Laura Steven chats researching gothic for The Society for Soulless Girls
Ten years ago, four students lost their lives in the infamous North Tower murders at the elite Carvell College of Arts, forcing Carvell to close its doors. Now Carvell is reopening, and fearless student Lottie is determined to find out what really happened. But when her roommate, Alice, stumbles upon a sinister soul-splitting ritual hidden in Carvell’s haunted library, the North Tower claims another victim. The Society for Soulless Girls is a dark academia title exploring goth, women’s anger and the duality of (wo)man. We had the honor of chatting with Laura Steven.
First of all, what would you call your imp?
I’m torn between something incredibly pretentious, like Balthazar, or something incredibly commonplace, like Kevin. Apologies to any and all Kevins reading this.
Why did you decide to do a retelling of Jekyll and Hyde?
I always thought I hated the classics, because I never enjoyed Jane Austen or the Brontës in school – anything where romance is the Sole Plot is just not interesting to me. However, in my early twenties I explored the more horrible and murderous canon and quickly fell in love. So apparently I only like ‘the greats’ if there are dead bodies and a dark supernatural undercurrent. The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde and the theme of the duality of (wo)man seemed ripe for a female perspective; there are so many societal and cultural ‘rules’ that label us as either Good Woman or Bad Woman? Even when we supposedly have equality, how do these invisible boundaries restrict us—and eventually corrupt us?
When writing The Society for Soulless Girls, how did you balance between retaining the main themes of Jekyll & Hyde and keeping your story original?
The more I think about it, the more I realise it’s actually a reimagining rather than a retelling. Other than the murders and the splitting of a soul between good and evil, absolutely none of the original plot points made it into my version! I like to plant a core concept as a seed in my imagination and watch what grows organically from there. I want my exploration to spark different emotions and conversations than the original, otherwise what would be the point?
The novel is written in 3 sections – Roots, Branches, and Woods. Why these 3 titles?
These tie into the epigraph: “But it is the same with man as with the tree. The more he seeketh to rise into the height and light, the more vigorously do his roots struggle earthward, downward, into the dark and deep—into the evil.” Each part of the book represents the journey of Alice’s struggle between good and evil. The more she goes to desperate lengths to sever the evil from herself, the deeper its roots burrow – and the more it grows beyond her control.
The vibes in The Society for Soulless Girls are so impeccable that it almost gives us a nightmare. Can we know what the mood board looks like?
Tweed blazers, dark hot chocolate, rare first editions, crackling fireplaces, comfy armchairs, immortal black cats, haunted libraries, silver thumb rings, crunchy autumn leaves, arcane rituals and two girls kissing against ancient bookshelves…
Absolutely loving all the gothic details nested within the book, especially the discussion surrounding the impact of Gothic on the world! What was the research process like?
I adore research, and it was hard for me to strike the balance between the academia and the actual plot! I actually had to cut back a lot of my research during one round of edits because it was slowing the pace too much. Essentially, I was really keen to have a kind of meta conversation about gothic/horror fiction and the way it does not exist in a vacuum. It often holds up a mirror to cultural fascinations and paranoias – but what if it were more than a mirror? What if that conversation was happening both ways, and the gothic itself actually impacted society? That ‘golden thread’, as one of the creepy Carvell professors calls it, is so interesting to me, and I lost many hours to reading academic journals on the subject.
The motif of women’s anger is also incredibly fascinating. Did you already come up with this theme before penning the story?
Like Alice Wolfe, I was born angry. I was an introverted child with an inch-long fuse, and a perilously moody teenager. Then, in my twenties, the more I learned about the world, the angrier I felt. Even now, as a thirty-something, I’m always getting in trouble for reacting with too much speed, too much heat, in situations where others would probably keep their cool.
And yet as girls and women, anger is considered an ugly emotion. From a young age, we’re taught to be placid and compliant. We’re never encouraged to play-fight as kids, the way boys are. As teenagers, a boy who punches his friend in an argument is just frustrated; a girl who does the same is feral. As adults, if we raise our voices we’re hysterical.
Our anger is constantly forced downwards, away from our mouths and fists, pressed deep into our bellies, a pressure valve with no release. And we wonder why it so often spills over. We wonder why we feel so evil when it does. That seemed like an incredibly rich seam to mine.
And finally, why would any parent let their children attend Carvell College?!!
Oh my god, I struggle to let my son go on the swings at the park. The subplot with Lottie’s dad really hit hard for me. But it’s the age old parenting dilemma: they are theirs before they are yours. It’s an agonising truth every parent has to face at some point in their child’s life. At some point, we just have to trust them.
Get your copy of The Society for Soulless Girls here.