Writer, editor and poet Ian Hunter answers questions on his influences, his musical tastes, and the genesis of the character The Wraith who appears in “The Monster of Gorgon” in The Alchemy Press Book of Pulp Heroes 2.
Would you like to briefly introduce yourself: what inspired your writing and when you began, and – if possible – of all of your published work could you tell me which your favourites are (and why)?
I suppose I began writing because of a variety of reasons – being an only child, having an over-active imagination, growing up in the 1960s and being exposed to all of Gerry Anderson’s “Supermarionation” antics, and Doctor Who, of course, and American comics, lots of American comics. I probably started writing seriously in my twenties, and my favourites of my own work are my children’s novels – The Dark Knight’s Blade (written because of my love of the film A Chinese Ghost Story), then Lipstick Lass (written because my children were into Captain Underpants and The Powerpuff Girls at the time) and The Magic
Mousehole (because it’s just barking), although I
do like it when a story gets long-listed for an award, or it actually wins an
award or a prize, or gets an honourable mention in a year’s best, or someone who
really knows me and my writing says that’s the best thing you’ve ever written,
which has happened a couple of times.
Do you have a favourite genre, or sub-genre? What exactly is it that attracts you?
I review for Interzone and Concatenation so I get sent science fiction, fantasy and horror novels to review, and sometimes you gets “genre-ed out” and it’s good to read something different. I grew up reading Enid Blyton – the Famous Five and the Secret Seven books - then Alfred Hitchcock and the 3 Investigators books, then moved on to Tarzan and James Bond, before finding Michael
and James Herbert. Stephen King was a huge influence on my reading because of
his book Danse Macabre as I tried to read all of the books he highlighted as
being important to the genre by the likes Bradbury, Straub, etc; and because I
was a huge King fan I bought Kirby McCauley’s Dark Forces which included “The
Mist”, which was a real eye-opener as that was the first time I had encountered
Ramsay Campbell, and Dennis Etchison and Charlie Grant, and Manly Wade Wellman
and Lisa Tuttle and Joyce Carol Oates, and many others. Personally, I think it
would have been a tragedy if I had never read that anthology and been exposed
to all those writers.
Some say Pulp is a genre, others a style; which side do you come down on?
I’ll sit on the fence and say both. I think it was an important genre in the past and embraced many sub-genres, and the first Pulp Heroes anthology and probably this second one will show how wide the pulp genre is, from laconic, hard-bitten private eyes to shadowy vigilantes to off-world and weird-world adventures. I do think it is a style as well – the dialogue, the descriptions, the action, but also the weird array of characters and locations play their part. Maybe Jonathan Green’s Ulysses Quicksilver series continues the pulp tradition and Guy Adams' recent The Good, the Bad and the Dammed does the same – maybe, or maybe I’m doing them both a disservice but I think as a reader if you pick up these titles you are in for a rollicking good time.
What was the inspiration for “The Monster of Gorgon”?
I’ve been writing a novel about the Wraith and the East Nuked of Fife and the Thrownaway for a while now, which chronicles Darroch’s transformation into the Wraith and culminates with his awful revenge on the townspeople, and it really is awful, but I’ve been working on a series of spin-off stories because there are other stories – who is behind Darroch’s transformation, the dreadful Dr. Carstairs, what happened to Emma, and tales of the steam rigs and adventures in other parts of The Nuked and beyond, so there will probably be more stand-along stories to come.
Do you have a particular favourite author, or authors? What is it about their work which appeals to you?
My two favourite writers are Joyce Carol Oates, and William Kotzwinkle. Kotzwinkle is perhaps better known (if he is known at all) for writing novel adaptations of films like E.T. and Superman 3, but he has written some of the funniest books I’ve ever read, like The Midnight Examiner or The Bear Went Over the
or really different works like The Fan Man, Doctor Rat, and even Fata Morgana which reads almost like a detective novel,
with a wonderful twist at the end. He also writes the Walter, the Farting Dog
series, but, sadly, doesn’t write enough these days. Oates on the other hand is
a literary chameleon and incredibly prolific. I’ve been lucky to hear her talk
and read at the Edinburgh Book Festival a couple of times. She can write
anything, and does, and many of her novels are a reaction to events and
circumstances in America, although she has won a couple of Stokers for her
short story collections and her magnificent horror novel Zombie (which isn’t
about your traditional flesh-eating zombies at all). I thought Jennifer Egan’s
A Visit from the Goon Squad was a brilliant read a couple of years ago, because
of what she was doing to the narrative, and combining what might be a whole series
of short stories into a circular novel (rather like the circularity of Ian McEwan’s
Amsterdam and Alice Hoffman’s (one of my other favourite writers) The Ice
Queen), and recently Zadie Smith was doing some interesting things with the
form of the novel in NW – the way she
handled dialogue tags, a chapter as a concrete poem, using lists. I like it
when people try the unconventional.
Outside writing, what else occupies your time (assuming you have any free time left)?
I used to be more sporty – tennis, golf, badminton, squash, but as I’ve got older those have fallen away slightly, so I suppose its the usual stuff, like walking the dog, and photography (and taking too many pictures while walking the dog). I edit a little magazine called Unspoken Water so I’m always looking for unusual, spooky-ish places that would make a good cover picture and fortunately where I live there are lots of out of the way family graveyards and abandoned buildings. Other things would include going to concerts and movies, and collecting boxed sets of DVDs and not watching most of them.
Is there any particular style of music – or musicians – which appeals to you?
I like anything – really. Every year I go Download, the big heavy metal festival at Castle Donnington and when it is raining hard and it’s a mud bath I wonder what I am doing there and vow “never again”, but still come back the next year for more. I do like folk, and Americana, and the like. In Glasgow at the start of the year there is the big “Celtic Connections” festival which is a must, but my major music love is jazz, and it’s all Phil Collins’ fault. When I was younger I was into bands like Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Uriah Heep, and the “proggers” – Pink Floyd, Yes, Genesis, and Collins also played drums in a “jazz-rock” fusion band called Brand X, then at an influential age I heard him hosting a Radio 1 star special and practically all the stuff he played – Frank Zappa, Joni Mitchell, Weather Report, Pat Matheny, King Crimson – I went out and bought. But he also played some of the major jazz drummers like Billy Cobham and Tony Williams (the greatest jazz drummer ever, I think, who played drums for Miles when he was a teenager) and I was hooked. I really am a frustrated jazz drummer and I think if you were into bands which had great musicians, especially the “proggers”, for me, the logical thing, was to move into jazz where the musicianship is also great, but a bit looser. I’ve gone to jazz festivals all around the world, and would see people like Miles Davis two days in a row; I even went to see Miles twice in one day in London. It’s the only type of music where I sit or stand with a silly grin on my face, because I’m enjoying myself so much.
What are you currently working on?
Too much, probably. Lots of short stories, some concerning a vampire character of mine called Roam Belanger, and other stand alone stories. I’m very guilty of chasing markets, but it does mean that you get some stories finished. Recently, I’ve been on holiday and writing poems. I wish I could write more but they come in fits and starts. I’ve also been writing various children’s novel and adult novels concerning houses with secrets and teenagers in a post apocalyptic world and others based on Scottish folklore and legends like Tam Lin and Tam o’Shanter.