‘Miko crept upstairs a slippery ghost on high alert clutching a heart flip flopping in his chest’
Where Decay Sleeps
By Anna Cheung
Published by Haunt Publishing
I am Katalina Watt and I’m delighted to be joined by Anna Cheung to talk about her debut poetry collection Where Decay Sleeps, which is forthcoming with Haunt Publishing in September 2021. To kick us off Anna, could you tell us both about your inspirations and aspirations for the collection?
Yes, for the inspirations, I grew up with a fascination for horror and the dark side. I loved to read and watch movies about monsters, whether vampires, zombies, werewolves, or mythological beasts. The collection reflects my love for these stories and a tribute to these creators who brought these monsters to life whether in the pages of a book or onscreen.
As for the aspirations, popular gothic horror fiction is mostly written and consumed in prose form. I’d like the collection to be a crossover where it can appeal to both prose and poetry readers. Like short stories the poems have a narrative thread, which engages the reader through suspense but with poetic language to evoke imagery and emotion.
That’s great, thank you. One thing I really loved about the collection is that it’s separated into various sections, beginning with Pallor Mortis (Birth) and ending with Skeletonisation (Metamorphosis). Why did you decide to order the collection in this way?
When I first started writing the collection, I didn’t have a theme or arc of a theme to work with and I wanted things to take place naturally. I started writing first and maybe a third of the way through the collection I realised there were recurrent themes which kept coming out. I thought it would be nice to structure the collection according to themes. I chose the decomposition process because of its horror elements and to tie into that theme. I also wanted to convey decay and death is everywhere around us, whether organically or symbolically. You’ll have maybe decay existing in mental health and the vulnerabilities of the human body, love in all its various facets, and the pitfalls and addiction to using modern technology. It’s about the duality of life and death. You can’t have one without the other. It’s the cycle of life, the yin and yang. That’s where the essence of storytelling begins.
That’s such a great answer. Anna is going to read three poems for us: ‘Lost and Found’, ‘Claudine’, and ‘Summoning Baba Yaga’.
Lost and Found
Crushed poppies pour as tincture,
reddish-brown and pungent as fox,
onto the spoon and down my throat.
The rabbit hole journey begins
to core deep into unconsciousness,
branching out into lucid chambers
set with trap doors and dead ends.
I lose myself in cobbled streets
cloaked by the twilight hue.
I find myself under the clock;
midnight, but the wrong time.
I wander on wandering nowhere
looking for you, the empty square
silvered by moonlight and stars.
Your silhouette stretches ahead.
Opaque alleyways roll tongues,
devouring my footsteps whole
as I follow you into the shadows.
You stop and turn and I hold
my breath, trying to piece
together memories of you.
Slowly you unfold your body,
emerging as a shadow creature;
elongated legs and empty eyes.
Your torso is a shipwreck; a ribcage
with the remains of a human heart,
a heart once familiar to me.
I reach out, desperate yet afraid
but you scuttle
away from me
and into the night.
On the tower, under the bone-white moon,
my hand reached out for you but you fell away
like a stone plummeting down towards the forest.
You surrendered into freefall and unfurled;
a black-winged star as you raged upwards.
I was poisoned then, when your mouth curled in mine.
Rust-scented love promises petalled red on our tongues,
Only at my death do we part
My body corroded over time as it bore repetitious fruit,
flesh which ripened in indigo, iris and mustard under your lips.
We loosened slowly. I’d wake and notice that you were gone,
At dawn, you’d be there asleep; stone pallor softened/ sated.
I felt your absence everywhere; beside me, inside me,
in the perishing ember of your eyes, in your negative touch.
You’ve raged into the stars and I am left holding nothing
but ghosts bleached by the melancholy of the bone-white
moon; a lover forever lost in a transparent nightmare.
Summoning Baba Yaga
C’mon Stonie, we’d be legends
Sod you then
It was almost midnight
Stonie’s a loser
Miko crept upstairs
a slippery ghost on high alert
clutching a heart
in his chest
The bathroom doorway
was a black gash
Crushing his eyes shut
he spun around
He struck the matchstick and the flame flickered
long languid shadows along the walls
to the mirror
emotions dancing across his face in shifting shades
Inflating courage into his chest
The flame trembled
Miko’s eyes grew into huge glassy orbs
when he saw
over his shoulder and
in the dark
He felt a snag like a cobweb against his ear
and loose folds of chin sag soft on his neck
It emptied a smile
with pale gums
Miko fumbled for his phone
and the phone
A spiderweb cracked on shiny black
Your work contains vivid imagery and a tangible sense of place, and I love the way you bring monsters the reader may be familiar with into new and modern settings. I’m thinking particularly of ‘Baba Yaga’, which you just read for us, but also ‘Zombies@the Arches’ and ‘Monster Tinder’. What appeals to you about bringing these monsters into the modern age?
I thought it would be fun because I wanted to find out what type of synergy could be created in the process of combining the old with the new. I was quite surprised by the results. I’d ask questions like: what if monsters exist now and they were looking for love, and they had to use the Tinder app? What if monsters liked techno music and clubbing? By asking these questions this helped me gain further insight into the spin on the story, and how I could create something new from something old. It also helped me to approach these iconic characters from a different angle.
I love the idea of zombies dancing at The Arches and all these Glasgow landmarks which are familiar to us both and some of the listeners as well.
I have personal experience clubbing in Glasgow as well, so it’s good to bring that real-life experience to the writing. The collection reflects who I am as well in some senses.
Absolutely. I understand there’s an audiobook edition planned for Where Decay Sleeps.
That’s so exciting. I’d love to hear what your thoughts on audio as a medium for horror and the gothic?
I think audio’s extremely important particularly for horror and the gothic because it allows the audience to engage fully with their imagination and to use their own imagery in the full sense, compared to reading off the pages of a book. Think about campfire stories, whispered ghost tales in the dark. You can feel the thick sense of atmosphere, the fear, the suspense. I think you can only get that through audio. The oral tradition has existed for thousands of years and people used to gather in groups to listen to tales of folklore. It brought them a sense of community and belonging. The audio and oral storytelling format allows people to access these stories whether they could read or not.
That’s such a well-formed answer. I love the duality of going back to the history and tradition of the genre but also in terms of accessibility. People consume stories and media in different ways.
What would you like to see more of in horror and the gothic? What are you craving to read more?
There needs to be more women in gothic horror. Women, particularly women of colour, are still very underrepresented in this genre. It will be great to see more opportunities available to encourage them, nurture them, and recognise their work in this field. Also, I’d like to see more poetry collections in this genre as well. I think poetry has a lot to offer. It has the capacity to create an additional sense of atmosphere and evoke sensations and emotions. That could be utilised more in gothic horror fiction.
Great! For any authors or publishers listening, you heard it here first. Are there any specific BIPOC writers in these genres would you recommend to our listeners? I’m sure there are already people out there creating this amazing work.
I’m like any other fan of horror and I love reading stories which elicit that primal visceral fear within me. For example, Asa Nonami is a Japanese writer and she has a short story collection out called The Body, which is a lot about body horror. But it’s not just about explicit horror, I also like reading about more subtle elements. Something which creates a sense of unease, eeriness, makes you feel unsettled. Seeps slowly into the skin and leaves a long-lasting impression. Japanese writer Haruki Murakami is a surrealist novelist who captures that well. Christina Sng is an author from Singapore who infuses dreamlike qualities with her beautiful dark poetry.
That’s great, I’m noting those down for my future reading as well. Sadly, this brings us to the end of our interview. Thank you so much Anna for sharing your beautiful work and for sitting down with me today to talk about your forthcoming collection. I cannot wait for this to be out in the world.
KATALINA WATT’s writing was Longlisted for Penguin WriteNow 2020 and has been published in anthologies Ceremony, Haunted Voices, and Unspeakable and in magazines Malefaction’s Femme Fatale, Extra Teeth Issue Two, and Cunning Folk’s Re-Enchantment Issue. Her work has also been featured online for Glasgow Women’s Library and Bitter Melon. She is currently working on her debut short story collection inspired by Filipinx folklore. Katalina also works in Audio and Digital publishing and as Audio Director for khōréō, a speculative fiction magazine publishing immigrant and diaspora authors. Twitter: @KatalinaWatt. Website: https://www.katalinawatt.com/
ANNA CHEUNG is a poet based in Glasgow, Scotland. Her poetry has been published in Dark Eclipse , Dusk and Shiver, Haunt Publishing and Zarf Poetry. She has a forthcoming publication in Dreich Magazine. Her poem, ‘Survival of Solitude’, was included in an illustrated book (published by Speculative Books) by the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland gifted to breast cancer patients in the UK to help boost women’s body confidence and mental health. Aside from poetry, she has written reviews for Bearded Magazine and Musicovered. Her full-length debut poetry collection, ‘Where Decay Sleeps’, will be published by Haunt Publishing in September 2021. Twitter: @annasmcheung
Where Decay Sleeps by Anna Cheung is published by Haunt Publishing, September 2021, priced £9.99.
The Scottish BAME Writers Network (SBWN) provides advocacy, literary events and professional development opportunities for BAME writers based in or from Scotland. SBWN aims to connect Scottish BAME writers with the wider literary sector in Scotland. The network seeks to partner with literary organisations to facilitate necessary conversations around inclusive programming in an effort to address and overcome systemic barriers. SBWN prioritises BAME-led opportunities and is keen to bring focus to diverse literary voices while remaining as accessible as possible to marginalised groups.