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Hayley

An Interview with Kirk Slater

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This Monday we're going to be talking to Kirk Slater about his new book, The Girl Who Wasn't There, a Victorian ghost story. Kirk is a graphic designer who previously launched some very successful Kickstarter projects for custom playing cards. Now he's using that platform to publish his novella, which was inspired by a stage production of The Woman in Black

 

He'll be telling us a bit more about the book and also his decision to publish in this less traditional way. It's been really interesting talking to him and I think you'll all find this this one interesting too!

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Firstly, congratulations on surpassing your Kickstarter goal for The Girl Who Wasn’t There!

Thank you, in the first 24 hours the project did really well thanks to some amazing backers.

 

(you can find Kirk's Kickstarter page here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/52ravens/the-girl-who-wasnt-there )

 

The Girl Who Wasn’t There isn’t your first book though, you also used Kickstarter to publish The Sisterhood of Blood, a book which follows the lives of twelve female vampires in Victorian London, each one inspired by a set of playing cards you designed. You mention, on your Kickstarter page, that The Girl Who Wasn’t There was inspired by a stage production of The Woman in Black. Would you say that the ideas behind your stories always have a visual origin and, if so, do you think that influences the way that you write?

The idea for the Sisterhood stories came when the playing card project was in production. I wanted to explore the lives behind the characters on the cards, and soon an ever-expanding world began to form around them. For The Girl Who Wasn’t There, I set myself a challenge to write a ghost story. It came after reading an article that discussed how modern horror films have started to have ‘happy ever after’ endings. This is so that people leave the cinema feeling good, even after the horror they’ve witnessed. Classic horrors in books and films, don’t do this. I struggled with The Woman In Black book, sometimes I find it difficult to connect with a story, the film wasn’t great and it had a happy ending that didn’t sit right. So after we went to see the amazing stage performance in London, I finally saw the true ending. I read the book in full, and I knew I wanted to write a ghost story that doesn’t have a happy ending. You’ll have to read The Girl Who Wasn’t There to find out if I succeeded.

 

You obviously have an interest in the Victorian era. What is it about that time that appeals to you?

I think it is such an interesting time. On one side we have wealth, luxury, industrial invention that changed the world, but on the other side, underneath all the glamour, millions of people suffered beyond understanding within the city of London. The contrast between the two sides is only separated by a thin line, so it holds a wealth of inspiration. I highly recommend a walk around London’s street. You will be surprised how much of Victorian London is visible, it's hidden among modern architecture but it's still there if you know where to look.

 

Is historical accuracy important to these stories and, if so, how did you ensure that they would be historically accurate?

Even though my stories have been about ghosts and vampires, I feel that grounding them within the real world helps to give the fictional world some strength. I’ve tried to keep as much realism as possible so that it feels like the stories could be true. I started out researching Victorian London and soon it became an obsession for me. I have a huge pile of books published from the time as I felt the words of the people had more value to them than historians second-guessing. I even went as far as to study maps from the time to make sure streets and roads were there, which sounds crazy but I really wanted to make sure that if someone looked up a detail from the story that they would find it. All of this helped massively for the Sisterhood stories and they are full of little historic facts. With The Girl Who Wasn’t There, I needed to make sure I had an understanding of the housemaids working life and this came from a diary and letters written at the time.

 

 

You’d had successful Kickstarter projects even before The Sisterhood of Blood, with your custom playing cards. Did you explore other publishing options for your books before deciding to go with Kickstarter, or had your earlier experience with Kickstarter already prompted that decision?

As I had started with the Sisterhood playing cards on Kickstarter it felt natural to release the stories on there for the people that backed the project. So when it came to The Girl Who Wasn’t There it was an easy decision to release the book on the site first. Kickstarter also allows you to create additional items that backers can pledge for, like the Victorian Tunnel Book that I have for The Girl Who Wasn’t There. These items are exclusive to the Kickstarter project and they make a nice keepsake that ties in with the story, something you can’t do with normal publishing.

 

What was the biggest challenge you faced, publishing a book using Kickstarter?

Admittedly Kickstarter can be restricting as a publishing platform in the sense that it will only go ahead if you meet your funding goal, but this also means that there are no upfront costs as a self-publisher. Marketing can always be difficult, but with Kickstarter, your project is placed in front of people that are looking to back a project that they can connect with, which can be less scary than self-publishing to amazon and being lost in a sea of books.

 

Is there anything you learned from publishing your first book that helped you with The Girl Who Wasn’t There?

I never intended to release the Sisterhood outside of Kickstarter as I knew I was targeting the playing card project backers. But with The Girl Who Wasn’t There, I’ve placed it on Kickstarter as a comfort blanket. I wanted this one to head out into the world to a small group of people. I’m very self-critical, and the idea of people reading my work is quite scary, so with this book, I’m testing the water and depending on the response I may look into amazon or approaching a publisher.

 

Without giving too much of the plot away, you chose a female heroine for this book which has themes of isolation and entrapment. Will the particular experience of women in this era, particularly working class women, be a leading theme in the book?

The main character, Lucy, had grown up in the workhouse and then sent out into the world to look for work once old enough. For young women of this time, working as a servant girl was extremely common. You would work from five in the morning to ten at night, nonstop and with great physical effort. There wasn’t much room for a personal life, no days off. Many became institutionalised by this lifestyle, trapped within their work as the alternative was street life. When Lucy is sent to Corvus Creek Manor, no matter how hard it becomes for her, she reminds herself that there isn’t anywhere else to go. She becomes trapped and this forces her to discover the meaning behind the strange events that occur.

 

What do you hope your readers will feel when they read The Girl Who Wasn’t There?

Fingers crossed, if I’ve done my job well, the readers should feel tense and scared of the ghostly appearance. With the isolated location and the fear of the fact that there is nowhere else to go, I hope the reader wills Lucy to discover the reason these events are happening, and finish the story satisfied that the haunting tale was worth the journey.

 

 

 

15 hours ago, vodkafan said:

Do we get to ask him questions?

Yes! If anybody has any questions just post them here or send them to me in a private message before Saturday 15th August :)

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My question got answered already! Kirk I can see you have put a lot of effort into the research. This tunnel book sounds like something I must have as well!

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 Even with extensive accurate research, It's incredibly difficult to convey the feeling of being in Victorian times; some quite successful authors (in my opinion) have failed utterly and their novels feel like a stage play set in modern times.  Do you think you have avoided that?

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On 10/08/2020 at 2:00 PM, vodkafan said:

 Even with extensive accurate research, It's incredibly difficult to convey the feeling of being in Victorian times; some quite successful authors (in my opinion) have failed utterly and their novels feel like a stage play set in modern times.  Do you think you have avoided that?

Kirk's reply:

 

It is extremely tough to imagine a time different to our own. The Victorian world, on the surface, doesn't look too dissimilar to today but the separation of class is all to clear, this divide makes it easier to distinguish the difference between a good life and a poor one. My research into the life of a maid made it clear that it was difficult, and many were trapped in this employment as the alternative was to live on the streets, and being a women meant you could only find work in a few select places. Throughout The Girl That Wasn't There, I tried to give Lucy the feeling of being trapped by her location, by her job and by holding her tongue to those above her station. This way of life gives a writer a lot of freedom to test a character and to see how much they can handle before they can break, which ultimately was what happened to a lot of women that left the employment of a maid. In The Girl That Wasn't There I've simply added the ghost element to push Lucy beyond all other pressures. So fingers crossed the pressure of Victorian life comes across.

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