>An Interview with Frank Duffy


Hello folks, today I would like to present an interview with Frank, Duffy.  Frank is a new comer to the genre, but an author who, based on his debt novella Mountains of Smoke, looks set for big things.

GNOH – Hi Frank, how are things with you?

I’m great, Jim, many thanks for the invite to speak today. A real pleasure.

GNOH – You are living in Poland now, how did you end up there?

I ended up here through the invitation of a very good friend of mine. He thought I’d like teaching here because of the people. I had considered shortly before he rang me going elsewhere, but Poland it was, and I to this day, I’m indebted to Richard (obviously my good friend) for persuading me that this was a country I would really feel at home in.
GNOH – What’s life like over there?  What do think of the food?  I love it.  I grew up in St Andrews, where there was a strong Polish community, and thanks to my Grandfather, who was made an honorary President of the Scottish Polish Society was exposed to a lot of it. 
That’s great to hear. Good to know that Polish influence didn’t just materialise after 2004. I’m not much of a cuisine person, but I like the food, ‘usually’, though I will draw the line at carp and flaki. I guess it’s because at heart I lack the sophistication to appreciate, and that I constantly hanker after a Cornish pasty, twinned with the God of crisps Cheese and Onion, or that vague temptress, Prawn and Cocktail. Lays crisps can go hang its continental hat somewhere else, if you don’t mind me saying.

What’s it like over here? Different and not so different, which is something I’ve tried putting across in my work. This country fascinates me, socially, historically, economically, in many ways which have been extremely beneficial to me as an aspiring writer. I wouldn’t say that coming to Poland is in any way a culture shock, but if you pay attention to the small details, you’ll realise that it distinguishes itself characteristically as much Britain does. I suppose that’s self-evident about any country, though.

GNOH – So what first inspired you to put pen to paper and in particular to horror genre?

There were many influences which impelled me to write. The first was my mother, who bought me a typewriter for my eighth birthday, which I personally requested, and to which she never once batted an eyelid in surprise. Not unless she thought I was aiming for secretarial school.

My mother is an avid reader, though ferocious is a more suitable adjective in her case. So, it was pretty apparent books would feature heavily in my life. She constantly encouraged me to write, and never once thought branching out as naturally as I did into horror was abnormal or worrying. If it wasn’t for my mother, I doubt I’d even have bothered trying to write.

The second influence which had a profound effect on me, though the person merely floated through my life for one year, and was after that, gone forever, dramatic as that might sound, was my junior school teacher, Mrs Cardwell.

She used to give weekly readings in assembly to the last two classes of junior school, the other younger children judged below the appropriate age to sit and listen as she read us wonderfully creepy ghost stories for half-an-hour each Monday morning.

But it was her assignment to the class above mine, THE BIG KIDS, which really started me off on this inevitable collision course with fiction. She asked her class to write a story in response to Walter De La Mare’s ‘The Listeners.’ Though the assignment wasn’t open to myself or any of the other children in my year, I do distinctly remember going home and writing my version of the events of what I perceived as having happened within the poem.

From there it was a swift transition from bystander to full-blooded purveyor of writing about fictional people in a fictional universe of my own creation. Strange, and let’s be honest, quietly exciting for a kid.

But finally, and most of all, my wife-to-be, Ewa, is the most potent reason for me to continue to write. For her it makes sense, is something she expects of me, something which she sees as integral to who I am.

GNOH – Who are you genre heroes?

Putting down the names of those writers who have influenced me, would be the role-call of all role-calls; you’d wish you’d never asked. As I’m sure you’re beginning to feel right now. But like many writers in the genre, Ramsey Campbell is without doubt one of the most important writers for me, but not only as a writer within the horror genre. I think he, with a number of significant other writers, has been responsible for elevating the genre to the point that when people who don’t usually read ‘inside’ the genre read him, they come away surprised, sometimes shocked, at the sheer literary quality of the work. I mean, seriously, he’s been writing for fifty years, fifty years, and he just seems to be continually evolving in so many disparate ways. The man is a master of the short form or the novel, take your pick.

Also Stephen King, which must be boring to hear for an interviewer, but I’d be a liar if I said otherwise. Stephen King really lit up my nights, especially when life wasn’t always panning out the way you’d hope it would. Yes, King. A great, great writer.

Other writers, both in and outside the genre: Penelope Fitzgerald, Michael Chabon, Joel Lane, M.R. James, the great Dennis Etchinson, Rod Serling, Lisa Tuttle, Harlan Ellison, Richard Matheson, James Ellroy, Ray Bradbury Conrad Williams…hell, the list beggars belief.
GNOH – I was first pointed in your direction by Paul D’ Brazil, how did you two first meet?
Ha, do you want the truth, or the censored version? Paul and I used to work for the same language school in a beautiful town in Poland close to the German border. We are quite alike, only Paul is a hophead for crime, and I’ve never hung a monkey in my life (ask Mr Brazil). Seriously, Paul has been very instrumental in getting people to read my work, which is why I have to give him fifty percent of my earnings. Which amounts to the cost of a bag of sherbet dips 78’.
GNOH –  How would you describe your writing style.  I’m halfway through your collection, (an excellent read folks by the way and I highly recommend getting your hands on it when it’s released), and I would say you are more of the quite atmospheric style.
I’m not sure. At the start I was accused of being an over-writer, too dense on prose, and too vague. I’ve changed, I think, considerably, but I’m still methodical about building slowly. I love fast paced novels, stories, etc, but I’m not that kind of a writer. I think my style relies heavily on suggestion, and not telegraphing what my characters think so directly. I always thought it was strange for a character in the third person to relate their story so directly, that exposition should come gradually, in fragments, like piecing a puzzle together. But that’s just me. I’m a lover of all styles, and themes.
GNOH – Do you prefer a more atmospheric style over the shock and gore style of many authors?
Yes, but I’m not against it. I’m happy to read all horror, so long as it’s quality, which then throws up a thousand questions as to what’s quality.
GNOH – Has living in Poland affected the style and content of your writing?  The first story in your collection, to my mind anyway, has a very European feel to it.
Oh, without doubt. My first reason for coming to Poland was to start writing afresh. I was too distracted, and too infantile to write seriously while I was busy being distracted in Britain.  Poland allowed me to write from a different perspective, opened me up, let in some fresh air. It was a God send to be honest. I’m sure Paul (Brazil) feels the same way.
GNOH – What is your favourite of the collection, and why?
Probably the title story, The Signal Block or Not Yet Players. Both for completely different reasons. The Signal Block because I felt this was definitely me writing, that I wasn’t riding on somebody else’s coat-tails, and that the more absurd elements of the story struck me as being honest, if not, slightly ridiculous. I felt I had broken through my fear of what it might be perceived as. Not Yet Players because it dealt with my love of genre TV, and was paced a lot quicker than my other stories, which showed (to myself) that I could do it differently. (Fast paced for me, that is).
GNOH – I’ve noticed recently that there has been a lot of discussion over the lack  of literary horror, how do you feel about that.  Personally I’m more interested in reading a good story, that either chills me to the core or gives me a sense of awe and wonder?
I don’t think there’s a lack of literary horror. I just think it’s marginalised by the commercial publishers. There are many writers in the genre who are literary, Joel Lane, Nicholas Royle, Allyson Bird, Lisa Tuttle, Thomas Litgotti, Gary McMahon, Simon Kurt Unsworth, Simon Bestwick, Gary Fry, Stephen Bacon, Des Lewis, all of whom, I personally feel, write with their literary hearts on their sleeves.
GNOH – Mountains of Smoke is an excellent tale, what was the inspiration behind this?   How did the title come about, did you have before you wrote the story?
It was originally a proposed prologue to a novel called The Bad House which I abandoned. But I liked the first five pages, and thought it wanted to go somewhere. The idea just simply popped into my head after a car-ride to the Vistula river, where the story was first set. The house came first, the characters second, and then the story.
GNOH – Are you planning on writing any novels or do you prefer the medium of the short story?
I’ve written two novels, ‘Celluloid Games’ and ‘A History of Writers’ but they need time to develop into the stories they haven’t yet matured into. I’ve also been tinkering with a near-future novella for the last six years. I’m currently halfway through a 30,000 word novella called Replacements, and have just finished my second collection ‘Between These Pages, These Places.’ The second collection is due out this year.
GNOH – How do you go about the process of writing, are you a manic plotter, or more of a go with the flow type author?
I’m rather somebody who goes with the flow, but saying that, I pretty much know how a story will start, and why it will start as it does, and how it will end. It’s the middle ground for which I’m usually sailing blind.
GNOH – Do you have any rituals, a favourite pen, music to listen to while you write, that sort of thing?
My ritual is four hours each morning, without fail. No music, no noise, and facing a blank wall, back to any windows.
GNOH – What lessons have you learned from the first time you sat down to write?
That it must always be as much as pleasure to do this wonderful perplexing thing, as it was all those years ago. Which it is. Probably more so now, than ever.
Many thanks Jim. Hope that wasn’t too long-winded (which it was), or boring. Best wishes. Frank

GNOH – Thanks Frank for taking the time to pop in for a chat.  I highly recomened getting a copy of Mountains Of Smoke, it really is a good read.  Here is my review of it 

It can be purchased from Sideshow Press


3 thoughts on “>An Interview with Frank Duffy

  1. >Sitting with your back to the window and writing horror, now that's living dangerously, Frank. Curtains open or closed? Great interview BTW. And Paul, thanks for sharing that visual 😉

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