Hellnotes reviewer Ray Palen interviews author Seán O’Connor, author of The Blackening:
RAY: I mentioned a few times in my review how I noticed the influence of H.P. Lovecraft in THE BLACKENING. Was he indeed an influence and were there any others?
SEÁN: Hi Ray, first of all, thank you for taking the time to read and review my book. I really appreciate it and I’m looking forward to sharing some insights with you. Lovecraft was and is an influence on my writing. Not so much stylistically, but certainly from an imagination view point. His creations continue to this day to inspire and create wonder about the dark elements that inhabit our world. His legacy can never be ignored in this genre. And yes, there are others. Probably too many to mention or list right now, but I do feel compelled to mention both Adam Nevill and Tim Lebbon. Not only have I’ve been blown away by their fiction, but I’ve also been lucky enough to receive some mentorship. And for that I feel very lucky.
RAY: Without giving away too much of the plot, why the Icelandic setting?
SEÁN: Back in 2015, I travelled solo to Iceland. At the time, I was dealing with some heavy personal stuff and needed an escape. Iceland appealed to me because of its natural and raw beauty. While there, I drove around, camping in random spots and met so many great people. But the one village that really struck a chord with me was Vìk, down on the south coast of the island. Little did I know at the time, I would write a story set there, but I did get inspired by it. I suppose, in my own way, The Blackening is my homage to my time there.
RAY: It was easy to see the Irish influence in the novel as a handful of characters were from the Emerald Isle. Was this to put your personal imprint on the story or did you just need some ‘home’ flavor?
SEÁN: I always try to “write what you know” with my characters and John Ward was no exception. My aim was to build on my personal experience on the island and use it to create a character fit enough to carry the fictional element of the story. It’s funny, my editor remarked that John Ward reminded him of Brendan Gleeson and now I can’t get that image out of my head.
As for the other characters… I’m from Dublin, but have friends up north in Belfast. I always found the dialogue trade-off between us to be entertaining and that is something I wanted to capture here.
RAY: I indicated that the confrontation between Police Inspector Ward and his Police Commissioner reminded me of the scene between Sheriff Brody and the Mayor of Amity in Peter Benchley’s JAWS. Did that cross your mind at all? What other films contributed to the creation of this story?
SEÁN: Yes, Jaws is one of my favourite films and I’m a big fan of Benchley’s novel. But, did I set out to create a similar narrative with their conflict? Nope, it just kinda played out that way. Before I had characters for the story, I always knew something was gonna go down on the beach. That said, that type of conflict isn’t unique to Benchley’s novel though, I see it everywhere. Like, right now, here in Ireland, there is an increasing standoff between the state and the public over Covid. The government are afraid to let people back in the water, and others seem happy to take the risk… I believe you have similar happening over there with Trump, etc. Money and economy versus health and safety… There is always an agenda and while it unfortunately affects people’s lives in the real world, it makes for a great conflict in fiction.
RAY: The foreword to the novel compares the story to seeing a B-Movie horror/sci-fi film at the Drive-In. What are your thoughts on that in regard to your story?
SEÁN: Philip is a great guy and I really like the foreword he wrote for the book. I can honestly say, I’ve never wrote a story with the big screen in mind. That has only ever been said to me after others have read my work. To be honest, I wouldn’t know where to start with a screenplay, but if others are able to visualise the actions and settings in my books, then that’s good enough for me.
RAY: I saw some apparent tension between the P.I. and his superior as well as some differences on how to handle things between the scientist and her assistant. What comment are you making here about authority, bureaucracy, etc.?
SEÁN: Humans by nature are not very trustworthy and our track record across the globe and throughout history is not exactly… err… a shining example on how to live or value life. So, I suppose when it comes to authority, I believe it should always be questioned. Especially when big decisions don’t feel right.
I think in the book, John Ward, has a hunch about his superior and can sense something isn’t right. And being the headstrong guy he is, he was always going to challenge that.
RAY: Who are you reading now and who are your favorite authors?
SEÁN: 2020 has been an awful year for me with both reading and writing. I think I’ve only read one or two books this year and have barely written anything. The pandemic certainly has played a big part in stifling creativity and killing motivation. That said, I did manage to absorb Michael Griffin’s latest novella, Armageddon House, which I’d highly recommend.
Favourite writers? Right now, and within in the indie/small press horror genre, I’m always sitting patiently for the next Ted Grau and John Langan story to drop.
However, my true favourites are Cormac McCarthy, Michael Crichton and of course, The King.
RAY: As much as you are able to share, what are you working on next?
SEÁN: Right now, I’m about 80-90% complete with two books. One is a father/son survival horror story set up in the Arctic, and the other is a four-story collection, all based in my home county of Fingal. As it stands, no release or publishing info has been confirmed, but I do hope to have both out sometime in 2021 through my own imprint, Uafás Press.
RAY: How has your writing changed in the wake of the global pandemic? Do you feel the need to address the pandemic through your fiction?
SEÁN: Honestly, the pandemic has played a role in stalling my motivation and love for the craft. I’ve contemplated “retiring” from writing a few times this year. I think this is mainly down to the social media side of indie publishing… The constant need to post interesting content ends up consuming more time and effort than writing the damn book. I loathe it. Then throw in a virus that has locked down society and American presidential politics, it almost makes me want to find a nice secure noose to swing from. But, I’m still here… for now…
RAY: What’s your favorite horror novel and why?
SEÁN: This varies for different reasons. Like, The Ritual by Adam Nevill is a special book to me. Is it the greatest horror story ever told? No, of course not. But I found that book at a low point in my life. I instantly connected with the troubles some of the characters were going through. I could relate and it helped me think clearly. It also acted as the story that made me sit up and say to myself, “I can write too…” …a year later, I published my debut novella.
Honourable mentions go to:
The Fisherman by John Langan
The Silence by Tim Lebbon
Stranded by Bracken McLeod
RAY: That’s just about it for this interview, is there anything you’d like to add before we wrap it up?
SEÁN: Sure. My new book, The Blackening, is available now from my own publishing imprint, Uafás Press, on both Kindle and paperback from Amazon, and signed copies are available to order from my webstore. Head on over to my website to check it out.
I would like to thank Hellnotes and you, Ray, for your support and this interview. I’ve had fun. Hopefully, 2021 is a better year for us all and we can do it all again. Sláinte.