INTERVIEW: Laura Steven | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Readers familiar with YA author Laura Steven’s work will know she is skilled at exploring feminist issues with humour and a cracking story (her debut book The Exact Opposite of Okay won a Comedy Women In Print award for just that). In her newest book, The Society For Soulless Girls, she’s done it again – and then some.

More than a sapphic retelling of Jekyll & Hyde, murder mystery, and will-they-won’t-they romance, The Society for Soulless Girls is a study of female rage, and the consequences of trying to repress it. It’s by far the darkest thing Steven has written.

I never set out to write horror,” Steven tells me, but when she sent her editor a story that was far more horror-inclined than the one she had originally pitched, she was relieved to be told to go darker. The result follows a group of characters who strike me as being the descendants of Stephen King’s Carrie, only it’s not just bullies or abusive parents bringing on the rage. It’s society itself.

Steven says no single event prompted the idea for the story, but it is dedicated to “the girls who were born angry”, and, she tells me, in some ways writing it was cathartic. Although she had anxiety issues, Steven was a “quiet, solid” child until she hit adolescence, when she became an angry girl. “It’s like a running joke in my family how awful I was,” she says. “I had a fuse about an inch long.” And she was an angry new mother when she wrote the first draft of the book: “I had a lot of rage at the world. I had a child, and then two weeks later, we went into global lockdown. I was dealing with postpartum anxiety and I was robbed of the experience that I was supposed to have.”

it is dedicated to “the girls who were born angry”

She found herself exploring “the physicality, or lack thereof, of female anger. I think the way our anger manifests compared to men, for example, is it’s more likely to be like cutting words or passive aggression.” She also researched the historical and current policing of it, discovering a list which described the signs of a “possessed woman”.

When I was looking at it that I realised most of these things, if not all, could just be describing an angry woman.” She also found that a lot of exorcisms of young women still take place in America.

After the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade, and upended the country’s access to abortion – stoking rage and justified fear from women around the world at the destruction of women’s rights – I followed up with Steven to ask how she feels about Soulless Girls’ being published in the wake of that decision. She tells me that it’s prompted interest from an American editor, who found the exploration of women’s anger “timely and poignant”.

The irony of this is that Soulless Girls is based in the 1990s Northumberland, partly because society was less evolved towards women, and mental health issues more likely to be swept under the rugs. Although also, Steven points out, laughing, the decision to set the story back then is also “a logistical plot point. A lot of this story is them trying to track down information. If they had Google, it would be too easy.”

The Society for Soulless Girls by Laura Steven is out on Thursday 7th July.

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