Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Burning All The Way

I must be getting the hang of this blogging thing as I'm going to attempt it again. The other day I received a request for a written interview together with a set of written questions for me to answer. In one of them, the questioner said that she found my books very spiritual and would I care to comment. This took me a little bit aback as I've never deliberately set out to make my books spiritual but I can see how they could be.

Because this is the question that all interviewers shy away from in case they offend me - "How does living in a place like Northern Ireland affect your work?" And without a doubt it does. You should see the e-mails that I get from time to time telling me that I'll "burn in Hell" from closer to home because of the topics that I cover. I was born here in Northern Ireland before the Troubles (with which I'm sure you are all familiar) at a time when social divides were very fixed and certainties were more established. And some of you may know that I was born into a Protestant family who lived in a largely Catholic rural area. My grandmother with whom I lived for most of my younger years kept a local shop and my grandfather was the local postman. However, despite the rigidity of the time it was a great place to grow up.

Many of my early friends were Catholic and my grandfather had come from County Armagh and was a great musician and storyteller. Although I didn't realize it at the time, he had a greater impact on me than I knew. Late in the evening, neighbours would often gather in our house, my grandfather would play and stories would wash back and forth. Once the scandals of the countryside were out of the way, the talk would sometimes turn to the supernatural . I think that's where my interest in the supernatural comes from and is also that "spirituality" that my interviewer talked about.

But of course the religion of Northern Ireland has also shaped me. My father belonged to a very strict Evangelical tradition and all this talk of ghosts and spirits didn't sit easy with him. When I bought my first book - an old Arrow edition of Bram Stoker's "Dracula", I had to keep it hidden in a linen drawer as my parents thought that it wasn't suitable reading for a 12 year-old boy. Religion is of course a response to and an interpretation of the world around us. I don't think that any of us can truly envision a Universe which is driven by blind chance - there has to be a controlling principle or entity. To me, much of organised religion is partly about power and control. I readily admit that membership of a religious group can give people a sense of identity and can be extremely comforting in times of crisis and grief as well as being supportive in many other circumstances. But it can also be about prejudice and bigotry and the controlling of world views - which we know here in Northern Ireland only too well.

I always ask the question - would you let, say, your bank manager determine your world view in the same way that you would your priest, minister or pastor? Maybe/maybe not. So a number of interviewers have commented that they find my remarks on the church seem sometimes quite cynical - again they're not intended to be but I suppose that comes out of my past as well. Unfortunately, I can still see vestiges of that same insular religion that I experienced growing up, even today. Recently the Arts and Culture Minister for Northern ireland got himself embroiled in a debate about a dinosaur exhibition in which he wanted a Bible open at the book of Genesis to be placed by each exhbit "to ensure equlaity". Again this is forcing a certain type of view and not allowing people to make up their own minds about how best to interpret the display. I remarked that in order to ensure equality, they should also have the Koran, the book of Mormon, Footprints of the Gods etc. on display.

There is an old saying over here - "Bury me face down so that I can see where I'm going" and I think some of my correspondants might concur with the sentiment. I seem to be getting very philosophical here so thanks for staying with me and getting that off my chest. But somebody did ask. Now onto less weighty matters.

The contracts for the new book are now signed and returned and the Creepist Places book has now been started. It's a bit different book for me this time but I really am looking forward to the challenge aand there are some rather scary places that even scare me when I'm writing about them. It's also the first book in a long while where I won't be working with Ian Daniels. Ian is a terrific lad and a good friend and I'm hoping that we can work together again soon - I'm currently twisting New Page's arm to do a book on unseen supernatural forces or on the influences of H.P. Lovecraft, which would be I think fun to do. The new book should I think be out in the Fall.

On the comics front, the blog seems to be working as I was contacted by a former collaborator whom I had worked with in the comics field over 30 years ago. You will also see a connection into a blog called Bog Standard Comix, which is the new site for some of the stuff I'm working on. We should be getting some material up there very soon. Work on the comics front is slow and living in Northern Ireland is a bit of a disadvantage. Comics are viewed over here as children's literature and not as a way to explore issues . The graphics market is of course very difficult at the minute in any case. Marvel and DC tend to dominate and a lot of their stuff is movie orientated. Lesser companies such as Dark Horse and Dynamite seem to be continually tied up in licensing - Green Hornet etc. And while I don't have a problem with that I think that it's time for something fresh. So we'll try to post what we've been thinking about and let you decide. Watch this space.

I seem to have got a bit carried away with all this, so apologies if I've bored you. I have however completed my second blog - my children would be proud of me!

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