LATEST | FEATURES | INTERVIEWS | NEWS | FRIGHTFEST | REVIEWS Exclusive Interview With Author Kaaron Warren
By James Whittington, Monday 29th June 2009 Kaaron Warren is one of horror’s hottest new talents. An Australian living in Fiji, her first published novel, Slights is a stark, scary and stunning piece of horror fiction that has helped launch one of the most exciting imprints in recent years, Angry Robot Books. So we decided that we should have a chat with this lady and discover just where her inspiration for such a dark debut came from. ZH: Why did you choose the horror genre for your first novel? KW: I’ve always been drawn to writing horror, simply because those are the ideas which present themselves to me. The creative part of my brain works that way. An example of this is the phrase “It's better to light a candle than curse the darkness”. My mother had this on her fridge to inspire her, but I see the words “Curse the Darkness” and think Good title for a horror story. I haven’t actually written that one yet! ZH: Are you an avid horror reader? KW: Not really avid, but certainly read a lot more than most of the people around me. I’ve got Lisey’s Story, by Stephen King, in my to-be-read pile. Have just finished Neil Gaiman’s Smoke and Mirrors and am reading James Herbert’s The Ghosts of Sleath. Just read Gerry Jones’ The Sin Eaters, which was far less horrific than I thought it would be. ZH: Do you have a favourite author from the genre? KW: I love Stephen King, like most of us do. Also Lisa Tuttle, Richard Harland, Shirley Jackson, Joe R. Lansdale, Celia Fremlin, Michael Marshall Smith, Christopher Fowler. Many more! ZH: How would you sum Slights up? KW: It’s about the hell we create for ourselves while we’re alive, and the hell which might wait for us after death. ZH: Slights, as I’ve said is your first novel and is incredibly powerful blend of raw terror and visceral violence. How long did it take to complete? KW: Slights is actually the second novel I wrote, but the first to be published. Mistification is my first novel, which will be published next. Though I did write a novel when I was fourteen…I wrote Slights, the first draft, in a wild burst over three or four months. I received a grant from the ACT Government (I live in Australia’s capital) which gave me that time off work. I wrote Slights as well as a novella called Full Employment and two short stories, The Glass Woman and The Speaker of Heaven. I was exhausted at the end of it, but loved every minute. ZH: Where did the inspiration for it come from? KW: I had the idea that we create our own version of hell, just as we could create our own version of heaven. The Speaker of Heaven is about the heavenly side and was written as a contrast to Slights. I wrote Slights first as a short story, but once I reached about 8,000 words and knew I was nowhere near telling the story I wanted to tell, I realised I had to bite the bullet and write it as a novel. ZH: The book never shirks from dissecting the nastier side of life and after life, but did you ever sit back and censor yourself? Did you ever think you’d gone too far with it? KW: It was really important with this book not to censor myself. I felt I had to let it go as far as possible because if I pulled back I’d be cheating myself and the reader. And the book as well. There were a lot of times I scared myself, made myself feel ill with it. A lot of times I felt close to tears. Sometimes it was at surprising moments. Writing the character of the Shoe Salesman, one of Stephanie’s many stepfathers, was hard because I felt like his place in her life could have been a turning point. I could have made her life better from there, but I didn’t. The decisions she makes are ones I would never make myself and that was another place I had to make sure I didn’t censor myself. ZH: Its written from the perspective of Stephanie, was it easy to write from her point of view? KW: Stephanie actually started as male, in the short story I wrote first. But as I started the novel, by page three she was so strongly female I decided that I’d let it be. Partly that was a relief, because to write a male character over such an extended period is difficult, as a woman. In a short story you have to be constantly switching your way of thinking, just slightly, as you do when you write about anyone who isn’t exactly like you are. In a novel, and especially this novel, where I am so deep inside her thoughts and her feelings, I think in some ways I took the easy way out making her female. It was quite easy writing from her point of view because she was a very clear, strong character in my head. I did a lot of early background thinking and writing about her. A lot of family background, some of which makes it into the novel, a lot of which I wrote only for myself. So I knew who she was and where she came from. I enjoyed writing her because I think she’s funny and I had fun making her say outrageous things, make outrageous jokes. I loved building her relationship with her brother, who thinks she’s funny but also tries to disassociate from her. He’s weak, that man. I wouldn’t want him for a brother! ZH: Is Stephanie, based on anyone close to you? KW: No. Definitely not! However, some of the things she does and says, some of the choices she makes, are inspired by people I’ve known peripherally. There was one girl at school I always felt great pity for, but not enough to make friends with her. She was tough and slept around a lot, never earning the respect of the boys she slept with. She said she didn’t care but she did. She would cut herself (this is in the 80s) and laugh about it. Writing this, I’m thinking that partly Stephanie really did come from her and perhaps the guilt I feel that I didn’t reach out and talk to this girl in school more. Make an effort with her. I don’t even remember her name but I remember what she looks like; standing there with her short-short school uniform, arms crossed, legs scratched and bloody, cigarette in her hand, smirk on her face. That tough yet very weak girl. I’m thinking about that incredible book by John Irving, Trying to Save Piggy Sneed. One of my favourite all-time books, a devastating story of guilt. In it, Irving says that the reason he becomes a writer is because of what happened to Piggy Sneed when Irving was a child. He keeps writing and writing, hoping to make a new ending. ZH: Have you ever had a near death experience like Stephanie? KW: No, I haven’t. I’ve been knocked unconscious a couple of times, but that’s the closest I’ve come. There is a blankness of memory there. Deep black hole of anti-knowledge. ZH: The room Stephanie enters after she dies for the first time seems to be some sort of hellish limbo at first, do you think such places exist? KW: I’m a full-on agnostic about all things after-life, all things spiritual. I really don’t know. I think that to believe in these places you have to believe in God, and at a very deep level I….just don’t know. I was brought up to believe in the soul and in God, and remember that my step-grandmother, who survived some terrible things as a Jewish woman during the second world war, did not believe in life after death. I think her belief that you rot in the ground when you die (and she wasn’t backward in telling us this) is one seed which led to me being a horror writer. I found that finality so terrifying. ZH: Talking of which do you believe in life after death and vengeful spirits? KW: I certainly hope for life after death, and vengeful spirits make a lot of sense. So many people have so much vengefulness in them. All the things that happen, not all of them slights, that you can’t forget. Things from childhood on; things people say and do that make you feel angry or hurt years later. I can imagine these feelings keeping spirits tied to the earth. ZH: I couldn’t imagine this on the big screen as I fear any director would water down the violence and underlying messages, do you feel the same? KW: I’d sure love to see them try! And having just watched Dogville, by Lars von Trier, I think perhaps some directors wouldn’t water it down. It would be awful to see it weaker. One thing I’d like them to capture is the humour of Stephanie. I don’t think the book is all darkness and grey. I do think there are moments where she is happy, when she feels okay. JW: So what’s next for you? KW: I’ll start work on my next novel soon. Probably will veer more into Science Fiction with a story set in the future, but it will still be nasty, I’m sure. Meanwhile I’m working on a story for an Australian editor about the baggage migrants bring to a new country. Loving writing this story; it’s about a man named after a village which no longer exists and how this effects his life. I have a story upcoming in Datlow and Mamatas’ Haunted Legends. That Girl is pretty creepy, and set in the mental care facility across the road from where I live in Fiji. Also working on a horror version of the life of Ishtar, the goddess of love and war. I’m loving this one also because it takes a lot of research and a lot of creativity to build an old world on paper. ZH: Finally, is Kaaron your real name?
KW: Ha! I was born with my name spelled Karen, but there were five other Karens in my year at school and I always wanted to stand out, be famous. So I changed the spelling to Kaaron! People remember it a lot more than they would Karen, I’m sure. My Mum still isn’t happy. She does numerology and she says that the numbers for Karen are much better! ZH: Kaaron Warren, thank you very much KW: Thank you. Great, insightful questions.
Slights hits bookshelves on July 1st and for more information click here
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