#LoveOzYA Q&A with Krystal Sutherland about House of Hollow
Krystal Sutherland is an internationally published author whose first novel, Chemical Hearts, was published in over 20 countries and was named by the American Booksellers Association as one of the best debuts of 2016. Her second novel, A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares, was published to critical acclaim in 2017.
Originally from Australia, Krystal has lived on four continents and currently calls London home.
She chatted with #LoveOzYA's Alexandra Patrikios about her new release, HOUSE OF HOLLOW. . .
If you had to sum up HOUSE OF HOLLOW in an elevator pitch for our #LoveOzYA reading community, what would it be?
It’s the story of three sisters who went missing as children for a month and then came back… strange. Now, ten years later, the eldest sister is missing again and the other two have to figure out what happened to them when they were younger in order to find her.
If this story was a question that you were trying to answer or explore, what do you think that question would be?
The story really started to percolate after I visited Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka and saw “ghost doors” scattered around the forest – ruins where every part of a structure had fallen away except the doorframe. They felt at once inviting and dangerous, like fairy circles. I wanted to walk through one, but found myself afraid that if I did I might end up somewhere… else.
So the very first question I was trying to answer was – where was that else?
What other artworks - not just books, but maybe movies, visual art, or music - inspired you when you were writing HOUSE OF HOLLOW? Personally I could see Sofia Coppola making the movie adaptation, with Bats for Lashes on soundtrack duty, and also got a (welcome) Practical Magic vibe. . .
I love Practical Magic! The story was definitely a sponge for the media I was consuming at the time. The strongest influences were the Natalie Portman movie Annihilation (and, later, the Jeff VanderMeer book it was based on), The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert and Ari Aster’s Midsommar.
I listened to the Annihilation soundtrack so much that every single track on my Spotify end of year roundup for two years straight was by Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow. There were also some old influences that I’ve carried with me for ages that found their way, somewhat subconsciously, into the story: it shares a soul with Peter Weir’s Picnic at Hanging Rock and some of my favourite unsolved mysteries, like the Somerton man and the Dyatlov Pass incident.
Each Hollow sister responds differently to the ‘dangerous’ mantle of their beauty, and the effect it has on people — in Grey’s career as supermodel, we also see how that quality has brought material wealth and idolisation. What did you want to explore about female beauty, as a ‘social currency’, in this story?
It was less about beauty as social currency and more about the way women are forced to find ways to move through a world that has not been constructed for them. Grey views her beauty as a tool – and as a weapon. For her, it’s less about material wealth and idolisation than it is about the power those things afford her. The other sisters have very different views of their own beauty – Vivi has tried to diminish hers as much as possible and Iris tries to remain neutral and fade into the background
I wanted to capture all the ways women are forced to consider the way they look as they move through society: We idolise beauty, sure, but we also punish beauty or sexiness just as quickly. When a woman is attacked, for instance, one of the first things you’re likely to hear is something about what she was wearing. The way Grey, Vivi and Iris consider themselves is true for many women, I think, and we switch between them depending on the context we’re in.
Did you ever consider writing the story from a different sisters’ point of view, or all three?
I didn’t actually. I always knew it was Iris’s story to tell. I’m the eldest of three girls, but I knew from the beginning that I wanted to explore this story and this family through the eyes of the youngest sister.
One big change that occurred early on, though, was that Iris and Vivi’s personalities were flipped. In my very first draft, Iris was a high school dropout who’d run away from home and was living under a fake identity somewhere in Europe to escape her unwanted fame. Vivi was a goody two shoes student studying at Oxford on a scholarship who tracked Iris down and told her that their estranged older sister, Grey, was missing. It wasn’t working – Iris was too defensive to be a good protagonist – so I flipped their situations and it started flowing.
What was the hardest part of the story to ‘crack’ and how did you do to overcome it?
There were so many hard parts! I didn’t have much of a plan going into the draft, to be honest, I only had elements I wanted to explore: sisterhood, girlhood, liminality, identity. I knew the girls had gone missing and come back, I knew Grey would go missing again, I knew there would be a forest – and that’s about it! The toughest part to crack was probably what The Halfway was exactly – followed closely by who the villain should be.
I must of course ask about the cover, because it is stunning. What was your reaction the first time you saw it?
Is it possible to have romantic feelings for a cover? Because I would say I had a huge crush on it! I swooned. I swooned hard. I still swoon!
You’ve said that you felt “good enough” to write this story only after publishing two books. When did you first get the idea, and what skills did you specifically want to work on, to bring HOUSE OF HOLLOW to life?
I’ve wanted to write a book about liminality since I started writing my very first unpublished manuscript… thirteen years ago. The specific idea for HOUSE OF HOLLOW came in 2018, but the desire to write a portal fantasy has been gnawing at me for over a decade. After being through the publication process twice – the drafting, the editing, watching the story take shape over months and years – I felt brave enough to come back to what I first set out to do (and didn’t have the skillset for yet) at eighteen.
I liken it to a video game: You face a boss early on who you’re not ready to fight yet and you get crushed, so the game sends you off on all these side quests to build up XP. By the time you loop back to the boss, you’re ready.
That’s what my writing journey has felt like.