Today I have been given the pleasure and privilege of interviewing Lorraine Wilson, whose debut novel, This Is Our Undoing is due to be published by Luna Press on the 3rd of August. It looks like a fascinating novel so I have taken some time to ask her some questions.
Lorraine lives by the sea in Scotland, writing speculative fiction set in the wilderness and heavily influenced by folklore. She is fascinated by the way both mythology and our relationship with the natural world act as mirrors of ourselves and lenses for how we view others, and with a heritage best described as a product of the British Empire, she is drawn to themes of family, trauma, and belonging. After gaining a PhD in behavioural ecology from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland she spent several years as a conservation researcher in odd corners of the world before turning to writing. She has been stalked by wolves, caught the bubonic plague, and once had a tree frog called ‘Algernon’ who lived in her sink.
First of all. Tell us more about This Is Our Undoing. Judging from its blurb, it seems like it might be a mosaic of genres?
Yes, it kind of is! It’s a speculative novel, but speculative is a very broad ‘genre’ term, so in this case, This Is Our Undoing has elements of SciFi in its near-future, slightly dystopian setting, but it has a fantastical thread in it too (that I can’t tell you about without spoilers!), along with hints of folklore and lots of science and the wilderness … and at its very bare plot essentials, it’s got a murder mystery … So take your pick!
What would you say are its principal themes?
I said to someone recently that this book was my protest against powerlessness, and I think I inadvertently stumbled across my best summary of it so far! It’s my attempt to say that the choices we make in the face of issues far beyond our control (like societal intolerance, climate change, political corruption) still matter. It’s about the legacy of harm and loss, and how our identity is shaped by both our trauma and our choices. Family (and found family) is central to the novel because they are the people you will most risk yourself for, both your life and your identity, and I wanted to explore that conflict of protecting those you love versus staying true to yourself.
Was it the first novel you attempted to write?
No. Definitely not. I move back and forth between books so sequencing them is tricky, but I think this was about my fourth? My first was quite thoroughly awful and is never being allowed out of its locked drawer! The other two are sitting waiting for me to revisit them with a little (lot) more distance.
How long did it take you to find a publisher for it?
I just checked my files and late 2018 was when I started subbing it to agents. After six months with only a handful of full requests, I revised it almost completely and decided it might be too cross-genre to fit traditional publishing routes neatly, so started approaching indie publishers … and Luna was one of the first I submitted to in summer 2020. So… just under two years, maybe?
You have a PhD in animal behaviour and there is mention of the forest playing a part in This Is Our Undoing. How much of this knowledge you possess have you utilised whilst writing this book?
Quite a bit, to be honest. In two ways. First in the creation of the setting – as someone who has lived and worked in boreal forests, I know what it feels like to walk through the forest at night, what it sounds like at dawn or smells like when you’re in the middle of a clearing. I know what birds are singing and which flowers are flowering when etc etc. All of that background information was really useful in allowing me to make sure the scenes felt real and alive, and also – and I LOVE doing this – allowed me to use the environment my characters were in to provide subtext, adding to (or contrasting with) whatever atmosphere I was trying to create, whether that was sorrow or fear or loneliness. If you read the book, you might be able to spot me doing this – cherry-picking from the environment to add hints and emphasis to the scene’s action. It’s fun, and if nothing else, makes use of that hoard of obscure knowledge!
The second way I used my training is more direct in that my main character Lina is a scientist carrying out ecological research. So the details of her job, the work and studies she is involved in are all things I have done to some degree, although I’ve played around with the state of technology a little bit given that we’re slightly in the future. It was fun to write a field scientist character, but the reason I did that was actually because I wanted the contrast between the wildness and wonder of the forest, and the cruelty of the past that Lina thought she had escaped from (evil author laugh).
What is next? Does This is Our Undoing have a sequel or are you currently working on something completely new?
This Is Our Undoing doesn’t have a sequel. I’ve toyed with the idea of writing the stories of a couple of the side characters but that’s not happening any time soon! I’m currently working on two new books, both at the drafting stage. One is another speculative near-future story full of digital ghosts, hedgewitchery and more forests! The other is heading the other way in time – it’s a historical fiction about belonging and family trauma and Victorian women botanists.
Would you consider writing in any other genres?
Ha! See above. Yes! The historical fiction was a total shot in the dark for me. I’d never written anything like it but I wrote it during lockdown, without any planning and whilst homeschooling, and it was the pure escapism I needed at that time. I have also written other slightly less speculative books, based in the present day, but they are still (as is the hist fic one) influenced by folklore and the wilderness. I think those two themes are my ‘genres’!
What book are you currently reading?
I’ve just finished beta reading the next in the Chemical Detective series by my fabulous friend Fiona Erskine, and you are in for a treat with this one! So now I’m flicking between a few until one grabs me, which is my current strategy at the moment as my reading concentration powers are suffering from ‘pandemic brain fatigue’. Currently being sampled are: Elif Shafak’s Forty Rules of Love, Christina Sweeney-Baird’s The End of Men, Heather Kassner’s The Forest of Stars, and Georgette Heyer’s An Infamous Army. An eclectic mix!
And finally, would you like to give a shout out for three books which you feel more people should read, and tell us why?
Oh excellent… deep breath…
Intisar Khanani’s The Theft of Sunlight. It’s a lovely, thoughtful, thrilling, diverse and rich YA fantasy that deserves all the love!
Yvonne Battle-Felton’s Remembered. Because it is stunningly evocative and powerful, and because Yvonne is just the greatest, most generous champion of other writers, and I can’t sing her praises enough.
Nghi Vo’s The Empress of Salt and Fortune. This is a hypnotic book full of layers and kindness and potency, and everyone should read it!
Thank you, Lorraine!
Lorraine Wilson’s This Is Our Undoing is due to be published by Luna Press on the 3rd of August, and can be preordered at Luna Press, Amazon, Waterstones, The Book Depository, as well as other outlets.