Ginger Nuts of Horror
To celebrate the launch of the new charity anthology Splatterpunk: Fighting Back from Jack Bantry's Splatterpunk Zine Ginger Nuts of Horror brings you a series of interviews with some of the contributors to the anthology. Today Ginger Nuts of Horror is honoured to welcome George Daniel Lea to the interview chair.
George Lea is an unfixed oddity that has a tendency to float around the UK Midlands (his precise location and plain of operation is somewhat difficult to determine beyond that, though certain institutions are working on various ways of defining his movements).
An isolated soul by nature, he tends to spend more time with books than with people, consumes stories in the manner a starving man might the scattered debris of an incongruously exploded pie factory, whilst also attempting to churn out his own species of mythological absurdity (it's cheaper than a therapist, less trouble than an exorcist and seems to have the effect of anchoring him in fixed form and state, at least for the moment).
Proclaims to spend most of his time "...feeling like some extra-dimensional alien on safari," which he very well might be (apprehension and autopsy will likely yield conclusive details).
Following the publication of his first short story collection, Strange Playgrounds, is currently working in collusion with the entity known as "Nick Hardy" on the project Born in Blood.
Could you tell the readers a little bit about yourself?
Maybe a little. It always feels like this part of the interview has a confessional quality to it.
I'm...a fairly isolated soul by nature and inclination; I work in a field that is incredibly social (care and social support for individuals with learning difficulties), thus I find that moments of silence and separation from humanity are rare.
Those moments are more precious to me than almost any commodity I can identify: I need that silence, that schism, in order to not only rejuvenate myself, but to process the daily maelstrom of information and experience and input that my work requires.
Those are the moments when the weirdness makes itself apparent; when the images and visions that swill around my skull almost every waking instant (and otherwise) insist on themselves and demand to be expressed.
If I didn't indulge them or found myself in a position where I could not, then I fancy that the next you'd know of me would be through some headline or TV news report, though in what capacity I wouldn't like to conjecture.
What do you like to do when you're not writing?
Beyond the standard “thinking about writing?;” I've inherited from my Mother a love of all things media, from written fiction to art, comic books to video games...and there's very little parameter or restriction in that, though I tend to favour the bizarre or the surreal, I try not to limit myself or my input based on nostalgia or traditional prejudice:
Recently, for example, I was introduced to the highly theatrical absurdity that is the Julie Andrews vehicle, “Victor Victoria;” about as far from the kind of material that I produce as it's possible to get, but I adored it, because it's beautiful and brilliant and farcical.
Video games are a principle passion, though it's rare these days that I get the time to indulge them to their full.
I'm also what would probably be described as an inveterate geek; I enjoy lots of insular hobbies such as science fiction war-gaming, fantasy and horror tabletop roleplay, boardgames, strategy games et al.
I've also recently found myself getting into all forms of podcasting, which I enjoy immensely.
A lot of good horror movements have arisen as a direct result of the socio/political climate, considering the current state of the world where do you see horror going in the next few years?
Very, very difficult to predict: recent shifts have seen more or less the entire genre move to independent markets and flourish there, with numerous forms and sub-genres of horror available that mainstream markets struggled to find niches for (if they bothered at all).
The financial success of the recent adaptation of Stephen King's “IT,” the efflorescence of various forms of horror on the small screen, means that there might be another upheaval occurring in which the genre becomes popular and profitable again, but that remains to be seen:
With horror being so reflexive of cultural climate (at its most ideal), I can imagine there being something of an efflorescence in coming years, particularly in areas where it overlaps with other genres (for example, we've already seen the mass proliferation of dystopian horror/science fiction in response to certain political situations).
As to what forms it might take, who knows? Personally, I'd love to see the genre transcend itself a little and trespass into more surreal territory, but that's a matter of personal taste and inclination.
As a horror writer, do you consider any topic off limits? Is there a topic or subject you would never write about?
Off limits? No; not in and of itself. Any and all subjects, situations etc potentially have merit and are worth expressing or exploring, but I do feel they have to be earned, by which I mean: they must be treated with due attention, if a writer is going to tackle them.
For example, if one is going to approach subjects of emotional extremity and resonance such as abuse or neglect, abandonment or trauma, one doesn't necessarily need direct experience of such things (that's what imagination is for), but one should have enough respect for the subject matter and one's own writing to put in the necessary research and/or contemplation and to present those subjects/situations in such a manner that they maintain verisimilitude: there is nothing worse than a writer presenting experiences or situations in their work that they clearly haven't considered or have little understanding of, if only because it has the effect of diluting and potentially destroying the fiction.
There is also the danger of rendering atrocity banal through repetition or the manner in which we present it: in that regard, I'd say we who dare broach such subjects in our writing do have a degree of responsibility, if only to ensure that such things are treated with weight and significance, rather than blandishment.
Are there any subjects I wouldn't write about? Not for moral reasons, rather because they either don't interest me or I don't think I have anything to say about them. But there is nothing in and of itself I would consider forbidden: if anything, I'd say that my writing principally concerns itself with transgression and approaching those very subjects and concerns that culture at large denies or sublimates: I don't particularly see the point in art, fiction or any created thing that doesn't do that in some way, shape or form: we are so enjoined by the systems we are born into to look away, to deny, to take the easiest or proscribed road...art and fiction allow for alternatives; for questions to be asked where they traditionally haven't but sorely need to.
In that, a certain degree of courage is necessary in order to write well and truthfully; we need to be willing to approach what others will not or actively disavow; to explore subjects, situations and phenomena that culture at large might seek to suppress or “protect” us from. This means that many will react strongly to the situations and subjects we present; we may trigger association with their own experiences, traumas etc, but this is what art and fiction are for: without that resonance and arousal, it becomes meaningless; like chewing already-masticated gum or eating a meal synthetically shorn of flavour or nutrients: fiction should not seek to protect any of us. Quite the contrary; to be hurt, to be soiled, to be wounded by art and fiction, are worthwhile experiences; it allows us to explore those contexts in arenas of imagination, without significant harm or consequence occurring, and thereby to develop our own emotional and imaginative conditions.
What do you most enjoy about the short story format? What do you find challenging?
Elegance. Elegance and concision; short stories require a degree of consideration and refinement that novels or larger works simply do not; there isn't any space for redundancy or deviation in a short story: they must tell what they have to tell within the allotted framework and do it well, or fail.
That is the beauty and challenge of them: they must be concise and stylised in the manner of poetry, yet weighty and significant in the manner of a novel.
For my money, the very best short stories are those that make best use of implication and inference; that trust the reader to fill in the spaces between words and paragraphs with their own assumptions and projections.
The very best short story writers know how to utilise silence and empty space in the same manner as the best composers of music.
Other than the horror genre, what else has been a major influence on your writing?
How long have you got?; Everything, everything ever; every experience, every iota of input, everything that has ever engaged or disturbed or inspired or distressed...all of it has had impact upon the state of my mind and imagination; all of it continues to, and will do so, I would presume, until consciousness itself flickers out (assuming it will).
But, in terms of specific media influences, I'm fairly broad in what I consume and always have been: as a child and adolescent, various forms of dark fantasy were my principal loves, as were traditional mythologies and folktales (I could do a fairly decent take on Hesiod as a kid). From there, I diversified into more or less any and all kinds or forms of fiction you might care to name: I adore various forms of science fiction (cyberpunk maintaining a particular fascination), murder mysteries, detective noir; certain forms and sub-genres of erotica and romance...there is very little I will reject out of hand; if it is passably well put together, I'll likely get something out of it.
Another MAJOR influence on the state of my imagination would be video games:
a format that I feel somewhat privileged to have witnessed the birth and evolution of, certainly in terms of home computing, from the cassette-driven crudity of the Sinclair Spectrums and Commodore C64s to their current state of “Virtual Reality,” almost total immersion.
As story telling devices, video games have developed their own traditions, mythologies, tropes and techniques, and are fascinating in that regard; they inform new modes of storytelling even as they are themselves informed by more traditional ones. Some of the most engaging, distressing and influential stories I've ever experienced are through the medium of video games, which has, in turn, profoundly affected the state of my imagination and the nature of my own storytelling.
This is an example of what I'd call an impossible question, in that there are so many answers and none at all: it asks us to pretend objectivity regarding the states of our own imaginations, and therefore our own states of mind: mind and imagination being both the subjects under and instruments of scrutiny, the analysis itself therefore becoming paradoxical.
And also lots of fun to play around with.
What is the best piece of advice you ever received with regards to your writing?
I can't say I've ever been given a great deal of good advice on writing, as so much of the self-proclaimed “advice” out there is presumptuous, subjective nonsense.
The very best examples I can think of are non-didactic, but exemplary; those that demonstrate rather than telling.
There is definitely a “nuts and bolts” workmanship to the crafting element that takes time, experience and failure to learn. Stephen King talks quite eloquently about it in his book “On Writing” (one of the ONLY books about writing itself worth reading): much of it is simply a matter of getting out of your own way, not allowing yourself to get away with excuses and putting pen to paper (quite literally, in my case, as I write all of my first drafts longhand). Even if what you produce is shit, you are refining the craft by doing; you are teaching yourself what works and what doesn't.
Beyond that, I tend to look to the work of writers I admire as example: how did or could anyone have produced anything as mythologically complex as, for example, Barker's Imajica or Weaveworld? How did Mervyn Peake conceive and render the gothic immensity of Gormenghast? How could William Gibson have conceived of Neuromancer in a time before the internet was even a popular concept, much less a reality?
For my money, the very best form of self-education for a writer is simply to experience what others have created; to look at what works for them as a reader and become somewhat surgical in their analyses: How does this work and why? What is it about this element of the work that resonates?
But advice? Very little sticks with me or resonates profoundly. The lessons of experience are as paramount in this area as they are in any art or craft; the only way to learn is to do it and fail and do it and fail and do it and fail ad nauseum until you get halfway good at it, and not to abandon the effort because the first five or ten or twenty or a hundred efforts don't work.
What piece of your own work are you most proud of? Which book or story do you think is a good ‘jumping on’ point for new readers?
I'm very proud of anything I've managed to finish and refine to a legible -let alone publishable- standard. I take a LONG time to refine my stories from the sprawling tangles of ideas and images they originally occur as, meaning that my output is not -and is likely never going to be- anything approaching what others manage.
That said, anything I DO put out there for consideration has usually been worked on and considered and refined to the utmost possible degree. I place a high value on the “craft” element of the exercise, as I am asking people to lend me their time and attention; to lend me territory in their minds and imaginations. That places an onus of responsibility on me to give them the very best I can; to treat them with as much respect as I demand as a reader; to not treat them as lesser or as merely consumers for my material.
My first short story collection, Strange Playgrounds, somewhat serves as a manifesto of what my writing is about: that is, to transgress beyond proscribed boundaries, upset certain enshrined or proscribed traditions and demonstrate that material ostensibly labelled as “horror” can treat its audience with enormous respect; that it can be smart and profound and beautiful and moving, rather than what general audiences seem to assume (i.e. that it is universally “low brow,” catering to prurience and indulging in cheap shocks etc).
I'd say that would be an excellent start, as it more or less sets out what comes after; what I intend as a writer, and will determine whether or not readers will have a taste for my work (NOTE: it most certainly isn't for everyone).
Can you tell us about your last book, and can you tell us about what you are working on next?
My last book was the aforementioned Strange Playgrounds. Recently, I've been involved in a MUCH vaster project in the form of Born in Blood; a joint project with the photographer Nick Hardy, involving the creation of six volumes of Nick's photographs and my short stories inspired by themes of madness, mental illness, distress, abuse etc.
The full short story collection will also be published separately next year by Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing, so that readers can get a grasp of the wider mythology before the full set of visual volumes are published.
All proceeds from the project will be going to mental health organisations, most notably the charity MIND.
It has proven to be an immense and immensely rewarding project, and has garnered some attention from some interesting sources, not to mention opened up a number of doors for Nick and myself.
If you like horror that is not wry or sardonic, but intends to genuinely unsettle, distress and disturb, then check it out.
What's the one question you wish you would get asked but never do? And what would be the answer?
Question: Are you okay?
Answer: Probably not.