Interview by Helen Stubbs
Terry Dowling is one of Australia’s most respected and internationally acclaimed writers of science fiction, dark fantasy and horror, and author of the multi-award-winning Tom Rynosseros saga. He has been called “Australia’s finest writer of horror” by Locus magazine, its “premier writer of dark fantasy” by All Hallows and its “most acclaimed writer of the dark fantastic” by Cemetery Dance magazine. The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror series featured more horror stories by Terry in its 21-year run than by any other writer.
Terry’s horror collections are Basic Black: Tales of Appropriate Fear (International Horror Guild Award winner for Best Collection 2007), Aurealis Award-winning An Intimate Knowledge of the Night and the World Fantasy Award nominated Blackwater Days. His most recent books are Amberjack: Tales of Fear & Wonder and his debut novel, Clowns at Midnight, which London’s Guardian called “an exceptional work that bears comparison to John Fowles’s The Magus.” Terry’s new collection The Night Shop: Tales for the Lonely Hours is due from Cemetery Dance Publications in 2016. His homepage is at www.terrydowling.com
What are you working on at the moment?
I have a new collection, The Night Shop, coming out from Cemetery Dance in the US later this year. It collects all the horror stories I’ve had published since 2006’s Basic Black and features three new stories and a fabulous cover and interiors by Nick Stathopoulos. There are great jacket blurbs from both Ellen Datlow and Danel Olson as well, while Danel wrote probably the best introduction anyone could have. It makes me want to re-read my own book.
Also I’ve been completing the Story Notes (all 22,000 words of them) for The Complete Rynosseros, which will be appearing first as three deluxe slipcased hardcovers from PS Publishing in the UK in 2017, followed by a paperback edition. A slipcased hardcover of Wormwood (with some new material) will appear the following year. It’s all very exciting.
When you look back on yourself starting out as a proto-writer, are there any tips you would give past-you?
Process is something the Story Notes in The Complete Rynosseros let me speak about at length, as do the story afterwords in The Night Shop. But in short, (1) as soon as you can, learn to edit your own work; (2) remember, words are not story and are often the enemy of story; (3) have three to five trusted readers to critique and logic-test your work (friends, family and loved ones tend not to tell the truth); (4) learn not to over-adorn (goodbye adjectives and adverbs!). Something I always tell my writing classes: the best writer in the room may not be the best storyteller; the best storyteller may not be the best writer. Find out where you stand. That said, don’t assume you know what you do best. The self is far larger than the ego driving it and speaking for it. Be open to messages, intuitions, convictions from the subconscious – it’s the far greater part of what each of us is.
What do you plan to work on next?
I’ve just sold an SF story, “Come Home,” to Nick Gevers for his Extrasolar anthology and have been asked to do one for another SF anthology. I have requests from editors for more horror tales. That’s always exciting. I will probably make a start on a new novella for that Wormwood reprint from PS Publishing scheduled for 2018.
As a highly celebrated writer, how has your work changed and developed across your career?
First, thank you. This has to be something for others to comment on. I’m one of those writers who enjoys his own work, and so there’s a real chance for the truth to be somewhere else. What does happen over time is that you tend to know what your process is, your best methods for turning out your best work. You learn patience, for instance, to produce fragments and leave them alone until they bloom on the page. I’ve also always tried to hold back second-rate work (as far as one can see such a thing). Not all writers do that. That is why there are finished stories no-one will ever see. It’s a self-loyalty thing.
What Australian work have you loved recently?
Which author (living or dead) would you most like to sit next to on a long plane trip and why?
First name that comes to mind is my mate Harlan Ellison. First of all, he’s the only one I know that could persuade the flight crew to let me swap my economy seat for one in business class (thanks, Harlan!), but also because he makes everything he does an adventure. Then, too, I’d love to make any flight with my much-missed friend Jack Vance, just so I could have him back in the world for a time. The longer the flight the better.