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MC Testimony

Talking With Mark Chadbourn

The Agony Column for March 14, 2002

Interview by Rick Kleffel


Mark Chadbourn has something to smile about -- a new novella from PS Publishing and a new novel set in the world left after The Age of Misrule.

Mark Chadbourn, recently featured in an Agony Column article about new dark fantasy talks in this interview about his roots as a writer, his influences in the real world, his research, his non-fiction and his future projects. I'd definitely recommend that you check out his web site, The Alien Online. It's filled with some great reviews, interviews, and links. But first and foremost, look for his fiction, in particular his latest, The Age of Misrule trilogy. I'll turn this over to Mark -- thanks Mark! --Rick Kleffel


TAC: Mark, could you discuss your start as a writer -- what made you fill up the blank pages in the beginning, and how you came to choose horror as your genre?

MC: Writers are born, I think. That desire to tell stories manifested very early - I was putting things together when I was eight, nine or ten, most of it SF or horror-related as I've been heavily interested in genre stuff for as long as I can remember. I was reading comics from when I was four, DC and ACG stuff to start with, then Marvel, and I was hooked on TV shows like Voyage To The Bottom of the Sea and Time Tunnel, so most of the things I wrote at the time reflected that. As to horror, again it came through comics - Berni Wrightson's work in House of Mystery and the like...and a dog-eared Lovecraft anthology I picked up from a market stall when I was around 14, which just knocked me out. By then I was deeply into old horror movies, the Universal stuff, Hammer, but mostly a great Jacques Tourneur movie called Night of the Demon (Curse of the... in the US) based on an MR James story. Still the scariest thing I've ever seen. But it was actually reading Salem's Lot when I was 21 that I decided I wanted to write in the horror genre. At the time, King's approach was visionary - he really showed what could be achieved in that genre if you broke with convention. Now, of course, he's the new convention (which isn't a criticism of his work, just a statement of fact).

Voyage to the Bottom of the TV Set

Curse of the Demon

Salem's Lot

Early fodder for the budding horror author. Scarier still is that they want to remake it!

The Hand of M. R. James reaches forth through time to grab another victim.

From recreational reading to recommendation for future employment -- King has helped to start a number of careers by inspiring the young writer.

TAC: Can you discuss your non-fiction work, Testimony, and the influence of research on your writing? In particular, I noticed a number of references to the Fortean Times in 'World's End'. Dare I ask -- do you believe? Where do you look for information on Fortean matters?

MC: Testimony is a study of a couple trapped by circumstance in a supposedly haunted house and the awful things that happened to them over a five year period. I came across a tangential mention of the story in a newspaper article and decided to ring the family for a chat. It turned out it really was a cracking story because of the human element, as much as the supernatural side, and I knew I had to relate it in a book. It wasn't a commercial exercise (I never think in that way) - I simply wanted to investigate this stuff for myself. I've always had a fascination with the paranormal. It's really a metaphor, I think, for a desire to know if there's something greater than what we see around us. I've read about it extensively, and investigated quite a lot, particularly in occult areas...magic, if you will. As a Fortean, I don't believe or disbelieve. We live in a universe of infinite possibilities, and anyone who sets themselves up as knowing exactly how it works deserves to have potshots taken at them - that includes fundamentalist scientists as well as fundamentalist religious leaders, of any stripe. I read extensively, books, magazines, the web, so I'm picking up Fortean material continually along with everything else. It's all linked so you should try and learn as much as you can about everything.

Mark Chadbourn's Testimony

The Fortean Times

Mark's non fiction work 'Testimony' tells the human side of a supernatural story.

"We live in a universe of infinite possibilities, and anyone who sets themselves up as knowing exactly how it works deserves to have potshots taken at them - that includes fundamentalist scientists as well as fundamentalist religious leaders.."

As to research, my writing is very influenced by it because of the degree of believability it imparts. I studied Economic History at Leeds University where I spent a significant amount of time immersed in ancient manuscripts, and by association, silverfish. That's where I developed my interest in history, and particularly pre-history. But before I became a full-time writer, my professional background was in journalism, so research - getting the facts right - was pretty much instilled in me. I wrote for a range of national UK newspapers, including the Times of London, as a staff reporter before going freelance and I also worked in television as a journalist for the BBC. This background may make me sound about 100, but the truth is I get bored very easily and moved on quickly from one job to another. I was thinking of having t-shirts printed: 'Mark Chadbourn Journalism World Tour - April 13 The Times, April 14 - BBC...'

Anyway, with that kind of background you can't get away from research, so when it came to doing World's End and the rest of the Age of Misrule trilogy I immersed myself in it, almost six months per book, visiting ancient sites, reading books and manuscripts. It was so intense I feel like I'm pretty much an expert on some of the subjects I covered.


TAC: You've been incredibly busy on the Internet. Can you discuss your web site, your Ezine, and you participation in message boards and newsgroups? How long have you been on the Internet? Was it a hobby before the writing, or did your participation come as a result of being published? Who pays for the web site?

MC: The net started off as a hobby. I loved the freedom it represented - being able to find out information, contact people you would otherwise never have got in touch with - and even though it can become a drain on time used more productively elsewhere, I still lurk around messageboards and newsgroups. I've been very lazy with my own website when it comes to updating the news, but I always post first chapters of books, and extracts and occasionally short stories.

The Ezine came about as a combination of my journalistic background and my love of genre. I wanted to stake out an area where people could get regular news from across the fantasy, SF and horror genres (very few sites cover all three) as well as providing criticism and comment from established authors and new names. It started out as At The World's End, which got nominated for some awards so we must have been doing something right, and it has now mutated into The Alien Online ( - more of the same, only much, much better. Who pays for it? Me - funded on a shoestring. At the moment it's an expensive hobby, but if anyone wants to invest we have a *very* high unique user count!


TAC: Your latest series shows a wealth of research in matters Celtic and mythic. Did the research lead you write an epic fantasy set in the modern world (at least that's how I'd describe the Age of Misrule novels)? What are your "fantasy roots"? What traditional fantasy writers do you look to?

MC: If you look at my earlier horror work you'll see I've regularly been dealing with a collision between what we laughingly call the 'real' world and other realities. The Age of Misrule was an opportunity to go the whole hog. It also allowed me to deal with archetypes and symbolism, which mythology is, and to see if those symbols still had resonance today. I think writing should shine some light on the human condition, and the problem I have with some high fantasy is that it doesn't do this. By setting the series in the modern world as it slowly metamorphoses into a world of myth, I could look at the kind of people we are today, our hopes and fears and beliefs...basically what it means to be human.

There's a bizarre tribalism in the genres today. Some SF readers won't touch horror. Some horror readers won't countenance fantasy (and horror is a sub-genre of fantasy). I find that very strange. Although we have our preferences, surely the benchmark should be whether a story is good, or not. I've always loved all imaginative works. With fantasy, I was reading the Weird Tales authors as a kid, Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, and then Tolkien, of course. Alan Garner was a very early influence, as was Michael Moorcock. These days I enjoy M John Harrison and I've recently discovered Robert Holdstock. But I prefer my fantasy of the dark stripe because I think that more adequately reflects human nature.




Mythago Wood

Mark Chadbourn cites Moorcock as an influence on his writing.

M. John Harrison is an author that Mark is reading currently. His 'Virconium' was just republished as an SF Masterwork.

Holdstock is another fantasy author that Chadbourn enjoys -- but he likes his fantasy dark, just as he writes it.

TAC: You're currently working a bit with Adam Roberts, a writer of Science Fiction and a lecturer on the subject at London University. How do you feel about the Science Fiction genre?

MC: I enjoy SF a great deal, but with a proviso: there's been a move towards hard SF recently, which is lacking in the human element. In Hard SF, characters are often two-dimensional and there's little examination of humanity at all - a lot of it seems interested only in Big Machines. It's very popular with physicists, and that's probably why. The SF I like, has to have at its core a human story, and that's why I like Adam's stuff. I grew up with Asimov, Heinlein and Bradbury, where the science was often secondary.


TAC: You have a new novella coming out from PS Publishing. Can you tell us a bit about it, and the next novel in the Age of Misrule series? How do you feel about the small publishing houses like PS Publishing, Subterranean and Cemetery Dance?

MC: The novella is called 'The Fairy Feller's Master-Stroke', which is the title of a painting in the Tate Gallery in London, by a Victorian artist called Richard Dadd. He went mad, killed his father and spent his last days in the infamous Bedlam asylum drawing pictures of fairies. The novella is about a man, a childhood prodigy, who becomes obsessed with the painting and gradually comes to believe it's a doorway to faerie. Whether it is or not, is a central mystery. The novella skates around the genre boundaries and has a lot of very personal detail in there.

The Age of Misrule series ended with the third book, Always Forever, but I've decided to set a few more tales in the world that remains because the concept - our modern world, but where ancient gods and Fabulous Beasts operate - is very appealing to me. The next book is called 'The Devil in Green'. In the face of all these miraculous beings and events, the Christian church has collapsed and what's left has retreated to Salisbury Cathedral to try to build up the religion again. Their first move is to establish a new Knights Templar, the warrior priesthood, to guard the clerics as they spread the Word out in this very dangerous world. But before they get things off the ground, they come under siege from a terrifying supernatural force...

I am a great supporter of PS, Subterranean, Cemetery Dance and the other small publishers and see them as vital to the longevity of the genre. For a start their benchmark is quality - there's no crap on their lists - which you can't really say about the mainstream publishers, where obviously making money for shareholders is the bottom line. These publishers act like the indie record companies of the eighties - a reservoir of creative energy and vitality - that helps point the mainstream publishers in the direction they should be going. I'm more than happy to see my work appear there as well as in the mainstream arena, particularly because I can do more experimental work. And some of them could quite easily become the mainstream publishers of the future.