Tabatha Wood lives in Wellington, the ‘Coolest Little Capital’ of Aotearoa, New Zealand. A self-proclaimed antisocial butterfly, she writes weird, unsettling fiction and dramatic poetry, mostly under the influence of strong coffee.
As a former English teacher and school library manager, her first published books were nonfiction guides aimed at professional educators. She now tutors from home while also working as a freelance writer and editor.
Her debut collection ‘Dark Winds Over Wellington’ was shortlisted for a Sir Julius Vogel award in 2020 and she made the AHWA Australian Shadows Awards shortlist three times in 2021 for her horror nonfiction and edited work. Her essay on menstruation in horror and speculative fiction won the nonfiction category.
Q: Today I’m excited to bring you a little chat with Tabatha Wood! I’d like to kick things off, if possible, with you sharing a little bit about yourself and what types of stories you enjoy writing as well as which genres you write in?
A: Kia ora, Sara, thank you so much for inviting me to chat. As someone who is drawn to the strange and unusual, my first love has always been writing quiet horror and dark speculative-fiction, but I’ve also been known to pen some uplifting poetry, a dystopian creature-feature and the occasional Sherlock Holmes-themed tale.
Q: Before I talk more about your fiction, you’ve recently won the Australian Shadows Award for non-fiction! Would you be able to share what you wrote and what the award means to you and where we can read it?
A: The essay was entitled “An Exploration of Menstruation in Horror and Dark Fiction,” or as I jokingly refer to it, my “period piece.” I wrote it for Women in Horror Month in February 2020 to explore how a natural, biological function frequently gets twisted into something horrific. It featured on The Horror Tree and has since been reprinted at Academia.edu and in the essays section of my own website. The idea was born out of my anger and frustration at patriarchal horror tropes and the way menstruation is too often presented as something to be reviled or feared. I was delighted that people liked it, but I honestly never expected to win an award. I think I’m still a little shocked.
Q: You had other works shortlisted, please tell us about those as well!
A: The other works were a nonfiction essay on queer vampires in modern cinema, which was written for Divination Horror Reviews Pride in Horror Month, and a canine-themed charity anthology, Black Dogs, Black Tales (co-edited with Cassie Hart) which supports the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand. I am particularly proud of the anthology, which was also dedicated to a late friend of mine, as we have raised over $1000 so far.
Q: I’d love to share a bit about your most recent work appearing in ‘Twisted Anatomy: a body-horror anthology’ if you could let my readers know about it?
A: I wrote “Little Teeth” for this charity anthology, which was put together by the team at Sci-fi & Scary, after seeing an X-ray of a toddler’s skull, complete with unerupted teeth. I have a love/hate relationship with teeth; I find them incredibly fascinating and also weirdly alien. The main character in the story is particularly unlikeable, and yet you can’t help but feel sorry for her by the end. I think it’s done a very good job of grossing a lot of people out, but in a good way, and for a very good cause.
Q: Your next release is titled ‘Seeds’ and is coming out in October from Wild Wood Books. Without any spoilers, what can you share about it?
A: ‘Seeds’ is a quiet horror and speculative fiction collection with a focus on female and nonbinary characters. A lot of the stories explore gender and identity, as well as motherhood, relationships and menopause. There are a few monsters included, as you might expect, but just like in my debut collection, ‘Dark Winds Over Wellington,’ a lot of the stories are semi-autobiographical in that they have allowed me to explore and express the darkest parts of my life through horror.
Q: Is there anything else that you have in the works that you would be willing to let us know about?
A: I have a poetry collection coming out in December called ‘To Wish on Impossible Things’ (the title is very much inspired by one of my favourite bands, The Cure) which is about moving to Aotearoa, New Zealand, my experiences as an immigrant, finding myself and making a new home.
I run a project on my website called Memento Vitae which is an exploration through pictures and prose of how we attach memories to physical items. There are twelve stories online so far and I’m always keen to accept more. I pay $20NZD for each piece.
I am also planning a collection of horror-themed essays, but that won’t be out until next year.
Q: Are there any characters who you love that you would really enjoy returning to down the line?
A: My most favourite character right now is Iko from my novelette, ‘All the Laird’s Men.’ It’s a military-themed creature-feature set in a dystopian Scotland, and Iko is a kickass, powerful young woman who refuses to give up her culture and her land. I have a trilogy planned, so I know Iko has a lot more stories to tell.
Q: You’ve written about your health issues in the past, do you think they may have pushed you toward your love of reading and writing?
A: Not really, but I do know my love of writing and creativity has helped me manage many of my health issues. I started the writing group, Well-Written, in 2017 to bring people together in a safe space to write for wellness and positive emotional health. In 2018 I lost a close friend, and having that space to write honestly and openly about my feelings was not only cathartic, it was crucial to my mental wellbeing.
Q: You’ve previously been a finalist for the Sir Julius Vogel Award! Can you tell me more about your work that was nominated?
A: My debut collection ‘Dark Winds Over Wellington’ was nominated last year for Best Collected Work. I was absolutely thrilled to be shortlisted, especially for a book that I wrote mostly for myself as I adjusted to living in a brand new country. It’s a bit weird, often strays into the satirical, and imagines a parallel New Zealand where all the folklore and legends are absolutely real.
Q: You used to be an English teacher and school library manager, how did that affect your writing?
A: I’m good at planning, great at doing research, and sometimes I manage to get the commas in the right places.
Q: As an English teacher, I know that you must have had a pretty awesome education. Is there anything you would like to tell us about your Alma mater and how it may have helped shape your craft?
A: To be completely honest, teaching was something I fell into, rather than planned to do. I worked in a college library after I got my English degree, and I found that I enjoyed working with the students so much, that after a couple of years I returned to university to do my teacher training. It was during that time, and my early years of teaching, that I published my first books – nonfiction guides for professional educators – and later I worked as a technical editor for Wiley Publishing. It gave me a great insight into how best to plan and research your work, and how to write an effective pitch.
Q: I read that you also tutor, does that help or hinder your writing?
A: Tutoring and writing are all just different parts of a very complex Venn diagram that makes me, me. There are a lot of overlapping skills, but really the biggest challenge for both is good timekeeping, and ensuring that one doesn’t eclipse the other. The other way of looking at it is one is a job and another is a hobby, I’m just grateful I get paid either way.
Q: Where were you born (and/or are you from) and how has that affected your writing?
A: I grew up in Whitby, on the North East coast of England, where Bram Stoker set ‘Dracula.’ It’s a beautiful place with a lot of history attached, but the imposing form of Whitby Abbey standing on the headland, glaring down at the town was a constant reminder of the gothic myth, and for me, a powerful motivator. I’ve always loved gothic horror, in fact I based my university dissertation on Victorian gothic classics, and I hope one day I’ll write my own modern gothic masterpiece.
Q: If you had one piece of advice to share with a new author, what would it be?
A: Most people begin writing for the love of it, which is absolutely the best reason to start, but if your dream is to get published, grow your readership or win awards, you have to sit down and do the work. There are no easy shortcuts and “overnight success” is very rarely that. Writing can be awesome and exciting, but it can also be a long, hard slog filled with rejection and self-doubt. Just focus on writing what you enjoy and keep going.
Q: What are some author resources you would recommend to new writers out there?
I read a lot across different genres, which I think helps a great deal, but some of my favourite books for and about writing include: Ursula le Guin’s ‘Steering the Craft,’ ‘Danse Macabre’ by Stephen King, ‘The Martial Art of Writing’ by Alan Baxter, ‘Out of Our Minds’ by Sir Ken Robinson, Tim Waggoner’s ‘Writing in the Dark’ and ‘Writers on Writing’ by Crystal Lake Publishing. I’ve recently picked up ‘Becoming a Writer, Staying a Writer’ by J. Michael Straczynski which seems very promising. Also, anything by Kurt Vonnegut, simply because he was such an amazing author and storyteller.
Finally, if there is anything else you would love to share with our readers, please do so here!
I’m always busy working on something, and I share a lot of my work on my blog, on social media and at Curious Fictions. You can sign up for news and updates via my newsletter at tabathawood.com and follow me on Twitter @Tabatha_Writes.