Tiffani Angus is shortlisted for the Best Fantasy Novel AND Best Newcomer in the British Fantasy Awards so I was stoked that she agreed to answer a few questions about the book.
Tell us about your book (what’s the sales pitch?)
Threading the Labyrinth is about 400 years in a haunted English garden; basically, it’s Tom’s Midnight Garden or The Children of Green Knowe, but for adults. American Toni has inherited the remains of an English estate, and as she discovers the secrets of its past the garden comes alive, telling the stories of its workers over the centuries. It’s got stories set in the 1620s, 1770s, 1860s, 1940s and 2010, mainly from the point of view of the women who work in the garden rather than the landowners.
If you could be a character in the book who would you be and why?
There’s a question no one has ever asked—and one I have never considered! I think I’d be Mary Hill from the 1860s, because in the story she’s a female photographer in the early days of the art, she discovers something extraordinary about the garden, and I’d love to be able to do the processes she does. Then again, I am closest to Toni, the American, even though I didn’t realise it until I was pretty much finished with the book! I think our writer brains get so involved in the stories that they keep us from making embarrassing connections to real life.
What did you learn about writing by writing this book?
I think writers have to learn how to write every time they sit down with a new story or novel idea. This one, though, taught me about structure. When I first finished it—it was part of my PhD dissertation—it was structured differently, which worked fine for the viva. But for publishing in today’s market, it had to work for a wide audience, and so I took the 2010 section out of the end and made it the frame story and then inserted the other four sections, out of chronological order, in between 2010 scenes. It’s disordered, but it makes sense now narratively. And that’s something that I am dealing with on the current WIP, how to structure parallel narratives that are separated by space though not necessarily time while also inserting these small epistolary bits of an outside ‘guidebook’.
Do you have a set writing process, if so what is it?
No. I don’t have a write-every-day ethic and my day job (I teach creative writing and publishing at university) means that I’m wiped out from talking about writing to get much of my own writing done for weeks or months at a time. When I sit to write something, I sometimes start from an image. I get these images out of nowhere, often right before I fall asleep, and writing helps me figure out what they mean. I tend to write in sprints, say over a 3-day weekend if I have nothing planned, no distractions or interruptions, and a full fridge!
What’s one question you think would be really fun to answer, but has never been asked of you?
Hmmm… you ask the best questions! I’ve answered a bunch of questions about the gardens I visited and about the research I did, but no one has ever really asked me much about the weirdest or most unexpected things I discovered during my research. A few things that come to mind: in the 16th and 17th centuries people thought that when trees got sick it was because their humours weren’t in balance, the same way that medicine at the time thought humans had humours; that hummingbirds don’t exist in the UK (there is one in the book, and, yes, I knew at the time they didn’t exist here, so it’s *on purpose*); that the term ‘plus’ wasn’t used in the 19th century the way we use it, which set me on the path of checking pretty much every word from each of the time periods in an etymology dictionary so that I could get the vocabulary right.
What made you choose to write your book as a historical fantasy?
The book is historical fantasy, with a mix of elements that I love. I’ve always loved spooky books that contain supernatural elements that aren’t explainable, time travel and time slips, and multi-generational novels, where we get to follow a family’s children and grandchildren as history proceeds around them. In Threading, the garden basically holds on to time, leading to some weird moments for the characters who see and hear people from the past and the future, and there are tentative family connections through the centuries, mostly unknown to all but the reader. I also like to take real history and tweak it a bit, so there are characters in the book based on real people.
How much research did you do before writing the book and how did you go about it?
Ridiculous amounts. Because it was my PhD, I spent 4 years doing ‘field studies’ in historical gardens all over England and going to museums and exhibits (Imperial War Museum, Garden Museum, the V&A, etc.) and sitting in the British Library rare book room looking at books from the 16th and 17th centuries. I looked into everything from William Morris designs to Land Girls uniforms to 18th-century animatronics. I basically just absorbed as much as humanly possible. There were some things, however, that I left alone and just ‘handwaved’ in the book; for example, there is a spot where I actually typed in [insert ship battle with here] but, when it came time to do edits, I found a way around things and kept my focus on the main character of the scene because I honestly didn’t want to go down the maritime war bunnyhole!
Do you remember the first story you told? What was it?
No, but my mom says that when I was 4 I had an invisible friend named Dixie Buttercup who lived under the fridge. That’s got to be my first story!
What are you reading? Who do you think we should be reading (apart from you!)?
I tend to read more than one book at a time. And I wonder why it takes me so long sometimes to finish anything! Right now I’m reading Cassie Alexander’s Year of the Nurse (all about what US nurses went through during the 2020 covid pandemic); Suyi Davies Okungbowa’s David Mogo, Godhunter (he was at Milford with me a few years back and was amazing, and this book is such fun); I just started Matthew Salesses’s Craft in the Real World: Rethinking Fiction Writing and Workshopping to see what it can teach me about improving how I run workshops in my writing classes; and I also just started Kylie Whitehead’s Absorbed, a very weird book about a woman who, well, absorbs her boyfriend and then starts experiencing changes. My TBR pile is ridiculous, but I can’t seem to stop buying new books, both physical and ebook.
In one sentence what’s your best piece of advice for writers?
Finish things, even if it’s garbage, because you can edit shit on a page but not shit in your head.
If that has whetted your appetite follow Tifani on Social Media and buy her book – links:
Also available at Amazon US, Blackwell’s, and Book Depository (free worldwide shipping)