by Mikhaeyla Kopievsky
I was recently lucky enough to score an Advance Reader Copy of Tim McGregor’s upcoming release, ‘Lure’.
In the chapel of a forsaken fishing village on another world’s shore, the seawashed bones of old gods hang from the rafters.
When a new god drifts into the bay, the menfolk fear nothing as they reach for their spears; but capturing Her may be their last act of reckless bravado. Her very presence brings dissent and madness. Her voice threatens to tear the starving, angry community apart.
Setting a siege of relentless horror against the backdrop of brine and blood, Lure blurs the line between natural disaster and self-destruction.
The novella is available July 18 from Tenebrous Press, and Tim (@TimMcgregor1) was kind enough to sit down and chat with me about the sublime in Gothic fiction and, in particular, in his own story. You can catch my review of ‘Lure’ at the end of this post.
A Q&A WITH ‘LURE’ AUTHOR, TIM McGREGOR
I’ve been talking a lot about the sublime in Gothic and Grimdark fiction lately. It’s a fascinating concept where what repulses us is also what attracts us, where we are drawn to what scares us, and where the terrible and the beautiful seem to coexist in this uneasy, powerful, visceral dynamic.
Reading ‘Lure’, I thought you handled the sublime so well – the luremaid is both terrible and beautiful, vulnerable and incredibly powerful, sympathetic and monstrous. Even the isolated coastal village settlement feels sublime – the ‘battered roofs of the cottages clustered before the enclosed bay’, the ‘mountain range that rings our little village [that] is treacherous to pass, closing us off from the rest of the world’, the church high up on the escarpment, the crypt chiselled out of the rock; a place where ‘stars twinkle green at night and the sun turns a rich blood red at midday’. Were these elements consciously constructed to evoke that sensation, or do you think things like old-world legends and places at the end of the world inherently hold elements of the sublime?
First off, thank you for reading Lure, Mikhaelya. And for the chance to talk about it. Such thoughtful questions!
I really like your take on the sublime in Gothic literature, how it invokes a push-and-pull allure of attraction and repulsion, of fear combined with wonder. The prose style in Lure was meant to utilize the sublime in that sense, but also couple it with a folktale feel. I’m not sure how conscious it was, it was really more of a gut instinct, drawing on everything from the bible to fairy tales and legend to get the tone right. The setting of the story is somewhat fantastical (without going pure fantasy), so use of the sublime worked to imply that everything here is familiar but a little strange, a little unknowable. Uncanny, perhaps.
Recently on my site, I wrote about how Gothic treats elements of the sublime a little differently from other genres that use it. It seems that Gothic fiction does sublime best when it focuses on the inexplicable, and when it draws on terror (rather than horror) to evoke emotion in the reader. How difficult was it to balance providing the reader enough detail on the mythology for the story to feel grounded, while still leaving enough open to induce the kind of terror that comes from the unknown?
That part was tricky, because I was never sure if I was laying out too little or too much mythology or backstory to ground a fantastical story. I certainly didn’t want to bore the reader with too much info or world-building. To me, nothing grinds the narrative to a halt faster than that. Hopefully, the elements that are familiar (village life, the fishermen, the church) ground the story enough to showcase the unfamiliar or uncanny elements. Again, it’s the dichotomy at play that sparks the narrative. That threshold between two worlds is where the story either works or falls flat.
There’s a moment in the story where you pull this idea of horror vs terror, known vs unknown, into sharp detail: The men of the village have captured the luremaid and confined her to the dilapidated, rotting fountain in the centre of town. Now, no longer a mystery, she loses all of her power and the villagers find new and increasingly brutish ways to disrespect her. That contrast really struck me – both as a reflection on the sublime itself, but also the underlying theme of female power and submission. In many ways, Gothic literature’s use of terror is the perfect tool to highlight the horror of the real villains (in the case of ‘Lure’, the men of the village). Was that part of the appeal about writing a gothic horror – using the inexplicable to comment on socio-political/cultural realities in this tiny microcosm of a village?
It may have been the entire appeal for me to this story! I’d wanted to write a mermaid-as-monster story for a while, because the appeal of turning a demure or cuddly creature like a mermaid into a monster hit that twinning of beauty and monstrous, or the sacred with the profane. In our era, the mermaid has been Disneyfied to become something like a princess, but I wanted to see one that had fangs. And through that, I couldn’t help but vent some of my inner frustrations or anger about our current world. The fishermen in the village encounter this lone woman who is free and autonomous, and they’re immediate reaction is to hunt it down and capture it, enslave it because her freedom, her power, is offensive to them. When I read the news today, I see the same thing playing out everywhere. Conservative, religious, masculine forces want to drag us all back to the dark ages. I wanted to hit back.
Symbology (as a way of communicating the inexplicable) is also an important feature of Gothic literature. On of my favourite pieces of symbology you use in ‘Lure’ is the injury of our Point of View character, Kaspar. What other symbology was important to you in creating your novella?
I’m really fond of the moment when (spoiler alert) the sea creatures crawl out up the wharf to invade the town, only to die and rot on the streets. The mermaid turns the entire world of this village on its head, to the extent that their own food source turns against them. (It’s also just gross, squishy, visceral moment to revel in.) [I loved this moment as well!] There’s also something appealing about a bunch of crazed fishermen hunting down a lone woman. Maybe that’s too blunt an image, but I think it works.
Finally, the mood and tone of ‘Lure’ are so on-point and perfect for a Gothic story. What did you use as your inspiration? And were there any playlists on constant repeat as you were drafting?
This might sound silly, but every Gothic novel, every horror movie, every scrap of mythology and Bible verse was mined for this. Difficult to pinpoint something specific, you know? We soak it all up, churn it up inside and create our own thing (hopefully!). Musically, I was listening to a lot of Nicole Dollanganger drafting this. The sublime is at play here as her songs are quiet and sung in what can be described as a sweet voice, but the lyrics are brutal. Love songs processed through a meat grinder.
Is there anything else you’d like to add or tell readers about ‘Lure’?
I’d just like add that there will be three art pieces to the finished book done by artist Kelly Williams (@treebeerd). I’ve seen two finished pieces and a preliminary sketch for the third. They are extraordinarily beautiful. Also, Tenebrous Press, the publisher behind Lure, is a fantastic indie press that produce really different, stunning books. If you get a chance to work with them, I highly recommend doing so.
Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and writing process, Tim!
Thanks for the chat, Mikhaeyla! Cheers!
HOW TO GET YOUR HANDS ON A COPY OF ‘LURE’
MY REVIEW OF ‘LURE’
For me, the appeal of Gothic stories lies in the ability of their monsters to reflect back to us the true darkness in mankind’s heart, and Tim McGregor’s ‘Lure’ is no exception. Told in beautiful and evocative prose that immerses you in the cold, isolated, sea-swept settlement of Torgrimsvær, the novella spins a dark tale of sea gods and luremaids that pulls into focus a more subtle story of female submission and disempowerment.
The story is told from the point of view of fifteen-year-old Kaspar and, by proxy, his family—outsiders in the village ‘at the end of the world’, who have come with their Reverend father to spread the word of the One True God, and who now find themselves motherless and forced to beg for tithe from the village’s cantankerous fishermen. The three Lensman children – Kaspar, his older sister Bryndis, and younger brother Pip – are all pining for love they cannot have: Kaspar for his first love, Agnet (who is now married to Gunther the Brave, the village tormenter); Bryn for her sweetheart, Calder (who she is forbidden from now she has been betrothed to Sligo the widower); and Pip for a mother who vanished years ago and is presumed dead.
And then, amongst all this thwarted longing, arrives a sea creature from legend that changes all their fates.
There is a lot to love about ‘Lure’ – the setting feels wild and precarious; a dark mood and sense of foreboding lingers in every chapter; the elements of fantastika are rendered in beautiful and intriguing detail; and the fine lines between purity and corruption, beauty and terror, love and death, are present throughout.
Reading the story from Kaspar’s point of view was an interesting experience: in many ways he both reflects and shuns the selfish, myopic, brutal ways of the other village men. His decisions – bad decisions for good reasons, good decisions for bad reasons, and plain bad decisions for bad reasons – often left me frustrated, which in turn left me conflicted about whether he was a hero or villain (putting me in sympathetic agreement with his older sister, Bryn).
But, while the story is told from Kaspar’s perspective, it is not really his, nor even the luremaid’s; the story belongs to the young women of the village who finally awaken and fight back against the heavy-handed and unyielding dominance of their husbands, fathers, and brothers.
All in all, ‘Lure’ is an ominous, sea-swept gothic tale of thwarted love, toxic masculinity, and female agency, and Tim McGregor a writer with serious talent. Thanks to him and Tenebrous Press for providing me with an ARC.