In the newsletter today: a Q&A with Katie McIvor, author of ‘Pongo’, the latest IZ Digital story and more great IZ Digital fiction you might have missed
Katie very kindly let me ask her some questions for the IZ newsletter:
IZ: Your book Three Stories was recently published by Ram Eye. The blurb is fantastic:
‘He dreams of lying at the bottom of a bog and tasting the layers of peat, mud, acid, moss, all the way up to the sky.’
Desires both dark and domestic haunt Katie McIvor’s three short stories. Her characters long for release, for love, for success, for community; things they once had, things they lost. Things they’ll go far to retrieve, deep into distant worlds and misty marshland where the earth breathes and the brackish waters hold secrets. Deep into themselves, and all of the horrors they’ll find there.
How far will we go for what we want? What will we do to get there? And will it be worth it, if we lose ourselves along the way?
The quote at the top of that is from ‘We Bleed Water’, a brilliant story first published in Three-Lobed Burning Eye. What can you tell Interzone readers about that collection?
Katie McIvor: I was very lucky to be selected for the open call by Ram Eye Press. It was magical getting to see my stories in their own little book, and it felt like the perfect home for them, especially since the profits have gone towards supporting my chosen charity, the Scottish Wildlife Trust. I am fascinated by bogs (they appear in quite a few of my stories), and Scotland’s surviving peatlands are internationally important as wildlife habitats, as well as for storing carbon. ‘We Bleed Water’ is kind of a love letter to one of my favourite bogs, the Moine Mhor in Argyll. The issue of how to preserve and protect our natural environment loosely links all three stories in the collection, which also features a future colony ravaged by radiation poisoning and an allotment society blighted by soil erosion. Having grown up constantly hearing about the dangers of climate change, and seeing how little progress we’ve made in preventing global warming, the question of what our future environment might look like is on my mind all the time. I think it’s a huge source of anxiety for people my age and younger, and it’s something I hope to keep exploring through my work.
IZ: Your story ‘O Sole Mio’ will be in INTERZONE #295. It has a very strong sense of place, and of character, and is also extremely mysterious. Those ‘dark and domestic’ desires. Emma Howitt has created an incredible illustration for it. Did you have a particular image or setting in mind when you started writing it?
Katie McIvor: Emma’s illustration is so beautiful, I still have to pinch myself every time I see it! The story was inspired by a real ice cream van, which drives along our street pretty much every day, even in winter, and never seems to sell any ice cream. At first we joked that it must be a front for selling drugs, but then I started imagining other possibilities, and Beth’s story was born. O Sole Mio is about motherhood, and probably feeds off a lot of my anxieties about having children, but it’s also heavily themed around childhood – the associations of the ice cream van, the remembered summers, the wish to go backwards into a simpler time. It was also partly inspired by the idea of time loops, which I got interested in after reading Sean Carroll’s book From Eternity to Here: The Quest for the Ultimate Theory of Time. A similar version of the time loop idea appears in my short story ‘Mabinogion’, which is forthcoming in Kaleidotrope. …
IZ: Out today in IZ Digital is ‘Pongo’. The only other about a very different voyage of discovery to the journey taken (out and back) in ‘O Sole Mio’; but for me, the stories resonate with each other in interesting ways. And ‘Pongo’ is also an exploration of grief, obsession, madness, and of how much it can hurt to really /care/. What is the origin of your orangutan story?
Katie McIvor: This one has actually been in my head for a long time now – I think I started writing it almost ten years ago, which makes me feel very old! I’d been reading Heart of Darkness and wanted to try and write something with a similar vibe (hence the seafaring setting and the ‘Mistah Kurtz’ moment). I’ve always been interested in apes, due to their similarities to us and their endangerment in the wild, and it blows my mind how recent primatology is as a scientific discipline. Biruté Galdikas was the first person to conduct field studies of orangutans, for example, and that was only in the 1970s – she’s still alive today! The Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii) was only recognised as a distinct species in 1996. In previous centuries, hardly anything was known about the great apes. The genus name Pongo dates from the sixteenth century, when an English prisoner in Angola encountered a great ape named Pongo (probably a gorilla), and the name was then applied to apes in general by European scientists.
All of this seemed like a good opportunity to mess around with some scientific history, by inserting a proto-primatologist into the mid-nineteenth century and sending him off in search of these mysterious creatures he knows absolutely nothing about. Dr Potts is a classically repressed Brit, so it made sense for him to be dealing with some unimaginable grief that he can’t express. Instead he finds reflections of himself in this human-like ape. The themes of obsession and madness tied in to that nicely, and are further explored through his friendship with the doomed Professor. I studied Celtic languages at university, so it was a lot of fun for me creating a treasure hunt that centred around Old Irish.
IZ: What have you been reading lately that has left an impression? Any recommendations?
I recently finished Birnam Wood by Eleanor Catton. I’ve been a huge fan of Eleanor Catton ever since The Luminaries, and it was fascinating to see her going in more of a crime thriller/social satire direction with her new novel. It tackles some big issues to do with environmental responsibility and generational politics, and is also very, very funny. Definitely recommend!
Become an IZ Digital member to read Katie McIvor’s ‘Pongo’.
Interzone subscribers can read all IZ Digital exclusives for free – taking out a subscription is the best way to support both magazines (but read to the end of the newsletter for other ways to support Interzone…
If you already subscribe, but don’t have the IZ Digital password yet, send me an email, thanks!
Katie McIvor’s ‘Pongo’, out today, joins these other recent member exclusives, none of which you’ll want to miss:
Now, I know compliments about our strengths slip through our fingers like stream water, while obsessions with our weaknesses sit in our palms like rocks, but you must remember this, it is imperative you never forget, or you will not make it through this long, disquieting, and often gruelling process.
You are ready.
Thomas Ha is always surprising, always exciting to read, but I wasn’t ready for where he would take me in ‘On Planetary Palliative Care’.
Here is Ai Jiang’s take on the story:
About the unwillingness to let go, the preciousness and terrors of time, and what it means for there to be the death of a home – an existence. To know that you hold the weight of life in your hands and that mistakes are a possibility.
All that, and more. (Join the IZ Digital Ko-fi – just a euro a month – to read it today.)
And if you enjoy that one and want more Thomas Ha, I recommend ‘Our Quiet Guests’ (3LBE Magazine #37, November 2022).
Here is what Tim Major had to say about it in his newsletter:
‘The Brazen Head of Westinghouse’ is about Elektro, the robot that was exhibited at the 1939 New York World’s Fair, who could walk, talk and (oddly enough) smoke cigarettes. It’s quite a sweet and sad little story, I think.
It’s significant to me as it’s the first published story from a project I’ve been working on during recent months: a series of stories based on ‘Great Robots of History’, which I hope will result in a published collection at some point. So far, I’m eight stories and 30,000 words in, and I’m having terrific fun.
I had terrific fun reading it, and the fantastic robot art is by Michael Whiteshoes, an artists based in New York.
‘The Nine Dioptres will come out through the cuts?’
‘Yes,’ Nuada agreed, for want of a better explanation.
‘Well, how can this be against Holy Law. Please cut my eyes, Nuada.’
In this story, her second for IZ Digital, Lyle Hopwood takes us to an uncomfortably plausible future London; but the story is about Aminah and how she comes to see a world beyond her own.
Emma Howitt’s art for ‘Nine Dioptres’ (at the top of this section) is spectacular. The composition is a nod to the The Wizard of Oz, and as Emma pointed out to me, the two stories resonate with each other in interesting ways.
Last but not least, the opening of a new story from Charles Wilkinson about strange happenings in the Welsh Marches:
It’s almost lunchtime when he finds the correct spot, a large area of flat ground filled with row upon row of cabbages. The rain has slackened to a mizzle, though the worst of it can still be seen in the distance: a blur of spindrift hazing an upturned, boat-like hill. The field is bisected by a muddy path that leads to a university, leaning at an odd angle in the far corner. For such an institution, a prestigious language laboratory and research centre is what the government’s been told, it’s a surprisingly compact craft. As the cloud cover begins to clear, the gleam on its silver surface contrasts with the dull grey-green of the dripping cabbages. Opal wonders why the university failed to touch down at the site near the city, for which it had been given a permit. It’s characteristic of the government department for which he works that no one bothered to check this sooner. Apparently a deal with the farmer, a considerable number of whose cabbages must have been crushed by the descent, has been reached.
Join IZ Digital to find out what exactly is going on in the Welsh Marches, years after the Great Heat.
That’s all I’ve got!
Thanks for reading.
Gareth Jelley, Editor & Publisher
Interzone & IZ Digital
‘There are worlds built on rainbows and worlds built on rain. There are worlds of pure mathematics, where every number chimes like crystal as it rolls into reality. There are worlds of light and worlds of darkness, worlds of rhyme and worlds of reason, and worlds where the only thing that matters is the goodness in a hero’s heart.’
— Seanan McGuire, Down Among the Sticks and Bones