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.
Dean M. Drinkel