BackStory: Five Questions with Elou Carroll
Author of I Am Held in the Hands of God Who Is Named Walter Potter
What inspired you to write “I Am Held in the Hands of God Who Is Named Walter Potter; or, from the Case of ‘The Death and Burial of Cock Robin’”
When I was around seven, my family went on holiday to Cornwall. I remember being told all about the Beast of Bodmin Moor—I was a wimp so the entire time we were around Bodmin, I thought a beast was going to pop out and eat me. While there, we found our way to the Jamaica Inn, wherein, quite accidentally, we saw an exhibition that used to be housed in Walter Potter’s Museum of Curiosities. This didn’t help with the fear but now I really appreciate it.
I remember vividly all of the dark and whimsical cases, The Death and Burial of Cock Robin with its barn owl gravedigger especially—I’ve always been a little bit obsessed with owls. Fast forward a couple of decades and I had convinced myself I’d imagined it—this small set of dark rooms filled with stuffed animals in glass cases, trussed up in finery.
Imagine my surprise when I saw the subject of what I thought was years of strange daydreams flashing up innocuously amongst a slideshow of photographs in a random article. I’d planned to write about what I thought was my imagination for a while, discovering that it was real felt like a sign.
What is are your favourite pieces of historical flash? What do you like about them?
Soul Theft by Remi Skytterstad. I love Remi’s work—this piece, especially. The amount of pain packed into so few words is incredibly powerful.
Professor Lazzo’s Stupendous Flea Circus by Jennifer Falkner. Circus stories always get me. I adore the whimsy.
I’m being a bit cheeky with this last one, as it comes from my own literary venue but I had to include it: Bridget Cleary’s Fingers by Morgan Quinn. I love everything about this story, from the form to the beautiful use of language. I’d also not heard of Bridget Cleary when I read it, so it sent me down quite the rabbit hole.
Were there any interesting facts, details, or turns of phrase that didn’t quite make the final piece?
I wanted to reference all of the different tableaux. Walter Potter was prolific in his taxidermy, and they’re all very weird and very Victorian. I would have loved to have popped some more of them in there but it wouldn’t have done them justice. They definitely need more words than I had space for. (There might be another Walter Potter-inspired story in my future.)
What, if anything, do you have in common with your main character?
My partner would like me to answer this one with: we are both deceased. Thankfully, I am not a taxidermy creature quite yet but I do like hanging about in graveyards, so I suppose we have that in common.
How important is historical accuracy to you in your own writing?
I love getting a bit flirty with the truth, both in reading the work of others and writing my own. There is a place for both straight historical fiction and alternative history—I definitely lean towards the alternative in my own writing, adding a little sprinkle of magic here and there, and a monster or two. Probably in reading too, come to think of it. I like a little sparkle and a little shadow, even if not strictly factual.
Elou Carroll is a graphic designer and freelance photographer who writes. Her work appears or is forthcoming in The Deadlands, Hexagon SF Magazine, In Somnio (Tenebrous Press), Spirit Machine (Air and Nothingness Press), Ghostlore (Alternative Stories Podcast) and others. She is the editor of Crow & Cross Keys, and tweets from @keychild.
Detail of the owl from Walter Potter’s ‘The Death and Burial of Cock Robin’ from a photograph by Taxidermy Emporium Ltd, www.taxidermyemporium.co.uk, which you can see in full here; reproduced with permission from Taxidermy Emporium Ltd.