Joseph D’Lacey is the author of several horror novels, including Meat, Blood Fugue, Garbage Man and, most recently, Black Feathers, which is out from Angry Robot next month. We recently reviewed Black Feathers here and now we’re very happy to present this chat we had with Joseph, where he talks about his projects, the nature of horror and more.
Thirteen O’Clock: Can you start off by telling us a little bit about yourself, your work and how you got into writing?
Joseph D’Lacey: Well, I’ve always been a writer at heart. When I was in my teens, I used to write to ‘empty my head’ but in my late twenties and early thirties, the desire to write fiction became a focused endeavour. I’ve written Erotica, Humour and Science Fiction with varying success but I think most people see me as a horror writer. That may change as I make my first forays into Fantasy, a genre that suddenly has a great attraction for me.
ToC: You’re probably best known for the novel, Meat, that got you possibly one of the best cover quotes an author could hope for: “Joseph D’Lacey rocks!” – Stephen King. (Seriously, what horror writer wouldn’t kill for that endorsement?) Meat discusses a society completely beholden to a meat trade, the book billed as an “eco-horror novel”. Black Feathers covers similar ecological ground with a strong Mother Earth vibe at its core. Can you tell us a bit about your personal philosophies and the messages you want to share with your fiction?
JDL: For me a novel isn’t a planned excursion. It’s more of an adventure with no map. An idea or theme will fascinate me enough that I want to explore it. Fiction allows me to do this.
I know people think I have ‘very serious agendas’ but I don’t really. Evangelism is a pain in the backside, let’s face it, and it doesn’t work unless it’s enforced. That’s not my aim at all.
If there’s a message in my work, the message is intended for me. As far as readers are concerned, I exist for their entertainment. But if they step away from my work with similar feelings to those I had when writing, or if they see things a little differently as a result, I’ll only ever be happy about that.
I don’t really have personal philosophies – never believed in anything long enough for that! – but the way I see the world seems to be based on my experiences. In the nineties I was a British and European gold medallist in Tai Chi Straight Sword forms. Later on, I trained to first dan in Ki Aikido. I’ve been very positively influenced by many kinds of meditation since my twenties and have been a practising acupuncturist for the last seventeen years. I’ve experienced a couple of vision quests in the Welsh hills and had several other very instructive experiences with the land. I suppose, taken together, you can broadly see what interests me and a good deal of that must come across in my work.
Specifically in terms of writing fiction, though, far more important than all that personal gubbins, is to tell a good story. Story has to come first.
ToC: You say on your website that you stopped eating animals as a direct result of researching and writing Meat. Where else, and to what other life decisions, has your fiction research led you?
JDL: Honestly, I try to avoid researching books as much as I can. I usually end up checking the odd fact or two after I’ve finished the first draft but that’s about it. Meat was a very definite exception to that rule because, for it to be an authentic treatment of the subject matter, I really had to understand the background.
I suppose things are usually the other way around for me. As though my ‘research’ into life is what ends up in my fiction.
That said, there are elements of shamanism in Black Feathers and a particular sequence that involves a psychotropic plant to expand consciousness for the purpose of visionary experience. The more I think about that and the more I write about it, the more I want to experience it for myself. The potential of human consciousness seems so vast and yet we appear to utilise so little of it. Right now I’m looking into the use of Ayahuasca as a way of responsibly and effectively expanding awareness – it would be great to try to experience that in the next year or two.
No doubt such pursuits will end up in story somewhere along the line.
ToC: What appeals to you most about horror as a genre? What other genres do you enjoy writing and/or reading?
JDL: I’ve loved writing horror because it allows me to step over boundaries, at least mentally. The great thing about the genre is that it lays out the human landscape like a freshly dissected corpse. That openness to scrutiny invites horror writers to get their hands filthy in taboo and terror. Horror is ‘anything goes’ territory.
This brings with it condemnation from those who don’t get it; as if horror is no better than a gallon of gore, sloshed onto the page without any care or craft whatsoever. True, there’s material like that out there, but some of the best books ever written either contain or hang entirely on elements of horror. But to stay on the positives, horror lets me be me on the page – I owe it a lot for that.
One of Horror’s faces – just one of the many – arises from the inevitability of darkness in a human life; superficially, the darkness when the sun goes down or we turn out the light at bedtime but, at deeper levels, the darkness in our own psyches; that potential for us to break down or transgress. Fundamentally, it is born from the darkness of that ultimate unknown: the gate of mortality.
This aspect of horror allows us to journey into night; to prepare, in waking, for dreams and in life for what may follow it. This invaluable facet of horror is nothing to do with genre. It is a gift which permits us to tread that dark path none of us wish to travel but the one we must all, eventually, take: the final road into darkness that will mark our severance from everything familiar and our leap into the void.
In short, horror is practise for death.
Personally speaking, I think I’m going to need a lot of practice!
Other genres? Er…comedy…
ToC: You’ve been published by a variety of publishers of varying size. Do you deliberately seek this variance in publishing or is it simply a product of trying to find the right home for particular books?
JDL: The idea of seeking variance is lovely; it implies a writer has a choice about who publishes him or her. I wish that had been my experience but it hasn’t; far from it.
I’ve been turned down by most of the UK’s literary agencies and publishers at one time or another. The nearest I get to having a say in who publishes me is who I don’t submit work to – and there aren’t many of those!
I doubt my publishing ‘past’ is much different from anyone else’s really; it shows which houses finally noticed me after all the years spent searching for a way in. If there is a difference, it might be that my primary publisher, Beautiful Books, went out of business in 2011, leaving me no choice but to start looking elsewhere for my next projects. They’d already rejected the novel I wrote to follow Garbage Man, so, between 2009 and 2012, I had almost no work published at all, anywhere.
Happily, things have really picked up since then.
ToC: There’s a page on your website called “Interpreting the language of my dead father”, which is a short, but very brave post. It seems that you were planning to expand on that, but have yet to do so. Can you expand on that idea at all?
JDL: My parents’ marriage ended when I was two. I lived with my mum after that, far away from the destructive influences of my dad. It led me to spend a lot of time wondering who he was. When I got to an age at which I began to wonder who I was, I assumed my father held the key. So began many years of investigation, spent orbiting my father. He died a few years ago but the way he spoke and the things he used to say remain with me. Writing about them is wonderful. I’ll be adding more posts to that blog category as time goes by.
ToC: You have a book out called Splinters, a short fiction collection of Horror, SF and Fantasy. Do you write a lot of short fiction? Do you prefer the novel length?
I used to write a lot more short fiction. I viewed it as a kind of apprenticeship, I think, and it remains a great way to try out quirks in style that are too risky in longer projects.
Although I’m focused almost exclusively on novels now, I think my favourite written form is the novella. Magic happens there. I try to write one or two of those a year, if I can, but it tends to depend on workload – they’re not what the industry wants to pay a living wage for.
ToC: Who are some of your favourite writers and inspirations? Any particular favourite books?
JDL: Authors, top of my head: Margaret Atwood, DBC Pierre, Michel Faber, David Mitchell, Cormac McCarthy, James Herriot, Douglas Adams, Roald Dahl, Iain Banks, Clive Barker, Stephen Donaldson.
Books: The Hitchhiker’s Guide series, Oryx and Crake, The Great and Secret Show, The Road, The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant The Unbeliever.
ToC: What’s next for Joseph D’Lacey?
JDL: Right now, I’m writing a chapbook for the This Is Horror series. It’s called Roadkill. After that it’s the rewrite of The Book of The Crowman. In between, there’s one of those ‘projects I can’t talk about’ and writing a story for my daughter.
I’ve got more Fantasy featuring young protagonists planned and still haven’t written the grimmest, most disturbing Horror novel of all time, though it’s there, festering in a rarely visited sub-level of my mind.
We’d like to thank Joseph for giving some time to Thirteen O’Clock for this interview. Find out more at his website – http://josephdlacey.wordpress.com/