Exclusive Interview: “Wild And Wicked Things” Author Francesca May

 

Is urban fantasy still urban fantasy if it’s set somewhere rural? It’s a question that came up during the following email interview with writer Francesca May about her Gothic fantasy novel Wild And Wicked Things (hardcover, Kindle, audiobook), in which we also discussed what inspired and influenced this tale.

Francesca May Wild And Wicked Things

Photo Credit: Francesca Dorricott

 

To start, what is Wild And Wicked Things about, and when and where does it take place?

Wild And Wicked Things is basically what happens when you cross The Great Gatsby with Practical Magic. It’s set in 1922, and about a young woman, Annie, who is summoned to an idyllic island off the coast of England when her estranged father dies and she’s asked to sort through and sell his estate. Crow Island has a reputation, though, for its lax attitude towards the prohibition on magic, and Annie soon finds herself neighbors with a rich, enigmatic woman who is a rumored witch. When Annie witnesses a chance confrontation between Emmeline and her childhood best friend Bea (who fled to the island a year before), Annie finds herself dragged into a mission to save them both from the deadly, illicit magic which has been cast, while she also attempts to understand her growing feelings for Emmeline.

Where did you get the idea for Wild And Wicked Things, and how, if at all, did that idea evolve as you wrote it?

Funnily enough, the idea actually came to me while I was noodling around on Twitter one day. Somebody asked the question “Which book do you wish you’d written?” and I immediately posted The Great Gatsby, which I first read as a teenager and which was probably the sole reason I decided to study American literature at university and spend a year studying abroad in the States. Of course, as is always the way when you’re supposed to be writing something else, this immediately set the gears going in my brain, prompting me to question what my Gatsby would look like. I knew it would have to be queer, probably Sapphic, and I also knew that any retelling I would write would have to contain magic. (I was a huge Charmed fangirl back in the day and my obsession with witches has never faded.) As I played with the idea it really grew into something else and I threw myself into writing it without really thinking. It was a fun project, one I was trying not to take too seriously; I wrote pretty sentences and included some of my favorite tropes (“only one bed,” anyone?) and I was having fun. But during the drafting process I lost one of my bookseller colleagues to cancer, and the project soon became a way to explore the grief I was experiencing, and it really helped me get through that time, so it became much more than just a fun project for me — it was a lifeline.

I was going to say that it sounds like Wild And Wicked Things is an urban fantasy story, but it sounds more rural than urban. How do you describe it?

Hmm…I would probably describe it as speculative fiction, or maybe Gothic fantasy. I probably wouldn’t call it urban fantasy as you’re right, the novel mostly exists in this little island world I created, waves lapping on the shore and the sound of jazz floating in the air between grand mansions. It’s definitely more West / East Egg than New York City. Either way, though, it’s definitely Gothic, has a lot of dark, bloody magic in it. I suppose it would be completely accurate to call it historical fantasy, too.

Wild And Wicked Things is not the first novel you’ve written; you previously wrote After The Eclipse and The Final Child under the name Fran Dorricott, and will release a third, The Lighthouse, on April 26. Why did you decide to write Things as Francesca May and not Fran Dorricott?

To be honest, I wanted to sort of separate my brand a little from my crime books because the style is a bit different and I wanted any of my crossover readers to see that. My crime novels are quite introspective but there’s still a kind of pace to them that doesn’t exist in Wild And Wicked Things; my writing as Francesca May is a little softer, more playful, and (hopefully) prettier too. I wanted to hint at that.

Plus, my mother was heartbroken when I didn’t use my full name on my crime books. I told her that Francesca Dorricott is a bit long to fit on the cover, but Francesca May isn’t quite so bad.

So, are there any writers, or maybe stories, that had a particularly big influence on Wild And Wicked Things but not on anything else you’ve written?

Oh, definitely. My crime books are usually less about beautiful language and more about plot and character and pace, whereas there’s more nuance in Wild And Wicked Things, and space to explore it all together. So for my fantasy books I found myself drawing on some of the classics I read as a youngster, and there’s a strong Fitzgerald influence, obviously. I particularly love his creative and often beautiful turns of phrase, like Daisy’s voice sounding like it’s “full of money” in The Great Gatsby, so I tried to get a little creative myself. We’ll see if that worked, though…

How about such non-literary influences as movies, TV shows, or games? Did any of those things have a big influence on Wild And Wicked Things?

Hmm, not really, although I suppose I did absorb quite a bit of the atmosphere in Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of The Great Gatsby. It plays with the anachronisms while still being pretty truthful to the original text, and I guess I tried to do something similar by taking the spirit of Gatsby and then stuffing it full of dark magic.

And what about Where The Wild Things Are?

Ha! Noope not at all! You know, I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve never read that. As a bookseller, that’s mortifying. But, it has got a wonderful title.

Now, fantasy novels are sometimes stand-alone stories and sometimes they’re part of larger sagas. What is Wild And Wicked Things?

It’s a stand-alone. I would absolutely never say never to writing another book in Annie’s jazz age world because it’s so much fun, but Wild And Wicked Things was written to stand by itself with a complete story arc. I think when I started writing I was so caught up in making the early stages of the novel follow the same basic pattern as Gatsby that it never occurred to me to make it into a longer story, but now I’m really pleased I did it this way because even in series I love when later books are more like companion novels than direct sequels, so even if I ever wrote in the world again I would want it to be that kind of thing.

I mentioned earlier that you have another novel, The Lighthouse, coming out in April. What is that story about and when and where is it set?

So The Lighthouse, which is out in February in the UK and April in the US, is a Gothic suspense novel about a group of old university friends who book a holiday on a remote Scottish island with a lighthouse for their ten year graduation anniversary. They’ve drifted apart a bit and they’re all excited to get together and reconnect, but when on the first night one of their group goes missing, and turns up at dawn looking like he’s seen a ghost, it puts a lot of tension on the group as they begin to question whether he’s hiding something from them — and what he might possibly have to hide. It’s all brooding and atmospheric, and entirely coincidental that both it and Wild And Wicked Things take place on an island, I promise.

That said, did you write Wild And Wicked Things and The Lighthouse at the same time or back-to-back?

I actually wrote them over two years apart, if you can believe that. I wrote Wild And Wicked Things back in 2018 and spent a lot of time polishing and rewriting it, because when I first wrote it I wasn’t sure if I wanted it to be Young Adult or Adult fantasy.

I’m guessing then that The Lighthouse didn’t influence Wild And Wicked Things, or vice versa?

The Lighthouse wasn’t directly influenced by Wild And Wicked Things, but I did love setting a book on an island so I guess that happened again. But nah, I think that it was the editing and polishing of Wild And Wicked Things that influenced The Lighthouse the most. I learned a lot about my writing process, which I think definitely helped me later on.

So do you think someone who enjoys The Lighthouse will like Wild And Wicked Things and vice versa?

I’d like to think so, but I do think it’s a case of whether people like to read in multiple genres. All of my books are Sapphic, with messy (often unlikeable) characters, and they’re all dark and Gothic and, I’d like to think atmospheric too. I would even go so far as to say my crime books are influenced a lot by my love of fantasy and the occult, because they all dabble with elements of magic, superstition or folklore, but at the end of the day a lot of the thing with genre is down to personal taste and that’s okay.

Earlier I asked if Wild And Wicked Things had been influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games. But I’d like to flip the script, as you kids don’t say anymore, and ask if you think Things could work as the basis for a movie, show, or game?

Oh, I would love to see it as a TV show. I think TV serials à la Netflix have so much room to play with side characters and settings, and I’d love to see Crow Island depicted on the screen. I also think that TV shows tend to do real justice to what I think of as “quieter” stories like The Haunting Of Hill House and Bly Manor, really dialing up the atmosphere to 100.

If someone wanted to adapt Wild And Wicked Things into a TV show, who would you want them to cast as Annie and the other main characters?

Ooh, this is a tough one! I’ve actually never fan-casted any of my Wild characters in my head before so definitely don’t put any stock in what I have to say. I think… Annie would be wonderful played by somebody like Carey Mulligan [Promising Young Woman], maybe? And I do think somebody like Michelle Dockery [Downton Abbey] could do a great Emmeline. I personally would rather leave the casting up to people who actually know what they’re doing though, even in my imagination.

So, is there anything else you think people should know about Wild And Wicked Things?

I think the most important thing about Wild is that it’s my love letter to fantasy books, and witchy fantasy books in particular. I always wanted to write a book that felt a bit, when reading it, like watching The Craft felt when I was a teenager. Dark and a bit dangerous but with an undercurrent of warmth and self-discovery. I would love for people to enjoy reading it as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it.

Francesca May Wild And Wicked Things

Finally, if someone enjoys Wild And Wicked Things, which of your other novels would you suggest they read next and why that one?

I think all of my books have elements that will appeal, but The Lighthouse is a great place to start if you like atmospheric, brooding settings and group casts. I think After The Eclipse is a great shout if you like quieter character-driven books that deal with guilt, grief and superstition. And The Final Child is for the true crime enemies-to-lovers crowd.

 

 

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