New Author Spotlight – Angela Rega
What drew you to writing stories that move across genres? Is this a new direction for your writing?
I grew up in a migrant household where the only sport was storytelling. My grandmother couldn’t read, (she would often pretend and sit with the book upside down in front of her) but she would tell stories. They were grounded in a world where the real and magic, love and horror, tragedy and humour all intertwined. There were no boundaries – a story could have it all. I guess my writing has always been like that, too. When I’m itching to write a story I don’t think about genre, I go where it takes me. Genres are great for cataloguing books in libraries but I think restrict you if you think about placing a story within a particular template.
The theme for this issue is Runaway. Please talk a little about how your story reflects that. Did you write it for the theme, or was it something that you’d already completed that seemed to fit?
The story was something I’d already completed.
“Shedding Skin” is a story about escape. It is about escaping from the social and cultural constructs that strangle our uniqueness and returning to the essence of self. Most of us live our lives governed by cultural and societal constraints and conditioning. I wanted to write a character that was brave enough to break free of those things. Sometimes, too, a sense of returning to self can be found in place. Sometimes we go somewhere we have never been and it feels like we are returning. ‘Run away’ means to me ‘Run Towards’. In that act we return to some aspect of ourselves.
“Shedding Skin” isn’t about Good versus Evil and its main character doesn’t so much as daydream about performing messianic feats of heroism. What were the challenges in telling an elegant, relatable story without resorting to those tired and ‘truthy’ tropes?
The beauty of stories that cross genres is that they expel the expectation of tropes that stories within a specific genre demands. Good and evil are just opposite sides of the coin and one doesn’t exist without defining the other.
“Shedding Skin” takes an intimate look at one woman’s escape from socially mandated self-destruction, and the significant risks and rewards associated with self-love. Was it difficult to tell an inspirational story without its voice being preachy or its message heavy-handed?
I’m so glad it didn’t have a preachy voice! I don’t think writing in a didactic style suits stories. The characters have to speak for themselves, take their own risks. I guess you have to let them and see where the story takes you. Writing is rewriting and in that process comes the layers of story that hopefully remove heavy-handedness.
There are several strong mythological notes struck in “Shedding Skin.” From where did you draw those influences?
Shape-changing stories have always intrigued me. Tales of skins or scales all deal with the return to the original wildskins, shedding of the constraints of what it is to be human and a return to the wildness of self.
One of the stories I was told when young was about a man who was known to be a werewolf and went wild on the full moon. He was locked up in the barn at full moon and then the tale went that his daughter, too, became one, and she was locked up, too. Locked up to protect them from themselves. These tales always intrigued me. I used to beg to be retold that story over and over. I always wondered what would have happened if they’d escaped. I felt pity for them.
Another influence is the shape-changing tale of Melusine. To me, Melusine is a tale of a woman reclaiming her own space, that every woman needs time to be alone without being objectified or servile.
I wanted to mesh stories from my own migrant upbringing into the country I was raised in and chose my two favourite Australian animals, the dingo and the crow for this shape changing tale. I then added to the mix the obsession of hair removal with women as a way of denying the wild within.
Tell us something about your future writing projects. Are you developing more short stories? Do you have a novel in the works?
I am a slow writer but a steady one. I’m currently working on a novel that deals with exile both self-imposed and imposed by an external force, the dispossession of personal memory and the Australian migrant experience.
I’ve also just finished the first story of a series of shorts about totem girls.
Where is your favorite writing place? Can you draw us a visual picture of the kind of space you create for yourself when you write?
I’m in between homes at the moment so am feeling a little displaced in terms of my writing space. I move into my new place in a few weeks. It is a tiny shoebox of an apartment with a magnificent view of a sandstone spire of a building that was once a church and now a vintage clothes shop. Small spaces require objects to take on multiple personalities so my dining table will also be my desk and it will definitely look out to that view. And of course a writing space isn’t really a writing space for me unless I am book-ended by my two feline companions and have a cup of cold coffee on my right hand side.
What’s the question that you wish someone would ask, but no one ever has?
I wish people would ask questions to our youth. As a Teacher/Librarian in a high school I’m always blown away by what young people have to say about the world they live in and their astute perceptions on life and their ability to grow and change. As a teenager there seems to be an inherent understanding of the fact that we all, in a way, get lost or trapped from time to time and need to find ourselves. As adults we forget that this can happen over and over, each time we evolve to another level of self. Young people haven’t forgotten how to take risks to challenge social, moral and cultural constraints. This is why I love my day job as a high school teacher. My students challenge me and keep me listening to heart truths.
What’s the answer to the question in number 8?
Take time to talk to a young person and actively listen to what they have to say. Then find the young person within yourself.
Is there anything I didn’t ask that you think is important or that readers might want to know?
I keep a little website with a blog at: http://angierega.webs.com.