On 29th May 2020 we welcome Frank Duffy to DEMAIN with his collection of short stories, Distant Frequencies published in ebook (with a paperback version following in a couple of months) – a brilliant cover (as always!) by Adrian Baldwin. We’ve also been lucky in that American film writer, director and producer Blair Erickson (The Banshee Chapter et al) has written Frank a foreword. Just before the ‘lock down’ Frank (based in Poland) and Dean (currently in the UK) talked about the release and writing in general.
DEMAIN PUBLISHING: Hi Frank, let’s get straight down to it – can you tell us a little about yourself and why you became a writer.
FRANK DUFFY: Hello! I was born in Liverpool in 1971, but grew up in Rainford, a typical provincial village on Merseyside. As far back as I can recall, the family home was always filled with books. My mum’s been a prodigious reader all of her life, and being from a working class family she knew it was important to encourage me to read as much as possible. I’m not saying growing up working class in the 1970s was a great hardship for me personally, it wasn’t as if I was being forced up chimneys and eating bowls of lard to pass the time before perishing of scurvy. But my mum was smart enough to support any interests I might have had knowing it might lead to better things for me generally. That’s not to say I was precociously aware of who I was at such an early age. I wasn’t wandering leafy bridle paths quoting Woolfe with typical teenage hand-wringing angst. I didn’t meditate away the emotional tumult simply by reading, but eventually the reading led to writing, and that in itself was a lifesaver.
In the late 1970s, when I was about eight years old, a primary school teacher inadvertently kick started my obsession with writing. A tradition of hers was to read ghost stories to our class after Monday morning assembly, without a doubt the highlight of my week. On one particular morning she introduced us to the poem The Listeners by Walter De La Mare. I remember being struck by the extraordinary eeriness of what I was hearing, and though far from understanding any of it, on some basic level deep down, I must have been busy intuiting that there was something else at work. Afterwards, our teacher invited my class to write a story interpreting the meaning of the poem. Heady stuff for a class of eight year old kids way back in 1979!
That Christmas my mum bought me a typewriter, upon request of course. It was perhaps a little bit odd for an eight year old boy to ask for a typewriter. By the time I reached secondary school, the typewriter had transformed into an electric typewriter, and shortly afterwards, I graduated to a word processor.
At secondary school I would write page after page of short stories for English comprehension classes. Although this greatly annoyed the teacher, the rest of the class loved the idea of hearing them in their entirety. Compelled to read my stories aloud to what seemed an enraptured audience, the teacher failed to realise my classmates were far from fans of my writing, but enjoyed the fact my stories were so lengthy, they generally took up a good portion of the allotted forty-five minutes of lessons.
Not that it ever stopped me. I wrote everywhere, even during maths and geology lessons, exacerbated by my complete lack of understanding for the majority of subjects. I joined writing classes at the local library in the nearby town. I wrote love letters for my friends to girls they fancied. I kept volumes of dream diaries believing they would come in handy for future stories. They never did. I wrote chapters of novels that never materialised beyond the first twenty pages. I wrote reviews for films. I wrote outlines for screenplays which never saw the light of day. I simply wrote and wrote and wrote. What made me become a writer? All of the above.
DP: Thanks for that Frank. I’m definitely getting a fuller understanding of what makes you tick, particularly creatively – I did smile when you mentioned Wolfe etc. At my school you did get the odd one or two ‘precocious’ (or perhaps pretentious would be a better word) boys who’d walk around with obscure ‘classics’ in their blazer pockets that they’d whip out every now and again to impress a passing master…still makes me laugh to this day, one in particular, Michael Cou…no, better not say anymore – I might write about him one day. Anyway, tell us about Distant Frequencies please.
FD: Distant Frequencies is a selection of reprints taken from my first three collections. Most of the stories were written over a six year period in Poland. I wanted to put these stories together in one collection since I felt they had something in common. Partly they share a similarly emotional resonance despite their wildly different narratives.
DP: And did you have to do much research when writing the individual stories?
FD: Not much at all. Generally speaking, I only do research when absolutely necessary. Although that doesn’t mean I haven’t done so in the past. For example, I once conducted a huge amount of research for a novel called Immersion. Amongst other things, the story centred on artificial intelligence, dating sites, and the evolution of sexual language amongst men and women. The research involved interviews, speaking to sociology faculties monitoring social behaviour in adult males engaged in online dating which meant sifting through literally thousands of pages of academic reports. I found the research fascinating, but at one point I was ready to give up on the novel because I was trying to cram too much of it into the story. Equally as important was that fact that writing about AI brought with its own problems. I’m not a science fiction writer, and writing about such a complex subject requires great technical skill. I can’t pretend I’m that sort of a writer. Therefore, research is often something I have to be fully conversant with, or at least able to write about without sounding like a phoney. I’ll leave the science fiction to the writers in that genre. So, as I said, I tend to research only when absolutely necessary. It saves face.
DP: Ah, some good points made. I’m personally writing a very specific historical / period drama script right now and it’s not always deciding what should stay in / what should be taken out of the story – though it’s only a couple of years I’m looking at it’s very easy to drown in the research…did you find any of the stories particularly difficult to write?
FD: I don’t think so. Not technically at least. Nor emotionally. I suppose wanting to add some degree of authenticity is the biggest challenge. I like to create stories which usually have a background in reality, no matter where they eventually end up. But at the same time, I don’t want to bleed out any of the mystery. And that’s always a danger when trying to write a genre story, attempting to get the balance just right. I want to be truthful in terms of how the characters and story develops, but I don’t want to bore the reader by being overzealous in my adherence to details which most people probably won’t even notice.
DP: What books (or authors) would you say have influenced you?
FD: I tend to read a lot of non-fiction these days. It can be anything from biographies, history, politics and travel - and those books connected with the effect of technology on modern society. Sort of the Black Mirror domain of storytelling.
I’m a real sucker for music biographies, especially about the punk and post-punk revival scene. As for genre books, nowadays I read a lot more crime than horror fiction. There’s no reason for that, it’s not a conscious choice, although I’m sure it’s connected to my own writing moving into other genres. I read writers from every genre imaginable, and some of those I read more regularly than others. I wouldn’t say any of them influence me directly, not now. But when I first started writing I was heavily influenced by Ramsey Campbell.
Soon I’m going to start a novel based around the UK rave culture scene of the early 90s. This came about because of the music books I was reading over the last two years, but also because of a conversation I had with my friend Kate Hoare, who was very much part of that movement. That’s probably for me my biggest source of influence these days, firsthand accounts from people who were there.
DP: And is there a particular genre book (or film) that you’re particularly looking forward to?
FD: Most definitely Ramsey’s Campbell’s The Wise Friend and Laird Barron’s Worse Angels. Christopher Nolan’s Tenet is top of my films to watch, as is anything he turns his hand to. As for TV, I’ve got high expectations for a six part HBO limited series called The Third Day, starring Jude Law in what seems to have Wicker Man overtones.
DP: Oh really, haven’t heard of The Third Day will definitely have to check that out. So creatively is there anything you’d like to do which you haven’t yet?
FD: Not so much a case of not having done, more a case of seeing it come to fruition. Three years ago I started working for feature film director Blair Erickson (The Banshee Chapter) on an eight part TV series screenplay. As well as working with Blair, I worked alongside another writer, the brilliant Pamila Payne. I won’t go into specifics as it would take forever and a day, but we got as far as a sit-down meeting with Shudder. For now, the project is on hold, but I’d dearly love to see it get into production. It’s a great story.
DP: Best of luck with that and hopefully, as you say, it does see the light of day sometime very soon after the ‘lock down’ – how are you handling that by the way? Has it affected you much?
FD: I love the outdoors, and I make the most of the fact I live ten minutes from a forest. I’m really into long distance walking and cycling, so not being able to do these until the Polish government recently lifted restrictions was obviously one of the disappointments that comes with having a lock down. But it’s nothing to complain about. People are going through hell out there.
Mentally, I feel good. My wife Angelika is partially responsible for that as she’s so easy to live with. The only thing I’m doing different apart from following the restrictions rules, is working from home all the time. But in the great scheme of things. It’s no biggie. I guess you could say I’m getting on with it.
DP: Good for you. Finally then Frank, can you tell us something your readers might be surprised to find out about you?
FD: For the last twenty-five years I’ve been a vocalist and lyricist for an assortment of alternative experimental rock bands. The last band, 100 Ass Cactus, were the craziest bunch of disparate characters you can imagine. We made Spinal Tap look serious by comparison. During my time with 100 we climbed a mountain during a snowstorm to reach a gig that never happened, played a private gig for a famous Polish band that went horribly wrong, and headlined a local cub concert armed with only four songs.
Well, on that note, thank you very much Frank and all the best for Distant Frequencies.