Once, I was you, a hippie friend said, just like you, when I danced. I didn’t believe it, until she dressed me up in Edie clothes. And I saw me, through Superstar eyes We sparkled in the same way We looked lost in the same way We’d said Ciao to everything we’d ever known, everything that had ensnared us, but it still wasn’t enough, and so I didn’t want to believe (no such thing as reincarnation, I said) but really because I’ve dreamt of her through a million pasts, seen her in a thousand mirror ghosts, saw she knew me Inside and out and very far From the world’s stage From the critics, the ocean hid us away, where we dreamt in unicorns star-wished above the clouds danced like kindred spirits under full moons Barefoot and wild and free and holding a million futures in our hands, always and forever sisters, best friends, daisy chain girls full of love for this imaginary world; for ourselves. For only ourselves, next time.
More on Willow Croft: Willow’s speculative fiction/horror has been published in a number of anthologies and journals. Find out more on Willow’s website https://willowcroft.blog
Q1: When did you start writing and first influences?
Jess: It’ll sound cliché, but it’s true — I’ve been writing my whole life. My first short story was one I wrote and illustrated in kindergarten called “Lady and the Night” — about a dog who goes trick-or-treating. Truly, my finest work.
My first influences are also going to sound cliché, but I think given the generation, a lot of us writers who are currently in our 20s to our 40s first found inspiration in Stephen King. The first book I read of his was “The Drawing of the Three” from the Dark Tower series (out of order, I know), but I instantly loved it. I became a voracious reader of his work, and eventually found myself branching out to other horror authors, where I found the work of Clive Barker. I remember being blown away by his writing, so I quickly seeked all his work out, and I loved it all. He remains a favourite of mine to this day — his books, his films, his paintings, I love it all.
Q2: Who are your biggest influences today?
Jess: Clive Barker is definitely still at the top of my list, but as I’ve grown, I’ve searched out more female authors (something that was definitely lacking when I first threw myself into reading horror in the 90s). Today, I’m influenced by older authors, such as Shirley Jackson, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and Ray Russell (not a woman, but a great writer); and current authors, such as Gemma Files, SP Miskowski, and Helen Oyeyemi, to name a few.
Q3: Any pivotal moment when you knew you wanted to be a writer?
Jess: I don’t think so. The urge to write and create has always been there, but I only started to take it seriously in my 20s when I felt like I actually had something to say. Since then, every day has been something new — sometimes the words flow easily; other days not so much. But I write every single day because I feel like if I stop, I might lose my ability to put coherent words down on the page.
Q4: Who has helped you most with writing?
Jess: Everyone in my family helps in their own little way, whether they realize it or not. I have a five-year-old daughter, and I find it interesting to see the world through her eyes — something that I’ve started considering while writing younger characters, and something I wouldn’t have properly considered before I had her.
Q5: Where did you grow up and how did that influence your writing & have any travels away from home influence your work?
Jess: I grew up (and still live in) Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. We’re in the middle of the country, with nothing but prairie flatlands surrounding us as far as the eye can see. I was lucky growing up in that we travelled a few times a year, so being exposed to different parts of mainly Canada and the US showed me what rested beyond the prairies and opened my eyes to things I’d only seen in textbooks at that point. I have a story that’s influenced by the cobblestoned streets of Paris, and another influenced by the Rockies, but most of my stories take place in a city like Winnipeg, in the lands as flat as Manitoba. I think this part of the world often gets overlooked in fiction, which is a shame because it’s really the perfect place for terrible things to happen.
Q6: What do you consider your most meaningful work you’ve done creatively so far to you?
Jess: Everything I’ve written has a little piece of me in it, so each story is meaningful in its own way.
Q7: Favorite activities to relax?
Jess: Watching movies helps me relax — that’s probably my favourite thing to do, just zone out and watch a good movie. I also love to read right before bed. Listening to music is another good relaxer — I usually put Spotify on shuffle while playing computer games.
Q8: What is a favorite line/stanza from a poem of yours or others?
Jess: The first thing that came to mind is “That which is imagined can never be lost,” which is a line from Clive Barker’s novel, Weaveworld. That’s a definite favourite because it’s so true.
Q9: Any recent or forthcoming projects that you’d like to promote?
Jess: My debut collection, The Mother Wound, was released in May from Independent Legions Publishing. As well, an anthology I’ve co-edited called There Is No Death, There Are No Dead, is out August 27th from Crystal Lake Publishing, and I have a short story in the upcoming Aliens Vs Predators: Ultimate Prey anthology, out December 2021 from Titan Books.
1) Please describe your latest book, what about your book will intrigue the readers the most, and what is the theme, mood? Or If you have a blog or project please describe the concept of your project, blog, website
I’m currently working on the second series of ‘Penny Dreadfuls from the Moth Sanctuary’ – a series of free, short horror audiobooks I’m producing with my partner, Andrew Bate, and his independent theatre company, Moth Sanctuary Productions.
When lockdown hit the UK in March 2020 and production halted on the stage show we were producing, we decided to put my radio expertise, his music composition skills and our home studio set up to use and create some audiobooks. We started out by recording some lockdown themed classics, producing a version of Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘Masque of the Red Death’ and Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s ‘The Yellow Wallpaper.’
Inspired by classic Penny Dreadfuls, we then decided to create some of our own, original short horror stories, which grew into a series of ten episodes all written, recorded and produced by Andrew and I in our living room. I wrote four of the ten stories – ‘The Neighbours’ is about a woman who is driven to insanity after moving in above a mortuary; ‘The White Haired Devil’ is about a mysterious fortune teller with dark, hidden intentions; ‘Midnight Visits’ follows a young boy terrorised by a figure in the night; and ‘The Token’ is the story of an archivist who uncovers a sinister secret about the foundling hospital she is researching, inspired by a production of ‘Coram Boy’ which I starred in at Nottingham Playhouse in 2019. I also wrote an exclusive bonus episode for Thornhill Theatre Space called ‘Alice’s Shadow’ about a dark presence lurking in her room at night.
We have just started writing series two with three stories already in the making, so we hope to bring to listeners for free later in 2021.
2) How old were you when you first have become serious about your writing, do you feel your work is always adapting?
I wrote poems and songs a lot when I was a teenager, but I stopped when I was around 15 and didn’t seriously pick it up again until my late twenties. I decided to do a Masters degree in professional writing when I was 28, during which I developed a real passion for the short story format. I started writing and publishing poetry at 30.
At first, writing poetry was a therapeutic way to process my difficult emotions and work through some of the things I was experiencing at the time, so everything was quite raw and intense. Nowadays I find my poetry writing comes in waves, but my style is certainly always adapting as I try to refine my craft, while still staying true to the emotion that inspires it.
Working in the audiobook format has really helped me refine my short story writing too. I spent 10 years working in radio before I moved into publishing, so writing for the spoken word is something I am fairly adept at but I had never applied this skill to my own personal projects. Using the time I had during the first UK lockdown, I was able to dedicate myself to writing, producing five new short stories specifically for the Penny Dreadfuls from the Moth Sanctuary series, and working with artistic director Andrew Bate to bring the stories to life with his incredible voice acting and scoring.
3) What authors, poets, musicians have helped shape your work, or who do you find yourself being drawn to the most?
I find Nick Cave a source of constant inspiration, both for his staggering creativity, but also for his work ethic. I was lucky enough to see Nick Cave in Conversation in 2019, where he described how he didn’t just sit around and wait for inspiration to take over, but actively went to work at songwriting, seeing it the same way most people would see a traditional job. The idea that creativity and artistic inclination isn’t a gift bestowed on you from above, but is something that takes grit, determination and work is something that motivates me to keep creating, even when it feels fruitless. Style-wise, I find Florence Welch a big inspiration too, especially for songwriting, as I admire her rich, descriptive lyrics and often haunting, ethereal sound.
In terms of inspiration as a writer, I adore Angela Carter as I find she has the ability to totally immerse me in her fantastical worlds. I find her strong female lead characters and subversive themes delightful too. I read a lot of Bret Easton Ellis when I was a teenager which has had an undeniable influence on my writing, if not for the gritty themes, but for my soft spot for unreliable narrators. I must mention Edgar Allan Poe, I came to appreciate Poe’s work in my adult life and I truly believe he is the master of the short story, as I find his work so compelling I can devour each story in one sitting. I aspire to be able to do the same one day. More recently I am also enjoying the work of Kirsty Logan. Her short story ‘Things My Wife and I Found Hidden In Our House’ is one I find myself returning to again and again.
4) What other activities do you enjoy doing creatively, or recreationally outside of being a writer, and do you find any of these outside writing activities merge into your mind and often become parts of a poem?
As someone who writes songs, I also love to sing. I have been singing in some guise since I was around four years old. I was part of a choir that performed in a production at Nottingham Playhouse in 2019, which was a lifelong dream come true. I have been producing songs with my partner, who is also a singer-songwriter, as another lockdown project so we are hoping to release an EP sometime soon.
Outside of creative pursuits, I love to cook. I enjoy being out in nature, particularly forests and the coast. Before the pandemic I was also learning aerial hoop. I had got myself to an intermediate level but unfortunately I haven’t been able to train for nearly a year, so I am hoping to get back into that as soon as I can.
5) What is your favorite or preferred style of writing?
For poetry, I find free verse comes the most naturally to me, although I do get imposter syndrome sometimes and question whether my work is really poetry when it is so unstructured.
For fiction I am a short story writer predominantly. Although I have started work on what I hope will become a novel, the sheer volume of words required often overwhelm me. I also get an immense sense of satisfaction by being able to tell a complete story in such a short space of time so I return to that form repeatedly as I find it the most rewarding.
6) Are there any other people/environments/hometowns/vacations that has helped influence your writing?
Without wishing to sound too much of a romantic, I find my partner has genuinely inspired a lot of my poetry. I think that is largely because he encouraged me to pursue writing it and has given me such unwavering support as I have done so. I find such beauty in the complexity of human relationships – love, desire, loss, even the everyday experiences – that writing inspired by him and our relationship is often what comes naturally to me.
For my fiction writing, a lot of that comes from the dark recesses of my own mind. One story in particular was inspired by a memory I had as a child. When I was around four years old, I was convinced that I had seen a ghost sitting at the end of my bed. For years I thought it was an old woman, for some reason or another, and I ended up converting this memory into a horror story called ‘Midnight Visits’ which we put out as one of the Penny Dreadfuls from the Moth Sanctuary series. After telling my parents this over dinner one evening, my dad revealed to me that just a few days after his father died, when I was four years old, he and my mother had heard me talking to someone in the middle of the night. When they came into my room, my dad said he could smell my grandfather’s aftershave and there was an indentation on the end of my bed as though someone had been sat there. He had never told me that story before, so I still get goosebumps just thinking about it!
7) What is the most rewarding part of the writing process, and in turn the most frustrating part of the writing process?
For me, starting is the most frustrating point. All too often I will find an excuse not to start writing at all, which usually comes from self-consciousness or fear. I then get frustrated with myself because I want to be writing and creating something. So I have to force my way through the blocks I put in my own path before ultimately enjoying the creative process once it starts.
The most rewarding part I find is editing. I work as a deputy editor for my day job, so I spend a good amount of time sub editing other people’s work, which to me feels like polishing something to get it to its absolute best state. For me, I love it when someone reads my story for the first time and tells me their interpretation – what they think is happening, who they think the characters are, if any parts don’t ring true or cause them to lose the immersion in the story. Going back through and refining, polishing and improving those things always gives me a real sense of satisfaction, as it feels like I’m investing in my own work and increasing its value. When someone has invested their own time in reading or listening to one of my stories, I want to make sure that experience is the best it can possibly be.
8) How has the current times affected your work? I feel very privileged that although the pandemic presented several challenges for me, both personally and financially, it also presented me with the time and opportunity to really invest in my own personal work, which is something I hadn’t really had before.
If I hadn’t had the extra time lockdown afforded me, I doubt I would have actually pursued the idea of creating a series of original audiobooks, so I am both proud and grateful to have had the chance to do that. It’s also been wonderful to be more involved with my partner’s theatre company. I got to work with him to produce an exclusive, live streamed performance for Cheltenham Literature Festival and have had the opportunity to take on my first performing role, as we acquired a temporary license to perform Angela Carter’s ‘The Company of Wolves’ as a free online video.
I am exceptionally lucky that, despite a very sad death in my family due to Covid recently, lockdown has given me the space and the time to be creative in a way that I never have before.
9) Please give us any links, social media info, upcoming events, etc for your work.