Rebecca's rescuing the fantasy novel

Published on: 24 Mar 2017

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The New Weird, where Bristol is a Utopia

Rebecca Lloyd wrote her book Oothangbart in  2000, but didn’t submit it to a publisher – “I couldn’t imagine anyone would grasp it, or want to publish it, because publishers want books they are sure will sell.”

That was, until she found Mick Lloyd (no relation) and Pillar Publishing - an independent publisher based in Limerick, Ireland, who produces books that are “out there and weird.” She sent it to him and he emailed back but “I couldn’t tell if he wanted it or not.” He did. He even came over to Bristol for the book launch last year.

New Zealander Rebecca lived in Tanzania for two years, working as a medical parasitologist. Then she settled in East London for 14 years, working in community development. Coming to the UK was difficult. “I wanted to live where people are poor, I’m more comfortable with that; where people live their lives more publicly.” She chose to move to Bristol and has now lived in Bedminster for more than a decade. “I’m not English so I don’t do the class thing,” she said. “But I like people’s ingenuity when they don’t have a lot of money.”

Rebecca started writing when she was living in Africa. “There was no electricity and nothing to do in the evenings. I lived with the Wapari people. In their tribe people who are the same age but not relations become confidantes, like brother and sister. I worked with a brilliant guy, who was rather twisted and weird, who was exactly my age. His stories were gob-smackingly wonderful, and gruesome. I started writing them, and never put the pen down. It’s an addiction.”

From those beginnings came Rebecca’s first novel, but it was never published. “It’s a precious thing and I hold on to it.”

Rebecca now has an extensive body of published work, including short story collections Jack Werret, the Flood Man (2016); Ragman & Other Family Curses (2016), Mercy and Other Stories (2014) and View From The Endless Street (2014) and novels Halfling (2011) and Oothangbart, published in 2016. 

She has accumulated a number of awards. “I’m supposed to be proud of being nominated for the World Fantasy Award.” But the actual prize was an effigy of early 20th century writer HP Lovecraft. “He was an appalling racist. If I’d won I would have given it back. What I’m really proud of is winning the Bristol Short Story Prize in 2008, for The
River, a love letter to the Thames.”

Rebecca is part of a loose movement known as the New Weird. It’s about “brilliant ideas and fantastic writing” and “an attempt to lift the horror genre, get it back to where it belongs – away from B movies and Stephen King, to something more literary, more considered; more delicate even.”

Rebecca’s next book is due out sometime in 2017, but there is no name yet. “The publisher doesn’t like the name I gave it,” she told me cheerfully.  The book includes seven or eight long short stories, or novellas. It’s her attempt to “fit in with the New Weird. I wrote deliberately into that genre, with ghosts and psychological peculiarities.” There’s a story about HP Lovecraft and his childhood, and one from the point of view of a neighbour of real-life occultist Aleister Crowley.

In the meantime Rebecca is working on her next novel, set in the 1850s, about spiritualism. Rebecca started writing Oothangbart, her most recently published work, when she was “dying to move to Bristol, it was on my mind.” In the book Bristol is a kind of Utopia, characters wonder if it really exists (some say it does, some say it doesn’t) and are forbidden to talk about it.

“I’ve no idea where the name came from,” Rebecca said. “I started writing it in the lunch hour of my last London job. I was really concerned about time; getting up at 4am to write before dawn, with a two-hour commute.” She started asking herself about time, “Who owns it? We’re always watching it.” Time is different in Oothangbart and includes New Time, when you wake up, and Trumpet Time, when you eat lunch.

Donal, the hero, is a dreamer struggling for individuality. There is also a love story, and adventure. And bagels ... used as a building material. 

The whole thing is summed up in the phrase ‘Flags are foolish, kites are fun’. “Flags separate people,” said Rebecca, “kites can go anywhere, do anything. I’m delighted if younger folks read and understand this – they don’t have to be constrained,
they can try to live bravely. It’s a simple story, with a lot of passion.” 

 

• Oothangbart is published by Pillar at £9 

 

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