'Return to Ithaca' ('Retour a Ithaque'): Toronto Review

An Interview With Ray Cluley

by Shadow LockedSeptember 14, 2014

After giving Ray Cluley’s latest novella Water For Drowning the full five stars in our recent review, Shadowlocked caught up with the author to dive a little deeper into the story behind it.

Water For Drowning is the latest in the This Is Horror chapbook series that has been championing great horror talent. How did you get involved?

I first got involved with This Is Horror not via the chapbook series but through a reading event they set up one Christmas, which was a great experience. I went to a few more after that and was asked to write a column for the website. Around this time I started writing Water For Drowning with the intention of submitting it for the chapbook series but in casual conversation with Michael (Wilson, This Is Horror’s Managing Editor and Owner) I learnt it was shortly coming to an end. I carried on writing the story anyway, having not told him about it, and as luck would have it was asked to be one of the final two writers in the series just as I was finishing the draft, so it all worked out quite well.

The central figure in the story, Genna, is a girl who believes she is a mermaid. Where did the idea to write about a mermaid come from?

I’ve always had a strange obsession with mermaids. Part of it is the sexual allure of the femme fatale aspect you see tied in with some of the myths, and some of it is the doomed love story they always seem to be a part of. I’ve written a couple of other stories about mermaids in different forms, but the idea for this one came while I was in the bath thinking about how someone might try to make themselves a mermaid. That gave me the bath scene you’ll see in the story and Genna was created right out of that idea. I love Genna. The story’s hers really, though Josh is the one to tell it.

Water For Drowning is told from the perspective of Josh, a somewhat crass and obnoxious character. Were there any challenges in writing such an initially unlikeable character, rather than a clean cut nice guy who readers would automatically take to?

Yeah, Josh was a problem. He’s a dick, frankly, and my worry with that was having readers who might not like him enough to stick with his narrating. Another worry was people mixing up his perspective with my own thanks to the first person, but he really really isn’t me! I did have a lot of fun with his voice though. I also wanted to reverse the ‘bad things happen to good people’ approach typical of the horror genre. Hopefully he’s still someone deserving sympathy, though. He’s not all bad.

The character of Josh is the front man of a band, and the scenes where they are on stage and at gigs feel very authentic – were these written from experience?

Thanks, I’m glad you think the band scenes authentic. They’re only sort of written from experience in that I knew people like this, and I’ve known people in bands, but I’ve never been in a band myself. I would have liked it, I think – I love music, and singing, and I’ve written some lyrics for songs that’ll never be, but for me that would be something you’d have to throw yourself into fully and constantly, which is what my writing is to me. I’m an all or nothing kinda guy and wouldn’t be able to just dabble in a band while writing fiction, though I’m sure others manage just fine.

Shark! Shark!, the bonus story that comes with Water For Drowning, has the feel of the old EC comic stories. Were they an influence at all?

The EC comics weren’t a direct influence but the similar fun sort of tongue-in-cheek feel was certainly deliberate. I wrote this story just for me when I was getting a bit snowed under with other projects and without thinking of where it would end up, just for the joy of the writing and making something up as I went along. The story itself was written very quickly as a result, but I spent a while getting the tone right. Jaws is one of my favourite films of all time (sharks scare the shit out of me, but I love them too) and I knew I couldn’t write a shark story without drawing on that film so I figured I’d just put that right up front. It’s a sort of love letter to a favourite film but also a comment on the writing process (while having a bit of a poke at the movie business too). People seem to like it, which is great – kinda proves that ol’ wisdom of writing what you’d like to read, I suppose.

Finally, what’s next for Ray Cluley?

What’s next is a bit tricky to say. I’ve not been writing for a while recently due to various personal reasons but I’m getting back into it now, thankfully (with some of those personal reasons harnessed into a new story I hope to publish for charity). Coming soon, I’ve a limited edition hardback novelette out from Spectral Press which I’m pretty excited about because I put a lot of work into that. I mean a lot. It’s called ‘Within the Wind, Beneath the Snow’ and it’ll come with some bonus short pieces, making it a sort of mini-collection for the Christmas period. I also have a few pieces due in anthologies, such as an Aickman-based piece called ‘The Swans’ in Aickman: A Centenary Anthology edited by Johnny Mains and a Lovecraft one called ‘Answering the Call’ due in The Outsiders edited by Joe Mynhardt. Most exciting though is my collection Probably Monsters due out early 2015 from ChiZine Press. I’m working on a few new pieces for that book right now, so I’m very busy at the moment – in a very good way. If ever you want to see what I’m up to, I blog occasionally at www.probablymonsters.wordpress.com

Water For Drowning is out now, and available from amazon.com

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