“In the Walls and Beneath the Fridge” is layered with horror: House Daddy, the ex-wife, murder, societal expectations. What would you consider the greatest horror of the story? Why?
Speaking as a father, my greatest fear has long been failing my child in any one of many, many ways. So many ways. The protagonist of the story is a good man (probably, as it was deliberately written to be as ambiguous as hell), and he feels he is constantly on the cusp of failing his daughter. And there’s that other fear, that perhaps he already has, and the ramifications will be awful.
Tell us something of what inspired “In the Walls.”
I happened across some statistics on domestic abuse in the UK and the story they told was so unexpected, I was shocked. It’s no secret that men’s abuse of women is by far the more common, but the reciprocal is so rarely discussed that perhaps we believe it to be vanishingly rare. Turns out it’s not as tiny a fraction as I believed. Nowhere near parity, I hasten to add, but still, not as rare as hen’s teeth. Given the societal pressure on men not to report it if women physically abuse them—ironically enough, a product of toxic masculinity in itself—this is a crime that does an excellent job in hiding itself. I’ve certainly met women who showed sociopathic behaviours, including one who bragged that she could beat seven shades out of a man and then claim self-defense, because who would believe them over her? Such women may be far less common than men who swing their fists too easily, but they demonstrably exist. What, I thought, must it be like being in a relationship with such a person?
I noticed that you did not name either parent, as if drawing attention to how abuse can happen to anyone, from anyone. Was this intentional?
Yes, it was. The daughter is named both for the purely practical avoidance of confusion, but also because she’s pivotal to the story. In many respects, the story is really about her. Her parents, though, are stuck in a dance of death. The mother both feels she “lost” the battle of their marriage by being exposed as abusive and losing custody, and she misses that old dopamine high of making her former husband cower. As for him, his only real defensive strategy is to run. He knows it, and his daughter knows it. The upshot is a constant pursuit. And then there’s House Daddy. Or maybe there isn’t. Jess may just be the product of the war fought between her parents—defensive of her father and prepared to be as ruthless as her mother to do that. I don’t know which myself.
Despite the horrors, or perhaps because of them, one of my greatest takeaways of the story is hope—“So he sat with his daughter and they waited together.” Murder, death, blood, a parent’s fear for the well-being of their child. All of this pales before the dad’s willingness to wait with his daughter and see what happens. As a writer and reader, how does hope fit into the horror genre? Do you find it necessary or is it a throwaway trope?
I am very fond of hope, and I hope things work out for them after the end of the story. Heaven forfend hope should ever be a throwaway. In this case, there’s desperation mixed in there, too. He’s out of ideas, and energy, and can’t run anymore. He’s essentially passed control of their little family to House Daddy if, indeed, House Daddy exists outside his daughter’s imagination. If House Daddy doesn’t, then he’s taken refuge in her fantasy.
How did you come to dip your toes into the horror world? What led you into the shadows?
I’ve always loved horror, right from when I was a kid. I still have my rather battered Gifford’s A Pictorial History of Horror Movies somewhere, and I’ve had that since I was eleven. It was the Grand Guignol of horror that lured me in then, the more lurid the better, but over the years my taste shifted into quieter horrors touching on emotion and who we are. My tastes are fairly catholic, I think—horror, fantasy, science fiction, crime and mystery, thrillers—and I’ve written all of them at some point.
What can eager readers expect from you in 2022?
It’s a heck of an admission, but I honestly don’t know. There are a couple of things that are sub rosa at the moment, and other things that may or may not happen, as the minutiae of them is out of my hands. Sorry that I can’t be more forthcoming. It’s hard to bang your own drum when you have a stealth drum and notional drumsticks. About the only thing I know for sure that will be coming out in ’22 that has my name on and that I can talk about is that I wrote some of the dialogue for Sniper Elite 5. Well, monologue, mainly, rather than dialogue, as I wrote some of the “barks.” Those are lines that non-player characters come out with, often to announce status, “Huh? What’s that?” “Help! I’m under fire!” and suchlike. I wrote some of those and some short overheard conversations. So if you’re playing the game and some of the Germans seems unnecessarily sarcastic, I probably wrote that.
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