Dystopian Words: An Interview with Clare Rhoden

Dystopian Words: An Interview with Clare Rhoden

Clare Rhoden is an academic and author with an abiding interest in how stories shape our world. Her animal-centred dystopian novels explore the future we might end up with if our fascination with technology continues. At the same time it delves into the question of outsiders and refugees. With fascinating world building and an array of unusual characters, the two books (so far) in the series offer “a thought-provoking read reminiscent of George Orwell’s 1984… about what it truly means to be human” (~ Elizabeth Foster, author, Esme’s Wish, Goodreads). For more information on Clare click here to go to her website.

Which writer or writers opened your eyes to the magic of storytelling and why?

Thanks for having me, Rachel! I have to confess that I had a pretty traditional diet of books as a child, and that I’m forever grateful to my mother who was a bibliophile and started me reading at the age of three. The first book I stayed up all night to finish (with a torch under the blankets) was ‘Black Beauty’ by Anna Sewell. I think I was about eight years old. I couldn’t put it down. In fact, I’ve rarely been able to put down any book since!

Why do you think people need stories in their lives?

Stories have been around as long as people have been able to speak. Stories are essential to our humanity. I think stories help us to make sense of our lives, especially stories which include characters or situations we can relate to. We can also admire the courage and persistence of the protagonist, and aim to employ some of those qualities in our own lives.

Stories with magic in them offer us the potential to break out of our usual thinking patterns and look at the world with fresh eyes. We can step out of the everyday and blink away our limitations. Even the most simple of stories will do this for us.

What is your greatest magical power as a writer?

I don’t usually think of myself as being very magical, and have spent far too long trying to prioritise my practical self. I would have to say that my imagination is my strongest magical ability, because it appears to be a power completely separate from my ordinary rational thinking. Therefore it must be magic! The incantation that brings this power into play starts like this: “Imagine what would happen if …”

Which mythic archetype or magical character most resonates with you and why?

I kind of like werewolf stories – now that’s something I don’t tell everyone! My favourite magical character is the shape-shifter, especially one who can fully enter the animal world (shape-shifters who can assume other human bodies are really scary). I think that shifting into another body is the epitome of seeing through another’s eyes, and that’s the key to empathy.

What themes or ideas do you find keep arising in your writing?

The interaction between humans and animals is a common theme in my writing, and most of my stories feature animals as characters or as important members of the community. I don’t think I’ve ever written anything that doesn’t have at least one mention of a furry critter (who may just be a enchanted cat, or a lost unicorn, or an everyday wise old dog).

The whole notion of what love is, in its many guises, is also something I find myself exploring quite often. So another question I ask myself is, “what would love do?”. Then I let imagination get in there and play with the storyline. I find that my ‘difficult’ characters tend towards selfishness, while others show quite a lot of compassion. Mind you, it can be fun writing those self-absorbed folk. I have an idea for a story in which a wicked wizard is so absorbed in magically perfecting his face in the mirror that he forgets to breathe and falls down dead, much to the delight of his long-suffering cat. Maybe I’ll call it ‘Wizard-face Yoga Pose’…

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If you love dystopian fantasy, book one, The Pale, and book two, Broad Plain Darkening are available now from Odyssey Books and the usual online outlets. The Stars in the Night, Clare’s WWI family saga, is also available for pre-order now.

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