Saturday 27 November 2010

Storm Constantine Interview


Sense and Sexuality. STORM CONSTANTINE is
the author of best-selling fantasies including the
‘WRAETHTHU’ trilogy, ‘CALENTURE’, the vampire
extravaganza ‘BURYING THE SHADOW’, and
‘STALKING TENDER PREY’. While in fiction –
and in conversation, she has opinions, angles, and
new definitions on unfamiliar areas of phychosexuality
and genuinely unsettling gender equations.
Here she explains it all...

‘The phallus of the Har resembles a petalled rod,
sometimes of deep and varied colours. It has
an inner tendril which may only emerge once
embraced by the body of the Solme,
and prior to orgasm...’

Storm Constantine writes at Warp Factor Ten. And hits all the right literary G-Spots.
Her fiction is concerned with gender, fantasy, and sexual politics. At its most confrontational it can ram-raid the psyche. From the hype you expect some kind of cross between Kruella DeVille and Siouxsie Sioux. A fusion of ‘Tank Girl’ and Morticia Adams, with more than a dose of ‘2000AD’s ‘Durham Red’ thrown in. But she’s never less than readable, encouraging a playful confrontation that gives her Science Fiction its uniqueness. ‘Storm Constantine shares her birthday with Aleister Crowley, and her home with two cats, and a hidden variable...’ reveals her contributors notes to the ‘New Worlds no.1’ relaunch. And here, now, in that home, I swear she’s smiling, but I can’t be sure because there’s a blinding halo of sunlight blasting into my eyes through the window behind her. Her novels – from ‘This Monstrous Regiment’ and ‘Hermetech’, to ‘Sign For The Sacred’ and ‘Stalking Tender Prey’, can high-jack the ‘toxic feminism’ of ‘Thelma And Louise’, then alternate personas to teasingly encourage a kind of androgyny – ‘if women wanted equality of the sexes, they’d encourage the female side of men, not try to subdue their own’ (‘This Monstrous Regiment’).

‘Women are not ashamed of feelings or emotions’ she explains. ‘It’s a reflection of the way our society operates. To men it’s seen as weakness to show emotion, or to feel emotionally vulnerable. So they feel uncomfortable exploring that part of their sexuality. This sounds terribly patronising, and I know it’s generalising too. I’m sure there are many men who don’t feel that way. But in general – it’s true! And as a writer you have to get into your characters in order to write about them. That includes the weakness that you’d experience there. That weakness is something male writers feel uncomfortable with when they’re exploring that kind of situation...’

Yet despite lavishings of praise, Storm Constantine’s fiction has not always been received uncritically. Sometimes her worlds can come direct from the Science Fiction image-bank, neither innovative or even particularly original, with situations drawn intact from central casting. There’s the ‘lost Earth colony’ in an alien star system (‘This Monstrous Regiment’), the development of new mutations that signal the next stage in human evolution (the ‘Wraeththu’ trilogy), and a post eco-disaster future-Earth (‘Hermetech’). All familiar terrain to even the most casual reader of Sci-Fi. There’s sometimes a cosy domesticity to her universe too – one that’s beautiful, but totally devoid of shock, strangeness, and all but the most cosmetic alienness, what writer Elizabeth Hand is describing when she calls the Wraethtuh books ‘an MTV dream’. Or when Bruce Sterling describes Storm Constantine’s books as places where ‘you have a desert, then a forest, then another desert, then another forest, and so on and so-forth’ (‘Vector no.159’ February 1991). And this is before you get to the ‘designer under-statement’ and ‘personal space’ buzz-words used in a context of meticulously observed coiffure, design and clothes (particularly in ‘Aleph’), all techniques looted from the porno-populism of the Sex-&-Shopping brigade. Although over the space of ten years-plus her books for MacDonald, for Headline, and more from Penguin’s cred list, even the most sceptical doubter would have to admit she’s getting there.

‘It was in… I think it was ‘Locus’, that ‘This Monstrous Regiment’ was compared to an episode of ‘Star Trek’’ she tells me with obvious enjoyment. ‘I thought ‘I’d like to see a ‘Star Trek’ episode with THIS in it!’ The ‘this’ that she adds is the certain post-Feminist slant that stirs her ingredients into newly off-centre tangents. She writes for the age of the ‘Shero’. But is the reader profile demographic predominently male or female?

‘I don’t know if you’re familiar with Tarot symbolism?’ she enquires obliquely, by way of explanation. ‘I’ve been a Tarot-reader for a number of years. And I see it as being like ‘The Tower’. You know what the Tower represents? – it’s the raising of the ground. It’s the bolt out of heaven that completely KER-RRRRR-RASHES – and unsettles everything. It’s like the burning of fields. You HAVE to do that before the new shoots can come through. When people are taking steps towards emancipation or equality, or whatever, they need that sort of Tower-card to get things moving. If you look at the totality of society as a single organism – as I do, it shocks that organism into taking notice. It’s a real shock to the whole social organism...’


Storm Constantine – novelist, is very much her own creation, right down to the name. An alias, surely? ‘No, it isn’t, not now. It’s my official name. I changed it by deed-poll, quite a long time ago. I feel that as people grow up they don’t always fit the names they’ve been given by their parents. So I decided quite early on that I wanted a different name. I chose one I felt would give me assertiveness and confidence. And it helped. Especially when I was trying to establish a career in writing. In a way, the name becomes the person. I’m quite a shy person naturally – as you see.’ Her smile is disarmingly distracting, yet, adopting pychoprobe mode, such name-changing can also be seen as a rejection of family roots. Particularly when it’s combined with a novel dedication that runs ‘for my Father John, whose misogynistic view of female writers I hope to have changed somewhat’. Is tongue firmly in cheek then? Or does this reflect some deep well-spring of her need to write. ‘No, not really. My father is the person who led me into the genre. He’s always been into Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, anything in that area. Even when I was very small I was trying to get at his Library books. My Mother would say ‘I don’t think you should be reading those’. But at the same time, he always had a bias against female writers, I don’t think he liked the ‘emotional content’ of women’s work. Later I got into Tanith Lee as you can probably work out from looking at my book collection, and I was always trying to get him to read her books. I’d say ‘read this’ and he’d go ‘yeah, yes, yes’. But – he’s backing me. He reads all my stuff, and he likes them. So – no, the dedication was really a little joke between us. Possibly that was the worst of my books to dedicate to him, because I think it’s my worst to date. Perhaps there’s a message there somewhere? My Dad’s got a really good sense of humour, and he’s a bit of a writer too. I’m always encouraging him to write. He’s an amazing talent, and one day – perhaps, he will.’

I’d initially wondered just how aware she was of the female writers working in the genre before her. But looking at her bookshelves now, I see that she’s well prepared for the question. ‘Oh yes, I discovered Tanith Lee when I was quite young, probably as her books were first emerging. I just loved them. And I’ve collected them ever since. I’ve got them all. If she has a new one out I’ve just got to have it for my collection. It’s just one of those compulsions. Jane Gaskell as well. She’s another favourite. But I’ve always been into the genre.’ There’s an unfortunate tendency – which I’ve tried to resist, to put writers into categories. There can’t really be an identifiable ‘Female SF’ genre, can there? After all, Alice B Sheldon masqueraded from 1968 as ‘James Tiptree Jrn’ and was accepted as such, long before revealing her true gender identity as late as 1977. But the writer most frequently referred to in the context of Storm Constantine’s work is Ursula LeGuinn. And there are certain common points where what they both seem to be doing tend to coincide. ‘Maybe so,’ she sounds unconvinced. ‘I can’t see it myself. Funnily enough I’ve never really been into Ursula LeGuinn that much. I read one of her books – ‘The Lathe Of Heaven’ (1971), when I was in my teens. I liked that one. I tried a couple of other ones and couldn’t get a hold on them. But when McDonald’s published me for the first time they said ‘Oh yes... like Ursula LeGuinn’. And I said ‘I’m sure I’m not!’ So I read ‘The Left Hand Of Darkness’ ‘cos that’s about hermaphrodites. I thought it was nothing like my stuff. I don’t even like it that much. I admire her prowess, and I admit I haven’t read any of her more recent stuff, but she’s not one of my favourite authors. It’s not something I can curl up with and really enjoy. The female writers I’m avidly into would be Liz (Elizabeth) Hand, Pat Cabden and Pat Murphy – I really loved her ‘The City, Not Long After’. They’re all American unfortunately, but – I really admire them. The person I admire most as a writer in Britain, possibly, is Mary Gentle (the author of ‘Rats And Gargoyles’)...’

In another area of creativity, Lady GaGa and Madonna before her, are successful – at least in part, because they exploit the vacuum left by the total exploitation of every possible aspect of male Rock sexuality. Presley, Sinatra, Jagger, Morrison, Bowie, Cobain – it’s all been done to death. There’s no scope left for new angles. But a woman can reinterpret those same old sex-shock strategies and make them seem new. To a lesser extent the same is true of writing in general, and SF in particular. A woman can write explicit sex scenes and it’s seen as liberating, it’s exploring the outer limits of free expression and breaking new taboos. Kathy Acker and Jeanette Winterton make careers out of it. Whereas expressions of blatant male sexuality is dismissed as just reactionary old porn. Storm responds that women can write more convincingly on male sexuality than men can write about female sexuality. Perhaps that’s because male sexuality is blunter, simpler, less complex, easier to understand? Whatever – from Richmal Compton’s ‘William’ to Sue Townsend’s ‘Adrian Mole’, on up, or on down, it’s something they’ve always done remarkably well. ‘Men were unaware that through sex they could reach a higher form of consciousness’ writes Storm, ‘to us (the Wraeththu) it is virtually commonplace’. To the bisexual Wraeththu eroticism has numerous variants, it can be ‘Grissecon’ (GRISS-uh-con)’ a sexual communion between ‘Hara’ to achieve a kind of sexual magic, sex for occult power purposes. Further down the scale comes ‘Aruna’ which is ordinary hetero copulation.
But Storm has powerful precedents. Miriam Allen DeFord proves an intriguing taster, her 1969 collection ‘Xeno Genesis’ marks her out as an accomplished writer of sexual fantasy, whereas Ursula LeGuinn (the ‘Earthsea’ Trilogy) features androgynous sex-change people in ‘Left Hand Of Darkness’, and Angela Carter – in ‘The War Of Dreams’ uses sexual energy as a means of destruction where, for Storm – most notably in ‘Hermetech’, it is a means of transcendence. Then there’s Anne McCaffrey (particularly the ‘Dragonquest’ books), the beautifully poetic fantasies of Leigh Brackett, and the harder-SF of CL (Catherine) Moore. ‘I like CL Moore. There used to be a prevailing attitude in SF similar to how my father’s used to be – that women can’t quite cut the mustard. Obviously that’s no longer the case. One thing I’m always asked is ‘don’t you think it’s terrible that men dominate the scene’ But you can’t really say that, when I look around, there’s so many women writers giving good accounts of themselves, winning awards and being really respected everywhere. It’s certainly not as bad as it was. And in the future it’ll get better and better.’

At one point she also divides women into two distinct flavours, ‘Flamist’ – ‘a creature of action, wielder of intellect and tongue’, and ‘Angeldt’ – ‘a creature of grace, intuition’. In which category does she place herself? ‘Oh yeah, that!’ A moment of slightly phased indecision. ‘Yes – er, both I think. On a good day I’m Flamist (flame-ist), on a bad day I’m Angeldt (Anne-gelt). There’s always more than two sides to everything. I’m not a dual-ist. I don’t believe that a system like that would work in real life. That’s just my ‘Ripping Yarns’ stuff really...’

The traditional route into writing SF was to serve an ‘apprenticeship’ with short stories. Storm never did that, and – even though that particular route is now complicated by scarcity of magazines, she seems to have emerged fully formed. ‘I did do short stories. I just didn’t send them off anywhere. I didn’t really think I could have a career in writing. It was just something I did for pleasure. The reason I started writing ‘seriously’ (in inverted commas) is that I was galloping towards thirty, working in a Library, and thinking ‘this is it for the rest of my life. I’ve got to do something about it’. I reviewed my talents. I was a bit of a rebel at school so I’ve not got many academic qualifications. So I decided WRITING HAS GOT TO BE THE WAY OUT. So RIGHT! THIS IS IT! – I threw myself wholeheartedly into the novel. And this is the one that got sent off. And luckily... it was accepted!’ This is the first – how do you pronounce it – Wraeththu book? ‘Yes. ‘WRAYTH-THREW. It’s an interesting old English word actually. It has two meanings. It can either mean ‘wrath’ or ‘rake’ – as in garden implement.’ Were there prior attempts at testing the water by sending out a chapter-and-outline synopsis? ‘I did send off a synopsis and a couple of sample chapters to start with. Mainly because I was in the ‘Andromeda’ bookshop and I happened to meet a rep who worked for MacDonald. I showed it to him first. From there they asked to see the rest of it, and it went on to publication.’ Was it always intended to be a trilogy? ‘Well – no, originally it was a single thousand-page book. But as a first novelist it was totally impractical to try and produce it in that way. It’s very rare that a first novel that size would be accepted and be successful. So – er, it was a case of having to break it down, and that’s when I decided to do it from different viewpoints. Originally it was one story, told through one person’s perspective. But when I split it up it kind-of developed from there. I started writing in it 1985, and it eventually came out in ‘87.’

Then came ‘This Monstrous Regiment’. ‘Yes, to me – it was like a first novel, because ‘Wraeththu’ had been with me for ten years, and when I came to write that book it just came out BLUUUUURGHH!!!!, like that. Previously I’d just sit upstairs and write solid for hours and hours. No problem. But ‘Monstrous Regiment’ was hard for me to write, because it was something completely new. I hadn’t lived with it for ages, so I wasn’t cut through with the idea, I didn’t know all the ins and outs of the plot. For that reason it wasn’t as good as the ‘Wraeththu’ stuff. I needed a lot of guidance, which I didn’t get. So, I tend to look on it as a learning experience. I learned a lot from writing it. A lot of mistakes I shall avoid in the future.’ The final paragraph of its sequel ‘Aleph’, seems to be laying the seeds for a third novel in the cycle. It speaks of ‘revelations’ that await the generation after next? But ‘no – I don’t think so. That’s just a little bit stuck on the end. I don’t really feel the need to explore that any more. I mean – I didn’t really want to do a second one, which is why the second one is so different from ‘Monstrous Regiment’. It’s not really examining the same concepts or anything. It’s just a Science Fiction story...’

Her initial impact was heightened by a prolific flow of new titles, as well as a side-order of shorter works. ‘It seems that way, yes. Since I started I’ve averaged about a book a year. The first short story I had published was in ‘Zenith’. Then there was one in ‘Zenith Two’. I had one in ‘More Tales From The Forbidden Planet’, one in the American ‘Weird Tales’. Then there’s ‘Digital Dreams’ and ‘Tarot Tales’ – I sold to ‘Midnight Rose’, ‘Scheherezade’ and ‘Orion’ and… I ought to have a list to give to people actually.’ Add to that list her “Immaculata” in David Garnett’s ‘New Worlds’, while she has also ‘worked in experimental video... exhibited and sold her own artwork’.


Down the A449. Right at the ‘The Telegraph’. Ingestre Road – 1pm.

And I’m here with Storm Constantine, a writer who writes at Warp Factor Ten. And hits all the right literary G-Spots.

But there are very strong elements of New Age mysticism and spirituality to her books too. ‘Aleph’ in particular – with its ‘Lord of the Rocks’, Yehhuk – the ‘Shadow-Lover’, and Freespacer Corinna Trotgarden’s interaction with the legendary ‘Greylids’ (Artemis’ indigenous population), and a creature of pure energy in a vaguely womb-like cave, all have mystical significances expounded through New Age references to Tarot and related flim-flam. ‘Mmmmm. I’m afraid I’m very scathing about so-called ‘New Age’, actually. I think... I don’t know how to say this without sounding superficial – I have to be very careful. It’s like people have picked up on the commercial aspects, and to me – if there is a New Age, which is about the turning of the heavens and the Age of Aquarius taking over from the Age of Pisces – which is supposed to be a time of enlightenment, and people becoming more evolved, then that is something that happens IN HERE, it’s not something you can go into a shop and buy. No amount of group therapy or whatever those little crystal gizmos and gimmicks they come up with can take you there. It’s simply a case of sitting down – with a mirror if necessary, and saying ‘who or what am I?’ – and looking for the answers within yourself. Nobody else can tell you. No book can tell you. But then again, I think there are some people who have had that experience themselves, and they can write about it. And it is possible to read their book and get support from them, but they’re not trying to tell you how it is, they’re just saying this is how it was for me. This is what I do, my friends. If you can use any of this – GREAT!, if you can’t – or if you want to adapt it or change it, then that’s even better. But there’s no BOOKS that can tell you how to do it.’

It’s good to be open to influences. But that kind of mysticism can so easily be sabotaged by gullibility into total escapism. ‘Which it shouldn’t be. It should be quiet, dramatic and cathartic. Life-enriching, because you get stronger. You’re not trying to escape into pretty little pictures. A lot of this New Age stuff comes down to this creative visualisation. But there are two kinds of... I shouldn’t call it that, but there is ‘guided’ visualisation which are aids to meditation – you either listen to a tape or somebody reads a story to you, like a little fantasy story – and you ‘live’ that story. To me, that is escapism. People say you look for symbols in your story, but it’s still a weakened version of what you should be doing.’ But fantasy – as Michael Moorcock explains in an early essay, is all about the manipulation of archetypal primal symbols – the ring, the quest, the sword. While there is your character L’Belder, who undergoes a transfiguration which would lend itself to New Age religiosity, while that same ‘spirituality’ runs right through a number of your novels, from the ‘Wraeththu’ on up. ‘I am very interested in religion. It fascinates me. It also fascinates me why people are into it. I just love exploring it. What it provides for people. And what they get out of it.’

One of the more disreputable trends in recent SF / Fantasy must be that most escapist of all modern genres, the ‘Fantasy Trilogy’. There are dozens of them. After reading her books it’s obvious that there’s considerably more to Storm than that. But – although she’s undoubtedly managed to encompass something of the commercial appeal of that sub-genre, and yes it’s unfair – but it’s so easy to confuse Storm Constantine novels as part of that movement, surely there must be many who prematurely dismiss her on covers value alone? ‘I know’ she concedes wearily. ‘That’s a problem...’


‘THE ENCHANTMENTS OF FLESH AND SPIRIT’ (Macdonald/ Orbit, 1987) Part one of ‘Wraeththu Trilogy’

‘THE BEWITCHMENTS OF LOVE AND HATE’ (Macdonald/ Orbit, 1988) Part two of ‘Wreaththu Trilogy’, includes poems by Valor

‘THE FULFILMENTS OF FATE AND DESIRE’ (Orbit/ Drunken Dragon Press, 1989) Part three of ‘Wraeththu Trilogy’. A ‘Wraeththru Omnibus’ was published in 1993, and revised editions of all three Wraeththu novels were published by Immanion Press 2003-2004

‘THE MONSTROUS REGIMENT’ (Orbit, 1990) First Book of ‘Artemis’ cycle

‘ALEPH’ (Orbit, June 1991), sequel to ‘MONSTROUS REGIMENT’, dedicated to ‘Forbidden Planet’ (Dick Jude), the Unlimited Dream Co (Gaiman – for ‘advice and suggestions, which have helped me begin mapping the territory of my chosen metier’), and Shona Cooke (‘for her thesis on female genital mutilation’)

‘HERMETCH’ (New English Libraries, 31 Dec 1991)

‘TAROT TALES’ (Legend) edit Rachel Pollack & Caitlin Matthews, with stories by Moorcock, M. John Harrison, Garry Kilworth, and Storm’s “As It Flows To The Sea”

‘TEMPS’ edit Neil Gaiman and Alex Stewart (Penguin/ Roc, Aug 1991) Shared-world theme anthology about British Superheroes of ‘The Dept Of Paranormal Resources, based at the back of the Home Office’, also includes Dave Langford, Brian Stableford, David Barrett and Kim Newman

‘INTERZONE no.58’ (April 1992) story “Priest Of Hands” + interview by Stan Nicholls

‘AN ELEMENTAL TALE: A MAGICAL FANTASY’ (Inception, 1992) an illustrated ‘short magical fantasy’ (£2.50), very limited edition from ‘Inception’ Steve Jeffery & Vikki Lee France, 44 White Way, Kidlington, Oxon OX5 2XA

‘INTERZONE no.64’ (October 1992) story “Built On Blood”

‘BURYING THE SHADOW’ (31 Dec 1992)

‘INTERZONE no.73’ (July 1993) story “The Green Calling”

‘SIGN FOR THE SACRED’ (31 Dec 1993)

‘CALENTURE’ (Headline, 30 April 1994) Steve Wallace cover. Expansion of short story “Priest Of Hands” which was a BSFA short story award nomination

‘COLURASTES’ (Inception Press, 1995) limited edition 40-page illustrated collection of ‘poems by Storm Constantine’ (£3.50)

‘STALKING TENDER PREY’ (Signet / Creed, 30 Nov 1995) First Book of ‘Grigori’ Trilogy

‘THE EDGE no.3’ (April/ May 1996) Storm interview

‘DANCER FOR THE WORLD’S DEATH’ (Inception, Sept 1996) 300 numbered 28-page copies at £3.50, cover by Dave Mooring

‘SCENTING HALLOWED BLOOD’ (3 Oct 1996) Second Book of ‘Grigori’ Trilogy

‘INTERZONE no.117’ (March 1997) story “The Rust Islands”

‘STEALING SACRED FIRE’ (4 Dec 1997) Book 3 of the ‘Grigori’ Trilogy

‘THREE HERALDS OF THE STORM’ (MM Publ, 1997) 64-page small-press collection of three stories plus short biography

‘DARK HORIZONS no.37’ (1998) high-quality fantasy fanzine includes ‘Roots Of The Writer’ by Storm Constantine, as well as artwork, articles and fiction (by D.F. Lewis, Rick Cadger and Rick Kleffel)

‘THE THIRD ALTERNATIVE no.15’ (August 1998) Storm interview & profile

‘THE INWARD REVOLUTION: SUMMONING THE SACRED POWER WITHIN’ non-fiction co-written with Deborah ‘Debbie’ Benstead (6 Aug 1998)

‘SEA DRAGON HEIR’ (Gollancz, 1998/ Tor, 2000) First Book Of The ‘Magravandias’ cycle. ‘Sisterhood Of The Dragon’, set in Caradore with the Palindrakes Family. Original cover by Anne Sudworth. Dust-wrap illustration by Doug Beekman

‘THIN AIR’ (Warner, 18 Feb 1999) Charismatic Rock Star Dex, and initially dubious Music Journalist Jay who loves – and attempts to decipher his disappearance in a ‘sensual romance’. With Gregg Child

‘BAST AND SEKHMET: EYES OF RA’ (1999) no-fiction with Elouise Coquio

‘THE THORN BOY’ (1999)


‘THE CHRONICLES OF MAY’ (1 June 2000) Sequel to ‘Sea Dragon Heir’

‘CROWN OF SILENCE’ (Gollancz, 2000) Part 2 of The ‘Magravandias’ ‘Sea Dragon Heir’ cycle

‘SILVERHEART’ by Storm Constantine and Michael Moorcock (Simon & Schuster, November 20000), features the city of Karadur set in Moorcock’s ‘Multiverse’, includes Shriltasi and a character called Cornelius Coffin.

‘WAY OF LIGHT’ (28 June 2001) First Book Of The ‘Magravandias’ cycle

‘EGYPTIAN BIRTH SIGNS’ (2002) non-fiction

‘THE WRAITHS OF WILL AND PLEASURE’ (2003) First Of The ‘Wraeththu Histories’


‘THE SHADES OF TIME AND MEMORY’ (2004) Second Book Of The ‘Wraeththu Histories’

‘THE GHOSTS OF BLOOD AND INNOCENCE’ (2005) Third Book Of The ‘Wraeththu Histories’

‘THE HIENAMA: A STORY OF THE SULH’ (2005) Wraeththu Novella

‘FROM ENCHANTMENT TO FULFILMENT’ (2005) Wraeththu Role-Playing Game Book with Gabriel Strange & Lydia Wood


‘MYTHANIMA’ (2006)



‘STUDENT OF KYME’ (2008) Wraeththu Novella

‘INCEPTION’ a fanzine produced by ‘The Storm Constantine Information Service’ with reviews, Convention reports, correspondence and exclusive Storm-related advance details

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