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 Dan Carpenter.
CP: What about The Shadow Booth piqued your interest? Why are Dark Fiction and Weird Fiction important?
DC: You bring a fair bit of yourself to weird fiction, which is where the genre differs a bit from more general horror. With horror, you have to fight through cliché. Horror has rules. I wrote an essay about Candyman recently (which I love), Candyman is definitely a horror film, but it takes its horror from the way it approaches rules.
Weird fiction, for me, doesn’t follow rules, or if it does, they’re rules from a book to which we have no access, and even if we did, they’d be written in another language we could never learn. In Robert Aickman’s story “The Strangers,” the narrator describes witnessing something uncanny in a private club, saying, “I claimed no particular gift for instantly catching on to how a conjuring trick was done, but I did expect to be provided, even by semi-amateurs, with data sufficient enough to define what the trick was. In the present instance, it was becoming more and more difficult to decide even who was performing the trick.” That, for me is weird fiction.
The more modern view of weird fiction is that’s a part of horror fiction, or at least it sits comfortably alongside it. That’s probably because of the re-releases of Robert Aickman’s books, and certainly that’s where I came across the idea of it for the first time. But I think that weird fiction exists somewhere beyond just horror. One of my favourite authors, Nicola Barker, has written a few books which I would say could fit neatly into the weird fiction genre, like Darkmans, but they’re certainly not horror. Hilary Mantel’s Fludd, which may or may not feature the Devil taking a job in a church in rural England, touches upon the edges of the weird too. In sci-fi, authors like Stanislaw Lem could be said to write it too. Books like Solaris totally fit within the Aickman or Lovecraftian wheelhouse of human’s encountering something they cannot hope to understand, and being corrupted by it.
Really then, for me, weird fiction is what you make it. What that means is that weird fiction can be more open than other genres, it can encompass a huge variety of stories. That’s what makes anthologies like The Shadow Booth so interesting – there’s more than just weird horror in there. Writers like Dave Hartley have stories in there that push what I think the modern idea of weird fiction is to its edges.
So when Dan (editor of The Shadow Booth) explained the idea of the anthology to me and asked me to send “Flotsam” to him I was immediately excited. Dan had read an early version of “Flotsam” so I was happy that even back then he’d seen something in it that he knew would fit the tone of The Shadow Booth.
CP: Could you tell us a little about your story “Flotsam?” What inspired it, how did it come to fruition?
DC: “Flotsam” is set in a small English seaside town, the kind where everyone knows everyone else’s business, and everyone needs to tow the line. That side of small town life always fascinates me; the more microscopic the population, the more intense it all becomes. I’ve known people living in tiny places who have almost been driven out of their villages because of it. I wanted to explore that side of things, that idea of either buying into the collective or facing the consequences. The idea of it becoming a weird fiction story came naturally, and the concept of flotsam and jetsam again seemed to fit. Both are old terms, and you’ll find jetsam when objects on a sinking ship have been purposefully jettisoned, but flotsam, that’s stuff that’s been lost. When you have a small town, all it takes is something to wash up on the beach to tear it all apart.
The story itself a made up of a number of very short individual chapters. I wanted to capture the makeup of the village, the number of people and their roles in a place like that, and the structure of the story came quite quickly alongside that. A couple of years ago, Unsung Stories published a story of mine titled, “Stabbed in the Neck by Dot Cotton” which does a similar thing across several different flats in an apartment block.
I’d also never really attempted a full on monster story before. “Flotsam” has, at the centre of it, a strange sea creature that prompts people in the town to act strangely, this seemingly otherworldly creature that may, to an extent, be worming its way into people’s minds. It’s a little Lovecraftian, but then, we so often see things coming from the ocean and washing ashore that we cannot explain.
CP: Can you delve a little into your writing process? Any advice for budding authors?
DC: My advice is to ignore almost all writing advice. Read a whole bunch, and challenge yourself as a reader. Find the things you naturally avoid and concentrate on reading those for a while. Almost all other writing advice is rubbish and you’ll find your own way.
I tend to start out with a vague idea, or a concept. For “Flotsam,” I had the idea of the creature, and a single line of dialogue (one that still appears in the first third of the story), and I started writing to work my way up to that point. Beyond that, I had little idea what I was really writing about. My first drafts are always messy and meandering, especially in the middle. The final third is usually okay, because by the time I get to that point I know where I’m going. It’s in the drafts after that that I can find my way through properly and really get the story reading the way it’s supposed to.
CP: Who influenced you as a writer? How does this reflect in your own work?
DC: I grew up reading a lot of Alan Garner, and discovered Shirley Jackson as a teenager. It was a combination of authors like that, and films like Picnic at Hanging Rock and Don’t Look Now that made me want to write. Over the years I’ve also discovered and loved Nicola Barker, Christopher Priest, China Mieville, Nina Allan, and writers like John Wyndham.
It wasn’t really until I came to London and picked up Robert Aickman for the first time that I realised that all of the things I loved were a part of weird fiction. That was the same for shows like The League of Gentlemen, and comics by Grant Morrison. They’re not all primarily weird, but they have at their core those kinds of ideas.
Nowadays, I’m lucky enough to be surrounded by talented writers. I lived in Manchester for several years, and the writers I got to know there have all been a huge influence on my own work. Ditto now I’m in London. If you haven’t already, go read stories by Aliya Whiteley, Verity Holloway, Abi Hynes, Irenosen Okojie, Gary Budden & Dave Hartley (who are also in volume one of The Shadow Booth), and Nici West. When you know writers as incredible as them, you find that you push yourself more and challenge yourself as a writer. The worst thing you can do is feel comfortable.
CP: What other ventures do you have planned for the future? What can our readers look forward to?
DC: I’ve got a story coming out in an upcoming edition of Unthology. It’s called “A Moment Could Last Them Forever,” which comes from a song by The Kinks. I’m really proud of that story and I’m really happy that it’s found a home. It’s about a suburban medium in South London, and I’m playing around with ideas of sigils and route maps. The Kinks’ Village Green Preservation Society gets a mention because it’s one of my favourite albums (“Flotsam” nearly had that album title as its own title).
I also host a podcast called The Paperchain Podcast, where writers read new work based on prompts set by previous guests. The second season is underway right now, and some Shadow Booth authors have been guests in the first season. You can subscribe to it and listen wherever you get podcasts from, and I highly recommend listening to Gary Budden’s episode in which he talks about ideas around landscape punk (with added conversation about Chuck Tingle).
Thank you as always for stopping by and please make sure to visit The Shadow Booth and follow us on social media!