Irene Solà’s first novel published in English, When I Sing, Mountains Dance, translated from the Catalan by Mara Faye Lethem (Graywolf, March 15), is a carefully constructed yet mind-bending work. Rooted in the folklore and history of Solà’s native Catalonia, the novel turns on violent acts—a fatal lightning strike, the Spanish Civil War, women condemned for alleged witchcraft in centuries past. But it’s also stylistically free-wheeling, its chapters narrated not just by the living residents of a small mountain village, but also ghosts, clouds, animals, and the nearby Pyrenees themselves. (“Grow, mosses,” the ground intones. “Reproduce, wee beasties, the pitter-patter of your tiny feet rocks me to sleep, the creeping of your roots consoles me.”)

In this interview, conducted in English over Zoom while at a writers’ retreat in the Spanish coastal town of Cadaqués, Solà discusses her prismatic approach to storytelling, what it takes to write from the point of view of a mushroom, and how her travels away from Catalonia informed her ability to write about it. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Your novel is built around a lot of history and folklore. How much of it was based on stories you were raised with, and how much did you research?

I would say it’s a mixture of both. I was a kid who was always thirsty for tales and stories. As soon as I could start reading, I started reading a lot. But at some point I realized that I was interested in folklore not only because I simply liked stories. In folklore, you see, there’s a kind of DNA of who humans are. The ways we look at the world now have been passed on from ways we’ve imagined the world for centuries.

I also became interested in which voices have survived and which voices haven’t—and why. The novel’s second chapter is written from the perspective of a group of women who were prosecuted for witchcraft. I read the court proceedings for lots of these trials in Catalonia, and these documents were written by the men who tortured and killed these women. The documents carry the preconceptions of these men, but we’ll never know the points of view of the victims. They couldn’t tell their own stories. So it was interesting for me, 300 years later, to imagine the ghosts of these women who died, still living in this forest and even being able to laugh at the men who murdered them.

You wrote the novel while living in London. Was having that distance helpful? How did it feel to write about the Pyrenees from a distance?

The distance helped me realize what I was deeply interested in writing about. I’m from a little town about an hour away from the Pyrenees. I had this feeling while growing up that if I wanted to write, then at some point I had to move to a big city. I would have to move to London or New York in order to be able to tell contemporary stories, stories that could appeal to people from all over the world. And I did exactly that: As soon as I was 18, I moved out and lived for many years in Barcelona. Then I went to Reykjavik and then to the U.K. and to the U.S. as often as I could. But all of this living abroad somehow helped me kind of turn my head back and say, Well, I know that I can write very interesting stories that are set in these big cities. And maybe one day, I will write those stories. But first, I am much more interested in exploring the Pyrenees and the violence there, the layers of occurrences there. Being in London helped me realize that I could write in Catalan, from London, about the Pyrenees and be writing contemporary literature, addressing the universal.

Was there one particular voice or one particular incident in the novel that set the entire story in motion?

The first thing I wrote was the first chapter, which is about these storm clouds approaching the mountain. After that, I did not write anything else in order. That first chapter was extremely fun to write. I had to research cloud formations and events in history, when things like fish or frogs have rained from the sky. It helped me realize that the novel could be done—that I could invade the voice of a cloud and tell stories from that perspective. After that, I just gave myself the freedom to try any other idea that I might have—to be very playful and bold and not stop myself at any point.

There’s something appealingly audacious about the different voices that you use in the novel: mushrooms, dogs, deer, a mountain. Just as an example, tell me about writing from the perspective of the mushrooms. What’s involved in finding that voice?

What I tried to do was build something like a swimming pool of information—all the knowledge and research I could gather. And then once I had this pool about half full, or a little bit more full than half, what I would try to do is just jump in and start writing and try to look at the world from that perspective. In the case of the mushrooms, I really tried to imagine looking at the world from the ground and also distinct from people. We humans have our own way of looking at things that’s often very habitual. We have 70, 80, maybe 90 years, if we are very lucky, to do everything we have to do, to feel everything we have to feel, to say everything we have to say, and then that’s it. For mushrooms, individuality doesn’t really exist. The way they reproduce is extremely different than how we humans reproduce. And their idea of living and dying is very different on top of that.

The language in the novel is very pastoral, but there’s also a great deal of violence. How did you keep those two elements in balance while you were writing?

When I started the book, one of the ideas that I was very interested in thinking about was how the mountain where the story is set has this kind of cruel optimism, much like life itself. For example, at the very beginning of the novel, a farmer dies because a lightning bolt strikes him. And that’s something terrible—it’s a tragedy for him and for his family. But two minutes after that happens, the deer keep on eating, the grass keeps growing, and the storm goes somewhere else. Everything continues. That incident in itself could be seen as a tragedy, but at the same time, lucky us: Life continues, it doesn’t stop for anything or for anyone. I was interested in this idea of talking a lot about violence and death but doing it from a place of light.

Mark Athitakis is a journalist in Phoenix who writes about books for Kirkus, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and elsewhere.