Speculating Canada on Trent Radio Episode 34: An Interview with Helen Marshall

At the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts, I was able to take a few moments of Helen Marshall’s time to do an interview. In this interview on Speculating Canada, we talk about the relationship between bodies and text, aging, changes, open endings, the power of fiction to open up new ideas and new possibilities, writing as an act of personal reflection and exploration, horror, transformations, and history and its relationship to speculative fiction writing. As always, Helen Marshall invites new ways of looking at the world through her fiction as well as through her discussions of fiction.

During our interview, Helen Marshall surprises listeners with an author reading of her brilliant, wonderful story Lessons in the Raising of Household Objects.

Explore Trent Radio at www.trentradio.ca

Explore Trent Radio at http://www.trentradio.ca

This audio file was originally broadcast on Trent Radio, and I would like to thank Trent Radio for their continued support. I would also like to thank Dwayne Collins for his consistent tech support and help with the intricacies of creating audio files.

Make sure to allow a few minutes for the file to buffer since it may take a moment before it begins to play.

To discover more about the work of Helen Marshall, visit her website at http://www.helen-marshall.com/ .

 

Speculating Canada on Trent Radio Episode 25: A Discussion of Helen Marshall’s Work

In this episode, I focus on the work of author Helen Marshall. Helen wasn’t able to make it in to the studio for an interview, but I enjoy her work so much that I felt it needed a show of its own. Helen Marshall is the author of “Hair Side, Flesh Side”, “The Sex Lives of Monsters”, and “Gifts for the One Who Comes After”. She is a brilliant short fiction author whose work always evokes a sense of wonder in me and leaves me thinking about her stories for hours afterward.

As listeners who have been following my show know well, I often talk about the under-representation of short fiction in reviews, so I bring attention to some of the ideas, thoughts, and speculations from Helen Marshall’s short fiction in this discussion.

Explore Trent Radio at www.trentradio.ca

Explore Trent Radio at http://www.trentradio.ca

 

This audio file was originally broadcast on Trent Radio, and I would like to thank Trent Radio for their continued support. I would also like to thank Dwayne Collins for his consistent tech support and help with the intricacies of creating audio files.

Make sure to allow a few minutes for the file to buffer since it may take a moment before it begins to play.

A Love Letter to Story-telling

A Review of Helen Marshall’s Gifts for the One Who Comes After (ChiZine Publications, 2014)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover Art for Gifts For the One Who Comes After courtesy of ChiZine Publications

Cover Art for Gifts For the One Who Comes After courtesy of ChiZine Publications

Helen Marshall’s “Gifts for the One Who Comes After” is her love letter to storytelling. Marshall examines the way that we are shaped by the tales we tell ourselves and the stories that are told about us. She reminds the reader that we are made up as much of stories as we are of matter, and that they shape the way we think about ourselves and those who are around us.

Marshall’s exploration of stories is not a fairytale lens of joy, but rather an exploration of the potential for tales themselves to capture a quality of the grotesque, the terrifying horror that we can be shaped by words and ideas outside of ourselves. From capturing the horrifying perceptions of children, the dark, strange worlds they carry around in their heads to exploring the shifts that occur between our expectations of a story and their reality, “Gifts for the One Who Comes After” is a text of mythical magic, but not the easy, happy, uncomplicated myths of modernity, but the dark, deep, blood-soaked myths of the past. Her tales are not made to reassure, but to challenge our perceptions, to push the reader into those places where we try to bury our stories.

Marshall focuses on children and the elderly, the people with most associate with either being shaped by tales or shaping us by telling tales to us. She examines the idea that the bonds between us are made of strings of words and occasionally these strings tighten around us like a noose. “Gifts” looks at the innocent games of youth and illustrates the nightmarish content of them from children prophesizing in the woods by bringing themselves close to death, to the dark undertone in the desire for magic, to the horrifying imagination of children, to the desire to stand out and be considered important. It looks at the aged in their desire for immortality by sharing stories, keeping memory alive, resisting forgetting and loss, the connection to tradition, and through the assumptions we create about the elderly.

Stories are the methods used to imagine the future, reflect on the past, and explore the hidden corners of the present. Exploring the dark potential of the future through omens, dreams, and prophesy, the past through memory and collective tales, and the present through gossip and rumour, Marshall highlights the potential for stories to create a morae-like thread through time, weaving possibilities together in a nighmarish tangle of possibility.

To read reviews of some of the short stories from this collection, visit:

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2014/11/26/the-horror-of-childhood-logic/

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2014/11/14/spin-the-bottle-with-death/

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2014/12/14/witching-perceptions/

To read more about Helen Marshall’s work, visit her website at http://helen-marshall.com/

To find out more about Gifts for the One Who Comes After, visit ChiZine Publications’ website at http://chizinepub.com/books/gifts-for-the-one-who-comes-after

Witching Perceptions

A Review of Helen Marshall’s “Secondhand Magic” in “Gifts for the One Who Comes After” (ChiZine Publications, 2014)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover Art for Gifts For the One Who Comes After courtesy of ChiZine Publications

Cover Art for Gifts For the One Who Comes After courtesy of ChiZine Publications

Childhood and the desire for magic are something that we have constructed as intertwined in our Disneyfied society, seeing magic as a manifestation of imagination which we relegate almost exclusively to the realm of children and a few eccentric artists. Yet, Marshall illustrates her ability to play with her reader’s perceptions in “Secondhand Magic”, a tale at first illustrating the vulnerability of youth and the threat of elderly single women… the traditional expected folkloric tale. Sayer, a child with a stutter who just wanted to perform magic steals a hat from an older neighbour’s snowman, and when she comes looking for him, she pulls the hat over him, consuming him and leaving the community in mourning. The tale constructs for us an easy view of vulnerability and exploitation, creating youth as a categorical innocence, a figure to be protected. Fortunately, Marshall shifts this expectation.

The typical caricature of the witch in this narrative is uncontrollably drawn to take the actions to remove Sayer from the world, yet the boy resists any of her attempts to return him. His desire for magic creates a predatory, vampiric quality in the boy, viewing witches as sustenance for his quest for otherworldly power. Marshall inverts the expected fairy tale narrative of youthful innocence threatened by the presence of independent femininity and instead reveals the threat of a child who imagines the possibility of their own power and is willing to feed on powerful women to sustain his perception that he is entitled to power and ability without those being tempered by wisdom and the slow acquisition of skills.

To read more about Helen Marshall’s work, visit her website at http://helen-marshall.com/

To find out more about Gifts for the One Who Comes After, visit ChiZine Publications’ website at http://chizinepub.com/books/gifts-for-the-one-who-comes-after

The Horror of Childhood Logic

A review of Helen Marshall’s “Lessons in the Raising of Household Objects” in Gifts for the One Who Comes After (ChiZine Publications, 2014)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover Art for Gifts For the One Who Comes After courtesy of ChiZine Publications

Cover Art for Gifts For the One Who Comes After courtesy of ChiZine Publications

In “Lessons in the Raising of Household Objects” , Helen Marshall illustrates for us the horror of a child’s logic. Convinced that the twins her mother is carrying are probably dead, the narrator, Angela, is both terrified of them and views them as a threat. Her parents insist that she must learn to love the twins, so, in an attempt to love other things, she befriends two cans of soup, which she is convinced are capable of thought and speech. When she decides that the soup can named Simon has betrayed her, she takes pleasure in eating its innards, considering this an “object lesson” for the other soup can, Campbell.

Angela becomes convinced that the twins are stealing household items and creating a world within their mother’s belly because it keeps getting larger. In addition to considering the twins thieves, she also considers them to be violent because when she is near her mother’s belly, they kick her. When she is asked to listen to her mother’s belly, she is convinced that she hears the stolen items rolling around and bites her mother’s belly button. Angela’s perception of the world is shaped by ideas of violence and theft, considering birth a threat.

Marshall invites us into the horrifying world of a child’s logic… but she asks us an even more horrifying question at the end of her story… what if the child is correct in their logic. What if the dark things they dream up are really there.

You can discover more about the works of Helen Marshall at http://helen-marshall.com/ .

To discover more about Gifts for the One Who Comes After and other ChiZine books, visit their website at http://chizinepub.com/

 

Spin The Bottle With Death

A review of Helen Marshall’s “Death and the Girl from Pi Delta Zeta” in Gifts For The One Who Comes After (ChiZine Publications, 2014).
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover Art for Gifts For the One Who Comes After courtesy of ChiZine Publications

Cover Art for Gifts For the One Who Comes After courtesy of ChiZine Publications

In horror films, sorority girls have a metaphorical relationship with death, perpetually constructed as figures who are courted by death. Helen Marshall, demonstrating her characteristic desire to play with tropes to disempower, subvert, and challenge expectations, makes that relationship literal in her short story “Death and the Girl from Pi Delta Zeta”. Marshall’s subversion is as beautiful as it is powerful, shifting reader expectations from the often disempowering genre of horror to play with expected tropes.

Marshall constructs a scene of a typical frat boy party, the sort where women in horror films are often the victims of monstrous acts. She creates the typical scenes of frat boys objectifying sorority girls, in this case literally writing their claims to them on their shirts along with sexualized slogans. Death serves as a contrast to this activity, asked by Carissa to sign her shirt with a magic word. Instead of writing exploitative messages, he playfully writes “abracadabra”.

Death is given celebrity status and constantly asked for his signature by people who he has helped by releasing loved ones from painful lives. Yet, he serves as a romantic contrast to all of Carissa’s previous frat boy lovers by giving her flowers, being romantic, and proving himself a gentle and caring lover. Death is by far the better alternative to frat boys. Horror film, generally constructing frat boys as the typical audience, depicting their expectations on screen, is here reversed by Marshall, who depicts them as background characters serving only as a contrast to the beauty of Death.

Marshall’s sense of play shapes this short story as a thoughtful but exciting piece. Like many of her works, she plays with scenes we have accepted as ‘normal’ and illustrates the beauty in re-framing them and seeing the subversive potential in them. She masterfully plays with normative scenes like a frat party or sending out wedding invitations and inserts a touch of the macabre.

You can discover more about Helen Marshall’s work at http://www.helen-marshall.com/

To find out more about the collection Gifts For The One Who Comes After, visit ChiZine Publications’ website at http://chizinepub.com/

You can read this story online at its original place of publication, Lackington’s at http://lackingtons.com/2014/02/13/death-and-the-girl-from-pi-delta-zeta-by-helen-marshall/