Greetings from the Ether,
Our friends at the Shadow Booth are making steady progress with their Kickstarter. This literary journal is going to be out of this world and we are very excited to see the dreams of the editor Dan Coxon and these amazing writers come true. We will be interviewing all of the authors involved to help spread the word.
If you haven’t already, please make sure to stop by and visit their Kickstarter! Some Gehenna & Hinnom products may be awaiting you there.
Alas, let’s begin! We’d like to introduce you to Shadow Booth author David Hartley.
CP: Your work has been widely published in such publications as Black Static and Dark Fiction Magazine, along with collections of your work like Spiderseed. What about The Shadow Booth piqued your interest? Why are Dark Fiction and Weird Fiction important?
DH: As soon as editor Dan Coxon said the words “weird, eerie, uncanny” I was immediately piqued. Those are the exact realms I always write in – more so than straight “sci-fi” or “fantasy” (whatever that might mean!). For me, the weird and the dark occupy a special place in our minds and the more we allow them in, the stranger and richer our lives become. I believe that strangeness is deep within our DNA as a species and haunts us wherever we go. As long as there are mysteries in the universe, we’ll cope with them via the strange play-time of our uncanny valleys. And, of course, when we collectively go through a strange time politically and culturally, dark and strange fiction will arise like Nosferatu to be our shady companions – our allies, almost. I’ve never known a stranger time than the present moment so I don’t find it surprising at all that weird fiction is on the rise. When the world itself is weird, fiction has to do whatever it can to stay even weirder. Our fictions have to be weirder, otherwise we might just lose our grip on reality itself . . .
CP: Could you tell us a little about your story “Betamorphosis?” What inspired it, how did it come to fruition?
DH: Buckle up, because it’s a complicated one! I’ve been writing a lot of stories about animals over the past few years, focusing on a different creature per story and trying to say something about the mythology and/or social place of that particular animal. So far, I’ve done dog, cat, horse, rabbit, fox, whale, pig, wolf, elephant. And it came to the point where I wanted to do some kind of insect. Around the same time, a story was doing the rounds online about a group of university researchers who had created a computer chip which they had managed to graft onto the brain stem of a living cockroach. They were then able to use an app on their phones to move the cockroach around. This thing was Kickstarted and became RoboRoach and is now readily available to purchase. There was a little bit of concern about the ethics but no-one seemed all that fussed – after all, they were only pests.
My philosophizings about animals in recent years has made me think more about this concept of the “pest.” For me, it is just an animal in the wrong place at the wrong time and many animals can be both simultaneously. My favourite animal, the rabbit, falls into this category and can be both a pet and a pest, just a single letter “s” away from vilification and extermination. When I read about RoboRoach my animal ethics alarm started blaring and the “Betamorphosis” story appeared like a vision in my mind. The obvious connection between insects and “the weird” is Kafka’s tale and here, in real life, was the reverse: a roach being, in a conceptual sense, turned into a human. So, I started researching cockroaches, tried to get a sense of what they are really like beyond the initial feelings of disgust and repulsion. As with any animal, they are endlessly fascinating creatures and more than worthy of a right to a life free from pointless human interference. I tried to build some of that into Betamorphosis – I do want the reader to feel sorry for cockroaches by the end of it.
In the end, the story is a simple switcheroo: “Metamorphosis,” but the other way around. But instead of turning into a real human, my version of Gregor Samsa turns into a virtual human – specifically, into Lara Croft. You’ll have to pledge to Shadow Booth and buy a copy to find out what ends up happening!
CP: Can you delve a little into your writing process? Any advice for budding authors?
DH: I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently because I started a Creative Writing PhD last year and I’m deep into it at the moment. I think my writing process is quite messy. I don’t have a fixed time of writing each day and the stories I write will often shift around and rarely sit still. I tend to put trust in my writing urges and allow myself to splurge out whatever my mind needs to expel at any one time. I end up with a lot of words written and afterwards I sift through the murk to pick out the good stuff. It doesn’t always work and there are plenty of failures and rejections, but they are more than worth it when somewhere like Ambit or Black Static say yes. Having said that, I am quite disciplined. I will always find and make time for writing and I’m very productive – but I struggle to contain myself to a fixed writing structure like others. I think I’ve settled into a happy medium between discipline and chaos.
To budding writers, I have bits and pieces of advice based on my own experience: first and foremost, let yourself enjoy the process of creating. Don’t box yourself in too much with rules and guidelines – it’s worth knowing about so-called “rules” but as soon as they are learned, find clever ways to utterly reject them. All you need to do is find time for two things. Read, and read loads of stuff. Not just the stuff you want to write, but all sorts of other things – genre, literary, classic, non-fiction, short fiction, poetry. Go for things that thrill you – for the weird: Kafka, Shirley Jackson, Philip K. Dick, Greek Myth, Dr Seuss, Edward Lear, Mervyn Peake, New Scientist, etc. etc., everything and anything. Secondly, make and find time to write and just go for it. Again, everything and anything is fair game and if you’re struggling for inspiration find a way to generate a random character, a random location and a random object (here’s one: a monk, the International Space Station, a plastic shark) and force yourself to think of the relations. Then write something only you will ever read. Free yourself. Somewhere along the way you’ll snag on the giddy thrill of writing – find that and chase it and the rest will follow, eventually.
CP: Who influenced you as a writer? How does this reflect in your own work?
DH: I have a lot of influences, of course. The main ones are Alan Garner, J.G. Ballard, Iain Banks (both M and non-M), China Mieville, Ursula Le Guin, Hilary Mantel, John Wyndham. But then I have to throw in people like Shakespeare, Sophocles, Carl Jung, Mary Shelley. And bits and pieces from other media: The Coen Brothers, Andrei Tarkovsky, Wong Kar Wai, Hitchcock, Haneke, the music of Boards of Canada and Animal Collective, and pretty much everything Nintendo have ever done, especially The Legend of Zelda series.
All of that obviously adds up to a smorgasbord of the weird, the dark and the mythic all swirling around in the mind, setting up shop in the uncanny valley. There’s a leaning towards British folk and fantasy, with elements of Japanese and European strangeness all adding up to whatever it is I end up writing. I think my stories have the content of British folk and the sensibilities of Japanese and/or Greek myth.
But I think the single biggest influence has not necessarily been so obviously direct. My older sister Jenny is autistic and I think her particularly peculiar perspective on life has also guided me into similar realms. All my life I’ve been exposed to a mind which sees the world in a non-normative way and, while it was all a very normal part of my life, I think it has helped to open certain doors of my creative mind that lead to places that sit at a quirked angle, where the grip on reality is threatened. Where, perhaps, it’s perfectly fine to be perfectly weird.
CP: What other ventures do you have planned for the future? What can our readers look forward to?
DH: All of my creative force at this present moment is focused on writing a novel. This is for my PhD which I’ll be anchored to for the next two and a bit years. The novel explores what I’ve just been talking about: autism, the strange and my life. It’s partially autobiographical, partially bizarre portal afterlife contemporary fantasy. It is currently in first draft status so it’ll be a while off ready, but hopefully I’ll be able to whip it into a good enough shape for publication. Of course, it may never see the light of day!
I also might have enough dark animal stories to put them together as a themed collection. I think I need maybe one or two more to get something long enough for publishers to be interested, but if I can get my act together then a full collection may be along soon enough. Hey, if there are any cool indie presses reading this who have a taste for weird animals doing dark things to bad humans, then get in touch!
available now: Spiderseed (Sleepy House Press) – twenty illustrated flash fictions about haunted bath tubs, barricaded Jenga towers and a crime scene for insects.
Thank you as always for stopping by and please make sure to visit The Shadow Booth and follow us on social media!