Your short story Ho Ho Ho was the inspiration for the Ho Ho Horror anthology. How did you come to write Ho Ho Ho?
I found the Australian bush an inspiring place for horror fiction – the small town settings, the isolation, a landscape that can feel dangerous and threatening – and I wanted to write a series of horror short stories set in the fictional town of Jemimaville in North East Victoria. ‘Ho, ho, ho’ is the first story I’ve done, the second one ‘Carneval (sic)’ is almost finished. The idea would be that characters from one story would appear fleetingly in the other stories, so a story, say , about Jemimaville’s doctor might start with him treating Danny Coyle, the main protagonist of ‘Ho, ho, ho’.
What can readers look forward to in Ho Ho Ho?
When I’ve sent ‘Ho, ho, ho’ to friends I’ve normally added a health warning along the lines of ‘this is a nasty story – you’ve been warned!’ I think it’s the ending that particularly freaks people out – anything to do with eyes is a hard one (I still can’t watch the eye scene in ‘Un Chien Andalou’). It’s a bit of a comic satire on doting parents and spoilt children I guess too. Lieutenant Danger is based on ‘Captain Scarlet’, from the Gerry Anderson (‘Thunderbirds’) series, which I used to love as a kid and still do – I bought the whole series on DVD in Melbourne last year. I also used to have an Action Man and would to drop him out of my bedroom window – but there (I hope) any similarities between me and Danny end!
Both Ho Ho Ho and your novel Mice feature violence and psychological disturbance. What do you think makes these kinds of stories appeal to readers, or what appeals to you about writing these kinds of stories?
When other kids were reading Enid Blyton, ‘Treasure Island’, and ‘Swallows and Amazons’, I was reading American horror comics. They were gory and violent and full of delicious black humour and irony. I enjoyed the shock and the power of these comics, the melodramatic hyperbole, the extreme plots, the unexpected twist endings, and I suppose they established the paradigm for the type of story I wanted to write. What I’ve learnt over the years is that you can use the horror/thriller genre to explore serious issues and that, ironically, it’s by looking in very dark places that we can shed the most light on the human condition. Arguably, that’s what Shakespeare did – ‘Macbeth’ (murder), ‘Othello’ (jealousy), ‘Hamlet’ (revenge) – characters in extremis, characters buckling and bending out of shape under extraordinary stress, that’s where you find the real meat in the sandwich.
What are some of your favourite horror stories, and what makes them work so well for you as a reader?
I would say my stand out horror stories would be ‘The Monkey’s Paw’ (W.W. Jacobs), ‘Green Fingers’ (RC Cook), Poe’s ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’ and ‘The Cask of Amontillado’, Graham Greene’s ‘Proof Positive’ and ‘The End of the Party’ and Maupassant’s ‘The Hand’ and ‘A Vendetta’. Each story has a ‘gory’ element, but they have something else which is more important. You could call it ‘the chill factor’ – Major Weaver talking in tongues and drumming his fingers on the table before collapsing dead in ‘Proof Positive’, or the widow Saverini feeding her lean black dog ‘something brown’ as she returns home after the murder in ‘A Vendetta’. It’s the little details that make the flesh creep that embed a really good horror story in the mind. I read ‘Green Fingers’ once when I was a kid and I haven’t read it since, but I’ve never forgotten the image of the naked old woman growing slowly up out of the soil in the back garden like some hideous shrub.
You recently toured the US for Mice. What was that experience like for you?
I wish it had been a tour of the US, maybe that will come later. I actually just spent a week in New York and did a podcast and a radio interview. The US publication is hugely important for any book and I was chuffed to get good reviews in The New Yorker magazine and the New York Times. Now ‘Mice’ has been optioned by Groundswell, the US movie production company, I think its profile will grow in the US – especially when the director has been assigned and the two female leads have been cast. I am very pleased ‘Mice’ is in Groundswell’s hands now – Groundswell made the movie ‘Sideways’ which is one of my all-time favourites.
What advice would you like to offer for writers starting their first novel manuscript?
I suppose patience is one of the most important things for a new writer to have – I had to wait seven years for ‘Mice’ to be published. Along with patience you need persistence; you have to keep on going even after receiving a million rejection slips. The fact is that you could write the greatest novel ever written and publishers will still return it saying ‘sorry, we do not read unsolicited manuscripts.’ I would also advise new writers to think commercially. There are great opportunities now in genre fiction – the world never tires of detective stories – and once you’ve made money with five novels about your hard-bitten gumshoe you can then write your ‘War and Peace’. I think you have to box clever, look where the trends are (eg crossover novels) and see if you can’t make a name there – no one says you have to do that forever, but getting a start is so hard it’s smart to try to level the playing field a bit. Never forget the Dr Johnson quote: ‘No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money.’
If you could bring one storyteller back from the dead for a day for the sole purpose of talking to them about writing fiction, who would it be and why?
That’s a tough one. Tolstoy would definitely be on the list as would Graham Greene, but I think George Orwell would be my first choice. Orwell’s output was amazingly varied; he wrote ‘traditional’ novels (‘Burmese Days’), memoir (‘A Homage to Catalonia’), political allegory/children’s fiction (‘Animal Farm’), science fiction (’1984’), comedy (‘Keep the Aspidistra Flying’), and campaigning journalism in the tradition of Dickens (‘The Road to Wigan Pier’), so, although maybe not as naturally gifted as Tolstoy or Greene, he was the consummate writer, experimenting in an assortment of genres that required different techniques and aesthetics. I think the variety of his literary output plus his idiosyncratic mind and brutal honesty would afford some amazing insights into the writing process.
What is next for your fiction writing?
I’m writing an adult novella called ‘The Dentist’ at the moment, a thriller/horror set in the UK in the 1950s. When I’ve finished that I’ll return to my Jemimaville stories and the new young adult novel for Allen and Unwin. I’d like to write for cinema and am half way through a script writing course at the moment. Script writing is very different to prose writing, and although the actual writing is easier, figuring out the best way to present your story visually is actually very hard!
More on Gordon Reece and his fiction can be found at www.gordon-reece.com. You can read a previous interview with Gordon Reece on The Australian Literature Review at https://auslit.net/2011/03/29/gordon-reece-author-interview.
The Australian Literature Review