“A Softness of The Heart” is a tale of ghosts, and family, and that sometimes gentle nudge to follow one’s heart. Tell us how this story came about.
“A Softness of the Heart” started with an opening line, where Louise comes in with hot cocoa to find Aunt Sinna beating ghosts out of the carpet, though the whole opening was changed in later drafts. The rest of the story came very easily. It’s a lot more quaint and sweet than I usually write, and sometimes I find things outside of my usual tone come much easier to write, because I have less of a preconceived notion about what the shape of the story should be.
Aunt Sinna tells Louise that the ghost’s presence is due to “soft hearts” that both she and Aunt Violet share. Can you expand on the role the heart plays in inviting the ghosts in?
I like the idea that Aunt Violet, and Louise in turn, are the kind of people who would help anyone. I’ve been lucky to know a lot of people like that in my life. Soft-hearted people tend to have a habit of picking up strays, and you’ll often find them orbited by people who need a safe place.
The same thing happens with ghosts in this instance: being kind to them, you gain a reputation for being a good person and so more ghosts who want to hang around peacefully without disturbance (or with less disturbance, as long as Sinna doesn’t catch them) seek Violet’s shelter. I can imagine Louise setting up a sanctuary for ghosts one day.
Louise notes that Aunt Violet preferred warm places, so her ghost is likely holed up in the rug. Others are in unexpected places like tea kettles and between banisters. Can you tell us about how ghosts choose the spaces they inhabit?
I imagined them a little bit like cats, wanting to get into the smallest space possible. I think all ghosts want somewhere dark and warm, but it would be especially important if you wanted to avoid being shooed by those who aren’t as ghost friendly. There’s also something about these liminal spaces that exist around us, that serve no purpose to humans, but are perfect homes for ghosts.
This seems to be a world in conflict. Ghosts are a part of everyday life, and people know they exist, but don’t seem too keen on having them stick around. Is it fear or painful memories of lost loved ones behind this contrast?
This may be some of my British sensibilities coming through! I always saw the ghosts as a kind of nuisance that you live with but shake your head at. Like the stray cat on your street—okay, you’ve put out food for him once or twice when he looked worse for wear, but whenever he looks healthy, you’ll shoo him off and then moan about him peeing in your garden every chance you get.
Some of that feeling of nuisance is that the ghosts in this world aren’t as humanoid or attached to their human images as they are in a lot of ghost fiction. Louise doesn’t realise the speaking ghost is her aunt until Violet introduces herself, for instance. So even if that ghost sleeping behind your curtain rod could be your grandad, it could just as well be some random bloke you’ve never met before, and maybe you don’t want him kipping in your house. I don’t think most Brits would be angry in that scenario, but they’ll jostle the ghost out with a shake of the head and a good tut anyway.
What are you working on now, and what can we look forward to seeing from you in the future?
I’m working on a queer body horror novella at the moment that I’m really excited about. It’s set in the same world as a short story I have coming out in Lightspeed this month, “Amber Dark & Sickly Sweet.” And I’m noodling with a fun lesbian vampire novel, but I’m still in the early stages with that yet.
I also write for Industries of Titan and Phantom Brigade, both in Early Access at the moment and updating with new content monthly. They’re both a lot of fun to work on, not least because of the awesome teams.
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