Who is the brain behind the Mallory Thorne School of Excellence? We chatted with May Seleste, editor behind Haunted Hallways, about the setting she designed for all the authors to play in. The anthology, which explores moments throughout the history of a haunted, dangerous school, is live on Kickstarter!
1) Where did the initial concept of the Mallory Thorne School of Excellence come from?
It was actually at the launch party for the previous gothic anthology I was a part of, When Other People Saw Us, They Saw the Dead. My story back then (under my previous pseudonym) was set in a school, and someone asked why I chose such a location. It was in my explanation—that school is an experience most of us have in common—that I got the idea. Everybody has a story from their school days. After all, school is supposed to be where we feel the safest, where we’re surrounded by peers and faculty whose entire job it is to look out for us. But what if we weren’t as safe as we thought?
2) If you had a chance to visit Mallory Thorne, in what era would you visit? What building would you want to see in person, and what staff member would you want to meet?
First of all, I’d want to visit the school when it was first established, just so I could compare it to the school in modern times. I think it’d be pretty interesting to see what changed, and what didn’t. Which staff members had…abruptly left and which ones have stuck around for a suspicious amount of time.
Though the first place I’d love to see is the school library. For the bookishly inclined, it’s the obvious choice, is it not? Besides, when imagining the architecture of the school, I based it in part off of various libraries around London. They’re my favourite place to be. One thing I love about this anthology is that every story that mentions the school library describes it slightly differently, letting us see how it bends and shapes itself through the perception of different characters. On that note, I’d really want to meet the interesting librarian from Nathanael Boon’s “Writing with Bite.” I have a lot of questions for that man—all of which are completely unserious. Either him, or Nurse Fairweather who appears in a couple of stories. I feel like nurses are often privy to the raw, uncensored version of events that occur. There are some details they know that will never make it to the story as it’s being told. I’d love to pick her brain about a couple of things. Just a little.
3) Like many dark academia or more recent magic school stories, Haunted Hallways deals with elitism and racism ensconced in academic institutions. What makes those fictional takes about schools so important?
As fictional as these stories are, they are based on very real concepts. It’s no secret that academia is embroiled in elitism and racism—both historically and in current times. Though compared to the past, academia has become more accessible to marginalised groups, but the subtleties still remain. Especially when it comes to British academia, of which I am a part. Some things can’t be explained in official terms on paper, but rather conveyed as feelings. Regardless of whether the people in academic power know or not, there’s an air of “gratefulness” that you’re almost expected to have as a person from a marginalised background. Without stories like the ones in this collection, we would never know just how the small things that would often be brushed off as “nothing big” could actually leave a lasting impact on a person, whether it be in childhood or as an adult. It's the other side of "darkness" in dark academia.
4) Were any of the schools you attended haunted?
Definitely. One school I went to absolutely had some spirit-shenanigans going on. From missing items to unexplained noises in isolated rooms. One time my friends and I were sitting in a narrow corridor when the lights flickered for a moment, and a random scribbled drawing appeared on the floor behind us. The walls were blank, so it’s not like it could have flitted off, and there were no windows, so nothing could’ve blown in. Though us being us, we completely ignored it, and nothing like that ever happened again. I think every institution is a bit haunted though, especially the old ones. Just recently I was at a university library and the door randomly clicked and swung open far wider than momentum would’ve let it. It didn’t startle me too much though. I had deadlines.
5) What do you hope readers will take away from reading Haunted Hallways?
I hope that readers find themselves reflected in at least one of these stories. Whether it be in a student like Arzu from “A Memory Left Fighting” by M. K. Sarraj, or even a member of staff like Dania Dalal from my own contribution “Innocent Sinner,” I hope that they feel seen, and maybe even laugh a little as they reminisce of their own times at school. Perhaps it would trigger memories of hauntings they experienced themselves.
6) What's one fast fact that readers would be surprised to learn about you?
I don’t know how much of a surprise this is, but I’m actually heavily into psychoanalysis. Freud (Sigmund and Anna), Jung, Klein, Lacan—I eat it all up! In fact, I got the idea for my own story in this collection in the middle of a lecture about a Freudian case. I wonder if anyone can guess which one it is? Though, it’s not the first time I’ve found inspiration in a psychoanalytic concept. It’s a fascinating subject. Freud’s “The Interpretation of Dreams” and Jung’s “Psychology and Alchemy” are such interesting reads. I haven’t subscribed to a school of thought as of yet, but I have always leaned more towards the Jungian side of things—as everyone who is aware of my academic endeavours already knows. Heavily. I’m sorry (no I’m not).
On a lighter note I’ve also been a giant K-Pop stan for well over a decade. That’s fun.
Read more about Haunted Hallways and the long shadows cast by the history of Mallory Thorne School of Excellence on the Kickstarter page.