September 10, 2015

Boulevard of Broken Dreams: an interview with Simon Marshall-Jones, author of "Biblia Longcrafta"

Biblia Longcrofta by Simon Marshall-Jones is a series of connected short fiction stories, semi-autobiographical in nature, set in the imaginary town of Longcroft. Although it has no precise geographical location in the ‘real’ world, nevertheless it is located somewhere on the northern coastline of Britain. It exists contemporaneously and separately in a different time stream from the rest of the world, the reasons for the split lost in the mists of time. 

It is no ordinary town, however – here miracles happen on an everyday basis, and the numinous and marvellous sit side-by-side with the banal and mundane. Into this wonderland comes a tattooed stranger called Simeon, a man bored of his old life, but still unsure of what his place in the world is, who he is, and what purpose he has. 

Through a series of connected incidents, he comes to understand the world around him, and the person he is. Along the way he meets wonders and living myths and, through interacting with them, he finds his true destiny – however, it’s not what he was expecting nor what he would have chosen for himself.

Simon Marshall-Jones is better known as the heavily tattooed driving force behind Spectral Press and its offshoots Theatrum Mundi and rEvolution SF. He lives in the Midlands of the UK with his wife Liz and six cats, six guinea-pigs, five chickens, two rabbits, and one dog. 

Gef: What was the catalyst that got this new collection underway?
Simon: The simple answer is that I have been yearning to nail some of the ideas swirling around my head on to paper for years. I’ve started and left unfinished numerous shorts over the last five years, something which irks me greatly. I had the ideas; all I lacked was a literary framework on which to hang them. I’d attempted to put fingers to keyboard to flesh those ideas out, but without success. These eight tales, however, took me four weeks to write – an unusual and very concentrated dose of motivation and inspiration I took advantage of. This doesn’t happen to me very often…
Gef: Where does Longcroft come from? Is this a setting that came about unexpectedly for you while writing or something you set out to develop from the get-go?
Simon: Just prior to the writing, I had a short series of dreams set in a village which I visited in my dreamlife. As is the case with dreams, everyday logic was not one of the place’s attributes. I can’t remember the specifics, but several incidents occurred which would never have happened in real-life. Without quite knowing how or why the connection was made, but the notion that I should create a series of tales based in this ‘village’ (which eventually expanded into a ‘town’) just appeared to be a logical step to take. And so, in a fit and flurry of activity, I pounded my keyboard into submission and produced all eight stories in short order. The two short at the end of the book were written at the start of my ‘career’, if you can call it that…
Gef: Along with your own writing, running Spectral Press has allowed you to champion some great short fiction by other authors. For you, what's the allure to the short story, particularly within the horror genre?
Simon: Horror, especially, needs to be short, sharp, and punchy to achieve maximum effect, so this is why I am particularly enamoured of the short form in this instance. I’ve read novels where the narrative loses steam and impact, simply because it was a story which would have been more suited to being shorter. The sustaining of atmosphere and dread is harder to maintain in a novel, because one has to fill it out and sustain the reader’s interest. That’s not to say of course that it’s impossible, just harder to do successfully. Short stories force the writer to become more focused, to strip away extraneous matters and hone in on the essential core. And this is what I particularly adore about shorts – Dennis Etchison’s work is a perfect example of what I mean. He concentrates solely on what he needs to tell his story, nothing else. Unnecessary verbiage is dispensed with – unlike what I do.
Gef: Is there much of a gear shift for you when editing your own work as opposed to someone else's? Do you find yourself reticent or eager for someone else to act as editor when it comes to your own stories?
Simon: I refuse to edit my own work – I always advise other authors to get their work edited by an outside source so why shouldn’t I abide by my own words? Plus, after I’ve written the stories I want some distance, so giving them to someone else is ideal in that respect.
Gef: How have you found your progression as a writer thus far?
Simon: The advantage of having been an editor for five years means that I have subconsciously learnt how story works. However, I realise that I am a bit of a word-fiend, a sesquipedalian, and that for me rich prose is paramount rather than punchiness. It’s just the way I am most comfortable writing, and my aim is to zoom in on atmosphere and emotion. Certainly, my writing has improved enormously since I write my first story (‘Feathers’, which is included in my debut collection Biblia Longcrofta as a bonus tale). My work is written primarily for my own entertainment, however, but the fact that others like my work is a gratifying bonus.
Gef: Who do you count among your writing influences?
Simon: I would say Clive Barker, MR James, HP Lovecraft, JRR Tolkien, and Umberto Eco.
Gef: What's the worst piece of writing advice you ever received? Or what piece of writing advice do you wish would just go away?
Simon: Now that’s a difficult one, primarily because I very rarely read books or articles on writing and technique. I do listen to editors though, and take their suggestions very seriously. I suppose, if I get down to it, the advice to keep things simple annoys me slightly, but that’s a very intensely personal thing, down to nothing but my own taste. I suppose it stems from my childhood, when I was obsessed with discovering new words and their meanings. I loved the way they ‘tasted’ in my mouth, and any new examples I would say over and over just to see how they felt when spoken. I make no apology for writing the way I do – it feels as natural as breathing to me. Some people like it, others don’t.
Gef: What kind of guilty pleasures do you have when it comes to books or movies or whatnot?
Simon: One of my ‘guilty’ pleasures when it comes to movies (although why I should feel guilty about it I have no idea) is David Lynch’s Dune – for me it comes closest to Frank Herbert’s immense vision of internecine warfare and politics. And I’ve always preferred Close Encounters of the Third Kind to Star Wars. Plus I love Ralph Bakshi’s The Lord of the Rings.
Books-wise? Let’s see. Nothing really springs to mind… not unless you count Larry Marder’s Beanworld or Jeff Smith’s Bone comics.
Gef: What projects are you cooking up that folks can expect in the near future?
Simon: I am currently writing stories for the second volume of Biblia Longcrofta tales, plus I have ideas for one or two novellas based in the same universe. There are other non-Longcroft related materials I am working on as well, and I’ll be submitting them when I’ve polished them up a bit. Beyond that, I shall continue the publishing side of things, and writing when the muse takes me. Or she offers either wine, port, or absinthe.

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