Anthony Watson's story for The Darkest Battlefield is entitled The Lost. Recently Dean M Drinkel sat down with Anthony and talked about his contribution and the project as a whole.
AW: The Lost is set during the third battle of Ypres (better known as the battle of Passchendaele) and concerns the efforts of an army chaplain and MO to combat an ancient supernatural force. I’ve long been obsessed by the first world war and it’s featured in much of my writing already so it was a real pleasure to be let loose on a novella length story. I chose Passchendaele as the setting as it was pretty much a microcosm of all the horrors we associate with the conflict, in particular the awful conditions the men had to fight in – estimates vary over the number of casualties but a figure of around half a million seems likely, with many of those a result of drowning in the mud or flooded trenches. Another notable feature of the battle was the use of mustard gas and this plays a huge part in my story. It even provides the novella’s title which, as well as referring to the thousands who laid down their lives in the battle, arises from the fact that mustard gas was originally called LOST after the scientists who developed its mass production, Wilhelm Lommel and Wilhelm Steinkopf, using the first two letters of their surnames. Whilst I hope I’ve created some fully rounded characters, I will admit that the choice of a chaplain and a doctor as the protagonists is a thinly veiled allusion to science and religion as forces against the supernatural…
DD: For a historical story such as this did you have to do a lot of research – if so, was it just a case of going on ‘google’ or did you have to visit libraries, read primary sources, watch films etc etc?
AW: I did a ton of research. Which I loved. I seem to have drifted into writing more stories in historical settings and so research is becoming a huge part of what I do as I think it’s important to be accurate even in a work of fiction. I enjoy the process as I’m learning new stuff too – which is always a good thing – and quite often will find things which will enhance the work in progress or provide ideas for new ones. Much of what I researched for The Lost was pretty grim, especially the accounts of the effects of poison gas on human beings, but as well as all the military history I had to check I also had a great time researching the details of the supernatural elements of the story; the monster I created is entirely fictional but the history and context in which they were created are as historically accurate as I can make them.
DD: What were your challenges when writing the story?
AW: I guess the biggest challenge when writing a story set in real events is the risk of being exploitative, somehow being disrespectful to the memory of those who fought and lost their lives. Hopefully I’ve avoided that pitfall. The other challenge is the one I face with every story – exposition. I still fret over the whole process and find those scenes the hardest to write. There’s a lot of exposition in The Lost…
DD: While you were writing, did you ever feel as if you were one of the characters? Are there parts of it which are based on events in your own life?
AW: I always feel like I’m one of the characters in my stories. In truth, it’s the only way I can write to get the feel for the emotional responses to situations I place my characters into. I also find it really useful to get dialogue right. I’m always asking myself how would I say this? I like setting stories in interesting landscapes and situations so I can put myself into them (albeit vicariously) to make the writing process as much of an escape for me as reading is. Thankfully, none of The Lost is based on any personal experience.
DD: What's next for Anthony?
AW: I’ve currently three projects on the go: I’m self-publishing the re-print of my first novel, Witnesses. It was originally published in February by Crowded Quarantine Publications but shortly after they unfortunately folded. There’s a new cover courtesy of the incredibly talented Neil Williams and I’ve added a few extras inside. I’m working with my good friend Benedict J Jones on a series of stories featuring a Special Operations Group in the Second World War called Damocles. The group exists to combat the occult machinations of the Nazis and the plan is to combine the stories in one volume with linking sections and an overall story arc leading to a novella-length conclusion. We’re five stories and about 40000 words in already and I’m very excited about it. Finally, I’m working on my second novel, provisionally titled The Fallen. It’s another supernatural horror set in a variety of locations and time periods; a modern day arctic research vessel, a world war two arctic convoy and 16th century Russia.
DD: It's great to be so busy isn't it? Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
AW: Luckily, I never have. There have been times when the ideas haven’t flowed quite as fast as I may have liked but I’ve never been in the position where literally nothing has come into my head.
There have been times when I’ve written myself into a corner which could have brought things to a halt but I’ve always managed to find a way out. To be honest, I think that’s part of the joy of writing, part of the creative process. I think a block comes from putting too much pressure on yourself, trying too hard – that’s never good in whatever field you work in. Fortunately I don’t have to write to earn a living and so there really isn’t any pressure. I truly do write for the pleasure of it so applying pressure on myself just doesn’t feature.
DD: Do you write an outline before every story you write or do you just go for it?
AW I’ve never written an “official” outline before starting any story. I’ll have a rough idea of what’s going to happen – although not necessarily how it will end – before I begin but then it’s a case of just starting and seeing what happens. I’m coming round to believing that the story is there already, hiding in my subconscious, but the only way to find out what happens is to begin writing. The act of writing releases more glimpses of the story and I’ll begin scribbling them down as they occur to me in case I forget them. Often, the end result is very different to what I’d anticipated before beginning. Sometimes better ideas come along but sometimes the original ones don’t work with the internal logic that develops in the story as it’s written. With regards to The Lost, I knew there would be a final confrontation but the way it turned out was even better than I had first imagined because of a combination of factors which I’d set up already, independently of each other, as I was writing the story. The fact that all those things came together so spectacularly convinces me even more that the entire story was there all along, waiting to be uncovered.
DD: What is your favourite theme / genre to write about? Did you learn anything from writing this story – if so, what was it?
AW: Definitely horror, and – it has to be said – horror with a supernatural element to it. As a reader I can appreciate most of the forms horror can take but as a writer I find I’m drawn to stories with real monsters (if that’s not an oxymoron). I’ve also found myself drawn to historical settings, somehow I find it easier to couch the horrors in the past – selling monsters in contemporary settings is a lot more difficult. Apart from everything I learned through my research for The Lost, and an increased admiration for the men who fought in the first world war, I also realised that I prefer writing longer pieces. I still enjoy knocking out the occasional short story but it seems I’m more comfortable with novella length – or even novel length – pieces. (This may of course be due to a tendency to waffle).
DD: Thank you Anthony for your story but also for the additional hard work you put into getting The Darkest Battlefield to publication - it was very much appreciated.
If you want to seek out more about Anthony here are his links:
Dean M. Drinkel