

The short stories in Kirsty Logan’s first book, The Rental Heart and Other Fairytales, feel like traditional fairytales balanced with a strong sense of realism.

In Witch, for example, local children are scared of Baba Yaga, “the centre of every scary story our parents told us.” However, when the protagonist meets Baba Yaga, she is in fact a normal woman who has found herself living alone in the woods following an eviction from her flat and a cheating girlfriend.

“That is really what interests me – this juxtaposition of the fairytale and the fantastical with the more everyday. For me, just realism doesn’t really interest me – but then complete out and out fantasy doesn’t interest me either.”

Kirsty Logan likes to draw on her own personal experiences, while bringing imagination into the mix in order to “take people on a journey and show them something that they haven’t already seen.”

She cites Kelly Link and Margot Lanagan as writers who create fairytales with “one fantastical element” that are largely grounded in the real world.

Most of us know the generic fairytale arc to begin “Once upon a time…” followed by a predictable “happily ever after” ending. But the book resists this formulaic structure by stepping away from having a knight in shining armour swoop in to save the protagonist.

“The stories were written over about five or six years when I was going through my twenties – a lot of the book, for me, is what it’s like to be a female in your twenties and I think, not just women – all of us, have a desire to be saved. It’s quite easy in life to throw up your hands and say I can’t do it! Every day there are decisions we have to make, a number of responsibilities that we have – to some extent I think we all want someone else to make our decisions for us and it’s easy to do that and there’s a real appeal in that. I’m absolutely not saying I’m exempt from that.”

She believes growing up means “learning to make your own decisions and make our choices, even if nobody agrees with us. I think that’s when you’re grown up…when you’ve got the strength in your own convictions. And I haven’t quite got there” she says with a wry smile.

“But I’m getting closer. I’m closer at 30 than I was at 20. But maybe it just takes your whole life to know that…to shake off this desire to have someone do it for me, to have someone to help me – and to just trust myself.” She admits the characters go against the grind in this way because “I am like that.”

How else does Kirsty’s book challenge the generic fairytale? As an undergraduate at Stirling University, she read hundreds of retold fairytales and found the vast majority uninteresting. However, Kissing the Witch by Emma Donoghue was different – this was a writer who “properly subverts fairytales”.

“She has a version of Snow White and the only two strong characters are Snow White and the Stepmother. The stepmother is not evil – she isn’t out to get Snow White, she’s just having her own problems and the way she acts is understandable. At the end, when Snow White wakes up, she doesn’t go back to the dwarfs – she goes back to the castle to build a relationship with her stepmother. It’s not “woman against woman” – Emma had taken the bones of the story and rearranged them, but it was still recognizable as Snow White. She did something that was feminist and interesting and strong – and that’s what I try and do.”

Kirsty’s first novel, The Gracekeepers, an expansion of the short story The Gracekeeper, will be launched in 2015. I tell Kirsty that two other stories from the book, Man from the Circus and The Skull of Saints also left me feeling as though there was a more of a story to be told there too – a novel (or two) perhaps?

She ponders Man from the Circus and on the spot, details what the structure could look like for a novel. “I would love to write stories on a lot of the stories in the book. I’ve got my next five books planned out! I would like to write a novel about Coin-Operated Boys as well…”

How has Kirsty Logan found the transition from writing short stories to writing a novel? She says that writing short stories is more her “natural” form of writing. When best trying to describe the differences she talks about childhood, when she loved “lego and doll houses and miniature worlds.”

“For me, a novel is a bit like making a doll’s house. You create this world, and then you set adventures in the world … I’m fascinated by miniature scenes, the kinds you get in museums and shapes, like cut away windows in a castle, where you can just see what’s inside.”

Kirsty Logan recalls the moment her agent called to tell her the book was being published. “I was sitting in this noisy café when my agent phoned to say an offer had been made on my book.” She didn’t think she had heard correctly to begin with and asked for clarification. “It was a big ‘movie moment!'”

Has Kirsty found the writers community in Scotland to be supportive? “Yes absolutely. Women in particular – especially two of my University tutors, Zoe Strachan and Elizabeth Reeder, who have been amazing. She describes the community as mutually supportive network, everyone supporting each other.

Recently, Kirsty Logan was asked to contribute to the 21 Revolutions project launched by the Glasgow Women’s Library. “I love the women’s library. The way the project works is that they got 21 female Scottish writers and 21 female Scottish artists to go into the archives and choose anything they wanted as an inspiration – and then produce a new piece of work inspired by that.”

“I made this ransom note style story, which was all these words cut out of fantasy. I used fashion magazines from the ’50s and ’60s to make phrases and words that fit together.”

The Rental Heart and Other Fairytales is available now in Waterstones and Amazon.