As a fan of the spooky, surreal and strange, I love the ways in which reality can be explored through the lens of the unfamiliar.
After devouring Things We Say in the Dark by Kirsty Logan, I was on the hunt for a new book to satisfy my desire for the bizarre. As soon as I stumbled upon Disturbing the Body, I was immediately hooked. Misbehaving bodies? Speculative nonfiction? Women writers? Sign me up!
Due to be published by Boudicca Press in October 2020 (COVID-19 dependent!), Disturbing the Body is a collection of speculative autobiography centred around experiences of misbehaving bodies from women writers in the UK. It explores themes ranging from chronic illnesses and disability to major life changing operations, and puts before the reader moments where women can feel powerless and out of the ordinary from their own bodies.
To support the creation of the anthology, Boudicca Press are running a campaign on Kickstarter to ensure everyone involved in the book is paid fairly. You can learn more about the campaign, the team involved and all of the available rewards by heading to the project page.
I was eager to chat to Verity Holloway, who approached Boudicca Press with the idea for the anthology following a life changing event, to learn more about the inspiration behind, and importance of, Disturbing the Body. Here’s what Verity had to say about the project:
What inspired you to start ‘Disturbing the Body’?
This time last year, I’d just had open heart surgery. I’d known for years I needed it, but nothing can prepare you for something that huge. The surgeon had to stop my heart and cool my brain down for over seven hours. When I woke up, I couldn’t speak or walk or use my arms. I had wounds from my neck to my ankles.
Recovery was very long, and in that time I had to get used to a completely new reality. I knew I needed to write about the experience, but I had no idea where to pitch it or even what the tone was. When I got talking to other speculative fiction writers, I found quite a lot of us had non-fiction pieces about ‘messy body stuff’, but none of us had gone down the typical essay route. We wanted to do something a bit different, but we were stranded without a publisher until Dan Coxon who publishes The Shadow Booth suggested Boudicca Press to me. Nici at Boudicca Press was instantly excited.
How did you find the process of writing about the experience and turning it into something creative?
The actual translation of the experience into the writing has been easy so far, but it’s been much harder to really face those memories. I think I blocked a lot out at the time just to get through it. That’s really my coping mechanism all over!
I get very physical flashbacks, like having the ventilator down my throat. The rest is like a dream. I was on morphine for six solid days, so my piece for the anthology is about those strange, hallucinogenic experiences. I’m glad I had the foresight to get my visitors to note down my visions, because I have trouble remembering now what was real and what wasn’t. Writing the piece is a balance between condensing it all down, all that confusion and all those feelings, into a narrative and actually processing it mentally.
Why did you choose the speculative nonfiction style for the anthology?
Memoir is a sneaky form of fiction. You’re transplanting a narrative onto a memory and turning yourself into a character. Good memoir acknowledges that.
What we wanted to do was invite elements of fantasy, science fiction, ghost stories – all the good stuff – and let writers use those elements to really own their experiences and be creative with them. We’ve found writers are much happier to engage with memoir if they’re given a little bit of a mask – a bit of distance – in the form of that fictional element. We’re inviting writers to be truthful but to play, essentially.
Why is it important for women to share stories about their bodies and what they go through?
All women have these stories. We’ve all been dismissed and ignored. It took me fourteen years of pushing to get help for my chronic pain. There are studies on how women’s pain isn’t taken seriously, women of colour even more so. I think the world is slowly waking up to issues like medical trauma, body modification, and body image. When we get this stuff out into the open, I think it does us all good. Things only fester when they’re repressed.
There’s already been a fantastic response to the campaign. How do you feel about the great reception?
I’m delighted. We hit 50% of our funding goal within the first twelve hours, so that was exciting to watch. It seems to have struck a chord.
How can people best support the campaign?
We massively appreciate people spreading the word on social media. Please do check out our Kickstarter and spare a few quid if you can.
After we reach our initial target, we have some exciting stretch goals in mind, and there are some great rewards for our patrons – we’ve got paperbacks, ebooks, artwork, and professional manuscript evaluations up for grabs. The more we raise, the bigger and better the book will be.
Finally, what 3 books have you been loving so far this year?
Wakenhyrst by Michelle Paver. All her horror novels blow my mind. She’s very good at taking a single mundane inanimate object and making it completely terrifying. This one is about medieval doom paintings and the East Anglian Fens, my neck of the woods.
All The Fabulous Beasts by Priya Sharma. Just an exemplary short story collection. And she’s a GP, I believe. Just outrageously multi-talented.
Priests De La Resistance by Fergus Butler-Gallie. Non-fiction this time, all about the priests and lay figures who stood up to fascism all over the world. There are some incredible stories of bravery and panache. Very timely.
Will you be supporting Disturbing the Body?
I’m already excited to receive my copy, even more so after hearing about how the book came to be. You can get the ebook for as little as £5 but there’s plenty of great rewards available so go check it out! Let me know if you decide to pledge – I’d love to hear your thoughts on the anthology. Plus, don’t forget to check out Verity Holloway and Boudicca Press for more great work.