The Great War started a hundred years ago; what is the link between your story in Silver Light and that war?
“Where the Long White Roadway Lies” is very much set during the Great War, although I was careful not to say exactly when. I didn’t want to tie it down to any familiar battles or arenas of that particular conflict – though it’s clearly somewhere among the trenches and desolation of Belgium and northern France. I wanted a sense of timelessness that fitted the mood of the story.
What concerns did you have when it came to writing your story, how you planned to cover the subject matter? Were you worried that the anthology might have become too much like a regular “horror” book?
My main concern, believe it or not, was that I didn’t stray too far into Oh What a Lovely War territory. The point of view character occasionally slips into snatches of song contemporary for the period (the story title is a line from “Roses of Picardy”), but I hope I managed to use them in a different way to the play/film. And I certainly didn’t want to reheat anything like the old jingoistic Noble Tommy vs Evil Hun tosh that we’ve all been guilty of reading at some point in our lives.
I had no worries that the anthology would become just another horror book. It was clear to me from the start that Dean was after something different – something more respectful of the conflict than simple horror. Let’s face it: the period was horrible enough as it was.
When writing stories what’s your usual arena (SF, fantasy, historical, etc.)? Did writing “Where the Long White Roadway Lies” for Silver Light create difficulties because of the change to the war genre?
Over the years I’ve written SF, horror, crime, fantasy, Westerns, pulp adventure – and any number of permutations of the above. I’m not a great believer in genre boundaries; I think they’re limiting and useful (if at all) only as a marketing tool. Writers should write in whatever style or genre best fits the story they’re telling (it irritates me no end to hear of writers – and readers – who are so entrenched in their little corner they would no more attempt to write/read beyond their comfort zone than I would leap off the top storey of the Empire State Building. It’s so negative and small-minded).
I haven’t attempted a war story since my schooldays but, since they were also set during World War One, it was no great leap. All I had to do was resist the urge to write about flying – anyone who knows me might guess that’d be my default position. And, let’s be honest, ultimately there’s a touch of the supernatural in the story anyway.
What’s your preferred choice of reading matter? And do you rather go for novels or short stories?
I’m easy. Novels, short stories, the occasional dash of non-fiction. I don’t read as much SF as I used to – not sure why – and I gravitated away from fantasy when the books all became the size of breeze-blocks and just another volume in yet another series (most so-called urban fantasy leaves me cold – probably because I’m not a teenaged girl), whilst my to-read pile seems to consist primarily of horror. On holiday recently I found myself reading a Desmond Bagley novel (I usually never read everything I take away; this time the only book I’d packed, a slim volume of Mythos short stories, was used up in no time. So I had little choice). Badly written and slightly racist though it was, I managed to switch off my critical faculties long enough to enjoy it for the mid 1970s potboiler it was.
Which writer would you invite to dinner, and why?
Shakespeare. So I could prove he wasn’t some thick, Midlands oaf incapable of writing all those plays and sonnets – like so many of the London-based élite would have us believing.
What other question should I have asked?
Why? It’s the real ultimate question: keeping asking it and you can drive people crazy. Because ultimately, there’s no answer.
Anything exciting happening on your literary horizon?
I’m putting together a collection of my short fiction for The Alchemy Press – as eclectic as I can possibly make it. There’s a second collection of Damian Paladin fiction awaiting yet another polish, and I hope there will be an Alchemy Press Book of Pulp Heroes 4. Anything else is just in the planning stages so there’s not much I can tell you – save that it’ll most likely be pulp-style adventure.