Thursday, 2 November 2017

All things Skiffy but drawing the line at Grimdark

Shellie Horst is hard to pigeonhole in terms of what she writes because she covers such a range – Sci-Fi, fantasy, advertising copy, articles, blog posts, reviews, Minecraft projects, interactive narratives ... I could go on but my head is beginning to spin, so for starters I ask her to tell me about the interactive narratives she’s working on for Hull’s Humber Mouth Literature Festival, and in particular, the millymollymo website.

‘I have a business background, and used to build and develop websites so it was only natural that I created my own site, when I started my Creative Writing Degree. I’m guessing what you really want to know is why Millymollymo?’

I do.

‘There’s nothing especially complex about it,’ she tells me. ‘Milly Molly Moo was a pet name my mother used for me. I’m in the process of rebuilding the site to incorporate some of the other aspects of my writing. It’s grown a lot since then, moving from the observations of a student to my career as a writer and overview of the reviews I do for SFFWorld. It’s something authors overlook, many use it to sell from, but it can be so much more than just another route to market.

‘In 2015 I received a Special Commission as part of the Humber Mouth Literature Festival, Ten Miles East Of England: The Quest for the Lost Stories. I was lucky enough to work with some amazing children at Alderman Cogan CE School, Hull. Together we not only developed a story but then converted it to a game for Minecraft.’

You can see more of the project HERE.

‘It was a hugely rewarding experience for the class, staff, parents and myself. The pupils discovered the elements of story planning and writing, as well as basic coding. Every child involved produced a huge amount of writing. They were eager to see it transformed to something they could all play on. It created connections within families and enabled the pupils to share something visually throughout the project. 

‘This area is something I believe strongly about. Stories are everywhere, not just printed on paper and bound in books. Just because a child isn’t reading Dickens or Austen doesn’t mean they are not interacting with words.’

This is just a part of Shellie’s life as a writer and she does all this whilst being a mum of young children. I wonder if juggling figures in her repertoire.

‘Juggling, not so much,’ she says. ‘I’d never get anything done! I’m so disorganised generally and things have a way of trying to prioritise over my writing. So malicious organisation and ruthlessly sticking to schedules is the only way to deal with the social lives of my family. Everything has its place. It’s all a bit over the top, but it gets done. Eventually.

‘When I switch from the freelance writing to the fiction, I have playlists and a number of writing exercises to get me back into the right mind-set. On the upside, you can get a lot done while waiting for a dance class to end, or a swimming club to start. I make the most of time spent waiting by editing, or writing up notes. I’m also very lucky to have a husband who isn’t fussed if the vacuuming isn’t done on a daily basis!’

Shellie is a contributor to Woodbridge Press’s successful Exploration Anthology series, which now comprises four books. Her story, When the Skies Fall, features in Explorations: Through the Wormhole. In it she explores what happens to a colony when it loses contact with Earth.

Given the huge range of her writing activities I’m curious to know if she has a favourite genre. Her answer surprises me.

‘I use the genre I need to tell the story, but only ever within SFF. Science Fiction and Fantasy, speculative fiction, SFF, Skiffy - call it what you like. It’s what I read, it’s what I love. The genre pulls in from others, stories may need romance, sometimes crime or historical, but always fantastical. The genre is so inclusive why do anything else? I do avoid hard science in my work. I prefer to explore how the technology affects the characters and how they interact with it, as opposed to the more technical details of how it works. For example, we don’t worry how a website works, only that we are able to order with next day delivery, and there’s plenty of science behind it.

‘Even in Fantasy where science takes a back step to the magical, science is still there in the Blacksmith’s or the Mill. While I enjoy reading the Grimdark subgenre, it’s not something I enjoy writing. My current project is set in a fantasy world. Fantasy gets a lot of stick for “the chosen one” trope. Yet I think that the hope of being unique is important. Being singled out in your 9-5 doldrums for positive reasons rather than not meeting your targets would brighten anyone’s day! I think that hope is what appeals to many readers.’

What’s next from the pen of Shellie Horst?

‘A project I have been working on has come to an end and I’ve just completed Nisi Shawl’s and K.T. Tempest Master Class on Writing theOther. I’m toying with the free time and mental space it’s created. I’m using it to world build while working on the second draft of my fantasy novel. I’m sure there will be short stories in there somewhere too.’

Good news there for fans of skiffy, SFF, speculative fiction and all things fantasy. Please come back before too long, Shellie, and tell us how things are going.

Meanwhile if you want to explore Shellie’s varied output, check out her MillyMollyMo website.

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