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Black Static

Dark Fiction & Film BLACK STATIC ISSUE 61 OUT NOW!

Terry Grimwood Interviewed

21st Jan, 2014

Author: Peter Tennant

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Back in Black Static #37 I reviewed two books by Terry Grimwood, the novel Axe and chapbook Soul Masque, and I now follow that up by putting some questions to the writer:-

PT: In my review I stated that I believed Axe was your oldest work, though only now published. Is that correct? Can you tell us a bit about the story's history? What, if anything, would you do differently if you were writing it now?

TG: Axe was indeed my first novel. It has only recently been published because it took me nearly twenty years to write the thing! I started it one wet Thursday afternoon in 1987 and finished it on an icy winter's day in 2010. The progress of the novel paralleled my own growing experience and maturity as a writer.

An interesting side effect of that was that each time I picked it up, the characters had to be older (the story's background is rooted in the late 1970s), and the TV programmes they watched and the cars they drove, changed to make them contemporary. As my endless re-writes and revisions moved out of the 1990s and into the 21st century, I was faced with the mobile phone, which meant that I had to completely change the ending because the original one would have made no sense to the modern reader. 'Why,' they would cry, 'don't they simply phone or text each other? You know; "Hi in dngr, plse resq me x"'

On a more serious note, there is something buried in Axe that had to be written. I'm not sure what it is, a link to some of the difficult things that were happening in my life perhaps. Oddly the germ of that story, which came to me during a wild, rain-lashed, nighttime car journey through the Suffolk countryside, developed into two completely different stories, yet something links them. The other story became my play The Bayonet (first performed in 1994) which is set in 1922 and is not a supernatural story at all. Both those stories have a tremendous emotional charge for me, but as I've already said, it would take a psychologist, or a D F Lewis Real Time Review, to tease its exact nature out of my sub-conscious.

As for doing anything differently with the novel, I hope it doesn't sound arrogant but I can't think of anything apart from the sort of nit-picking, fiddling and poking writers indulge in until their ms is torn out of their tightly curled little fists and sent on its way. That story is written now, a catharsis of some sort has taken place and I don't think I could ever go back to it (unless Hollywood comes calling with a screen play contract of course, or Lord Lloyd Webber, in search of the songbook for the musical version).

PT: Your protagonist in Axe, Steve Turner, is a musician, and you yourself play a musical instrument. How do the two disciplines of music and writing interact for you? Do you feel any of the skills you've developed as a musician, help you to be a better writer, and vice versa?

TG: I play harmonica and growl a little blues at open mic sessions when I can. This is a relatively new departure for me and something I wish I'd done years ago. I'm also wrestling with the guitar but at the moment, the guitar is winning! Writing predates playing and singing however, so I can't say that particular activity has had a great influence, other than giving me a feel for what it is like to stand in front of an audience with a bunch of other musicians (often complete strangers both to me and to each other if it's an open mic session). These sessions can produce some wonderful moments, by the way, sudden flights of joy when everything locks together and feels as if it will freewheel forever. I mean, who can ever forget that twenty-minute version of When the Levee Breaks that happened one night in 2010 at The Middlesex Arms, South Ruislip? Certainly not the audience who probably wanted to catch the last bus home but were too polite to tell us to pack it in.

I have written other music-based short stories; Melissa and the Singer, The Friends of Mike Santini and Romance in D Minor for example. Another link is that the Axe character of Joe-Jack Fosdyke is based on a real person I met briefly, late on the Saturday night of the 1975 Reading Festival (line-up included Hawkwind, Yes, Thin Lizzy and Dr Feelgood, for any list makers out there).

I have always been heavily influenced by music of all types. I suffer (not the right word because I think it is an advantage for a writer) from synesthesia, which is basically a cross-connection between the senses. For me, every sound, every word has a colour and an image, so music is extremely visual. I often write to music. Classical music and far-out-daddio-jazz (Miles Davis' Bitches Brew, anything by Can), for example, paint vivid imagery in my mind. Music also has a strong effect on my mood. Heavy metal is ideal for writing what you described so beautifully as "balls-to-the-wall" horror, particularly the music of those grandfathers of all rock, Black Sabbath, my all-time favourites.

PT: At the heart of Axe is the sense of dreams that have turned sour, or are about to. Can our dreams betray us? To paraphrase Springsteen, is the dream a nightmare if it doesn't come true?

TG: Jessica Alice, the daughter of one of my cousins, is a professional singer-songwriter and is currently bloodying her knuckles, knocking at the tradesman's entrance into the music business. I've seen Jessica Alice perform twice in London recently. The first time to a modest audience in the Alley Cat Club, Denmark Street, the second time in the Floripa Club, Shoreditch, where the audience consisted of my cousin, the other musicians due to perform that evening and the bar staff. Both times she was the consummate professional, hiding any disappointment behind her smile and drowning it with her beautiful voice. How? Because she is pursuing The Dream.

All artists are driven by their dreams. I know I am. We have to be. There are plenty of people who will tell us to give up. Someone once told me to visualise the finished product when you set out on a project because this helps you to focus and keep going. I remember visualising Axe as a finished and published book. Well, it may have taken twenty years but that particular dream came true. So, another paraphrase: 'Dreamer, I'm nothing but a dreamer.' (Supertramp were also at Reading 1975 by the way).

But yes, dreams can, and do, turn sour. On a personal level, I think, Axe is my way of admitting that I may have to modify my dreams of giving that Pulitzer Prize acceptance speech. Expectation must be managed.

The point at which we realise that the dream simply isn't going to come true in any shape or form is a bitter blow indeed. It does happen, but then it really is a nightmare. In Steve Turner I've tried to explore that particular darkness, what it would be like when the awful realisation hits home, and how far might we go in pursuit of that fading dream. For me that's a greater horror than any monster with fangs and claws. A final musical paraphrase, then from those Aston lads I love so much: dreams can turn to nightmares, heaven can turn to hell.

PT: What made you decide to tell the story "backwards" in Soul Masque? What do you feel was gained by this approach?

TG: The version published by the magnificent Spectral Press is relatively conventional in structure! The original version, written for the Gary Fry and Gary McMahon Paging Mr. Hitchcock anthology was much more non-linear. The reason was that it was based on the time dynamic used in Tarantino's Pulp Fiction. Sadly, and for genuine reasons, the anthology never came to fruition and the story languished in My Documents for several years.

The final timeline that runs through the story, epilogue and prologue reversed, just seemed right. It's like that sometimes. Perhaps it's the shock opening, which immediately establishes the tone of the story, and then an ending that was sad and wistful, redolent with vain hope.

PT: Central to Soul Masque for me was the idea that the end justifies any means, with flawed characters being pressganged into a war against evil. What are your own thoughts on this? Is it permissible to use "corrupt" methods/people to attain a noble end, or do we just taint our own cause by doing so?

TG: Read The Bible! The heroes of both the Old and New Testaments are startlingly flawed. David, the heroic giant slayer and mighty king was an adulterer and murderer, Jacob was a rogue and conman. Okay, Soul Masque isn't meant to be a religious tract, but I see humanity as flawed, and the flawed are just as likely to help their fellow travellers as the "good".

The Biblical God has little in the way of softness. He destroyed whole cities, along with their populations, when the mood took Him. That would have included the "wicked" element, of course, but it also included women, children, and any kind and generous people who happened to be living there. Don't try to convince me that every citizen of Sodom was evil.

He is also jealous, He even says that Himself. And a stickler for his Law. Moses for example was almost killed by God for one simple act of disobedience. Lot's wife was turned into a pillar of salt, just for looking back; someone was even struck down dead for trying to steady the Ark of the Covenant while it was being transported on a wagon. The poor chap was only trying to help.  So, the version of holiness and purity expressed in Soul Masque has that same ruthless quality, because that's how I see it.

What are good and evil anyway? Okay, some human acts are unspeakably terrible, but even the perpetrators of those acts are operating according to some logic, distorted as it may be, some set of rules. They are not moustache twirling characters in dark cloaks who laugh maniacally as they tie helpless women to railway tracks. They're complex, badly flawed human beings who, in some cases, are capable of good deeds and kindness. There is nearly always a reason. Don't get me wrong here, I'm not trying to justify murder, rape or genocide and we must protect ourselves from those who threaten and hurt us.

Democracy is seen as "good", but it is led by people who appear to be driven by a contradictory maelstrom of principle and fierce ambition, self-centeredness and a heightened sense of duty, ruthlessness and compassion. Even our own, relatively benign brand of politics is powered by manipulation, scheming and Darwinian competition.

The Second World War was probably the only just war I can name in the last hundred years. The Allies had to win, and they did. It was a costly victory, paid for in blood, sweat, tears and selfless sacrifice. Part of that struggle included the destruction of entire cities, along with vast swathes of their populations (carried out by brave, earnest airmen whose courage I admire unreservedly, I am NOT anti-Bomber Command). But were the mass bombing raids and the use of atomic weapons on civilians morally justified? Couldn't it have been won on the battlefield only and not by the incineration of the innocent along with the guilty? This isn't the place for that debate, I know, and those means did achieve the required end.

Phew, got that off my chest. I suppose what I'm trying to say is that at its heart, Soul Masque is showing that there are motives within motives within motives, that all sides manipulate, coerce and blackmail and will have their way, no matter what. Don't get me wrong, I didn't agonise over the philosophical nervous system of the piece, I had an idea for a story that might be a little risqué and controversial, sat down and wrote a scene, thought it was exciting and had possibilities, and carried on. All those philosophical thunderbolts and world-shattering undercurrents of theological wisdom must have been my sub-conscious at work!

PT: Tell us about the best and worst experience you've had as a writer?

TG: Every acceptance is a good experience. Every rejection slip is a bad experience.

The worst? Let's get that over with first. I suppose it was receiving a reply from Peeping Tom magazine back in the early 90s, when I was still trying to get something, anything, published. The letter said that they liked the story but that it needed some re-work. I was beside myself with excitement and duly edited the story as per their suggestions. I sent it away and bit my fingernails for a week, a month, six months, a year. Finally a reply came. 'Sorry,' it read, 'but good as it is, your story no longer fits in with the direction the magazine is taking."' It did find a home eventually. Oh, and there's a time around that same period when I had ten stories out there and every single one of them came back with the dreaded 'Thank you for letting us see your story but...'

I did get a couple of stories into Peeping Tom soon after, and was even fourth placed in one of their Scaremonger of the Year polls. I had a very happy relationship with them. And to show there are no hard feelings I'm currently putting together a retrospective anthology of stories from that great magazine, called The Dark Heart of Peeping Tom (due out in time for FantasyCon 2014).

Ah well, with writing there has to be a great deal of philosophical shoulder-shrugging and muttered 'c'est la vies'.

Best? That's a hard one, there have been a lot of best moments. Some of them are:

  • Directing, and then watching an audience give a standing ovation to, my first play The Bayonet.
  • Putting pen to paper in a train in France on August 5th 2009, and receiving an acceptance for the finished novel from Eibonvale Press early in the following December, a mere four months later. The novel was Bloody War and never before or since has an idea come to me so complete and been turned into a finished product so quickly.
  • Walking into the workshop in the college electrical dept. and seeing the one hundred copies of the gorgeously sumptuous Levels 2 and 3 Diploma: Electrical Installations (Buildings and Structures) (Pearson Educational Press) by Terry Grimwood and Andy Jeffery, ordered in for our students. Then seeing it race to the top five of the Amazon electrical textbook hit parade for a few weeks!
  • Your reviews of Axe and Soul Masque in Black Static.
  • A text from my son telling me how much he loved Bloody War, and the fact that my own daughter reads everything I write and is my biggest fan.
  • Meeting and marrying my soul mate, transatlantic poet, Jessica Lawrence. Jessica is a font of writing wisdom, and my muse.

PT: How do you deal with negative reviews and other criticism of your work?

TG: What negative reviews and criticism? I don't understand your question.

Oh those...

It's par for the course. No one asks me to write, no one forces me to, so if someone doesn't like what I produce then they're entitled to say so. You can't please everyone all the time. Anyway, lukewarm or negative reviews give credibility and added pleasure to good ones. You can't have a hill without a valley.

I never, ever argue with a reviewer who doesn't like one of my stories or books. You have to get over it, grow a spine as they say, and move on. I love the way one American writer deals with it by writing to a negative reviewer, thanking them in very flattering terms for pointing out the book's many flaws and for taking the time to write a review. He claims that he never gets a bad review from that particular reviewer again.

On the other hand, I run theEXAGGERATEDpress and I do feel upset if any of the authors I publish get rough handling from a reviewer.

PT: Why do you write horror?

TG: Dunno. I just does innit. Though not everything I write could be classed as horror. I've just submitted a non-genre short story to Andrew Hook's PunkPunk anthology (fingers crossed). Melissa and the Singer, The Higgins Technique and Chemo are all non-genre. When the Waiting is Over is a romance published in People's Friend back in 1997. Bloody War is essentially a political thriller. My lovely wife Jessica and also my good friend Allen Ashley have always encouraged me to write outside the horror box and it is their inspiration that is behind a lot of my non-genre work.

But it is my first love.

The first novels and real books I read once I had laid Buster and Valiant aside and closed my last Commando war comic, were Westerns. If you want a masterclass in storytelling and characterisation, get hold of a job lot of tatty old Western paperbacks.

Then a neighbor lent me a pile of books that changed my life. On the top of the pile was a novel called Slan by someone named A E van Vogt. The next were three books about a Foundation by a chap with a name that sounded like a character from his own stories. Shortly before this earthmen had landed on the moon (oh yes they did and never, ever try to convince me otherwise!), shortly afterwards Star Trek came to our screens. That is, as they say, all she wrote. I was addicted to what the late and much lamented Joel Lane called weird fiction and have never looked back, even when I went through an intensely religious phase back in the last half of the 1970s.

Oh and then it took another turn in 1982. I discovered Stephen King when I picked up a copy of The Stand, for no other reason than I liked the cover, opened it to chapter one and was completely blown away by what I found there.

Weird fiction feeds my imagination. It is an escape. It fills me with wonder and fear. It keeps the little boy in me alive.

It also provides a medium for exploring the human condition at its rawest and most primal. The most vivid example of this is Stephen King's Carrie. The best college-teen novel ever written because it rips open the whole adolescent jungle our kids are forced to negotiate and survive.

Horror, in particular, can be used to strip away the masks and layers of armour we wear to hide the truth from the world. Many of the stories in The Exaggerated Man for example, were written when my first wife was ill and life had become dark and difficult. Looking at those stories now I realise that they were cries of frustration and even despair, a way of expressing exactly how I felt at the time. I know that sounds a bit melodramatic but it is true. The whole thing comes to a crashing climax in a story called Coffin Road which was written shortly after her tragic death.

And what is horror anyway? Every story has a monster; betrayal, a broken love affair, war, a serial killer, fear of failure, yes, and that broken dream we mentioned earlier. All these scare the hell out of us don't they?

PT: What can we expect to see from you in the near future? What work do you have in the pipeline?

TG: theEXAGGERATEDpress is my publishing pride and joy. Next up from its presses will be the aforementioned Dark Heart of Peeping Tom, which is an attempt to pay homage to the small press magazines of the 1990s and bring those great stories to a new audience, as well as to mount a blue plaque over Tom's doorway, announcing that this was the literary kindergarten for a lot of serious Names in the genre. The press has just published Open Waters, a collection by David Gullen who must, must, must be heard, that man can write, and The Just Not So Stories by Rhys Hughes.

Wordland is an occasional, themed, magazine. Mainly free on-line and currently at Issue 3 What they saw in the sky. It is open for subs for Issue 4 Whited Sepulchres until the end of January. It is not genre-specific, and welcomes poetry and non-fiction as well as short stories. I am trying to find the time to bring out print and Kindle versions of Issues 1 and 3 (2 is already available in those formats).

Writing, I'm working on short stories, including the first of a series of sequels to Soul Masque. I've never written sequels before, so a new experience. Especially as they also have to be stand-alone tales. I'm also trying my hand at a YA novel, set in The Places Between milieu. I'm also involved in more educational writing for Pearson, a very interesting departure and a very challenging one. This is a different type of writing in that not only are there word limits per chapter, there are word limits per page, because page layout and structure are almost as much a consideration as the text itself. Oh, and I want to complete Pywacket and Vinegar Tom, a play about the flawed, fascinating and enigmatic Matthew Hopkins...

Too much writing to be done and not enough time...

 

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