Please welcome Craig Wallwork to the blog! His story, “Dollhouse”, was one of the creepiest stories in The New Black and I’m thrilled that he took the time to answer a few of my questions about it, his writing, and more!
Will you tell us a bit about your story in The New Black and what inspired you to write it?
I have a work colleague who is really into 1970 and 80’s British television shows, in particular those that lean toward horror. He’s forever referencing storylines and characters from obscure episodes of the Quatermass Experiment and Armchair Theatre, Tales of the Unexpected and episodes of Hammer House Horror with titles like, “The House That Bled to Death” and “The Silent Scream.” Regaling me with plotlines of spooky nuns sitting in attics without a face rocking forebodingly in an armchair, and where a painting of a house changes each night to show the horror that lies within became the catalyst to Dollhouse. It tells the story of a young girl who finds an old dollhouse in her attic, a perfect replica of the house she lives in. Each night she sneaks into the attic to play with it, and every night something else in added, including little wooden effigies of herself and her parents. Then one night she discovers that the little wooden figurines of her family have all been massacred. But what, or who is the creator of the Dollhouse? And more importantly, does the Dollhouse mirror what happens in real life?
Have you always wanted to be a writer? Will you tell us a little about yourself and your background?
I shouldn’t have been a writer. Academically I’m not suited for the role. Never found school of any interest and loathed English. I never read a book for recreational purposes until I reached the age of 25. Literature bored me. But that said, I was always a narrator in one form or another. I began with cartoons, drawing funny little sketches of my friends at school. Then I went into film making, directed a few short movies before moving into music. It was all about the stories and getting them out in one form or another. That I should have started writing stories instead of drawing them, or using a pen instead of film, or prose instead of lyrics, was merely me procrastinating on the inescapable role I find myself in today. But my reticent to pick up the pen meant I never had that “I can do this” moment. It just kind of crept up on me. Perhaps reading Chuck Palahniuk made me realise that I could be a writer. That’s not a necessarily an accolade, more a reflection on his style.
What do you like to see in a good story, and what authors or novels have influenced you the most in your work, and your life?
I’m the fiction editor for Seattle based journal Menacing Hedge, and what I find is that most people wait too long to get the story started. By that I mean, they go for the slow burn, and I hate that. I love short stories that begin mid-action and pull me into the story straight away. If a writer throws me into a world where the characters are in trouble, perhaps a life or death situation, I instantly want to know how they got to that point. Writers forget that the short story is a gift. You have a limited amount of time to pull the reader into a different world, and you have to do this quick. Some spend their time waltzing words around an invisible dance floor leaving you dizzy, and a little sick. They don’t seduce the reader but frustrate them, substituting pathos for bathos, and sitting on the fence when it comes to saying something noteworthy. It’s definitely given me a greater appreciation for editors and, strangely, my own work too. As for writers who have influenced me; this changes on a weekly basis, but I have to give props to John Fante, Chuck Palahniuk, Nick Cave, William Gay, Etgar Keret, and recently Peter Tieryas Lui and Adrian Barnes. All of these writers make me want to take their work and plagiarize it, which is essentially all I’ve ever done throughout my writing career.
What do you enjoy most about reading, and writing, dark fiction?
I never consider my fiction to be dark. I understand that the storylines can feel very dark in content, but for those who read a lot of my work, they’ll find large amounts of humor in there, and a trembling optimism skulking in the shadows. I think labels are placed on my work because it’s easy for people to categorize them, but the truth is, I deal with themes of love and hope. That I have rendered that world without mawkish pretention, and served it up against a backcloth of violence or horror, is only because I find it hard being so open about my emotions. If I did, I think I’d probably make more money. So in answer to the question, I enjoy the freedom writing like that gives me. I’d rather my words exist in a world without limits or restrictions, then be compromised or diluted to fit a bigger demographic.
What’s next for you?
I’m trying to finish a coming of age novel about a boy with mental health issues who is writing letters to his future girlfriend, who he has never met. If I get the right balance of humor, and adolescence angst, I think it’ll be the nearest I can get to a mainstream novel. After that, I’ll move back into Dog Mile, which has been an ongoing project now for about 8 years or so. I’m unsure if the term exists, but it’s Northern Gothic, and tells the story of a small rural town in Yorkshire where time holds no consequence and the Devil roams its marshlands and pastures in search for the progeny of God. But with the release of my novel, The Sound of Loneliness, my interest has swung back to its main character Daniel Crabtree, and the idea of writing another novel about him. It was something I had thought about in the past. My intention was to make a Crabtree trilogy; a prequel to TSoL where we see Daniel as a young boy, and one set today where we found out what happened to him. Who knows, maybe this time next year Daniel will be causing even more of a stir. After all that, I think I’ll sleep for a year.