Whenever a writer creates a fictional universe in which to set multiple stories, those stories are usually connected. But as writer A.G. Slatter says in the following email interview about her horror-infused Gothic fantasy fairy tale Path Of Thorns (paperback, Kindle), while this story takes place geographically near some of her other books, the shared space is often their only connection.
To open, what is The Path Of Thorns about, and what kind of world is it set in?
I keep saying it’s Frankenstein meets Jane Eyre meets Dark Shadows, so ghosts, witches, werewolves, general shenanigans against the backdrop of a big old gothic mansion. But Asher’s not the typical innocent young woman heading to a big house because she’s got no choice. She’s got a plan and her own secrets…
My understanding is that The Path Of Thorns is set in the same fictional world as your novel All The Murmuring Bones, your mosaic collection The Tallow-Wife And Other Tales, and your short story collections Sourdough And Other Stories and The Bitterwood Bible And Other Recountings.
That is correct.
So, how is Thorns connected to Bones and the stories, both in terms of chronology and narrative?
The Path Of Thorns happens a bit after the events of All the Murmuring Bones, but the connection is really only that they’re set in the same world. Although I do have one of the characters in Thorns making mention of the O’Malley family from Bones as a sort of historical / gossipy reference. There are also some made-up fairy / folk tales from my own universe that have appeared elsewhere that are now told as fairy stories to children and adults, and some new ones written for this book — I wanted to create the sense that this world has its own microcosm of tales and that all the stories I’ve been writing are part of that.
When in the process of writing All The Murmuring Bones, The Tallow-Wife, and the stories in Sourdough and The Bitterwood Bible did you come up with the idea for The Path Of Thorns, and what inspired this novel’s plot?
It was a couple of years ago, when I was going over the edits for Bones, actually, and sitting in front of the tv with the latest version of Jane Eyre on as background noise. And I started to think, “Man, that is a crap romance. This is an abusive relationship — why do we keep getting sold the idea that Rochester is anything but a gaslighting asshole?” Which, of course, led to me thinking about what might happen if Jane Eyre met Frankenstein…and I guess the main character Asher Todd is sort of their child. My editor Cath Trechman had a comment in on one of the drafts which said something like, “If there were the Gothic Olympics, this would win.” And after I’d finished writing it, I thought “Oh, there’s also my love of the original Dark Shadows.”
The Path Of Thorns has been called a Gothic fantasy. Is that how you’d describe it?
Definitely Gothic fantasy, but it’s also got elements of horror and fairy tale to it. And a bit of a detective story in there as well. I always said that All the Murmuring Bones was also a bit of a road movie to go along with its Gothic fantasy-horror-fairytaleishness…but that’s a bit of a mouthful and hard to get on back cover.
Are there any writers, or maybe specific stories, that had a particularly big influence on The Path Of Thorns but not on anything else you’ve written, especially All The Murmuring Bones, The Tallow-Wife, and the stories in Sourdough and The Bitterwood Bible?
As I said above, Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, but also add in some of Charlotte Bronte’s Villette and elements from Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber collection. And the idea of having the tales embedded all the way through is directly influenced by my teen reading of Tanith Lee’s Flat Earth series, Night’s Master, etc.
How about such non-literary influences as movies, TV shows, or games? You mentioned Dark Shadows…
In terms of the visual aesthetic, which is definitely a mashup, you could throw in Del Toro’s Crimson Peak, Netflix’s The Alienist, Tom Hardy’s Taboo (but with characters being bathed a lot more, less covered in river mud), and The Frankenstein Chronicles. But also I’m often imaging the outfits as influenced by Renaissance design and sometimes a little Medieval. I’m always keeping images that I like to help keep me grounded in the aesthetic — especially when it’s sometimes 2 or 3 years from initial thought to publication.
As we’ve been discussing, The Path Of Thorns is connected to your novel All The Murmuring Bones, your mosaic collection The Tallow-Wife, and your short story collections Sourdough and The Bitterwood Bible. What are your plans for this series going forward?
I just recently had a novella published by the Absinthe Imprint of PS Publishing in the UK. It’s called The Bone Lantern, and it’s a weird little book of three connected stories set in the Sourdough world. It explains the origins of the harp in Bones, and of another character who appears in The Tallow-Wife.
I’m also working on two new novels for Titan: The Briar Book Of The Dead and The Crimson Road. The former is about a young woman born into a family of witches, but she’s got no powers; and the second is about a pair of assassins, Orla and Fidelma Meyrick, who appeared in the previous stories “No Good Deed” and “St Dymphna’s School For Poison Girls.” Briar Book will be out in 2024, methinks.
I’m also just finishing up a graphic novel set in Mike Mignola’s Hellboy Universe, Castle Full of Blackbirds. Issue 1 will be out in September of this year.
Earlier I asked if The Path Of Thorns had been influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games. But I’d like to flip things around, if I may, and ask if you think The Path Of Thorns could work as a movie, show, or game?
I think it would definitely work as a series — I think a lot of the Sourdough world stuff would be an amazing series with the right director. There’s so much worldbuilding in it, each story builds on the next, so you’d want to do a few seasons.
And if someone wanted to make that show, who would you want them to cast as Asher and the members of the Morwood family?
Oh, wow, no pressure. Jessie Buckley as Asher, or maybe Carey Mulligan. Helen Mirren as Leonora Morwood, no contest. If you could talk Henry Cavill into playing a truly appalling character, then Luther Morwood. Samara Weaving as Luned. Eli…hmmm, Joseph Mawle? Or Paul Bullion. Jessamine would be Kate Beckinsale. And the Witches of Whitebarrow: Hilarie Burton-Morgan, Kate Winslet, Rachael Stirling.
So, is there anything else you think people need to know about The Path Of Thorns?
Probably that it’s not a Gothic romance per se, so I think that’s important for readers to know! But it is a good gothic romp with a lot of twists and turns, fairy tales, ghosts, secrets, appalling behavior, and a very morally grey character that I loved writing.
Finally, if someone enjoys The Path Of Thorns, they’ll probably read All The Murmuring Bones, The Tallow-Wife, Sourdough, and The Bitterwood Bible, if they haven’t already. But once they’ve done that, which of your other books would you suggest they read next?