Hannah Capin’s Foul Is Fair is a novel of the moment. Set in the aftermath of a sexual assault, this dark and gritty novel features unforgettable characters and moments that didn’t fail to galvanize its readers. It isn’t an easy read, and it isn’t an easy topic, but as Hannah Capin discusses later in the interview, by reading about difficult things we’re able to distance ourselves from them and learn and process from afar.
Read on for a novel that taps into the zeitgeist with the compelling, cutting and untamed, the perfect read for when the news is unbearable or when another man tells you to smile.
Get a copy of Foul Is Fair here, your local bookstore or at your local library! It’s a read with a bite but one you’ll be thinking of for a long time after you finish.
Foul Is Fair is the type of novel that was always going to be timely but now in 2019, it seems especially so. Did any current events play into writing and plotting the novel?
I was already writing Foul Is Fair when the #MeToo movement came into the cultural spotlight. The conversations happening pushed me to complete the manuscript, but didn’t lead me to make changes to the story. Because of some uninteresting industry things, the manuscript sat unsubmitted (meaning my agent had read it, but we hadn’t sent it out to editors at publishing houses yet) for almost a year after I finished it. On September 28, 2018—having watched the entirety of the Kavanaugh hearings the day before—I reached out to my agent and said something like, “I’m sorry if I’m overstepping, and I trust your judgment, but I’m really angry and I was wondering if we could go on sub with Foul Is Fair right now.” She responded less than an hour later with, “Let’s f*cking do it.” I didn’t change anything to reflect the hearings or any other headlines—there were just so, so many parallels that underlined the relevance of the premise. I’ve had readers tell me the story is “timely” and it is—but it’s also timeless. This is not a new problem.
I loved the bond between Jade, Jenny, Summer and Mads. How did you build that? Did any of your own relationships inspire those friendships?
Close female friendships are a big part of everything I write, and it was important to me to show the loyalty among the girls in Foul Is Fair. I’m fortunate to have had many close female friends throughout my life, and I definitely based the dynamics in the coven on real-life friendships I’ve had. Female friendships are complicated and varied and evolving and rich, and I did my best to capture that with the girls in the coven.
Despite being “beautifully brutal,”, the book is unflinchingly empowering, described as a feminist battle-cry as you root for Jade and her coven to get revenge. How did you set about writing this?
I wrote the first half of Foul Is Fair very quickly, for myself, with zero expectations: when I brought it to a fiction workshop, I assumed everyone would see it as horrifying and unmarketable. Despite encouraging feedback, I hit a stall with the piece and set it aside for several months before digging back in. Writing Foul Is Fair was thrilling and cathartic and fun, but it was also emotionally draining. When I completed the manuscript, I switched gears and fast-drafted a campy dark comedy to get back into a less intense headspace.
What other books or media would you tell readers that are both horrified and galvanized by Foul Is Fair to read next?
I’d recommend anything by Courtney Summers—I especially love All The Rage. For more vengeful, ruthless teenage girls, The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis is a compelling read. For complex friendships and girls who will stop at nothing to get what they want, read Dare Me by Megan Abbott. And for beautiful prose and a story about the repercussions of telling girls who they should be, read The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma.
Your debut, The Dead Queens Club is a historical retelling and Foul Is Fair is a Macbeth retelling. What part of history or fictional work are you hoping to retell next?
Actually, most of what I write isn’t retelling or reimagining—it’s a coincidence that my first two books to make it into the world happen to be! The manuscript I’m working on right now is completely original, but it will appeal to readers of Foul Is Fair: it also centers a group of girls pushing back against the individuals and institutions that want to silence them and remove their agency. And I can also say that I’m digging into research for a novel that explores the Salem Witch Trials through the voice of Abigail Williams.
What advice do you have for writers who want to use their horror, anger and passion to write but have trouble navigating these types of difficult topics and emotions?
It’s important to have the right amount of distance when you choose to dig into difficult material. Sometimes, no matter how much you want to tell a certain story, you have to give it time before you’re able to interact so closely with it. The wonderful thing about fiction is that it gives writers (and readers) a way to process difficult experiences and emotions while maintaining control of distance: without writing about your exact experience, you can explore what challenges you and give voice to things that might be impossible to articulate in a more literal, autobiographical sense. I always say that good writers find a piece of themselves in every character they write, no matter who that character is, and I think that’s true about writing difficult emotional material, as well. Good fiction doesn’t tell the life story of the writer—but it does come from a place of truth and authenticity. The key, I think, is to find the thematic and emotional core of what you hope to write, and to find a way to translate that into a narrative that elevates it and raises the questions you hope to raise.
Hannah Capin is the author of The Dead Queens Club a feminist retelling of the wives of Henry VIII. When she isn’t writing, she can be found singing, sailing, or scheming with the very best friends in the world. She lives in Tidewater Virginia.