Interview with Meredith Miller, author of The Stiff Heart

Meredith climbing through Men-an-Tol
Meredith climbing through Men-an-To

Meredith Miller contributed the short story “The Stiff Heart” to Alt Hist Issue 5. She kindly agreed to answer some questions about the story and about her writing – and sent us a rather fund photo too!

Can you tell our readers what the background is to the title of your story, “The Stiff Heart”?

This is an embarrassing story! The title is taken from a line in Emily Dickinson’s poem, ‘After Great Pain, a Formal Feeling Comes–‘. For some reason, I spent a good deal of my life believing Emily Dickinson had shot herself! In my defense, neither poetry nor nineteenth-century American Literature are my academic area! I must have gotten this idea somewhere in the poems themselves when I was young. In any case, I have been preoccupied with the idea of the female recluse. Another of my stories, ‘The Window’s Wife’ (in Prole 6) centers on a different reclusive female figure. I knew about Emily Dickinson’s self-seclusion and also that she was in love with the young woman who became her sister-in-law. I decided to take all that for the subject of my story.

One problem with historical fiction can be when facts get in the way of good story-telling. For this reason, I always develop a bit of character before I embark on research. So I drafted the story, then read some biography on Dickinson, only to discover that she had, in fact, lived a fairly long time and died of an illness!

Just to clarify, the story is not intended to be about Emily Dickinson at all, it simply explores those ideas and that middle-class, late-nineteenth century New England setting.

What drives your central character to do what she does?

What drives the narrator here, really, is a sense of anomie, a feeling that there is no place in her social world where she can be fulfiled and make sense. I realise now that most people will assume she wanted to marry Gordon. In fact, my idea was that she was in love with Patience! That doesn’t matter, though, as much as the fact that there was no room in her world for her to simply be a person on her own.

What attracted you to the setting and period of “The Stiff Heart” (American Civil War)?

As an academic, my research is on the novel between 1865 and 1965. At the time when I first drafted this story, I’d been reading a lot of late nineteenth-century periodicals, both the serialised fiction and all of the other wonderful things they contain – political and philsophical essays, scientific musings, cultural criticism, gossip, etc. I am American, but live in Britain, so I was interested in the way British periodicals viewed what they referred to as ‘the American war’. In fact, there was more support in Britain for the South than contemporary Britons like to admit! Also, though, left-wing British writers were very much in support of abolition and union democracy.

How did you get into writing?

I’ve been writing since before I could write. When I was four, I used to dictate poetry to my older sister, and she would write it down. I’ve never really seen myself as anything else.

What do you do when you’re not writing?

Garden my allotment and work on my house. I bought a derelict house a few years ago. It’s a lot of work! Also, I am an academic so I publish literary criticism and teach both undergraduate and postgraduate students. That last is a real privilege and a joy. Also, I like people and love to talk! I have a wonderful, clever daughter and I like spending time with her and with the rest of my mad and talented family.

Are you working on any other short stories or novels at the moment and if so can you tell us a bit more about them?

I am currently doing final revisions on a novel, Fish-shaped Island. It’s set in Long Island in the spring of 1979. For those of you not old enough to remember, those were crazy and wonderful years in which to be alive. The novel is about a small town in that period and its underlying creativity and violence. I won’t say anything about where it’s going, but watch this space. My next published story, ‘Ice’ will appear in the Autumn 2013 issue of Stand. Anyone who wants to keep in touch can follow me on Twitter @meredithseven. My Twitter account will also lead you to my website, The Window’s Wife.

What are your ambitions as a writer?

I have two novels completed and would love to see them both in print. A third, Whiteness, is calling loudly for me to write it. I have partially completed a novel about Enlightenment philosophy and pirates, set in the early eighteenth century and called The Ship of the New Philosophy. I would love to find someone who isn’t frightened by my unholy mix of literary and genre writing to publish it. Philosophical pirates are so much fun!

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New Novel Explores the Dark Ages: Review Copy Available

I was recently contacted about a new book coming out about the Dark Ages. The publisher is offering a review copy of the book. If you are interested in getting hold of the review copy and writing a review of it for Alt Hist then please contact the publisher at the address below, and also let me know that you intend to review for Alt Hist at You will need to submit your review through our Submissions website. Please note that your review will be subject to editorial approval: i.e. I don’t care if you like the book or not, but your review must be well written!

Here are some details about the book:

Discovering Roman ruins in his field led Cheshire author R.W. Hughes, to write his first novel, Aurthora

Cheshire-based author, R. W. Hughes, was inspired to write his first novel Aurthora  after discovering the remains of a Roman checkpoint in the corner of his field! The checkpoint was alongside the old salt road that ran from the mines in Borthwich and over the Pennines to the rest of Britain.

”It was at the checkpoint in our field that Roman soldiers would inspect that all the loads of salt has been stamped and approved by the local Governor to show they had paid their taxes,”  says Rod.  ”Imagining the Romans who had used the route set me thinking about what happened to Britain, and specifically this area, after they left. After doing lots of research, my first novel was born! ”

Hughes  novel, Aurthora, is based on the legendary British warrior. It takes place in the years immediately after the Romans leave Britain and describes a land undergoing massive change – with no leader and no army to defend its shores. It’s a time of fragile alliances between Chiefs and tribal Leaders, held together by the personality and fading power of a sick King. It’s a time when the people must fight for their very existence.

This carefully researched book brings England during the Dark Ages vividly to life.

ISBN: 9781848765542
Price: £7.99

If you’d like more information or a review copy please get in touch with the publisher:

Jane Rowland
Troubador Publishing Ltd
5 Weir Road
Kibworth Beauchamp

Tel: 0116 2792299
Fax: 0116 279 2277

Follow us on Twitter @matadorbooks!

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