On the 8th April, Waterstones Gower Street invited Leon Craig, a writer and member of the LGBT+ writing collective The Future is Back, to celebrate and discuss the release of her debut short story collection Parallel Hells. Joined by her publisher, Charlotte Humphrey from Sceptre Books, the two explored Craig’s short story collection.
Craig began with a reading from the second story in her collection, 'Unfinished and Unformed', a queer retelling of the Golem tale from Jewish folklore. This fascinatingly strange tale explores the complex nature of what it is to exist as a human. Craig speaks to the Jewish origins of this folktale, noting that Jewish storytelling is embedded in British folklore right alongside fish and chips. She jokes that like many other Jewish writers she also must try her hand at the golem tale through Unfinished and Unformed.
Craig’s collection skilfully draws on several folktales, which she credits to her folklore-saturated childhood; witches haunted both her and her mother’s nightmares. The overlap between these childhood folktales and queer storytelling in the collection is incredibly fascinating. Craig explains that the combination of queer storytelling within her retellings of these classic tales allows for new explorations of queerness within these spaces. For example, speaking on her retelling of the Tam Lin story, she adapts it in order to explore feelings of parental alienation that many queer people experience.
As well as exploring the spaces of folklore, Craig also explores the genre of horror in this collection. She explains that the horror genre to her has always had an element of queerness under the surface. Therefore, for Craig, this genre gives space for a playful attitude towards horror tropes to ‘tell new resonant stories’. Queer horror is becoming increasingly popular, as Craig referenced the recent work of trans horror in Tell Me I’m Worthless by Alison Rumfitt. These explorations of queerness through horror are incredibly fascinating as they use familiar motifs whilst exploring feelings of alienation and experiences of queerness in a new way.
As well as Craig’s use of various genres in her new collection, the city of London is prominent throughout the short stories. She jokes that the collection was a ‘love letter’ to the city, as she was about to leave it for Berlin where she lives currently. She goes on to explain that London to her is overflowing with stories, given all the lives that intersect in the city. As the collection hops around different characters in London, she celebrates the extraordinary amount of lives and stories that the city contains.
In response to an audience question about hidden details in the collection, Craig reveals that although readers have been incredibly perceptive, her favourite detail that she left in the collection was the use of visual art. An excellent example of this is her use of The Strawberry Girl by Joshua Reynolds, held in the Wallace Collection. This painting, despite previously appearing on biscuit tins, is pretty frightening now, as even an audience member who used to work at the Wallace Collection vouched for the frightening interpretation of the painting.
Craig is currently writing a novel but when asked about the two forms she vouched that she doesn’t ever see herself abandoning the short story form. However, she does feel she will move through genres, and stated that she is currently interested in exploring historical fiction.
Although not revealing too much about her upcoming novel, she revealed three details: complicated and numerous love triangles), secret passages, and shadow people. I can’t wait to see what Leon Craig has in store for us next.
Parallel Hells is published by Sceptre. To find out about more events at Waterstones Gower Street you can look at their website here.
Edited by Maisie Allen, Literature Editor