Grave Goods – Zoe Gilbert.

Zoe Gilbert
Zoe Gilbert Author Photo © Lucy Johnston (

For this Grave Goods adventure, we invite author Zoe Gilbert to select the five objects she’d like to accompany her on the Awfully Big Adventure.

Zoe’s first novel, Folk (2018, Bloomsbury), was shortlisted for the International Dylan Thomas Prize 2019 and adapted for BBC Radio. She is the co-editor of A Wild and Precious Life (forthcoming, Unbound), an anthology by writers in recovery. Her short stories have been published internationally and won prizes including the Costa Short Story Award. She teaches creative writing at London Lit Lab, and is completing a PhD exploring forms of enchantment in folk-tale fiction. Her current novel tells a fantastical history of Sydenham Hill Wood in South London, but she now lives in Folkestone, having swapped woods for sea.
To keep abreast of future projects and developments, you can follow Zoe at Twitter  –

Tools of the Trade – a tool/implement without which you’d be lost, whether it’s a pen, trowel, notepad, bottle-opener or scanning electron microscope.

Walking and writing are metaphors for one another. Walking to me means exploring, finding my way but more importantly finding things along the way. Walking makes rhythm, and rhythm is where I find words. In a walking rhythm, I can summon up sentences and hold onto them, but I won’t be able to summon up decent footwear, so my chosen tool is a pair of everlasting boots. With dry feet and sturdy soles, anything is possible.

Food for the Journey – a favourite portable snack, or a portion of something from your funeral feast.

What joy it will be to jettison my living digestive system and embrace bacchanal without foreboding. The holy trinity it is not possible for me to tire of is bread, cheese and wine – all French, all bog-standard, all very good for carrying with me on my rambles through the underworld. Being without religion but as attached to ritual as the next person, the process of popping the cork, breaking the bread and sniffing the cheese will reassure my ex-human heart.

Memento Vivere – a memento of a companion/event to bring you cheer (can be an image).

Voices are magical things. They fascinate, entrance and soothe me – the right ones, anyway. The voice of a person you know conjures them whole, into your presence. It expresses them better, far more completely than a photograph, a handprint, even a scent. Listening to speech can be so close to listening to music, but music that only one person in the whole world can make. I would like a short recording of my family, babbling away, and laughing at their own nonsense. If possible, with a bass note of my cats purring in the background.

Ex Libris – the book or text you are least likely to tire of reading.

I’d like the Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri, in parallel text with English translation, for lots of reasons. It’s very long; I haven’t read 99.9% of it; it would teach me Italian; and most of all, I just love the sound of it aloud. The English language, spoken, allows us to squash so many vowels and let words wither away half-finished as we mumble. Reading Italian out loud, for an English person, requires an emphatic projection, a commitment to your voice and the words themselves, a performative sort of passion, which brings you out of yourself and into the world. At least, this is how I feel when I do it. I’d enjoy rolling those magnificent sounds around and belting them out into the bottomless abyss.

Lucky Deposition – a bonus selection chosen by the guest – can include transport.

A whim I may regret, but a mouth organ. I’ve always wanted to be able to play it, and learning an instrument without instruction would keep me occupied and give me puzzles to solve. When I was young, I learned to play music the classical way: sheet music, theory, all the snazzy terminology and proper technique. I would embrace the challenge of having to feel my way, and make it up as I went along. Also, if my early attempts are discordant enough to wake the dead, I’ll make some new friends.

A Message from Beyond the Grave – an entirely discretionary option – leave a note for a future generation to find.

If there’s anything, and anyone, left, I would say to the poor souls: question everything, and make your own meaning. Looking at other people’s art, fiction and philosophy helps with this, but these are all things you can also do yourself. There’s not much certainty in the world, but there is plenty of meaning to be had, and if you can make your own, you’ll never be short of it. That’s what makes life bearable.

Folk - Zoe Gilbert
Folk – Zoe Gilbert

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