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Not All Dark Places:
An Interview with Eygló Karlsdóttir


This time we have been fortunate enough to "speak" with a talented Icelandic writer and photographer now resident in Sweden, a woman with a fondness for weird short fiction, folklore, misfits, and monsters... and non-alcoholic cocktails.


I would like to learn about your writing process. What is it that inspires you to start a work, and how long does it take you?


Ideally, I’d like a first draft of any given short story to be done in one sitting, or in one day at least. That’s not always possible though. I try to write every day, though these days that’s a bit of a challenge. My writing process starts in the morning when I take Lycka (whose name means happiness, but has associations to luck as well) out for a walk. I either actively think in English while I’m walking, or I put on a podcast or an audiobook in English to connect with the language centre, so to speak. When I get home I read a few lines in a book. I always have two or three favourites sitting on my writing table, ones I switch out on a regular basis.


What inspires my work is a different story. I find a lot of inspiration in folklore, but a lot of things can inspire a story really: music, video games, reading something, a thing someone says, anything can spark an idea really. Ideas come and go, it’s the ones that stay with you and refuse to go away until you write about them that are worth the effort.


Do you use Icelandic folklore? How would you define "folk horror"?


I use any folklore I can get my hands on. Icelandic folklore is inherently horrifying most of the time so it works well but while I get a lot of inspiration from Icelandic landscape I rarely use the folklore from Iceland, or I haven’t yet, there will come a time I’m sure. I’ve delved quite heavily into Swedish folklore. I used the Swedish Rå as basis for my novella All The Dark Places. I’ve also used Japanese folklore quite a bit as they have folklore that is not as obviously western and can be very intriguing. I do stray from the original folk stories quite a lot, while I use them as inspiration I’m not retelling the folklore, nor do I feel the need to be true to whatever deity/monster I may be inspired by. It becomes a loose inspiration. As to folk horror - Icelandic folklore is quite horrific. As an example we have thirteen Santa Clauses that live in the mountains and their mother is a grotesque witch whose cat is gigantic and eats children that don’t get any clothes for Christmas. Folklore and folk horror are words that are interchangeable for me really.


Have you ever made up a fictional monster and/or legend?


I have, though they usually end up becoming a collage of kind, each part a borrowed thing, a literary equivalent of Frankenstein’s monster, so to speak. I am usually more interested in taking a known monster/myth/legend and doing my best to put a new spin on it, Norse mythology, bible stories, folklore, or fairytales. Modernizing old stories or throwing them off is often much more interesting than creating a new one I think, as it borrows from the readers creativity and known themes and then expands on it and if it’s done well it lends new perspective. That is my favourite thing when done well.


Do you have a favourite length to work in e.g. short story, novella, novel?


I’m a big fan of the short story, both reading it and writing it. Though I have a soft spot for the novella as well – short fiction works especially well for me. At first it felt like a good starting point – a way to practice writing in English, making a short story work in itself without it taking too much time. Since then, I’ve written both novellas and novels (none of which have been published yet) but they’re all different breeds with their own rules, advantages, and complications. Getting a good story out in not so many words will always be my favourite thing to do though, I think.


I absolutely agree with you; Robert Aickman wrote that all the best ghost stories e.g. "Afterward" by Edith Wharton and "Blind Man's Buff" by H.R. Wakefield, are short.


Do you use pen and paper, computer, laptop, typewriter?


I write everything on my computer(s) in a program called Ulysses which is simple (uses markdown) and allows me to access all my writing through all my devices. I rarely use anything but the computer but I like having the option and I like the simplicity. I journal with pen and paper but I rarely work on my writing that way.


Do you work alone or in coffee shops?


I work alone at home. I like the idea of going to coffee shops to write but I probably wouldn’t get much writing done. It’s good for pre-writing, to hone in on people and characters but not to work. I prefer being at home, either on the couch with my laptop in my lap or by the desktop PC with the view from the second floor ready for me if I need to look up to think.


Do you keep a pad on your bedside stand, or rely on memory? Or perhaps use voice recordings to email to yourself?

A novelist friend of mine once told me that the ideas worth working on will stick with you and I believe that. I occasionally make notes on my phone. I rarely work with ideas in that way though. I am a pantser at heart and while I do get a notion that there is a story brewing in my head I rarely know what it’s about until I sit down and start writing. I write a first draft, then I make plans.


Do you work in silence or to music?


If I’m in the zone I can work under almost any conditions. I don’t wait for inspiration though so what stimulation works at any given time varies greatly. I often have the television on while I’m writing, preferably Twitch. Sometimes I can’t handle that and I just listen to instrumental music. Sometimes nothing but silence works. It all depends on the mood.


I wanted to ask how you manage motherhood in conjunction with your work of writing, photography, and translation. Having only a dog-child, I can afford to be very selfish, unless it's my (rare) turn to cook tea.


I have been blessed with people in my life who believe in me, my writing and have helped me immensely through the years to make sure I get to do what I love the most, which is writing. These days it’s a major puzzle as I have two day-jobs (translations and a care-home worker) on top of trying to write every day, make sure the dog is walked and the kid is cared for. She is a teenager now though and half the time with her dad so we manage somehow. It’s a puzzle.


Also, can you explain your Icelandic surname? It looks matriarchal as opposed to other languages, for instance our Welsh, where "ap" refers to "son of" so "ap Owen" eventually transmutes to Bowen, or "son of Owen".


Icelandic surnames consist of a parent name and then the ending “son” or “dóttir” (daughter) depending on what gender you are. So, my daughter is called Eyglóardóttir after me (she also has her father’s surname) and I am Karlsdóttir which is my father’s name combined with mine referring to the fact that I am the daughter of Karl. This may be a good time to tell everyone that I will get mildly offended if you call me something “Karlsdóttir” as that is referring to my father and not me so I’d say always use an Icelanders first name or the whole name (like mother’s are wont to do when they’re angry at you).


I will remember that. What do you think of AI used for writing?


I think the question of AI is incredibly complicated and it’s going to take a long time to wrap our societal heads around the concept. At the moment it’s way too controversial however, as the AI seeks “inspiration” in human art/text but doesn’t know the difference between copying and creating something new. This means that AI generated art can be a direct copy of something someone made and therefore infringing on copyright. The future will have artists copyrighting their styles, I’m sure, to make sure that their individual art-style doesn’t get copied through AI. I haven’t played with the chat AI’s so I’m not sure how advanced they are but while they can surely contribute to surrealism and the weird I have a hard time seeing an AI contribute something (so far anyway) to the human experience. We’ll always need real writers, but we might have to greatly adapt to new conditions with this new technology, as things go.


Researching AI (which AI engineers have borrowed Lovecraft's shoggoths as mascots i.e. the whole thing could run amok; but you're probably too young to remember 1999's TEOTWAWKI*) is the only time I've had nightmares after reading. Though I'm an artist I have to say AI art can be really helpful; it recently assisted me in 'seeing' my current protagonist.


Oh, I’m old enough to remember the millennium bug madness. I never bought into the whole millennium bug thing though. It never scared me. The whole craze sounded quite ludicrous to be honest.


I have found AI art a useful tool. I’ve used AI art to decorate ads for the shelf story project. I did do a reverse image check on Google to make sure it wasn’t blatantly ripping someone off and felt a bit weird about the whole thing. I guess we’ll get used to this and there is definitely a certain excitement in being able to put a few words into an app and get a visual interpretation back. It’s good for the creative mind.


I see too that you are a writer/illustrator in that you are a photographer as well. Can you tell me a bit more about that?


I do take a lot of photographs. I used to spend more time with it—doing edits on the phone - I still do it from time to time but not as much. It’s fun though and I enjoy making covers though I haven’t taken all the photos on my covers. I’ve been involved with making most of them, but I’ve had help with most. I like playing with the visual as it is quite the contrast to writing. I stumbled upon a book, many years ago, that gave tips on how to make bad phone photos (this was when phone cameras were rubbish) into art. Since then I’ve found it fun to try and make atmospheric scenarios from photos that you wouldn’t otherwise find interesting.


What are your favourite movies/documentaries/inspirations?


I get more inspirations from books, computer games and landscape than I do from movies or documentaries. When it comes to seeking inspiration from movies I tend to go for the visual. A stunning landscape, good sci-fi horror like Alien(s) or maybe a terrible B movie with an idea that’s not being utilized fully, that’s my jam. To name a few favourite movies however, aside from Alien, I’d have to say Lost in Translation, Interview With The Vampire, Dark City, A Cure for Wellness, Before Sunrise, Persona, Casshern, Lady Vengeance, Bladerunner, Pulp Fiction, Trainspotting, Pan’s Labyrinth - I could go on and on. If I really want to be inspired to write however I think about the trips I’ve made, about the black sands of Iceland or wandering the streets of Budapest or anywhere else.


Two places that bring to mind Rutger Hauer's emotional final speech in Bladerunner (1982)... Which countries and cities would you like to visit that you haven't, and which ones are definite return-tos?


At the moment Edinburgh is on top of my list of cities I haven’t visited that I really want to visit. It’s a bit silly perhaps, but after hearing that the video game Bloodborne is probably inspired greatly by Edinburgh I decided I have to go there.


I don't think anything's silly, especially if you feel drawn.


It’s only recently I’ve been focused on cities though. I would definitely go back to Budapest which is so full of life and history. I long to go back to Big Sur, which isn’t a city, but there is tranquillity there that is hard to describe that is perfect for a writer. I’d urge anyone who travels through California to go visit. Traveling for me isn’t really about seeing what everyone else sees. It’s about the company and about experiencing something new, as long as I have that I’m delighted. Having said that I’d love to visit Japan one of these days.


What inspired you to create the Shelf Project?


I’ve been interested in collaborating for a long time, though I only recently actually collaborated with novelist Ashley Stokes on a short story called "Play Voidal For Me" which will come out in Chthonic Matter next year. In the suite of that I was listening to "Stan", the song with Eminem which features Dido and her song "Thank You". It’s a compelling song, well written with a story that’s quite fascinating and the way Dido’s song perfectly melts into Eminem’s, while simultaneously being a completely different animal, has always fascinated me. That got me thinking about what this kind of featuring would mean in the written word and while collaborations are common it’s rare that writers incorporate each other work or “write upon it” and so I weathered the idea of this anthology to two friends of mine who are both writers and both, each in their own corner, told me it was a good idea and that I had to do something with it. They generously provided the first two stories and it’s been snowballing since.


If the Project is still open to submissions, are there any particular sorts of stories you'd really like to see?


I am still open to submissions. I hesitate to tell you what I’m looking for though, because I want the weird stories, the stories that borderline on different genres, the misfits. I don’t want to narrow it down more as that may make people hesitant to send me that really WEIRD story they have on their shelf. The one they never find a place for. That’s the story I want – the one you like but think maybe no one else will. So far I have a nice mixture of very strange stories and stories that are subtly so. If you think you have a story, send it to me and let me decide if it fits with the other misfits.


Thank you very much for a fascinating interview; best wishes towards you and your family and for continued success in your work.

*The End of the World as We Know It i.e. everyone thought the millennium was going to shut us down and of course, nothing happened. Funny how no one saw Covid coming...


Eygló Daða Karlsdóttir

was born and raised in Iceland but lives currently in the south of Sweden with her daughter and Lycka, her dog. She enjoys photography, reading and taking long walks in the forest.

She is the author of the novellas All the Dark Places and In His Mind Her Shadow and has released the short story collections Things The Devil Wouldn’t Dream Of and Other Stories and Seafood & Cocktails. She has also had some success with getting stories into anthologies like The Mammoth Book of Halloween Stories and Hex-periments to name just two.

Learn more about Eygló & The Shelf Project

Buy Eygló's work on Amazon

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