You might remember Deirdre Sullivan from our interview with her on Precious Catastrophe. We are honoured to have Deirdre Sullivan here with us today to chat about her new book, Wise Creatures, and share why she chose to write about trauma in a horror story.
Ghosts are like us, and not like us. They can’t forget, and yet they are forgetting. Sometimes all that’s left of them is a feeling, a cold spot, a flickering image in the corner of your eye. They are very easy to dismiss, to explain away. And so are teenage girls, the hurts they weather and the truths they tell.
Wise Creatures is a ghost story, but it’s also a story about trauma, strength and kinship. I’ve always been fascinated by what haunts us. The things we carry through the world beside us, things that we share, or that set us apart. There are many different kinds of ghosts, but poltergeists are often tied to teenage girls. Over and over again in ghost narratives, there’s this shared thread, of people whose voices often aren’t heard, who are dismissed, or marginalised in some way, being listened to. Ghosts can bring things to the surface, into the light. And whether you believe or not, there is more to us than we can explain, more than blood and bone. Our bodies tell us when we aren’t safe, and sometimes they won’t stop warning us even when we are. I wanted to look at what a ghost can mean, and the different types of hauntings, the stains they leave, the changes that they make. I wanted to write about the things that become part of you, without you asking. About the things that are done to us, and what we do to each other.
Trauma is a complicated thing, and it’s different for everyone, though obviously there are parallels. Everyone’s story is their own, and it was deeply important to me to respect Daisy, and Nina, they’re in a heightened situation, but I wanted it to feel real, to feel lived in and textured and true. I read a lot around it, Judith Herman, Bessel Van Der Kolk, Lucia Osborne Crowley amongst others, and as I edited, I had an expert reader, Dr. Ciara Banks, who offered her knowledge and insight. It’s interesting to me, in terms of explaining how different people move through the world, how they respond to things, and what can support recovery, or survival. Fight, flight, freeze, fawn. If you felt something that wasn’t breath but wasn’t not breath on your neck, if you looked in the mirror and your reflection wasn’t doing the same things you were. If a friend told you a secret that was too heavy for them to carry alone, what would you do?
We meet our ghosts, and other people’s too, as we move through the world. We shine torches for each other in the forest or hide in confined spaces. We can and cannot choose how we meet the dark, we reach for it, and flinch from it, and hold it in our hands, and there is no one way, or one right way for anyone to be haunted. Maybe that’s why I keep coming back, for just one more story, whispered in the night.
Wise Creatures by Deirdre Sullivan, is out now and published by Hot Key Books.