Time for me to introduce another guest post as part of the Impossible Spaces blog tour. I’m really pleased to welcome Margrét Helgadóttir, the author of ‘Shadow’.
I must admit, I was a little nervous when Margrét submitted her story. I’d actually been talking to Margrét on Twitter for quite a long time before we opened the call for submissions to Impossible Spaces. I can’t remember how or why we followed each other, but I found that we shared a lot of interests and often shared each other’s links. But I hadn’t read any of her writing, and I always worry when I like a writer personally before I read their stuff. Oh no… what if I don’t like their writing? Worse… what if it’s terrible?
Fortunately, I worried over nothing. Margrét is a really talented writer, and has the enviable skill of being able to write fiction in more than one language. Her story ‘Shadow’ (written in English) is a wonderfully haunting piece. While it is ‘fantasy’ (to use a broad generic term), it is grounded in a sort of off-key realism that makes the strangeness all the more compelling. The fantastical elements are handled well, with a starkness and bittersweet sadness that lingers long after you’ve finished reading.
I’ll hand over to Margrét to say more about it…
I’m a Norwegian-Icelandic writer living in Oslo, Norway, and writing fiction in English. I’m so delighted to have my story ‘Shadow’ in the anthology Impossible Spaces. Many thanks to Hannah for putting together this wonderful collection of stories. I found her comments and editing suggestions invaluable, and have learned much from working with her.
‘Shadow’ is the story of Iselin, a young woman living on the edge of society. She is, in many ways, a shadow, shunning all contact with people, keeping her feelings bottled up inside, and dealing with loneliness by working until she drops, or cutting herself with razors. One late winter night she meets a stranger, Berge, in the lift at work. When they step out, Iselin finds she is in a future, or maybe a parallel, apocalyptic world where alien intruders have killed almost all the inhabitants of the city. The few remaining humans are protected by guerrilla soldiers who call themselves Shadows, because they walk amongst and are tolerated by both the humans and the aliens. ‘Shadow’ tells the story of the developing friendship between Iselin and Berge, but also of Iselin’s emergence from the shadows. As for the frame of the story, I’m hinting at a link between humans on the edge of disaster and possibilities in other spaces.
The idea for the plot grew from a memory of a huge glass building where I once worked, located next to railway tracks in downtown Oslo. I often worked until very late, and in the cold Norwegian winter nights, it was a spooky building to be in and to leave. The building was new, but inside the lifts there was no mobile phone signal. After the lift actually broke down a few times, I began to picture a scary scenario: on a Friday evening, the lift would fail and I’d be trapped inside for the whole weekend, unable to call anyone for help.
Originally I’d imagined ‘Shadow’ as a horror story: the lift stopping during a blackout, and a voice in the darkness, some kind of a creature, causing the young woman inside to shift between surreal and real worlds. Finally, she’d arrive on the first floor unsure of which reality she was in. I always pictured the woman as someone scarred by her past, very fragile, yet very strong.
But when I finally sat down to write the story, something happened – as I find it often does when I’m writing. I might begin with a mental image or a picture I’ve seen that sets me off thinking of a story idea. I sketch up the plot and the characters. Finding names for the characters is important to me. Iselin and Berge are old Nordic names meaning ‘dream/vision’ and ‘to help’.
After I’ve struggled through the first pages and feel confident in the voice and tone of the story, the narrative will sometimes suddenly evolve in a different direction than intended. This is what happened with ‘Shadow’, which went from a horror piece to a sweeter story about hope.
I’m still a novice. I’ve written stories and poems since I was a child, but it was only in the autumn of 2012 that I felt confident enough to begin submitting fiction pieces for publication, and prioritized writing on a daily basis. I decided to write in English, my second language, because I find my English writing voice is different from my Norwegian one, and I wanted to experiment with this. Also, the publishing market for short stories, especially for speculative and weird fiction, is limited in Norway.
My first story was one of the winners of Fox Spirit Books’ International Talk Like a Pirate Day writing competition, which really boosted my confidence that I could do this. I’ve made writing a part of my daily routine and have so far written fifteen stories. Several of these have appeared or are forthcoming in online literary magazines such as Luna Station Quarterly, Tuck Magazine and Negative Suck, the print anthology Fox & Fae, and the first three volumes of Fox Spirit Books’ new paperback series, Fox Pockets: Piracy, Shapeshifters, and Guardians.
Over the years, I’ve written many nonfiction pieces and academic articles in Norwegian, and edited a magazine for two years, but writing fiction is very different: writing down the images and ideas I have in my head and communicating them in such a way that people will see the things I see. Writing short stories and flash fiction is also an excellent training ground for learning to tell a story using few words, with a beginning, middle and an end, characters and a narrative. So far I’ve mostly written weird and dark stories but it’s more important to me to tell a good story than to restrict myself to one genre.
This fledgling writer feels so grateful to the editors who have published my stories. Thank you, all! I’m lucky to have a few good readers and someone who works with me on my English, and I feel I’ve come far in the last year, but there’s still much to learn. My main challenge now is that I’m bubbling over with story ideas, but I write too slowly and I’m still struggling with English. Currently I’m working on finishing a collection of linked tales from a futuristic world, and I’ve also planned to write two novellas in the coming year.
I always like to meet new people, so do visit me on my blog or on Twitter, where I am @MaHelgad.
For more information about Impossible Spaces, or to buy a copy, please visit the publishers’ website.