Among the Headstones Author Interview: Kyla Lee Ward

Image of book cover for Among the Headstones anthology

Welcome to day two of my interview trilogy for the upcoming Gothic anthology, Among the Headstones: Creepy Tales from the Graveyard, edited by the wonderful Rayne Hall.

Full details about the haunting anthology are provided at the end of the interview. But now, let’s chat with award-winning author Kyla Lee Ward.

How do you feel about cemeteries, Kyla? Do find them creepy? 

I find cemeteries, especially old cemeteries, more exciting and intriguing than scary or creepy.

Sydney, where I live, follows the British tradition of lawn cemeteries, the old parts of which are generally overgrown. Time seems to stretch when wandering through even a small graveyard. The constant interruption of trees, brush and old stone creates tricks of perspective and makes it seem like the place goes on forever.

And you are not alone—in Sydney’s Waverley cemetery, feral rabbits are prey to the falcons nesting in the nearby sea cliffs. In Rookwood, it’s foxes. And all around you are strange symbols, writing in stone and the impassive faces of statues.

With a little study you can read a cemetery—the star on that angel’s forehead marks it as a Virtue in the Christian tradition, while that odd little bird is the Pentecostal dove. Those hands represent the Priestly Blessing in the Jewish tradition, and that thing which looks like the Deathly Hallows indicates the departed was a member of the Grand Order of Oddfellows. The inscription “Not death but love” is quoting “Sonnet I” of Elizabeth Barret Browning’s Sonnets from the Portuguese.

Honestly, a good Victorian lawn cemetery is one of my favourite places to explore this side of a library and for many of the same reasons. Though I have yet to encounter a fox at a library.

(A fox at a library, haha!) Has a real-life cemetery, grave, or headstone ever inspired you to write a story?

I was obsessed for a time with a mausoleum at Rookwood cemetery—a fine neoclassical construct whose door was ornamented with a bronze ouroboros and the motto RESURGET, that is, “resurrection.” I’m still not sure why, but I felt compelled to identify the occupants and find out all I could of their lives.

As it turned out, an early Sydney industrialist had been buried with his sister rather than his wife. I discovered that their house—a big Victorian mansion—was still standing, having been converted into a rest home, and was able to tour the place with one of the nurses. I put all this into a novel that failed to find a publisher—it is a rather young novel with structural problems. Maybe I’ll revisit the material one of these days.

What are your literary influences?

Anne Rice, who single-handedly revitalised the Gothic, is certainly one. The other is Tanith Lee, who hijacked the male-dominated and somewhat crass field of sword and sorcery to give us true Dark Fantasy. Both women were masters of their craft, producing the most incredible and evocative work. Both also had a tremendous respect for history and knew how to tease it into enthralling stories relevant to the present.

Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?

I remember that one of the first stories I ever wrote was a ghost story! I was perhaps eight years old, and my teacher gave the class the opening of a story, involving a kangaroo who jumped so high he sailed off through the clouds. We had to imagine where he landed and what happened to him. Well, in my case that was a “cemerterry” where he confronted a green ghost. My mother kept the story, so I can report that when illustrating the scene, I drew headstones of the proper shape with writing on them and an exceedingly spooky ghost.

Describe your writing voice.

My writing has been described as Gothic and esoteric, weird and exhilarating, and yes, creepy. I like working with myths and legends, especially spinning them into the modern world. I am a poet and essayist as well as a fiction writer, so I take the craft of writing very seriously. I like to think I construct beauty and meaning, as well as provide the reader with an exciting horror tale.

I enjoyed our chat, Kyla!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kyla Lee Ward is a Sydney-based creative who works in many modes that have garnered her Australian Shadows and Aurealis awards. She has placed in the Rhyslings and received Stoker and Ditmar nominations. Reviewers have accused her of being “Gothic and esoteric”, “weird and exhilarating” and of “giving me a nightmare.” Her latest release is The Macabre Modern and Other Morbidities, her second collection of dark and fantastic poetry after 2011’s The Land of Bad Dreams. Her novel Prismatic (co-authored with her partner as “Edwina Grey”) won an Aurealis Award for Best Horror.

Her short fiction has appeared in the likes of Weirdbook, Shadowed Realms, Gothic.net and in the anthologies Oz Is Burning and Gods, Memes and Monsters: a 21st century Bestiary. Her work on RPG’s including Demon: the Fallen saw her appear as a guest at the inaugural Gencon Australia. An artist and actor as well as an author, Ward’s short film, Bad Reception, screened at the Third International Vampire Film Festival, and she is a member of both the Deadhouse immersive theatre company and the Theatre of Blood, which have also produced her work. In addition, she programmed the horror stream for the 2010 Worldcon. A practicing occultist, she likes raptors, swordplay and the Hellfire Club. To see some very strange things, try http://www.kylaward.com.

Author Kyla Lee Ward and her latest release, The Macabre Modern and Other Morbidities

ABOUT THE BOOK

Among the Headstones: Creepy Tales from the Graveyard edited by Rayne Hall, presents twenty-seven of the finest—and creepiest—graveyard tales with stories by established writers, classic authors and fresh voices.

Here you’ll find Gothic ghost stories by Robert Ellis, Lee Murray, Greg Chapman, Morgan Pryce, Rayne Hall, Guy de Maupassant, Myk Pilgrim, Zachary Ashford, Amelia Edwards, Nina Wibowo, Krystal Garrett, Tylluan Penry, Ambrose Bierce, Cinderella Lo, Nikki Tait, Arthur Conan Doyle, Priscilla Bettis, Kyla Ward, Edgar Allan Poe, Paul D Dail, Cameron Trost, Pamela Turner, William Meikle and Lord Dunsany who thrill with their eerie, macabre and sometimes quirky visions.

You’ll visit graveyards in Britain, Indonesia, Russia, China, Italy, Bulgaria, Thailand, USA, Australia, South Africa and Japan, and you can marvel at the burial customs of other cultures.

Now let’s open the gate—can you hear it creak on its hinges?—and enter the realm of the dead. Listen to the wind rustling the yew, the grating of footsteps on gravel, the hoo-hoo-hoo of the collared dove. Run your fingers across the tombstones to feel their lichen-rough sandstone or smooth cool marble. Inhale the scents of decaying lilies and freshly dug earth.
But be careful. Someone may be watching your every movement… They may be right behind you.

Purchase Link: mybook.to/Headstones

The ebook is available for pre-order from Amazon at the special offer price of 99 cents until 31 January 2022. (After that date, the price will go up.) A paperback will follow.

That’s all for now. Please join me tomorrow on the third and final day of my Among the Headstones author interview series. We’ll learn from Zachary Ashford which vocal Australian mammal provides a nocturnal chorus for his story “The Hound in the Cemetery.” (Hint: it ain’t the hound.)

69 thoughts on “Among the Headstones Author Interview: Kyla Lee Ward

  1. Anyone who enjoys spinning myth and legends into the modern world resonates with this lover of folklore and cryptids. I also loved Kyla’s descriptions of lawn cemeteries. Definitely a place I could spend hours exploring!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. There are many cryptids, but most of them we’ve seen (the Aussie ones, anyway), but the fear of them remains, like the Bunyip’s smell as you pass by a salt lake.

    It was very interesting to read of Kyla, a fellow Aussie. I haven’t been to Sydney for a long, long time, but do remember the several places where cemeteries were placed on cliff-tops with a view out over the ocean. Great places to wander, with the added risk of the cliff-face crumbling under your feet and dashing you on the rocks far, far below. And I’ve seen several of these burial sites along the east coast of Australia and I wonder why the dead needed such a view … maybe one day, when they pop out to watch the full moon rising, I’ll ask them.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Why do the dead need such a view…. Now there’s a spark of an idea for a spooky story. What if ghosts want graves from which they can watch the sunrise? What if they need to be within reach of a body of water to sustain their ghostly energies? What if they want a clear view of the town where their descendents live, so they can keep an eye on what’s going on? What if a ghost is dissatisfied with the locaion of its grave, and tries to move to a different one? So many fun fiction possibilities!

      Liked by 3 people

  3. What a wonderful interview with Kyla. I haven’t spent much time in cemeteries, but I can see from Kyla’s interview how interesting and not scary they can be. I will say that the times I have been to a cemetery for a funeral or to pay respects later, I found it to be peaceful and was interested in seeing the inscriptions. Thanks for sharing this info about Among the Headstones, nice to see your names in there!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Fabulous interview! I’m also a fan of visits to cemeteries, and I am quite intrigued now by Kyla’s stories. I look forward to the next interview as well and will check the anthology for sure. Thanks, Priscilla!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m surprised to learn how many people are fans of visits to cemeteries. I used to think that I was the only weirdo who enjoyed wandering between graves and reading headstones. 😀 Yet once I started compiling this anthology and talking with writers, I discovered that quite a few of them shared my liking for the peace and quietude of graveyards. And now I see from blog comments that there are many more people (like you) who also like to visit cemeteries. I may be weird, but my weirdness is not as rare as I thought. 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Mmm, I think I’ll never be able to visit another cemetery without wondering about foxes and rabbits. It’s interesting the different ways we view things – I’ll never ever lose myself in a cememtery, because I’ll be hurrying to exit 😀
    Btw, I never heard about Tanith Lee.
    Congrats, Kayla, on the book, and thanks for sharing this wonderful interview, Priscilla.
    Merry Christmas to you both and have a happy new year!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. What a lovely interview! I grew up near Rookwood cemetery (never did get to see a fox there, though), and all my relations are buried there. We would make regular visits, which might explain why I find them peaceful, fascinating places. These days, I live in the country, and a cemetery visit might see an inquisitive cow hanging over a nearby fence! Thanks for introducing me to another Aussie author, Priscilla. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

      1. That was a crucial part of my vision for this anthology: I wanted geographic and cultural diversity, giving readers the experience of graveyards in different parts of the world. The best way to achieve this was by inviting authors from different countries. Including Australia. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  7. I was already looking forward to the anthology and now she mentions the ouroboros and the siblings ( I hope you revisit the novel Ms. Ward), 2022 will be a much better year.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. From the interview, one can clearly see that Kyla is a subject matter expert. Beyond wondering what might have been, she observes and gets factual data on the lives cemetery occupants might have led.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Fantastic interview! I love that every cemetery from various parts of the world has that certain feel and vibe into them. Each has a unique twist, which makes me excited more to read the rest of the stories in the anthology. Omg, it’s nice to know that you already started your love for writing horror stories at such a very young age. I would love to read the full story with the kangaroo and green ghost!

    Liked by 1 person

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