The Inquisition – Richard Gavin
“When I read the fiction of writers like Matt Cardin or Gary McMahon or Richard Gavin (and a small handful of others) I find myself brimming with the sort of jealousy any writer would feel when confronted by a master of the form.” These were the words of Simon Strantzas when he was the subject of the inquisition a few weeks back. Indeed it’s amazing how often Richard Gavin’s name comes up when talk turns to current genre masters, even more amazing when you consider Mr Gavin’s fairly short bibliography (Charnel Wine, Omens, and The Darkly Splendid Realm). Clearly it’s a case of quality over quantity, it’s a pleasure to welcome Richard Gavin to The Black Abyss.
1 – Which book has been most influential in your career?
Gothic: Four Hundred Years of Excess, Horror, Evil and Ruin by Richard Davenport-Hines because it reaffirms my belief that a resonance with the macabre is an ancient trait of at least a segment of the human race. I draw a great deal of inspiration from those real-world aesthetes who erected artificial ruins and dead trees on their properties in order to immerse themselves in perennial gloom.
2 – Which writer has most influenced your style?
Ramsey Campbell. He’s been an inspiration to me since I was an adolescent and he continues to exemplify just how much can be done with horror fiction. Like him, I am proud to be labelled a horror writer and I also strive to create a wide variety of stories in this genre. Ramsey never rests on his laurels. He’s forever honing his craft, trying his hand at new ways of telling stories, wringing fear from the most unconventional sources. I wish I had half of Ramsey’s energy and even a smidgen of his talent.
3 – What’s the future for the horror genre?
Horror, its literary branch at least, will likely sustain itself in the same basic fashion that it always has: appealing to a relatively small but devoted cabal. True, there have always been blockbuster authors in the field, but only a handful in any given era. And yes, there will be occasional one-off hits or fluke trends that give horror brief mainstream appeal, but ultimately I think this has always been the outsider’s genre. It is sustained and perpetuated by a margin of fanatical connoisseurs, which sits just fine with me.
4 – Which book do you wish you had written?
Perhaps H.P. Lovecraft’s The Case of Charles Dexter Ward or Les Chants de Maldoror by Comte de Lautréamont.
5 – What writing equipment could you not live without?
None whatsoever. I write because I enjoy the struggle of trying to fashion something that might be a worthy addition to the field I love. Take away my writing tools and I’d simply resort to some other vehicle of expression. Blood and ochre smeared on a cave wall worked once, it could work again.
6 – Do you plan in detail before starting a new piece of writing?
I don’t really have any hard and fast rules. By the time I actually begin to write something, that story could have been in my head (in various stages of development) for hours, weeks, or even years. Some tales begin as just a title jotted down, or a dream journal entry. The whole process is holistic and is really one of assimilation. I pull in images, unusual words, snippets of real world encounters, themes I wish to address, until I have enough raw materials that can be worked into an engaging story. Unused bits from one story might trickle over into another, as-yet-unwritten. So the beast just keeps lumbering forward without reins. Attempting to describe the process is a bit like trying to pinpoint where a circle begins.
7 – Ebooks or Paper Books?
There is room for both. Frankly, I do not, nor will I ever, regard an eBook as anything more than a half-finished product, an embryonic book. eBooks are merely billboards for a product (a physical book) but they are not a product themselves in my eyes. eBooks are a very nice adjunct to traditional publishing, but I don’t believe that an electronic file offers the complete aesthetic experience that a well-written, beautifully bound book does. But I would imagine there is some convenience to an eBook and they do serve as excellent samplers of books that can be purchased if a reader likes what they see.
8 – Horror, Weird Fiction or Dark Fiction?
Horror. That word has always held a certain magic for me. It is a broad spectrum that provides me with everything from comfort food to unnerving philosophical grist to a straightforward frisson (There’s nothing wrong with scare-for-the-sake-of-scare). If I’m feeling particularly nitpicky I might specify my own work as “nightmarish,” “gothic,” or “weird horror” because those are the elements I value most. I want nothing to do with some of the tripe that passes for horror fiction, but I will always celebrate the genre’s diversity.
I believe that fear is profound. It hurls us into a state of heightened awareness, wrenches us out of the white noise stupor we adopt in order to move about the world as decent civilians. I think people who seek out the horror experience are actually hungering for something that might pierce the artificial armour of their personas and stir up the ghost inside them, so to speak. When we are afraid we are more willing to face images (even if they’re presented ludicrously) that relate to our own mortality, to our place in the cosmos, to what it means to be human. Horror, if done intelligently and skilfully, actually allows people to come to terms with many facets of life that would otherwise be unspeakable or beyond comprehension. And it does this in a way that is entertaining. Peter Atkins once called supernatural horror “metaphysics for the masses,” which I quite like.
I also like the “horror” moniker for my work because the reader doesn’t really know exactly what kind of story they’re going to get with me, which would be the case if I called myself a “ghost story writer” or what have you. I labour to make my work literate and engaging, but when you open the cover all bets are off in terms of where I may lead you. I don’t want my stories to be stamped with some cosy euphemism for horror because that word makes some readers feel uneasy. Uneasiness is the very point! There is too much “safe” entertainment in the world.
9 – Who should I read next?
The work of Matt Cardin, Simon Strantzas, Gemma Files, Mark Samuels, and Laird Barron invariably leave me awestruck and inspired. I could easily list four dozen other writers, past and present.
10 – What was your last book and what is your next book?
2010 saw a reissue of my first collection, entitled Charnel Wine: Memento Mori Edition. Prior to that, my collection The Darkly Splendid Realm was released in 2009. Both books are available via Dark Regions Press (www.darkregions.com)
I have finished a new novella which may be out later this year, though nothing’s set in stone just yet. I write every day, but exactly when I’ll have seventy- or eighty-thousand words of writing that I feel is not only as good but in fact better than what I’ve done previously is anyone’s guess. I will not slap readers in the face by just tossing out anything solely to get some fresh ink. Just because a writer isn’t online boasting about how many words they wrote that particular morning doesn’t mean they aren’t working. I would rather be off the publishing radar, for a year or two if needs be, so that I can finesse a work I’ll fully stand behind. Writing is a lifelong vocation and the fruits of that vocation outlive the author, so why approach it like a 100-metre dash?