You Say Shibori, I Say Shibari

An interview with Chris McVeigh, the founder of Fahrenheit Press – originally published at Fahrenheit Press.

CMV: When A Savage Art appeared on our submission pile we knew immediately that we had our hands on something special. Based on how quickly it got shared around our network it was a word of mouth success before we had even offered to contract it – everyone connected with Fahrenheit wanted to get their hands on it as soon as they heard the internal buzz. So Ann, without giving too much away, can you tell us a little bit about A Savage Art and how you came to write it?

AER: For me, a crime novel is a kind of psychological “what if” experiment. What could drive a good person to murder? That was my starting point – with the main character. I’ve always been fascinated by revenge stories Kate Savage is a textile artist who creates worlds out of dark fairy tales. She’s always kept people at a distance, and is afraid of intimacy, but at the beginning of the novel she’s starting to take a few risks with people. Then she discovers the clever, charismatic and sadistic Doctor John Reed is responsible for driving her assistant to her death, and it’s impossible to convince the authorities that this respectable member of the community is not what he seems. So she makes a plan.

I wrote the prologue as the final assignment for my Open University degree. Kate’s voice was immediately appealing, but it took me around forty thousand words before I really knew who she was….and then she started surprising me. I’d only written short stories before, and pretty bad ones at that, so I was surprised by how much more fun I had with writing a novel. There’s far more opportunity to include all the different kinds of things a flibbertigibbet mind like mine is interested in – in this case, textile arts, fairy tales, and – of course – the dangers of the manipulative sociopath.

CMV: Although it’s not particularly explicit, it’s fair to say the book is very sensual and erotically charged – that’s quite a trick to pull off – did you always know the book was going to include these erotic elements or did they evolve naturally as you wrote it.

AER: It’s all Meg Ryan’s fault.

In an online discussion I discovered the Michael Parkinson interview about her role in Jane Campion’s erotic thriller, In The Cut. An acquaintance was claiming that the film was a hymn to misandry and how could that lovely sweet Meg Ryan (who plays the teacher Frannie Avery) turn on Mark Ruffalo (Detective Giovanni Malloy) like that….

At first I was amused at the way he blurred fiction and reality, but when I watched the film I was totally unprepared for how far from the mark he was. At the beginning of the film, the severed limb of a woman in found in Frannie’s garden. She gets involved with Detective Malloy, who is investigating the case. When she discovers a link between him and the dead woman she takes action to protect herself… (I’m getting vaguer in case someone might want to watch the film…) So it was hardly a rabid feminist tract advocating violence against men.

Around the same time I was reading Steig Larsson’s book The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and discovered that in Swedish it was called Men Who Hate Women, and the idea for my villain started to come together…

Although the film In The Cut wasn’t pretty unpopular, I really enjoyed it. I thought, if Jane Campion and Meg Ryan can make an erotic thriller, I can write one. And what would it be like if a feminist did set out to kill a man…

CMV: What a difference a letter makes. Did you know the difference between ‘Shibori’ and ‘Shibari’ before you started writing the book? If not how did you research the BDSM elements in the book? (As someone who’s familiar with this subculture I can confirm that your depiction of it is very accurate).

AER: I hadn’t a clue – the scene where Kate finds out is one of the few that is directly inspired by my own experience. I had my very expensive shibori picture book out when a young friend visited me and expressed surprise…and when I explained that it was just Japanese for tie dying she showed me some pictures of shibari. At that point my narrator was an office worker but I realised straight away that she needed to escape the bank and become a textile artist – and that was when the story really came to life.

I did a lot of research – reading everything from a beginners’ book on how to be kinky (not as explicit as the Alex Comfort books we were into when I was at Uni in the dark ages!), various blogs, and feminist tracts for and against kink and pornography. Several people from the BDSM community read the relevant sections and entrusted me with personal experiences. They know who they are, and I know who some of them are.

CMV: Like Kate Savage you have an interest in textiles, could you tell us a little bit about that? A little bird mentioned that you recently completed a project based on David Bowie?

AER: I love playing with fabric – as a child I used to embroider crinoline ladies on tablecloths, and I was devastated when I didn’t get my turn on the loom at junior school. So when I got the chance I bought a loom and did a textiles course hoping to learn to weave – and was distracted by hand embroidery instead. I made the Ziggy doll earlier this year when it seemed like the whole world was grieving. His hair did end up a bit Hazel O’Connor, but I was very proud of his Liberty fabric outfit – and those red boots. I’m not disciplined enough to be a real artist though I do enjoy tinkering. I would have no chance at all of making any of Kate’s pieces – but I did have a lot of fun in imagining them and writing them into existence.

You can read more about Ann’s David Bowie project here.

CMV: The big question, are you writing a follow-up to A Savage Art – are we going to meet Kate Savage again?

AER: I do have an idea for a sequel – it’s at the very early stages of planning at the moment, but it addresses some of the loose ends in A Savage Art.  Sparked by a friend’s holiday photos of a very interesting ruined building in Cefalu, Sicily….

CMV: We always like to give our authors the chance to pimp their favourite books – which 3 books would you recommend to Fahrenheit readers as must reads?

AER: Keeping to three is challenging –  the ones that spring to mind are all parts of series.

Gaudy Night by Dorothy Sayers is a firm favourite. I’m not a fan of Peter Wimsey, but I adore the character of Harriet Vane – who manages to turn him into a human being. Really, readers should start with Strong Poison,

Game of Kings, by Dorothy Dunnett. Again, this is the first of series. The hero, Lymond, is a 16th Century Scottish version of James Bond. Completely brilliant complex plots with complex heroes and villains.

Tana French – the first of her Dublin Murder Squad series, In The Woods. The whole series is brilliant, but I was hooked by how well she understood how dangerous a narcissist/sociopath can be in everyday life – and that was just in the backstory of one of the detectives.