James Brogden, who wrote “The Smith of Hockley” for The Alchemy Press Book of Urban Mythic, answers a few questions.
Tell us a little about yourself and what you like to write.
I’m afraid that I am a disappointingly normal human being: middle-aged, middle-incomed, living in middle-England in a happy marriage with two kids, a cat, and a decent Lego collection. To pay the bills I teach English, and in the meantime I’m trying to cut it as an author – so, living the cliché there. My theme tune, if I had one, would be Huey Lewis’ “Hip to be Square”. As a result, I write stories about When Ordinary Things Go Weird, which means it tends towards the horrific – monsters in garden ponds, MOT inspections which lead to satanic sacrifices, teddy bears that breathe with the souls of dead children. The kind of things that would terrify me in my safe suburban bubble. I’m trying as hard as I possibly can to avoid standard horror tropes, which also means that what I write veers into the darkly fantastical as often as not. I did fall off the wagon and write a story with a zombie in it recently, but she was reanimated out of hatred for her husband’s obsession with DIY, so I can live with that.
What was it that inspired “The Smith of Hockley”?
The image of the Midas Scorpion has been kicking around in my head for years, looking for a story to appear in, and Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter was the perfect setting, but I couldn’t square that with any mythology which wasn’t uniquely English so I did a bit of hunting around and re-discovered the legend of Wayland Smith, which, in turn, tied in nicely with the discovery of the Staffordshire Hoard. I find that there’s hardly ever a single inspiration for a story – images and ideas constellate together and reinforce each other organically, for the most part.
How urban do you like your fantasy and who are your must-read authors?
Urban fantasy is what I like to write because it stems from my own anxieties and hang-ups, and I find it easier to find emotional hooks for my characters in the world that I know. It also allows me to be a bit lighter and more whimsical in what I write, as I basically can’t take anything very seriously for long and I don’t think I could sustain the seriousness of an out-and-out horror novel.
In terms of what I read, I’m a lot more wide-ranging. I like a bit of high fantasy, and I’m also quite loving Stephen Baxter’s Northland trilogy at the moment because it incorporates a lot of my interests in archaeology and alternate history – plus it’s a cracking story, which helps. I’ve also been reading Edgelands by Michael Symmons Roberts and Paul Farley, which isn’t fiction at all, but more travelogue-cum-poetry about the marginal areas of Britain’s urban areas. I understand why London looms large in the urban fantasy genre, and I have no problem with that, but for myself I want to explore the fantastical potential of where I live, which is the Midlands. Writers I keep coming back to for inspiration are Robert Holdstock, Neil Gaiman, Graham Joyce, Christopher Fowler, and Clive Barker. My new discoveries are Sarah Pinborough and Robert Shearman, both of whose work I’m currently devouring.
What is Den of Eek 2 and how are you involved?
Den of Eek 2 is the sequel to – wait for it – Den of Eek, which was a story-telling event last year hosted by the pop-culture website Den of Geek in order to raise money for cancer research. I became involved when they had a competition for new writers, and I was one of three winners. I went down to London just like it says in the fairy tale and had the most awesome evening in a pub reading my story to an audience alongside established novelists and screenwriters, and feeling massively out of my league. Still, it must have gone down okay because they invited me to write another story for this year’s event. I demand that everybody reading this go and buy a copy of the Den of Eek anthology from Amazon immediately – every penny goes to charity. After they’ve bought Urban Mythic, of course.
What will you be up to next?
By the time Urban Mythic is launched I will have released my second novel, Tourmaline. It’s urban fantasy again, with elements of steampunk in an alternative world intersecting with our own. I’ll also have a short story about a road-kill restaurant in an anthology called The Last Diner published by Knightwatch Press. Con-wise I had two big dates: London Film and Comic Con in October, where I signed copies of Tourmaline; and I appeared on a panel at Andromeda One in Birmingham in September, which was very exciting as it’s my first. Other than that, the new school year began recently, so I had to start thinking about the real world again. Which brings us nicely full circle. I like the symmetry of that.