Every Tuesday, get to know a bit about the stories behind the books you love, and discover your next favourite novel.
Zilla: We have a special interview today. The Skylark Bell is a book in podcast form, with original music and story by Melissa Oliveri. Melissa, tell us about this delightfully spooky gothic story.
Melissa: The Skylark Bell is a fiction podcast in serial format. It is based on a book trilogy (not yet published) that is shared at a rate of one chapter per week, one book per season. The story begins with main character, Magpie, moving to the outskirts of a small town called Pocket. Afflicted with psychic visions, Magpie is entranced by a nearby house, apparently cursed with an inexplicable silence. Things aren’t what they seem in the quaint town of Pocket, and she finds herself tangled in its history as she strives to save its future. The Skylark Bell podcast also features bonus episodes that range from real-life paranormal experiences to spooky short stories and behind the scenes interviews.
Zilla: I’m not sure if the genre “cozy Gothic” exists, but that’s the sense I get when I listen to your story. Magpie is loved by her mother and her friend, and she’s in a beautiful rural landscape. She also lives in a remote farmhouse and has visions which point to secrets of a dark mystery. How do you strike the balance between warmth and eerie, between comfort and creepy?
Melissa: Cozy Gothic is a great term and should absolutely be a genre if it isn’t already! I think I’ve subconsciously intertwined comfort and creepy because, even in childhood, I would gravitate toward the spooky and supernatural, both fiction and non-fiction, and find comfort in the unknown aspect of it. I love exploring duality, maybe because I’m a product of it myself, growing up in a half-French and half-English Canadian household. Now I’m a dual Canadian/American citizen. Contrast is important, it’s what makes summer so delicious after months of snow and cold. I also think being all roses and pretty landscapes and happily traipsing through fields with rubber boots would make for a bit of a boring book, but a constant barrage of ghosts, visions, and existential threats would be exhausting. It’s finding that balance, that sweet spot, between the two that makes it work, and I mostly do that by ensuring there is both love and fear in each chapter.
Zilla: Your podcast has a single narrator but includes music and sound effects—like a richer version of an audiobook instead of a radio play. What drew you to that format for telling this story?
Melissa: Before The Skylark Bell, I primarily considered myself a musician who enjoyed making up and writing stories. One day a friend suggested I turn an unpublished book I had written into a podcast. I was mildly intrigued by the idea but didn’t get all that excited about it until it occurred to me that I could compose music for the project, and then I realised I could work in some sound effects. Creating an audio atmosphere to support this story I had written suddenly became very appealing, and it allowed me to marry my two creative passions, music and writing.
Zilla: The idea of marrying those two is fascinating to me. How does that creative process happen??
Melissa: Music and songwriting is a very visual experience for me. I see images, like a film, when I am listening to, or composing, music. The reverse is also true; when I see or imagine scenes, I hear coordinating music in my mind. For The Skylark Bell, I would read the chapter, story, or scene, and compose whatever would come to mind. There were instances where I composed spontaneously, plugging my keyboard into my laptop and just rolling with it, and sometimes things went in an entirely different direction than I thought they would, but somehow it worked. The subconscious is a powerful thing, and we should all give in to it more often.
Zilla: Thanks for sharing your story and your process. I’ve finished season one, and I’m hoping to catch up to the end of season two before season three comes out! For everyone who doesn’t know your work yet, where can they find you and the podcast?
Melissa: They can find all the information on The Skylark Bell on its website, Instagram, or Facebook, or via the Podcast Platform Links. I also have a website and a Patreon, as well as a Mastodon account. And they can find my music at the Cannelle website, on Instagram, via all major streaming platforms and on Bandcamp.