In the Ranks of the Menacing: An interview with Rick Hudson (Part 1)

Posted by Catherine Wild on February 12, 2016 in Uncategorized tagged with

In the Ranks of the Menacing: An interview with Rick Hudson (Part 1)

Catherine Wild – University of Winchester

 

I begin to accept this, as a novelist, I belong to the ranks of the menacing.

                                                                                    – Anthony Burgess

 

The English novelist and short story writer Rick Hudson is recognised as occupying an unusual position as a writer in that his work is located in the strange liminal territory between contemporary literature and popular horror fiction. The publication of his novel Shrapnel in 2012 saw him lauded by both the conventional literary community and horror fans in both the UK and USA: Sanatorium V magazine described him as ‘the most significant writer Manchester has produced since Anthony Burgess’ whilst Hallow Ground decreed he was ‘the inheritor of Clive Barker’s throne’. Writing professionally since 1984 Hudson has seen his short fiction published in countless magazines and collections as well as broadcast by the BBC. 2015 saw Shrapnel re-published by New Haven Publishing Ltd and as a consequence his readership is growing. In the first part of this interview the writer discusses his relationship with the horror genre.

 

Shrapnel

 

CW: You are recognised as a writer whose work exists in both the horror genre and contemporary avant-garde fiction. Is this how you see yourself? Can these be mixed without losing either authenticity or commercial appeal? Can literature be appealing to a broader audience? Can it be mixed with popular fiction, diluted or disguised? Could this come across as patronising, possibly being seen as trying to preach to the uneducated public?

 

RH: I think any genre can be utilised to fulfil both a literary and commercial agenda. There is no inherent contradiction between the two. If one writes well, has interesting things say in an interesting manner and is able to command a popular readership then that can only be a good thing on all counts. JG Ballard, Kurt Vonnegut, Anthony Burgess, Iain Banks and, to a lesser degree, Martin Amis have all demonstrated how science fiction can be utilised as a means of writing literary fiction. Furthermore, it was within the ‘New Wave’ movement of science fiction during the 1960s that a lot of the experimental techniques we identify as post-modern first came to the attention of the general reader. There are also writers who are recognised as being literary but have grotesque, horrific and fantastical elements to their writing: Jorge Luis Borges, Joyce Carol Oates, Angela Carter and Franz Kafka, for example. Oh, and there’s the slight matter of the Gothic literature of the 18th and 19th Centuries, of course. I make no attempt to disguise or dilute the literary aspects of my writing; they merely feature within a genre that is usually considered, in middle-brow circles, a ‘low’ form of fiction. If I thought that my work was a means of preaching to the masses then that would indeed be patronising, but I don’t think I’ve ever had any interest in preaching to anyone. Entertain, disturb, amuse, irritate, provoke, excite? Yes. But preach, no.

 

CW: How did your writing career begin and evolve into what it is today?

 

RH: I began to see serious publication from the age of about sixteen and first started writing professionally when I left school at 18, which is quite some time ago. Back then I was writing what I guess you’d call social realist fiction. However I was also producing more – what would I call it? – odder fiction that was quite Modernist and experimental. I sent this stuff to the usual literary outlets and agents and publishers, but got a rather disappointing response. I got repeatedly told that the individual who read my work (editor, agent, publisher) personally liked my fiction a great deal, and they all went on about how fantastically talented and gifted they thought I was. But, they always added that my work was too unusual for a mass audience and it would not be financially viable to publish it. My girlfriend of the time suggested that I send one of my pieces to a horror magazine and they not only liked it but published it. Their response was ‘We think this is great. It’s unusual and off-beat and unlike anything else, and therefore original and therefore commercial’. So, the literary world rejected this work for not being commercial, but the horror world accepted it because it was commercial due to its literary qualities. And thus, a legend was born.

 

CW: Punk Globe says your novel Shrapnel appeals to both horror and fantasy enthusiasts. Do you see these as separate genres? Is the boundary blurred or does it exist at all? It also maintains that you have constructed ‘truly original fiction out of an over-mined genre’. What is your interpretation of ‘over-mined’. Can the genre function, as Clive Barker suggests, to reproduce a more accurate expression of our experience of our lives than naturalistic fiction?

 

RH: Horror and fantasy have always had a presence in literature throughout its 5,000 or so year history. Indeed, it seems self-evident to suggest that literature evolved from mythology as a means of exploring the world and existence. If we take the Iliad and Odyssey to be the first true examples of Western literature and consider Beowulf to be the first example of English literature, then the fantastic and the horrific are there at the very start. However, I think both horror and fantasy have been over-mined to a large degree – a lot of writers have dug into the same pit and dredged up a lot of similar material. I would never want to claim that all fantasy and horror fiction is of equal worth and of equal credibility to literary fiction. However, in essence there is nothing to prevent a piece of genre fiction also functioning as a literary work. Mervyn Peake being a classic example. Barker’s angle is interesting – what he does is highlight that the world as we experience it is interpreted and re-imagined in our heads by our imaginations, and therefore even our most prosaic reality is coloured and jazzed up by our creative faculties. This I think is a fair point, but it doesn’t follow that horror or fantasy fiction are a better expression of this. I think Virginia Woolf, William Faulkner and James Joyce had that pretty much covered, unlike – say – James Herbert.

 

CW: Do you resent your association with horror? Or do you see yourself as having a purpose as a horror writer? Do you see yourself as being part of a bigger picture or as being the bigger picture? Or just someone who likes to write horror?

 

RH: I think the horror genre has great poetic potential. I think it functions like comedy: it gives one a mechanism in which one can represent the world, our experiences, our emotions and our lives in a grotesque symbolic or metaphorical way. I think as well, like comedy, it is an excellent mechanism for articulating the paradoxes, uncertainties and contradictions of our lives, and also enables us to express emotions, sensations and feelings that are riddled with uncertainty and ambiguity. It enables me – at least – to articulate feelings that I feel strongly but struggle to identify or categorise. It allows the reader to recognise familiar but vague and ambivalent emotions within the weirdness. Horror lets us recognise ourselves and our world in its familiar strangeness. I think when I was younger I did resent the fact that I was associated with horror, I did feel that I wanted to break out of it and be let into the ‘serious’ literature gang, but these days I welcome it. If all writers worked in a huge office building together and each genre was a different department, you’d want to work in the horror department for no better reason than the people there are nicer, the atmosphere is good, you can carve out your own priorities and do your own thing, and you are evaluated on the quality of your work – not fashions or third party opinions. It’s a meritocracy. And the old hands are very supportive and not bitter or jealous or resentful of up and coming talent.

 

CW: What is the significant difference between Shrapnel and your other writing?

 

RH: Shrapnel is an unapologetic literary piece that takes the form of a Menippean Satire. It’s pieced together out of small sections written in conflicting generic styles and employs a variety of writing media. What it seeks to do, under the guise of a piece of popular fiction, is explore a number of issues regarding identity, representation and masculinity. I wanted to extend the established boundaries of popular fiction. One of the principal issues I wanted to explore in Shrapnel was how the flawed psychologies of the principal characters – Lomas (the hero) and Kelsall (the villain) – have come about. In particular I wanted to present Lomas assembling his identity from images of masculinity drawn from various narrative sources. Lomas’ narration is an attempt to justify himself to his dead friend from whom he seeks approval. The futility of this need for justification is illustrated in Shrapnel by alluding to failed heroic quests from various narratives including Marvel Comics, Norse mythology and Moby Dick.

 

CW: How would you feel if you were to be described as a very ‘masculine’ writer?

 

RH: Hmmm…. I have been described in this way, and I don’t reject it. We can get lost forever in an argument about what masculine and feminine mean, and if they have meaning as anything other than ideological constructs. But, the bottom line is I am a white, heterosexual, middle-class, highly educated, English male who writes as such. I don’t apologise for it. Some people have taken issue with this and suggested that as I write from this position then I am only writing for people similar to myself. But that doesn’t follow, even if it suits some people’s agendas to claim that is the case. 83.75% of my readers are women, 78% of them are American. This indicates that the position I write from can differ from the position I am read from. I trust my readers’ intelligence and ability to make their own connections and identifications with my work. I get a great deal of intellectual and emotional reward from reading Toni Morrison’s work – but I don’t have to be an American black woman to do so.

 

 

In the second part of this interview Rick Hudson discusses horror and writing as an academic, and his relationship with the business of publishing.

 

 

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