Leon Craig’s short story collection Parallel Hells, published by Sceptre Books in February 2022, is a collection of dark and delightful stories that blends folklore and gothic horror with a contemporary twist, exploring queer identity, power, love and the painful complexities of being human in startling new ways.
Leon Craig has written freelance journalism for the White Review, the TLS, the Brixton Review of Books and Another Gaze, among others.
Leon is a member of The Future is Back, an LGBT+ writing collective lead by Olumide Popoola and funded by Arts Council England.
She is graduated from her MFA at Birkbeck, University of London with a Distinction in 2021 and is now working on her first novel. Leon is based in Berlin.
What does your writing journey look like? When did you begin writing? Who or what are your biggest inspirations? Do you remember your first finished piece?
I began writing when I was very young but stopped for a four-year period while I was in university because my understanding of what literature could do was being expanded faster than my writing brain could keep up with, particularly by all the medieval literature I was focussing on. The first story I consider myself to have finished in my early twenties is ‘Pretty Rooms’, which is actually featured in Parallel Hells.
Told from the perspective of a collection of antique furniture, recounting the lives and deaths of its owners, this piece was inspired by the Old English riddles, a collection of beautiful, funny, bawdy and sometimes highly perplexing poems written down around a thousand years ago in which objects invite the listener to guess their identity.
Parallel Hells is a collection of gothic horror stories. What drew you to the genre?
I was hugely inspired by the emotional extremes found in Old Icelandic sagas like Volsunga Saga and Njals Saga, revenge tragedies like Webster’s The White Devil and of course Gothic literature like Frankenstein and The Monk. I wanted to write something with a similar emotional rawness and love of the grotesque that also built on the clever ways writers like Carmen Maria Machado and Julia Armfield use the short story form to approach questions of queer identity and womanhood.
How do you typically build a story? Are you haunted more by characters or larger scenarios?
My stories usually accrete image by image or scene by scene and my characters develop as I imagine them moving from scene to scene and figure how they would react – for instance my character Miri in The Bequest stumbles upon a dybbuk box in her Great Aunt’s house but it took me a few edits to realise she reacts so oddly to her first encounter with the supernatural because she’s colossally hungover.
Who are your favorite writers?
Of the ones I haven’t mentioned yet M.R. James and Saki were particularly influential on Parallel Hells, M.R. James for his delight in obscurity and the particular horror of very ancient things and Saki for his sheer camp nastiness.
Gothic and horror both seem to be having a pop culture moment. Why do you think that is?
I think some people will always be drawn to darker topics and more outlandish styles of representation but I suspect that gothic horror has grown in popularity recently because the world situation feels so unstable and bizarre. It’s simultaneously escapist because of the fantastical elements but speaking in an emotional register we have come to understand all too intimately.
Where are you in the world at the moment and what keeps you busy these days?
I’m happily ensconced in a tiny apartment in Neukolln so small my partner refers to it as Der Schrank and when I’m not writing I work as a Commissioning Editor for Serpent’s Tail, an independent publishing house based in London.
What are you afraid of?
I don’t know that I believe or disbelieve in ghosts but I do fear them, especially in the dark. I’m spending a great deal of time thinking of sinister situations at the moment because I’m working on my first novel, The Decadence, a haunted house story set in Devon, England and keep finding I have inadvertently terrified myself with my own imagination, which I hope ultimately bodes well for the book.
Interview by our bookseller Iti Libe.