with Robert Hood
do you write?
As soon as I could read, I wanted to write.
I loved the way writers could create other worlds, other
realities, and I wanted to do the same -- the urge to
become the Creator is a powerful one and who was I to
resist? The truth of the matter is that when I don't
write, I get very twitchy and anxious. So I may delay,
but in the end I get back to writing again. I can't
help myself, despite the fact that sometimes the act
itself is a painful and annoying one. Probably there's
a psychological explanation -- one that involves subconscious
urges, dysfunctional personality traits and sublimated
acts of denial -- but I don't really care about that.
Writing is one of my defining characteristics. Moreover,
I tend to write the stories I want to read -- though
frequently others do them better than I do, and surprise
me in the process!
are your influences?
The first books I remember choosing to read were the
Mars books by Capt. W.E. Johns (of Biggles
fame), and some of the novels from astronomer Patrick
Moore's space series.
mostly I watched horror and creature-feature movies
on TV whenever I could, engaging in a continual struggle
with my parents to contrive to stay up for the late-night
fright-fest presented by the likes of Deadly Earnest
[a movie-show 'host' from the 1960s]. Occasionally I'd
get to go to the cinema, where I saw classics such as
"Jason and the Argonauts" -- Harryhausen's monsters
held my imagination in an irresistible grip and I spent
weeks afterwards sketching scenes from the film. I loved
the monsters. Any monsters. I desperately wanted to
see "Godzilla", I recall, but didn't manage to
catch it until I was in my 40s when SBS finally screened
the original "Gojira" and then "Godzilla vs
Biollante" (and look where that has led)!
1933 "King Kong", however, ran at the local theatre
in the late 1960s, and seeing it on the big screen was
an awesome and life-changing experience. I read comics
a lot -- particularly superhero stuff from Marvel, as
well as Superman and the EC horror anthologies.
Once upon a time I owned a huge collection of Marvel
comics, one that continued to grow right into university
days -- a complete run of "The Incredible Hulk"
among them. The interconnected nature of the disparate
stories fascinated me, as did the combination of visual
and verbal media, and the occasional weird spin-offs,
such as "Howard the Duck" and "Swamp Thing".
(There was even a Marvel Comics version of "Godzilla,
King of the Monsters", which I now regret having
sold with the rest!)
in primary school I remember fanatically collecting
instalments of a newspaper strip called "Turok, Son
of Stone", which later continued in the form of
a colour comicbook. "Turok" was about a pair
of North American Indian buddies, great hunters and
warriors, who stumble into a Lost Valley of dinosaurs
and monstrous oddities, and then must struggle to escape
it. Great stuff. For similar reasons I loved Conan Doyle's
"Lost World", too, not to mention Conan Doyle's
other Prof. Challenger stories -- but that came
a bit later. In primary school I didn't read much.
in early high school, I did a project on H.G. Wells'
"War of the Worlds" -- and was hooked. Henceforth
I read voraciously -- everything from the latest sci-fi
pulp to "War and Peace", including as many of
Wells' prodigious fiction output as I could find. I
devoured whatever SF magazines I could get my hands
on -- Galaxy, If, Amazing -- not to mention the
Nebula anthologies and all the classic SF stuff -- Asimov,
Le Guin, Anderson, Blish, Aldiss, Brunner, Heinlein,
Clarke, Bester, Dick. At the same time, I had a passion
for Leslie Charteris' Saint books, along with
the Sherlock Holmes stories! And Dr Who
was there, too -- the first episode of which I watched
one fateful day in First Form. After that, of course,
I stayed with the show continually for about 20 years!
But Kubrick's "2001 A Space Odyssey" obsessed
me, too -- along with SF books of similar wonder, such
as Clarke's "The City and the Stars" and "Childhood's
End". Meanwhile, the classic film monsters continued
to fascinate -- as well as their literary originals.
One of the defining moments of my adolescence -- along
with catching a lingering glimpse of the girl across
the street at her bedroom window, naked -- was my mother's
presentation to me of hardback copies of both "Frankenstein"
and "Dracula", in full and unabridged! I was
in heaven. And I read Blatty's "The Exorcist"
in the break between my HSC English exam and the following
Maths exam a few days later. Books like Hitchcock's
anthologies and "The Pan Book of Horror Stories"
hold great memories -- though the defining anthology
has to be "Great Tales of Terror and the Supernatural"
(for horror) and "Stories from Time and Space"
Howard and Algernon Blackwood all played a significant
part, too, leading me off into the dark side through
their evocative, often pulpy imaginings. By the time
Stephen King and Clive Barker (principally via his fabulous
"Books of Blood" stories) came along, I was well-and-truly
immersed in the horror-fantasy genre. There were other
influences, of course: I wrote my BA (Hons) thesis on
"Lord of the Rings", Frank Herbert's "Dune"
and "Dune Messiah" and Lewis Carroll's Alice
books -- all of which have been powerful forces in the
construction of my mental framework . My thesis topic
included an examination of free will and determinism
(or change and continuity) in SF and fantasy. On the
other hand, my longer MA (Hons) thesis studied the monster
(and human) imagery of mystic poet William Blake, whose
religious radicalism, visionary sweep and metaphorical
complexity probably did as much to mould my approach
to the world as the long-running Biblical and theological
studies of my teenage years. Can we keep subjective
and objective realities apart? Should we even try?
uni days I read a lot of Shakespeare (I was enthralled
by "King Lear" and fascinated by "Macbeth",
though the comedies held their own special intrigue).
Old English and medieval literature -- Mallory, "Sir
Gawain and the Green Knight", "Beowulf",
and even Dante's "Divine Comedy" (if that can
be included here) -- filled my head with imagery; I
also spent some serious obsession-time on James Joyce
and an endless run of Baroque and Romantic poets. These
were the Monty Python years -- along with Peter Cook
and Dudley Moore, "The Goodies", "The Frost
Report", the Marx Brothers and the Goons, the Python
gang defined my sense of humour.
the funniest books I've ever read are Wilde's play "The
Importance of Being Ernest", Heller's "Catch-22"
and the works of P.G. Wodehouse, especially the Jeeves
books. Oh, yes, and there's always Lewis Carroll's "The
Hunting of the Snark". Somewhere in this history
of one man's cultural development, there also lies an
heroic-fantasy period. Tolkien, LeGuin's "Earthsea"
trilogy, Howard's Conan the Barbarian stories,
Fritz Lieber's Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, Donaldson
(despite the somewhat unrestrained nature of his diction),
and years of Dungeons and Dragons roleplaying
took the world-creation idea in a different, obsessively
detailed direction. Like many others, I created an ornate
alternative world called Tharenweyr, complete with maps,
flora and fauna, mythologies and centuries of political
and religious history. This led to me writing an as-yet-unpublished
novel "Fragments of a Broken Land" and a few
short stories, most notably "Tamed" from Jack
Dann and Janine Webb's World Fantasy award-winning anthology
that heroic fantasy seems to be on the ascendant, I
don't read it much, having long ago tired of the clichés
that tend to abound in it, and having lost interest
in the unimaginatively used tropes. But the influence
certainly remains, and when a good one arises, I welcome
it with open arms.
do you get your ideas?
every author's favourite question!
used to say from my cat - but that's a bit facile. So
are answers such as "From a junk shop just down the
street". The truth of the matter is that ideas can come
from anywhere and everywhere - from listening, and reading,
and watching people interact, and thinking about how
apparently incompatible concepts can be brought together.
I often get ideas from my two favourite current affairs
magazines - "New Scientist" for the scientific
ones and "Fortean Times" for the weird-shit ones.
have arisen from appealing titles, such as "Birthmark",
which was suggested by a writing circle (The Ex-Thorby
Group) as an exercise, while "The Slimelight, And
How To Step Into It" came from experiences attendant
on being part of an amateur theatre company. Other stories
have come from imagining what would happen if Clark
Kent (who isn't really Superman) got accidentally locked
in an office supply cupboard while trying to change
into his uniform ("The Death of Clark Kent"),
or simply from setting out to write a gargoyle story
("Rough Trade"). "Peeking" was a story
about voyeurism. "Occasional Demons" came from
an intriguing Jethro Tull lyric and being asked to write
a story about a fictional Australian Republic.
7" came from reading a book about Rudolph Hess in
Spandau prison, and "Beware! The Pincushionman"
from watching an old cartoon. On the other hand, "Line
of Sight" was the product of wanting to write a
giant monster story, joined with some reading about
quantum weirdness. So the short answer is, my ideas
come from all over the place. The rule is: keep a notebook
full of scraps of dialogue, odd ideas, titles, curious
references, newspaper cuttings… whatever. When you need
an idea, such a notebook can often provide a starting
point. For further illustration of the impetus behind
my stories, see "On Writing
often do you write?
I have a full-time job, I can only write outside of
work hours. So I mostly have to be very disciplined.
I try to write about 500 words every night after dinner
- though I can usually only sustain this pace when I
have a deadline such as the one I had with the "Shades"
books. Sometimes my output is very tiny, but I try to
keep it going nevertheless.
are your ambitions, as a writer?
write as effectively as I can, to get the stuff published,
to keep enjoying it, to write genre stories that have
genuine literary merit.
would love my fantasy magnum opus, "Fragments of
a Broken Land", to get published; and I want to
write a sequel to it. I want to write a really scary
and metaphorically resonant horror novel that creates
a 'myth' as potent as "Frankenstein" or "Dr
Jekyll and Mr Hyde". I would like to produce a decent
SF novel. Also high on my agenda is writing a good giant
monster novel. Perhaps these two will be the one and
all the stories you've written, do you have a favourite?
is a hard question, because while I'm writing them,
I get completely absorbed in each and every story. Backstreets
is probably the work that is most personally significant
to me, because there is so much in it that came from
my deepest emotions.
death of my stepson completely changed the world for
me - nearly destroyed it in fact - and in some ways
that novel is about me trying to re-build the world
again. But I followed that novel with a series of four
novels under contract -- all connected, with on-going
characters and a story-line based on a mythological
background of my own invention. The series was Shades
- and it was sort of liberating, as well as enormously
hard work. Though the novels are fantasy stories, a
lot of research went into them - I had to find out about
subjects as diverse as ancient Egyptian myths, the geography
of modern Cairo, astronomy, the history of the Knights
Templar, the architecture of coal mines, and alchemy.
It was great fun.
my many short stories I have lots of favourites, and
the list probably changes from one moment to the next.
Favourites that come to mind are: "Sandcrawlers",
"Rough Trade", "Last Remains", "Loco-Zombies"
and "Rat Heads" (from the Creepers series),
"Headcase" (a kid's story), "Groundswell",
"One-Hand Clapping" and "Ground Underfoot".
about a favourite character?
got lots of laughs out of Creeper, Nat and Boris from
the Creepers series of kid's horror stories,
which I co-wrote with friend Bill Condon.
Currently, however, my favourite is Cassandra from Shades,
especially when she acts as narrator in Book
2: Night Beast. She's so smart, sassy and self-obsessed,
yet manages to be thoughtful and sacrificial at the
from Backstreets is also very important to me.
He was partly based on my stepson, Luke, whose tragic
death lies behind that novel. Yet the other characters
in that book were also inspired by Luke, especially
Bryce, Kel's friend who dies, and the street-kid Gab.
of my characters are totally based on real people. They
are all a sort of amalgamation of people I've known
or have met.
you have any tips for new writers?
If you want to write, then write. Lots. Practice and
to be clear, honest and enthusiastic in what you write.
Don't just copy stories and TV shows that you enjoy,
because if you simply copy, your stories will be pale
imitations that don't grab anyone's heart. Do better
than them! Let your imagination fly! But above all don't
be discouraged. Push yourself to the limit, avoid 'easy
outs' and don't give up! When you think you've got it
right, you haven't - so try something new! Make the
writing immediate and sharp.
are your favourite things?
partner Cat Sparks,
my little buddies Pazuzu and Smersh (and cats in general),
giant monster (daikaiju)
movies (especially those featuring Godzilla), modern
Japanese horror movies, zombies and ghosts in fiction
and on film, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer", the
Fortean Times, rock music (with that of Jethro
Tull at the top of the list), spectacular or intriguing
acts of nature, weird science, freak shows, assorted
friends … this list could get lengthy. How much time
have you got?
finally, what is your favourite food?
- prawns, fish, scallops, squid. Especially when combined
with crunchy greens, such as fresh asparagus and snow-peas.
Also Indian curries. And mangoes.
pizzas are one of humanity's greatest inventions.
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