An Interview with Richard Wright
I’ve been looking forward to this one for a while. Today we have an interview with Dr Who fan, author Hiram Grange and the Nymphs of Krakow and author of the recently released Cuckoo. To celebrate this you can pick up a copy of Cuckoo for a heavily discounted price of 99c by clicking the link below and using the coupon code.
GNOH – Hello Richard, how are you doingtoday?
Good, thanks, and glad to be here. Thanks for having meover.
GNOH – Am I right in thinking that you livein India?
Yes indeed, perpetrating random acts of dayjobbery sinceSeptember 2009. It’s a short term arrangement that should finish sometime in2013 or 2014, at which point it’s probable that my family and I will return tothe UK.
GNOH – What’s it like over there?
An extraordinary fusion of potential, corruption,poverty, and aspiration. I’ve seen things here that amaze me, and things thathorrify me. Sometimes it’s trivial stuff that makes me smile, like overtakingan elephant at a roundabout, and sometimes it’s things that make me want tocry, like naked children begging at traffic intersections on behalf ofgangmasters. It’s an amazing place. I’d be lying if I told you I didn’tsometimes find it maddening and frustrating, but it can be incredibly inspiringtoo.
GNOH –This is probably a stupid question, butis there much of a horror scene over there?
Not that I know of. That said, there’s 1.2 billion peoplehere – a seventh of the world’s population – all living on a massive bit of realestate. When I leave, I know I’ll only have scratched this country’s surface.It would be daft to think there isn’t a community of horror readers and writershere, but I haven’t found it yet, and they haven’t announced themselves to meeither.
GNOH – Could you tell us a little bit aboutyourself?
I’m an Englishman abroad, with a Scottish wife and daughterin tow, and a hamster called Hamish. A long time ago, I was an aspiring actoreking out a semi-living in Glasgow, Scotland. Life takes some funny turnsthough, and it’s sometimes hard to sketch a direct path from where I was then,to where I am now. I’ve been writing fiction since 1997, and it’s beenpublished in the UK and US since 1998. I still think of myself as a youngwriter, just of starting out, but reading the previous sentence back clearlyexposes my vast capacity for self-deceit.
GNOH – You describe yourself as author ofstrange dark fictions. Do you preferthis description to that of say horror author?
Not really, but I do find it more useful. When I startedto branch out a little a couple of years ago, writing for series such as Doctor Who and Iris Wildthyme, the handle of ‘horror author’ started to feel a bitlimiting, and not wholly useful. It’s all down to how people are finding mywork. Somebody bouncing into my website having read one of my Iris tales andwanting more could be rather put off if I’m boldly declaring myself to be amaster of the darkest literary arts.
To be honest, those experiments in other genres have alsocross-pollinated my horror work too. I’m starting to find a bigger palate topaint with, and enjoying the exploration. ‘Strange’ and ‘dark’ are two things Ican’t get away from (and don’t want to), because they’re elements that appearin my work whether I intend them to or not, but while I often write horrorstories, I no longer think of myself purely as a ‘horror writer’.
GNOH – Can you remember what first made youwant to write?
Frustration, mostly. I always loved acting, and thecollaborative act of creation that it embodies. It was my first love, and Imiss it. However, as first loves go, acting was also a fickle bitch. You can’tdo much without people to collaborate with, and as an actor you find yourselfchasing opportunities for work that doesn’t meet your expectations, or exploreideas you’re interested in. Writing is different. It’s self-motivated, you don’trequire somebody else’s permission to do it, and you can expend your creativityin the areas that fascinate you the most.
My own writing started with an impromptu image in my headthat I knew I’d never be able to exploit (a man, burning alive in a container,for reasons he can scarcely remember). It wouldn’t leave me alone, so I wroteit down. It’s the first chapter of Cuckoo,to the last detail. Because that short piece of writing didn’t answer any ofthe questions I had about the scene, and raised new ones that perplexed me evenmore, I kept on writing. By the time I had the answers I wanted, I also had thefirst draft of a novel, and from there I was hooked.
GNOH Who are some of your literary heroes?
King and Tolkien taught me how to read properly, and Kingin particular also taught me an enormous amount about characterisation. ArthurMiller also seized my imagination at an early age, particularly with The Crucible. I’ve always beenfascinated by Shakespeare, both his enigma and his plays, and I return to himover and again to expand my own thinking about structure and plot.
From a more modern perspective, Neil Gaiman constantlyastonishes me, and I can ask for nothing more than that from any storyteller.Dan Simmons is another huge recent influence, with The Terror and Droodamong the best things I’ve read.
GNOH – How would you describe your writingstyle? Does it change with each project,or do you try and keep a common style to your writing?
It’s developed a lot over the years. I’ve always tried to match style to project, andunderstood that this was important, but in reviewing my own early tales I cansee I wasn’t very successful at that for my first few years. These days,perhaps just through experience, I’m more capable. My contributions to the IrisWildthyme canon demand a very different voice than is appropriate for the HiramGrange universe.
GNOH – You primarily known for short stories,you have one novel cuckoo, which we’llchat about later. Is there an appeal towriting shorter works over long format stories?
As a writer, they’re very different challenges. It’sabout density. I find that when I have short story ideas, I have to work really hard to compress them into apublishable short story. It’s easier to relax into a novel, and give it freereign to explore what it wants to be. When I write a short these days, I need areally clear idea of what I’m aiming for before I begin. Of course, once youhave that idea, the length alone means you’re closer to the satisfaction offinishing the piece, which is nice. Finishing something, of whatever length, isthe most gratifying thing int he world.
GNOH – What do you think makes for a goodshort story?
Marksmanship. The double-tap. Head and heart.With a novel, you’ve enough time to spray ideas at the reader around a centraltheme or concept. With a short story, you just don’t have enough words forthat. Where my stories have worked well, it’s because to some extent I’vemanaged both the head and heart shots before the words ended.
GNOH – Can you remember how long it took youto get your first story published?
The first short story I wrote was called ‘Smoke’. It waspublished about seven months after I wrote it, though I wasn’t paid anything. Ididn’t mind at the time. I was just thrilled people were reading it.
GNOH – How do you feel the story holds up,compared to your latest offerings?
It’s got less intent than what I write now. Like most ofmy first batch of shorts, it’s structured more like a joke than a real story,leading towards a clear punchline. Not a bad thing in isolation, but there’s nolongevity to that approach.
GNOH – Have you learned any lessons in theintervening years?
Those stories were written long before I understood thedouble-tap. I’ve probably learned nothing about short story writing moreimportant than that.
GNOH – I first came upon your writing, through the Hiram Grange series ofnovellas. How did you become involved inthis fun series?
That whole project had a strange genesis. After amysterious request for interested authors from Shroud Publishing, I found outthey had the germ of a pulp fiction character they wanted to publish a shortseries of novellas about. Once five of us were recruited, we found out we had apretty blank slate to develop the Hiram, his background – his whole world. Itwas an intense collaborative experience, lasting almost two years from conceptto the final book being published. The result is something quite wonderful -five loosely linked, intensely pulpy action/horror novellas. They’re deranged,beautifully illustrated by Malcolm McClinton and Danny Evarts, and as I’m gladyou pointed out, enormous fun.
GNOH – How much freedom did you have withwhat you could do?
We made sure we had plenty. That was the benefit of themostly clean slate Tim Deal at Shroud gave the writers (informally knownhenceforth as the Hiram Five). We knew from the start that we were all verydifferent stylists, and that trying for a single voice across the range wasn’tgoing to play to anybody’s strengths. We went the opposite way. After makingsure we knew Hiram and the core of his background inside out, we each let ripin different ways. You’ve got (forgive me if I leave the Hiram Grange and the… off the start of each title – just assumeit’s there) Village of the Damned asa horror comedy, followed by the intensely trippy Twelve Little Hitlers, the horror sci-fi Digital Eucharist, the Lovecraftian Chosen One, and my own Nymphsof Krakow, which is almost as much conspiracy thriller as action horror.
GNOH – You had the honour of closing out theseries, did that put any added pressure on you to come up with a killer plotand story?
A bit, especially as we had no idea at the time whetherthat was the last we’d see of Hiram. I definitely wanted to have him finish ona high. That said, I’m pretty sure that every author felt enormous pressure notto drop the ball. Who wants to be the writer who loses a recurring characterhis whole readership?
GNOH – Have we seen the last of Hiram?
Absolutely not. In fact, he made anappearance courtesy of fellow Hiram scribe Robert Davies (who won the BlackStatic sponsored short story competition at the World Horror Convention earlierthis year) in Shroud’s free digital edition at the end of last month. Thestory, Hiram Grange and the Ghosts of Marrakeshis still available gratis.
As for my own involvement, I hope not. Talkshave been had over beers at top secret meetings in Texas. Ideas have beenproposed. I don’t want to say much more, as it’s Shroud’s baby and their call,but I have a good feeling that I might be diving back into Hiram’sover-stimulated world soon.
GNOH – You have also had had a couple ofstories published in the Dr Who Short Trips series. How much of a Dr Who fan are you?
Uber-fan. Total geek. I grew up with it, have seen mostof what can still be seen, and still get excited about what’s coming. Mydaughter loves it, but not as much as I do. It’s mine, I tell you.
Getting to write for him, after following his adventuresfor the majority of my life, was the biggestthrill.
GNOH – Who is your favourite Dr, and what doyou think of the current incarnation?
You can never get away from the one you first spent timewith, and for me that was Peter Davison. I may have caught the very end of TomBaker, but I’ve only the vaguest memories of anything before regeneration.That’s when the show seized me. Davison’s Doctor was brave, grumpy, and notalways entirely effective. He was a flawed hero, a man with a massive heart,who couldn’t always live up to his own expectations of himself.
I see a lot of that in Matt Smith, who’s a natural in therole. I’m enjoying him enormously, though I do wish they’d reign back on theseries arc stuff. It’s become too prevalent and difficult to follow. Mydaughter’s enjoying the action, but getting rather lost in the arc.
GNOH – You are gearing up for the launch ofyour novel Cuckoo. How is this going?
Time consuming! It’s hugely satisfying bringing the novelback for those who have never had a chance to read it, but I won’t be sorrywhen I can sit back, declare it done, and move on. I have actual writing that’stapping its foot impatiently at the back of my mind, demanding its turn.
GNOH – Can you tell the readers what thenovel is about?
It’s about a guy called Greg Summers, who is living anaverage suburban life at the start of the novel. He has a decent job, a nicehome, a decent car, a younger mistress that he’s kidding himself about havingfeelings for in order to keep banging her… you know the deal. One day, hereturns home to find his wife is actually married to another man called GregSummers, and doesn’t recognise him at all. At the same time he starts havingmemories of another life, powerful flashbacks accompanied by bloody physicalsymptoms. At the same time, he finds himself hounded by a creature that cannotexist, for reasons that he cannot understand. His survival depends on working out which of the men in his head is real- for Greg Summers and Richard Jameson, the fight to survive really is all inthe mind…
GNOH – What gave you the idea for thebook. Is this some primal fear you haveof someone replacing you?
Not quite, but I’ve always been interested in questionsof identity. A sense of personal identity and self is one of the things thatdifferentiates humans from most of the rest of life on this planet, but it’ssuch an unknown quantity. Where the hell does it come from, and why do we haveit? Are we born into ourselves, or grown by our experiences.? Nature, ornurture? Philosophy, science, and religion still return over and again to thesequestions, looking for an answer. It’s important, because we define the wholeworld through the prism of our sense of self. Any threat to our identity is potentially terrifying. Personally, I findsomething like Alzheimer’s, the gradual erosion of a living identity, one ofthe most horrifying prospects imaginable.
It was only when I went back to Cuckoo earlier this year that I realised that the theme of identityhas recurred throughout my fiction, though it’s never been as front and centreas it is in Cuckoo. In Hiram Grange and the Nymphs of Krakow, Hiram’sunderstanding of his role in the world is pulled out from under him, forcinghim to re-evaluate everything he once knew. In my Iris Wildthyme story ‘TheStory Eater’, Iris and Panda both face some uncomfortable questions about whatthey exist for, and in my upcoming Iris story ‘The Many Lives Of Zorro’ thetitular character also faces a very unique identity crisis. My Doctor Who story features a villain witha unique sense of self, and throughout my short horror fiction variouscharacters face down challenges to their understanding of who they are. I’dnever noticed before, but it’s definitely there.
GNOH – The novel has been released twicebefore, but been out of print for almost ten years. Is there a story behind this?
It sold in the late nineties to Hard Shell Word Factory,an independent publisher at the forefront of the abortive first rise ofelectronic books. It did very well for the company, and along with Clickers by JF Gonzalez and MarkWilliams was one of the bestselling horror titles they had. In 2002, the bookwas published by Razorblade Press in the UK. Unfortunately, Razorblade closedwithin a few months of releasing the book. Although the first shipment of thepaperback went out to retailers, giving me the immense pleasure of seeing it inbook stores, there were no more shipments to be had. The novel faded away.
Except it didn’t, because it had been taken on by Britishlibraries. When I finally signed on with the Public Lending Right people (whomake sure authors get a token payment when their books are borrowed), I foundthat it was still being regularly loaned out. Not in numbers that would make merich, but enough to show that there was still interest in the book. In 2009 -2010 it was loaned out more than a hundred times in the UK. Soon after that, Inoticed other authors using print on demand technology and ebooks to make theirown backlists available. It prompted me to do the same.
GNOH – Does this version differ in any wayfrom the previous ones?
It’s both very different, and not different at all. As Isaid, Cuckoo was practically thefirst piece of fiction I wrote as an adult. While I’m delighted with what Iread when I picked it up again, I couldn’t help noticing a raft of classicfirst novel errors. The beginning tried to hard. The end didn’t try hardenough. I adored adverbs with a passion. I’ve fixed as much of that stuff as Icould, without fundamentally altering the novel as a whole. I wanted to keep ittrue to what it was, not rewrite the thing from scratch.
The world has also changed a lot since Cuckoo was published. Mobile phones, forexample, were far from the ubiquitous accessory they are today, and the easycommunication they make possible had to be incorporated in the novel for it tobe credible. The Internet was only just going mainstream in the late nineties,but in the last decade and a half it’s caused us to outsource our identitiesmore and more. These days, in Greg’s weird circumstances, it’s almostinconceivable that he wouldn’t look himself up on Facebook and see what hisprofile said. Changes like this don’t change the plot or shape of the novel,but they keep it current.
GNOH – It’s currently available in all e-bookformats, with a print version coming soon. What are your opinions on ebooks and epublishing? Are you a fan or do think it’s a necessaryevil you have to deal with?
Well, as I say, Cuckoowas first published as part of the ebook almost-revolution a
decade ago,and that edition sold far and wide. From my perspective, it’s taken a longertime than I imagined getting where we are. I’ve no fear of epublishing. It’sarrived, and it’s going nowhere. I love my Kindle.
I know a lot of authors and readers have an inherentdislike of the idea of digital text. That’s fine, because dead tree editionsaren’t going anywhere either. That’s exactly why Cuckoo is coming back in both forms.
I sometimes wonder if the vocabulary creates a problem.People cry out that an ebook somehow isn’t a book. Fair enough, perhaps. Butwhat if what you’re paying for isn’t a ‘book’ at all, but is a ‘novel’ instead.The book is holding the novel, just like the Kindle or the Nook is. Does thedistrust of ebooks go away if the distinction between Kindle device andpaperback just a preference for one container over another? It’s still true forme, either way, that the best stories are the ones that draw me past the pageor screen, and into the world of the novel, so why does it matter in the end?
GNOH – You are currently working on anhistorical novel, can you tell us about this?
Ah, The DecemberBook. I’m keeping that one to myself, despite blogging its progress over onmy site. I can tell you that it has a proper title, and that The December Book is just an alias. Ican tell you that it’s set two hundred years ago, and blends fact and fiction.I can tell you that it’s both a horror novel, and a historical drama. Untilit’s done though, that’s about it!
GNOH – Are there any challenges that writingan historical novel throws up?
I had absolutely no idea what I was going into. Bychoosing to set the book in a real place, at a real time, among real events,involving people who really lived, I’ve set myself every research problem it’spossible to have. I’ve had to seek help from friends, several reference books,actual proper academic experts, and more. Even writing the simplest scenethrows up countless problems with regard to the background and setting. I’m nohistory expert, and learning everything I need from scratch has been enormouslytime consuming. It’s easy to believe that Google has the answer to everythingthese days, but it’s just not true. It’s been a challenge and a delight chasingdown actual sources for actual facts, but it’s deflating to also know that I’llend up losing a great whack of this detail in later edits. It’s all to do withunderstanding the world you’re writing though, whether you show it all to thereader or not.
GNOH – I see you have set the book inEdinburgh, good place to set it. Why didyou choose Edinburgh?
All will become clear. When I come to reveal the title,you’ll know immediately why it couldn’t possibly be set anywhere else…
Also, Edinburgh’s a beautiful city, with layers ofphysical and spiritual history to it that it’s hard to find anywhere else. Itcan be an overwhelmingly beautiful place, while also being intensely gothic.Perfect setting for just about anything, if you ask me.
GNOH – In general how much research do youdo?
It varies from project to project. I’ve never had to workthe research quite like The December Book,but there’s usually something in every project that I discover I didn’tunderstand as well as I thought I did. I’d rather do it and not need it, thanavoid it short change my story.
GNOH – If you need any help with details ofEdinburgh or photos just let me know, I stay on the outskirts of the town.
You know, I might take you up on that! I’ve asked myselfover and again why I didn’t get the idea for the novel when I lived in Glasgowfor a decade and a half, and could just jump on a train and be in Edinburgh inan hour. Nooo… I had to wait until I moved 4000 miles away…
GNOH Other than the December Book are thereany other projects you can tell us about?
I’ve several things on the go that aren’tripe for the announcing yet, but let me point you to the Shroud Digital EditionI mentioned earlier. There are two published issues so far, each of whichcontains a chapter of my novel CravenPlace. It’s a free download, and can also be read online. Pop along andhave a gander. Craven Place is verydifferent from Cuckoo, fusing classicEnglish whodunit stories with the haunted house genre. Very different tone from Cuckoo, but I hope people enjoy it.
Kindle US – http://www.amazon.com/Cuckoo-ebook/dp/B005JFRRAW