Interview by Greg Chapman.
From 2005 until its closure in 2011, Matthew Tait was an assistant editor for the award winning Australian news and literary zine, HORRORSCOPE. He then worked as a reviewer for highly-regarded US publication HELLNOTES.
CAR CRASH WEATHER, the first story in his collection GHOSTS IN A DESERT WORLD, was awarded a commendation from the Australian Horror Writers Association. Matthew’s novel DAVEY RIBBON was a finalist in the 2014 Shadows Award. His other works include the MERDIAN books, SLANDER HALL, and his first book of non-fiction DIFFERENT MASKS: A DECADE IN THE DARK.
You recently completed a new novel, Olearia – what can you tell us about it?
Two years in the composition, Olearia is the continuation of a story I began with Dark Meridian in 2013. While that tale was an introduction of sorts – an introduction to a small cast of characters and a mythology – Olearia is an exploration of that mythology. In our first outing, four strangers discover a mansion in the hills of Adelaide. There’s a rock star and his bodyguard; there’s an alien abductee and her young son. A gate-crasher crasher soon enters the fray. As a group they discover their rendezvous is no accident, and another realm is just over the horizon. A realm called Olearia. Though human on the exterior, these souls are as old as time, and generations ago used amnesia as a means of hiding their identity … even from themselves. Picking up directly where the first book left off, Olearia is about rediscovering those past selves, a journey of remembrance and recalling a mission of reconciliation. And it’s about the powers and factions hell bent on stopping them.
Through this chronicle, themes close to my heart were given free reign to play. In previous books (such as Davey Ribbon), holding up a mirror to religion was more in the subtext of the narrative, a thing I only became aware of in the aftermath of the telling. In Olearia, I wanted to have it front and centre – have the human propensity to yearn for an Eden as the central sticking point. Another topic that’s always been close to my heart is the world of Exopolitics and UFO’s, and here I aimed to delve into that subject matter through the lens of dark fantasy – a cross pollination of fantasy tropes we’re familiar with but merged with the science of aerial phenomena.
In a way, this is my own personal wonderland story – sparked by those outings I devoured as a teenager such as Weaveworld and King’s Dark Tower mythos. I think all writers have a Jupiter tale in them, one whose ambition dwarfs others and holds them in orbit.
You’re known as being one of the most prolific reviewers of specfic on Hellnotes and before that, Horrorscope. You brought out a compilation of your reviews last year. Given that, how much change have you seen in the horror genre?
Probably an obvious one is the proliferation of self-publishing, the small press, and eBooks. When I began with HorrorScope in 2005, the amount of places to find a home for your work (particularly in Australia) could be counted on one hand. While this evolution and transitional period had many positives, I also saw the genre lose cohesion somewhat. In effect the so called gate-keepers were being regulated to the shadows, and now almost anyone could have a crack at publishing. When all is said and done, I see this as a good and progressive thing. We all have voices that deserve to be heard, and the more stories being told in the horror genre, the better.
Have the type of stories being told in the genre changed? Not from where I’m standing. The basic structure of horror has its DNA firmly entrenched in the past, and as Clive Barker once pointed out Nothing ever begins – the threads can always be traced back to some earlier tale, and to the tales that proceeded that. Stories of the supernatural, of angels and demons, vampires and werewolf’s; stories of the freakish and the grotesque, they are all still out there and still being told by a wonderful array of gifted writers. While the external world of an industry may change subtly, the world of storytelling (the simple act of putting one word in front of another) has always held its ground.
What are you working on right now?
The current WIP has the working title of Providence Place. In writing fiction, I’ve found the real world will often trickle over into your imagined ones. Through most of 2014 and 15 I worked in a large school, and during this time I was privy to the backstage aspect of how they function. The inner workings of the machine, so to speak. At night, they are completely transformed places. When the bustle and energy has departed there is an ominous quality I thought would make the perfect setting for a horror novel. In the book, documentary filmmaker Dillion Cook recruits a cadre of former students to make a film about their time attending Providence Place. Now grown to adults, all are scarred by experiences with phenomena that could be termed otherworldly. Over the course of a night exploring the now-abandoned school, the students will narrate their personal tales – a pilgrimage to a place where ghosts from the past can be confronted both literally and figuratively. In a lot of ways this story echoes Slander Hall, and I wanted to capture the mood of that novella but on a far more ambitious scale.
What Australian work have you loved recently?
I think Daniel I Russell broke the mould recently with his novella, Retard. A story that found a huge audience, Daniel obviously struck a chord with what truly scares people: the real world horrors of domestic abuse and those things that transpire behind closed-doors.
It would also be remiss of me if I also didn’t mention Greg Chapman. Mainly his enthusiasm for the genre displayed in various imaginative and eye-catching illustrations. Often they can form a spark to one’s own creativity.
Which author (living or dead) would you most like to sit next to on a long plane trip and why?
While some of the more obvious ones spring to mind, I think I’ll go with someone a little left of centre here. Not only was Carl Sagan a gifted storyteller in the genre of science fiction, he was also one of the world’s most gifted thinkers. The kind of distinguished mind you would love to pry in this hypothetical jaunt. This would be a conversation where everything would be on the table, including but not limited to: extra-terrestrial life, the cosmos, atoms, eternity, childhood and the very nature of existence itself. Everything and anything but the mundane. These are kind of topics that have always held me in thrall.