Ghost Story Society Interview

ALL HALLOWS TALKS WITH . . .

Welcome to a new, on-going series called “All Hallows Talks with . . .” This feature is a short interview showcasing current ghost story and weird tale writers. It’s a chance for readers to get to know the people behind the tales; where do the stories come from, what are their influences, what makes a writer of supernatural tales tick? And this is a chance for the writer to spill it out on the page.

The interview is in three parts. The interviewee can play mix and match, choosing to answer as many or as few questions to whatever extent he sees fit. The only restriction is a limit of 1000 words. Or, if the writer prefers to disregard the word count, the interview can be edited later.

Part I: Short Biography

Please provide us with a short biography of your life and work.

Chico Kidd has been writing professionally since 1979. Her ghost stories have been published in the UK, the US, Canada, Australia and continental Europe. Most first saw the light of day in small press, many being snapped up for reprinting in mass-market anthologies such as the long-running Best New Horror series. 47 of these were collected together in hardback in Summoning Knells (Ash-Tree Press 2000). Her first novel, The Printer’s Devil, was published by Baen Books (New York) in 1996. It came 12th in Locus magazine’s poll of Best First Novels of the year and gained some brilliant reviews. Chico also writes in collaboration with Australian author Rick Kennett about William Hope Hodgson’s occult detective Carnacki: their first hardback collection, No 472 Cheyne Walk (Ash-Tree Press 2002), built on an earlier Ghost Story Society chapbook which is now apparently something of a collector’s item. Since 2000 she has changed track from a largely Jamesian œuvre and has been busy with an ongoing sequence of novels and stories featuring the redoutable Captain da Silva, “one of the genre’s most interesting and genuinely original new characters” according to Stephen Jones in Horror in 2001. His Mammoth Book of Best New Horror 13 and Dark Terrors 6 feature three of the stories between them: there are currently 16, and four-and-a-half novels. Her day job is in design and advertising and she has won a number of awards in this field.

Part II: Short Answer

How old are you?
A little older than Captain da Silva!

Where do you currently live?
West of London in Betjeman-land (“Gaily into Ruislip Gardens / Runs the red electric train” – it has nothing else to recommend it)

Where are you originally from?
Nottingham. Once Robin Hood country, now apparently the murder capital of the UK so it’s become bandit country.

Your first published story: What was it? And in which publication?
An Incident in the City, in the first issue of Ghosts & Scholars.

Do you have something new coming out? What and where?
A new Captain da Silva tale in an anthology entitled Poe’s Progeny by Gary Fry, out later this year

What’s your favourite film?
Overall, Casablanca. Ghostly, The Devil’s Backbone

Novel?
I can’t possibly pick one – there are too many!

Short Story?
Probably one of M R James’s.

Poem?
Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf.

What are you currently reading?
Nothin new at the moment. My fiction re-reading pile has in it Michael Chabon’s Summerland, Ursula Le Guin’s The Telling, Terry Pratchett’s Night Watch, José Saramago’s O Ano da Morte de Ricardo Reis and Haruki Marakami’s Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. I won’t be re-reading Johnathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke – for a book that’s all about magic it has less magic than anything I’ve ever read.

What short story/novel would be a good introduction to your body of work?
Cats & Architecture – it’s the transitional story between the Jamesian era and Captain da Silva. Or The Printer’s Devil for hardcore antiquarian-type stuff.

Recommend a title by someone else.
Stephen King’s The Girl who Loved Tom Gordon. If you think you don’t like King it’ll be a revelation. A little gem.

Part III: Long Answer

Do you think that contemporary writers in the supernatural genre need to approach their writing differently to their Golden Age counterparts? If so, how?
It depends on what type of story they are writing. If you want to write a “classic” ghost story then you need an approach as much like James et al as you can in order to avoid pastiche. If your setting is contemporary, you probably need a contemporary mindset.

What advice would you give to fledgling ghost story craftsmen?
Read as much as you can. Never stop reading! And not just ghost stories!

Who are your primary influences?
M R James of course, Raymond Chandler, C S Forester, William Hope Hodgson, Rider Haggard, John Buchan, Kipling, and Joss Whedon. Probably lots of others too.

When did you start writing and what prompted you?
I’ve been writing ever since I could hold a pen. Luckily everything that came from it prior to 1979 is lost in the mists of time. It was reading good old MRJ that prompted me to write An Incident in the City.
Is there a story you’ve written with a particularly interesting origin?
Most of the stories don’t really have an origin as such, though the book which features in An Incident in the City is real. It never exhibited any mysterious extra pages, though!

How do your ideas evolve and come to fruition?
They just evolve! Sometimes I’m prompted by some place I’ve visited, but mostly the themes just pop into my head. Plot refinements I tend to thrash out while I’m out running.

What was your first publishing experience like?
I was extremely chuffed (and lucky, I suppose) to have my first-submitted story accepted, for the first issue of Ghosts & Scholars. I never went through years of trauma in the wilderness until now, when the Da Silva novels can’t find a publisher. Even The Printer’s Devil, a much less commercial tale, was snapped up relatively quickly.

If you could rewrite one of your stories, which would it be and why?
I never rewrite very much. A lot of what I write never changes from the first draft, except for minor refinements. So I don’t think I want to change anything!

People like interesting anecdotes. Let’s hear one of yours.
The only vaguely interesting thing was the advent of Captain da Silva. I suffered from writer’s block for more than five years. It’s a terrible, awful affliction. But for all that time I wrote hardly at all, and it was hard work. I struggled along with yarns about Carnacki only because I had to, for the Ash-Tree anthology. And then, in the middle of a long and fairly Jamesian tale set in Venice (Cats & Architecture), which I had been writing for weeks if not months, Luís da Silva barged in and took over. He appeared complete with a past and a personality and a lot of baggage I’m sure I never invented. When I realised he was going to be around for a while I thought I’d better learn Portuguese. In the course of this I discovered the author (and Nobel laureate) José Saramago, whose first novel Manual de Pintura e Caligrafia (Manual of Painting & Calligraphy) features a character called Chico who works in advertising, and also mentions a writer called Luís da Silva.

If you could ask your favourite author of ghost stories one thing, what would it be?
“Ramsey, would you put a word in for me with your publisher?” No, seriously, it would probably be “Monty, why do you think the novel-length supernatural tale is rarely successful (especially since The Five Jars is one that does succeed)?”

What ghost story and/or writer is the most overrated, and why?
The Haunted & the Haunters by Lord Lytton. The most monumentally silly story in the history of supernatural writing.

H.R. Wakefield once famously said, “I believe ghost story writing to be a dying art.” What did he mean by this? And was he right to say so?
I would say he thought no-one would want to perpetuate something so deliberately old-fashioned as the traditional ghost story, and didn’t envisage how it could change with the times. MRJ said, equally famously, that the best ghost stories were those set at a little distance of time, and that the genre was too “small and special to bear the imposition of far-reaching principles” (though it didn’t stop him writing at length about them). Was Wakefield right? No, since the ghost story is versatile enough to outgrow its narrow origins and is still flourishing in many different forms – and so it should.

Steve Duffy, John Whitbourn, Quentin S. Crisp, Mark Samuels (mark@samuelfrench-london.co.uk), and Joel Lane (joel@cityofnight.fsnet.co.uk).

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