How does it feel to have your first book published?
It’s absolutely exciting and absolutely terrifying all at the same time! It’s very nerve-wracking. Once you put something out there, you’re going to get loads of opinions about it. But obviously it’s kind of scary as well because you don’t know how it’s going to be received. The feedback so far has been absolutely brilliant. I feel really lucky that it’s going so well at this point.
The story is set on an island off the coast of Scotland ‘off the edge of the map’. What inspired you to set your story there?
For a long time I was trying to work out where to place the island, both in time and a location. I did a lot of research online looking at islands generally and found archive footage about [the remote Scottish island] St Kilda. The people in the films looked exactly how I imagined the people in Snake Ropes, so it was actually quite eerie when I looked at that. And then when I looked at the Visit Scotland website there was a quote there that said something like: "look at a map of the British Isles where St Kilda is almost falling off the edge". So my idea was, ‘If St Kilda is almost falling off the edge, what if slightly further away there is another island that’s existed all this time that is off the edge?"
Snake Ropes has a dual narrative between Mary, an island girl and Morgan who comes to the island from the mainland (which is based on our modern world). Why did you decided to have two narrators?
I wanted to have Morgan there to place the island in the modern world (and also outside of it) and Mary to be very much of the island - all she knows is the island - and to look at that clash of cultures.By bringing Morgan in as another narrator who is definitely from our modern world [I] was trying to bring the reader in to see, OK, this place could still exist.
The book has quite a dreamlike quality to it. Was this effect deliberate?
It kind of came out of the story. With Mary in particular, we’re working with an unreliable narrator and her realities sometimes do clash and merge as she remembers things - and also because there’s so much magic and mythology [in the story]. I wanted to really get a sense of that dreamlike quality where you’re not quite sure of what’s exactly real and what’s not real and what’s part of the mythology and what actually exists. So often it’s been quite a mix of that dreamlike quality and the reality of the island as well.
Did you enjoy making your own mythology and legends for the islanders?
That was so much fun! I think the only one I’ve borrowed from established mythology is the Seal Woman or the Selkie which exists in Celtic folklore. The rest of it was all very much based on what was around the island: it’s all about rock and sea and sky. And in terms of getting ideas, I kind of got them from everywhere. For example the Thrashing House, that was from an address label I found at work. And then there were things like the Glimmeras, who are these five women with their hair all tangled together. I wrote that after seeing a couple of Barbie dolls in a skip!
What are you working on next?
I’m working on my second novel as we speak. The title is going to be Cooking with Bones. It’s kind of an adult fairytale and it’s all about a dead body. We’re in the stage of the first round of edits at the moment so I’ll be working on that as Snake Ropes is going out into the world.
Snake Ropes by Jess Richards is published by Sceptre.