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An Interview with Andrew Hook

by Duncan Barford

Andrew Hook's new short fiction collection, Beyond Each Blue Horizon, is published in June 2005 by Beyond Each Blue Horizon by Andrew HookCrowswing Books. An established author in the independent press, his writing is characterised by an ability to blend and cut across genres, in the process producing stories of striking originality. As Joel Lane describes it in his incisive introduction: '[there's] a different trajectory and angle of attack with each new story.'

Andrew's last collection, The Virtual Menagerie (Elastic Press 2002) was nominated for a British Fantasy Society Award. So too was 'Only the Lonely', a dark and psychologically savvy ghost story, which also appears in Blue Horizon. Between the shorter fiction, 2004 saw the appearance of Andrew's first novel, Moon Beaver (ENC Press). And not content with developing his own writing career, he's also the driving force behind Elastic Press, an independent publishing house that specialises in short story collections by new, rising talents.

Readers of Andrew's previous work certainly won't be disappointed by this new collection. In it, he extends his range even further.

Duncan Barford: In your last collection, The Virtual Menagerie, your energy seemed focused on making the stories as original and imaginative as possible. In Beyond Each Blue Horizon you've maintained this, yet concentrated also on the language. There are passages which are simply very beautiful--in 'Dora Escudos and the Kiss', for instance. Are there any other shifts of agenda that you can identify between your last collection and this one?

Andrew Hook: I think the main difference between the collections stems from the fact that The Virtual Menagerie collated stories written over a period of about ten years, whilst most of those in Beyond Each Blue Horizon are much more recent. There seems a greater cohesion of theme in this collection, and I certainly think--hope--that I've improved as a writer to the extent that I feel comfortable in giving both my descriptive and imaginative sides full play.

Something else that differs between the collections is that whereas Menagerie was pick and mix, many of the stories in Blue Horizon were written with the collection in mind. Because of that I've chosen which stories to write and which to save until later. This factor probably also gives it a greater unity of theme.

Also, whether it makes much difference or not, I've found that I've begun to write in concentrated bursts. The ideas I get will bubble together over the course of a few months and then I'll just take a day off work and blitz the first draft in one session. I've spoken elsewhere that I tend to need three things to write a story: two plot strands and a title to hang them on. And once I have all three nowadays I can pretty much write to order.

DB: Another new departure is the inclusion of noir-themed stories. Some are quite surreal, whereas others stick more closely to the conventions of the genre. What has attracted you to noir? Are you less enamoured of sci-fi and horror?

AH: The first noir story I wrote was 'Alsiso' for The Alsiso Project (Elastic Press 2003) and it comes as no coincidence that I had been proof-reading Antony Mann's crime-orientated Milo & I for cover scanElastic Press around that time. After that story was written, and I'd surprised myself with it, I thought I'd try a few others on similar themes. It's been interesting to play within a different genre yet also harness fantastical elements to the stories. Andrew Humphrey, who reads all of my work, said of 'Wake Jake': 'It's kind of a meta-physical, hard-bitten, noirish, futuristic, police procedural cross hybrid and I've not read its like before.' Which was nice. 'Pardon Me Boys' is an older story and reflects my love of French noir cinema, so I suppose that type of treatment has always been in the back of my mind. I'm not less enamoured of sci-fi and horror, I've simply tended to write the stories as they come. What is interesting is to write genre stories without the standard genre tropes. I find it more of a challenge that way.

DB: A detective called Mordent appears in two of the stories. He's sharp, witty, but also sleazy and completely immoral. I'm surprised you made him the hero of 'Wake Jake' after his behaviour in 'Alsiso'! Have you further plans for him?

AH: A couple of the 'Alsiso' reviewers had commented that they'd like to see Mordent again, and 'Wake Jake' seemed the perfect vehicle for him. Whilst he is a hero of sorts in 'Wake Jake', that story stems from an earlier part of his life when he was still on the force, so perhaps he hadn't been totally corrupted by then! Actually, 'Alsiso' is third person narrative and 'Wake Jake' is first person, so it was also interesting to play with his character from different angles. My current project is a novelette, 'Live From The Hippodrome', which is a Mordent story that interweaves a few elements from the other two stories. He develops another side in this story which I hadn't expected, but I'm still editing at the moment so will say no more for now. Whether I'll use him again after this I don't know.

DB: You're prolific these days! You write across a broad range of genres and themes. What feeds your urge to write?

AH: Like most writers the urge to write is the same as the urge to eat. It's an intrinsic part of me that cannot be denied. And I guess that urge also gets fed itself by increasing success in placing stories in magazines, culminating in this new collection that I'm really excited and proud of. Perhaps things would have been different if I'd not sold a single story after ten years of writing! As for writing across a broad range of genres and themes, I guess that reflects my reading tastes because I've never restricted my reading to certain genres. And as I've yet to enjoy massive commercial success that probably gives me the freedom to float across genres in my own writing a little more readily than otherwise. Thankfully I've yet to be stereotyped.

DB: Moon Beaver, your first novel, surprised readers of your shorter fiction. It deals with serious themes--globalisation, sexual politics, the quest for personal freedom--and yet the style is very playful, full of puns and jokes. Your writing is rarely without humour, but how was it that Moon Beaver came to be written in a more comic style?

AH: Moon Beaver was begun in 1992 after a 16-month period of travelling, during which I'd discovered the wonderfully original writer Tom Robbins, and those two elements combined undoubtedly affected me when writing the novel--a fact which Peter Tennant picked up on when he reviewed it for The Third Alternative. Plus I've always been a lover of puns, and the only thing I take seriously is my belief that you shouldn't take life too seriously! I'd also become more confident with my writing at that time (two earlier novels are currently under the bed), so I suppose I was experimenting with style and form and with myself. I didn't actually finish the book until 1999--including a six-year break from it--and I was unsure how my usual slipstream readers who I'd picked up in the meantime would take it. So far, I've had mostly good feedback.

DB: In Beyond Each Blue Horizon there's a mix of narrative fiction, and stories with a more surreal, experimental bent. I confess that I prefer the more traditional stories; I like the writer to create an illusion of transparency for me. Can you say why certain stories coax you beyond the boundaries of conventional narrative?

AH: I tend to write the story as it comes, and certain stories come with straightforward linear plots and others are like jigsaw puzzles that have been smashed with a hammer. I often find I have more fun as a writer by alluding to things, circling them, and implanting tenuous ideas in the reader's mind than by simply telling a story. And that's all well and good so long as those essential connections are formed and the ideas come across to the recipient. I do try and root them in the everyday if at all possible, otherwise it can be experimentation for the sake of it which tends to be vacuous.

And then I've always been interested in media that eschews conventional narratives, usually with film as the prime example. And a lot of that stems, I think, from my exposure to punk in my youth, and latterly an interest in Surrealism and French New Wave cinema. For example, I absolutely adore Jean-Luc Godard's movies and always find them utterly stimulating. Even though they can be downright tedious and sleep-inducing in places, where the brilliance sparkles it's with a burning intensity. His films force ideas from me: 'Unchained Melody' was written shortly after watching Bande Part and 'Cinemad' was written after watching Le Mepris at the cinema. The connections won't be immediately obvious, if at all, but good art reflects and begets good art, I think. I've also found recent movies, such as Donnie Darko and Irreversible, to be much more inspiring than standard narratives. Not that I don't like traditional storytelling, but I do prefer media which makes me think.

DB: The influence of Kafka is apparent in some of the stories--such as 'A Day is the Life of Victor Petrovsky' and 'The Pregnant Sky'. I'm interested to know which other major figures have influenced your writing, but also what aspects of them you've found yourself rejecting.

AH: I suppose all my reading to date has inevitably affected my work in some ways, although pinning down specific sources isn't as easy as it might seem. As a child I read Enid Blyton and Willard Price, around the age of ten it was Ian Fleming and Agatha Christie, and then I discovered Nabokov, and Kafka, and Sartre in my teens. Funnily enough, I'm not a wide reader of the genres I've found myself writing--whether that's good or bad is impossible to say--although I've recently picked up on Jonathan Carroll and M. John Harrison, and admire them both. In terms of discarding elements I'd say I take Godard without the politics, Kafka without the politics, Nabokov without the politics, etc... Whilst it's obviously impossible to completely divorce politics from fiction, I'm less drawn to overt political statements and more to the substance of language than some people might think.

DB: You're a publisher as well as a writer. Elastic Press is dedicated to publishing single and multi-author short story collections--which means you go boldly where other publishers fear to tread! We're constantly told the short story is in decline, but judging by the quantity and quality of its output, Elastic Press would seem to be doing okay. Do you foresee a future in which you'll be concentrating more on other forms of writing, either as editor or author?

AH: As editor I'm sticking to the short form. Elastic Press is virtually the only book publisher I can think of that exclusively publishes short story collections, and despite other publishers and retailers stating that short fiction doesn't sell, Elastic at minimum always covers its costs and often creates a bit of profit. So if specialising in short stories is our forte, then all well and good. And if publishing bizarrely themed anthologies such as The Alsiso Project and The Elastic Book of Numbers creates added interest in our single-author collections, then that's just a bonus, although it's the single-author collections--such as Tim Lees' The Life To Come, which is out now--that I'm proud to publish the most. Short stories in a collection take on a different feel from those published in magazines, they create a unified universe inhabited by the author and his ideas. It's all exciting stuff!

In my own writing I'll always find short stories a greater lure than novels. Whilst I'd prefer to make more money from my work, I'm glad of the artistic flexibility that short fiction affords me, and now Moon Beaver has been published the knowledge that I can get a novel out there is satisfaction enough. There is another--totally different--novel doing the rounds at the moment, and also another that I'm a quarter of the way through, but short fiction is much more tangible to me. That's why I'm looking forward with excited trepidation to the feedback for Beyond Each Blue Horizon. It'd be satisfying to be acknowledged as one of the better short story writers in the genre, after having championed the art form for so long!

© Duncan Barford 2005.

Beyond Each Blue Horizon by Andrew Hook Beyond Each Blue Horizon by Andrew Hook
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