Women in SF&F Month Banner

Today’s guest is author, poet, and scriptwriter Gemma Weekes! Her work includes the coming-of-age novel Love Me and writing for the children’s animated series JoJo & Gran Gran, and her speculative fiction includes the short story “(Dying of) Thirst.” The latter is published in “Glimpse: An Anthology of Black British Speculative Fiction,” described as including “Afrofuturistic, magic realism and transformational stories” that “create a dichotomy between the comfortable and the mysterious, tantalizing in their mystique and refreshing in their insight.” I’m delighted that she is here today to discuss her love of fantasy in “Coming Home to Magic.”

Cover of Glimpse: An Anthology of Black British Speculative Fiction, featuring Gemma Weekes

Coming Home to Magic
By Gemma Weekes

I was always coming home to magic.

As a child I was obsessed with fantasy. Every book was a door. Each story was a passage into wonder; an initiation into the promise of an expanded, heroic self. Books were the beginning of magic: fairies that lived at the bottom of the garden; portals to enchanted forests through a wardrobe; entire kingdoms floating in the clouds. I would wrench the cover open and feel the climate of distant vistas. I would fall beyond the loneliness of childhood afternoons that rattled empty as the biscuit tin. Hours that lasted centuries, sagging between lunch and dinner while the adults went about their daily panic. When reached for, books reached back. Books weren’t frazzled or overworked. They weren’t too tired to answer all the questions. They spoke slowly and with great care, building new worlds one sentence at a time. They softened with re-reading. They smelled like sawdust. They poured gold into time.

Fantasy taught me that I could identify with anyone. I could empathize with elves and weep for talking animals. I learned the habits of a broad mind and curious heart. By reading, I developed the sense that there existed only the thinnest of veils between everyday life and a dimension of limitless, delicious mystery. By writing, I discovered that I too was a door.

As I left behind those interminable childhood afternoons, stories changed with me. I was full of longings I couldn’t name and feelings that made me a mystery to myself. I went out into the world and found it strange, chaotic and unjust. I discovered the literary writers who built doors inward, into the tangle of human motivation and subtler forms of magic such as compassion and love. My writing then consisted of maps that would keep me from being lost in a dangerous and complex world. I was less concerned with flying than digging. I was more concerned with the ocean bottom than the sky.

Nowadays I have my own daily panic. I find myself in the nexus between the past and the future, in the space between inner and outer realms. My elders have lapsed into the loneliness of long afternoons. When they reach for me, I try to reach back. I have a teenage son in the grips of his own love affair with magic. He has discovered that he, too, is a door. The world he inherits is even more dangerous than the one I grew up in: blind to its own illusions, polarized by algorithm. In a culture that fetishizes weakness; the promise of an expanded, heroic self is more important than ever. In a climate that ennobles limited perspectives; a broad mind and curious heart are our only hope.

Through him, my writing has remembered me as a child. I dig through everyday life into wild and diverse magics. I escape through myself into wonder. I am obsessed with play, with the potential of speculative forms to remind us of all the delicious mystery beneath all human doing, how that can make us humble and curious once again; courageous enough to ask all the questions. To speak slowly and carefully in a world that values fast opinion over slow fact. To build bridges one sentence at a time. To fall beyond ourselves into the unseen. To pour gold into wounds. To recognise that above all, we are miraculous dust. And that each of us is a door.

Gemma Weekes is the critically-acclaimed author of Love Me (Chatto & Windus), screenwriter (JoJo and Gran Gran), lecturer, mama, widely-published poet and playwright. Her story (Dying of) Thirst is featured in Glimpse (Peepal Tree, 2022), the first anthology of speculative fiction by Black British writers.