Today marks a momentous occasion for me: I get to interview my first author. Andrew Leon Hudson was kind enough to talk to me a little about his recently released short story collection, Dark Matters: Aftermaths.
Hi Andrew. Aftermath isn’t the first short story collection you have that deals with the apocalypse. Why do you think that people have such a fascination with the ending of the world?
I think one side of it is, we have a destructive streak. Give two little kids Lego and ask them to build a tower, they’ll probably fight for the chance to be the one who smashes it when they’re done – if it doesn’t happen before they’ve finished even. But destruction is no fun if you don’t get to witness it, to look on from a safe distance and enjoy the noise, then eavesdrop on the wailing and gnashing of teeth that follows.
The other side is the appeal of a fresh start. The slate has been wiped clean, the survivors have won the chance to pick through the Lego and build something new. That sounds nice, although the urge behind it is probably not all that healthy either! The world (well, the rich world at least) has become largely safe and sanitised, so the frontier, DIY-or-die mentality has been diluted to no more than a hobby for most people. Maybe we imagine the end of the world is going to be the ultimate reality TV challenge…
Q. Care to tell us what inspired you to write these particular stories?
I’ve read post-apoc fiction off and on for years. I remember one pulpy series that I liked as an early teen – a Mad Max-style American hero fighting through the wasteland with his giant, monosyllabic side-kick – but the title and author’s name I’ve long since forgotten. There are several British authors whose post-apocalyptic novels were popular when I was growing up, like John Christopher and John Wyndham, but probably my favourite example is Russell Hoban’s Riddley Walker. Whenever I think about it I always want to read it again. It’s not at all like my stories in Aftermaths though!
Q. Whenever I read or watch a post-apocalyptic tale, I’m always struck by the hopelessness of the situation. I often think to myself how much better it would be not to survive the apocalypse. I always wonder what’s the point of just living if there isn’t a purpose as well. So, what about Hugo in The Diminishing Returns? What impels him forward? Does him have a plan or does he simply hope to eke out another day’s existence?
To be honest, when I wrote the story I didn’t worry too much about the broader sweep of the world. There’s a lot of pre-existing context out there for a certain kind of post-apoc narrative – much like zombie apocalypses, where readers are so familiar with the basic rules that new stories are really just adding bits of new detail to an environment they already feel like they know.
However, I think that surviving after some terrible disaster will be much like surviving generally – the “little” things will be as important as the “big”. As you suggest, without something adding quality of life, quantity of it might not be much comfort. Having food and shelter and protection and the like might keep you alive, but you’ll still need a reason to go on living, like companionship for example. But companionship risks hurt, betrayal, loss… all the familiar threats and opportunities we face in the real world, just with the added possibility of cannibalism!
Q. Cannibalism is certainly brutal, and the end of The Diminishing Returns is quite brutal as well. What were you hoping to convey with such a savage finale?
The cliché would be it’s a dog-eat-dog world, but I was looking for something that felt a bit more like justice being done. Hugo makes some choices, does some things to ensure the survival of his “family” that are, perhaps, ethically questionable. The resolution is simply another turning of that same wheel.
Q. I see. The wheel turns but there are no beginnings or endings…hold on. That’s a different story. So let’s move on to the other story, The Seeding. This is an absolutely fascinating story. There are so many questions left without resolution by the end, questions I want answered. Do you plan on returning to this world and fleshing it out further?
I’m glad you enjoyed it! A continuation isn’t out of the question – I like post-apocalyptic stories, obviously, so although these two aren’t explicitly connected there’s no reason why I couldn’t connect and expand on them. I’ve not got anything specific lined up and waiting at the moment, however.
Q. The main character, Nathaniel Ruggier, is arrogant, smug, and rather foolish. So what about him? Do you think he has the fortitude to survive the catastrophe?
I’m not sure survival is on the cards – or if it is, not a very pleasant one! He’s had an easy life in a difficult world, and that tends to make a man dangerously soft… If I do write another story in this place I’ll be sure to revisit him in very different circumstances, but whether that means he’s a pile of bleached bones next to someone else’s suddenly bigger farm, who knows?
Q. Of course, with Ruggier’s attitude and wealth, it made me wonder why the other farmers waited so long to challenge him.
My thinking here was that fortune and misfortune are fickle things. Some people are just lucky, that’s why resentment can fester amongst those who aren’t – but that doesn’t always mean that the lucky individual is cheating. I got some good land, yours isn’t so fertile; weather conditions favour mine, but your farm is poorly positioned… that’s annoying but plausible, and if you’re not a vengeful soul the chances are you’ll try to make the most of your lot and leave me to mine. Plus, how can anyone control the rain? That’s just crazy talk! Get back to your crops, crazy man…
However, we know Rugier isn’t a fair player, and the fact that he needs help to game the local system leaves him vulnerable, one way or another. In this case the question is, does he give enough back that the community is better off benefiting him at his neighbours’ unwitting expense? My guess is, No, and it seems likely his neighbours would agree if they found out.
Q. In some ways, The Seeding reads like post-apocalyptic tale but in others, it reads simply like the clash of nobility. How do you see this world you created?
I’d not considered it that way, although I understand what you mean. I aimed for the kind of regressed society that often crops up in post-apocalyptic stories, and Rugier was always intended to be a wealthy landowner, so that side of things is there. Not that there seems anything very noble about the traditional nobility, of course: the indentured servant, master-serf dynamic seems little different to literal slavery from the modern point of view. The rival landowners could be lesser nobles, and I guess Argabrite is something of a settled knight, protecting their little kingdom.
Q. Now some questions about you. What is your favorite novel that few other people have read?
I don’t really know how frequently it is read, but my instant answer is “Q”, by Luther Blissett. It’s a literary thriller set in reformation Europe about a young protestant student who joins one doomed revolutionary movement after another, battling the might of the Catholic church in vain, and comes to suspect that there is also a Papal spy moving between the rebel groups, secretly working to bring them down… it’s fantastic. It’s also written by four anarchist Italians whose pseudonym is taken from an English football (okay, soccer) player from the 1980s. Nothing about all that is boring.
Q. I’ve never read “Q” or even heard of it, so I suppose there goes another onto the “To be read pile”. Sigh. When you write, do you outline the story first? Or does it simply come out as it needs to?
I flip-flop between the options. Sometimes I’ll get an idea and wing it, sometimes I’ll plan it out. But when I plan, I usually fade the detail as I get closer to the end. That way, when I start the actual writing I’ve got the foundations solidly built but I’ve also left myself room to be creative on the fly. I used to write the end of stories quite early, but I’m trying to stop that since it forces me to head towards a destination that might not fit any more by the time I return.
Q. So you kind of have the same attitude toward outlining that I do: it happens the way it happens. But in terms of characters, how do you develop them? For instance, going back to Ruggier in The Seeding, how did you come up with him?
Generally I treat creating characters the same was as I do stories, a flexible combination of winging it and planning. In this case it was pretty easy, because everything filtered down from the main concept: I needed a selfish, untrustworthy farmer-landowner, which is a nice, clear thumbnail for a short story protagonist. Picking good names is usually harder, but I like all the names in that story. I wish I could remember how I came up with them!
Q. For names, I usually choose a real name, change a few letters, and there you go! I hate those unpronounceable names with 5 syllables and …. wait. My real name is like that. Whoops! Anyway, in terms of the types of stories you like to write, you’ve got several short story collections. Is this your preferred medium or do you see yourself returning to novels? Or would you rather try your pen at poetry?
Poetry I don’t do, but I am a rhyme writer! Short stories are lots of fun, so on that side I’ve started writing shorter and shorter pieces. I learned about “Drabbles” recently – 100 word stories – and they are an interesting challenge. I’m going to try my hand at “CreepyPastas” too (call them “internet rumour horror stories”) but limiting myself to no more than 500 words apiece.
On the other hand, longer stories give you more space to do interesting things. I’ve completed one novel (briefly published, but now unavailable unfortunately) and this year I self-published my first novella, a weird western coming-of-age story called Given Names. I’ll certainly write more novels, but I’d like to do more things in the grey area between short and long too.
Q. We’ll you’re braver than I to try any poetry. I’m terrified my stuff will just come across as purple prose. So what stories do you have planned for the future?
Lots. I want to write at least three more weird westerns, two short stories and one novella, to add to my self-publishing activities this year. I’ve been developing some YA fantasy and scifi projects, and I have an incomplete novel that I really ought to pick up and finish some day.
I’ve also got to revise my vanished novel – that’s probably the thing I’m most troubled by. For various reasons, I’ll have to do a lot to it before it can go back into the world. Every time I make a start is like banging my head against a brick wall!
Q. I understand the headbanging part, although I prefer the floor. Now for a final question, and the most difficult one of all. Who would win in a fight between Superman and Batman (this is a test of your knowledge of physics and biology)
I don’t know that it would come down to the hard sciences. An unscrupulous Superman would basically be undefeatable, but since he isn’t, that at least gives Batman a chance (I’m presuming yours isn’t the indestructible embodiment of justice model of Superman, of course).
I think the best thing would be for you to ask me again next year…
Ha ha! Well, I guess we’ll all find out the answer to that question next summer. Or at least how well the writers understand simple physics and biology. Thanks for the interview Andrew and best of luck!