Interview: Five Minutes With Frank Duffy
It is my great pleasure to have Frank Duffy over for a chat. Frank is the author of the excellent Mountains of Smoke, and the wonderfully creepy Signal Block
I was born in Tuebrook, Liverpool in 1971, but did most of my growing up in Rainford, a large provincial village in the North West of England, a twenty minute drive from the great city itself.
I’ve good memories of the village, and try to go back as much as I can to visit my family. A lot of my so called formative years were spent in Liverpool, or across the north of England, cities mostly. And yet funnily enough, looking at some of my more recently published stories, more of my work keeps returning to the environment of the village, the small town.
Anyway, I’ve been writing ever since my mum bought me a typewriter for Christmas when I was eight years old, and I can’t think of anything else I’d rather spend huge chunks of my time doing.
My life is a lot different to how it used to be, and most of that I put down to coming to Poland and meeting my wife, Ewa. In the past I moved around a lot, never stayed put for very long, and basically seemed to be drifting along writing, doing dead end jobs and simply not learning very much about life.
Then I emigrated to Poland in September 2000 at the behest of my good friend Richard, who rightly presumed I’d like the country, not only for the people, but also for its breathtaking scenery. I’ve been here ever since.
(Also, over time, another defining factor for my emigration turning permanent was the formation of the band 100 Ass Cactus. I’d been in a couple of ragtag outfits over the years, but with Waldek, Lukasz, Simon and Jeremy, our international musical soup of outrageous talent made it impossible for me to return home spiritually intact, so I decided I had to stay and hide my subsequent fall from grace from my family).
So for the next nine years I lived and worked as a teacher of English as a second language in Zielona Gora, in the west part of the country, before meeting my beautiful wife, Ewa. I then moved to be with her in Warsaw about three years ago, bringing along my two dogs, B and Mr Mole.
We now have an apartment on the outskirts of the capital, close to one of the many forests encircling the city, and it’s a great place to be able to think clearly when approaching the writing side of things. I love it out here.
Do you prefer the term
All three if possible, or none at all. I’m all for declaring my horror credentials, but I’m not keen on keeping people pigeonholed. If somebody says their novel is a mixture of urban fantasy and gothic horror, then who am I to say otherwise. If they want to call it Dark Fiction, equally, good luck to them.
I think too much time is spent arguing over what constitutes horror and all of the sub-genres that come with it. It seems a bit daft. A bit childish to be perfectly honest. Good writing is good writing, regardless of whether it’s part of a genre or not.
Some people (all three of them) have described my writing as being primarily urban horror, which to me seems an unnecessary attempt at expanding a sub-genre simply for the sake of occupying it with more writers. I don’t mind it, not really, after all, but it does bother me when genre fans, and to some extent, genre writers themselves, get worked up over some authors refusing to identify their work within any one genre. In my opinion, it’s nobody’s business. If Margaret Atwood wants to avoid calling The Handmaid’s Tale science fiction, that’s her decision. She wrote the book, I think she gets to chose what she can do with it.
Who are some of your favourite authors?
There are a lot of writers I couldn’t live without, and often this list gets revised every time I discover somebody new. But for now: Michael Chabon, Ramsey Campbell, Stephen King, Penelope Fitzgerald, Nicholas Royle, Graham Greene, Michael Marshall Smith, Iain Banks, Andrew Martin, David Peace, George Eliot, James Ellroy. That’s mainly those authors to whom I return three or four times in a year. There are probably many more I would be loathe to forget, but probably have.
What are you reading now?
The Damned United by David Peace. I have little or no interest in football, but Peace is a great writer, and everything else he has written has been an eye-opener.
The Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon or The End Of The Affair by Graham Greene (or my wife’s PhD thesis).
How would you describe your writing style?
Formerly: dense, sprawling and awkward. Now: clipped and less self-conscious.
Describe a typical day spent writing. Do you have any unusual writing habits?
I get up at 7 am or 8am, walk the dogs, do some chores, then settle down in front of the laptop. I write for four hours every day, without fail. The only writing habit I have is that the desk surface must be organized, otherwise I can’t concentrate. A little bit of the OCD there, I think. I don’t listen to music when I write, which I know a lot of writers do, and a long time ago I did, but now it gets in the way. I can write notes and ideas anywhere I go, but the real writing I have to do without the outside world filtering in. I do miss the music though.
What piece of your own work are you most proud of?
Mountains of Smoke, which was a digital release from Gallows/Sideshow Press (which looks like it will be coming out in a trade paperback very soon from Gallows Press, which I’m very happy about) and the sixth novel I’m currently working on.
Can you tell us about your last book, and can you tell us about what you are working on next?
The last book published was The Signal Block and Other Stories, which was a collection from Sideshow Press (hardback) and Gallows Press (paperback and digital) respectively. I wrote the stories a long time ago, so looking at them now, which I occasionally get drawn to like passers-by to a roadside accident, is like rereading a diary I wrote back I was a kid. Sometimes I admire the scope and ambition of my stories, other times I find myself wishing I could go back and do things differently (like chop off my hands). But that’s hardly news to anybody out there who writes.
I’ve not subbed very much recently due to my not having time away from the novel (that’s not to say if I had subbed anybody would have taken any notice), so I think the last few short stories I had published were Faces (originally published in Pulp Metal Magazine) which was reprinted in Paul Brazil’s and Luca Veste’s Brit Girt Two anthology, In The Music There Is Always A Shadow, my contribution to a series of standalone stories by Canadian crime writer Julia Madeleine, all of which feature the same character Sadie, daughter of the devil.
Right at this very moment I’m nearing completion on the second draft of a novel called Resurrection. Among many things, the plot follows a young drug addicted teacher searching for his younger sister who goes missing after attending a writer’s workshop. All of this is set against the backdrop of a terrible winter in an unnamed city in Northern England.
After that I’m starting work on a screenplay with my screenwriting partner Gordon Harries. I don’t want to say anything about the screenplay, other than we have some interested parties (anything more and I’m sure we’ll fall flat on our collective faces…the customary egg provided).
Then it’s a trilogy of horror novellas set in Lithuania which take place over a forty year period called The Propagandist’s Camera. And following on from that I have a deadline for a the first in a series of children’s books: Big Jim and The Quinks, which I’m incredibly excited about.
Many thanks for your time, Jim.