Giselle Leeb Interview: “Wolphinia”

giselle-leebMichael: What inspired “Wolphinia”?

Giselle: I’d written a few stories about the environment, when somebody showed me a video about a dolphin asking divers for help to remove a fishing hook. I started reading about dolphins and found out that they can have vestigial hind limbs and probably used to live on land. There is some evidence that they are self-healing and can completely recover from wounds like shark bites, keeping their original body shape. Then I discovered that there is a rare hybrid called a ‘wolphin’ or ‘wholphin’, a cross between a female common bottlenose dolphin and a male false killer whale. I’ve always been interested in the question of what makes some people take political action and others not, and also in the fact that intelligent species like dolphins can’t protect themselves from humans simply due to their lack of hands and mobility on land. I imagined a future where humans are coming to an end, but dolphins (eventually) make it back onto land, with a little help from a courageous girl.

Michael: Your writing has a unique and I think delightfully black sense of humor. How do you approach humor in your fiction?

Giselle: Thank you! I have to say that I don’t ever set out to be funny. I’ve always thought there isn’t much distinction between light and dark – all part of life, I mean, and always weirdly related. Sometimes, the darker things are, the funnier they can be: experiencing the worst can make you appreciate the best. This is not to minimalize the seriousness of certain things, but humour helps to alleviate them and highlight the absurdity of awful actions—also to point the finger at the perpetrator in a way. I suppose once the character’s voice comes through, then the humour just follows. I often laugh a lot while writing and occasionally I cry, sometimes both at once! I think black humour can make the emotions more affecting, rather than less.

Michael: What would you say are your satirical influences? What writers most inspire you?

Giselle: I’ve got no idea if it’s affected my writing, but Kurt Vonnegut made a massive impression on me when quite young, as did J.D. Salinger and Joseph Heller. I read a lot of Anthony Trollope when I ran out of Jane Austen. Satirical writers I’m inspired by now include Lorrie Moore (who else can begin a story with somebody killing their friend’s baby by accident), the inimitable George Saunders, ZZ Packer, and Ray Bradbury. I haven’t read much Martin Amis, but loved London Fields (which seems to be a real Marmite book). Tom Lehrer’s songs are unbeatable for dark humour. There’s lots of others I love who are less satirical, but I won’t list them all here.

Michael: Does writing fiction have a cathartic effect for you? Does it make you feel better about the world? Worse?

Giselle: A killer question! Definitely cathartic: I love the process of writing and I enjoy life more because of it. I’m not so sure if it gives me hope for the world, but it helps me connect with it and I’ve learnt a lot of interesting things doing research for stories. It makes me think about the seeds of human peculiarities, both light and dark, which is hopefully useful information for the coming environmental battles!

Michael: Could you tell me a little about something you’ve done in the past year that has made you feel better about the world?

Giselle: A cycling trip from The Hook of Holland to Copenhagen, mostly along the coast. Lots of wind and even more wind turbines—people protest about them ruining landscapes, but I think they look amazing, like some sort of better vision of the future. People’s houses were often covered with solar panels. Also, the brilliant cycle lanes and number of people cycling in these countries—Copenhagen recently became the first city to have more bikes than cars. It made me feel that these things are within reach and that there is some hope.


Read “Wholphinia” in Reckoning 1.


Author: Giselle Leeb

Giselle Leeb grew up in South Africa and lives in Nottingham. Her short stories have appeared in over forty publications including Best British Short Stories 2017 (Salt), Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, Black Static, Mslexia, Litro, and other places. She is a Word Factory Apprentice Award winner and an assistant editor at Reckoning Journal. Her story, Scaffolding, is forthcoming in Mainstream, an anthology of stories from the edges, by Inkandescent Press.
Twitter: @gisellekleeb

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