NEVER AGAIN anthology story notes: PART ONE
Who better than to introduce this important genre anthology than the very people who were chosen to be included within its pages. As the publisher’s website puts it, “Never Again is an attempt to voice the collective revulsion of writers in the weird fiction genre against political attitudes that stifle compassion and deny our collective human inheritance. The imagination is crucial to an understanding both of human diversity and of common ground. Weird fiction is often stigmatised as a reactionary and ignorant genre – we know better”. Each of the authors were asked about what inspired them to write what they did and what follows is the first part of a two-parter on what each of the writers had to say. The anthology will be published by Gray Friar Press, and is due to be launched at FantasyCon 2010 in September. The anthology is edited by Allyson Bird and Joel Lane.
The second part of this article, with yet more insights into the inspirations from the other half of the roster of writers, will follow very soon.
‘My early novel The Nameless was about the temptation to yield up to an all-encompassing belief system your right to make a moral choice, but there seemed to be ramifications to this I hadn’t explored, and I tried in The Depths. This one is more concerned with the trap of believing we aren’t personally capable of the worst that humanity can perpetrate, and that anyone who commits acts we wouldn’t own up to containing within ourselves must be monstrous, inhuman, quite unlike us. It’s the idea of the scapegoat—of finding someone else to embody the aspects of ourselves we don’t want to admit, or to blame for the evils we see as besetting us. That way, as history proves over and over again, lethal intolerance lies. Will humanity never learn? It hasn’t yet. It’s a question I fear to answer.’
Joe. R. Lansdale.
Night They Missed the Horror Show
‘I suppose this is my signature story. It wasn’t the first story of mine to get some real attention—that would be Tight Little Stitches in a Dead Man’s Back, but it was the one that really got the ball rolling faster. I read it at a World Fantasy Convention in Nashville just before the book containing it came out, and when I first started reading, the audience went stone quiet, then someone sniggered, letting folks realize it was okay to laugh. Then everyone was laughing. This was okay. But there was a point when I felt everyone should cease to laugh, and when it came to that point, they did. I could feel the audience with me all the way. I knew I had done good. And I must admit to this day, this is my favourite of all my short stories. I felt I had turned a corner when I wrote it. This was made all the better with the experience of the reading, and then it came out in Silver Scream; my pick for the best horror anthology of the eighties, and it got a lot of attention, and is periodically reprinted here or abroad.’
Damned if You Don’t
This was published in the World Fantasy Award winning Tiny Deaths, and was nominated for a World Fantasy Award for best short story in its own right. We hadn’t spoken since I wrote it in 2006, and I thought success might have gone to its head – but when I called its villa in Malibu to talk about the old days and the themes that were beneath its surface, I found it as amiable and modest as I remember. And it wasn’t its fault that I was kept waiting for over half an hour before the story came to the phone to talk to me; the butler couldn’t find it at first, it’s a big place, and it turned out that the story was bathing in one of the more obscure of its three swimming pools.
I mentioned that it was to be reprinted in a new anthology dealing with issues about fascism and tyranny, and it chuckled at me.
“No, no,” it said, “that’s not me *at all*. I mean, it’s very nice that I’m getting another outing, but I’m really just a very happy tale, a story about the age old bond between man and dog. Life-affirming, and a bit sweet. There’s nothing more serious to me than that.”
I pointed out that the story had had a controversial history, that the original publishers had been quite unwilling to release it at first because of the subject matter. And I heard a new edge of cold steel in my happy little short story’s voice.
“Well, that has nothing to do with me, has it? That’s down to you. I was just following orders. Not my fault, that’s all we ever do, I was following orders.”
We can’t just follow orders blindly though, can we?
“So, Robin,” said the story, “it’s been very nice to talk to you, but I must get back to my pool now, I’m getting wrinkly, no one likes wrinkly paragraphs.”
“Oh, I thought we were going to discuss your themes and…”
“I don’t think so, no. But, Robin, we must get together again some time. You still writing these days?”
I stammered that I had a new collection out, actually, and… ”
“That’s nice,” said my charming story about a fluffy dog, and hung up on me.’
After the Ape
‘The perplexing but chilling catalyst for this story was a factoid I’d read ages ago, that King Kong was Hitler’s favourite film. This was information that simply wouldn’t go away, and when I got the idea for a “What happened next?” to one of the great monster movies of all time, it resurfaced. I’m finding of late that I want, or need, to toy around with the horror myths that have had meaning for me over the years, and to riff on them in a way that’s both iconoclastic and, I hope, revealing. It was inevitable the man knocking at the door would be the antithesis of love. One thing I knew at the start: the monster lying in the street wasn’t the monster at all.’
‘My story Ghost Jail is one of the stories included. This story is about censorship and control; about people not being able to speak the truth. The setting was inspired by three blocks of flats now demolished in Suva, Fiji. These flats were so decrepit they were condemned, but people still lived in them.
The thing that struck me every time I passed by was the respect the inhabitants had for their home. It may be falling down, but still the children played happily, the washing hung to dry, the pathways were kept clean. This spoke to me of the triumph of the human spirit, that regardless of surroundings, people don’t have to sink into self-pity.
Of course I’m mostly a horror writer, so Ghost Jail fails to capture that sense of a positive future!’
‘People forget … that’s the real problem. I’ve seen people justify voting for the BNP as a ‘protest vote’ or because they ‘thought they’d try something different,’ both of which reasons seem to miss the point completely. There’s a world of difference between what a party like that says today and what its agenda in the future is, and the world has already seen that demonstrated. ‘Never Again’ means ‘Never Forget,’ and that’s the central point of Sense.’
Simon Kurt Unsworth
A Place for Feeding
‘According to the last Office for National Statistics infant feeding survey, only around 35% of infants in the UK are being exclusively breastfed at one week of age, 21% at 6 weeks, 7% at 4 months, dropping to 3% at 5 months, with mothers often choosing or being encouraged to introduce bottle feeds using artificial baby milk formulas. Around one third of children in the UK are never breastfed, and you have to ask yourself why we have come, as a society, to a point where health professionals will often recommend the use of formula without ever explaining the potential risks, and in which breastfeeding may be regarded as something that is somehow dirty or unpleasant and not for public view. Despite the clear (and scientifically proven) benefits of breastfeeding to both mothers and children, the formula milk companies continue to aggressively market their products as a safe and viable alternative to breastfeeding, often going against the advice of the World Health Organisation and government advertising guidelines.
In England, mothers wanting to breastfeed in public currently have little protection in law, and the promotion and support for breastfeeding remains under funded, under-resourced and under-prioritised. As a society, we appear to have allowed ourselves to be influenced by history and market forces into believing that one of the best ways of giving our children the healthiest start in life that they can have should be regarded as something on a par with having a shit, to be done in private and finished with as quickly as possible—it’s interesting to note that, in societies where all advertising of breast milk substitutes is completely banned, breastfeeding rates are far higher. This story came about after hearing women talk about their experiences of trying to breastfeed in public, and in particular, the reactions that people have shown towards them, and thinking, how have we sunk so low? All those men and women in restaurants and cafes and in parks and on buses, silently and not so silently disapproving, wagging their fingers, asking women to feed their children in toilets where they can’t be seen, all of us who don’t defend women who are trying to feed their children, all of us are contributing to an experience for women and children of oppression, of reduction of choice and of control being taken from them.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is where fascism starts.’
‘People just want to belong. Such a basic need is easily capable of overriding almost every other aspiration, however well intentioned. Brotherhood, mass belief—even plain consensus is bigger than conscience. How else can whole societies and nations justify what is all too frequently done in their name? And how can they call it something—anything—other than what it is?
My story in Never Again is set in a near-future of Nazi amusement parks in British seaside resorts. It was meant to be satirical, though in no way dismissive—either of a society’s intolerance or of the atrocities carried out in the name of a world war. Instead I hoped that it would highlight how such things can always be justified: how extinct enemies are caricatured and new ones condemned; how history can be changed, moulded to suit purpose and scruple, while no one ever thinks to look at themselves at all.
At the end of the day, all of us believe what we want to believe. The idea of never again is a noble ambition that human nature has little hope of attaining. Never forget should come a more achievable second—although even that depends on what you’ve been told. And what you wanted to hear.’
A Flowering Wound
‘I’ve been interested in modern Romanian history for years—especially the political turmoil of the interwar period. Also the activities and odd mystical ideology of the Legion of the Archangel Michael (better known as the Iron Guard), which was Romania’s unique contribution to the fascism of the era and which was one outgrowth of the country’s history and its own and very nasty brand of anti-semitism. And then the modernist and art deco architecture that was such a feature of Bucharest at the time—a clean future arising out of such messy and violent circumstances. The most impressive and beautiful building of them all (the Carlton Building) collapsed in the earthquake of November 1940. Beneath the skin the skeleton was weak, incomplete, crumbling. For a story, you couldn’t make it up.’
In on the Tide
‘I knew I wanted to write something about the Arandora Star since I heard about it through a photographer called Phil Melia. He had produced a non-fiction book with portraits and testimonies from people linked to the sinking of the ship after it was turned into a floating prison camp during World War II. I think I was particularly shocked about it because I had never heard anything about this episode before, despite studying the war in school. It just wasn’t talked about. I’d only ever heard about Churchill as a hero—not in terms of his ‘collar the lot’ command that saw Italian immigrants rounded up and taken (or shipped) to internment camps, regardless of their status (some had naturalisation certificates) or involvement in British life (others had sons serving in the British army).
I never seemed to find the right way of working this into a story until I read the Never Again guidelines, combined it with issues of modern-day racist bullying, and everything fell into place.
I’ve always believed that one of the great powers of fiction is to enable us empathise with others regardless of their background, race, religion or gender—so the idea of a short story anthology that examines and exposes these issues seems particularly fitting. Of course it isn’t always easy—my main character has ties of friendship and peer pressure to pull against, and I didn’t want to come up with trite answers to complex issues. But I also wanted to show that rejecting others through ignorance and blind racism isn’t just painful for the victim: it represents a huge loss to all concerned.’
‘It’s the old story—too often horror writers are seen as right-wing at best, raving bigots (e.g. Lovecraft) at worst. That wasn’t where I stood politically, so I wanted to write stories that reflected this.
The upshot was that I wrote several stories in the field around 2000 and 2001 that either tried to deliberately reverse the usual trend (A Hazy Shade Of Winter where the real horror isn’t the ‘creature from beyond’ that appears in the little suburban town but the good, church-going townsfolk who mob together to kill it) or set familiar story ideas in different settings, where my colours would be nailed firmly to the masthead. Malachi was the result of that attempt. I think it still holds up and it’s a tale I’m proud of.
I hate fascism, racism, homophobia, bigots and bullies in general, really, so the thought of living a country that’s turned into a police state is a genuinely frightening one for me. I still can’t shake the fear of seeing it in my lifetime, especially in the current situation, with a right-wing government in place plotting all-out class war against the have-nots and with all the trappings of ‘anti-terrorist’ legislation ready to clamp down on protest and dissent. So it’s still a story that’s close to my heart, and NEVER AGAIN is an anthology I am very, very proud to be published in.’
Many thanks to Allyson Bird for asking the authors to write down their thoughts, and also thanks to each of the individual authors for taking the time to write them. Part two of this article will appear within the next few weeks.
The anthology itself is available for pre-order from Gray Friar Press.