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Kirsty Logan Interview, plus links to author biography, book summaries, excerpts and reviews

Kirsty Logan
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Kirsty Logan

An interview with Kirsty Logan

A Conversation with Kirsty Logan, author of The Gracekeepers which, inspired in part by Scottish myths and fairytales, tells a modern story of an irreparably changed world.

Your short story collection, The Rental Heart and Other Fairytales, has won a number of awards and was the recipient of much critical acclaim. What made you decide to tackle a novel next?
I've always loved to write both short stories and longer pieces, just as I love to read both. They provide such different experiences for the reader and the writer.

A novel is like a dollhouse: you open the front and all the tiny rooms are displayed, each populated with different characters doing different things, each totally engrossed in their worlds. I've always loved miniature scenes in museums: of battles or farms or villages. Even better are the full-size re-creations: the People's Palace museum in Glasgow has a re-created ?single end," a one-room tenement home from the 1930s, complete with kitchen implements, furniture, textiles, and everything that a family would need. I'm obsessed with it. I could look at it for hours, imagining the lives of the people who lived there.

A short story is different: it's a short, sharp shock of story. I think of a short story as a keyhole; a glimpse into a single room rather than a view of the whole dollhouse. A short story should hint at a larger picture and allow the reader to imagine a world, whereas a novel can explore it fully. That's what I found so exciting about writing The Gracekeepers: creating a vivid world that readers can explore.

Where did the idea for The Gracekeepers first come from?
I wrote the book a few years after my father died very suddenly at the age of fifty-eight (I was twenty-seven at the time). He was rushed into intensive care and was there for a week before my family had to make the decision to switch off the life support. He never woke up in that week, and I don't think he even knew he was in the hospital. While he was there, I visited every day and read him Rudyard Kipling's Just So Stories, which he'd read to me when I was a child. He spent part of his childhood in Nigeria, and I thought the stories were things that had really happened to him. I've always associated my dad with water and the sea. He was born on the small Scottish island of Bute. When I was a child, he had a small sailboat called First Symphony on Lake Windermere, and he used to take me out sailing. After he died, my mother and brother and I scattered his ashes on the beach at Culzean Castle, which looks out on Bute. Now, every time I'm by the sea, I feel that I'm with my dad.

After he died, I felt so lost, and I just wanted someone to tell me what to do. I envied religions and societies with formalized grieving procedures, such as Catholicism or Victorian mourning rituals. I wanted a list of steps to follow; a time when my grieving would be over. I know now that grief doesn't work that way—that it can't fit into a series of steps, that it's different for everyone, and that it's not just a stage you go through and then it's over. You never stop missing the person who's gone, but it does get better. Around that time, I was out on a little inflatable RIB boat with my uncle, and on the water I saw floating lights in cages. They looked like birdcages, and I started to wonder why there would be birdcages at sea. The idea of the graces appeared in my head, and the whole novel began from there.

Your story is set in a world of your own creation. How did you go about crafting such a fantastical setting?
For me, creating a setting begins in the senses. When I first start to imagine a story's world, I don't necessarily know what will happen, who it will happen to, or exactly where it will happen—but I do know the tone and feel of the story, certain sights and smells and sounds, perhaps the temperature of the air or the texture of the ground.

The Scottish landscape was a huge influence on the world of The Gracekeepers. There are two obsessions that I keep returning to in my writing and in my life: the circus and the sea. I love spectacle and carnival and melodrama: glitter and thumping music and the throwing up of hands. But I also love the understated, the unsaid: dignified silence and watching clouds change and lifting up leaves to find the tiny red toadstool underneath. Scotland really provides the best of both of those. I live in Glasgow, and every night bands play. There are interesting places to eat, theater shows, art shows, book launches, poetry readings. There is always something exciting happening. At the same time, Scotland has vast swathes of empty landscape. Soaring hills, mysterious valleys, abandoned bothies, and the most glorious coastline I have ever seen.

The Gracekeepers features a magical ensemble of characters. Is there one character you particularly identify with?
I identify very much with both North and Callanish. Sometimes I think they're the two sides of my personality: the fierce, bold, performing public side; and the quiet, thoughtful, isolated private side. They've both known loss, but they deal with it in such different ways. Writing their journeys really helped me on my own journey through grief.

In the novel, you address themes of love, isolation, belonging. What do you hope readers of The Gracekeepers will take away with them?
At its heart, this is a story of two women trying to make a real home in a difficult world. Whatever a reader's own circumstances, I think this is a struggle that everyone can identify with. In bringing up issues of belonging, loss, and identity, I hope that The Gracekeepers will help readers to engage in a way that encourages thought and debate rather than forcing an opinion on them. What are you working on next?
I'm working on my third book, a collection of linked stories called A Portable Shelter. It's inspired by Scottish and Scandinavian folktales, and it explores loss, truth, childhood, and the stories we tell about ourselves. I think we all have a "portable shelter" inside us, made up of the stories we read and our own memories, which we can retreat into whenever we need comfort or guidance.

Part of my research is travel, and I did the first part of that trip over the summer. My girlfriend Annie and I went up to the Applecross Peninsula in the Scottish Highlands. We took our lurcher puppy, Rosie, which was a great excuse to randomly stop the car and go for a proper tramp across the fields. The landscape there is glorious, whether it's blue skies or torrential rain (and we had both, often on the same day). I ate local squat lobster, went out on a fishing boat, explored lochans, and climbed seaweed-slippery rocks. And it was a particularly memorable trip because Annie and I got engaged! It was a summer full of love, adventure, and exploration, and I hope I've brought some of that to the book.

Unless otherwise stated, this interview was conducted at the time the book was first published, and is reproduced with permission of the publisher. This interview may not be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the copyright holder.

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Books by this Author

Books by Kirsty Logan at BookBrowse
The Gracekeepers jacket
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Readalikes

All the books below are recommended as readalikes for Kirsty Logan but some maybe more relevant to you than others depending on which books by the author you have read and enjoyed. So look for the suggested read-alikes by title linked on the right.
How we choose readalikes

  • David Almond

    David Almond

    David Almond, in his own words:

    I was born in Newcastle and I grew up in a big Catholic family in Felling-on-Tyne. I had four sisters and a brother and lots of relatives in the streets nearby. My dad had been in Burma ... (more)

    If you enjoyed:
    The Gracekeepers

    Try:
    The True Tale of the Monster Billy Dean
    by David Almond

  • Laurie Forest

    Laurie Forest

    Laurie Forest lives deep in the backwoods of Vermont where she sits in front of a wood stove drinking strong tea and dreaming up tales full of dryads, dragons, and wands. The Black Witch is her first novel. (more)

    If you enjoyed:
    The Gracekeepers

    Try:
    The Black Witch
    by Laurie Forest

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