The warm weather isn’t here yet, but we can still dream! Come take a trip with us as we explore the past and present inspirations for our Spring 2018 authors’ work.
We spoke to Susannah M. Smith to see what sparked the creation of her new release, The Fairy Tale Museum, and what continues to inspire her.
So open a window, dip into this fantastic work and enjoy!
What inspired the creation of your work / how did it come to be?
I think The Fairy Tale Museum got its start with characters that were inspired by The Holy Circus in my first novel, How the Blessed Live. The Holy Circus is a sort of theatrical group that features people with specific metaphysical talents and abilities. That performative, carnivalesque sensibility stuck in my imagination and informed several of the characters and settings in The Fairy Tale Museum. I wanted to explore the idea of the “freak” or outsider, and the ways in which many of us feel this way.
Several of the characters in The Fairy Tale Museum are on the threshold of something – a transformation, a moment of decision or realization, or even choosing more of the same. I’m interested in this moment of continual newness and potential, this ability to define and shape reality.
The idea of the creative process is central to The Fairy Tale Museum. There is a chapter called “The Artists’ Collection” towards the middle of the narrative and I think the placement of this chapter is important. I wanted to explore this question of who is the influencer, the creator of identity and experience. How are we each creating our own lives through the lens of our imaginations? I’m interested in the stories we tell and how we answer the question: who do I want to be and what is within my power to imagine and become?
My work in archives, libraries and art galleries definitely informs this book. I think a lot about curatorship: collections and collectors, the narratives they tell and don’t tell, and the way stories are communicated or hidden within collections.
I like the ideas of intersections and interdisciplinarity. I like books that don’t fit neatly into one category. I like the idea of an open story that can be accessed at different points and that has many possible narrative threads. I like novels that do something novel. I like text that is sensitive to itself on the page and the space it inhabits. I like books to be beautiful objects worth holding, worth keeping.
Writing this book took many years and so it feels like it contains a continuum of my interests and ideas. Before I wrote it, I felt lonely for this book. I wanted to write the kind of book I wished I could find when I walked into a bookstore; I feel I’ve done that.
My creative process is very visual and many of my sources of inspiration are images that suggest characters and narratives. I always have an image inspiration file or board when I’m working on a book. This happens organically as I follow the train of research crumbs and helps me focus and stay engaged in the work.
I also always carry a small notebook with me to capture impressions and story fragments as they arise. I have a vintage suitcase filled with notebooks from which I have extracted snippets for The Fairy Tale Museum. At last count, there was a total 25 notebooks.
As I wrote this book I was inspired by fairy tales, of course, but also museums of all types, antique markets, Czech surrealism, films by the Brothers Quay, artwork by Kiki Smith and Nan Goldin, illustrations by Edmund Dulac and Charles Robinson, and Alexander Sokurov’s film Stone, which is set in the Chekhov Museum in Moscow.
What’s something that you can count on to stoke your creative fire?
Reading almost certainly leads to writing for me. Going to an art gallery or museum. Watching documentaries about creative people: artists, writers, fashion designers, architects. I also walk every day; for me, it is the great balancer, the great sifter. I love it.
What are you currently drawn to right now?
I’m inspired by the historical neighbourhood where I live in Vancouver. I go for walks and stories spool themselves out in my imagination. I’m also drawn to travel, historical architecture, the implications of sustainable clothing and fashion, and nature. I like the Japanese concept of forest bathing and I’m fortunate to live in a city where nature and the forest are easily accessible.
What are your current top 5 reads of late?
Get A Life: The Diaries of Vivienne Westwood. Fittingly, it’s a creatively produced book that features colour reproductions of photos and artworks alongside her writing and sketches.
Snow and Rose by author and illustrator Emily Winfield Martin
Comic artist Yumi Sakugawa’s Instagram feed
Studio, Creative Spaces for Creative People by Sally Couthard
I am forever reading Gaston Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space
What are you working on right now?
I’m working on a visual book and a possible sequel to The Fairy Tale Museum. I’m thinking about art history, Grey Gardens, Peggy Guggenheim, and the differences between being eccentric and flamboyant. I’m also paying attention to flow rather than push, the practice of enjoyment, and dreaming bigger dreams.
If your book was a cocktail what would the recipe look like?
4 oz. melted snow
1 oz. evergreen sap
1 tsp. glitter
7 doll eyelashes
2 thimbles of fox fur
1 chandelier crystal
Stir with a skeleton key and store in a blue glass bottle. Bury in the forest for one year before consuming.
Susannah M. Smith is the author of the novel How the Blessed Live (Coach House Books). Her short fiction, non-fiction, artwork, and poetry have appeared in various publications. Susannah is an archivist and curator. She lives in Vancouver.