Complementing my interviews, today’s Author Spotlight, the three hundred and ninety-second, is of journalist, fiction and academic writer David Mathew. If you would like to take part in an author spotlight, take a look at author-spotlights.
David Mathew was born in the small town of Dunstable, Bedfordshire, in England. Because he stepped over a milestone of a birthday three years ago and has officially (but reluctantly) entered ‘middle age’, you can probably do the math as to when he first bawled. He grew up in Bedfordshire, apart from a period of time in Melbourne, Australia, and went to university in Bangor, North Wales, when he was eighteen. After graduating, he got a job in Sales and Advertising for a newspaper but he hated it; so he trained to be a teacher and worked in Cairo, Gdansk and eventually London. He has worked in education ever since, while maintaining a parallel career in freelance journalism, fiction writing and academic writing. He works for the University of Bedfordshire and he is interested in psychoanalysis, crime and music. He is the author of three novels – O My Days, Creature Feature, and most recently Ventriloquists – and a volume of short stories entitled Paranoid Landscapes. His wide areas of interest include psychoanalysis, linguistics, distance learning, prisons and online anxiety. With approximately 600 published pieces to his name, including a novel based on his time working in the education department of a maximum security prison (O My Days), he has published widely in academic, journalistic and fiction outlets. In addition to his writing, he co-edits The Journal of Pedagogic Development (at the University of Bedfordshire, UK), teaches academic writing, and he particularly enjoys lecturing in foreign countries and learning about wine.
And now from the author himself:
My new novel is a surreal horror novel called Ventriloquists (Montag Press). There were two initial ideas. One was two burglars who had never met before, going into the wrong house. The other was an idea I had about a local clash of cultures and races. I had the idea of an Asian man, or boy originally, who would encounter a Traveller’s community, and one of the travellers had stolen a child and he was going to rescue the child. Sometimes you work on ideas and clearly they are never going to meet but on this occasion I realised that they would meet, largely because in my mind they were both geographically local to where I live, and because of that it was quite conceivable that they would meet in one way or another. To that extent, it’s a multi-cultural novel, in part because it is set in a multi-cultural part of the United Kingdom. That said, it’s meant to be entertainment and not a social documentary, reflecting real life. When you take into account the cultural history of some of the groups and bring them together, there is a potential for conflict and that is what I was dealing with.
Ventriloquists is a book about control in every form that I could think of – social control, control with violence, control with other motives in mind – and the implicit notion of a puppeteer and a puppet is on a metaphorical level. Everyone in the book, at one point or another, is either controlling someone else or being controlled… and these relationships are far from immutable. They change regularly – the idea is to keep an eye on the power struggles. It does not take much to change a way of thinking; the smallest turn of the dial can create massive change in a life, no matter in what form. It is a dark book. I’d be surprised if anyone found it humorous.
The book involves long and complex nightmare sequences. The characters involved do not have a perception of what is real or unreal so everything to them is fresh and new – and often frightening. I’d like to hope that the nightmare world is as original as any found elsewhere in horror fiction. Suffice it to say that not everyone has the same perception because we all have different perceptions of real life. Most people who can deal with a variety of different stimuli will deal better with a falsely created stimulus, therefore some characters cannot cope at all and their nightmare lives are extremely shallow. Others have a rich dream life because they’ve got nothing else in their real lives, so they build incredibly ornate and complex nightmare states. Other people whose real lives are rich and complex have much more shallow dreams. It’s a logic that works in context!
Originally I didn’t have such a well-developed sense of the fantastic world, but I thought “How am I going to describe what these characters are doing without actually describing their actions?” I thought it would be easier to describe the dream that is occurring and that seemed to me to be a much more interesting narrative. One of the characters that I focus on is Connors, one of the idiot burglars, and I focussed on him because he was otherwise shallow, he had nothing else in his life so I gave him some complicated nightmares.
Without knowing each other the characters have created a world in which they all exist, and as time passes that world shrinks so much that they end up together at the climax. Everyone from the other dream worlds coalesce towards it because they have nothing else to do. They are in one or another trapped in the chambers and they have no way of tethering their ambitions to anything. So what they do is follow other people’s ambitions, which is a statement about religion in the manner of people following each other. They have become followers following a new ventriloquist. Throughout the novel, most characters go through a shift between being controlled to being the ones doing the controlling.
When it came to the plotting, I had clear signposts and plot points that needed to be reached. In general, I’ll have an A and a Z and there will be a range of points in between, but how the journey moves from one point to another depends on how the story has developed previously. It will also depend on how the characters have developed and their interactions may have changed aspects that I hadn’t previously considered. I have a very clear idea of what needs to be done but it’s not planned in the sense of a rigid idea that can’t be modified. If I change my mind about how a character would behave then that has an impact on future events. If I decide that the character is doing something that doesn’t make sense then I would change that aspect to make the character more believable.
There are two characters in Ventriloquists who really surprised me. The first was Tim Branston. Branston is not a storyteller exactly, but he’s the one who chronicles the story as far as that is possible. He is a simple bloke who wants to do a good job but he’s unhappy in that job. He dreams of being a film director but he knows it’s never going to happen, so he wants to direct documentaries instead. He is given an opportunity to do that in the most unlikely of circumstances and he accepts it. He is the most interesting character from my personal perspective. Branston represents honesty in an environment of dishonesty.
By stark contrast, Benny is a megalomaniac. He’s a deeply unpleasant and flawed and insubstantial man and he chooses violence and control to be his pathway out of what he thinks is a mundane existence. His ambitions are scientific but he’s not in a scientific world, although he wants to be. His fantasy is to be taken seriously by the scientific community but he never will be because his ideas are nonsense. His last ditch attempt to be accepted by the scientific community is one of violence, control and coercion. He thinks this will give him an opportunity but he is deluded.
- Ventriloquists: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Ventriloquists-David-Mathew/dp/1940233100 and http://www.amazon.com/Ventriloquists-David-Mathew/dp/1940233100
- Creature Feature: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Creature-Feature-M-F-Korn/dp/061578206X and http://www.amazon.com/Creature-Feature-M-F-Korn/dp/061578206X
- O My Days: http://www.amazon.co.uk/O-My-Days-David-Mathew/dp/B009ANI4GA and http://www.amazon.com/O-My-Days-David-Mathew/dp/B009ANI4GA
- Paranoid Landscapes: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Paranoid-Landscapes-David-Mathew/dp/1411674715 and http://www.amazon.com/Paranoid-Landscapes-David-Mathew/dp/1411674715
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