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.
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.)