On the 30th November DEMAIN will be publishing Greenbeard, a contemporary fable novella by John Travis (cover by Adrian Baldwin). The ebook is currently available for pre-sales. As Lockdown #2 struck, Dean and John sat down and talked about it.
DEMAIN PUBLISHING: Hi John, great to talk at last, let’s get straight down to it – can you tell us a little about yourself…
JOHN TRAVIS: I’m not sure there’s that much to tell, really. I’m middle-aged, too short but thankfully still have a full head of hair. I read, listen to a lot of music, watch films and go for walks. And the only thing I’ve ever want to do is be creative. Why writing? I used to think writers were made, but the older I get the more I think they are born to it. It’s in there, perhaps just waiting for some kind of fuel to trigger it all off, or maybe you’re one of those people who just has a lot to say. If you’re doing it purely for the money… well, good luck with that.
DP: Indeed and I’m glad you’ve still got your hair ha ha. What’s your background and has had that had some influence on you as a writer would you say?
JT: My background to becoming a writer is a peculiar one, although I only realised that a few years ago. I’ve written from the age of seven in one form or another – poetry, comedy sketches on my ZX Spectrum – but I never read fiction until I was eighteen, and that’s when I got serious about writing. Apart from my mum who read Jackie Collins and Catherine Cookson, I didn’t know anybody who read books. In twelve years at school I remember seeing one kid in all that time reading for pleasure rather than because they had to. On the few occasions I told people I wrote their reactions were so negative I instantly regretted it. I’d say all this as well as a lot of ongoing mental health issues that started in childhood have definitely influenced my worldview and writing.
DP: I went to college with a guy who was studying for a degree in English lit – he NEVER read a book in the time I knew him, when challenged he said he read all the time “crisp packets…signs…record inlays…” Odd…very odd! Anyway, what was your first introduction to the horror genre?
JT: Would you believe Scooby Doo? Again, I didn’t know anything about books and there wasn’t anything genre-based that got watched on the TV at home, so that was it for years. But I always seemed to be drawn towards odd things in general and eventually when I did start reading I found that horror fiction was natural fit for me.
DP: Oh I love that and in all the interviews I’ve done I don’t think anybody has ever mentioned Scooby Doo before – love it! Let’s talk about Greenbeard.
JT: I’d been reading some fairly tales and it struck me that they were like a mix of horror and crime stories but for children, so I decided to write my own version combining all three elements. I was also interested in the idea of the killer who is never caught – Jack the Ripper, the Black Dahlia, the Zodiac Killer – and the mystery that surrounds them. It occurred to me the reality of their lives (killing aside) might often be quite mundane. I also wanted to write a story about how people get lost in certain ways and just don’t fit in and how it could cause problems for them. And how some people who seem to fit in are the actual ‘weird’ ones.
DP: That’s a couple of good points you’ve made there, I suspect that in reality a lot of killers’ lives are mundane and there’s nothing ‘exciting’ about them at all…creatively what is your biggest success so far?
JT: Even though I love short and long fiction equally, I’d have to say the three novels I’ve written. I finished the first, The Terror and the Tortoiseshell, in 2004, and a part of me still can’t believe that not only did I somehow have the wits to write a novel, but I also found someone to publish it as well as the next one I wrote too. If you measure success in terms of sales then it and the next book, The Designated Coconut, weren’t a success. But the fact that I was able to write them at all feels like success to me.
DP: Definitely a success as far as I’m concerned. Not everybody can write a novel so well done you. Who are your influences?
JT: Of my three big influences only one is a writer – HP Lovecraft (the other two are the group the Pixies and the sitcom One Foot in the Grave). Most of my influences I’d say are fairly regular – Peter Straub, Ramsey Campbell, Stephen King, TED Klein, Ambrose Bierce, the circle of writers associated with Lovecraft during the Weird Tales era, Arthur Machen and tons of others. I try to read as widely as possible and usually each book I read is a reaction to the last – if I read a serious book, the next one will be light. They all influence me to hopefully be a better writer by showing me how it should be done.
DP: So what does horror mean to you?
JT: I think horror is a different thing for me than it is for other people. It can disturb me in many different ways, but I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve found it scary. The main draw of it for me is that at its best it’s incredibly imaginative. Also as horror is an emotion its reach extends to virtually all types of fiction, making it a genre which is an extremely broad church.
DP: Totally agree – I was talking to a film producer recently about me writing something for him. I asked him what he was looking for exactly and he said “horror” and I went “yeah, but what exactly” and he said again “horror” – I then reeled off some ideas and he said he didn’t want blood, guts, psychological, quiet etc etc – it was a very ‘difficult’ conversation ha ha. What is John Travis frightened of?
JT: The late Diana Rigg summed it up beautifully for me years ago when she was asked this on a chat show. I can’t remember the exact words but it something along the lines of gradual mental and physical deterioration, and being painfully aware that it was happening. On the other hand, not knowing sends a shiver down my spine too. That turns up in my stories time and again, people who lose all perspective on life and can’t find a way out. And people scare me – when you see what one person or group of people can do to others it’s terrifying.
DP: I’m with you – I’ve been thinking a lot about this recently and my / our ultimate demise. It’s not death that scares me, it’s that moment just before when you’re about to leave this life and you can taste what’s coming on the back of your tongue…sends a shiver down my spine every time…must be a story in that somewhere ha ha. For you is writing a short term or long term career?
JT: It’s a way of life. I don’t think I’m here for anything else and I’ve never wanted anything else. I stopped looking at it as a career a few years ago. Most of the stuff I write isn’t really deemed commercial and I’ve no interest in watering it down to sell more books. And I’m not the kind of writer who has vast amounts to say about the world. I try and keep my stuff as free from what’s going on in the world as I can. I’d be lousy if I tried to do it and other people out there are much more articulate than I am. So for me it’s a case of doing it for myself because I want to and have to. Writing and life are indivisible.
Yes, they definitely are. Thanks John for your time, I enjoyed that. All the best with Greenbeard.
If you’d like to connect with John direct: facebook.com/JohnTravisWriter
Dean M. Drinkel