I’m welcoming debut author Venetia Welby today who is chatting to us about her debut novel, Mother of Darkness, which was published 23rd February by Quartet Books.
Find out about Venetia’s inspiration, her research and much more.
Venetia Welby is a writer and journalist who has lived and worked on four continents. When not seeking out new countries and ideas, she is actively involved in the literary scenes of London and Oxford. She lives in Bow, east London with her husband, son and Bengal cat.
Connect with Venetia Welby
Welcome to Jera’s Jamboree.
Please summarise Mother of Darkness in 20 words or less.
A tale of loss, addiction and delusion set in Soho, London.
What was the idea/inspiration for your novel?
I suppose it was wondering about the contrast between the inner and outer experiences of madness; the dry diagnosis of mental illness vs the rich and all-consuming worlds within. I also wondered about the connection between mental illness and drugs, and drugs and religious visions, and the triangle of all three.
Did you travel to any places that helped you with your novel?
After a brief and ill-fated stint at Russian Vogue I decided to emigrate to Beijing, figuring it would be cheaper there than in London to do the three things I wanted to do: rent a bedsit, write a novel and be a private tutor. As it happened, it wasn’t much cheaper and the emigration was aborted – but my experience there (and in Havana where I’d spent six months the year before) did inform the sections of the book that deal with Matty’s nomadic childhood.
Did you do any research Venetia? What resources did you use?
Writing notes and transcripts from Matty’s psychotherapist, Dr Julia Sykes, required some research. When I studied Classics at Oxford I was particularly interested in the portrayal of mental illness in Greek tragedy and in the ancient world generally. I subsequently lived in London with a university friend who had become a psychiatrist, so as well as consulting her I read various texts on psychotherapy and psychiatry. I talked to two other friends in that world, one whose focus is mainly on attachment theory and another who is very interested in Jungian archetypes and who directed me to the excellent book by Jung’s student Marie von Franz, The Problem of the Puer Aeternus.
If you could choose to be one of your characters which would you be?
Um. This is a hard one as none of them have enviable lives. In fact the only one who has quite a good time is the arcane, purple-eyed god Feracor that comes to Matty in visions. It would be ok to be him I suppose.
If you could have given your characters one piece of advice before the opening pages of the book, what would it be …
Just say no.
Which authors have influenced your writing Venetia?
I’m a great admirer of Edward St Aubyn, Jay McInerney and Sylvia Plath.
Do you have a most creative time of day?
The absolute best for me would me upon waking in the morning, in that strange mental twilight where your dream world is still in full focus but mental acuity and coffee is filtering into it. As soon as you start talking though, this world retreats and must be coaxed back when silence returns.
Was there something you overcame?
Any tips you could share with new writers?
When I was living in Beijing I approached writing as far as was possible as a 9 to 5, showing up at my ‘desk’ in a cafe and sitting there until the time expired and I’d written a certain number of words. The novel I wrote, which was not the current one, was not as complex or rich as it could have been had I given it the time it needed to fully unfold. You’re told if you wait for inspiration to strike nothing will ever be written, but for me it’s much more effective to spend more time thinking and allowing the minutia of life to flow through the lens of a novel idea, or what was written last week, and then write when it’s time. I think all people have different writing rituals, so go gently and don’t impose received wisdom on yourself until you know what works for you.
Finally, can you share with us what you are currently working?
I’m currently writing about the places visited by two female ancestors, a mother and a daughter, who travelled round the world in the 1850s. I’m exploring, one by one, the cities they visited, trying to find the hotels they stayed in and using their diaries as a guide, so I can see what has changed in the interim century and a half. In Spain, where I have begun, that’s a fair amount.
Thank you for being my guest.
Wishing you success with your creative projects Venetia.
The age of late capitalism, and the raffish world of old Soho is being torn down to make way for a millionaire’s playground. Caught in the crossfire is Matty Corani, who, from his pokey studio flat, harbours a longing for the recent past. But when Matty wakes up next to a stranger one morning to find his life in tatters, the bulldozers and money men are the least of his worries.
His family has been ripped apart by a sudden catastrophe, his busybody lawyer says he’s wanted in court and he is being tormented by strange and savage dreams. Luckily his friend Fix is on his way over with the promise of a good time.
As the debauchery intensifies over the coming days and Matty’s mental state becomes increasingly precarious, his story is splintered by a series of psychotherapy sessions, erratic life writings, hallucinations and visions. Soon enough, Matty realises he is destined for far greater prospects than what is left of the grimy glamour and earthly delights of Soho.
A lyrical, wry and darkly comic debut that navigates the no man’s land of loss, addiction and religious zeal, Mother of Darkness is a dazzlingly original work from an unmistakeable new voice.