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short story "Home Again" | spanish translation | biography |


by Carlos Ruiz Zafon.

Christopher Fowler is the post-modern bard of contemporary London. Bending words and unclassifiable ideas from his Soho lair he brews moral fables that taste of satire, thriller, mystery and urban paranoia. To satisfy the dark Gods of marketing and distribution, his publishers opt to label his work as horror fiction, although most of his terrors rarely come from beyond the grave but rather from the heart of contemporary urbanites living through the moral bankruptcy and the colorful black comedy of the 80's and 90's.

His body of work constitutes an ever-growing map to the mysterious soul of the city of his nightmares, Mother London. Hell rarely tasted better. His gallery of unearthly delights ranges from the dark fantasy adventure of his first novel Roofworld, through flights into the supernatural with Rune, Darkest Day and Red Bride, to the confirmation of his voice as a master storyteller and a literary prankster with Spanky, the ultimate Faustian ride around the Thames.  Fowler's work is constantly evolving, his style perfecting, his knives sharpening. His lastest offering, Soho Black, released this August,  was just reviewed in The Times as being "a novel as dark, glittering and hard-edged as Soho itself,"  and his new book of collected short stories Personal Demons (see BR review) further reveals the demonic maturity of one of the brightest nightmare merchants working the language.

The Barcelona Review assaulted Mr.Fowler at the Soho company where he leads a double life: creative director orchestrating the promotion of films and fabulist/author exploring our fears before we know what they are. We found him guilty of too many good books. This is his confession.

esp.gif (61 bytes) BR: When did you start to write? Was it an escape or a need? Were you a natural born writer or a natural born "let's see what's out there" ?
CF: I started writing as soon as I was old enough to hold a pen, mostly derivative rubbish in the style of anyone who left a strong impression. I still have the old books I filled. It's all I ever wanted to do.

Do you see yourself more as a "horror writer" or as a social satirist who uses the thriller form?
CF: I always wanted to respond to what I saw and experienced around me, but publishers like compartments, and Horror was really the only one they felt I fitted into. Personally, I consider it social satire with an edge of black comedy.

BR: The greatest horror writers are usually also moralists. Do you feel that should be the role of horror fiction? To shock, to disturb, to incite thought in an increasingly numbed audience?
CF: Traditional horror is too much like a locked-room mystery. It has too many hidebound conventions. I believe that horror should break with convention and force minds into areas that they would rather not think about - if it can be achieved in an entertaining manner. I've always admired writers that sneak 'under the wire'. H.H. Monroe ('Saki') used to do this, using an Edwardian formality to express often shocking ideas.

BR: What are the authors working today that inspire you? Whose work do you look up to?
CF: Influences - well, somebody once said to me 'the trouble with you is, everyone you admire is either dead or not feeling very well'. Not strictly true! J.G. Ballard, a huge influence, a man far ahead of his time, especially in his perceptive cultural essays.Christopher Priest, a very underrated writer who constantly changes his direction, a dozen current new British writers like James Hawes and Charlie Higson, and Bruce Robinson, whose dark new book The Peculiar Memories Of Thomas Penman made me very jealous!

BR: You often write about urban paranoia, but maybe a paranoid is nothing but an individual in possession of the facts... where do you stand, paranoia-wise?
CF: Working in the centre of a city of over eight million people encourages a healthy sense of paranoia. But I only get paranoid when I go to the country - because I don't enjoy pastoral peace, and can't get the mindset to enjoy it.

BR: Can you give us an example of true-fact paranoia, alive and kicking today?
CF: Okay. Recently, a class full of students being taught how to handle their growing sense of urban unease got locked in their building overnight. While they were locked up, their cars were vandalised.

BR: What's your most personal work to date, the one that best defines you as a writer?
CF: Spanky, probably. That's where I first started splitting characters into two halves; shy/confident, honest/sly, ugly/handsome etc. It's where I really began to understand character creation, as opposed to plots structured on concepts.

BR: Spanky marked a departure in your work which now seems to be slowly shifting from your own flavor of genre revisitations to a new form of social fable with fantastic and/or thriller elements. Is the angry young man of your earlier work evolving into an angry young mainstream novelist?
CF: I was never very happy with the straitjacket of horror fiction. I'm not a big supernatural freak, and some of the most shocking things I've faced have come from within people I know - if this is turning 'mainstream', then I guess I am. Or maybe I'm also sneaking fantastic elements 'under the wire'.

BR: The supernatural seems to be disappearing from your work, replaced by a sense of raging melancholy about the current state of affairs. What new sorts of horrors can we expect from future Fowleriana?
CF: Raging melancholy, eh? Yeah, I'm losing my utopian edge, not abandoning hope but tempering it with a bit of adult pessimism. I'm still interested in our personal fantasies, though, and my next book, Calabash, will explore these in greater detail. Also I'm writing some new short stories about our secret lives and public faces. And SF - I'm writing 'The Trafalgar Lockdown', a SF tale.

BR: Your work has an obvious cinematic feel, pacing and structuring. We know many of your books are on the way to filmland. Are you a closet film-maker willing to go Cinemascope yourself? Would you be willing to direct one of your own scripts if the conditions were acceptable ?
CF: I've written the screenplays to several of my books, and they're in various stages of development, but two have directors and casts assigned. I spend time on film sets in my day job, and know that I would never have the discipline to direct personally.

BR: Post-yuppified London and the perennial young man at odds with a corrupted, greedy and hypocritical world seem to be the main characters in your fiction. Is that a reflection of your own perspective on life? Is your writing a response to a sense of global moral bankruptcy?
CF: Very much so. I think good fiction can take a moral stance without preaching or being 'worthy', and it's hard not to let a sense of indignation come through when you write about characters who experience different forms of injustice in urban society.

BR: Without giving the end away, Disturbia (see BR review) seems to be an appropriate analogy of the New Labour government. Your thoughts on the Rt. Hon. Tony Blair?
CF: Smart man - occupied the middle ground the Tories thought they had, and did it while their backs were turned. Better Tony than Maggie, but UK politics is about pandering to common sense. The English - and Mr. Blair & friends - like to think of themselves as eminently sensible, not extreme in any way, although creativity is encouraged because it comes under the category of 'using your mind'.

BR: You've written quite a few stories about America, many with a marked sarcastic bent. Since contemporary America is a free buffet for the sort of modern day horrors you depict in your fiction, are we going to see more of that in the future?
CF: I get a bit rude about America, it's true, although I have many US friends. I get tired of their cultural imperialism, their monopoly of the media, their parochialism - and remember that only 7% of Americans hold passports, even though their TV shows go everywhere. I am shocked that they allow the Jerry Springer show to be seen abroad, encouraging the rest of the world to think of middle America as trashy and stupid. There is much in the American spirit to admire - although their cuisine (the big dry food you eat with your fingers) has to be the worst in the world, and Stephen King's The Green Mile is the most terrible book I've ever read. Better stop now!

BR: You seem reluctant to give up your "day job". Is that for purely financial reasons or does it allow you a link into "the real world"? I'm also curious how you manage to devote half a day to The Creative Partnership and the other half to writing. Do you find it easy to switch on and off or has there ever been a conflict?
CF: I don't think I could write novels if I didn't have the 'day job' - it allows me to mix with a crowd of really interesting, bright people who - because they work here - think fast and laterally, so you can always bounce ideas around together. If I was stuck at home all day I'd go crazy.

BR: You mention in the preface to Personal Demons that you may not be writing the books you want and have inside you, but those the marketing gatekeepers feel will sell. That's a terrible and deeply sad notion for a writer. In the spreading dumbing down of popular culture, where do you see the future of literature and your own future as an author? Is publishing just becoming like the TV industry?
CF: Every time I think this is the case, a new book comes along that gives me hope for the future, so no, I don't really believe that literature is dumbing down. It may just be that the choice is much wider now. And I think there will always be publishers, certainly in the UK, who want to publish strange new views, although how much they will be prepared to nurture talent remains to be seen.

BR: At the end of your novel Psychoville, you depict a sinister intent at concealing what has happened in Invicta ( a suburban development). Did you intend that as a reflection of today's public life? Do you feel we are being sold a fake facade of glossy, self-gratifying crap that conceals the rotting truth behind?
CF: I did when I wrote that book, because big business will often make decisions that are harmful to the individual, in a variety of different ways. I like to hope that there's a balance somewhere, so that for every truly crass decision taken by corporations, some small vital creative solution will appear somewhere else. Probably doesn't, though!

BR: In your short story "Home Again" [BR, current issue] the main character says he tries to tell "them" the meaning of what he did but "they" won't listen. Is that your feeling as a writer sometimes? That your readers may stay on the entertaining surface of your work and not listen to what you're trying to tell them?
CF: I'm not sure I'm qualified to answer that. I think the readers stay with me because they can see below the surface of my work, and understand what I'm getting at. Sometimes I feel like I'm running a private club, and the readers are members who get the joke. Chris Fowler

BR: To let you off, a few frivolous questions, if you please... The world ends next month and you've time to write one last book/story. What would it be all about, besides London?
CF: I wouldn't write it, I'd be out dancing.

BR: Five things you would save from the coming apocalypse?
CF: A sweater, a pen, a friend, a map of London and a dictionary.

BR: Five things you'd express mail right into it?
CF: The president of McDonalds, TV, cellphones, all magazines that tell you how to live your life, and Forrest Gump.

BR: Your best asset as a writer?
CF: Patience.

BR: Your main weakness?
CF: Impatience.

BR: Is London a bitch or an enchantress? Where would you direct a visitor to show him or her your vision of London?
CF: Both. I'd say 'start with the river and work your way out.'

BR: Which book would you have liked to have written and why?
CF: Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast because it is a perfect rendition of an enclosed world.

BR: Do you research your ideas getting kinky in the Soho night scene or are you the nice quiet home type?
CF: Kinky, sleazy Soho late nights every time (ask my friends - or the people on the cover of Soho Black!)

BR: What's on your night table right now, drawers included? You can be graphic for the cheap gratification of our audience
CF: I don't have one! Anything I need that badly in the bedroom is usually in the bed.

BR: What's your deliciously scheming mind up to at the moment?
CF: Calabash - see above - set in a small seaside town in the present day, and in 9th century Persia. It'll make sense, you have to trust me on this.

BR: Tell us a beautiful lie.
CF: Life gets better toward the end.

....A beautiful lie indeed...

Have your own questions to fire off at the author? Christopher Fowler himself will answer via his own message board.

©1998 The Barcelona Review
author photo: © Seamus A. Ryan        :      book cover
: © Martin Butterworth
short story "Home Again" | spanish translation | biography |

Carlos Ruiz Zafon ( Barcelona, 1964) is the author of three novels of dark gothic fantasy. He won the 1993 Edebe Literary Award with The Prince of Mist. He has also published The Palace of Midnight and The Lights of September. His new novel Marina will appear in early 1999. His work has been translated into five languages. He currently lives in Los Angeles, working on screenplays, a first novel in English and mostly trying to stay sane in the Hollywood jungle.

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