Camilla Grudova’s debut collection The Doll’s Alphabet (Fitzcarraldo Editions) blends magical realism with the gothic horror of Thomas Ligotti. Although the stories are not directly linked, they share a common atmosphere of dust and dread. Common images include Pierrot dolls, sewing machines and insects, and her characters share a sense of obsessiveness. Grudova’s universe is decaying and occasionally dystopian, but there are snatches of beauty, love and sordid sexuality in her writing. The Doll’s Alphabet is immersive, atmospheric and compelling.
The Momus Questionnaire was created by musician Nick Currie, and is designed to identify the aspects of the subject’s personality which give them a positive self-image, or ‘subcultural capital’.
Have you rebelled against someone else’s dreary expectations of your life, and become something more unexpected?
I’m left handed and in primary school they tried to make me right-handed. I refused. I think it would be dreary to be right handed. I can’t cut straight with scissors and I am always covered in ink smudges, but I feel like I have more witch powers being left handed.
What in your life can you point to and say, like Frankie, ‘I Did It My Way’?
Far too often, and with dreadful results. My life has been a tangle of mistakes. I wish I had taken the advice of my elders more.
What creative achievements are you most proud of?
As a child: Dancing in two operas, making dolls for myself out of cloth, clothespegs, paper, wax, metal, often with my mother’s help. Once I was convinced one of the pieces of wood chopped to put in the fireplace had a soul. We painted a face on it and gave it some white, wool hair. I still believe some objects have souls or spirits in them. I also rewrote the fairytale The Frog Prince, replacing the princesses’ golden ball with a rotting turnip, I was very proud of that, and a story about a gnome who had a different fabulous outfit for each day of the week.
Later in life: doing a painting of a gentleman with a moon like head and a cravat, learning to understand a sentence of Ancient Greek, producing hot pink ‘zines, all the games of exquisite corpse played with friends, my collection of porcelain fragments collected from lakes – I hope to make a Frankenstein vase of out of them someday, though most of them are probably bits of Edwardian toilets.
If there was one event in your life which really shaped you, made you the person you are today, what would it be?
Yes, but I’d prefer not to say. Though last year I read a book that, had I read it a long time ago, would have changed my life, or brought forth certain things before it was too late. That was a truly horrible feeling, I’m still suffering from it, a book can alter someone’s life in a very concrete way, and far too often particular people and particular books don’t get a chance to meet. I keep thinking: if only I had known a caring librarian, or grew up somewhere with lots of bookshops, bookshops full of booksellers who care about young people, this book might have crossed my path earlier, things might have been different for me. I won’t ever tell another soul the title of the book. All one can do is make an effort for that not to happen to someone else – you can’t predict which book will change someone else’s life but you can try your hardest to connect them to ones that might.
If you had to make a rap song boasting about your irresistible charm and sexiness, how would you describe yourself?
I wouldn’t toot my own horn that way – If I had any musical talent I would write a Broadway musical based off Lolly Willowes, by Sylvia Townsend Warner, it would make a marvellous musical. Some example song titles “Vinegar Tom”, “Oh Satan, Why Do You Encourage Me to Talk When You Know All My Thoughts?” and “Everard, How Dare You Love a Minx?” Wouldn’t that just be a hoot?
Have you ever made material sacrifices because of your integrity?
I will sell you my integrity for a can of beans, a good pair of walking shoes and a new bra.
Describe a public personality who exemplifies everything you’d like to be yourself, then another public personality who incarnates everything you’d least like to be.
I admire and love deliberate clowns – Charlie Chaplin, Yuri Nikulin, Buster Keaton, Marcel Marceau. I wish I could control my facial expressions as they do, and have a beautiful, charming, soulful persona like them.
I don’t fancy public figures who are unintentional clowns and pretentious, disdainful nincompoops. I aspire to never act that way – Please make me sit on a whoopee cushion if I do.
If you were an Egyptian pharaoh and had to be buried with a few key objects to take to the next world, what would they be?
I am named after Camilla from The Aeneid, so I’m pretty sure I would go to Elysium, rather than the Egyptian Kingdom of the Dead, granted that I’m virtuous, though I could imagine myself ending up in the Mourning Fields with Dido. Either way, just a coin or two for Charon is all I need.
Do you have a favourite joke, quotation or proverb?
“..Tell me, have you read Tolstoy?” “Doll’s toy?”
-Nabokov, Laughter In The Dark
“You will find that Minerva walks the hills no less than Diana”-Pliny the Younger. A fancy way of saying nature and exercise is good for thinking.
What’s your favourite portrait (it can be a song, a painting, a film, anything)?
Nights of Cabiria and La Strada starring Giulietta Masina are cruel, truthful portraits of being a woman in the world. All of Brassai’s portraits in The Secret Paris of the 30s. That photograph of Aubrey Beardsley in profile. That photograph of Isak Dinesen dressed as Pierrot. Photographs of Carson McCullers smoking in a nice silk shirt. Edward Burne-Jone’s caricatures of himself and William Morris. Antonio Mancini’s mad self portraits. Tove Jansson swimming. Any photo of my great auntie.