Welcome to another Issue 040 author interview! Today we sit down with Tolu Senok. Continue below for her insight into her short story “Silent Lullaby“.
LSQ: The theme of a mother’s undying love courses through the entire story, and ending it with hope anew–much needed good feels in here! Tell us, what was your inspiration for this tale? How did it feel to write something with so much love in it?
Tolu: Originally I wrote an entire paragraph here about how I had no clue where the idea for this story came from, and how it had just popped into my head when I started writing and I decided to run with it. While this is true, I remember now that shortly after I’d had this idea, I realized it reminded me of a fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen called The Story of a Mother. It’s about a mother who tries to find her sick child after Death takes them away. The ending is quite sad, but it also reflects the theme of self-sacrifice that is present throughout the story. Also the story takes place in winter, which is quite the coincidence considering it had been a while since I’d last read it at the time and I didn’t remember this at all. But anyway, I think if there’s anything that could count as inspiration for Silent Lullaby as a whole, it would be this. That being said, when it comes to the actual potion, the source of the idea behind it is still a mystery.
The idea for the setting most likely came from, believe it or not, the cover art of Luna Station Quarterly Issue 038, The Ranger by Caitlyn Kurilich. Issue 038 was the latest issue when I first discovered LSQ. I adore this cover. The warm colors, the detail, the sense of adventure, I love it all. Kurilich became my new favorite artist thanks to it and her art style. I believe The Ranger must have, at least subconsciously, made me really want to write something set in the mountains.
The healing pool was inspired by La Perle, Dubai’s first permanent Cirque du Soleil-style show. I’ve seen it twice and it’s fantastic! In the middle of the stage is this big, circular pool, and during the show the performers would suddenly climb out of it, or dive in and never come back up. It captured my imagination (as did the rest of the show) and it’s where I got the idea that the healing pool should be very deep and mysterious. In my mind it looks just like the pool I saw there.
Silent Lullaby is an emotional story, and I was certainly swept up in those emotions while writing the first draft. It was really moving to see the care the woman showed to her child in the midst of hardship. The story isn’t just about a mother’s love for her child, though; it’s also about one’s love for their mother, and how much a mother can influence someone throughout their lives. I know mother-child relationships can be complex and not always positive, but I still found it comforting to remember the true strength and devotion of a mother’s heart. The love I felt from this story had this warmth to it that even the cold setting couldn’t touch. To be able to write about something so powerful, yet so gentle and pure… it felt good. It felt really good.
LSQ: The stark imagery of the cold mountains, the river, the witch and her wolves, the magical hare — what were the challenges of creating this world? What parts did you enjoy the most?
Tolu: The biggest challenge was definitely portraying the setting with some level of accuracy. I’m generally not the biggest fan of reading “cold” stories, that is, stories that predominantly take place in very icy/snowy climates. There’s nothing inherently wrong with them, it’s just that the constant chill gets to me, if that makes sense. Also having spent most of my life in the Middle East, I have never been up a snowy mountain or indeed had much experience with snow in general. But a mother going into the mountains was the idea I had, so that’s what I went with. However, I didn’t realize until later drafts that I hadn’t done nearly as much research on this setting as I should have. In my defense, I didn’t have much time. I only started writing this story about a week before the submission deadline (since before then I didn’t know LSQ existed), so I was mainly focused on getting the first draft down and editing the prose. But later on I started worrying about all sorts of things, from what types of snow there would be to whether wolves could live that high up to how close the mountains would be to the village to even whether bear pelts could rot! There was a lot of frantic Googling involved at this stage, but I still ended up being insecure about the more “realistic” details even after sending in the story. For a while I wondered if I’d really managed to get the setting “right” at all.
Related to all this was figuring out where in the world the story was set. I’d imagined the village being in some sort of valley, but I wasn’t sure which mountain range was most similar to what I had in mind. My first thought was the Swiss Alps, and while that is what I settled on eventually I think it’s more likely the village and the mountains are someplace entirely fictional, especially considering I didn’t create anything with any specific mythology in mind.
What I enjoyed the most was coming up with the various beings that live in the mountains. I really loved having that chance to be imaginative and see what I could come up with. But by far the creation I’m most proud of is the hare. Its appearance is just such a gorgeous, striking image to me, and it seems so mysterious too, like it has its own life beyond the story. It didn’t take long for me to fall in love with it.
LSQ: What other fairy tales do you love and draw inspiration from? Can you name some authors who inspire you and tell us why?
Tolu: My all-time favorite fairy tales have to be the works of Hans Christian Andersen. Some of my favorites by him include Wild Swans, What the Moon Saw, The Little Mermaid, The Snow Queen and Psyche. Psyche in particular is one that (once again subconsciously) inspired another fairy tale of mine called The Artist and the Angel. It’s the first fairy tale I ever wrote, and the one I’m most proud of.
My absolute favorite author as a child, and the one who made me decide to become a writer, was Jacqueline Wilson. She mostly writes realistic fiction about children, usually girls, dealing with various family and social issues. However, the theme in her books that inspired me the most was the power of imagination. Despite the difficulties her characters go through in their everyday lives they always have their imaginations and their dreams to act as their safe haven and keep them going. It’s an idea I hold close to my heart to this day.
LSQ: Are you working on any other writing projects at the moment? If so, can you tell us about any of them?
Tolu: I currently have a sci-fi novel in the works, though progress on it has been rather limited as of late. It’s called The I in the Box and is about an amnesiac who has to escape a video game so his player characters can reclaim their lives. It was my 2018 NaNoWriMo project but since then I’ve changed a lot of things about the story and trying to start over on it has been difficult. Recently I received some feedback on a short story I’ve been working on for a long time (another fairy tale) and plan on editing it again. I should probably start a new short story as well though, if anything to prove to myself that fairy tales aren’t the only thing I can write.