Brian Craddock began writing his own zines in the early 90’s and contributed extensively to zines and small press along the eastern coast of Australia. Comedy and horror are his go-to genres, although his début novel — Eucalyptus Goth — is about his time spent in Australia’s Goth subculture and living with mental illness.
He worked as a puppeteer for ten years, before writing his debut self-published novella The Lunatic, and eleven Goth comix under the pseudonym of Dakanavar. His short story “The Angel of Isisford” was published in 2015 in the Clive Barker tribute anthology Midian Unmade, where he drew upon his experiences as a puppeteer and a visit to the memorable and unsettling township of Isisford in Australia.
His short story “Ismai’ls Explusion,” first published in Things In The Well’s Between the Tracks anthology, won the Paul Haines Award for best Long Fiction at the Australian Shadows Awards in 2017. His collection The Dalziel Files was a finalist in the collected works division of the Australian Shadows Awards in 2018.
“Mumbles Pier” was published in Beside the Seaside: Tales From the Daytripper by Things In The Well in 2019.
Tabatha Wood invites him deep into the Well to talk about his creative background as a puppeteer, the first story he wrote, and his goals for 2020.
Hi Brian, it’s great to see you. The Creatures think it’s great to see you too. Don’t worry, they probably won’t bite. Much. I’m going to start by asking you some quick-fire questions. If you can, please answer these in short, controlled bursts.
Describe your writing style in five words.
Psychological-realism. Irreverent. Picaresque. Confronting. Political.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
Depends on the book. A reviewer once said of my novel Eucalyptus Goth that she encountered the C-bomb six times in the first six pages. Which irked me a little, since it is dropped eight times in those pages.
What three themes/tropes make your writing instantly recognisable as yours, and yours only?
In my psychological realism writing (best represented by Eucalyptus Goth and its offshoot tales), it’d probably be writing about subcultures and Brisbane city in the 1990s… usually written in first person, present tense. Some say I’m still stuck in the 90s, emotionally (culturally?). I have a slew of horror shorts (collected as The Dalziel Files) centred on a central character and the adventurous nature of those have been likened to Robert E. Howard’s Conan stories for both facts. I pretty much identify as having two distinct styles I write in.
Who are your heroes of fiction?
Clive Barker. Mervyn Peake. Indra Sinha. Sergei Lukyanenko. Irvine Welsh. Louis Stone. Rudyard Kipling. To name a few.
What three books would you want with you if you were stranded on a desert island?
Trainspotting – Irvine Welsh
Imagica – Clive Barker
Shantaram – Gregory David Roberts
If you could go back in time to do so, what wisdom would you impart to your teenage self?
Write a lot more and start submitting (and read more Salmon Rushdie while you have the time to).
Name three traits you find deplorable in others… And three you most admire.
Deplorable: aggression, stubbornness, smarminess.
Admirable: amicability, foresight, productivity.
If you could go for a coffee with any fictional character (including one of your own) who would you choose and why?
Mowgli. I adored Jungle Book 2 when I finally got my hands on it. The character of Mowgli, despite being a simple jungle boy, is faced with such heart-wrenching abandonment (befriended only by a snake, in the end), forced to undergo world-shifting changes.
Consider these lines from a poem by Fran Landesman: “If you ever find my house on fire, Leave the silver, save the photographs.” Your house is burning, what three things do you save?
My hard-drive (containing all my fiction and photographs).
The laptop (for working on and rebuilding one’s life).
The car keys (assuming the car is safe).
How do you want to be remembered?
As a prolific and multi-tiered creative person. Though vanishing without a trace used to hold some appeal. That kind of Tristan Ludlow fighting a bear in Legends of the Fall type of thing.
So Brian, what prompted you to start writing?
In my early teens I’d read The Jungle Book and Frankenstein and loved both, trying my hand at creating a comic book for the former. It required a lot of rewriting and editing; eventually the project fell to the wayside. I followed it with an original comic book creation inspired by the popular Disney comics at the time, writing a lot of backstory for the project, though it, too, lost steam and was abandoned. MAD Magazine rejected my concept for a Labyrinth satire. I still had a lot to learn. I applied myself to several issues of a horror-based fanzine, learning a few editorial tricks the hard way. The local librarian noticed I had a taste for reading horror fiction, and at her behest I began on Lovecraft. His work heavily influenced my writing style for a few years; he and Anne Rice. I was still teething with writing for an adult audience at this stage. In the years following, my esteem for Clive Barker coloured my writing efforts, favourably I might add. My horror-narrative style matured into what it is now.
And when did you start introducing yourself as a writer?
For years I struggled to identify myself as an artist. It wasn’t until a colleague pointed out that I was, above all, a storyteller did I really begin to accept I might be a writer. In 2015 I was published in a Clive Barker anthology by Tor Books. I’d had successes before with a Nightbreed compendium by Steve Dillon, and a lot of short prose in zines, but it was this milestone which allowed me the confidence to refer to myself as a writer per se.
Tell me about the first story you remember writing.
I have memories of writing my own fan-based books about Scooby Doo or Kimba the White Lion when I was a small child. I think The Dark Crystal got a look in, too, if I recall correctly. I’d write and illustrate these stories and staple everything together as though it were a published book. We moved around a lot when I was a child, so if my parents had kept them then they were inevitably lost along the way.
Do you think it was indicative of the kind of stories you write now?
The only resemblance these stories probably held to what I do now is in the vortex-like sense of adventure the titular character find themselves in.
What inspired your story for “Beside the Seaside: Tales From the Daytripper”?
I used my background as a puppeteer to directly inspire my story “Mumbles Pier”. I also drew on the cut-up technique of plot construction, used by Beat writers like Burroughs, to try and create a slightly non-linear narrative. I wanted to mess with memory, and how it can deceive oneself, how we might be distracted by apparitions and not see the real danger before us. It reads kind of allegorically, I hope.
What sort of things interest and inspire you, in all aspects of your creative life?
Acts of kindness. Dappled sunlight. Scams and treachery. The supernatural. Places in the world which appear extraordinary. Predator-prey dynamics. Psychology. Small children and their wide-eyed wonder. Rainforest ecosystems. Polarity excites me. I always try to keep in mind that no matter how dark a story is, it needs the light at the end of the tunnel, even if that light is ultimately extinguished. No matter how cruel and selfish a character, there needs to be some kernel of warmth to them, otherwise I’ve cheated both they and the reader, and failed myself as a writer.
And what scares you?
Oblivion scares me. Total annihilation of the self and all that holds meaning or significance. The same notions Lovecraft imbued his work with, the utter insignificance of the human being in the vast cosmos. Splatterpunk and torture-porn isn’t remotely horrifying to me psychologically (fingernails being pulled, though, that’s a different story), so stories/films which rely on these also need to be larger-than-life and humorous for me to appreciate them. There’s a film called Perfect Sense wherein humans begin to lose each of their five senses. That film scares me. And Children of Men. These films play out like horror films for me.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned as a writer?
The biggest lesson I learnt as a writer was not to underestimate the process. I’d been warned about the editing and publishing side of things by colleagues, and had approached it with somewhat cavalier confidence, learning the hard way the just how much blood, sweat and tears would be shed. Made for a good whine, though, and who doesn’t love a nice drop of red?
What do you think is your biggest obstacle when it comes to writing?
Time (or lack thereof) is a monumental hurdle. It helps having a day job I know so well I can perform it whilst still writing inside my head. I play out scenarios and dialogue on repeat whilst I work so when I have the time to commit them to paper, they’re well rounded. And if my stamina for narration wanes, a brisk walk gets the blood going again and the ideas flowing.
Similarly, what do you think is the best bit about writing?
The real thrill in writing, for me, is connectivity. When plot threads join and I can see the whole, see how complex or twisted it is, that part of writing I love.
Are there any topics which you wouldn’t feel comfortable writing about?
I cannot really see the point in deliberately limiting myself in my writing and so try to approach any topic with gusto. Everything has the means of furthering narrative; it depends how we use it. My only discomfort is whether the topic is done a justice: if I cannot inform myself properly on a topic, I simply exclude it or include it in a minimised fashion so as not to extrapolate on something I’m ignorant about. For my stories in The Refuge Collection I certainly pushed the boundaries of good taste, however within context it worked. Eucalyptus Goth more than any other piece of my work is the one I expect to garner reader criticisms. That book holds a cracked mirror up to society and it’d be naïve not to think it’d easily offend. I can only hope, in any case.
If you could, what piece of advice would you give to any new and upcoming writer right now?
I’m still quite new to the world of writing, with too much to learn myself. But I’d recommend networking: connect with as many writers of all backgrounds as possible. They’ve all reached their successes in different ways, and each have some trick of the trade to impart whether they know it or not. Soak up their experiences and forge your own path ahead.
And what advice do you wish you’d been given?
When I was published in Midian Unmade by Tor Books, I thought it was a great validation for my writing, and that I’d manage to score a multitude of submissions afterwards. However, there were plenty of rejections to follow, and for a moment I began to doubt my ability. There are plenty of stories of bestselling authors being rejected for years, but that first comedown can be a rude awakening all the same. Recognising the faults in one’s own work is invaluable, as are the suggestions and critiques of submission editors (if you’re lucky enough to receive feedback: in which case, open yourself to it and learn from it).
If you let your friends and family read your work, what kind of responses do you get from them?
I don’t readily pursue feedback from family and friends on my work. I learnt a long time ago that their voices might not be impartial enough for true criticism. Which isn’t to say I haven’t been privy to their reaction to my writing, but I take it with a grain of salt. Complete strangers on the internet, however, is another story entirely. The little I’ve heard has been overwhelmingly positive, save for that one premature review concerning the C-bombs.
Are there any stories you’ve written that you’ve purposely hidden from those close to you?
There are stories those close to me deliberately won’t read, because they’re semi-autobiographical tales and loved ones have no wish to expose themselves to certain events. I see my life as a heaping carcass ripe for picking at and stuffing into my stories. No other writer has such unfettered access to it, so it’d be remiss of me to waste the opportunity. But I do publish erotic fiction online under a pseudonym, so as to separate my mainstream work from it. I’ve considered collating it under my real name in the future.
What are your goals for 2020? And for the next decade? (If you’ve thought that far ahead!)
Create, create, and create. As soon as I returned from Continuum 15 (a speculative fiction convention in Melbourne) last June, I was diagnosed with cancer, and having recently recovered from it, I’m keen to pursue all my creative endeavours with renewed vigour. In the past couple of years I’ve focused most of my energies solely on writing. Recently, I’ve found myself making time for two past passions: puppetry and special effects makeup. And I’ll even try and squeeze in the odd comic book or two, if I can manage. In 2015 I co-wrote and directed a puppet webseries called The Hobble & Snitch Show (free to watch on Youtube). It’s something I’d like to return to again, but the filming and editing was extremely time-consuming. A new puppet webseries is always niggling at the back of my brain, so who knows, perhaps something will emerge, even if it isn’t another Hobble and Snitch show. There’s a book I haven’t managed to write yet, and it’s now long overdue. Perhaps in time I can. It’s a picaresque novel in the same vein as Nick Cave’s And the Ass Saw the Angel, or Adib Khan’s The Storyteller. I know my character, I know his circumstances, and I believe I’ve even met a version of him in real life, begging on the dusty streets of Pakistan. I hope one day to tell his tale, when he’s ready to come out and play.
Do you have any upcoming books/work which you’d like to mention? Or previous works which you’d like to draw attention to.
I have several writing projects planned for 2020. The first is a follow up to my 2019 novel Chuwa: The Rat People of Lahore. I was half-way through writing it when I was diagnosed with cancer, so it has been on hiatus ever since. I also have a Ned Kelly book in early stages, and have tested a comic book adaptation of Eucalyptus Goth. I’m no stranger to comic book creation, but this one promises to test the limits of my sanity once it proceeds with full steam. Always so many ideas, and so little time. Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about a short film Jim Henson made, wherein he is chased across various landscapes juxtaposed with ticking clocks. I feel like I’m doing the same, these days.
Thank you, Brian. You’ve had a really marvellous and interesting creative life so far, and well done for kicking cancer in the butt. I wish you very well with whatever the future holds for you. If you’d like to leave the Well now, don’t make any sudden movements and try not to make eye contact with the Creatures…