Let’s start with an introduction: Who is Rym Kechacha?
I’m a writer and teacher from London, currently living in Norwich. I love: my vegetable patch, secondhand bookshops, endless cups of tea and bright sunny days.
Your new novel, Dark River, is about to be published by Unsung Stories. It looks really interesting: How would you introduce it to a potential reader?
Dark River is the twinned tales of Shaye and Shante, who live eight thousand years apart. In Mesolithic Doggerland, Shaye has to perform a ritual meant to keep her family safe from the floods that threaten her home. In a near future London where the Thames has broken its banks, Shante has to lead her family to safety in another city. Despite their devotion to their children, they both realise there is little they can do to save those they love.
What inspired you to write the novel? And where do you draw your inspiration from in general?
I was thinking about flood myths and their connection with the changing sea levels at the end of the last ice age. In deep, ecological time that’s just a heartbeat away from our own moment of environmental chaos and even though the two climate situations are completely different, there was still something that echoed for me as I began to write the story.
In general I draw my inspiration from mythology, fairytales and nature. And of course, other books! I definitely see my own writing as another stitch on a sprawling tapestry of stories. I can feel different obsessions ebb and flow in my work and at the moment I’m thinking a lot about the trickster figures from around the world, some of whom will probably make it into my work soon.
How were you introduced to genre fiction?
As a child in my local library the genre books were shelved alongside everything else so I just picked up whatever looked good to me, whether it was Animorphs or Swallows and Amazons. I think both the ideas of fighting a parasitic alien invasion and outdoor adventure in the Lake District seemed equally as probable for my suburban childhood! I moved from Diana Wynne Jones to Earthsea to Terry Pratchett and mixed it in with lots of other kinds of reading, but genre fiction — particularly lush, secondary world fantasy — always feels like coming home, back to the imaginative sphere of being a kid.
How do you like being a writer and working within the publishing industry?
Honestly, I don’t feel like I do work within the publishing industry, at least not yet. I feel very much like a passionate reader who is shyly pushing a book that I wrote on to the shelves to hang out with the others I love! I love using social media to find out what’s new coming out soon and what I’ve missed in years past to plan my fiction reading in quite a meticulous way.
I think publishing now has a kind of chaotic energy that’s obviously tricky to navigate in terms of getting work out there and getting everyone paid, but there’s something about it that reminds me of the very beginning of it all, at the invention of the printing press. If we can all handle the disruption and shattering of nineteenth century conventions, I think we’ll find something very rich in the wreckage.
Do you have any specific working, writing, researching practices?
I write in a word document, mostly moving chronologically through the story, and I research things as I go. I plan until I run out of ideas, and then I write, working things out as I go along, responding to the new things I find out about the characters and the story. Then when I get stuck I start to plan again and that sometimes helps me get the flow of the story going again. When I’m writing I always feel as though the story is there somewhere and I have to discover its true shape and structure by putting the words down. I find that getting started is the hardest thing. Once the story has its own momentum, it carries me through.
When did you realize you wanted to be an author, and what was your first foray into writing? Do you still look back on it fondly?
I used to be a ballet dancer and I wrote for a ballet website about my life at ballet school and then working in a ballet company. I loved writing it and when I got good feedback I started to connect the part of myself that was a keen reader with the potential writer in me. I do look back on those early blogs fondly, as long as I don’t go back and reread anything from then! It’s natural for anyone’s style and voice to change over time so I think the reaction of feeling a little embarrassed by what and how you used to write is very common.
What’s your opinion of the genre today, and where do you see your work fitting into it?
I think the genre is incredibly healthy. It’s getting more and more diverse in all kinds of ways and people are doing very interesting things slipping between genres and mixing different tropes up to be endlessly inventive. I hope my work also does this. I’d love people not to be able to categorise Dark River and but still have a sense of it being familiar.
Do you have any other projects in the pipeline, and what are you working on at the moment?
I’m working on a fantasy novel based on the paintings of a Spanish artist who lived and worked in Mexico for most of her life called Remedios Varo. She was often called a surrealist and her paintings are intricate scenes that you feel like you almost remember from a myth you heard once. I’ve loved researching the project, staring for hours at her incredibly detailed and skillful images and threading stories between the paintings.
What are you reading at the moment (fiction, non-fiction)?
I’m about to start reading Among Others by Jo Walton, which I saw recommended on social media somewhere and thought it looked up my street. I’m always on the lookout for great things in the genre that have passed me by and this seems to be one of them!
If you could recommend only one novel or book to someone, what would it be?
It would depend on the day you caught me! Today I think I’d have to recommend Blindness by Portuguese Nobel laureate José Saramago. It’s about a country in which everyone mysteriously goes blind and the subsequent breakdown of society. It’s a book that’s hard to read but so beautiful in its language and style; and completely essential in terms of how we think about human nature.
What’s something readers might be surprised to learn about you?
That I went to the 2018 European Juggling Convention on the beautiful island of São Miguel in the Azores. Sadly, I’m a terrible juggler but I had a wonderful time!
What are you most looking forward to in the next twelve months?
In the next year I’m going to have my first book and my first baby and they are slightly entwined in my mind as threshold moments in my life. I think I’m more nervous about the book than the baby, because the baby will eventually become more and more their own person with their own triumphs and mistakes in the world, whereas Dark River will always be my own words, floating out there, hoping to connect with people and bring them the same kind of pleasure I have had reading the words and worlds of others over the years.
Rym Kechacha’s Dark River is out now, published by Unsung Stories.
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