Author and Scriptwriter

'Among the most important writers of contemporary British horror.' -Ramsey Campbell

Thursday, 24 January 2019

The Lowdown with... Jeanette Ng

Jeannette Ng is originally from Hong Kong but now lives in Durham, UK. Her MA in Medieval and Renaissance Studies fed into an interest in medieval and missionary theology, which in turn spawned her love for writing gothic fantasy with a theological twist. She used to sell costumes out of her garage. She runs live roleplay games and sometimes has opinions on the internet.

1. Tell us three things about yourself.
Thing #1: So when I was six, I wanted to change my name to Cinderella. I was probably just into the Disney film because of sparkles and pretty dresses, but it has since imprinted upon my soul. I still read pretty much every retelling and reimagining of the cinder girl that crosses my path.
Thing #2: My favourite saint is Thecla, who after listening to Paul preach about chastity decided to run away from her fiancĂ© and stalk Paul instead. She then went around healing people, trailing miracles in her wake. When the authorities sentenced her to be torn apart by wild animals, the lionesses in the pit came to her aid and defended her. She self-baptised by leaping into a vat of man-eating seals (lightning came down to strike down the seals, don’t worry). Though the pendant I wear is of St Dymphna, who protects against mental illness.
I should probably also note that I’m neither actually religious nor Catholic. I’m just a medievalist who likes hagiography.
Thing #3: I write and run live role play games. The last one my ref team and I did was wuxia-inspired, which I was very proud of. I finally got to try and reenact the tropes I grew up with in Hong Kong into a roleplay game. One learns a lot when trying to pare down a culture into a page of A4 for a player to quickly digest. Also, my housemate and best friend embroidered a mantle that is worthy of the gods. It had on it all the animals of the zodiac.

2. What was the first thing you had published?
I’m not completely sure, but I think it’s 'Three Hundred Years' in Mythic Delirium. It’s free online still, and it’s a short story about a mermaid anchorite. I was rereading Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Mermaid and felt that more should be made of its religious themes. Most retellings focus on her desire for romantic love rather than an immortal soul, when she wanted both in the HCA text and one is the means to the other. If a human man were to love and marry her, the mermaid would share in his soul and thus gain one of her own. At the same time, I was reading a lot of 12thC anchorite theology as well and this motif of Christ the Bridegroom who loves you for your soul, that his love is both romantic and redemptive, all this just seems to fit together in an interesting and creepy way. So I wrote a few thousand words inspired by that.

3. Which piece of writing are you proudest of?

Anything I can finish, to be honest. I’m very good at first chapters and not so much the last few. I always say my hard drive is a graveyard of beginnings.
I am probably most proud of 'How the Tree of Wishes Gained Its Carapace of Plastic', which appears in Not So Stories, edited by David Thomas Moore. It’s based on a real wishing tree in Hong Kong that my father lives near. The gimmick was to tell the story of the tree and some regional history with the veneer of folklore and metaphor. Explain along the way why the plastic tree can be as real as one of bark and wood and sap. It’s quite short even for a short story but it’s also very personal for me.

4. …and which makes you cringe?
I know that there are those who think it’s a selling point (and I love you all), but I still regret not editing out the lyrics that I accidentally quoted in Under the Pendulum Sun. I was listening to a lot of Hamilton on loop at the time and it just happened...

5. What’s a normal writing day like?
It usually takes a lot of pottering about the house before I can settle in to write. I try to get all the chores out of the way, else I’ll feel a sudden desire to do laundry halfway through a tricky sentence. I like the quite of the night, or at least early evening, when I know there’s nothing to interrupt me. I wash my face with cold water because that tricks my brain into thinking I’m drowning and the burst of wakefulness is handy. I have a thermos of hot water and a teabag of Pu’r on hand and yeah, then I try to write.
I’ve always written at night. I started when I was at boarding school, partly because it was the longest stretch of uninterrupted time I had to myself. No one was going to need me to rescue them from daddy long legs, nor would there be an impromptu Korean romcom party that I just had to go to. I’m not sure writing in the small hours is a very good habit because it means I can be going to bed at 8am the next morning having logged several thousand words, but sadly I’m also quite set in my ways.

6. Which piece of writing should someone who’s never read you before pick up first?

I’ve only really got one novel out, so Under The Pendulum Sun is where I would steer most readers. It’s a gothic novel about some Victorian missionaries who go to fairyland. It ends very poorly for them and along the way a lot of theology gets discussed and a number of creepy things happen.
I do write things that aren’t gothic pastiche.

7. What are you working on now?
A thousand things and nothing, to be honest. I’m smack in the middle of the well-documented phenomenon known as the second book blues. I’m doing a lot of research and frankly I’m more comfortable talking about the binned projects with snappy summaries than I am of the amorphous blob of the work in progress. Borgias in Space is on hold. As is the excursion with Venetian glass blowers and mask-wearing demons. There’s a whole 50k of sleeping beauty wakes up in Napoleonic France that had to go. I mourn all of them and I’m sure they’ll get recycled in a decade or so, but for now, they can languish in the folder of doom.

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