Interview Author With Polly Hall
I am in the midst of reading The Taxidermist's Lover, which is a dark, modern Gothic tale. The writing is so lush and sensual that I’m losing myself in this story. And I had the great privilege to interview the author, Polly Hall.
Can you tell us what The Taxidermist’s Lover is about?
It is a contemporary gothic tale about a woman’s obsession with her lover’s hybrid taxidermy creations, set on the atmospheric, flooded moorland of Somerset, England. The narrator, Scarlett, looks back over the past year, from Christmas Day, to try and make sense of the spooky goings on and her ill-fated love affair with Henry Royston Pepper, the taxidermist.
The Taxidermist’s Lover described as a modern Gothic tale. What does that genre mean to you and what about the genre appealed to you?
I never set out to write in a particular genre and I like to think The Taxidermist’s Lover is more of a genre-busting novel, crossing the boundaries of literary, gothic horror, contemporary romance and horror thriller. Having said that my literary influences include Stephen King, James Herbert, Andrew Michael Hurley and the gothic classics like Frankenstein and Dracula.
One rarely sees books about taxidermy, especially in fiction. What inspired this book?
It goes back to my childhood when I first saw a hybrid taxidermy creature in my mum’s cousin’s pub, aptly named The Bear. He had a wolpertinger, which is made-up from the body of a rabbit, canine teeth, deer antlers, and bird’s feet. If you can imagine my thirteen-year-old self in a smoky old inn, flagstone floors, dark wood paneling and curios lined up on shelves and hanging from the ceiling, witnessing this for the first time, it must have made quite an impression!
What was the path for publishing The Taxidermist’s Lover?
It was a long and winding one. I initially finished the manuscript when I was studying for an MA in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University, England in 2015. After some interest by agents and publishers I never got further than editorial meetings and rejections saying they really liked my writing but couldn’t see how to place it in the current market. Then, after a short spell working in a dull office, my circumstances changed and I felt, this is a sign from the universe to stop mucking about and get published. I first discovered CamCat Publishing on Twitter – the rest is history as they say …
The setting, Somerset, England, is where you live, right? Why did you choose to set your story here?
Somerset is a rural county in South West England known for its wetlands and marshes, apples and cider making and Glastonbury, said to be visited by Joseph of Arimathea with the legendary Holy Grail. It is a place rich in myth and folklore with ghost stories often manifesting from the misty moor. Migratory birds flock here from all over the world and native species such as badgers, foxes, deer and hares are often seen represented in taxidermy mounts. I grew up in Somerset and I know the place well, so I guess that made it easier to write about. It’s in my blood.
Can you tell us anything about what you are working on now?
I have been writing my memoir for a while now but there is a lot of research involved and re-reading my old diaries and journals takes up a lot of time. I wanted it to be about two defining aspects of my life so I need to get it right.
I had several story ideas for my second novel but I’ve settled on a family story where decisions and secrets influence others’ lives, and how we never quite know the far-reaching effect of the choices we make. There won’t be taxidermy but death will probably feature somewhere in the story.
And… I would love to publish The Taxidermist’s Lover hybrid creatures book featuring all the creations mentioned in the book but I need an artist to draw them so fingers crossed this will manifest in the future.
What a piece of advice you’d give to aspiring authors?
Keep at it. Perseverance and tenacity are your best friend. Connect with other writers too.
The Taxidermist’s Lover is now available. Where can we get it?
If you are in the US then you can purchase direct from the publishers, www.camcatbooks.com. Hopefully you can support your local bookstore but it’s available widely online as hardcover, paperback, ebook and audiobook.
Where’s the best place to follow you?
I’m on Twitter @PollyHallWriter and Facebook @PollyHallWriter. My website is www.pollyhall.co.uk.
Finally, can you tell us what a swoodle is? And give us a hint to its importance to your story?
Ah, the swoodle! Yes, it’s the first taxidermy creature that Henry makes for Scarlett as a Valentine’s Day gift. It’s made up from two swans and parts of a poodle and designed so it looks like the swan’s necks are in the shape of a heart. You could say it represents not only their warped love affair but the start of Scarlett’s obsession with hybrid taxidermy. My brother made me a swoodle wall sculpture for my book launch and I love it!