In this new segment I hope to explore the short form in genre fiction. Everything form anthology reviews to author interviews right down to portmanteau films and TV shows. If it’s short and genre you’ll find it in Tiny Windows.
I’m really happy to have James Everington along for the inaugural Tiny Windows interview. James excels in short fiction and he’s a writer headed for big things.
Tony Cowin- Hi James. First I’d like to talk about the benefits of the short form. All the work I’ve read by you has been in short form, whether short stories or your novella The Shelter. Do you think these avenues are a way to experiment and to find your voice before writing a novel?
James Everington- I’m not sure about that. I really dislike the attitude that writing short stories is in some way a training ground before you become a ‘real writer’ and write a novel. Short stories are an art form in their own right, and I write them because I love them, not because I’ve still got the stabilizers on my bike. Whilst I want to write novels in the future, I can’t ever see a point where all I’d want to write are novels.
That said, for a new writer starting off with short stories is obviously an easier way in, because if you’re going to mess up you do it earlier, and messing up is how you learn.
TC- If the novel is a telescope pointed at the universe, is the short story a microscope focused on just one person?
JE- Broadly speaking I’d go along with that. Some short stories are like you’re just glimpsing part of a character’s life, from outside, and there’s something voyeuristic about that. And sometimes, the microscope has a mind-reading button too, and you’re right there in the character’s thoughts.
It’s one of the reasons why every detail in a short story needs to work overtime, to advance the plot or create atmosphere and show how your character views the world. I often think it’s like that thing where you get a new car, and suddenly see that model of car everywhere. Nothing’s changed really, but the way you filter reality has. The details in a good short story should show, implicitly or explicitly, how your character is filtering their reality. Hopefully, they’ll be doing so based on something much more exciting, horrific, or fundamental than an automobile purchase…
TC- There’s an ongoing discussion around internet forums suggesting horror is suited to short stories more than other genres. Personally I’m not sure that’s necessarily true, but I do believe the restraints of short fiction heighten the unravelling fear. Do you enjoy the limitation of the short story in both writing and reading horror?
JE- Again, I’m not really sure if I’d phrase it in those terms – I don’t see the shortness of a short story as a “limitation”, especially. I tend to see horror fiction in terms of atmosphere, a rising atmosphere of dread and insecurity. And it’s very hard to do that for the length of a novel, without it either becoming tedious or having some temporary relaxation of that tension. Look at something like Adam Nevill’s The Ritual, which is very much a novel in two halves. The first is almost like a novella in itself, with the dread building and building and building… and it has to stop, and change tack for a bit. It’s an interesting change, and The Ritual is a fine novel, but for me it illustrates that element of dilution that all but the greatest horror novels have.
Whereas a short story can be gloriously single-minded and relentless in its approach, and I think for horror that can be a great boon.
TC- You’ve said you prefer you work to be described as weird fiction rather than horror. Do you think the term horror is too claustrophobic? Possibly in the minds of readers at least, who may see it as something shocking or gory with other literary forms excluded from the genre?
JE- I’m not adverse to the term ‘horror’, it’s not a snobby thing. I see ‘weird fiction’ (or ‘strange stories’, to use Aickman’s preferred description) as being a sub-genre of horror, and one that encompasses such people as Kafka or Doris Lessing’s The Fifth Child as well as stories that have come out of the horror tradition. But I don’t get too hung up on genre definitions – life’s too short. I guess I felt it was just a more accurate way of telling people what they were getting if they bought one of my books.
TC- When you started reading genre did you discover short stories before moving onto novels? Also if yes can you name some writers you found this way?
JE- Well, the first horror writer I really read was Stephen King (thanks Dad!) so that was mainly novels, although I did read Night Shift pretty early on. I think what really got me into horror short stories was a secondhand copy of Dark Feasts by Ramsey Campbell that I bought when I was about sixteen. Some of the stories in there are still amongst my favorites ever; he’s one of the best writers going in any genre, never mind horror. We should be building statues to Ramsey Campbell.
TC- Zadie Smith said short stories create an environment where real human beings begin to cautiously appear on the page. Do you think the short stories cuts through to a more human tale, something that may become lost in a novel?
JE- What a great quote; I love Zadie Smith. I’m assuming what she means is that in some novels the plot becomes so involved and intricate that the characters themselves seem caught up in something outside themselves, rather than something they’re actually influencing. Mind you, that could well describe an MR James or Shirley Jackson story as well, couldn’t it? Maybe I don’t know what Zadie Smith meant after all. It’s still a great line though, even if I don’t understand it.
TC- I think you nailed the definition. Many people had their first experience with genre fiction through TV. Did you enjoy any of these TV shows growing up?
JE- I vividly remember watching Doctor Who and a show called The Tripods, both of which had moments of horror. I can still remember the scenes from The Tripods where people got ‘capped’, even though I’ve never seen it since. Great stuff.
TC- Of course besides TV I also fed my love of horror through the portmanteau films of Amicus and the like. Do you enjoy anthology films?
JE- I don’t particularly remember watching any portmanteau films when I was growing up; I think by the time I was old enough to watch horror films they were already on their way out. Obviously I’ve seen a number since then, and it would be nice if they made a mini-resurgence.
TC- I found many pieces in your collection, ‘Falling Over’ to have a cinematic or televisual quality (Falling Over, Public Interest Story and The Man Dogs Hated stand out). Would you like to see any of your short stories adapted for the screen?
JE- It’s interesting you should say that, because it’s not something I’ve ever really thought about before. I certainly don’t write stories thinking ‘this would make a good film’ but if some of the imagery or scenes seem to have the cinematic air to them then that’s good. Any if any rich film directors are reading, they should obviously feel free to get in touch…
TC- There are some brilliant small presses out there with new ones popping up all the time. Do you think they play an important role in promoting short genre fiction?
JE- Yes, definitely. Without the small press they’d be bugger all opportunities for horror writers at the moment. Publishers like Spectral Press, Darkfuse, Omnium Gatherum – they really are putting out some of the most interesting stuff around, and it’s lifeline both as a reader and a writer. And then there’s magazines like Black Static and Supernatural Tales that also consistently publish issues packed with great short stories.
TC- I completely agree. Great recommendations for anybody looking out for high quality genre fiction. Another changing aspect of publishing is the boom in e-readers. Do you think the success of e-readers and self-publishing has encouraged more people to write short stories and novellas?
JE- I think it has, and in some cases there’s some superb stuff being released that way: The Side Effects Of The Medication by Lauren James and Iain Rowan’s Ice Age spring to mind.
There’s a lot of shit as well though, let’s be honest. And also a trend where people write a novel and then write a related short story to promote the novel. Sod that. I’m not interested in writers who treat short stories as mere advertisements.
TC- You’re drabble ‘Haunted’ was first published in an anthology in which we both had 100 word stories published. (100 Horrors: Tales of Horror in the Blink of an Eye. Cruentus Libri Press) I really enjoy working in this constrained form. Now most short story writers are asked about ‘stepping up’ to the novel. I wonder however, if you’ll produce more flash fiction or drabbles in the future?
JE- Yeah hopefully, although ‘Haunted’ really did come out the blue. I read the submissions call for 100 Horrors and then worked the story out in my head whilst cooking pasta that evening. Because it was so short I could hold it in my head word for word until I got chance to actually write it down.
Maybe I should try and work on one every time I cook pasta…
TC- Finally is there any work, presses or authors you’d like to recommend to the readers?
JE- There are lots of great writers out there (some of whom I’ve already mentioned above), so I’ll just list some more until I run out of breath: SP Miskowski is brilliant; Alan Ryker is ace; Mark West is awesome; Adam Golaski is terrific; Nicole Cushing a revelation; Cate Gardner exceptional; Nina Allen terrific; Gary McMahon inspiring; Robert Dunbar wonderful; Simon Bestwick incomparable, and Gary Fry…. well, Gary’s one very dark cookie.