Book of the Month

Kirsty Logan

The Rental Heart and Other Fairytales

Kirsty Logan lives in Glasgow, where she is the literary editor of The List. Her short fiction and poetry have been published in print and online and exhibited in galleries. Her debut collection of stories is The Rental Heart and Other Fairytales (Salt, 2014). Her first novel, The Gracekeepers, is forthcoming from Harvill Secker in 2015.

We caught up with Kirsty to chat about her writing.

The Rental Heart is your first collection of short stories. Can you tell us a bit about how it came together?

The title story, 'The Rental Heart' came from a break-up. As it sometimes goes, I was really into this girl but she was much less into me. It hurt, because break-ups always hurt. I thought 'I wish I could return this heart and get a new one', because break-ups make me melodramatic. I'm apparently a rather literal person, as I then sat down and wrote a story about hearts that could be rented and returned so they'd never be broken. I haven't seen her since then, but I'd like to thank her now for that break-up, as I might never have written the story otherwise!

Altogether, the collection was written over about five years. I didn't write it as a collection; I wrote the stories for various places and purposes – commissions for Women's Hour on BBC Radio 4, assignments for my creative writing degree, and things I wrote just to get them out of my head. It also includes the very first story I ever wrote at the age of 22, 'The Man From the Circus', though of course it's been heavily rewritten since then.

When I'd written and published about 80 stories, I thought it was time to put a collection together. So many of the stories had a dark, adult fairytale tone, as it's one of my obsessions, and so they fit together although I didn't intend them that way.

The stories in this collection are modern fairytales, often taking inspiration from stories people may have heard; what interests you about this type of storytelling?

We're all thieves to some extent. Writers in particular. We take, we twist, we retell – often without realising.

In the story 'Feeding' there's a scene where the protagonist accidentally runs over a rabbit: "The rabbit lies a few yards behind the car. Its head is perfect: brown and fluffy, with long ears and limpid eyes. The rest of its body is a flat red oval, leaking onto the tarmac." When my mum read the story, she said that had happened to her many years ago. She'd told me about it, and I'd forgotten, but it had lodged in my brain so firmly that I later wrote about it without remembering where I'd heard it.

For me there's a fascination with a new twist on an old story: the sudden spark of the uncanny in the familiar, like feeling a sudden shift in the ground you thought was steady.

Your work has been compared favourably to Angela Carter. Are there any writers who have influenced or inspired your writing?

Roald Dahl was a huge influence. His books are dark, magical fables that don't shy away from the crueller things in life. He's thought of as a children's writer, but there's such black humour to his children's books that I don't think we need ever outgrow them. My particular favourite is 'The Magic Finger', where a family of duck-hunters are transformed into tiny people with wings instead of arms. Their house is then taken over by four human-size ducks with arms instead of wings. Magical realism at its finest.

A lot of new, young writers inspire me, too: Kerry Hudson, Hannah Kent, Liam Murray Bell. They're wonderful writers, they work hard, and they give back to the writing community.

You recently announced that your debut novel, The Gracekeepers, will be published by Harvill Secker. How much do you find writing short stories differs from writing a novel?

A novel is like a dollhouse: you open the front and all the tiny rooms are displayed, each populated with different characters doing different things, each totally engrossed in their worlds. I've always loved miniature scenes in museums, of battles or farms or villages. Even better is the full-size recreations: the People's Palace museum in Glasgow has a recreated 'single end', a one-room tenement home from the 1930s, complete with kitchen implements, furniture, textiles, and everything that a family would need. I'm obsessed with it. I could look at it for hours, imagining the lives of the people who lived there.

A short story is different: it's a short, sharp shock of story. I think of a short story as a keyhole: a glimpse into a single room, rather than a view of the whole dollhouse. A short story should hint at a larger picture and allow the reader to imagine a world, where a novel can explore it fully.

What advice would you give to writers wishing to see their work published?

Work hard. Be nice. Stay humble.