Sept 2nd sees the publication of Rudolf Kremer’s mini-collection The Singing Sands & Other Stories (cover by Adrian Baldwin). Prior to publication, Dean and Rudolf sat down and talked about it…
DEMAIN PUBLISHING: Hello Rudolf! Nice to meet you. Can you tell us a little about yourself and how/why you became a writer?
RUDOLF KREMERS: Hi! I’m a Dutch/Spanish man who somehow has ended up living in Canterbury in the UK. Writing has always fascinated me, even at a very young age. The ability to construct your own reality, with its own history and characters and stories seemed like some kind of powerful magic to me, and still does. Most people grow out of telling stories when they become adults. I doubled down on them. They’re much more fun than reality.
DP: Oh they are aren’t they? I still get that magical feeling even now when I put down a couple of words onto a blank piece of paper – I know it’s a cliché but there is so much potential there – anyway, anyway – what’s your background and has that influenced you as a writer?
RK: I had an epiphany in my late 20s, telling me that I would never be able to hold a ‘regular’ job and be happy, so I turned my then-hobby of making video games, and somehow turned that into a career in the games industry. I started work at Douglas Adam’s company TDV where I worked on an ill-fated Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy game, followed up by stints at various companies working on a bunch of titles, including Harry Potter and Championship Manager games. Eventually I started my own company, and nowadays I alternate between releasing my own games and offering my services as a consultant, covering areas ranging from game system design to narrative design and production. I’ve been doing all this in the UK industry for 22 years, and before that I have been making games and game levels pretty much since my teens, dating way back to the mid-80s. This has been a major influence on my writing because game development – like writing – deals with the creation of new worlds and stories. They may be virtual worlds and gameplay stories, but nonetheless there is much overlap. So, I’ve always been able to flex that writing muscle in one way or another which was really helpful. I think creativity is a habit, as state of mind, a philosophy, a way of life. I wouldn’t know how to live if I wasn’t constantly engaged with the creative process. (I tried, believe me, and it wasn’t pretty).
DP: That’s really cool. When I was a kid I dabbled in writing games (adventure games mostly) and sometimes I wish I’d pursued that a bit but well done, I doff my hat to you sir. Let’s talk the horror genre, what would you say was your first introduction?
RK: Oh my, that’s a tricky one. If I count all forms of media then it’s probably an amazing episode of the Six Million Dollar Man tv show, where the titular Bionic Man encounters Bigfoot. Perhaps not formally horror, but I was about 8 years old when it aired on Dutch tv and it scared THE BEJEEBUS out of me. Yet at the same time, it was also tremendously exciting and Lee Majors was particularly cool in my eyes, so that made it all ‘safe’ and hooked me in. In terms of horror fiction I suspect (I can’t be sure, it’s too long ago) that it was Stephen King’s The Stand, which I revere to this day. I even love the made-for-tv adaptation with Molly Ringwald and Rob Lowe. I was more into sci-fi when I was a teenager, but since this book was regarded as one of the ultimate postapocalyptic novels of modern times, I figured it was worth a try. I was glad that I did as I was enthralled reading it from the very first page, blown away by the scope and vision on display. I loved the supernatural and mythical nature of it, the characters and indeed the horror aspects. After (breathlessly) finishing it, I felt compelled to try out some other King writings. His books then became a gateway drug for other horror writers, and ever since the genre has been an important part of my reading experience.
DP: I like that. Whilst I’ve often said I’m not a massive fan of Mr King I do like The Stand a great deal and he is a way in for many readers to the genre, so he deserves a round of applause for that if nothing else. So, let’s focus on The Singing Sands…
RK: Sure, I started writing these stories a few years ago after finishing my debut sci-fi novel which will be published in 2023 by Elsewhen Press, and I felt the need to play with short form fiction, to relax a bit after such a long project and also to process a lot of bad stuff I was feeling about the state of the world. I wrote one story for fun for Halloween, and enjoyed it so much that I took it a bit more seriously, and started thinking about other horror stories I could write. A funny thing happened then; new stories just started bubbling up in my brain, big chunks of em, fully formed, without graft or prodding or writerly laments, and frankly it was as struggle to keep up with the ideas, which I collected in a ‘short story ideas doc’. The pull of these stories became irresistible, and interestingly: thematically and stylistically connected in unexpected ways. Most of them take place in an alternate or liminal world, often dealing with supernatural and ‘weird’ themes. For some reason they never mention mobile phones or computers or current events. Maybe it’s a reaction to my games and sci-fi writing, but in these horror stories I instinctively stay away from grounding them in explicitly modern settings. I learned to trust that feeling, and writing these stories became very natural. They felt ‘right’, from the start. This collection bundles my favourites, and although the stories are diverse, they feel connected. For me (pomposity alert 1:)) , these are the kind of stories I find when I look for characters who got lost - exploring behind the mirror, and whose curiosity took them to places they didn’t expect to go.
DP: I really enjoyed them so well done – and I’m looking forward to reading your novel next year too. Did you have to do much research before you put pen to paper for The Singing Sands?
RK: Generally, I do a fair bit of research, at times a lot more than that. Sometimes because the story setting or subject matter demands it; for example, I wrote a novel about a teenage girl and a female warrior in 1630s Japan. That required over a year of research to even be considered a viable project. In other instances, there might be research need on a defining aspect of a lead character, just to make sure that I understand the psychology of that character. I research generally in two ways: Deep immersion, where I get everything I can on a subject; films, books, art, you name it, and just absorb through long term osmosis, taking notes as I find bits I want to use. Or I do short, focused research sessions where I hone in one specific aspect I am interested in. Both methods are essential to me. There are many reasons for research. For example, one of the stories in this collection (“The Ballroom Under the Lake”) features several aspects that required some study. First, the setting: the story was inspired by a real-world architectural folly and its history, and I wanted to make sure that I knew enough details about it to inform the story. Second, the protagonist suffers from CIPA disease - a hereditary medical condition that prevents those who suffer from it from feeling pain, and they lack the ability to sweat. (For real, it’s messed up!). Researching this condition opened up all kinds of doors on how I wanted to write this character, and how he engaged with the events in the story. I guess to me, good research provides me with lots of pieces of a story puzzle. Once I have enough of them, the story falls in place naturally.
DP: I get you – so were the stories hard to write?
RK: Contrary to some of my other literary adventures, these stories were the easiest writing I have ever done. Like I said before; they just bubble up, maybe on a morning run, or while walking my dog, and they are short enough to outline quickly. I then play with the raw ideas, do some research, examine the characters, and generally mull it all over until they can’t be contained anymore. Then I write, and I write them pretty quick, requiring only 3 drafts or so. (For me that is quick).
DP: That’s very interesting. I personally think I’m a quick writer but will admit as I’ve got older I feel myself labouring literally over every word. I think that goes back to what I mentioned earlier about putting words down onto blank pages. When I first started writing I felt the ‘magic’ or the spell beginning as soon as that first word was written, now it does take a little while and much editing before I feel that way again (this is very weird now I’m thinking about it – let’s move on haha). What would you say has been your biggest success to date?
RK: I have no idea! I’ve been immersed in creative projects for so long that it’s hard to pick one. One of my games being nominated for a BAFTA and an IGF award was very rewarding. Finishing my first novel was quite a milestone too (as was subsequently receiving a publishing offer). My published game design book doing well enough to warrant a 2nd edition is nice. And of course DEMAIN’s interest in these short horror stories is a great feeling too. :-) I don’t know … it’s about the process really. Just finishing a project is the key thing, and even that isn’t always all that matters.
DP: Totally agree. Okay, who do you read and do they influence you?
RK: Oh yes, I read a lot. Always have and always will. And as such, there are many authors who influence me. I’m continuously amazed at how much great stuff is out there! These can be ‘big name’, classic writers, or relatively unknown newcomers. I mostly read genre fiction, so if pushed to name some examples I’ll opt for these:
DP: And we all wish you the best of luck! What would you say horror means to you Rudolf?
RK: To me, as a reader, it means (pomposity alert 2) a chance to marvel at the grotesque, to dance with the forbidden, to indulge in the outrageous. As a writer it allows me a chance to explore the darkest corners of both existence and fantasy, and rather than cowering from what I see, use it in a creative, positive act.
DP: Nice, so what draws readers into the genre…
RK: I think this is often deeply personal, but ultimately, horror provides a safe space to expose oneself to some dangerous and dark ideas. And that can be thrilling and life affirming and rather useful.
DP: The Earth seems in a pretty screwed up place right now, would you say the horror genre is affected by what’s going on and do you ever put these events in your work?
RK: Yes, very much so. I think that most writers respond to the world they live in through their writing. They may use it as an escape vehicle, or a lens through which they try to make sense of it all, but either way, it’s a response of sorts. For me personally this happens indirectly. I never put current world events in my (horror) work; that would be too on the nose for my liking considering the state of the place! But … my themes and subtext are often influenced by world events. The troubling political realities and events of the last six years or so have greatly impacted me, and much of that unease, and at times anger, has made it into my fiction – sometimes coming out as indirect commentary, sometimes as a mood. (I wanted to say dark ‘miasma’ instead of ‘mood’, because I love that word so much.)
DP: Is there a book (or film) that you’re particularly looking forward to?
RK: Dave Jeffery’s TRIBUNaL, which concludes his “A Quiet Apocalypse” series. I’m sure it will be superb. Also, if it ever arrives, Clive Barker’s third and final entry of his “Books of the Art” series.
DP: Having read Dave’s TRIBUNaL I know you won’t be disappointed and yes I’m looking forward to Clive’s new work too. He’s a hero in my book…is there a new writer (or director) that interests you?
RK: The film director Brandon Cronenberg (son of David Cronenberg). His recent film Possessor was incredibly tense, brave, disturbing and thought-provoking. A heady mix of horror and cyberpunk that showed enormous promise. Can’t wait to see what he does next.
DP: Yeah, I loved that one too…a bit of a contentious one: there have been numerous reports that the horror genre is dead, would you agree?
RK: Haha, I hope not! Because I want to write a lot more of it! I don’t think it’s dead at all, far from it. Maybe it’s taking a breather from huge, mainstream commercial success, but then again there are green shoots everywhere and some recent films have been pretty successful. I see so many new writers and filmmakers creating great content that I feel that this can only lead to a renaissance.
DP: Let’s hope so! What are you afraid of (and has that ever made its way into your work)?
RK: Winged spiders! Think about it! GAH! (I won’t even write about it)
DP: Hahaha – I know that fear hahaha. Creatively is there anything you’d like to do that you haven’t done yet? If so – what is it?
RK: That list is endless, but specifically, I would love to write a horror novel, direct a horror movie, write a fantasy series, get much better at drawing … I could go on but let’s just say that I have a long to-do list. For now, I want to finish my current horror story “Destrier” which is threatening to become a novella, which is hinting at becoming a novel.
DP: Sounds great and so I’d say that writing for you is a long term career?
RK: Without hesitation. Being a writer was one of my earliest ambitions in life, and now that I am finally lucky enough to get my work published I’m going to build on that. I don’t know if I will ever be able to become a fulltime writer, but regardless; I’ll write till I drop.
DP: A couple of fun ones: do you interact a lot with your readers (or writers who have influenced you)? If so, how / why? Any funny stories to tell?
RK: Not enough! My non-fiction readers tend to be super sweet when they reach out or mention me and that makes me feel very grateful and happy. (Also, I am a flawed human and suffer imposter syndrome, so confirmation of having reached somebody with my work is really nice). I have been in touch with a few writers. Despite my awkwardness, they have been wonderfully supportive of me, some even becoming friends. That still blows me away, and is something I cherish. Not many funny stories yet, although I did once block Douglas Adams from entering his own company in Covent Garden while I was on a fag break, because frankly he looked dodgy and I didn’t know who he was and he didn’t know the access code [Now that is funny! – DP]
DP: And finally, what is something your readers might be surprised to find out about you?
RK: I am currently completely obsessed with classic Hong Kong cinema, especial HK action and kung fu movies.
What a great place to finish. Thanks Rudolf for your time! Very much appreciated and the best of luck with The Singing Sands & Other Stories.
If you would like to connect with Rudolf direct:
Dean M. Drinkel