Interviewed by Ben Payne
Paul Haines won a Ditmar Award this year for his story “The Devil in Mr Pussy”. He has been a prolific and successful short story writer over the last five years, with his first collection, Doorways for the Dispossessed,released by Prime Books last year.
1. You’ve carved out a kind of a niche for yourself in the local scene, of being a writer who explores the dark underbelly of the contemporary psyche. I’ve heard a number of people use the phrase “a Paul Haines kind of story” as though you were a genre unto yourself. Is there a limit to the extent to where you can take this aspect of your writing, and what direction do you see your own work moving in?
What is “a Paul Haines kind of story”? Is it the “back-packer horror” style of ‘The Last Days of Kali Yuga’, ‘Doorways For The Dispossessed’, ‘Shot In Loralai’ or the forthcoming ‘The Festival of Colour’? Is it the nasty black humour of the ‘Slice of Life’ stories? The foul bestiality and perverse sexual antics of my fantasy characters The Interferers? – of which the general public has yet to see, but the inner circle know me infamously for. Is it drug use and explicit sex? I use them a lot in fiction, but surely that is old and not distinctive as me. I get the term ‘bodily-fluids’ thrown at me a lot, but if you look at my body of work it’s really not there, it’d be lucky to be in a quarter of my stories. It just happens to stand out when it does.
Or is it the ‘The Devil In Mr Pussy’, ‘Inducing’, ‘Where is Brisbane’ series of stories? They are probably the closest in tone to my ‘real voice’. These are stories that are supposed to be funny, rather than dark (or as well as dark), but maybe people don’t laugh at what I think is funny. The League of Gentlemen has me rolling on the floor while Little Britain has me switching off the televison in boredom (and for those who don’t know, Little Britian is the watered down, bland and safe version of The League of Gentlemen). I like the voice and style that you read in Mr Pussy/Inducing/Where Is Brisbane. This is my real voice, this is the Paul Haines kind of story. Weird, almost realistic, cross-genre stuff that’s not SpecFic enough to be ‘real’ SpecFic, but too SpecFic to be literary. This nice, strange, uncategorisable corner that’s not really horror or fantasy or sci-fi but a blend of all three, where I’m painting a slightly distorted picture of the world that is unfolding around me. Where most of the characters are guys that have my name.
2. The publication of your first collection, Doorways for the Dispossessed, was perhaps not quite what you would have hoped for, in terms of various production and availability difficulties beyond your control. What did you take out of the experience overall?
The joy of having the collection come out was quickly buried beneath disappointment and anger, all of that directed towards the publisher. Possibly the worst professional experience in my working career (definitely as a writer but also in my career as a professional IT consultant dealing with people over the last dozen years). I went into it thinking that Prime had a great reputation and came out of it never wanting to deal with them again. There was almost NO communication between me and Sean Wallace, and he went on to win the World Fantasy award for Professional Editor. What do you take out of an experience where your book turns up at an SF convention when you haven’t seen a proof for it and you haven’t signed a contract and it’s sort of being launched but you don’t really know anything about it? What do you take out of an experience when roughly the same time your book ‘comes out’, you find out that the publisher no longer has an Australian printer and will no longer be starting their Australian company and distribution because they’d actually have to do something to set it up? I learnt a lot of things and mostly things I didn’t need to learn as a writer, but more as a book distributor. None of which is very useful for me. I learnt it was almost impossible to get reviewed in a mainstream newspaper because I didn’t have distribution in bookshops.
So what did I take out of the experience overall. Two copies of my book that I paid for on my book shelf. Cool, eh? Could have been so much cooler…
3. How do you see the local scene at present, and has it changed much over the last couple of years?
I don’t think it’s changed much at all, has it? Writers have blogs now. They bitch and pimp and preen on their blogs a lot. They argue about the same old sh1t. ASIM is still pumping out issues, Aurealis is still there, Orbpopped up again. Anthos keep surfacing to submit to. There’s still no money and people still do it for love. The horror novel was reborn (maybe still-born as Lothian died in the process). Orbit have appeared and Marienne De Pierres is still leading the SciFi charge against the swollen ranks of Voyager epic fantasy.
4. Tell us about which works by other authors you’ve enjoyed reading in recent times.
Jeffery Ford The Portrait of Mrs Charbuque. Everthing about this novel blew me away. I’ve since hunted down everything else he has published and bought it (all on the shelf, in the queue…)
George RR Martin A Feast For Crows. The other books in the series were GREAT. This was only GOOD. George is showing the love for obsession on knights and coats-of-arms come through too strongly in his prose, and I suspect he’s starting to fv\uck around. I hope he doesn’t earn himself a “Robert Jordan” tag, as “A Song of Ice and Fire” is possibly the best series I’ve ever read. Still, the man shits over everybody else in the fantasy genre, even when he’s only writing GOOD.
Alan Duff One Night Out Stealing. The guy who wrote Once Were Warriors. Experimental style, vernacular, in your face kiwiness. Highlights the macho bullshit code I grew up with. The NZ version of Irvine Welsh (predates him actually).
Joe Haldeman The Forever War. I love this guy and the voice he uses. Very masculine. For what is essentially a 1974 Vietnam war novel, this hasn’t dated at all. Classic hard sci-fi. And military, which normally ain’t my thing.
James Herbert 48. An alternate history thriller set in post-war London after Europe has been ravaged by biological warfare. What I admired most about this book was that Herbert wrote what is basically an extended action scene for 300 pages. That’s pretty hard to do! He mostly pulls it off, and it works so well visually so I’m wondering who is screenplaying this thing. I also admire the way he writes sex scenes. They last several pages, which is uncommon in most genre fiction (Stephen King lasts a sentence). And Herbert’s male, and women traditionally write sex much better than men.
Shit, there’s nothing local in that list.
5. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, you’re given the opportunity to get it on with the fictional character you fancy most. Who’s it gonna be?
Hey, this IS a hard question! I don’t think I’ve ever been sexually attracted to characters in fiction. I need pictures, not words. Though I remember wanting to be friends with the girls in the Secret Seven when I was kid. And now that I’m older and have been given the opportunity…
Actually, it would probably end up with me getting it on with one of those characters called Paul Haines that always appear in my stories. We can relate to each other, and that’s always important on some level, isn’t it?