Midnight Echo #14 inspiration interviews – part 3

Midnight Echo 14, with the theme of things are not as they seem, is almost upon us.

To whet your appetite for this issue’s deliciously horrific offerings, Sinister Reads has interviewed the 13 contributors.

Please enjoy Part Three, which includes musings from Ian J. Middleton, Robyn O’Sullivan, Tabatha Wood and Matthew Morrison.

Ian J. Middleton, what inspired your flash fiction piece, “The Wind Chimes”?

Oddly enough, the inspiration for this flash fiction piece came about while I was at my son’s day care. The outside area is covered in home-made wind chimes constructed from old CDs and bits of junk. I was watching them sway back and forth and the thought occurred to me, what if they were made from more sinister materials?

It was originally set on the West Coast of New Zealand, mainly as it’s a bit wild and lawless over there. But I revised it to the Australian outback as I preferred the sense of barren isolation. It got me wondering what sort of person would choose to live there, and why?

It was always intended to be a flash fiction piece, with the aim of keeping it less than five-hundred words. I’m used to writing short stories and novels, so it was nice to try something different and challenging. I’ve found that boundaries and restrictions are much better at bringing out my creativity when compared to starting with a blank piece of paper. The restrictive word-count also forced me to play around with subtext and implication, which hopefully adds to the mystery and suspense by allowing the reader to fill in the blanks.

Robyn O’Sullivan, what inspired your short story, “A Tale of the Ainu”?

In the late 1980s, my sister went to Japan to work as a conversational English teacher. She fell in love with the people and the country, and stayed for about five years.

During that time, she visited and told me about many beautiful places, including Osaka Castle, Buddhist temples in Kamakura, and Kyoto at cherry blossom time. She also explored out-of-the-way places, most significantly the island of Hokkaido, the traditional home of the Ainu people.

On a trip back to Australia, my sister told me stories of the Ainu culture and traditions. She brought photographs, postcards and souvenirs that provided an enticing insight into this group of indigenous dwellers, who have been dominated by the Japanese since the late 18th century. I was fascinated and began to research these people and their customs.

The word Ainu means “human”. The Ainu people regard things that are useful to them or beyond their control as kamuy, which means “gods”. In their daily life, they prayed to and performed various ceremonies for the gods. Types of kamuy were both varied and numerous, examples of which include:

  • Nature – gods of fire, water, wind and thunder
  • Animal – gods of bears, foxes, spotted owls and grampuses
  • Plant – gods of aconite, mushroom and mugwort
  • Object – gods of boats and pots, as well as gods that protect houses, gods of mountains and gods of lakes.

The Ainu, being “human”, were considered to be the opposite of these gods.

The more I read about them, their intriguing way of life, and the near-destruction of their culture due to the Japanese assimilation policy, the more hooked I became: to the point where I would dream about them and imagine what might happen if I were to find myself living amongst them.

I was enchanted…

Over a period of many months, a story began to germinate in my mind. It took many forms before I finally thought I had something that was an honest culmination of my flights of fancy. The result: “A Tale of the Ainu”.

Tabatha Wood, what inspired your short story “Red-Eye”?

Most of my ideas for short stories seem to hit me out of nowhere. They squirm around in my head for a while until finally I relent and commit them to paper. “Red-Eye” was one of the few which was slightly different.

I emigrated to New Zealand from the UK just over two years ago. Part of the last leg of my journey was a red-eye flight from San Francisco to Auckland. I was wide awake and emotional, thinking (worrying) about my new life ahead. As is usual for me in these situations, I pulled out my phone and started writing.

“It’s a strange feeling being this high up over the world surrounded by so many sleeping strangers. Trust, that’s the biggest feeling.”

When you are in an aeroplane you have very little control over your journey. You trust the pilot to do his job; you trust the engine not to fail. You are swept along from A to B, often without even feeling the movement. A night flight is pitch black; you can look out of the window and have absolutely no idea where you are in the world. That realisation only served to highlight the disjointedness I was feeling, and the enormity of what I was doing with my life.

“Red-Eye” is about journeys, both literal and emotional. The main character is whatever you want them to be, perhaps affected by your beliefs or philosophies. Who they are and what they do is essential to the journeys we take in our lives and the paths we choose to discover. Yet wherever we go and whatever choices we make, our final destination is inevitable.

For me, “Red-Eye” explored the lack of control I felt. I had put initial events into motion and they had tumbled, giant snowball-style, gathering in speed and size until I had no choice but to roll with them or be crushed. I had no way of knowing if I had made the right decisions. I had to trust that I had.

You might not feel all of that when you read it; indeed you might see it only as it is – a chance encounter between a group of travellers who chose to take a red-eye flight. I hope, even then, that it sparks something in you, or makes you think about your own journey in some fashion. A to B; we take a few more steps each day. The important part, I think, is making all those steps worthwhile.

Matthew Morrison, what inspired your novelette “The Netherwhere Line”?

“The Netherwhere Line” is the story of teenage runaways, Jed and Hope, who find themselves inexplicably on a train where the only way to pay for passage is to surrender their memories to the Conductor. Can they reach journey’s end before they lose themselves completely?

The story was initially prompted by a submission call for another horror anthology. But I didn’t feel it was ready enough by the deadline, and so hung onto it a little longer.

I latched onto the idea of a somehow sinister train conductor fairly early on. As a kid, growing up with Sydney’s trains, I was always intrigued by these uniformed guards who seemed to have the ability to command when the train moved and the authority to decide who could and couldn’t ride. They remained apart from the commuting riff-raff in their tiny, metal cabins – enigmas to the mind of a young boy who spent too much time with his imagination.

But what if, I thought, my conductor’s power was absolute over his passengers? And what if there was more at stake for them than merely being late for school or dinner?

I’d recently had the pleasure of journeying aboard a steam-and-cog railway on Tasmania’s west coast. Crawling through temperate-rainforest high above a river gorge was a sublime way to pass the day. But it struck me, as we delved further into the Tasmanian wilderness, that I placed a lot of trust in the train’s authorities to deliver me safely to my destination, wherever that was to be. Especially so for a journey I’d never before undertaken.

How would my characters feel, then, if they truly had no idea about the nature of the journey they were on? And what if that journey seemed to stretch on indefinitely?

I can’t remember from where I conjured the Conductor in his final form. I like to think, as always with my mis-creations, that he is part-Clive Barker aberration and part-1970s B-grade schlock monster. (Thank the muses for a misspent youth!) There was probably no single moment when he came to be – just a series of tweaks and twists, each darker and more unsettling, until he disturbed even me.

Finally, music always plays a large part in my creativity – often placing me in the mind of a character or in the flow of the story. Each piece I write gets its own mix tape. This one included Neneh Cherry, Moby, Concrete Blonde, Portishead. But it was, of all things, a Joe Jackson song which inspired the storyline of the runaways. The excitement of being in love and escaping together – of leaving everything and everyone behind, if only for a short time – felt compelling enough to drive Jed and Hope through the ordeals that lay ahead. Enough even, perhaps, to help them face the truths that await at the end of the Netherwhere Line.

I mean, isn’t love, in the end, supposed to be able to conquer all?

MIDNIGHT ECHO 14 will be published in digital format on Amazon at the end of the year.

Click HERE for more information.