Rym Kechacha is a writer and teacher living in Norwich. Her debut novel, Dark River, was shortlisted for two British Fantasy Awards and you can find her on Twitter @RymKechacha. She has a new book available now, To Catch a Moon, so we caught up with her to find out more.
How would you describe your writing?
I’m really interested in nature, mythology and folklore and those things tend to make it into my work quite a lot. I think my writing veers towards the purple side of things. I used to try to write in a spare, precise kind of way, but now I just lean into the lyricism. We have so many lovely words in the English language it’d be rude not to take some of them out for a spin! I try to be adventurous with form and narrative structure because I’m really obsessed with the skeletons of stories and how we decide what is a good shape for the stories we like, why they work (or don’t) and how they move us.
Tell us about your latest project…
My next novel is called To Catch a Moon, published by Unsung Stories. It’s a secondary world fantasy based on the paintings of the surrealist Remedios Varo. She was Spanish but spent the most artistically productive years of her life in Mexico City. Her paintings are completely gorgeous, like your favourite dreams. The novel is about a creature of the sky who is brought to the earth to write everything in it. It’s got a lion made of leaves, an owl woman, a witch and thirteen masked, wheeled men, and it all came from the imagination of Remedios Varo, not me!
What‘s your favourite part of the writing process?
I tend to open a word document and start typing, mostly from beginning to end, but if there’s a bit where I’m fuzzy on what happens or how I’ll skip it and come back to it later. I plot as I go along, but it always changes, so it’s always a real pleasure when problems I’ve ignored as things to fix later solve themselves neatly behind my back, and all I have to do is fill in the gaps. I research as I go, and sometimes there are brilliant coincidences where the thing I’ve found out perfectly dovetails with how I need a character to be or a plot point, and that’s my favourite feeling. It’s like the book is trying to exist, and I just have to help it, like something is directing the story through me.
Have you always written in this genre?
I’ve definitely always read this genre. I adored Diana Wynne Jones, Tamora Pierce and Patricia Mckillip as a child and read anything with any kind of magic I could get my hands on. When I started to write, I was always attracted to magical elements in my stories, but I don’t think I’d. Some early readers of my first novel, Dark River, talked about its genre elements, and I was pleasantly surprised- I think I hadn’t considered myself inventive enough to think of my writing as fantasy or science fiction! After that, I started to really lean into being a genre writer, trying to read as many new releases as I could and take them apart to see how they worked. That nitty-gritty, nuts-and-bolts way of reading is a pleasure to me, and I love discovering how endlessly inventive speculative fiction writers can be with folklore, myth, magic and mystery.
What has been a highlight of the publishing process so far, and what are you looking forward to?
I have loved seeing my covers. I’m not a particularly visual person, so it feels like such an act of care that Vince Haig – who has designed both my covers – has made such lovely faces for them to show to the world. It’s very gratifying to be read, of course, but more than that, to be read sensitively and seriously. Even when people don’t really enjoy the book, the fact that they take the time to engage with it and consider it is incredibly moving and makes me try to do the same when I review other authors’ books and even when I read just for pleasure. In the future, I’d love to see one of my books in a library. I am an avid library user, and I have been since I was a child. Now I am constantly ordering books on the inter-library loan system and taking my toddler to our local one at least once a week, so to see something I’ve written on a shelf for others to browse would be very moving to me.
What was your journey to publication like?
I wrote Dark River at the end of my hugely enjoyable MA in Creative Writing and began to submit it to different places. I got incredibly kind and encouraging feedback which was essential: I like this, but I don’t think I can sell it. I’m so grateful to the people who took the time to pass that on because it gave me confidence in myself and my writing, even if that book wasn’t going to work out. When I saw a submissions call from Unsung Stories, I got excited and sent it in; so excited I sent the wrong file with only half the book. George Sandison was very understanding, read the other half on the book and took a chance on it. Dark River came out at the beginning of the pandemic, and perhaps it suffered for it, but I’m really proud of the book, and I think it says a lot of the things that were – and still are – on my mind about climate breakdown and how humans relate to the more-than-human world.
What have you learned from your journey as an author so far, and what advice would you give your past self?
Learning about how publishing works – mainly from interesting threads on Twitter – has been invaluable to my journey as an author, helping me focus on my own work for its own sake by seeing how subjective and occasionally arbitrary publishing can be. I’d give that advice to my past self, too, as well as to read as widely as possible, even in genres you don’t think you like.
What are you writing next?
I’m working – quite slowly! – on a novel set in a touring ballet company that performs for a very difficult and dangerous kind of audience. I used to be a ballet dancer, so it’s a lot of fun to bring that part of my life together with my writing and bring what I hope is a bit of insider knowledge to the book. I’ve been surprised that ballet and the theatre aren’t a more frequent subject for speculative fiction writers, there’s a weird, uncanny quality to being on stage and the performing life that I think is ripe for fantasy stories. Like To Catch a Moon, this next book’s about creation and art and artists – or it will be, once I’ve finished it!