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Q&A with Soula Emmanuel - Wild Geese

By Elle Summers

We are excited to welcome Soula Emmanuel to The Reading Corner to talk about her new release, Wild Geese, released on the 16th May 2024.

Debut novelist Soula Emmanuel tells the story of Phoebe Forde, an Irish trans woman living in Scandinavia who unexpectedly reconnects with her first (and only) girlfriend, igniting memories she thought she’d left behind.

Over-educated and underpaid, Phoebe Forde is finally settling into her new life in Copenhagen with her anxious dog Dolly. Almost three years into her gender transition, she has learned to move through the world carefully, savouring small moments of joy. A woman without a past can be anyone she wants - that is, until an unexpected visit from her first (and only) girlfriend brings her face-to-face with a life she thought she would never see again.

In the course of a single weekend, as their old romance kindles something radical and new, Grace helps Phoebe to navigate the jagged edges of migration and alienation.

Wild Geese is an intimate and moving novel of past lives, messy feelings and the desire to start afresh. With wit and warmth, it charts the dislocations and relocations, encounters, accidents and memories, and the layers of love and loss that constitute a life.

Hi Soula, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us here at The Reading Corner! It was an amazing opportunity to read your wonderful novel Wild Geese and I can’t wait to learn more about it.  Could you please tell us a little more about your writing journey and how Wild Geese came to be?

I didn’t write fiction when I was younger, but I did say and think a lot of things which turned out not to be true. Wild Geese is really about what it means to transition as, to coin a phrase, an established adult, with a degree and a job and a young adulthood behind you. As you reach a point of radical honesty with yourself, you begin to think about all the ways you have let yourself down in the past. For me, as an anxious and self-conscious person, transition forced me to confront the way that those traits had held me back, and would continue doing so if I let them, and Wild Geese, as an act of personal discovery, was really about exploring the contradictions inherent to me as a person. And then lockdown happened, so I had nothing to do but self-discovery and learning to write. The book went from nothing to a publishing deal in about two years, which is bananas but also didn’t give me time to have second thoughts about it.

I was intrigued by the title Wild Geese and loved how you linked it into the narrative directly with the quote “Now I have a wild goose to chase”. How did this title come about? What does the symbol of wild geese mean to you? 

I love Wild Geese as a title because it seems to mean different things to different people. In Ireland, it’s clearly a reference to emigration and recalls W.B. Yeats, but outside of Ireland, people associate it with the Mary Oliver poem, and perhaps, with a particular kind of vulnerable queerness, and as you say, there is a reference to wild-goose chases in there too. It’s a kind of a parallax effect, where the title looks different from different angles, and I think particularly for Irish people who have emigrated, having to think in multiple codes is quite common. I think the title evokes a certain searching and longing, perhaps maddening, perhaps futile. And I lived in Skåne in southern Sweden, and geese fly overhead quite a bit in that part of the world, and they sound fascinating when they’re a hundred metres above you.

One of the first things that struck me about this novel is the diary-esque layout. Times of events or thoughts are listed throughout the book to very specific minutes. As a reader, I felt this gave us a greater insight into Phoebe’s immediate feelings, why did you choose this structure? Did you always want to lay your writing out in this way?

Everything is immediate nowadays. Sentiments which would once have been uttered and half- forgotten at a bar or wherever now end up timestamped online forever (or, until the website goes under). In the novel, Phoebe talks of looking for a life of pure experience, one unencumbered by context or by her troubled memories. But is such a thing possible? The present tense and the immediacy of the novel become a veil behind which important parts of Phoebe and Grace’s story are hidden. Wild Geese has long sections punctuated by timestamps, so it resembles infinite scroll – something which seems complete and endless, but conceals as much as it shows, not just because it never ends but because so much is not there at all. I also loved the structure because you have a sense of more than just the two characters: there are presents, pasts and futures, different versions of themselves dancing on the page. It seems like there is an invisible entourage following them around Copenhagen.

Phoebe’s story is an important one, and an increase in trans-literature should be celebrated! How important is the theme of identity to you? How do you see your novel in the wider cannon of trans representation in literature? 

I always get torn up about the question of identity, because representation is such a double-edged thing. As a matter of commercial reality, because trans people are such a small minority, if you’re trad publishing a trans novel, you are doing so for a predominantly cisgender audience. So, the commercial imperative is not to challenge the reader too much: to create a trans character who will flatter the audience and reassure them of their own goodness. For me, though, what I was trying to celebrate in Wild Geese was trans interiority – what it means to see the world through a trans lens. I used to say the story is perched on Phoebe’s eyelash: it is interior but outward-looking.

Linking to the theme of identity, I really enjoyed the Swedish/Danish setting of the novel, with the interwoven connection to Ireland. Why did you decide on these places to feature so heavily in Phoebe’s identity? Do you think her story would have been wildly different if you had focused on a different location instead? 

I find myself becoming a writer of place more perhaps than anything else. There’s no question that a major part of Phoebe’s story is bound up in the anonymity of the big city, and the particular anonymity of a Scandinavian apartment block. In literary terms, Copenhagen is famous for two things – existentialism and yearning – which do rather suit Phoebe as a person. And I liked the idea of home coming to her, rather than her going back to Ireland – it felt like a reflection of modern interconnectedness, the sense that the whole world is following us around in our pockets anyway. Right now, I’m working on a novel set in Greece, and needless to say, the atmosphere is completely different. You can’t write a quiet and interior Greek novel – it’s just not possible!

Having first hand experiences of the places you write about must help to bring the setting of your book alive. How much of yourself do you let into your writing? Or do you try to keep yourself separate from the characters you create? 

I think Wild Geese was such an act of self-confrontation that it is difficult for the characters not to have aspects of myself in them in some way. I think both Phoebe and Grace represent part of me. Maybe Dolly, too! In some ways, I feel Wild Geese is a novel of trans adolescence, of the increased awareness of yourself as a person and a part of the world – of feeling truly alive and individual for the first time. And maybe that adolescent quality makes it a little self-absorbed and self-conscious, but it’s truthful in that respect. I may never write something quite as personal as this again, so I am very proud of it.

For readers who enjoyed your book, is there any other texts you would recommend? Did you take any inspiration from these books whilst crafting your own? 

I really loved Tove Ditlevsen’s Copenhagen Trilogy and her novel The Faces – not just because of the setting, but because she wrote so well about women whose dreams and ambitions were stifled. I also adore Garielle Lutz’s short stories, which evoke so well a sense of being trapped within one’s own reality. And I love Little Blue Encyclopedia (for Vivian), a wonderful trans novel about fandom. I think next time I write about a trans woman character it will be in a similar vein: about our tendency towards obsession and the culture we imprint ourselves on.

Thank you so much for taking the time to answer our questions! Where will our readership be able to purchase your book? 

It is out now in paperback, in all good bookshops! The link is here.

Soula is a trans writer who was born in Dublin to an Irish mother and a Greek father, and she attended university in Ireland and Sweden, graduating with a master's in demography which she likes to think inspired her interest in society's outliers. She has written for IMAGE magazine, Rogue Collective and the Project Arts Centre, and has had fiction published by The Liminal Review. She was longlisted for Penguin's WriteNow programme in 2020, took part in the Stinging Fly fiction summer school in 2021 and was a participant in the Madeleine Milburn Literary Agency's mentorship programme for 2021-22. She currently lives on Ireland's east coast.


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