Please give us a little background on yourself and your writing career.
Frank: I was born in Liverpool in 1971, but grew up in large provincial village just down the road. I attended a Catholic all-boys school, which was still in those days floundering under the misapprehension that caning and general acts of arbitrary violence against their pupils was an acceptable norm of the education system. Naturally, it has since made its way into my work.
As for my writing career I’ve been writing ‘seriously’ for five years now. When I say seriously, I mean that I started to submit my work. I’ve written for as long as I can remember, which is to say since I was eight years old. I’ve placed stories on both sides of the Atlantic, and I seem to hover between what the industry calls speculative fiction (when they don’t want to say horror), and outright bona-fide horror.
‘She blinked her eyes rapidly, batting the gentle tide of white which was slowly submerging her and made another decision. It would hurt, but she had no choice but to act. Nicky counted…one…two…three…, and with a cry that escaped without her knowing it, she was sitting upright. Her head did not spin or roll, but instead obstinately refused the gravity of her concussion. She dug her hands into the snow that bordered her like the chalk outline of a corpse in a murder scene.‘ (‘For Me’ by Frank Duffy)
Frank: Actually, the first thing that made want to aspire to be an author, wasn’t a book, but a teacher I had in junior school. Her name was Mrs. Cardwell, and she used read to us (‘us’ being a relative term… children from my year aged 7, and the ‘bigger’ pupils who were 8 or 9) from a book of traditional ghost stories every Monday morning, straight after school assembly. Of course this was a children’s book, but the effect was nonetheless quite staggering. I remember it was raining outside, and all the children, about forty of us in total, sat around her while she read to us. It was quite exciting as you can imagine for a child of seven.
At the end of this she read Walter De La Mare’s poem, ‘The Listener’ to us, and asked the older kids to go home and write a story on what they felt the poem was about. Us younger kids weren’t asked to do this, but nevertheless I went home and wrote my own version of events anyway.
The first book which had an impact on me was most probably Ramsey Campbell’s collection ‘Demons By Daylight’. I remember being too young to appreciate what was going on when I read the stories, but I knew that there was something special happening.
The first novel that had a similar influence on me would have to be Stephen King’s ‘Christine’. I’ve gone back many times to ‘Demons By Daylight’ because there’s so much to savor, and as an aspiring writer, there’s an awful lot to learn from reading it time and again, but I haven’t read ‘Christine’ in over 25 years.
‘Father Jose got out of the van. He walked along the pavement and up to the back of the vehicle. Inside something thumped the walls. The metal rippled from the repetition of the commotion, concentric circles of violence and emotion that drew the attention of nobody but a young boy in a sleeping bag. The priest opened the back of the van, stood aside as the door slid upwards, rolling and twisting on its motored chain. He pulled himself into the back and crouched down by Liu’s eldest daughter. He had shackled her to the floor, her arms and legs encased in heavy bracelets chained to iron loops set into the floor. He produced the fourth key and held it front of the face of the creature.”It’s time,” he said.’ (‘The Last Supper’ by Frank Duffy)
Frank: Obviously like a lot of other aspiring writers in horror, Ramsey Campbell is without doubt somebody I have admired for a long time. But I tend to find that the writers I admire are usually outside of horror, such as Penelope Fitzgerald, Michael Chabon, and Truman Capote.
Of course there are many writers in horror whom I do admire, and whose work I love, but they are too numerous to mention here.
What do you consider to be the major themes in your writing?
Frank: If you’d asked me that several years ago I might not have been able to answer. It took other people to point out what was staring me in the face, namely that a lot of my stories deal with people who feel out of place, not lost in the physical sense, but somewhere in a mental landscape of their own design.
‘Simmons lay half on the bed, his back arched, the woman with the broken nose embracing him, pulling him towards her with one hand. Her other hand was in his partner’s mouth, up to the wrist, bulging in the depths of his throat; a face Harrison had trouble recognizing swung towards him, its eyes pleading. The woman grasped Simmons tighter as she forced the hand further, and slowly moved her head in Harrison’s direction. “He needs more than me,” she said. His partner flailed a useless hand at the naked back of the woman. “Want a try?” she asked.’
(‘The Signal Block’ by Frank Duffy)
What do you feel is the most important and fully-realized story you’ve written?
Frank: It changes week to week. But for now I’d have to go with, ‘And When The Lights Came On’. This story encapsulates what I want to do stylistically, but more importantly, I think it shows me finally embracing the story, the idea, running with it in as many directions as possible, letting the beast out of the bag.
Frank: That’s such a difficult question to answer because I’m always discovering something new every year. The list is fortunately endless. But two examples of the kind of work I have recently been thinking about would be Paul Auster’s ‘The Music of Chance’, which showed me the many wonderful ways in which direction and narrative can be used to complete a truly personal perspective, while Ramsey Campbell’s ‘Midnight Sun’has been instrumental in showing me the awe of traditionalism in the supernatural can be reworked into a modern setting to create something at once beautiful and horrifying.
I would be a liar if I said I didn’t aspire to write like these writers, but of all the writers whose work technically impresses me, that would have to be Michael Chabon. I want to write like Frank Duffy, but I wouldn’t mind having a little bit of what he’s had.
Frank: Enormously. Poland is much like England in that its history is reflected in everything you look at. Whether it’s a derelict piece of communist architecture, a brand spanking new residential block, or Chopin’s former residence, the physical landscape generates the kind of feeling I get from being anywhere in England.
Which is surprising given that Polish people in general are not at all superstitious, and have no time for horror. Given their history that isn’t surprising.
‘The stark brilliance of the underground had begun to show him things he’d rather have not thought about; the stamp of indefinite weariness on so many faces had shocked him; the seemingly arbitrary explosions of unexplained violence had given each train ride an abnormal musicality all of its own…the screams, the yelling…the uncontrolled language. Of course the city had eventually clamped down on it, deploying regular patrols in a pattern difficult to predict, but the faces never changed, nor did the sense that the train was taking them someplace other than home or work.’ (‘And When the Lights Came On’ by Frank Duffy)
What are your future writing plans?
Frank: Well, I’m working on a collection at the moment, and after that I’m probably going to rework a near-future satire. My ultimate goal is to find a publisher for a novel I’m working on called ‘Deadline’. But generally just to keep writing.
Visit Frank‘s website THE JOURNAL here: http://coaction.wordpress.com/
Read False Pilgrim by Frank Duffy here: http://www.screamingdreams.com/ezine.html