Octavia Cade talks female role models and horror

Scifipulse recently caught up with Dr. Octavia Cade. She is a New Zealand writer with a PhD in science communication

Scifipulse recently caught up with Dr. Octavia Cade. She is a New Zealand writer with a PhD in science communication. As well as the author of 40 short stories. Additionally, Octavia has won three Sir Julius Vogel awards and has been nominated for BSFA and Elgin awards. In this interview, Dr. Cade discusses female role models and the relationship between fairy tales and horror.


SFP: What got you into writing?


Octavia Cade: Reading. Which seems like the obvious answer I know, but it’s true. I’ve been an obsessive reader ever since I was a little girl, and mostly in the speculative genres. I always thought it would be nice to write a story and have it published, much in the same way as I thought it might be nice to go up in a hot air balloon… a sort of once-off, to see what it was like, but I never thought of making a career of it. So I sold a story, and thought “Well, that’s that ticked off,” but then I sold another one, and another one, and it sort of gradually crept up on me and now writing’s pretty much all I do.


SFP: Do you think there is a relationship between fairy tales and horror?


Octavia Cade: Absolutely. Fairy tales are terrifying! A lot of them are sanitised now, but the originals are bloody and awful. And of course, we’ve got lots of retellings now that we are going back to those very dark roots, which I enjoy tremendously. My own novella, The Convergence of Fairy Tales, skews extremely dark, inspired as it is by the original ending of Sleeping Beauty, who woke up not to a kiss but to a baby sucking the needle out of her finger. Imagine going to sleep and waking up to this bed of blood, the sheets red and sopping and this extremely sticky newborn still attached to you. Total nightmare fuel. That’s what fairy tales are for, though: devising ways to navigate the horror of everyday life. Wolves in the forest wanting to eat you, being abandoned in a forest because your parents can no longer feed you. The fears we have now are different, but they still need exploring, and fairy tales are the first stories we learn to help us do that.


SFP: Following on from that question, would you say that science and poetry are related?


Octavia Cade: Yes! I actually did my PhD thesis in science communication, looking at the intersection between science and poetry, and how poetry about science could be used to communicate science. My first poetry collection, Chemical Letters, was about a woman spending her afterlife in the periodic table: the table manifested as an apartment building, and each door represented one of the elements. Pick the door for gold, for instance, and you get a poem about Ernest Rutherford and the gold foil experiment which he used when splitting the atom. I think what I like best about poetry is that it uses layers of meaning and metaphor, and I think when you apply that to science you can explore science in really interesting and appealing ways.


SFP: What for you are the greatest 21st-century spec fic novels?


Octavia Cade: I really, really love The Swan Book, by Indigenous Australian author Alexis Wright. It’s set in a future Australia, and looks at climate change, refugees, race relations, and it’s got this magical realist undertone of fairy tales due to the use of swans. The prose is just astonishing. It’s just a beautiful piece of work all round, absolutely gorgeous.


SFP: What are you working on at the moment?


Octavia Cade: I always work on several things at once! I’ve been working for ages on a study of scientists in horror films, so hopefully that will get finished eventually. I’m also working on more climate fiction, and I’ve been experimenting for a while now with mash-ups of fairy tales and science history. I’ve only written a few, because it takes a while to match the right fairy tale with the right piece of history, but when it works I’m happy with it. One of the successes there was “The Huntsman’s Sequence,” which was published over at Glittership, which looks at Alan Turing and Snow White (it was his favourite film, and he committed suicide with a poison apple). I’m hoping to eventually write enough of these for a themed story collection.


SFP: Keeping in mind your novel The Don’t Girls, do you think that women in fiction have more agency now than they used to?


Octavia Cade: I think it depends on the genre. Horror and romance have always had rather more agency for women than other genres, I think. The same can be said of fairy tales, many of which can occupy a sort of central ground between horror and romance. As someone who really loves science fiction as well as horror, though, I’m so glad to see more women in that genre being scientists and having agency as scientists – especially women of colour. Getting more minorities into science is good for everyone!


SFP: Following on from that question, what female characters do you think are good role models for girls and women?


Octavia Cade: Well-rounded women. I hesitate to say “strong female characters” because often they are strong in very limited ways – for instance their capacity for physical violence – and I think that’s not enough. Characters who have friends, who are capable of asking for help when they need it, who are curious. That’s the most important for me. They’ve got to engage with the world around them in different ways. They’ve got to not be arseholes. And they’ve got to like other women and have positive relationships with them. I’ve got no patience left for not-like-other-girls characters.


SFP: And finally, if you could have coffee with any fictional character, who would they be and why?


Octavia Cade: The great unanswerable question! I suppose I have to narrow it down to entities who can actually drink coffee, which cuts down on the sentient creatures that lack hands or any means of holding a cup, so I can’t pick the Loch Ness Monster or anything like that. Except there’s nothing in the question that says they have to drink it, just that I have to drink it with them, which I’m choosing to interpret as drinking coffee in their presence, so yes: Loch Ness Monster it is. I can take a thermos on a boat and it can rest its head on the side and have a bucket of sardines or something while I drink my coffee. If only it existed.


Scifipulse would like to extend our most heartfelt thanks and best wishes to Octavia Cade for so graciously taking the time to answer our questions.


Octavia’s website: ojcade.com – speculative fiction and science communication


Her Twitter: @OJCade


Octavia’s Goodreads page: Octavia Cade (Author of The Mussel Eater) (goodreads.com)


Check out our interview with Chris Bonnello here


Check out our interview with S. T. Gibson here

Autistic writer who loves sci-fi, cosplay and poetry. Actor with Theatre of the Senses. He/him.
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