Three tight plots weave into one neat, fairy-tale-esque package in Karin Tidbeck’s latest, The Memory Theater. From tea parties that never end, to the danger of names, to a theater troupe performing memories, this novel has all the trappings of something gothic and atmospheric. Author Karin Tidbeck stops by the blog to talk about the drafting process, the evolution of the story, and putting together the short play at the very end.
Crafting The Memory Theater
From where did you draw inspiration? Which element of the story came to you first? Was it the atmosphere, the characters, the folklore or something else entirely?
Inspiration for this project came from a myriad different places. It was written over the course of six years, so that’s a lot of input from various sources. But the very foundation was laid when I organized a LARP together with a couple of friends back in 2005. It was about the division between humanity and fae, and what modern life has done to the lives of the fair folk. The theater troupe in the book also stem from my thoughts about collaborative storytelling and immersion into a character. And then there’s the folklore of my country, and stories that my grandparents and parents told me about Sweden in the 1940’s. Somewhere in there there’s a bit of many worlds theory, too, that I read and had my way with.
What surprised you most as you worked on this story? Did some moments stay the same from the very beginning or did others morph into something else entirely?
I think what surprised me after a while was the fact that I was working on another novel. Amatka was something of an accident, and The Memory Theater was as well. I didn’t set out to write a novel, exactly, but the various stories called out to me and I had to do their bidding. Some moments in the novel are almost identical to their original stories, such as the opening where Dora and Thistle are hiding under a table at the party. Others seemed to come out of nowhere, such as the plays that the theater troupe put up, or the play that Thistle ends up writing. For the longest time I didn’t know how the whole thing was going to end; I had a few different outcomes lined up. But eventually, it became clear how it was going to come together. Out of the characters, Ghorbi was the one who grew the most. In the first drafts, she was this sneaky character who basically dispenses information, but I realized that she needed her own agenda. And so she told me who she was. All in all, I’m always surprised when a story comes together. My final drafts usually look nothing like the first drafts. That’s true here as well.
Of the characters, did you have a favorite, either with respect to their personality or role in the story?
I love all my children, but because I’m a book nerd and used to work in a bookstore, Pinax has a special place in my heart. Their love of the written word reflects my own. Also their love of teatime, or fika as we call it in Sweden.
What was your favorite scene or moment to write?
My absolute favorite scene – and the most difficult one – was to write the play. For those who haven’t read the book, there’s a short play written in blank verse. Since English is my second language, I’m not comfortable with poetry, even less so with meter. But it was the logical thing to do, and it’s not exactly my modus operandi to make things easy. It was a lot of fun, I gave myself permission to be as cheesy as I wanted to, and English lends itself very well to blank verse. Also I got to use “zounds!”.
How did you know that this was the next project to work on?
It took a while. Eventually I realized that these different scraps told a bigger story, and that it was what I wanted to do. What I had to do, really. It was a story that wanted to be told. It’s a lot like how Amatka came to life – I accidentally novel.
What are some books that you’re particularly excited about, not limited to 2021 releases?
I mostly listen to books, so I’m very particular about narrators and have found some that I love. I just finished listening to Susanna Clarke’s Piranesi, narrated by Chiwetel Ejiofor. Brilliant book, fantastic narration. Right now I’m finally making my way through N.K. Jemisin’s The City We Became, which I have to listen to in small doses because there’s just so much going on. And it’s read by one of my favorite narrators, Robin Miles. I don’t know what I’m going to read next – I try to keep up with current releases, but it’s so hard! I’ve been wanting to read Rivers Solomon’s work, which might be my next project.
Karin Tidbeck lives and works in Malmö as a freelance writer and translator, and writes fiction in Swedish and English. They debuted in 2010 with the Swedish collection Vem är Arvid Pekon?. The English debut, the 2012 collection Jagannath, was awarded the Crawford Award 2013 and shortlisted for the World Fantasy Award as well as honor listed for the Tiptree Award. The novel Amatka was shortlisted for the Locus Award and Prix Utopiales 2018. A new novel, The Memory Theater, is out now.