Q&A with Helen Oyeyemi, author of Boy, Snow, Bird

Questions by Simon

1) Firstly, congrats on Boy, Snow, Bird, it’s fantastic! Could you say a bit about the genesis of the novel and how it developed?

Thank you! This book is my wicked stepmother story – I’d read Barbara Comyns’ The Juniper Tree, also told from the perspective of a stepmother, and I’d been wondering and wondering how Comyns managed to find such a different (and yet wholly true) story within the original fairy tale. I still don’t know how she managed it so beautifully, but I found my own way into snow white by looking more closely at the ‘fairest of them all’ angle of the story.

2) Your novels often use doubles or reflections – and, of course, they appear often in Boy, Snow, Bird. Where do you get your interest in doubles in fiction?

I think doubles are probably just part of life – I don’t think it’s so much that I’m interested in them specifically, more that I just don’t exclude them from the story. Two sides or more to each and every part of a thought.

3) ‘Snow’ seems to be a play on ‘Snow White’, though your portrait of a stepdaughter/stepmother relationship is far more nuanced than that story, of course – how do fairytale and myth influence your writing?

I feel they address human psychology very directly, and on some level the way we tell and listen to/read them affects the way we understand our lives and how we respond to other people. the way a woman might approach being a stepmother or a mother, for example, is most likely influenced by stories she’s heard, and so on.

4)  We read the narrative voices of Boy and Bird, but only hear Snow through dialogue and her letters. Was this your intention from the first, and what effect do you think this has?

A friend who’s just read the book was asking me about the fact that characters I write eat meat and smoke (neither of which I happen to do) and he wondered if this was a way of vicariously enjoying these things, but I disagreed. After a certain point I find that characters mostly do what they want and don’t care that I’m vegetarian. So I’m sure snow had her reasons for not talking directly.

5)  And finally, the question I like to ask everyone – what are you reading at the moment?

Victor Serge’s searing tragedy The Case of Comrade Tulayev… it’s so good- please read it.

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Simon is one of the Shiny Editors – read his review of Boy, Snow, Bird HERE.

Helen Oyeyemi, Boy, Snow, Bird (Picador, 2014) 308 pages.

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