Happy New Year, Dear Readers!
To kick things off for 2012, I'm posting an interview I did with Gordon Reece. He is a fellow Ho Ho Horror contributor and author of the electrifying suspense novel, Mice. Find out more about his writing at his official website
Christmas horror has a strange appeal to fans of scary stories, perhaps for the very reason that it is supposed to be the loveliest time of the year. Have you ever had a nasty Christmas yourself?
I don’t recall a nasty Christmas, but I remember I used to get very excited on Christmas Eve – just like Danny Coyle – and would struggle to get to sleep; so in a strange way Christmas could be quite a stressful and anxious time. There was also a lot of pressure for the day to be perfect so if there were any arguments (I was the youngest of six so there were always arguments!) the fact that it was this supremely special day made them seem much worse.
Can we expect other tales from you that are set during festivals or special dates such as Easter or Saint Valentine's Day?
The only story idea I have at the moment concerning a festival or special date is one set during the Pamplona bull run where an English tourist tries to show off to his girlfriend and ends up coming off worse in an encounter with a ton of rampaging bull. But I think the festival/special date has a lot of potential for thriller writers – Greene used it a lot, for example in the opening of ‘Brighton Rock’, where Fred Hale runs for his life through the crowds enjoying their Whitsun bank holiday, or in The Godfather Part Two when De Niro kills Don Fanucci while the neighbourhood fiesta is taking place all around them. I suppose it’s the contrast between the gaiety and the horror, the light and the dark, that’s so effective. Valentine’s day is a great one – I’ll have to start thinking of a good grisly St. Valentine’s day horror story now... the avenging wife sends her adulterous husband a heart-shaped box of chocolates but when he opens it he discovers desiccated slivers of his mistress’s heart...
In a previous interview with Aus Lit, you were asked about your favourite horror stories. A writer's inspiration doesn't just come from other works of fiction though. Can you tell me what or who else inspires you (music, art, etc)?
We’re definitely influenced by more than just the books we’ve read. I was hugely influenced by American horror and science fiction comics when I was growing up. As for movies, I’d say the movies that have most shaped my aesthetic are: ‘Straw Dogs’, ‘Rosemary’s Baby’, ‘Psycho’, ‘Don’t Look Now’, ‘The Birds’, ‘The Postman Always Rings Twice’, ‘Les Diaboliques’, ‘Sleuth’, ‘Deathtrap’, and ‘Images’ (an underrated masterpiece starring Susannah York). There was a TV series called ‘Thriller’ in the UK in the seventies that was terrifying - certain episodes I can still remember vividly today. I don’t think I’ve been influenced by art very much, although, as I’ve said before, I’d like to think that any novel I write in the future could have Munch’s ‘The Scream’ as its cover. As for music, I agree with Auden that it’s the greatest of the arts; it’s very rare for literature to be able to move us in the way music can but it’s something writers should aspire to. Funnily enough I haven’t thought much about the screen adaptation of ‘Mice’ except for the sound track. I’d love them to use Peter Gabriel’s ‘Here comes the Flood’ in the part where the very heavy rainstorm comes, and I think PJ Harvey’s ‘Who the f**k?’ would make great exit music – a real feminist finger raised to the world: ‘I’m not like other girls/You can’t straighten my curls’.
Tell us about your writing environment. Do you ever write in unusual places, whether it be at home or outdoors? Do you have any particular habits that help you to write?
I’ve got a very boring writing environment I’m afraid. I sit at a desk that looks out onto a little English suburban back garden. I’m close to the kitchen where I make countless cups of coffee (‘I have measured out my life with coffee spoons....’). As for weird habits, I have lots of pens and change the pen I’m writing with every half hour or so as I get bored writing with the same one. I have a purple stone which my nephew bought me years ago which I like to play with when I’m thinking – it fits nicely in the hand and is beautifully smooth. I can’t listen to music like I used to, which is a shame, as it made the working hours a bit more cheery. I’m not sure how great my concentration is these days – I check the ipad for emails every five minutes even if I’m in the middle of a sentence. I don’t know who I’m expecting a message from, but, whoever it is, the message never comes!
Do you have a favourite length when it comes to fiction - short stories, novellas, novels - and why?
I’m really interested in the novella - something between thirty and fifty thousand words. Two of my favourite books – McEwan’s ‘The Comfort of Strangers’ and ‘The Cement Garden’ – are novellas, and I think there’s a growing trend for shorter novels now (Julian Barnes’s ‘The Sense of an Ending’ which won the Booker prize in 2011 was a novella). I read ‘War and Peace’ this year and it took me six months – I just don’t think literature can demand that big a part of our lives anymore. The novella gives you enough space to tell your story well, and then to get out of there before you overstay your welcome. It’s a very interesting hybrid between the short story and the novel and I think we’re going to see a lot more novellas in the future.
I read that you are interested in script writing. Can you tell us (without giving any secrets away) what type of films you envisage creating?
I’m interested in trying my hand at writing scripts for a whole range of genres. So on my desk at the moment there is a thriller called ‘Graphic Designs’ about a father who’s being hunted down by his psychotic son; another about a US spy plane crew shot down over Siberia in the sixties who uncover something sinister in an abandoned Soviet prison camp; and a romantic comedy set in Oxford (working class boy with chip on his shoulder falls for beautiful hooray Henrietta type). The great thing about script writing is that it’s more of a science than an art – three acts, 120 pages, plot point one at the end of Act One, plot point two at the end of Act Two etc – and, if all goes well, you can write a script in six weeks whereas a novel is going to take at least a year. Since a novel and a movie script have roughly the same chance of being picked up, I think the smart money’s on the script writing.
Thank you, Gordon, and all the best with your future projects.