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Interview with IP eNews

So my publisher, Interactive Publications sends out an eNewsletter every quarter profiling its releases, authors, industry news and whatnot. In their latest issue, I had the pleasure of chatting with very charming Joe Townsend about The Beast Without, writing LGBT Sydney and new projects.

You can find the full newsletter here, and it's well worth a look. My interview, I've copied below:

JT: How did the LGBT community of Sydney influence the writing of The Beast Without

The Beast WithoutCB: Sydney’s a very special city in the way it blends sexuality and sexual openness with this roguish, convict-influenced past. It’s the glamour capital of Australia, yet at the same time has this wonderfully grungy, seedy quality to it. That stretches well beyond the LGBT community, but it has historically allowed the community to grow and become a part of the city’s identity in a way that it hasn’t in other cities. I think it’s very telling that Sydney’s Mardi Gras is one of the very few gay pride parades held at night. The city revels in the darker, sexier tone that creates. LGBTs are so much a part of Sydney’s identity that we featured drag queens at the closing ceremony of the Sydney Olympics, and that was 13 years ago. It’s only become more open since. But Darlinghurst and the surrounding area, where the gay district is traditionally centred, has also been long associated with prostitution, crime, and this seedy underbelly that is also, very, very Sydney. It’s just this beautiful, perfect environment in which to inject a few vampires or other monsters that thrive on darkness, particularly in such a sensual way. A little of Sydney’s gay history – clashes with the police and so on – is referenced too, but primarily this is a story about these supernaturals, not the humans among whom they live. So it’s part of the setting, rather than actively influencing the action.

JT: You’ve spoken before about differences between “blood shades”, which appear in your novel, and traditional vampires.  Could you elaborate for our readers?

CB: Blood Shades is the politically correct term for vampires. All the supernaturals in The Beast Without’s universe have these titles, and I chose them particularly to sound a little pretentious and over the top. Political correctness makes for a more civilised society in the real world, but it’s death in creative work. It’s also something Australians tend to resist, so it works to make fun of it just a bit in The Beast Without. As for the difference between Blood Shades and traditional vampire myth, the Blood Shades are naturally evolved, not embraced or killed and reanimated. They belong to particular family lines in which the gene for supernatural change remains dormant until about their early 20s, then comes on, often quite painfully. They’ve made up these nonsense weaknesses like susceptibility to garlic or religious icons to make themselves sound so preposterous, nobody really believes they might exist. You still see the drinking of blood, the agelessness and the susceptibility to sunlight. The characters need weaknesses to make them interesting, after all. But it’s a fairly straight-forward, scientifically credible take on vampires, if you can have such a thing. It also keeps the characters firmly rooted in humanity, which gives them the full human capacity for emotions, moral conscience and so forth. Nothing is more boring to me in vampire fiction than a vampire who embodies absolute good or evil – or a zombie in vampire’s clothes.  

JT: You’ve noted Anne Rice and Clive Barker as influences on The Beast Without.  What about their work appeals to you, and are there any other supernatural/horror writers that have influenced your career and writing?

CB: Anne Rice reminded us of what western society found so alluring about vampires to begin with. She rediscovered the sensuality in them and blended it with this incredible historical richness that only an immortal character can offer. She probably stirred my first interest in writing a vampire story just because her work embodies just how wonderfully rich these characters can be. Clive Barker is a very different style. The extremes of physical experience are a reoccurring thread in a lot of his work, and much of it, like Candyman or The Hellbound Heart which became the movie Hellraiser – describes scenarios where the object of desire is also that which is most likely to harm or kill you. It’s where sexuality and extreme violence or pain meet. Why do people seek it? Well, why do people find the notion of being bitten on the neck and drained of blood sexy? Barker also indulges the notion of life going on in the face of permanent mutilation, which ties into some very real horrors we deal with in our lives as we discover we don’t have control over our own body’s future. Age, illness and injury slowly takes that from us – yet life continues and adapts. David Cronenberg is the master of this in film. In literature, there have been many others, from Mary Shelley – Frankenstein is still a seminal book and a great read today – to Simon R Green, whose Nightside books are just such an incredible, often quite dark and always very entertaining world in which to play. Another great vampire book out there is Hemovore by Jordan Castillo Price, which puts a budding gay romance in the centre of a vampire-conscious world. It also has some throwbacks to that concept of body horror in the way it approaches vampirism as an infection. It makes you wonder what might have happened if there was truth behind some of the more extreme fears many people had about AIDS when it first emerged. It’s a little scary, very insightful and also a terrific read on a surface entertainment level.

JT: You’ve been called “a unique voice in gay literature”.  When you were writing The Beast Without, was it your intention to write a novel based around LGBT issues, or did the supernatural aspect come first?

CB: Originally I just wanted to write a sexy short. Then as it became a novel, this broader, darker mystery emerged, with a budding, difficult romance running through it. I rarely enjoy it when novels take it upon themselves to champion ‘issues’. I prefer writers, and I try to practice it myself, who get the plot down, make it work, flesh out their characterisations truthfully and see what emerges naturally from that. I’m not – in my view – in a position to tell the reader what to take away from my work. In The Beast Without, I think it’s a combination of the setting, the characters’ uniqueness, Sydney’s gay history, the opposite worlds Reylan and Jorgas occupy... all of that comes together to naturally wink at certain social issues. But it has to emerge organically, or with a sense of humour. For instance, Reylan gets frustrated at this notion of people assuming the Blood Shades want to recruit others and turn them the same way. Well, how many times have we heard fundamentalist conservatives rant with nonsense about the LGBT community doing the same? But Reylan only touches on this because it’s relevant to the action at the time. It has to emerge organically. I tried to view both the supernatural aspects and the LGBT aspects as additional layers to add onto this story to change it up and open opportunities and make it more interesting. Could I have made either Jorgas or Reylan female? Sure. The story would still work, but they would have been completely different characters with a completely different relationship.

JT: What’s next on your slate?

CB: I’m very close to releasing an erotic paranormal short – wizards, this time. After that, my next project steps away from paranormal and dwells more in social satire. It’s set in Sydney as well, and is kind of a dark, more cynical take on these teen performing arts stories. Perhaps re-imagine Glee as a collaboration between Bret Easton Ellis and Darren Aronofsky, and you’re getting close. It’s reaching the editing stages, which is exciting. It is general fiction, but also deals in some real absurdist, black comedy aspects which I think help lift it through some of its darker patches – and it is very dark in spots. No doubt there’ll be some changes on its way to becoming a book. We will see! And then the next Arcadia Trust story – the follow-up to Beast is on its way too, with a third being outlined. So, plenty to keep me busy.

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