Paul Woodward’s story “A Very Strange Tunnelling Company” appears in the pages of Kneeling in the Silver Light, edited by Dean M Drinkel.
The Great War started a hundred years ago. What is the link between your story in Silver Light and that war?
I saw a documentary on the TV about the tunnellers who laid mines underneath the enemy trenches. And I then thought it would be an unusual angle for a story. I went on to read a couple of books about the tunnelling war to get the right spelling and background detail. Hence “A Very Strange Tunnelling Company”.
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?
Initially I thought there was enough, indeed too much real horror in the war itself. And actually I still think that. To counter balance this I wanted to write something that could not conceivably be real. I also wanted to lighten the tone with a gender confusion sub-plot which is one of the oldest jokes around. There was never much chance of me contributing a “regular” horror story.
When writing stories what’s your usual arena (SF, fantasy, historical, etc)? Did writing (your story) for Silver Light create difficulties because of the change to the war genre?
My usual arena for stories is fantastical and strange, often in an odd futuristic setting, which “A Very Strange Tunnelling Company” is. It didn’t create difficulties for me at all. I didn’t realise there was a war genre until you asked that question. The war obviously provided a setting. Although come to think about it, this story couldn’t have been set anywhere else anyway.
What’s your preferred choice of reading matter? And do you rather go for novels or short stories?
Novels definitely. I mostly read modern or contemporary novels – i.e. recently published books. Some SF and horror but not exclusively so. I read the classics at college. At one point I had to read one Victorian novel every week for a year. I don’t think I’ll ever read any of them again.
Although short story anthologies are nice because you can dip into them anytime and read a story, without losing the plot. You can’t leave off a novel half way through and expect to pick it up a long time later. So far I’ve read a couple of the stories in Kneeling in the Silver Light, and I’m liking them a lot. I will read them all eventually. Although I find sometimes as I read I think oh I wouldn’t have used that word there. I just have to turn off a bit when I’m reading someone else’s work.
Which writer would you invite to dinner, and why?
Ben Jonson. So far, nobody has been assassinated whilst eating with me. Seriously though, I would go for one of the garrulous American writers because I like hearing other people speak. Rather than name somebody still alive and be accused of favouritism I’d say Hemingway or Steinbeck.
Anything exciting happening on your literary horizon?
I have recently finished a novel The Odyssey of the Black Turtle. At the risk of exposing my Classical education I wanted to re-imagine Homer in a futuristic setting and populate the story mostly with women. Go back to the very origins of the canon of Western Literature and start afresh. There has got to be something in it. It has stayed in print for thousands of years. You will recognise the Cyclops episode but it isn’t the way Homer wrote it. “A Very Strange Tunnelling Company” is a brief extract from it, paired back drastically to work as a short story. For instance the mermaids, then Charybdis and Scylla are twisted out of all recognition. Tiresias is a blind transvestite innkeeper. The homecoming is nothing at all like Homer. The intention is to broaden the imaginative horizons of every reader.
A tentative start has been made on a follow up novel which won’t be much like Homer at all. And in between I’m writing a short story on a little Faustian theme with dinosaurs. The plan of action is to write a chapter on the new novel and then write a short story in between the subsequent chapters.