Utopian Q&A: Tracy Fahey
Her short fiction is published in over thirty American, British, Australian and Irish anthologies. She holds a PhD on the Gothic in visual arts, and her non-fiction writing is published in edited collections and journals. She has been awarded residencies in Ireland and Greece. Her first novel, The Girl in the Fort, was released in 2017. Her second collection, New Music For Old Rituals was released in 2018 by Black Shuck Books. Her mini-collection, Unheimlich Manoeuvres In The Dark, was published in 2020 by Sinister Horror Company. Her new collection of female-voiced body horror, I Spit Myself Out comes out in February 2021, also from the Sinister Horror Company.
It has been over half a millennia since Thomas More wrote Utopia, coining the name of a genre that applied literary wit to the dream of a better world. This conversation of texts played a pivotal role in shaping the narratives of modernity, as well as the novel, modern prose fiction’s most distinctive medium. However, the utopian imagination has also been read back into the earliest human stories.
Humanity is at a crisis point, beset by systemic catastrophes of ecology, economy and political legitimacy, the basis of which can be found in the upheavals of More’s period—the land enclosures and earliest intimations of industrial revolution. Utopia is often said to be at a low point, relatively dormant since its flowering in the 1970s. And yet, even discounting other mediums, novelists continue to explore utopia; for example, in the work of Iain M. Banks, Kim Stanley Robinson, Alan Jaccobs, Robert Llewellyn, Ada Palmer, Nisi Shawl, and Cory Doctorow.
Even in dystopian times, this imaginative leap makes its simple demand on artists.
What is your earliest memory of utopia?
Neverland, the land of Peter Pan. To me as a child growing up seemed like a painful exercise; an obsession with rules, a constant worrying about everything, a grim suppression of joy. A morbid child, I also liked the unease that blurred the edges of Neverland; Peter’s callousness, the harshness of battles, the uncertainty about the fate of the Lost Boys…
Are there facets of society you can imagine becoming utopian?
I’m more of a protopian than a utopian I guess, partly in that I find it hard to believe that en masse we can move from a place of selfishness towards a place of complete unselfishness. But what I do believe in is that we can make small and gradual moves as a society. If we consider attitudes 50 years ago towards, for example, environmental responsibility, we can see a decided, positive shift.
I’m also a little afraid of sudden and seismic shifts towards a utopia… literature and popular culture are seeded with examples of utopias that are imposed to bring about a solution of an overwhelming problem that then transform into dystopias – from the Empire of Star Wars to Gilead in The Handmaid’s Tale.
How is utopia most expressed in your life?
I haven’t found a utopia yet that summarises my wishes for humanity – I can see downsides to each vision that’s brought forward.
If you had to live in a fictional utopia, which and why?
I’m drawn to feminist utopias, like that of Madge Piercy’s Woman On The Edge of Time. But that story is inflected with the awful circumstances of the protagonist Connie Ramos’ ‘real’ life. A recent intriguing version of a powerful female universe is that of Naomi Alderman’s The Power which, by cleverly subverting gender expectations by making women the dominant sex, offers an interesting critique of current society.
How has the idea of utopia influenced your writing?
I naturally tend towards dark fiction; the domestic dystopias of my first collection, The Unheimlich Manoeuvre, or the grim folk horror of my second collection, New Music For Old Rituals. However, during the current pandemic, I’ve found myself turning more and more to the enclosed Regency utopias of Jane Austen, worlds where resolute and principled women survive and thrive, and in doing so, undercut the foundations of their patriarchal society. During the first and second lockdowns of COVID-19 I actually co-wrote a novel (still to be edited) based on a lifelong love-affair with Regency novels. I couldn’t write horror for the longest time; in everything I watched or read – or wrote – I felt the necessity for utopian thinking to dilute the dystopian reality around me.
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