An Interview with Emily Tesh

Hi Emily, thanks for agreeing to an interview with us and welcome to the Inn! Would you mind telling us a bit about yourself and your debut Tor.com Publishing novella, Silver in the Wood?

Silver in the Wood came from a bit of an odd place; I’d just trunked a beloved manuscript and I was feeling sort of disillusioned with the whole idea of writing, so I decided to write something short that was purely for me and just fill it with everything I enjoyed. I’d been on a Georgette Heyer reread marathon so I thought – historical romance! But I also like magic: fantasy historical romance! And I like creepy things: fantasy historical romance with ghosts and monsters! And then I think I was simultaneously rereading Lord of the Rings and playing the Witcher 3. In some ways there couldn’t be two more different worlds: but both of them turn heavily on landscape and atmosphere.

Anyway that is how I ended up writing the story of Tobias Finch, or ‘what if a very depressed queer version of Tom Bombadil living in a beautiful creepy magical wood was also a monster hunter and then he fell in love.’

Silver in the Wood is based on the Green Man’s mythos. What made you want to write a story rooted in this tale?

The Green Man is interesting, because he’s a modern myth!  He was sort of constructed out of several different strands of folklore in the early twentieth century. And I’ve always thought that it was striking that it’s at the tail end of the industrial revolution and during the period of the world wars that suddenly people feel the need for this myth – this figure who represents the strength and wildness and beauty of the natural world. Silver in the Wood is set in a nineteenth-century-ish milieu (it’s not, actually, historical England, because I wrote it just for me and therefore I kind of didn’t bother with, er, research) – and the character of Henry Silver, whom Tobias falls in love with, is full of that myth-making and myth-hunting urge: as the world he lives in becomes more modern and complex, he turns towards the natural world and to a folkloric past which he half-invents for himself. That leads him to Tobias, but also to something much more dangerous.

What kind of mythical stories influenced your imagination, growing up?

Oh, I’m Greeks and Romans all the way down. I always read anything mythical I could get my hands on, but we’re lucky to have a lot of amazing sources for the myths of the Classical world in particular. I started with retellings for children and was onto Homer and the tragedians by the time I was in my late teens. I never got over it, either – my day job involves teaching this stuff!

Silver in the Wood is intentionally more ‘English’ in feel. We don’t have the kind of written tradition for English folklore that we do for the ancient Mediterranean, but we do have fairytales and folk traditions to work with. Lots of them are a bit of a mishmash – there are Welsh, Viking and French influences, among others, reflecting how many different kinds of people have settled in the British Isles over time. I couldn’t resist a bit of classical mythology, though – the dryads as I’ve imagined them are the tree-women out of Greek myth.

Myths and fairy tale retellings are one of my favourite subgenres of speculative fiction, so I’ve been thrilled with all the reimagined stories we got these last years. Do you have a favourite recent retelling?

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik! That’s probably a really obvious one, but I thought it was an absolutely brilliant take on the story of the girl who span straw into gold. The way Novik takes the bones of a fairytale and then builds on it with layers of history and society and genuine human feeling creates such a sense of richness to the world. I cannot tell you how thrilled I was when the author read Silver in the Wood and liked it!

What are the highlights of your debut year, so far?

It’s probably cheesy to say that I’ve been so moved by the realisation that people care about these characters and this world. Silver in the Wood is a very short book – only just over a hundred pages, in the print version – and I was fully prepared for people to say, well, there’s just not enough here. But instead many of the early readers have embraced Tobias and Silver and Greenhollow Wood, and that’s a wonderful feeling.

What’s next for you?

Well, for those people who have asked if there’s going to be any more stories about Tobias and Silver… watch this space.

Thanks for visiting the Inn and chatting with us, Emily! Anything you’d like to say to our readers to close off?

Just that Silver in the Wood is out on June 18 – I hope you enjoy it!


About Emily tesh

Photo credit: Nicola Sanders

EMILY TESH grew up in London and studied Classics at Trinity College, Cambridge, followed by a Master’s degree in Humanities at the University of Chicago. She now lives in Hertfordshire, where she passes her time teaching Latin and Ancient Greek to schoolchildren who have done nothing to deserve it. She has a husband and a cat. Neither of them knows any Latin yet, but it is not for lack of trying.

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