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FAQ with Robert Hood


Why 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!


Who 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.

But 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)!

The 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!)

Back 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.

Then 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" (for SF).

Lovecraft, 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?

During 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.

But 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 "Dreaming Downunder".

Now 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.


Where do you get your ideas?

Ah, every author's favourite question!

I 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.

Stories 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.

"Number 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 Horror".


How often do you write?

Because 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.


What are your ambitions, as a writer?

To write as effectively as I can, to get the stuff published, to keep enjoying it, to write genre stories that have genuine literary merit.

I 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 the same!


Of all the stories you've written, do you have a favourite?

That 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.

The 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.

Among 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".


What about a favourite character?

I 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 same time.

Kel 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.

None of my characters are totally based on real people. They are all a sort of amalgamation of people I've known or have met.


Do you have any tips for new writers?

If you want to write, then write. Lots. Practice and practice.

Try 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.


What are your favourite things?

My 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?


And finally, what is your favourite food?

Seafood - prawns, fish, scallops, squid. Especially when combined with crunchy greens, such as fresh asparagus and snow-peas. Also Indian curries. And mangoes.

And pizzas are one of humanity's greatest inventions.



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