Chameleon – Penny Montague

PennyMontague photos

Penny Montague writes fiction and poetry. She’s a Londoner who has just completed an MA in Literary Linguistics, during which she gatecrashed the Creative Writing classes and corralled her fellow students into creating an anthology. Her work has been published by Bunbury Magazine and Ink Pantry. She tweets at @pjmontague.

Who is your favorite female identifying written character and why?

I can’t give you an all-time favourite female character, as it changes for me all the time.

At this moment, I’m thinking of Kainene from Half of a Yellow Sun who was regarded as less attractive than her twin sister, but was so resilient and industrious, especially when the civil war began to affect her life and her community. Even though she wasn’t one of the viewpoint characters, I really felt a connection with her.

Another character would be Sookie Stackhouse from the The Southern Vampire Mysteries (depicted in the True Blood TV show). Although she is a mortal human surrounded by supernatural creatures she uses her cunning and wit to stay alive and to protect those that she loves. At the heart each of these novels is a mystery to be solved, which is the main draw beyond the vampire / werewolf / fae conflicts.

And finally, Dr Frieda Klein, a psychotherapist who helps the police to solve murder cases in the crime series by Nicci French. Klein is a bit of a maverick but has great insights which often has her police liaison guy scrambling to keep up with her.

Ask me again tomorrow and I’ll probably give you a few different characters.

What literary work by a female identifying writer had the most effect on you as a writer and/or person?

Another tough question!

Let’s say Bareback by Kit Whitfield. It was the first so-called genre novel that I remember that also asked questions of society. In this fictional universe, the majority of people are werewolves but the few people (the barebacks) that don’t turn furry under the full movie are tasked with policing the mayhem. It’s not just a werewolf story, it’s also a mystery and has a love story too. It proved to me that I can write in the genres that I enjoy (such as fantasy, crime and romance) but with the devices and scope that I admire in literary fiction. So I don’t have to choose just one genre or one way of writing.

Also anything by Valerie Martin, but especially her short story collection The Unfinished Novel and Other Stories. She writes so well about the creative temperament. I think my favourite story in this collection is the first one, ‘His Blue Period’, about a rivalry between two male painters. Our protagonist isn’t as successful as his brash rival, and is also in love with his girlfriend, which becomes a heartbreaking situation. I also adore her novel The Confessions of Edward Day, which is similarly about a rivalry (artistic and romantic) between two actors.

How did your work/works in Alyss come about?

I wrote ‘Predatory Thinking‘ for a creative writing assignment during my master’s degree, but the seed of the idea came from talking to another student in my class. She was originally from Nigeria but had spent several years in the USA and had a strong American accent. She mentioned that she often changed her accent depending on where she was living and joked that she would probably acquire an English accent over the year of her stay.

I started thinking in terms of her being like a chameleon who adapted to her surroundings and sparked the idea of this assassin who could transform at will.

I had feedback on the first draft from an experienced writer, who said that she loved it and encouraged me to make her ‘even more monstrous’. I was a little alarmed at first by that comment, as I felt that I shared some qualities with the protagonist, or rather that she was perhaps a more extreme version of myself. There are many ways to build a character, and I had used a lot of my own dark sense of humour in the creation of this character. I really enjoyed writing this story and letting the protagonist get down to business.

What has been your greatest writing life moment so far?

After I read out one of my poems at a reading group that I used to attend, a woman told me that it had made her want to cry as it had reminded her of her late mother. The poem was more of a reminiscence about old technology, so I was surprised that it had had that reaction, but I was so pleased that it connected with her emotionally.

What is your favorite piece by another writer from a previous issue and why?

As someone who is interested in linguistics and language in general, I was immediately drawn to ‘everytime i speak, my gums bleed‘ by Amber Atiya. The poem really evokes the unacknowledged violence of language and we can feel alienated by our own mother tongue(s). The use of English and other languages of colonialism as a lingua franca is leading to the death of languages spoken in some smaller communities; for this reason, I can see how some might describe English as a ‘pesticide’.  I think the poem also makes the point that verbal language is not the only form of communication that we have, and that the simpler modes in which animals communicate are much truer and more visceral than our words.

What are you currently working on?

I haven’t written much creative work since my MA, but I am hoping to send some more short stories and poetry into the world very soon. I am also planning to write a musical in the near future.

Who/what is your favorite Alice/Alyss?

It would have to be Alice Pieszecki from The L Word, the journalist who kept a chart of the liaisons between the women that she knew in LA. Although another character called Jenny was ostensibly the ‘writer’ in that community of women, Alice was endlessly curious and observant – qualities shared by many writers that I know.