Few collections of poems have raised such raw, visceral hunger in me in recent years like Night sky with exit wounds by Ocean Vuong. Hunger for words running down my spine, pure voices made flesh in the revelation of ink travelling without respite, each poem necessary like breath yet taking my breath away, holding it still not to spoil the radiance taking place page after page. The way he weaves memories into desire, stitching them to one another to create tissue, connect the dead to the living, the white oblivion of snow to the promise of luminosity only darkness and shadows can bring.
What is the role of the landscape in the story? How does it affect both the atmosphere and the style of the book?
My Heart is The Tempest describes an imaginary place made of ice and snow, Niveal, metaphorically covered in a shroud of silence. Inhabited by ghostly-white creatures who have no connection to the human world despite their outer appearance may look familiar and human-like, Niveal is a fantasy realm suspended out of space and time and characterized by a bare landscape which perfectly mirrors Nivealian society’s inflexible rules of conduct.
In this land where light is synonym to cruelty and blindness, emotions are muffled and inhibited. Despite the narration constantly shifts from one main character to another, providing relevant insights into their deepest motives and secrets, much of what happened to them in the past or is happening to them in the present is often left unsaid, because reality is ultimately shown from the protagonist’s perspective, Sycorax, a young girl whose naïveté and ignorance of the world influences the way the story is presented to the readers.
Besides being at odds with everything and everyone surrounding her, she doesn’t understand much about Niveal and its inhabitants’ rules, consequently what the reader knows mainly relies on her blurred, imperfect point of view. This in turn leads to many events and characters remaining out of focus or simply on the background, so that many of Niveal’s mysteries, such as the genesis of the insect-like creatures or the way they reproduce, are left unspoken, hidden and unclear. It was a deliberate choice meant to echo the protagonist’s struggle with a world she doesn’t understand nor feels part of.
Has music an important role in the story, or is it a source of inspiration for your writing anyway?
Absolutely. Music, especially dark wave, dark ambient and experimental electronics, is a constant source of inspiration for me, often turning my writing into trance-like sessions. Also, being magic the equivalent of music on the written page, I included many “musical” parts in the novella, which in turn are a tribute to Shakespeare’s idea of The Tempest’s island as a place “full of noises, sounds and sweet airs that give delight and hurt not”. Though being a tree, the character of Aurora and the voices she sends out to Sycorax, together with the whispers Sycorax feels in her veins, embody this idea of music as magic (and the other way round) working their spell towards the ultimate revelation.
Are there any crucial questions the book revolves around?
Being concerned with the exploration of a dark female force, the novella also revolves around these crucial questions: how far are we willing to go to acknowledge our true nature? Should women accept the boundaries keeping the world and themselves safe and sound, or should they embrace their raging darkness at all costs, regardless of the consequences? Is a witch simply a powerful but benign woman who is not accepted by society because of her difference, or is she someone who deliberately chooses to have no master but herself and her own ancestral connection to the hidden music of the world?
In what way is your version of Sycorax connected to Shakespeare’s original version of the same character?
Though very young and naive, my own version of Sycorax is also a witch. This means she is potentially endowed with extreme powers helping her bend the world to her will, her thoughts, actions and motives. These powers may have nothing to do with, or go completely beyond, the common perception of what “good” and “evil” represent. Like the foul energy she embodies in Shakespeare’s The Tempest, in my novella Sycorax nurtures her own darkness to become an anti-heroine of a sort, thus also making selfish, questionable choices. Despite the romantic notions we might have on witches, things may get unpleasant for everyone who stands in their way because, to use Shakespeare’s words in Macbeth, “fair is foul, foul is fair”, thus darkness is light and light is darkness, each containing the seed for the other to wax then wane.
Would you define your book as a typical fantasy or as something else?
I’m not usually concerned much with genre when I write. I just try to stay true to my characters and their story. In my view, My Heart is The Tempest is a combination of different elements, ranging from horror, fantasy, dark, poetry and literary fiction. Choosing Sycorax as the main character of my story, with her absent figure haunting Shakespeare’s play constantly beating in my head, I knew the world I was creating would in a way be a reversal of what a typical fantasy-based trope would involve, that is the fight between light and darkness, with light always winning in the end. Besides, being influenced by Daoist theories on opposites as transitional phases, oscillations of energy turning into one another, I mainly wanted to create something where both light and darkness could be perceived as multilayered, thus going beyond simplistic categorizations. That is why Sycorax longs for darkness but also for the heat of the sun to unleash her full potential, and also why such creatures of bright as Rakō and Tliyel harbor destructive, potentially dark thoughts.
Stemming from the idea of an absent witch condemned to oblivion by men for her “devious” and unnatural character, as Sycorax is in The Tempest by William Shakespeare, my novella My Heart is The Tempest explores such themes as rage, isolation and the fight to create one’s own personal form of truth and coherence in a world which denies divergent, dissonant creatures with the possibility to have a space to live and breathe in. Though controversial, because potentially lethal, rage can become a powerful source of inspiration for a reject of society, in this case a young girl whom everyone believes to be “evil” because her sole presence prevents “good” from being perfect unsullied. What if the so called “good” and “evil” were not what they seemed to be, though? What if, by diving into the extraordinary well of rage, the boundary between good and evil, light and darkness, completely fell apart, turning reality into an endless flowing of one phase within the other?
What inspired you to write My Heart Is The Tempest?
Shakespeare’s The Tempest is what my book takes direct inspiration from, but I also drew elements from my own experience as a teenage girl bullied by her peers for being perceived as somehow “different” from them. I wanted to combine these two things, a literary favourite and something from my past, and see where the journey might take me.
Apart from the protagonist Sycorax, of course, Eysteinn [‘æsten] was my favourite character to write. He came out of my head very easily, I didn’t really have to polish much when it came to his parts in the novel. What I like about him is his vulnerability. Eysteinn actually is the most conflicting character in the story: what he feels constantly clashes with the role he represents, and this causes him a lot of pain. I like exploring these elements in a character, I’m not usually a fan of supercool heroes and heroines without flaws nor dark sides.
I have recently been asked several questions about my book and my writing, and I’ve decided to include some of these questions and answers in my blog, hoping readers might be intrigued by them. Let the Q&A sessions begin!
If you had to describe MHITT in 3 words, what would those words be?
Visceral, lyrical, visionary. Regardless of the genre I choose for my writing, be it science fiction, horror, dark fantasy or poetry, what I write is always a combination of these three elements, and a combination of different literary genres. What I write and what I read tend to be attuned.