Interview: Margo Lanagan on Tongue Rolling, Selkies and Twisted Tales

October 10, 2013 Author Feature, Interview 6

Darkness, Sadness and all things Woe…if you like that sort of thing you should pick up a book by Margo Lanagan! I’m happy to be able to share with you today an interview I was able to have with her!

Margo Lanagan books

Here are just a few of the books written by Margo.

Read my review of Yellowcake

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Thank you so much for joining us at My Shelf Confessions! We’re all mad here don’t you know! Which is fitting because I thought Yellowcake was pretty crazy.

– Yellowcake was so different than other short story collections I’ve read that were written by a single author. I felt the writing style changed in almost every story. Was that your intention? What kind of mindset do you have to put yourself into for that?

Yellowcake was put together a bit differently from my other collections; I was selecting stories from among the stories I’ve had published in anthologies over several years, whereas the previous collections (White Time, Black Juice and Red Spikes—and my recent collection for adults, Cracklescape) have all been made up of stories that were original to the collection and written with a conscious awareness of the other stories completed so far for that title. So I guess, yes, in selecting the stories I was looking for the greatest variety of voices and stories generally, and some stories didn’t get in because they were too much like others, and I wanted to include only the best of that type, and of course not bore the reader.

I’m very conscious of that issue with single-author collections, that the voice can get quite samey, especially if readers are reading the whole collection in one hit. So I’m glad you found it good and varied!

– Which in the collection are your favorites? I loved Ferryman and The Point of Roses.

I like both of those two, for the characters of Sharon and of Billy and the Traveller boys. But I’m also quite fond of A Fine Magic, because I pulled off a tone that I hadn’t used before, a kind of ironic, arch, quite judgmental tone – and I just loved creating Gallantine the Fascinator.

– What type of readers do you think Yellowcake would appeal to the most? What about The Brides of Rollrock Island? (which I’ll bereading soon by the way!)?

People who don’t mind working things out in stories as they go along will like Yellowcake – in fact, people who really enjoy working things out, the way the worlds in these stories work, the cultures they’re about, the point of them. And people who just like, as you say, being hit with a new voice every time they start a new story. These are probably not stories you should pick up if you want a cosy night’s reading. They’re more like a little, startling cupcake that you eat to wake yourself up in the morning.

Brides is a different kettle of fish; it’s quite slow, and it has a similar tone throughout, although it has six different narrators. Again there’s a bit of working out to do, but there’s a lot more exploration of the issues the story deals with, from various characters’ points of view. And again, it’s not necessarily comfortable reading, but it’ll make you think, and it has some pretty sentences and nice tidal rhythms in it. It’s very sad, too, so readers who like darkness and sadness will go for it.

– I haven’t read any reviews for The Brides of Rollrock Island because after I saw the description I knew it was for me.  It does sound like its going to be a heartbreaking read. What sort of research if any did you do for it?

I didn’t do a whole bunch of research: a little bit about Scottish witchcraft and the remoter islands of Scotland and their mythologies, a little bit about the grimmer practices involved in hunting seals and processing them for skins and oil. Although the story’s not specifically set in Scotland, that was the place and culture I went to if I wanted a useful detail, to give the story a sense of being anchored in the real world. But most of the story is the skeleton of traditional selkie stories, with the rest spun right off the top of my head.

– So yes, the Yellowcake Cover…I love it. I feel like she’s peaking through a shower of pollen. Do tell us – what was your first reaction when you saw your cover? What about the cover to The Brides of Rollrock Island?

I was really pleased with both. With Yellowcake, I like the expression on the girl’s face, that curious look, and the mysterious floating things. And with Brides, the girl has exactly the right degree of boldness and reticence in her expression, and her dress is exactly the right kind of garment for a creature in transition between sea and land. And, of course, all those foaming wavelets are the perfect background.

– Do you have any authors that you absolutely love and have read practically all of their books? Or some titles that are top picks for fiction books that you would recommend to us? I do so love growing my leaning tower or To Be Read!

I think more people should read the novels of Ursula Dubosarsky, an Australian writer for children and young adults who fills her books with the most lovable characters – and I don’t mean that in a corny way. They’re just so real and understandable and properly complicated.

For the same reason, when I want a warm bath of a read I read Anne Tyler’s novels, just to hang around with Tyleresque people.

And for the weird, you can’t beat the British author Alan Garner.

– What is your current WIP, (Work in Progress) if you have one? I will of course blab about it to anyone who’ll listen…no no I’m not a gossip. *evil grin*

I have one, I have a WIP! I’m on a writer’s residency at the moment and I’m 60 pages into a new draft. I expect to be able to write ANOTHER 60 pages before the end of the residency next Tuesday, and I may be able to cobble all these pages onto the existing 50 pages I wrote in the middle of this year. It’s another seaside tale, another selkie tale in fact, only set in more modern times, and possibly in Australia – at the moment I’m still dithering on the setting, writing some in an Australian setting and some in a less specific place.

It also is very sad and grim. Sad and grim is my favourite.

– All right, so here it is – the MOST important question you will ever be asked! What magical creature would you compare yourself to? If it isn’t a sparkly unicorn well then I’m afraid we can’t be friends.

How about a dragon? A dragon can be pretty sparkly too, especially if it’s sitting Smaug-like on a gigantic pile of treasure. Think about it.

– But finally – Do you have any oddball confessions for us that you wouldn’t mind sharing? Honesty now, Love, is the best policy! For instance… I own more unread books than read because I’m a compulsive book buyer. And…I can wiggle my ears!

I can raise my eyebrows one at a time, and I can NOT ONLY turn my tongue upside down both ways BUT ALSO I can make a vertical crease in the tip of my tongue. I was going to send you a picture of me doing this, but, really, it looks pretty disgusting; it looks like a tiny naked red bum in my mouth. Nobody needs to see that. But if I ever meet you in person, I’ll demonstrate, I promise. *foresees a lifetime of demonstrating, now that this is on the Internet*
Thanks for the interesting questions! 😀



Yellowcake brings together ten short stories from the extraordinarily talented Margo Lanagan–each of them fiercely original and quietly heartbreaking.

The stories range from fantasy and fairy tale to horror and stark reality, and yet what pervades is the sense of humanity.  The people of Lanagan’s worlds face trials, temptations, and degradations. They swoon and suffer and even kill for love. In a dangerous world, they seek the solace and strength that comes from family and belonging.

These are stories to be savored slowly and pondered deeply because they cut to the very heart of who we are.


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Tabitha (Pabkins)

When I'm in the zone I can flip book pages faster than the eye can see - screaming "More Input!" I'm a book, yarn, & art supply hoarding goblin who loves to draw, make toys and craft all sorts of creepy cute things. My current habit is to listen to audio books while I'm arting it up!
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6 Responses to “Interview: Margo Lanagan on Tongue Rolling, Selkies and Twisted Tales”

  1. Samantha Degraff

    I’ve wanted to get Yellowcake for a while now, and this interview just gave me the chance! I also am a compulsive book buyer! So with buying Yellowcake I also HAD to get Tender Morsels and Red Spikes and can’t wait to get into them! Great Interview and happy reading. 🙂

    • Tabitha the Pabkins

      Hi Samantha! I’m so glad you enjoyed the interview. Yellowcake really was a very different anthology of shorts unlike any I’ve read before. I mean all of the stories had a fantasy element but they were so strange! Personally, I like strange so they worked for me – but I don’t know anyone else from the top of my head that I could think of that would like it – so now I’m going to be REALLY curious what you think! That’s awesome you picked up the other books as well and I’ll have to see if you like them since I haven’t read anything else by Margo yet.

      • Samantha Degraff

        Yes I’m definitely one for the strange so I can’t wait to get started! 🙂 And wow I didn’t even expect a reply, I don’t think I’ve ever got one from an actual blogger lol I think that might be why I don’t comment as much, so I was definitely surprised! That’s why I wrote a seperate little thing on goodreads cause I didn’t think anyone would read it! (And thanks for accepting also) 🙂 So THANK-YOU it made my day! Lol I don’t have a lot of friends that read so I would love to tell you what I think about her stories!

        • Tabitha the Pabkins

          OH my goodness!!! No I try to reply to every single comment I receive on one of my posts! I know April tries to as well! I’m all about making new booky friends. We’ve been doing this 3 years now and if you aren’t interacting with your readers/followers why the heck would they even come back and keep reading? I know what you mean though – some bloggers just don’t respond to comments. I think those might be the ones that don’t realize they should or the ones that are so big and get like 60 comments on each post it would be kind of crazy to reply to them all.

          Be assured, here we WANT you to comment because we like chatting. April and I used to have comment wars. Heck one of the giveaways I do each month awards crazy creative comments *evil laughter*

          I was so glad to see your goodreads friend request! I hope you’ll be back to visit again soon. We are doing a readathon that starts today so I hope you’ll join us and come to the twitter parties too. We’re a lively bunch!