Robin Brown (RB): What does the word ‘transformation’ mean to you? How did you approach this theme in your work?
Rhiannon Grist (RG): I’ve been thinking a lot about what gets left behind. Odin’s eye. The selkie’s skin. I think transformation requires giving something up, whether that’s sacrificing something vitally important or letting go of something that’s been stopping you from living a happier, healthier life. But the trick is, it’s never just one thing. Change changes everything. In giving up her skin, the selkie also gives up the sea, her ability to live in it, her way of life and her selkie family. It’s this wider impact of change that interests me.
I think transformation requires giving something up.
RB: How important is it to have dedicated space for your work? Why are platforms such as these important for writers?
RG: Platforms and programmes like The Selkie shout out and recognise a multitude of voices, challenging our unconscious beliefs about whose stories are worth telling, whose views of the world are worth seeing. There’s power in sharing our stories, recognising ourselves in the stories of others and seeing a view of the world that’s different to our own. Platforms like The Selkie pass the mic round the back of the auditorium, giving underrepresented writers a chance to tell and to hear stories that help us envisage different futures and wider possibilities.
RB: How would you describe your creative process? Do you find it uplifting or exhausting?
RG: Usually when I’m riding the bus or getting ready for bed, something will come to the front of my mind. I’ll immediately try to capture this thing in words – either in a notebook or on the notes app on my phone – like a mosquito in amber, so I can get a better look at it later. Words are my play space where I can take ideas – especially the ones that frighten me or hollow me out – and safely explore them. When I’m fighting with the idea it’s exhausting. But if I manage to capture it, so it’s still kicking on the page, then I’m satisfied for the rest of the day, like I’ve eaten a good meal.
Words are my play space where I can take ideas – especially the ones that frighten me or hollow me out – and safely explore them.
RB: What other writers do you admire most?
RG: Oh wow, so many! I recently discovered Ali Smith for the first time and I’m kicking myself for taking so long to read her work. Her language feels so effortlessly playful and bold. I’m a long-time fan of David Mitchell’s inventive narrative structures and I have a soft spot for Becky Chambers’ refreshingly optimistic sci-fi. I loved Jeanette Ng’s Under the Pendulum Sun where a pair of missionary siblings attempt to convert the fae, and Helen McClory’s poem on loneliness and the Fermi Paradox, ‘Take care, I love you’ from Mayhem & Death hit like a punch to the gut. Basically, I admire any writer who boldly plays with language, structure or ideas. Reading them feels like watching a magician turn the world on its head.
RB: How do you measure success as a writer? What do you hope to achieve with your work?
RG: Connection. Writing has always been my way of sharing my internal world with others. Of saying, Look, this is the world through my eyes. Is there anything you recognise? Is there anything new? I have a bad habit of second-guessing myself, of questioning if what I’m experiencing is ‘real’. Consequently, I think I’m always trying to describe what I’m seeing and feeling in an attempt to find shared experiences. If someone can read what I wrote, recognize something in it and say, “Hey, I know this. I’ve been here.” I’ll consider that job done.