Ginger Nuts of Horror
As part of Ginger Nuts of Horror's support of the Kickstarter for Tales From The Shadow Booth, we have teamed up with some of the contributors for a series of exclusive interviews. Today Ginger Nuts of Horror welcomes Gary Budden.
Gary is the co-founder and director of independent publisher Influx Press and an editor at Titan Books. He writes fiction and creative non-fiction about the intersections of British sub-culture, landscape, psychogeography, hidden history, nature, horror, weird fiction and more. A lot of it falls under the banner 'landscape punk'. His work has appeared in numerous magazines and journals. A full list can be found here. His debut collection, Hollow Shores, will be published by Dead Ink Books in October 2017.
M John Harrison called him 'redoubtable'.
Hello Gary, Could you tell the readers a little bit about yourself?
I am a writer and editor. I live in North London, and have my debut fiction collection, Hollow Shores, coming out with Dead Ink Books in October.
As well as being an author your are also the co-founder and director of independent publisher Influx Press and an editor at Titan Books. How do these two roles shape you as an author, and what insights do they give you as a subbing author?
I think it gives me a much better perspective on how the whole industry works. Obviously, reading and editing a huge variety of different manuscripts always helps my own writing; you become very attuned to what works and what doesn’t and it gives me a sense of objectivity about my own work. I can admit to myself when something I have written is substandard and needs work. It has allowed me to avoid, I hope, cliché and develop my own style. I also don’t get annoyed with other editors, as I know how the whole process works. I welcome people editing my work – the whole point is to make it better. Editors are there to help a writer, not to hinder them. Every writer needs an editor.
What’s the biggest misconception about being a fiction editor that you have come across?
It sounds odd, but I think a lot of general readers don’t realise a book is edited on a structural level. People often think I’m essentially a proof-reader (not belittling proof-readers in any way; it’s just a different job).
I’m fascinated by your description of your writing: “I write fiction and creative non-fiction about the intersections of British sub-culture, landscape, psychogeography, hidden history, nature, horror, weird fiction and more. A lot of it falls under the banner 'landscape punk'”. Can you elaborate more fully on what you mean by this, especially with regards to what you mean by psychogeography?
Psychogeography is something that has become something of a cliché in many ways. It’s a term that has its roots in the French Situationists and the English topographical writers of the 1930s. It was popularised, in the UK at least, by the writer Iain Sinclair who wrote some fantastic books that helped cement my love of London writing as a genre in its own right– Downriver, London Orbital and Hackney: That Rose Red Empire are all essential reads. He ended up disavowing the term, and it’s probably true that Sinclair accidentally opened the doors for a lot of sub-par place writing, of which I am probably a part of. What always interested me was psychogeography’s intersection with weird fiction and horror. There are many examples of this – look at Alan Moore’s From Hell, which draws heavily on the ideas in Sinclair’s Lud Heat (Sinclair turns up in the appendix comic, ‘The Dance of the Gullcatchers’). Arthur Machen, famous to fans of horror and the weird for ‘The Great God Pan’, ‘The White People’, The Hill of Dreams, was also a writer of strange non-fiction books like The London Adventure, essentially one big digression of a book about a failure to write a book about London. Machen transposed the methods he used to explore the Welsh borderland country of his childhood to the streets of London; so psychogeography is a method for exploring a usually-urban environment – paying attention to the details, the things that run counter to the official narratives, the strange graffiti and messages, the layering of history and architecture, the myriad cultures and sub-cultures all co-existing and rubbing up against each other. It ties in to ideas of the occult in its literal meaning i.e. hidden knowledge. So, for me, psychogeography and weird fiction were always natural bed fellows. And as someone who will always consider themselves to be a part of the DIY punk community, itself a half-hidden substratum of society, it seemed obvious to bring that culture into the mix too.
It’s about paying attention to the specifics of where you are, which I think is increasingly important in an age where the areas we are encouraged to spend our time – identikit high streets, pseudo-public spaces, neat and clearly signposted parks – are becoming increasingly homogenous. I’m more interested in the skull beneath the skin, as it were. The anxiety produced by the process of gentrification and corporatisation of our urban environments is something that I channel into my fiction. My story ‘Greenteeth’, which has now been adapted into a short film by Adam Scovell (author of Folk Horror: Hours Dreadful and Things Strange), is an example of this – an attempt to use a London environment I adore (the canal network) and make it specifically about the anxiety of a rapidly changing city, but in the tradition of writers like Robert Aickman and Ramsey Campbell. There’s a trailer here.
Lazily, psychogeography is a term applied to any kind of writing concerned with place. I am an admirer of W.G. Sebald, Rebecca Solnit, Robert MacFarlane and so on, but I wouldn’t really call their work psychogeographic. ‘Landscape punk’ is a conscious effort to separate myself from those modes of writing, whilst still following on in that tradition.
In the realm of horror and weird fiction, I love books and writers that possess this strong sense of place. I would claim Ramsey Campbell’s Creatures of the Pool, and much of Joel Lane’s work like From Blue to Black, and Where Furnaces Burn, as good examples of this fusion of place-obsession and the weird (Liverpool and Birmingham/the Black Country respectfully). I love M John Harrison’s stories that take place in a mundane London – stuff like ‘The Horse of Iron and How We Can Know It and Be Changed by It’ and ‘A Young Man’s Journey into London’. I love the BBC M.R. James adaptations, A Warning to the Curious and Whistle and I’ll Come to You, that draw maximum effect from their bleak East Anglian landscapes.
So the reason I describe my writing that way is that really is what it is. DIY punk, folk, anti-fascist, and SHARP skinhead culture is a massive part of my identity. I have shit Conflict and Oi Polloi tattoos, love Doc Martens and simply love the music and that whole world. I live about ten minutes away from one of the big remaining non-corporate London punk venues, T Chances. It’s great: cash bar, warm tins of Red Stripe, threadbare carpets and a heady smell of the unwashed. The history of Britain’s underground culture is a fascinating parallel narrative and had been a crucial part of my life since I was a teenager. It only seemed natural to write about it. To deny that in the aim of fitting a mould of what a writer should be seemed disingenuous.
‘Landscape punk’ as a term was actually coined by my friend, the creator of Hookland and all round excellent person, David Southwell. I stole it off him. Psychogeography had become something of a derisive term; new nature writing was becoming a bit twee; by the time we reached deep topography, the wheels were falling off. So, a new term was needed to describe an approach to landscape and environment that came from the perspective of the person coming from the underground, with a love of the weird and horrible things like genre fiction and grotty punk venues. ‘Landscape punk’ sounded good. We’re still trying to work out what it actually means, but hopefully some academics will do that for us.
You have a deep-rooted love for London, what is it about the city that incites such a love?
I have lived in London for nearly thirteen years now, as an adult. I was born on its very outer fringes, and a lot of my family are from the city. My mum is from Willesden, a number of family members are buried in Gunnersbury cemetery, my nan who died this year at the ripe age of 100 lived in London before, during, and after the Second World War.
I think being both a huge fan of literature and music is a part of it; London looms so large as an idea that it is very hard to ignore – especially if you grew up in the south-east of England where it is the most obvious place to go to escape the small towns. I associate London with reggae sound systems, punk rock, with squat parties, riots, carnivals, raves, pubs, art, literature, multi-culturalism, diversity, good food, and a certain hard-edged inclusivity. For me, it was an escape from the quotidian realities of small town England that I, probably unfairly, felt I’d grown up in. A place that was a bit dirty, dangerous, fun, exciting, a place where you could lose yourself and find yourself in a different form. Stuff happens here. The sad reality is that London is being bombed by blandness and forcing people out due to huge rises in the cost of living. It’s a ridiculous place in many ways. I may very well end up leaving it, but I it will always have my heart. Essentially, it’s the place I think of as mine.
As I’ve mentioned, London is almost a genre of literature in its own right. It generates its own mythologies. It’s not a cinematic city in the way Paris or New York are, but it exists in fictional form in a way that I feel isn’t matched by many other places. Off the top of my head, here are some books that use London as its subject that utterly thrill me: I Was Dora Suraez and He Died With His Eyes Open by Derek Raymond; King Rat by China Mieville; Mother London and King of the City by Michael Moorcock; Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter; The Lowlife by Alexander Baron; The Good Terrorist by Doris Lessing. I could go on for ever.
It’s a place that rewards exploration. After many years here, I still find things that surprise me. The challenges of gentrification and the privatisation of public space is a very real issue right now, but London will still reward you if you’re willing to get out there and explore. And by that, I mean walk. Only the other day I decided to go for a walk in an unfamiliar direction and found myself lost somewhere near the North Circular, on the Lee Navigation by a derelict café with flocks of rooks squawking above me and some Polish guys fishing the dirty river. It was great.
What’s your favourite “hidden part of London”?
I have a great deal of love for the flood barrier at Barking creek. People think there’s only one flood barrier in London, but they’re wrong. The spriggan sculpture in the abandoned railway line near Crouch End is also a strong contender. Tottenham cemetery, which is right next to where I live and has the trickle of one of London’s ‘lost’ rivers running through it, has a special kind of magic to it.
What are the stories or the novels that you want to publish through Influx Press?
Essentially, anything I would want to read that doesn’t yet exist, and might have trouble finding a home elsewhere.
There is a move from the more literary side of the writing world into writing about the weird, traditionally this has been the domain of the lowly genre writer. Why do you think they are doing this?
I always thought of weird fiction as a method rather than a strict genre, a method of getting to a deeper truth than anything strictly realist. The world is fucking weird. And right now, the world appears to resemble a tasteless, surreal and ill-thought out joke. Brexit, Trump, Nazis, ISIS, climate collapse, Love Island and the Bake Off. It’s a weird and frightening world that seems to be untethered from any logic. What better way to address this in fiction than by employing the weird? Weird fiction is reportage from the real world of our psyches.
It’s interesting that weird fiction and literary horror has become very visible right now. Thomas Ligotti appears in a Penguin Classics edition! (And he didn’t have to beg for it like Morrissey). Jeff Vandermeer is getting mainstream acclaim. Everyone loves China Mieville. Weird collections like Fen by Daisy Johnson and The Decline of the Great Auk According to One Who Saw It by Jessie Greengrass are being published my mainstream houses. Robert Aickman is back in fashion.
I genuinely think this reflects the sour times we live in.
One of your stories has been selected to appear in Shadow Booth, how did you come to appear in the anthology?
No great mystery to this one. I know Dan, the editor. We share a love of literary dark fiction and he asked me to contribute something to the journal. I of course said yes, knowing that Dan would allow me to go where I wanted with the story.
Can you tell us about some of the themes of the story?
It’s been a terrible year in London, and the UK in general. Horrific terrorist attacks. Grenfell Tower. Brexit doom hanging over all of us. A chaotic election. The EDL and Britain First marching in central London.
These things affected me more deeply than perhaps I admitted to myself. So, the story is an attempt to get across the feeling of living in a city’s nightmare during a hot and sweaty summer. It’s called ‘Where No Shadows Fall’, which is an inscription I saw on a grave in Tottenham cemetery, and I couldn’t get the phrase out of my head. It’s not a cheerful story.
What has been a major influence on your writing?
Everything I have mentioned so far!
The term horror, especially when applied to fiction always carries such heavy connotations. What’s your feeling on the term “horror” and what do you think we can do to break past these assumptions?
Horror, at its best, is a way of examining our collective fears and anxieties. I feel it is a way to get to a greater truth than strictly realist fiction and really examine what unsettles us; if we can do that, we may be able to overcome that fear and do something about it. For me, horror is not about gore, or sexy vampires. It’s primarily a psychological thing, it’s about incipient madness and the horrors of depression and other mental illness brought on by a sick society. But I don’t mean it should work just as allegory – the monstrous or the supernatural is never just a metaphor. The monsters are really there, even if they are only in our heads. What is reality anyway if not how we perceive and understand the world?
What are the books and films that helped to define you as an author?
I could write a ten-page list here. Books: huge formative influences on me were Grits by Niall Griffiths and The Course of the Heart by M John Harrsion. But honestly, so much stuff. I’m as much influenced by the books of weird and creepy folk stories I read as a child as anything. In terms of film, again there’s so much, but I was very affected by Ben Wheatley’s Kill List when I saw it at the cinema back in 2011. That’s how to do a contemporary British horror story, I thought.
What new and upcoming authors do you think we should take notice of?
Right now, there are some fantastic short story writers I think people should be taking notice of. They are: Eley Williams, Irenosen Okojie, Camilla Grudova, Daisy Johnson and Jessie Greengrass. Fans of weird horror have to check out Malcolm Devlin’s collection You Will Grow Into Them. Aliya Whiteley is a future star so if you haven’t read The Beauty yet, sort it out.
How would you describe your writing style?
What aspects of writing to do you find the most difficult?
I’m quite bad at plotting out a short story in advance. I tend to start with just an image, or a phrase, that keeps popping in my head until I decide the time is right to develop it. I procrastinate for ages and then work in big bursts, which is almost certainly not the way they tell you to write. But I’m more of the opinion whatever works for you, works.
Is there one subject you would never write about as an author?
Not really. The more extreme the subject matter though, I’d really have to question what point I was trying to achieve. I don’t like grim subject matter that is there merely to shock or provoke. It’s kind of pornographic, when you think about it.
Writing, is not a static process, how have you developed as a writer over the years?
I read some early efforts of mine recently. My god they were dreadful: pretentious, laboured, clearly mimicking writers I loved without adding anything new. I can see, however, a few kernels of good ideas in them, drowning in a sea of nonsense. I think I have developed (I consider myself very much a beginner still) in the sense that I now have the courage to write about the things I am really interested in, in my own style. I think it’s fair to say that even weird fiction itself is at the risk of becoming codified – but I always saw the weird as a method, rather than a concrete genre.
When I really thought about what I was interested in, what was it? Well it was London, it was punk rock, birdwatching, folklore, horror, and landscape. I stopped trying to write about what I thought people should write about, and wrote about what mattered to me. I set my stories in the places I knew and that held a deep significance to me, which also meant being honest with myself. Sometimes if the things you care about, and the places and people that mean things to you, are not represented in the fictional world, you can start to think they don’t really matter. They do matter, and if no one has written about the subjects you want to write about, that is more reason to do so, not less.
That’s when I progressed as a writer, and started getting published. Editors especially have good bullshit detectors – we can tell when a writer doesn’t believe in what they’re writing.
What tools do you feel are must-haves for writers?
In practical terms, time and space to work.
I think all writers need to be curious, and you need to read. Read widely, read outside of your genre, read as many different voices as you can. It only ever helps you.
You need to have the courage of your convictions, unless you’re a fascist of course.
What is the best piece of advice you ever received with regards to your writing?
Cut the first paragraph and see if your story still makes sense. Keep cutting until you reach the actual beginning of your story.
Getting your worked noticed is one of the hardest things for a writer to achieve, how have you tried to approach this subject?
I think I’ve been lucky having a good network that has developed slowly through doing Influx Press, and working at Ambit, Unsung Stories and now Titan Books. I find Twitter very useful for finding like-minded people, but nothing really substitutes for getting out there and doing the things you say you want to do. I really enjoy doing live events, both readings and talks. Of course, not all authors feel this way, and I’m not saying they must, but reading and talking about my work in front of live audiences I always find rewarding, and very beneficial in getting work noticed. There has to be a willingness to put oneself out there, and being aware that not everyone is going to like it, and dealing with that. Writers, those frailest of creatures, ironically must learn to be quite tough.
Persistence is the key. Always writing, submitting, doing readings, and being an active part of a community (but not a clique). Believing in what you do and getting on with it will, in the end, pay dividends. This is something the punk scene taught me, and I fully believe in that approach.
To many writers, the characters they write become like children, who is your favourite child, and who is your least favourite to write for and why?
I feel quite sorry for Lisa in ‘Greenteeth’. She doesn’t have a great time, and I liked her. The character I like the least is the narrator of ‘Mission Drift’ because he’s an undercover policeman.
What piece of your own work are you most proud of?
I am currently most proud of the final story in my collection Hollow Shores, ‘The Wrecking Days’. It is a real attempt to gather all the strands of my work to date, and to go off the deep end into the weird. I hope it succeeds. I’ve read the story in a few places already and people seem to like it.
And are there any that you would like to forget about?
Some early works of mine I think are weak. Nothing totally shameful though; we all progress, right? And writing things you later hate is part of that progression.
For those who haven’t read any of your books, which of your books do you think best represents your work and why?
I only have one book so far, so it would be Hollow Shores.
Do you have a favorite line or passage from your work, and would you like to share it with us?
‘There is one choice in this city. Submersion.’
What was the last great book you read, and what was the last book that disappointed you?
I loved The Rift by Nina Allan. The Doll’s Alphabet by Camilla Grudova was also deeply impressive. The last book that disappointed me was His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnett. It had all the elements of books I love – a bloody, anti-pastoral tale of murder in the Scottish highlands sounded like it would be great. But it felt like a clever facsimile, lacking any heart or passion.
What's the one question you wish you would get asked but never do? And what would be the answer?
Q: What’s the best landscape punk song?
A: ‘Dead Industrial Atmosphere’ by Leatherface
To find out more about the Tales from The Shadow Booth Kickstarter campaign click here
Gary Budden's debut collection blends the traditions of weird fiction and landscape writing in an interlinked set of stories from the emotional geographies of London, Kent, Finland and a place known as the Hollow Shore.
The Hollow Shore is both fictional and real. It is a place where flowers undermine railway tracks, relationships decay and monsters lurk. It is the shoreline of a receeding, retreating England. This is where things fall apart, waste away and fade from memory.
Finding horror and ecstasy in the mundane, Hollow Shores follows characters on the cusp of change in broken-down environments and the landscapes of the mind.