Welcome back to The Pop Quiz at the End of the Universe, a recurring series here on Tor.com featuring some of our favorite science fiction and fantasy authors, artists, and others!
Today we’re joined by Alison Littlewood, author of A Cold Season, a story of isolation and loss. Her second novel, Path of Needles, is a dark blend of fairy tales and crime fiction, and her latest, a ghost story called The Unquiet House, is available now from Jo Fletcher Books. Alison’s short stories have been picked for the Best Horror of the Year and Mammoth Book of Best New Horror anthologies, as well as The Best British Fantasy 2013 and The Mammoth Book of Best British Crime 10. Other publication credits include the anthologies Terror Tales of the Cotswolds, Where Are We Going? and Never Again. Alison lives in West Yorkshire, England, with her partner Fergus.
Join us as we cover subjects ranging from survival skills to robot sounds, and more!
Strangest thing you’ve learned while researching a book?
I think I was on the short story trail when I learned there is such a thing as a ‘mellified man’—someone mummified in honey. The subject would eat nothing but honey and bathe in honey until he died, in which case he would be placed in a stone coffin full of honey. After a hundred years or so he’d be eaten for medicinal purposes. Yum.
What kind of apocalypse (zombie, robot, environmental, etc.) is most compatible with your survival skills? And what kind of apocalypse would you like to avoid at all costs?
I’m not sure I actually have any survival skills—‘run away screaming’ is probably the best I could muster. Environmental might give me the best chance, although the worst would probably be disease—something insidious you can’t see and can’t escape.
It would have to be the Pale Man from Pan’s Labyrinth—the one with eyes in its hands. It’s creepy, inexplicable and silent, and the horror it inflicts is mainly kept off-stage, but there’s that sad pile of children’s shoes… Brrrr.
What’s your favorite fairy tale, or fairy tale retelling?
Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid. It sounds all light and fantastical, but I wept buckets over it when I was little. It taught me that not every fairy tale has a happy ending—the mermaid gives up everything and undergoes all kind of tortures to win the prince, and in the end, she can’t make him love her. No one’s fooled by that ‘foam on the water’ stuff at the end—it’s hopelessly sad, and yet beautiful at the same time.
Please relate one fact about yourself that has never appeared anywhere else in print or on the Internet.
I was once kicked in the bum by Worzel Gummidge.
What’s your favorite method of procrastination?
I have too many to mention.
Two roads diverge in a yellow wood: one leads toward a mysterious laboratory in which a mad scientist is currently ensconced. The other winds its way toward a tower inhabited by a powerful wizard. You could really use a snack, and it would be nice to have somewhere to crash for the night—which road do you choose?
Definitely the wizard. I mean goodness knows what kind of concoction a scientist would come up with, if they even remembered to eat. Wizards, I imagine, like a bit of comfort. But then, I’d probably be far too fascinated by the yellow wood to get anywhere at all.
Describe your favorite place to write.
On the sofa with the dog curled up next to me, trying to shove his head onto my laptop and snoring into the keys. It makes it a bit tricky to type though.
What is your preferred robot noise? A) Beep, B) Boop.
Boop, definitely. I mean Beep is just a glorified alarm clock, but Boop—my, that robot’s got a disco going on in its brain.