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Author Jane Flett on her witchy, campy, carnival novel, Freakslaw

Award-winning queer Scottish author Jane Flett talks about her debut novel and the influence Berlin’s literary community.

Photo: Makar Artemev

Jane Flett is an institution in anglophone literary Berlin. For over a decade, the award-winning queer Scottish author has been teaching and mentoring other writers, primarily through The Reader. She has also been publishing poetry and fiction in her own chapbooks as well as various magazines.

This summer, Flett released her debut novel Freakslaw, a neo-Gothic romp that begins when a boisterous supernatural funfair pulls into a repressed and patriarchal Scottish town.

Congratulations on this super-fun novel! Did you work on it for long?

I love being around excited writers who want to make something out of their brains

I did! It turns out writing a novel really does take ages. I’d had the opinion that it would be different for me, and it would only take me a year or two, and then it would sell everywhere. But that wasn’t the case! (laughs) I came up with the idea nine or ten years ago, and I wrote a version of it that I thought was very good – I showed it to my agent at the time, and to my dear friend Victoria Gosling from The Reader, and they both gave me the feedback that while the writing was good and the characters were interesting, I had neglected to write an actual plot, which was true. Years later, I came back and rewrote it with more of a story. And that’s how it became the weird, demented thing that it is.

What originally drew you to funfairs, freak shows and witchcraft?

I love funfairs – aesthetically and emotionally. I miss the funfair that used to come here every year, and I would cycle to Hasenheide to go on all the rides and hang out among the neon. I love that atmosphere. But it’s also that I grew up in a very small Scottish town, and I’m really interested in insiders and outsiders.

Scotland can get very insular; there’s a tendency towards blaming other people for things rather than taking a look at ourselves to see how we can do better. As for the witchcraft… to be honest, I think it’s cool. But I also did research about the witch trials, which happened in these great waves across Scotland – and they were much, much worse than they were in England. So that, too, was linked to the idea of blaming and lashing out at outsiders. 

What influence did Berlin have on the novel?

I think I needed distance from Scotland. It was only after living here for longer that I figured out some of the things I wanted to say about my relationship with Scotland and Scottish small-town-ness. And Berlin, obviously, is a very queer city. It’s also a city where communities play a major role: the queer community, the English-language community, the literary community.

I’m really interested in insiders and outsiders.

In places like London and New York, these big publishing hubs, there seems to be a lot more pulling each other down. But in Berlin’s writing scene, maybe because people are already outsiders in a way, there is just so much support – it feels like everyone is really rooting for each other to do well. So that definitely informed the writing of a book that is about community, about lifting each other up, about finding support from your people. 

You’ve been teaching within that community for many years. What do you like about it?

I just love it so, so much

I began taking workshops at The Reader, which was great. At some point, Victoria asked if I’d be interested in taking over one of her classes – and when I started, I realised that I just love it so, so much. I love being around excited writers who want to make something out of their brains; I love working with so many different people and realising the breadth of different weird stories that they can come up with.

Does teaching flow into your own work?

I think it does. When I was mainly running workshopping groups, I was getting exposed to a lot of people’s writing, which is a good way to make your own editorial process faster, as you realise things that are so much easier to see in someone else’s work than your own. (laughs) Over the last two years, I’ve changed to more generative teaching – looking at examples of writers who have done things really well, then discussing them and doing exercises based on that.

And that is so good for my own writing, because I’m constantly made to think, like, ‘Okay, time shifts! How do you do time shifts?’ Then I find a bunch of contemporary writers who are doing time shifts well and figure out how they do it.

  • Freakslaw out now / Berlin launch on July 5 at Lettrétage, details