DM: What are the different challenges and pleasure of writing for television, film and the page?
DM: Ghosts have been a recurring trope within your work. What is their appeal to you as a writer?
DM: Our next event, Twisted Tales of the Weird West (on Friday 25th November), will feature readings from other contributors to Gutshot. Your story in the anthology, ‘White Butterflies’, relocates the Western to the arid landscape of Kazakhstan. Do you agree with Conrad Williams’s claim that, in order for the Western to survive, it needs to be revitalized by shifting away from straightforward tales of the Old West, and that its future lies in generic hybridity?
SV: Is “generic hybridity” just a posh way of saying “mash-up”? I don’t know. I don’t know if Cowboys and Aliens did anything new for the Western except add space ships, but then, I have only seen the trailer: it looks pretty much like Bonanza with added CGI to me. And there have always been comedy-Westerns, so is that “generic hybridity”? The future of a genre is usually “our generation will make it more real”: that is usually the promise in any supposed reinvention of the crime story or cop show or horror, or comedy even, the implicit accusation that previously it has been formulaic. “Till now!” In fact the challenge of genre is usually keeping the things people love and you love yourself as a fan and giving them a new spin. And you do that on instinct. I find I’m always writing ghost stories and always wanting the “new spin” to be psychological depth. Whether I succeed or not, I can’t say, but that’s what I attempt, at least. I’d like to think that rather than putting Jack the Ripper at the OK Corral, the future of the Western is in thinking about what makes something a Western on a deeper, mythic level – a level of landscape and survival and moral law, or lack of it. The TV series Deadwood did that brilliantly, by being both true to history and iconoclastic. Basically in “White Butterflies” I wanted to explore what the Western is if you take away the West. Is it a state of mind or a set or circumstances? I’d wanted to write about the world of these bizarre rocket salvage people for a long time but it was Conrad’s call to arms that focused my mind, and I’m so grateful because without it the story may never have been written and it’s one of my favourites. The question is not how much but how little do you have to add to a story to make it a Western. Maybe only a horse. Maybe only a gun. Once I added a horse and a gun I was halfway there.