February 25th sees the publication of Paul Woodward’s novel Odyssey Of The Black Turtle (cover by Adrian Baldwin). Paul has been previously published by DEMAIN with his poetry collection From Long Ago. Towards the end of 2021, Dean and Paul sat down and talked about it…
DEMAIN PUBLISHING: Hello Paul, welcome back to DEMAIN. We’re really happy to publish your new novel, so a general question first: what was your first introduction o the weird fiction genre?
PAUL WOODWARD: Hello. If we are going to describe weird fiction as odd, unexplained, otherworldly, and I’d like to say a bit mysterious it would have to be Enid Blyton. As a pre-teenager I read the Adventures of the Wishing-Chair, and The Faraway Tree Adventures. At school you got badges for reading achievements and after so many badges you could pick a book from the headmistress’s office. Everybody else went for the Famous Five and whatnot, but they were the ones I got. I still remember them as mind blowing.
DP: Have to agree especially with The Magic Faraway Tree. I’ve always wanted to make a film set in that universe – I believe (though could be wrong now) that Russell Brand bought the rights so heyho but yeah, loved those books. Odyssey Of The Black Turtle then…
PW: Yes, it is a re-imaging of Homer’s epic in a futuristic setting. Some of the episodes are recognisable, and some are new, but the driving momentum is that of a journey, and a return. As a deliberate response to the patriarchy in the classical tale the main characters are mostly women. And automata once driven by the gods are now godlike in themselves.
DP: I loved the premise (and love Homer obviously) – did you have to do a lot of research?
PW: Quite a bit of research was involved. Not least renewing my understanding of Homer. And remaining careful to keep my story loosely associated with it. There was no intention to make a blow for blow re-interpretation. Also I spent some time researching life in the first century Palestine for the biblical episode. And for subsequent novels I have spent time researching Black Holes and Event Horizons, Pilgrims on the Mayflower. Research is conducted on both internet and printed books and magazines.
DP: Looking forward to reading them then. What books / authors do you read and do they have an influence on you as a creator?
PW: I have a wide reading field. Most books I read influence me in some way or another, often in obvious ways like how to write, and also how not to write. I generally have half a dozen or so books on the go which I read in turns.
AI Narratives, a History of Imaginative Thinking about Intelligent Machines (this is for research and quite fascinating anyway, very historical and not just literary)
Ravenna, Capital of empire, Crucible of Europe (this is filling in a gap of my knowledge of the later Roman Empire)
The Lure of the Beach, a global history (what it says on the tin, a history of beach holidays since the year dot and I expect will give background flavour to my writing)
Written in Bone, hidden stories in what we leave behind (Forensic anthropology and includes graphic details of murder in a non-sensationalist way)
The Age of Islands, in search of new and disappearing Islands
Drawing Down The Moon, Magic in the Ancient Greco-Roman World. (This is taking a long time to read but it is very thorough)
Next I have a cultural history of the representations of mermaids to read which is research for the 4th novel and doesn’t have a title yet.
There is no fiction in the list at the moment but I have recently read the new Alan Garner, the new Jeff Vandermeer, and The Mermaid of Black Conch. All of which were very good.
DP: Some great titles there, will definitely check some of them out and from what I’ve seen the new Alan Garner novel is picking up some great reviews. I love that Odyssey Of The Black Turtle can be classified as ‘weird fiction’. What does that term mean to you?
PW: I could delve into the dictionary and contemplate how accurate the definition of weird is. Dictionaries give a variety of meanings, odd, supernatural, strange, all of those sort of words. But when I think of weird fiction and start naming names I get Alan Garner (I think this may be because I’ve recently read his new book and has made me think of his previous books too). But I also come up with Samuel Becket. The Malone Trilogy, and the plays Waiting for Godot, Endgame, Happy Days. You have people sitting in dustbins, or buried to their neck in sand, for the duration. How odd can you get? Perhaps Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland? And then I think Robert Holdstock, the Mythago Wood sequence. And Franz Kafka. Man turns into a fly. How do you get your head round that one, especially if you now find you have compound eyes? Thomas Mann, Dr Faustus. An old fashioned pact with the devil. The old ones are the best as they say. The Magical Realism of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and other South American luminaries. If I sit here long enough I’m sure I could list more and more. And it can become something of a loop activity. Because when you look at it weird fiction per se is crossed over from other genres. Or no genre at all, as such. Are there unifying tropes in ‘weird’ fiction? I don’t think so anyway.
DP: I think you’re right and I personally feel that sometimes writing weird fiction is looked down upon. I’ve attended a couple of ‘weird fiction’ panels at conventions and have found they’ve not been well attended and that those who have attended are only doing so to ‘have a go’ at the panel – very weird. Anyway, is there is a ‘weird’ film you’re looking forward to seeing?
PW: I want to re-watch Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo. I’m not sure if anyone else would think it weird, but from memory the episode of carrying a huge paddle steamer overland through the jungle I found impressively odd.
DP: It definitely is that! And with the great (acting wise anyway) Klaus Kinski. There have been numerous reports that the weird fiction genre is dead, would you agree?
PW: If it was dead, it wouldn’t be for long. There is always the propensity for something strange. Especially when you least expect it. (I can just hear the theme tune from The X-Files ear worming me). What I am saying is, if anything can come back from the dead, it’ll be in weird fiction.
DP: True, true. Creatively is there anything you’d like to do that you haven’t done yet? If so – what is it?
PW: Is there anything I’d like to do that I haven’t done yet? Well I’ve already written the best poems I’m ever going to write and they’ve been collected in From Long Ago. When I’m writing I’ve always got one eye ahead to the next thing I’m going to write, or the next one after that. So in that sense something I haven’t done yet is what you would call a moveable feast. There’s always something I haven’t done yet. I have always got ideas chuntering around even if I haven’t written an outline down.
DP: Is writing for you a long term or short term career?
PW: Writing for me is definitely long term. I started with writing poems and had some success as a stand-up performance poet, reading to audiences both large and small, but now concentrate on novels. I have been a writer for longer than I can remember and have every intention of continuing.
DP: Finally Paul, is there something your readers might be surprised to find out about you?
PW: They might be surprised to discover that I enjoy sucking dark chocolate, even peppermint chocolate.
And on that note – thank you very much Paul, best of luck with Odyssey Of The Black Turtle.
In August 2021, Dean worked on a short film called “Musketeer”. The lead actor was Kevin R. McNally (Pirates Of The Caribbean, Valkyrie, Supernatural, Downtown Abbey, Designated Survivor, Doctor Who and many many others). During the shoot Dean and Kevin got chatting; Kevin mentioned he’d written a book and was looking for a publisher, Dean (loving the kismet of the situation and thinking that Kevin was a top bloke and somebody he’d really love to work with again) said he’d take a look and the rest, as they are going to say, is history. DEMAIN is therefore very very honoured to announce that the end of January 2022 will see publication of Kevin R. McNally’s science-fiction novel, Sons Of Sol. The cover is by Adrian Baldwin. The book will be available initially on Amazon but Kevin will also have copies available at the various conventions etc that he attends around the world (and more on that in due course). At the end of 2021, Dean and Kevin sat down for a quick chat about Sons of Sol and generally about Kevin and his writing…
DEMAIN PUBLISHING: Hello Kevin! Great to speak to you again. Happy Christmas and Happy New Year. Let’s get down to it then. What was your first introduction to the sci-fi genre?
KEVIN R. MCNALLY: Hello Dean. I guess it was watching ‘50’s sci-fi films on TV when I was a boy, films by George Pal and the like. I also discovered the books of Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov at that time.
DP: I’ve personally always had a fondness for sci-fi though I haven’t written much in the genre (that may change in 2022) but I really loved Clarke’s short stories and novels. I haven’t read Asimov too much but want to put that right. From what I know, I can definitely see some links/nods to both authors in Sons Of Sol which to me is a bleedin’ good thing. In writing Sons Of Sol, did you have to do much research?
KRM: I researched all the science because I wanted it to be accurate even if a little far fetched.
DP: Personally I think the science and the theories behind the science works, so well done. Okay, so perhaps an elephant in the room – you’re well known as an actor, that’s your day job (so to speak), why did you write a novel?
KRM: I had wanted to write a sci-fi book for many years but it was only when I realised that it should be comic in a style that the idea really came together.
DP: Yeah, for me, I really like that blend. As I’ve said to you previously I can seriously see this as a film and (sorry I tend to do this, so forgive me) I found it very ‘in feeling’ with Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element (1997). That’s a good thing by the way haha. Yes the plots are different but if I saw in the trades that Luc was going to make Sons Of Sol into a film I’d be jumping for joy and first in the queue (well maybe not first as I’m sure you’d be there before me, but you get my drift hopefully – okay, I’ll stop). The characters then in Sons Of Sol are they based on real people?
KRM: The two leads are roughly based on two of my favourite comic characters. One from literature and
the other a famous performer but I’ll leave you to work that out.
DP: In the time I’ve known you (and from what I’d seen previously) you’re a very in demand actor and always flying here there and everywhere. How did you find time to write Sons Of Sol and with that in mind, what was your writing process like?
KRM: I was in LA when I started it and not very busy. I would get up, drink coffee and write for five hours a day. Guess I had my first draft in about a month but then the honing took much longer.
DP: That’s pretty damn cool and well done. I am yet to write a full blown novel but am going to put some time aside this year to remedy that so am always on the look out for other authors’ routines. Okay, so you mentioned Clarke / Asimov – who do you think are the best sci-fi writers?
KRM: When I started to think about this I decided to real as much great sci-fi as I could as I could and I found the Gollancz series SF Masterworks and read nearly all of them.
DP: Oh that’s a great series isn’t it – so many amazing writers (and books) there to choose from. It’s just popped into my mind but my dad was a massive fan of the western writer, Louis L’Amour. I remember once looking through his vast collection one time I was visiting and my eyes were drawn to a spine which said: The Haunted Mesa. Westerns didn’t really do it for me but I decided to give it a go to find that it was a sci-fi novel! Quite a good one too. Do you have a favourite ‘under-appreciated’ sci-fi novel?
KRM: Yes, I love Flowers for Algernon [by Daniel Keyes].
DP: I hadn’t heard of that […does internet check…] – oh that looks brilliant, will check it out asap. As we know, sci-fi is a broad church, but what does ‘sci-fi’ mean to you?
KRM: The best sci-fi is often an allegory for the world we live in now. The Number One sci-fi book on many lists is The Forever War by Joe Haldeman. The idea of soldiers travelling across the galaxy to fight an alien war and returning home to a future world they don't recognise due to time dilation becomes very poignant when you discover that Haldeman was a Vietnam veteran.
DP: Definitely, definitely. Science fiction has a long history. Which era do you consider the most effective period in whole history of the genre?
KRM: I’m old fashioned. It’s the Golden Era from the late forties to the sixties for me.
DP: Agreed! Okay, so for somebody who has worked in sci-fi on tv (thought you were very good in the recent Dr Who by the way) and now in written form – is it more popular on tv than in books etc?
KRM: I think it’s equally popular in both media.
DP: As I said before, I think Sons Of Sol would make a cracking film, if it was going to be made, who would you want in it?
KRM: Darn, I should have written more old blokes into it!
DP: I like the way Sons Of Sol finishes, hinting perhaps there could be others…
KRM: Sure, if people like it and it finds a market there are two sequels planned.
DP: Because of being and your standing as an actor, did you ever consider writing Sons Of Sol under a pseudonym?
KRM: I actually did for TV as I thought I would be taken more seriously but for novels I’d like people to know its me.
DP: And I’m glad you did. So last one Kevin, do you interact a lot with your fans? Any funny stories to tell?
KRM: I like to interact with my fans. I attend a lot of conventions and enjoy them very much. Even when, as once happened, they thought my assistant was the celebrity and asked me how much she was charging for an autograph!
Haha love that.
Kevin, thanks a million for your time. Really enjoyed our chat, a great way to end 2021 and begin 2022. I wish you all the best with Sons Of Sol.
Kevin R. McNally can be contacted direct:
Dean M. Drinkel