(Little Island Books, £6.99)
(Little Island Books, £6.99)
Two teenage girls meet in a flower shop and begin to fall in love. Except Immy isn’t just a teenage girl – she’s also a vampire who has lived many lives before. While Claudia gets swept up in Immy’s life and her peculiar family, Immy tries to quiet the clamour of the voices of who she used to be. First love is hard enough without the urge to drink your girlfriend’s blood. Tender and imaginative, Baby Teeth is a queer in-verse novel with a supernatural twist, from Irish young adult author Meg Grehan.
Instead of immortality, your vampires reincarnate through multiple lives, with murky recollections of who they were before. It is a unique take on the vampire myth that opens the door to explore identity, mental illness and trust. Can you tell us about what inspired it?
There were two main factors that inspired the idea. The first was the age difference. I’ve always wanted to write a vampire love story. I love vampire lore, but the idea of an immortal being in a relationship with a young adult never sat right with me. Having Immy live multiple lives solved this problem for me. The second, and most important, factor was how I was feeling during lockdown. I was thinking a lot about all the versions of myself I’ve been – a housebound agoraphobic person, a stable person who held down a job and could leave every day, and my lockdown self who was terrified of slipping backwards. I felt like I was lugging all these versions of myself with me and it made me think about that feeling in a more literal sense. What would it be like if our past selves lived inside us, mourning the lives they lived? I thought that this would allow me to explore identity and mental health in a new way. It was very exciting when I had the idea!
Sometimes drinking blood seems to be a metaphor for sex, while other times it comes across as analogous to a substance abuse problem. Can you tell us about how you navigated vampires’ relationship with blood?
I wanted to toe the line between the two. It could be a metaphor for sex or it could be a metaphor for substance abuse. But I also wanted a reader to be able to simply read it as drinking blood, so I left it quite ambiguous. I knew I wanted it to be tied to Immy’s desire and be a big factor in Immy and Claudia’s relationship but I also wanted to allude to substance abuse issues, with Freddie leaving to get the fresh blood he feels he needs. I tried to do this with subtlety and care as I understand that these are heavy subjects. I tried to give the blood drinking scenes weight and importance. I knew they were vital scenes so I really took my time with them.
Love stories between teenagers and vampires are a staple of contemporary vampire fiction, but you’ve turned the trope on its head in almost every way. You almost get the sense that Immy being a vampire is incidental and that her love for Claudia is illicit and exciting because she’s a teenage girl falling in love. Would their story be radically different if Immy were human?
Yes, I think it would be different. Despite its pure beginnings their relationship does become more and more reliant on Immy taking from Claudia and Claudia giving to Immy. I think without Immy being a vampire their relationship would have the same beginnings but wouldn’t be so intense. Claudia loves that she’s dating a vampire, and Immy knows this. It’s part of what keeps them together. Without it their relationship would be less all consuming, less weighty and heady. I don’t think the outcome would change, however.
Immy’s family is a strong, supportive presence in the book, but Claudia’s family doesn’t really feature. Why is this?
I wanted Claudia to seem like a lone figure, someone who could be consumed by Immy and their relationship. I think had we met Claudia’s family the story wouldn’t work so well. It needs the intensity of a secret held between a small group of people. Originally I did write about Claudia and her aunt and why she doesn’t live with her parents but in the end it felt really unnecessary. I didn’t think it added anything to the story. It worked better having Claudia as a somewhat mysterious person who gets totally swept up in Immy’s life.
Can you tell us about the drafting process for writing a verse novel?
I have a bit of a strange process! When I have an idea I squirrel it away and think about it for a few months, I kind of obsess over it for a while. I always start a specific journal for the idea and collect inspiring quotes and pictures there. I write down ideas and lines of verse I think of and write about how the idea is growing. Once I feel ready I write it all very quickly. Baby Teeth took months of thinking and daydreaming but only a couple of weeks to write. I write entirely out of order, writing whatever comes to mind whenever it comes. Then I piece it all together at the end.
Are you interested in writing about another kind of supernatural creature?
Definitely! I would love to write a ghost story. Something really spooky and quite scary would be fun. I’m definitely interested in exploring horror more. I love horror movies and books. I’m a very anxious person so I love the controlled fear that comes with horror stories. I like knowing I’m actually supposed to be scared! I would love to write something scary of my own. It would be a fun challenge. I think it could be really interesting to continue exploring topics like mental health and queerness through horror tropes. I had such a great time writing Baby Teeth and it turned out to be my favourite book I’ve written so I would love to keep writing low fantasy/horror and see what else I can come up with.