Praise for Twisted Tales Events

'In the past few years Twisted Tales has become a major force in the promotion and appreciation of horror fiction. As well as putting on author readings and signings at bookshops it has expanded into organising larger events, bringing authors and critics together for discussions of the field. I've been involved in quite a few of both and have found them hugely enjoyable and stimulating - I believe the audiences did as well. May Twisted Tales continue to grow and prosper! If you love the field, support them! I do.' - Ramsey Campbell

‘Twisted Tales consistently produce well-organised events for writers and readers of horror. What really distinguishes Twisted Tales for me is the intelligent themes and investigations they pursue, and the high quality of the discussions they always stimulate. As an author I've been invited to three of their events and have been pleasantly startled, to near shocked, by the attendance levels - two out of three were even sold out. I salute anyone who contributes so much to the literary and cultural life of horror fiction.’- Adam Nevill

'Twisted Tales events are wonderful... a great way of promoting 21st century horror fiction. Supported by Waterstone's Liverpool One and really well organised, Twisted Tales brings together established names in the genre as well as new voices and of course readers. Looking forward to much more to come...' - Alison J. Littlewood

Monday, 10 January 2011

Joel Lane interviewed by David McWilliam

Joel Lane lives in Birmingham and works as a journalist. His work in the supernatural horror genre includes three collections of short stories, The Earth Wire, The Lost District and The Terrible Changes; a novella, The Witnesses Are Gone; and a chapbook, Black Country. His articles on weird fiction writers have appeared in Wormwood and elsewhere. Joel has written two mainstream novels, From Blue to Black and The Blue Mask; and three collections of poetry, The Edge of the Screen, Trouble in the Heartland and The Autumn Myth. Joel has also edited an anthology of subterranean horror stories, Beneath the Ground, and co-edited (with Steve Bishop) the crime fiction anthology Birmingham Noir. He and Allyson Bird have co-edited an anthology of anti-fascist and anti-racist stories in the weird and speculative fiction genres, Never Again.

DM: What made you want to write horror fiction? What do you consider to be its attractions over other genres and mainstream fiction?
JL: I’ve always loved the emotional intensity of horror fiction – or as I would rather call it, weird fiction – and the power of its metaphors. Weird fiction deals not only with fear but with the things we are most afraid of – mortality, loss, disease, madness, isolation – and it has a special kind of language for dealing with these themes. I’ve written two mainstream novels and various kinds of stories, as well as poetry, but weird fiction is what I always come back to when I feel troubled and need that particular language to make sense of it. Creatively it’s my home ground. The only other genre I feel at home in is the ‘noir’ strand of crime fiction, which has a similar poetic and fatalistic quality to weird fiction, a similar emotional power. I can’t be bothered with plot-driven narratives in any genre: can’t write them and don’t enjoy reading them. Unless, as in something like Robert Bloch’s Psycho, the plot is itself symbolic, so the whole narrative is structured like a myth. That’s great. I want books to explore dark and painful emotional states, and I love the way that weird fiction uses that thematic territory as the breeding ground for its imagery.

DM: Could you elaborate on what you consider to be horror’s ‘special kind of language’ for dealing with the darker aspects of the human condition?
JL: The whole idea of supernatural creatures and experiences brings to life metaphors that clearly have to do with mortality, disease, madness, desire and the unknown. Weird fiction draws on folklore, mythology, dreams and pathological symptoms. It’s a complex and intense cultural response to our deepest fears. In some writers (such as Bradbury) the fears are very close to the surface and the metaphors are relatively easy to interpret, in others (such as Machen) the imagery is more oblique and stands apart from its sources. Using weird imagery in an ambiguous and questioning way is not a recent idea, of course: the genre has always been able to do that, has always had the potential to bend its own apparent rules – because the relationship between the language of weird fiction and the underlying reality has always been a dynamic and changeable one. It’s different for every writer, and every reader.

DM: Which writers influenced your early work and how, if at all, have your influences changed throughout your career?
JL: My early stories – written in my teens – were hapless pastiches of weird fantasy from the pulp era – Robert E. Howard and Clark Ashton Smith. Fortunately none were published outside my school magazine. Then I fell under the spell of what I thought of as the holy trinity of contemporary British supernatural fiction writers: Robert Aickman, Ramsey Campbell and M. John Harrison. Writers who used the supernatural as a symbolic framework allied to character psychology and a sense of the modern landscape. Within the clearing established by those writers, I gradually developed a sense of my own themes and language. Further down the line I’ve been influenced by the poetic novels of Jean Genet and the bleak noir fiction of Cornell Woolrich – both deeply obsessive, powerful, disturbing writers. Poets have affected my prose writing as well: T.S. Eliot, Allen Ginsberg, Sylvia Plath, Edwin Morgan and others. More recently I’ve been influenced by the terse, understated style of such writers as David Goodis and Raymond Carver.  

DM: Your novella The Witnesses Are Gone explores cinema’s ability to alter our sense of reality. How has film altered your perception of the world and the way in which you write about it?
JL: Film has tended to reinforce my visual sense, and so to encourage the dreamlike aspects of landscape and character in my writing. I don’t think it’s affected how I see the real world so much as informed my approach to narrative. I’m always looking for the literary equivalent of those cinematic moments that unsettle your sense of what is going on. The Witnesses Are Gone is about films that leave the audience unsure of what it really is they have seen. Fiction can do that as well – for example, look at the way Machen blurs the distinction between fiction and journalism, and between crafted and ‘na├»ve’ writing. The boundary between the imagined and the real fascinates me – in relation to film, when you cross that boundary you go from being an audience member to being a witness. That seems to me a vital transition for people to be able to make. If you watch a film, part of you should always be aware of what it would mean if these things were happening in front of you. I don’t believe genre fiction or cinema should be a comfort zone.

DM: On the matter of genre fiction confronting the problems of the real world, I’d like to ask you about the collection Never Again, which rallied weird fiction writers to critique fascist and racist ideologies. How do you envision the anthology engaging with the wider political debates in 2010/11? Is there a danger that you are preaching to the converted, or do you think that the anthology will resonate with people who might have found extreme right-wing views enticing?
JL: The anthology had a complex agenda. Primarily, Allyson Bird (my co-editor) and I wanted to celebrate and stimulate politically engaged writing in the weird and speculative fiction genres. Half of the stories we included had already been published, including stories by a number of leading writers in the field. Our introduction also drew attention to classic writers such as Franz Kafka and Shirley Jackson whose work touched on the book’s themes. We wanted to show that serious social and political issues can inspire strongly imaginative, challenging and unusual fiction. We didn’t include anything that was polemical in an obvious or predictable way. So there was a literary agenda that was deeply rooted in our reading within and around the horror and SF genres.

In addition, we wanted to remind our readers that these issues are still very relevant. Authoritarian culture and violent prejudice are all around us. In recent weeks we’ve seen people engaged in legal and peaceful protest viciously beaten up by police officers… not halfway across the world, but on the streets of London. Fighting fascism and racism is about defending human rights, and that’s a struggle that never ends. So we did hope to politicise some of our readers and make them think harder about what is going on. That’s why, at the end of the book, there’s a list of contact details for anti-fascist, anti-racist and human rights organisations. We’re also donating all profits from the book to three human rights organisations – Amnesty International, PEN and the Sophie Lancaster Foundation.

It’s nice to think that some readers might be influenced politically by the ideas in the book, but I don’t seriously expect that any racist would read Never Again, let alone be significantly affected by it. Allyson and I both have experience of political activism, and don’t imagine that a book of stories can do the same work as a political campaign. In the same way, you wouldn’t expect a book of erotic fiction to change society’s attitude towards sexuality – but you might hope that some readers would find the ideas valuable creatively, imaginatively or even practically. We hope readers derive value from Never Again in a variety of ways.  

DM: Moving forwards, what are your writing plans for 2011 and beyond?
JL: Health problems have made creative writing very difficult for me in the last few months, so the immediate priority is to get over that and start writing again. I think matters are improving, so I can talk about writing plans without too much anxiety. One major project that’s near completion is a collection of my supernatural crime stories – I should be able to announce details of that soon, and it will be my best collection so far. I’m also working on a small booklet of crime stories for a West Midlands publisher called Nine Arches Press. Longer-term projects include a book of metaphysical ghost stories, a book of more ‘extreme’ horror stories, a pamphlet of erotic poems and a supernatural horror novel set in the Black Country. That’s five years’ work at least…

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