Tell the Damn Story! The Fates by Rosie Garland | Magazine | Interviews | Literary Fiction | Speculative Fiction

By Rosie Garland

‘The past is another country; they do things differently there.’

Or so I was told. I’m not convinced…

I have a passion for language nurtured by public libraries. As a geeky kid in an isolated rural backwater, I spent a fair amount of my childhood feeling quite lonely. I turned to books. You might say they saved me. Saturday was the best day of the week. While Mum did the shopping, I was let loose in the local library. It was a marvel. I was allowed to choose four books, which were mine to enjoy for a whole week. Wonder of wonders: the Saturday after there were four more to choose from, then four more. I didn’t just read books, I devoured them.

From fairy tales to Alice in Wonderland, E.A. Poe to ee cummings, Asterix to Beowulf, science fiction to science fact, I explored new worlds, learned new things, thought new thoughts. And always, I found myself drawn back to ancient history and myth. It was the beginning of a love affair that’s still going strong.

In reading, I found a loyal companion. In writing, I discovered I could create a roomful. I made tiny storybooks for my dolls (they were good listeners). Combined with my fascination for ancient history, it wasn’t long before I was setting my stories in the past. In the boundless way of a child, time was elastic. As I grew, I set my stories in the past, the future or out of time entirely. What mattered – and still matters – was the story; the lives of the characters: their hopes and disappointments, struggles and successes, being knocked known and getting back up again.

Fast forward. Far from being lonely, I am now blessed with a network of sustaining friendships around the globe. As a writer, I relish spending time with my invisible friends; the ones who spring from the imagination. Over and over, the past is where my characters compel me to go. I’ve learnt to trust them, even if they do wake me up when they come calling at 3am…

However, I don’t write the past because I regard it as quaint, safe and charming; a never-never-land where everything was better. When I encounter fictionalisations portraying people from ‘days of yore’ as one-dimensional tropes (the simple peasant, swooning damsel, square-jawed hero etc), I switch off. I am at odds with the saw ‘the past is another country; they do things differently there’ (L.P. Hartley in The Go-Between). My personal conviction is that we haven’t changed much. We share the same motivations. Love tastes like love and malice like malice, whatever the era. We just wear different trousers.

Love for the ancient world has come full circle in The Fates, my re-imagining of the Greek myth of the three immortal sisters who weave the lives, and deaths, of humankind for eternity.

Why did I choose to retell an ancient Greek myth? Because I can’t get enough of them. Myths are told and retold. We come round to them again and again because they ask central questions we haven’t tired of asking; the ethical and moral challenges we’ve grappled with since we huddled around the first hearth: loyalty and betrayal, honesty and tyranny, mercy and revenge. It’s no surprise the Marvel retelling of the Thor myth and Loki spinoff is so successful.

Taking a step back in time can make it easier to see the trees, so to speak. Ancient settings provide a sense of distance, which can be handy when exploring complex subjects.  For example, one theme in The Fates is the nature of power: who wields it wisely, who abuses it, and who gets trampled along the way. A universal and timeless question, as significant in ancient Greece as today. Told through the lens of adventures with Gods and monsters, heroines and heroes, I can explore big issues such as this in an exciting and engaging narrative – and crucially, without descending into polemic.

In writing the past, I find a freedom to plunge into fictional voices. I am reminded of Tim O’Brien’s ‘story-truth is sometimes truer than happening-truth’, and Emily Dickinson’s ‘tell the truth but tell it slant’. I have a penchant for slipping things under the radar, telling the stories of those who don’t make it into the history books. In The Fates, I take these overlooked and sidelined characters, place them centre stage and give them the opportunity to speak for themselves, and tell their side.

However, I need more than ‘feisty’ women waving swords around. There’s an emotional core to The Fates, exploring where we might find hope in difficult times, or how it’s possible to sustain love when surrounded by greed and devastation.

And always, I keep Tom Clancy’s advice in mind: ‘tell the damn story’.

At heart, I’m interested in creating people who are generous and greedy, curious and silly, striving, cantankerous, nurturing, disobedient, sneaky and self-serving. Characters with unrequited desires because of guilt, self-denial, or fear of social condemnation. In short, characters who live and breathe and change as their desires change and develop. They get their hands dirty, struggling against the odds as they seize their own destiny.

In the words of Atalanta in The Fates: ‘I rescue myself.’

(c) Rosie Garland

Rosie Garland author photo (c) Carri Angel, Rivendell Studios

About The Fates by Rosie Garland:

You’ve heard the legends, now hear their truth . . .

Before Gods and mortals, there were The Fates – three sisters born out of Nyx’s darkness, destined to weave the lives, and deaths, of humankind for eternity.

But immortality is a heavy burden, and Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos are captivated by the gloriously human lives of the mortals below, especially those of the great warrior Atalanta and her ill-fated lover, Meleager.

However, being a Goddess of Fate doesn’t make you a master of it. Will these three sisters find a way to free the couple, and themselves, from their destinies? Or will they be bound by Fate forever?

The Fates by Rosie Garland is published by Quercus in Hardback, Ebook and Audiobook. Order your copy online here.

About the author

Rosie Garland has a passion for language nurtured by public libraries. She writes poetry, long and short fiction and sings with post-punk band The March Violets.

Rosie is the author of ‘The Palace of Curiosities’ (which won the Mslexia Novel Competition and was longlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize), ‘Vixen’ and ‘The Night Brother’, which was described by The Times as “a delight…with shades of Angela Carter.” Her new novel, ‘The Fates’ (Quercus) is a retelling of the Greek myth of the Fates.

Her latest poetry collection, ‘What Girls do the Dark’ (Nine Arches Press), was shortlisted for the 2021 Polari Prize. Val McDermid has named her one of the most compelling LGBT+ writers in the UK today. In 2018-2019 she was inaugural Writer-in-Residence at The John Rylands Library, Manchester, and in 2023 was made a Fellow of The Royal Society of Literature.

Subscribe to our newsletter

Get all of the latest from delivered directly to your inbox.

Featured books