Another one of these author blog hops thingies, this time on the theme of three things I don't write about, and three I do. I was nominated by the always ace sci-fi author Neil Williamson, who also nominated Chris Beckett and Keith Brooke (who's such a swot he's written his already). My own nominations are at the end of my piece.
So without further ado...
Three Things I Don’t Write About:
- Real Places: I set stories in real places where the story itself seems to demand it, but most of the time I don't feel the urge. A lot of my stories are set in unnamed urban settings; recognisably British maybe, but not somewhere you could actually recognise as being Nottingham or Basingstoke or Widnes or wherever. As long as the readers recognise the details of the place that I'm using for atmosphere - the lonely bus-stop or the graffiti ridden alleyway - then I don't think it needs to be a specific town or city. Indeed I think such detail in a short story, where everything needs to dovetail together, could be counter productive. As I said, there are exceptions in my work such as Home Time (very specifically about the contrast between Oxford and a Nottinghamshire mining village) but even here it's what the place means to the character and the story that's important, not accurately depicting it as is in real life.
- ‘Monsters’ That Might As Well Be Real Animals: A lot of horror deals with death, and so obviously a lot of horror deals with things that kill people. But what bores me is to write the kind of horror where the ‘monster’ – be it vampire, psycho, or blob from the plant K – is just a physical threat which people either run from, fight, or get eaten by. As far as the plot goes, the monster might just as well be a wild dog. Which isn't to say physical beasts don’t feature in my work; it's just I like my monsters to mean something and for the characters to be fighting for more than their brute survival – for their sanity, perhaps, or their view of the world, or to preserve their illusions. I especially like to write about horrors that might not be physical at all – The Other Room being an example.
- Cthulhu & Co: For a writer who portrayed cultist as mad degenerates, it’s ironic how much of a cult has built up around HP Lovecraft’s so-called mythos. I find it odd how Cthulhu and the like, vast and literally indescribable beings who induce awe and madness in equal measure, have been minimised by later generations into generic horror tropes, or t-shirt designs, cuddly toys or RPG monsters with their stats spelt out for you like a kobold’s. Some authors, obviously, have taken Lovecraft's ideas and twisted them to their own ends – TED Klein and Ramsey Campbell spring immediately to mind – and Neil Gaiman’s inspired spoof Shoggoth's Old Peculiar is brilliant. But in general I don’t understand the urge to write ‘straight’ Lovecraft homages nor do I have much interest in the plethora of anthologies called things like Cthulhu In The Wild West or Dagon In The West End. It seems doubly strange because it’s so obvious from reading his work that Lovecraft was using the imagery of his mythos to help articulate a highly philosophical and personal view of existence. He wasn't just thinking Ohhhh Godzilla with a squid for a head – cool!
Three Things I Do Write About:
- Doubles & Doppelgängers: I think anyone who’s read even a fraction of my work will probably have picked up on this. There’s the obvious doppelgänger stories like Falling Over or New Boy, where there’s a physical copy of someone (maybe) but there’s also the Jekyll and Hyde like parallels within people’s personalities that I exploit in stories like The Other Room and The Time Of Their Lives. Coming at it all from a completely different angle is Dark Reflections (forthcoming from Knightwatch Press next year) which, as you can possibly guess from the title is about that doppelgänger we all have on the other side of the mirror… There’s also a second aspect to this, where two different stories serve as partial reflections of each other – for example in the collection Falling Over, the story The Time Of Their Lives tells of some sinister adult behaviour from the uncomprehending point of view of a child… whereas Sick Leave shows an adult protagonist struggling to grasp the equally incomprehensible behaviour of a group of eerie children… I didn't write these stories to be conscious reflections of each other (indeed, they were written years apart) but when putting together a collection of stories I like finding these kinds of echoes in my work and to exploit them where I can.
- Ambiguity: I love endings where you're still not sure what will happen next, or still not sure what has happened, and especially endings where you're not really sure what it all means. There's lots of different types of ambiguity in narrative, and I've argued before that if anything distinguishes 'weird fiction' from straight horror it's ambiguity. That's not to say that my stories simply just stop, or become so weird as to be impenetrable - trying to get the emotional kick of an ending whilst not tying everything up with a neat bow is what I'm going for.
- Flawed People: God, is there anything more boring to write about than happy well-adjusted people? Or even worse, people with so many abilities and advantages that they overcome everything they face? This is something Neil included in his three things, actually, where he said he’d never write about superheroes and I completely see his point. Even where people in my stories do have abilities beyond the ordinary (Regina in The Watchers for example) their ‘powers’ are as much a curse as a blessing, and not really under their control. But I'm not much drawn to this theme, and much prefer to write about flawed, two-faced, self-deceiving and even downright repellent people in my fiction. Part of his goes back to the idea that the horrors of the story should have some connection to the protagonist, and part of it is the much simpler horror trope that an unpleasant protagonist should get their comeuppance in the end.
Passing The Baton...