Today I’m wishing a very Happy Publication Week to Harriet Goodchild, whose gorgeously poetic The Crooked Path is out this week! I’ve previously read and greatly enjoyed two of Harriet’s short story compilations, so when I was given the opportunity to snag an ARC of The Crooked Path, of course I jumped at it.
Harriet was also kind enough to join me today for a mini-interview, during which we discuss the links between poetry/folksong and writing, given the highly poetic feel of The Crooked Path. Keep scrolling for blurb, mini-review, and interview!
Stories link together. What is done in one time and place spreads out across the world to shape the future: there is never a single beginning, never a simple end.
But, since this tale must have a beginning, let it be when a potter carves a creature from dreams and driftwood.
It carries him to a place where fair faces conceal foul intent, where two kings guard the firstborn tree by night and day, where only a living man’s love can undo a dead man’s hatred.
And where, if he does not go carefully, the choices made in other times and places will cost him his life.
As previously mentioned, I’ve already read some of Harriet’s work. Those were all short stories, however; and as much as I enjoyed them (and I really did, despite the fact that some of the themes were not ones I would normally choose to read), The Crooked Path is by far and away my favourite. There are hints and references to the short stories in there, too, so it’s good to read each of them.
Firstly, the feel of it was incredibly evocative. It took me right back to the wonder and excitement with which I used to read The Adventures of Sinbad the Sailor, with its amazing illustrations and magical adventures, and The Thousand and One Nights, with its alien culture and dark outcomes.
The prose itself was nothing short of gorgeous, as expected. Harriet has only grown as a writer since I read her short stories: she is one of the writers whose work constantly leaves me acutely aware of my own lack of finesse as a writer. Poetic, but spare; not a word wasted or out of place. And every spare, perfectly balanced sentence creates another layer in the dream that is The Crooked Path.
The story? Complex but simple. It’s the faery story of the girl who betrayed her faery lover, and must go through many trials and troubles to gain him back; but yet it’s more. There is an entirely loveable male MC who is satisfying to follow along on his adventures; by turns sensible and rash, and honestly ordinary in a perilously other world. Then there’s the dark female MC who is far from perfect and knows it. Oh, I loved the melody of this book; and I felt the harmony of it deep in my bones.
The conclusion: 5 out of 5 stars. I expected it to be wonderful, but it was even better than that.
Harriet, when did you know for certain that you wanted to be a writer?
I was on holiday…
Actually, it wasn’t so much wanting as wondering whether I could write a novel rather than a paper. Scientific prose has to be concise, clear and grounded in what actually happened; it doesn’t lend itself to flights of fancy. Eventually, that holiday, I decided to stop wondering and started scribbling in my spare time. Gradually it got better and eventually it got to the point where I felt confident enough to share it.
Oh, that is not the answer I expected from someone whose writing is so poetical! There’s certainly a clarity of language to your books, but it’s entirely evocative. Speaking of poetry, how does your love of folksong and poetry play into your writing?
The folksongs give a mood, a dominant note for a character, perhaps, or an image to play with in the text. There’s also something of the pattern of folksongs in the way I structure the prose, the use of repetition and rhythm for effect, for instance, or the way one scene echoes another. Some songs have inspired stories, though the finished tale may lie anywhere along the line from a direct retelling to a mere nod in the direction of the original. Each chapter in my books and each short story has a verse from a folksong as an epigraph. Something from that song will be reflected in the following text, and all the songs together could be used as a playlist: consider it a type of cross-form intertextuality.
The poetry is more of an ideal. In poetry, there’s no space for sloppiness of thought: every word must count and every word must fit. One can say the same of prose, of course, but the elision and compression of poetry gives it an intensity and a heightened awareness of the world that prose rarely achieves. There are a few poets – Kathleen Raine and Robert Graves first among them – whose work I consider a touchstone for perfection. Raine’s work is suffused with landscape; reading it one sees the places as vividly as in a photograph and when I was living outside of Scotland I’d read them and wallow a little in homesickness. Graves is, I think, the finest lyric poet of the twentieth century. So much is captured in so little. It was, however, another poet, Michael Roberts, whose The Images of Death supplied the theme for The Crooked Path.
Do you play an instrument/s? If so, what? If not, what instrument would you most like to know how to play?
Alas, I don’t. I had years of piano lessons as a girl but made very little progress. The fine motor coordination it requires is beyond me. If I could play an instrument then it would be the fiddle. And if I could play one half as well as Aidan O’Rourke or Duncan Chisholm I would think I played it well indeed.
Yes. Fiddle is the best (I play the violin, but this conclusion should be considered in no way biased…) Music is a huge part of my writing, whether listening to it while I write or daydreaming along to it and sparking ideas. Music or no music for you when writing?
It depends. I used to listen to music as I wrote – folk music, of course, but also classical; Bach’s violin concertos and Vaughan Williams’ A Sea Symphony were especially important when I was writing The Crooked Path. These days I tend to write in silence. If I’m editing a scene, though, I might have a particular song on repeat to help create the mood I need. Antisocial, I know. Fortunately I can put on headphones to avoid driving those around me to distraction. Right now, that song is John Doyle’s Farewell to All That. As its name suggests, it’s inspired by Robert Graves’ biography. It seems apposite.
Ah. I, too, love to isolate myself in my headphones when I can’t listen to music aloud. If we choose to call it ‘creative’ instead of ‘antisocial’, who’s to know the difference? *nodnod* A typical writing day will be kickstarted by any one of my favourite writing playlists. For you, what is a typical writing day like?
I write fiction round the edges of the rest of my life, fitting it in where and when I can. As such, there isn’t really a typical day. If I’m lucky, I’ll get an hour or two in the evenings. Sometimes I can write a lot in that time but it’s usually only a few hundred words – I write very, very slowly, rewriting and backtracking as I find my way through the story.
Making the adjustment from being an unpublished novelist to being published has been difficult and, lately, I’ve been struggling with writer’s block. The Crooked Path was more or less complete by the time After the Ruin was published but right now I’m revising the final book in that series. Writing it was very, very hard. I ended up forcing it out, like toothpaste from an all but empty tube, gritting my teeth in face of the self-doubt that comes with writer’s block. I’m past the worst by now and thanks to a few months distance, and a couple of good readers, I can see how to revise it but it’s going to take a long, long time to see the light of day. The up side of taking the time off from writing is that I could read a lot. Reading is as important as writing as it enables one to look out rather than in.
Harriet, thanks for joining me today, and happy publication week!
You can find Harriet’s books on Amazon UK/Amazon US, and Barnes & Noble. Harriet herself, you can find on Twitter and her website. And you can get your copy of The Crooked Path by clicking on any of the links above.
Happy reading, people!