Nightscript 3- Conversations with author James Everington

Here is part two of the conversation between UK author James Everington and I about our short stories “Palankar” and “The Affair” that appeared in the anthology Nightscript 3.  To read part 1 where we talk about Palankar, please follow the link over to James’ blog.

James is an author of supernatural fiction that steers into the unexplained, psychological, and ambigious. He has authored short story collections, novels, and edited anthologies which you can find listed here. Even before knowing about his impressive body of work his short story “The Affair” caught my attention as one of the stand out stories in a very solid collection of stand out stories that appear in Nightscript 3. I’m particularly looking forward to reading “Imposter Syndrome” which he edited and is due out soon from Dark Mind Books.

Here is our conversation about “The Affair”

DANIEL: One hallmark of many of Aickman’s stories is they have narrators with a longing for a time past or for better times of “an England” that no longer exists. Your story features long-married characters settled into a routine who are looking back at the “dawn” of or perceived better times in their relationship. This, combined with your speculative element, conveyed a similar feeling that is achieved in Aickman’s work. Was this choice intentional?

JAMES: I’ve read and loved Aickman’s work for many years now, so I’m sure I have internalised some influences from him. But that said, I wouldn’t say the Aickman feeling was intentional, as I’m not sure it’s ever a good idea to consciously write an ‘Aickmanesque’ story, his work was too idiosyncratic for that. (I thought the recent anthology from Undertow, Aickman’s Heirs, was a success precisely because none of the authors attempted ‘straight’ emulations of his stories, but instead took different elements from his work and wove them into their own tales.)

And the attitude you describe – “longing for an England that no longer exists” – is a big part of our national character: see the utter nonsense that is Brexit for proof. So writing about characters looking back to the past is part and parcel of writing about the English, I think. And what is a ghost story if not a story of the past influencing the present? Not that ‘The Affair’ features a ghost, but to return to Aickman, one thing I’ve took from him is that a story can feel ghostly and haunted without an actual ghost.

DANIEL: What would you like readers to come away with after spending time with your characters and story?

JAMES: This is a hard one to answer; I’m not so sure that a “strange story” like ‘The Affair’ is primarily aiming for similar affects as most other fiction. It’s not (just) about letting readers sympathise or empathise with the characters, although hopefully they do, neither is it (just) about constructing a plot which makes readers want to know what happens next—although again, I hope that they do. It’s about atmosphere, I think, a building, mounting sense of unease, of being off-balance. Constructing a story that evokes that atmosphere is my aim, although whether I ever achieve it is for others to judge. I read widely, but as a reader these kind of stories scratch an itch that nothing else quite can. Hopefully I can scratch a few readers itches…

DANIEL: Robert Aickman refused to speak of the inspirations for his stories and his creative process. Are you comfortable talking about your process and inspirations? If so, what inspired the “supernatural” element of the strange encounters your characters face in your story?

JAMES: ‘The Affair’ was written over the course of a single week, while on holiday in Whitby. I always like writing overlooking the sea (which is annoying, as I live in landlocked Nottinghamshire). Like most of my stories, it was written quite instinctively, especially the first draft. With a short story, I’m quite happy to start writing about a scene or situation or specific image and seeing where it takes me. For ‘The Affair’, that was a married man meeting someone who looked like his wife in a pub, but them both acting as if they didn’t know each other. Everything grew from that; I didn’t have a solid view of what the story would be ‘about’ at a thematic level, or how it would end. This kind of stuff all comes out in the writing and rewriting for me. So retrospectively, what I think ‘The Affair’ is about is the midlife crisis.

I’ve always been troubled by that fact that as a culture we treat the midlife crisis as such a joke: middle-aged men buying motorbikes and chasing women half their age and all that. Whereas I see it, for both men and women, as a source of quite desperate and black revelations: that life is shorter than we ever realised, that we’ve already squandered much of it, that our memories of that squandered past will soon be all we have left. Naturally we tend to keep these feelings buried so we can enjoy what we do have left. The supernatural element provides a way of externalising all that, of forcing the central character to confront it, at least partially. That said, the supernatural element also draws him into a masculine fantasy of a ‘blameless’ affair, so things aren’t black and white here.

I’ve also just realised that I was writing it in the immediate aftermath of the Brexit vote (and my dismay at my country), so returning to the answer to your first question, maybe that subconsciously fed into it too.

DANIEL: The theme of doubles and duality surfaces in your story. What do you think the “double” or the “twin” is such fertile ground for weird fiction? What is the appeal of the theme to you as a writer?

JAMES: I’ve heard it said that horror fiction is split between ‘outer’ horror where the characters face some external force, and ‘inner’ horror where the evil is inside people. But I like stories that blur that distinction, and doubles and doppelgangers do just that: it’s inner horror externalised. Or outer horror that looks just like us. Of course, in ‘The Affair’ horror is not quite the right word for what the double represents, unless you view the quiet desperation of the central character’s situation as horror (I probably do). But you’re right, it’s a fascinating theme. And once you start looking, you see it everywhere in contemporary weird fiction (not least, your own contribution to Nightscript 3, ‘Palankar’) and each author has their own take on it. In fact (plug time) I’ve recently co-edited an anthology called Imposter Syndrome featuring stories about doubles of all types, which will be out the end of November from Dark Minds Press. Seeing how writers like Ralph Robert Moore, Laura Mauro and Gary McMahon tackled the idea has really made me appreciate how fertile and flexible it is.


Catch up with more about James and his work over at his blog linked above !

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