Hello folks, today I honoured to have David Mathew author of O My Days and Paranoid Landscapes.
GNOH – Hi David. How are you?
I’m fine, thanks. It’s nearly six o’clock in England and I’m getting ready to knock off for the day. It’s been a busy day and it’s time for some dinner and a relax! No work tonight. The only thing getting me down is that I’ve just learned that Clarence Clemons, Bruce Springsteen’s sax player for the last forty years, has died. That’s sad.
GNOH – Could you please tell the readers a bit about yourself?
I was born in the Home Counties, in a town called Dunstable. With my family I moved to Australia when I was young; we moved back. I went to Bangor University, studying English Literature. I graduated and then spent a hated year in advertising before training to be a teacher and then worked in education for a long time. All through these years I was placing stories and journalism pieces here and there, working on longer things and hoping for a nice break.
My working life has been extremely rich and rewarding. The good thing about working in education, and of recent days psychoanalysis, is that both of these subjects feed into fiction, and vice versa.
GNOH – I see you spent a year in Poland, what made you decide on Poland? It’s a place I love, even though I’ve only spent three days there?
I loved Poland too, but it was a long time ago. Basically, what happened was that I went to Cairo on a teaching contract in 1994, for a year. I decided at the end of that that I was going to go somewhere completely different. So when I was accepted for three positions – in Greece, Turkey and Poland – I basically selected the one that I felt would be the furthest removed from Dokki in Cairo. And I loved it. I had a nice flat in a dangerous part of the city of Gdansk, called Brzezno. The translation for the place where I lived was ‘the place where the knives fly’, although to be fair, I didn’t see any knives flying. My colleague John was mugged twice, though. I emerged unscathed!
GNOH – What’s this about you being Ramsey Campbell’s biographer? How did that fall by the wayside?
Lack of interest, is the simplest answer. I interviewed Ramsey several times for magazines and got it into my head that there was a book in this, and Ramsey was up for it; but when push came to shove, I couldn’t get a publishing house to put any money into it and unfortunately the project had to fold. Which was a shame. I can still see a really robust and meaty biography on Campbell coming out, one of these days; unfortunately it won’t have my name on it as I have too much else to do now.
GNOH – I can’t believe you have written and published over 450 stories, how does someone so prolific, remain so relatively off the radar?
Not by choice! It would have been great to have gained some momentum in my writing career but I can’t complain, and I’m not. But you’re right. I’ve been around a long time and no one knows me.
GNOH – You were first published along with D F Lewis, one of the true experts of the genre, is there any friendly rivalry between the two of you?
There’s certainly no rivalry from my own point of view: Des is the Guvnor! You’d have to ask Des about his own views on the subject, however.
By the time I first published, Des was well on his way, I reckon to his first 500-or-so sales. There’s never been any competition with Des. In fact, we worked together a few times. Our co-written story ‘Babes in Boots’ found a publisher in Jobs in Hell (and it’s not about what the title suggests either!); and we sold our ‘Don’t Drown the Man Who Taught You to Swim’ to Redsine. We also had M.F. Korn writing with us on ‘The Curious Satchel’, and that was published too. Of course I ended up writing quite a lot with Korn, including a novel that was accepted a few years ago but has still not come out. Maybe one day… It’s a shame because we’re both really proud of the novel, Creature Feature.
GNOH – How would you describe your writing style?
It’s not really for me to describe, but as you’ve asked nicely… I hope it’s fun and thoughtful. I hope it makes people think and react emotionally, in one way or another. Even if it’s disliked, I hope it’s remembered. But of course I hope it’s liked and remembered, first and foremost!
GNOH – You’ve been compared to Conrad Williams, and T.M. Wright, how does that make you feel. Is it an honour or do you feel such comparisons can be a mill stone?
It’s always an honour to be compared with good writers.
GNOH – With so many publications, how hard is it for you to keep the ideas and the writing fresh?
It’s not hard at all to keep thinking of new scenarios and adventures. If anything, it’s hard not to. I always have at least three projects on the go at any one time and so there’s no danger of losing enthusiasm. If I get stuck, I simply move to one of the other ones and take things up where I left off last time.
Every day provides some sort of inspiration, even if it’s only a sentence I overhear, or something I see. Plus, I have a mental notebook of things that I haven’t done yet. From the age of sixteen – I’m not joking – I’ve had in mind a story called ‘The Jazz Goes Down on 9th’. To this day I have no idea what the title means, or if it’ll be any good; but you can’t forget some things. Add that title to a dozen others, and add those dozen titles to at least twenty or so characters that I’d like to use, and you can see that there’s plenty of material to use up over the next few years.
In the last few years I’ve become interested in psychoanalysis, and this has proved a real shot in the arm as well. When you add the influences of Freud, Lacan and Bion to what I’m already doing, the resulting mixture is pretty heady. It’s enough to keep me going for a bit, while at the same time I’ve been lucky enough to be able to work in the field and to work on some academic psychoanalytic papers, while at the same time continuing to write in the field of education. I retired from teaching some years ago, and now I only write about the subject.
GNOH – What would be a good place for a reader to sample your work?
I’d have to say that the new one feels the purest. You can check out O My Days at Triskaideka Books. Click here for information. Hardcover, paperback or e-book versions available.
Great review here!
GNOH – Can you tell us about the collection, Paranoid Landscapes?
It was published in 2006, a collection of what I considered my best fiction of the previous five or so years (although a few pieces were earlier). It’s been called a feast, and I liked that. There is everything in there, from science fiction to horror, to weird tales to crime. There are even a few stories that fit no genre and would go under the heading of ‘mainstream’ if I didn’t like that heading so much! Something like ‘Blame’, for instance, is on the surface a story about a family party; but it just so happens that one of the characters is pregnant with someone other than her husband, who happens to be at the party as well. In another century it might have been called a Comedy of Manners, but I hope I’ve kept it nice and dark. Most of my stuff is dark.
GNOH – Your latest offering is a supernatural thriller O My Days, what’s the novel about?
It’s about the maximum security prison where I used to work, although I’ve renamed it and relocated it in the north of England. I worked in the Education Department of this prison for eighteen months, and I noticed from the start a strange and beguiling new language that I had never heard before, issued by the prisoners. I even looked it up; came up blank. It was fresh, it was original; it followed its own rigid structures and features… and I thought: I wonder if I could write a story in this language. Well, as you know now, I did a lot more than that. I wrote a story in this language. It was the most fun I’ve ever had sitting down. I squashed together bits of prisoners that I’d worked with and made new characters out of them; the same with members of staff. Then I moved them into a nasty little death waltz…
Our narrator is Billy Alfreth. He’s serving time for a crime that he doesn’t remember committing (but he remembers plenty of others that he didn’t get caught for). His world is turned upside down by the arrival of Ronald Dott, a multiple rapist, who seems to be able to read parts of his mind. Billy needs to get to the bottom of Dott’s attention to him, while at the same time trying to work out why a PhD student working in the prison library seems to want to know all about him as well. In an atmosphere where knowledge really is power, there is a fight on; and before long, to a background of mounting tension in the prison, which might or might not be Dott’s fault, we travel along way from the prison, into Dott’s origins, to find out that he has always had a completely separate identity and purpose for being on the planet.
GNOH – Like a number of other pieces of your work, it’s connected to a prison, is here a reason for this?
It’s addictive! I swear, although I might not have enjoyed working in that prison, it has been the richest vein of material that I’ve ever known. I’m still not finished with it. Because of that prison I wrote my M.A. thesis (in Psychoanalysis), the novel O My Days, a novella Residua (forthcoming in The HA of HA, edited by D.F. Lewis), and a lecture I gave last week at Middlesex University on a psychoanalytic application of prison slang. The paper I’m writing now – provisionally entitled Ghosting – is another one, all about psychoanalysis and prisoner anxiety.
GNOH – In O My Days, the villain has the ability to take over another person’s thoughts and actions. Is losing control one of you fears, and have you used this book as a sort of therapy?
I suppose it’s fair to say that I use every book as a sort of therapy…but yes, you’re right – this one in particular. It felt good to be in control of material that was challenging, to say the least, in the real world. As for fears of losing control… completely. The idea terrifies me. Genuinely. The idea of getting old and becoming lost in a world in which I don’t even make sense to myself is horrific. It’s not only that I wouldn’t want to be a burden on anyone (although this is true as well); it’s more the idea of getting stuck and somehow knowing that I was stuck, emotionally, physically. I can only hope that keeping my mind active will push those ideas back a long, long way!
GNOH – If you could take over someone else and making them doing anything, who and what would it be?
Dave Cameron, Barack Obama and Michael Gove in a sandpit, cross-legged and playing pattacake: a metaphorical delineation of how those idiots currently appear in the real world.
GNOH – Does setting it in a prison make it more difficult to create a set of characters that the readers will care about?
Well, that’s hard to say. I hope the characters are real, rough and ready. They certainly have real lives and real identities – they have places they’ve come from and where they’re going. Other readers and reviewers and readers have been kind enough to say how realistic they seem.
GNOH – It’s published through Triskaideka Books, what made you decide to go with them?
My editor at Triskadeika was enthusiastic from the start, God bless him.
GNOH – So what can we expect from you in the future?
I mentioned Residua in The HA of HA. In the meantime I’m writing a new novel called Ventriloquists, and I have a collection with Lawrence Dyer that’s nearly finished, called I Shop At Night. I’m writing a non-fiction book that I think will be called Anxiety, and a suite of psychoanalytic papers. There’s certainly plenty to keep me busy!