What research did you do to write “The Sign in the Moonlight”?
I read a little about Kanchenjunga, its history, and the early attempts to climb it. My main source, though, was Aleister Crowley’s diaries; they were just an amazing resource, and they’re all available on the internet, I couldn’t believe my luck. Really, the whole story went like that. I’ve never written anything where the pieces came together so easily. I began with the idea of a horror story set during a mountaineering expedition and all the detail, Kanchenjunga, its five peaks, Crowley, all of that came out of the research. I just kept discovering these weird facts and coincidences and everything slotted into place. It felt like I’d stumbled onto a story that wanted to be told, which has never happened before or since.
This has the classic feel of pulp horror. Are there authors in that style who have influenced your writing or who you admire?
Absolutely, I’m a big fan of classic pulp horror. Lovecraft was one of my early shaping influences as a writer, and I went on to read most of the authors that he’d drawn from and some of those he’d gone on to inspire. Over the years I’ve written quite a few stories that came from that tradition—which, fingers crossed, will be coming out together in a collection next year.
I think “Sign in the Moonlight” possibly comes more from a pre-Lovecraftian place, though; to me, there’s a lot of Chambers and Machen creeping in there. Maybe even more so, it draws from early pulp fantasy, which I love equally as much, and which often seem to feature mountaineering heavily. There’s a fantastic Fritz Leiber, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser story, for example, called “Stardock,” that revolves almost entirely around them climbing a more or less un-climbable mountainside.
Why did you choose not to mention the protagonist’s name?
I guess that sometimes you want a protagonist that the reader can get involved with, get to know and think of as a character in their own right, but sometimes you just want someone whose head the reader can get inside easily and experience the story through. When the narrator is something of a blank slate, there’s perhaps more scope to be absorbed in what they’re going through and feeling. For horror especially, I think that that approach can be quite effective.
In this instance, I had a more specific motive too: I didn’t want to out and out contradict any known historical facts more than I had to. If I gave the narrator a name then we’d know for a fact that there was no such mountaineer; that such a person never existed. Even if I’d somehow managed to find a real person who’d disappeared around that time, it would still have meant sacrificing the ambiguity of the ending. This way, it feels to me that the story sits in the cracks of the known history of Kanchenjunga rather than going against it.
This tale is open ended. Have you ever written a continuation? If not, do you plan to?
No, I’m happy with where “Sign” ends. Both as a reader and a writer, I like open endings; I like to have the option of going away and thinking about what might happen next, without necessarily having it written out for me. But while I doubt I’d ever write a direct sequel, I might return to Crowley one of these days. There’s so much fascinating scope there.
Can you tell us about the comic project you’re developing or anything else that you’re working on currently?
Endangered Weapon B is something I’ve been developing for a long, long time . . . an absurdist, sort-of-steampunk, comedy adventure series that draws on everything from King Solomon’s Mines to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to Umberto Eco (and that’s just in the first four pages). Issue one will premier this Free Comic Book Day—May fourth—and the first trade follows soon after, in July. Then I’ve got the third of my Easie Damasco novel series, Prince Thief, coming out from Angry Robot in September. I’m putting the finishing touches on both of those right now, while starting to make some concrete plans for my upcoming projects: a novella, and a couple more novels and graphic novels.
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