What inspired you to write “The Companion”?
On 30 June 1969 I had an idea about the derelict fairground in New Brighton, the seaside resort across the river from Liverpool. At this stage the protagonist is “a young girl, frightened of people generally.” The place seems to be partly operative, with “white faces like papier-mâché at some pay windows.” Two years later I had thoughts about a ghost train in a fairground, but they weren’t incorporated. Then on 13 September 1973 there’s a page of notes for “The Companion,” including a version of the final line and thoughts for an unused encounter with a fortune-teller. The 14th sees most of the ideas for Stone’s last ride, and the next few days gather more material, but I have to conclude I was writing the story by then. Certainly once Stone heads for the abandoned fairground I finished the tale in a single session.
A lot of the tension in this story arises from hints and suggestion; what’s not said and worry about what’s around the next corner. And one wonders whether Stone is really experiencing what he seems to be, or whether he’s an unreliable narrator. Do you have any thoughts on this?
Hints and suggestions—I always found those a powerful way of conveying horror, especially once I encountered the tales of M. R. James in quantity—Machen and Lovecraft too. I think Stone is reliable enough, except perhaps in not understanding what’s happening to him, but few of us might in those circumstances.
Do you see this story as being about existential dread? Stone is an atheist—does this make the prospect of death scarier or more difficult to handle for him?
The centre of the tale is pretty autobiographical. At the age of fifteen I had a room of my own, having shared its single bed with my mother for several years. For weeks I lay in the dark praying that some undefined terror would stay away from me, since I no longer had the night-light my mother had always kept burning, whether in case she had to go to her mother in the night or lest my father came into the room. I think the panic (some of the worst I’ve ever experienced) may also have related to the loss of my Catholic faith, which was departing at speed. So the story is certainly about the dread of nothingness, but also about the alternative.
You capture the essence and feel of the amusement park(s) beautifully. Why this setting? What is it that draws Stone to these places?
The setting, as I say, is based on a real place. Quite a few of my tales start that way. Perhaps he’s drawn there in search of a lost or forgotten childhood.
Who or what is Stone’s companion?
That’s for the reader to decide or to experience.
What’s up next for you?
A novella is imminent from PS Publishing—The Last Revelation of Gla’aki, a return to the territory of my first published book—and they will bring out a second novella, The Pretence, in the autumn.
Spread the word!