For those who missed part one with Peter Tennant just click the link, otherwise welcome back to our extended interview with Peter Tennant.
Your column aside, what are your favourite sections of Black Static and why?
I’m not going to answer this question. Black Static is a team effort, disparate pieces that mesh together into a magazine that, hopefully, is something greater than the sum of its parts. It doesn’t feel right for the author of one of those parts to be naming favourites among the rest. We are family, as Sister Sledge put it, and while you might adore Auntie Maureen who slips you a bar of chocolate and sixpence every time she calls round and not be so keen on Uncle Dave who smells of pee, if you are family it’s not stuff you share with the rest of the world.
I’ll keep my powder dry until the day Andy sacks me and I get to review Black Static for somebody else.
Has reading and reviewing so many different authors aided or hindered your own fiction? Do you find it difficult to find your own voice when you write as a result?
I feel slightly fraudulent answering this, in that nowadays my ‘serious’ writing is almost exclusively reviews, and the only fiction I produce is nonsense written mostly to amuse myself, and never submitted for publication, though I do release the odd piece of flash into the wild.
I’ll give it a go though, as I’ve already sidestepped one question and don’t want to set a poor example for the people I interview, so…
I don’t think it has much effect, other than that it’s always good for a writer to think about and analyse what appeals in the writing of others, what works and what doesn’t. I’ve seen some people state that writers read differently to other readers, and I believe that’s true.
Reviewers are stuck in that no-man’s land between writers and readers. We are writers, and that’s reflected in how we read, but when we write it’s primarily about what we read. We are readers, but pursue the activity with an awareness that when the reading is done we will have to write about it, we can’t just simply let things wash over us, go along just for the ride, as it were. No reading on auto-pilot.
I never feel that I have a distinctive voice when writing, though a guy who once read a lot of my stories as research for an interview told me that he thought I had two, a serious voice and a comedic one, the difficulty being to determine which one is being used at any given time. Personally I feel that I adapt my style to whatever I’m trying to write, and pick what feels suitable for the material and approach. But it’s an instinctive thing, not something calculated.
I am very aware of the influence of the writers whose work touched me at an impressionable age, before I ever thought of myself as a reviewer, people like Nietzsche, Ellison, Robert Coover, Jean Genet, Henry Miller, and Stan Lee.
With Nietzsche I adore the declamatory prose style, the sheer arrogance of the man and his sense of his own rightness, as if he expects every sentence to be quoted by posterity. Ellison I discovered at a time when I was convinced you had to write in the third person and past tense, and he simply blew all that nonsense away, showed me that pretty much anything was possible if you had the ability to make it stick, and I got something similar from Coover, though in his case it was more of a conceptual thing, a blurring of boundaries between fantasy and reality. With Genet and Miller it was their willingness to write about absolutely anything, to process their own lived experiences and transform them into a fiction that had the stamp of authenticity about it, emotional rawness and honesty that left me speechless. I’m very conscious of having written stories that were inspired by, and attempt in some way to emulate, the work of each of these men. And at the same time, I’m not quite sure that I’d like to meet any of these guys, and have the feeling that a couple of them I’d seriously dislike in person. Unfortunately good writing isn’t the prerogative of ‘nice’ people, and nice people only.
Contrarily, I would love to meet Stan Lee. Reading Marvel Comics as a teenager I always used to love his Bullpen Bulletins, the jocular way in which he imparted news about the goings on at his beloved Marvel, and I quite deliberately tried to capture something of the same style in the White Noise snippets I used to write for Black Static and before that in the newsletter I produced for Whispers of Wickedness.
With great power comes great responsibility, and with huge success come legions of imitators. But it is the sincerest form of flattery. Sincerely.
Who were the authors that inspired you to write? Do you still read any of them?
I seem to have covered part of that question in the previous answer, though that might more accurately be categorised as ‘how have various authors influenced you’. I guess the name that springs instantly to mind for me is H. Rider Haggard. He was a ‘local’ author, had lived just up the road from our Norfolk village. One of the houses at the village school was named Haggard in his honour and every year we were assigned King Solomon’s Mines to read and discuss in class. My father had nearly all of his books, and I avidly devoured tales of darkest Africa, Vikings and Aztecs, of immortal star crossed lovers. The witch Gagool was probably one of the first truly iconic horror figures that I encountered in literature. Dennis Wheatley and Ray Bradbury were other ‘inspirational’ writers for me. Bradbury is the only one I still read with any regularity now. I’d like to revisit the others, but I suspect the politics that swept over me as a child might be less palatable to my adult self, especially in the case of Wheatley, and I’ve no wish to sour fond childhood memories, even if they are grounded in ignorance. Having said that, a few years back I reread King Solomon’s Mines and found it stood up surprisingly well at the Boy’s Own Adventure level, and I have a biography of Wheatley in the ‘to be read’ pile that I’ll probably get to at some point.
But I feel a more accurate answer to your question might be to say that there was no one author who inspired me to write. Rather let’s say that I was always a bookish child, living inside my head as much as in the ‘real’ world, and that just as some kids who were in love with football would, at some point, start to kick a ball around themselves and dream of one day running out of the tunnel at Old Trafford, I at some point started to write my own stories and hope that one day some of them might find favour with others. No ‘road to Damascus’ moment of epiphany then, just doing what came naturally, what I enjoyed, with little thought as to why or how it came about.
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