In Pursuit of The Flow: ‘New Music For Old Rituals’ author Tracy Fahey talks to Kendall Reviews.

Tracy Fahey is an Irish writer of Gothic fiction. Her debut collection, The Unheimlich Manoeuvre was nominated in 2017 for a British Fantasy Award for Best Collection. Her short fiction has been published in more than twenty Irish, US and UK anthologies and her work has been reviewed in the Times Literary Supplement. In 2016 two of her short stories were long listed by Ellen Datlow for The Best Horror of the Year Volume 8. Her first novel, The Girl In The Fort (Fox Spirit Press) was published in 2017 and her second collection, New Music For Old Rituals was released by Black Shuck Books in 2018.

In her other life she teaches a seminar class on the Gothic and is the kind of doctor who is useless in a medical emergency.

KR: Coffee?

KR: Could you tell me a little about yourself please?

I’m a writer who works on the quieter, more mundane side of the horror spectrum. My work centres on subtle, unsettling occurrences in familiar locales and the recurrence of the past in contemporary society.

I write because…I’m not sure exactly why, except that it feels right to do so.

KR: What do you like to do when not writing?

I read all the time and always have. It’s my comfort and my escape.

I very much like to drive around in my tiny but intrepid jeep, photographing ruins down tiny, unmarked roads. I’m excessively fond of exploring old graveyards; they have a sadness and a beauty to them that fascinates me, and the gravestones tell multiple stories about the lives of the inhabitants. Making images stimulates the urge to be creative, and they often form jumping off-points for writing.

There’s also walks with my dog, exhibitions by emerging artists, box-sets, nights at the theatre and good conversations with good friends.

KR: What is your favourite childhood book?

I had multiple favourite childhood books. My all-time hero was Robin Hood, so I read every version of the story possible; children’s books, historical accounts, and books that mixed the two like Roger Lancelyn Green’s The Adventures of Robin Hood. But there was also J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, Michael Ende’s The Neverending Story, Rosemary Sutcliffe’s Eagle of the Ninth, Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising… Anything with a whiff of the historical, the tragic or the supernatural.

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KR: What is your favourite album, and does music play any role in your writing?

I don’t have one favourite album, but I tend to write to the music of Sigur Ros. Especially Takk. It’s the perfect marriage of ethereal mood and mystifying Icelandic lyrics. It elevates yet doesn’t distract.

KR: Do you have a favourite horror movie/director?

I’m a fan of psychological horror movies that focus on the disintegration of the normal, and especially narratives of a home haunted by itself. I love Robert Wise’s The Haunting, Guillermo del Toro’s The Orphanage and Alejandro Amenábar’s The Others.

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For the most part, though, I prefer movies that avoid gore and jump-scares. I find the entire torture-porn genre both mystifying and repellent. I love psychologically complex movies, and really appreciate directors like Atom Egoyan and Paul Thomas Anderson who, without being wilfully obscure, seem to make movies that are fresh and original and unpredictable. Even their failures are interesting.

KR: What are you reading now?

I’ve just finished Alma Katsu’s The Donner Party, (KR: The Hunger) which was a triumph of plot and narrative. Currently I’m reading Lynda Rucker’s excellent collection, You’ll Know When You Get There. The stories in it are so beautifully written, so evocative, that I’m stopping between each one to savour it, to let the story lie before moving on to the next.

I also re-read all the time – currently on the go are Iain Banks’ Complicity, Donna Tartt’s The Little Friend, and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.

KR: Who were the authors that inspired you to write?

My desire to write short stories was kindled first by Ray Bradbury. He writes so beautifully and his short stories have a vivid quality that doesn’t fade. His The October Country is still one of my templates for how to put together a collection that’s both thematic and diverse. Roald Dahl’s short stories for adults were another revelation; Skin and Other Stories, Switch Bitch, Tales of the Unexpected. I also loved Edgar Allan Poe and Guy de Maupassant’s stories. Later, Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber’s velvet prose and rich imaginings inspired me, as did Donna Tartt’s meticulously crafted and overwhelmingly melancholy The Secret History. As for Shirley Jackson, her The Haunting of Hill House filled me both with the desire to write, and the sad conviction that this was the only book I’d ever wanted to write. And it was already written.

KR: Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer to just see where an idea takes you?

It depends on which form I’m working in, though I have a lamentable tendency for improvisation that has left me stranded several times. My novel pitch for The Girl In The Fort (published 2017) had to be submitted to Fox Spirit Press in the form of a synopsis and a set of chapters, so I was forced out of my usual formlessness to write a chapterization which helped very much. But I found it exhausting to focus so much on plot.

I’m much more comfortable with short fiction which I write in the manner of a medium; I sit there and let things rise up; fragments, images, sentences, emotions, moods. And then I try to see how it’ll all work together, what theme is emerging, what sub-theme…

It’s rather like doing a jigsaw with no box-image, and with a bunch of pieces missing.

I love it. I hate it.

KR: What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?

Generally my academic research and fiction interests coincide, which is lucky. My PhD thesis was on the uncanny return of the home in contemporary Irish visual culture, and I wrote it as the same time as my short story collection on the home as site of terror, The Unheimlich Manoeuvre. I’m also an amateur folklorist; some stories in my first collection, and the stories of my new collection New Music For Old Rituals stem from a variety of articles, fieldwork and projects in the area.

Research can also be highly specific to what I’m writing; my internet history is a horror story in itself, full of Googled queries on mental illness, bodily disintegration, police procedures and all manner of strange things.

KR: Describe your usual writing day?

There is no typical writing day, as I work full-time, and it’s a demanding, challenging sort of job. And then there’s also other people, important people, that I need to spend time with in real life.

Writing happens in the margins; inky scribbles in a notebook early in the morning, late at night, having lunch at my desk at work.

Sometime though The Urge happens; then I’ll get a massive rush of selfishness, write all day, ruthlessly cancelling plans, forgetting to eat, wandering round the house with pens stuck in my hair, muttering sentences aloud that aren’t quite working on the page. If The Urge leads to The Flow, I’m the happiest entity alive. There’s nothing as compelling and fierce and powerful as being in The Flow.

KR: Do you have a favourite story/short that you’ve written (published or not)?

I have a soft spot for the first story I ever published, ‘Looking For Wildgoose Lodge.’ I wrote it before I developed a filter to cleanse stories of autobiography. It comes from a very real place of sadness, and the ending still makes me cry when I read it.

One of my very favourites is ‘I Look Like You, I Speak Like You, I Walk Like You,’ from The Unheimlich Manoeuvre, because how that story turned genuinely surprised me as I was writing it. That’s such a rare and precious thing, and I remember the thrill of that moment when it all changed, mid-sentence. It was published in JU Litzone Volume 10 and you can read it at

KR: Do you read your book reviews?

Yes! Someone’s taken the time to read my writing, the least I can do is read theirs. Plus, I tend to write in a vacuum, not thinking of audience, so reviews are the best place to find out if you communicated what you intended to. And critical input is always useful.

KR: Any advice for a fledgling author?

Just write.

Read widely, scribble, don’t overthink it, write.

Just write.

KR: What scares you?

The inside of my head. Losing loved ones. Physical and mental deterioration. Immolation. Frogs.

KR: E-Book, Paperback or Hardback?

Paperbook by choice, e-book by necessity. I moved house last February and swore to buy only digital books. Unless I really had to have a physical copy of one, that is.

KR: Can you tell me about your latest release please?

My latest release is my second short story collection, New Music For Old Rituals, released in November 2018 by Black Shuck Books. It features nineteen divergent stories that in their different ways draw on folklore as their inspiration. This collection is rooted in my Irish childhood, a setting marked by spectral sites, ancient graves and spaces devoted to na Sidhe, the dark Irish fairies. The collection looks at folklore as a living entity that casts long shadows in contemporary culture. You can read one of the stories from it, ‘The Crow War’ which got an honourable mention in Tales From The Lake Volume 3 here

Other recent releases are the charity anthology The Black Room Manuscripts Volume IV which I co-curated and co-edited with one of my closest horror friends, J.R. Park (a handsome volume of excellent stories published by the Sinister Horror Company), and my short story ‘The Woman On The Moon,’ published in Uncertainties III, edited by Lynda Rucker and published by Swan River Press.

KR: What are you working on now?

At the moment I’m labouring over my third collection, I Spit Myself Out. To be honest, I don’t know if I’m writing it or fighting it right now. It’s loosely based on Julia Kristeva’s essay The Powers of Horror and the idea of abjection. The title is a quote from the essay and I’m interested in exploring its multiple meanings from martyrdom to compulsion; the idea of staking yourself out, skewering yourself, of outbursts that can’t be contained…

It’s very much a book of interior fears, a fear of self. It’s almost body horror, but not. I don’t know.

I’m still fighting it and trusting that as it emerges, story by story, the fog will clear for it to reveal itself in its final form.

KR: You find yourself on a desert island, which three people would you wish to be deserted with you and why?

In real life, I’d choose some of my real, intrepid friends. But here’s my pick.

You can choose…

a) One fictional character from your writing.

The grandmother from The Girl In The Fort. She’s very wise, and a storyteller, which would be nice on an island devoid of libraries.

b) One fictional character from any other book.

I’m going to go for Robinson Crusoe. Not the most entertaining, but he’s been there before and he has excellent survivalist skills.

c) One real life person that is not a family member or friend.

Does my dog Freya count as a person? She thinks so. I’m going to cheat and pick her.

KR: Thank you very much Tracy.

You can find out more about Tracy by visiting her official website

Follow Tracy on Twitter @TracyFahey

Tracy’s author page can be found here

New Music For Old Rituals brings together a selection of stories that illustrate the pervasive power of the past in the present. Together they present a strange yet familiar country where cautionary tales still serve a purpose; where sacred sites of sea, forest, valley and forts hold power, where old legends live, and where new myths are born. Within the pages of New Music for Old Rituals, bog bodies sleep, contagion rages, ancient rituals are enacted, battles are fought, ghosts linger, and time stutters, fails and turns back on itself.By the author of The Unheimlich Manoeuvre (2016) and The Girl In The Fort (2017)

You can buy New Music For Old Rituals from Black Shuck Books

Some words are born in shadows.

Some tales told only in whispers.

Under the paper thin veneer of our sanity is a world that exists. Hidden just beyond in plain sight, waiting to consume you should you dare stray from the street-lit paths that sedate our fears.

For centuries the Black Room has stored stories of these encounters, suppressing the knowledge of the rarely seen. Protecting the civilised world from its own dark realities.

The door to the Black Room has once again swung open to unleash twenty four masterful tales of the macabre from the twisted minds of a new breed of horror author.

The Black Room holds many secrets.

Dare you enter… one final time?

You can buy The Black Room Manuscripts: Volume Four from Amazon UK & Amazon US

“A stone’s throw out on either hand / From that well-ordered road we tread” — Rudyard Kipling

“What is happening all around us that is beyond the perception of our senses — and what happens when that perception changes?” – from the Introduction by Lynda E. Rucker

Uncertainties is an anthology of new writing — featuring contributions from Irish, British, and American authors — each exploring the idea of increasingly fragmented senses of reality. These types of short stories were termed “strange tales” by Robert Aickman, called “tales of the unexpected” by Roald Dahl, and known to Shakespeare’s ill-fated Prince Mamillius as ‘winter’s tales’. But these are no mere ghost stories. These tales of the uncanny grapple with existential epiphanies of the modern day, and when otherwise familiar landscapes become sinister and something decidedly less than certain . . .

You can buy Uncertainties: Volume III from Swan River Press

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