Angela Slatter was kind enough to interview me at her blog here. I talk about The Teardrop Method, my background, my working methods and my five desert island books.
Songs for Dwindled Gods features an unnamed character that began his life in Sunflower Junction, which was published in Black Static 57. That was intended as a one-off, but I found myself thinking about him and wondering what happened to him next. My girlfriend and I were travelling through Dorset and Devon last year, passing through some remote and tiny hamlets and villages when the idea for a Songs for Dwindled Gods struck me. By the end of the day, most of the core elements of the story were in place, along with the idea of returning to that character from Sunflower Junction, fleshing out his life story and deciding that he could be someone I returned to much as Joel Lane had with his unnamed policeman in the stories that made up Where Furnaces Burn.
Songs for Dwindled Gods is a folk horror tale about lost villages, psychedelic folk music from the sixties and seventies, running away from life, and something ancient and hidden in the wilds of the Dorset countryside.
Occult Detective Quarterly #4, featuring Songs for Dwindled Gods is out today, and available from <a href=”https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1718645481/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_ep_dp_nDV8Ab5EF45TW”>Amazon</a>
I hope you enjoy it.
Here also is the fantastic artwork for Songs for Dwindled Gods, by Andy Paciorek.
Really pleased to say my story Songs for Dwindled Gods has been accepted for the brilliant Occult Detective Quarterly. I wrote this slice of Folk Horror after coming back from a holiday in Devon, Cornwall and Dorset, and it’s steeped in the wildness of the countryside there. Can’t wait for people to read it.
After I met my girlfriend, Amanda in 2001 we started visiting Europe every year. Prior to that I’d never travelled outside of the UK. Once I had a passport, I was a voracious traveller: Rome, Paris, Venice, Lake Garda, Salzburg, Bruges, and everywhere in between.
Everywhere I go usually inspires a story, or at least some notes that might spark something a few months or years down the line. The idea of a woman who used to be famous recording an album while living on the top floor of a faded hotel overlooking a great river came to me after a tour of Italy and Austria. All those ancient buildings, surging rivers and eternal avenues had opened my mind to new ways of thinking and approaching my fiction. I knew the atmosphere of the story immediately; it’s what always comes first for me. A general sense of the tone and the air of mystery I want to convey with the setting. After that it’s about applying structure without losing that brittle sense of how you want the story to ‘feel’.
On a rather more prosaic level, the title, which eluded me for months came to me outside the car park of our local Asda. I’m not sure what it was about all those cars and the prospect of buying groceries led me to The Teardrop Method, but there you are…
I knew very early on that the character of Krisztina would be modelled on the reclusive Swedish singer/songwriter, Stina Nordenstam, who I’ve been a fan of since she released her first record, ‘Memories of a Colour’, back in 1991. That and the follow-up, ‘And She Closed Her Eyes’ were delicate things: jazz-infused, strange, imbued with an other-worldliness that still enchants me to this day. Her sixth album, The World is Saved, released in 2004 was her last to date. During those years, Nordenstam flirted with distorted guitars and beats, pop, and cover-versions. She’s reclusive, a reluctant live-performer; she doesn’t give many interviews and when she does, little of her interior process is given away; she wears wigs and changes her appearance. Somehow she’d faded into another life entirely, it seems.
Describing her music in anything other than basic terms is fruitless. She has a voice you either accept or you don’t; her song-writing is angular, brittle, frequently shot through with a sublime beauty that few musicians ever capture on tape.
She’s been missing in action now for 13 years, and few of her fans now expect her to return to recording. Her website is gone, the message boards lie fallow with little for fans to cling to in the way of news. A FaceBook appreciation page intermittently lights up with posts bearing old videos, but little else.
I knew I wanted to write about her, or about someone like her. I find that reclusive Salinger-esque quality endlessly fascinating. Musicians who operate outside of normal conventions also appeal to me: how does the process begin; how is it articulated to other musicians in the studio; how do you walk away from the creative urge and why; how do they live their lives when they stop being the person they never really were?
I wondered what might lead to someone calling a halt to their career and how they dealt with a tangential relationship to fame. I came up with Krisztina Ligetti, and relocated her to Budapest. A songwriter who has produced one record and then walked away from it all, only to be drawn back into the process by tragedy; something strange and impossible to ignore, and where that leads her.
Those of you who’ve heard Stina Nordenstam’s work will see the subtle similarities in Krisztina’s music and the way she conducts her life. The rest of it is fiction, rooted in a deep and abiding love for Nordenstam’s body of work. I return to it often for its wintry, spectral beauty. I hope you do to, or even better, find it for the first time. I envy you that journey. It’s certainly a perfect soundtrack for The Teardrop Method.
Right around the midway point of The Teardrop Method, we are introduced to another singer/songwriter, John Merriwether. John is in his late sixties and ailing from poor health. He was once a heart-throb of sorts in the late sixties, the creator of five opulent records where his rich baritone was set against lush symphonic orchestrations. Songs flooded with kitchen-sink dramas, angels at bedroom windows, sailors and their whores, philanderers in faded suits and funerals in the rain… Strange, otherworldly records. Since then he’s been similarly reclusive until now, releasing a new album called ‘The Bleed’, an unsettling, cacophonous piece of work, all raw nerves and trauma.
Anyone with even a tenuous grasp of music history would gather that Merriwether is very much inspired by none other than Scott Walker, the Californian who relocated to London in the sixties and never went home. I’ve loved this man’s work since I was small. My dad would get me to sleep at night while walking around the flat with ‘Plastic Palace People’ playing. It took me some years to realise that Walker was out there on his own; a wholly unique artist who produced five exemplary records at the tail end of the sixties and then took several years to return on his own terms in the late seventies, the early eighties and then in the nineties with Tilt, itself utterly unique and experimental, described as ‘an anti-matter collision of rock and modern classical music’. He’s gone further in the subsequent years, producing surreal and abstract lyrics set to angry percussion and blocks of noise and silence. He’s still very much out there on his own.
Like Stina Nordenstam, Walker is relatively reclusive. He does a round of interviews when a new record rolls around and that’s about it. Barring a brief song recorded for English music show, Later… Live, he hasn’t played live since a Walker Brothers reunion in the seventies, and at this point in his career, he really doesn’t have to. Again, that aspect of the reclusive genius producing intermittent works of strange, limited appeal interests me greatly. I suppose curiosity is what drives that ‘what if?’ question in a writer, and at some point during the process of the creation of The Teardrop Method, I realised I could include a version of Walker in the narrative. It allowed me to indulge in speculating on what drives that creative urge and what stymies it; and what happens in that downtime between the creative urge.
There’s a lot more to The Teardrop Method though. Besides being a love letter to the music that inspires me, it’s a speculative piece of fiction about stories and loss and how we recover ourselves from the wreckage of tragedy. I hope you enjoy it.
You can order The Teardrop Method for just £8 from TTA Press here
You can pay by card or PayPal on their secure server.
My author copies arrived from TTA Press today! I’m overjoyed with how it’s turned out. It’s a beautiful looking book, thanks to Andy Cox and Richard Wagner for the beautiful cover art.
If you’ve ordered it already – thank you! – your copies will be on their way to you in the next week or so. And if you haven’t ordered it, then I’d really appreciate your support. It’s my first book, and I really want it to reach as wide an audience as possible. Thanks!
Here’s the link to TTA Press’s secure store page where you can pay by card or PayPal.
This is a huge event for me. In September TTA Press will publish The Teardrop Method as part of their novella series. The wraparound cover art by Richard Wagner is just gorgeous.
You can order it now from http://ttapress.com/shop/ for just £8. I’d really appreciate your support!
I’ve also been lucky enough to get some wonderful advance praise from a trio of writers whom I admire greatly. Thanks to Gary McMahon, Ted E. Grau and Nicholas Royle for their kind words.
Krisztina heard the song and she followed it across the city….
Winter in Budapest. In the midst of a terrible personal tragedy, singer/songwriter Krisztina Ligetti discovers she can hear songs of mortality. She spends her days following these songs until they lead her to people at the precipice of death. From the fading bars of their final breath, Krisztina takes the story of their lives and turns them into music.
When Krisztina is reunited with her father, a reclusive 60s pop star, she believes that she has finally found a way out of the darkness, but then she begins to receive news clippings detailing each of the deaths she has been witness to. A man in a porcelain mask who seems to be everywhere she looks and a faded writer who shares Krisztina’s gift seem to know her, know that the past has a hold on them all, and that it won’t stop until someone has paid the price.
‘The Teardrop Method is a story about stories; a beautiful novella about love and loss and the connections people make and then sometimes break. It’s quiet, haunting, and ultimately moving.’ Gary McMahon
‘Nightmare plotting infused with an aching mitteleuropäische sadness, Simon Avery’s tale of music and mortality could be the novelisation of a lost Argento movie.’ Nicholas Royle
‘Without any prep or background, I started reading the novella The Teardrop Method by British author Simon Avery, and was immediately engaged by the moodiness, the bleakness, the desperation and creaky, world-weariness of the setting and characters. These appealing elements perfectly coalesced into a tragic and fervent eulogy to the creative process – to Art with a capital A – as a means of salvation and transcendence and doom, and to love itself in all its complex iterations, exploring the concept of loving, dying, and even killing, in order to achieve the proper reception code from the eternal Muse while the roaring Danube drowns out the rest of the world. This is a very European story, in all its faded baroque finery and cafe claustrophobia. The snow is heavier here, the dawn ever more surprising. The supernatural and the natural are not so far removed in places like this. The old and the new forever caught in a twirling waltz.
The Teardop Method is also a brilliant showreel for Simon Avery, a relatively new author that I had not previously read. His balanced prose and mature grasp of doomed love (both romantic and familial), the transience of corporeal existence, and the grim hidden realities of even the most outwardly charmed lives mark him as an author of dark fiction florets already fully in bloom, growing big and tall and dangerously beautiful in a corroded hothouse hidden away in a backstreet of a crumbling cobblestone city five hundred years past its prime.
I highly recommend this novella, and cannot wait to see what melody Mr. Avery pens next. I’ll be listening.’ T.E. Grau
So this happened on Friday. I learned that I’ve been nominated for a British Fantasy award for my short story, Charmed Life, which appeared in Alchemy Press’s Something Remains, a tribute to Joel Lane.This is my first BFS nomination, so I’m beyond chuffed.
Congrats to Peter Coleborn, who co-edited Something Remains. It’s been nominated for best collection too.
I never tire of the excitement when a Black Static that I’m in turns up in the mail. I’ve posted it before, but Ben Baldwin’s beautiful illustration really deserves another viewing. There’s also a full page ad for my novella, The Teardrop Method, which I’m very excited about sharing with people. You can subscribe over at TTA Press.
Really pleased to announce that a new story, Sunflower Junction is due to appear in Black Static 57, due in Marc from this address – http://ttapress.com/blackstatic/currentissue/
I’ve been waiting a very long time to have a story illustrated by Ben Baldwin. He’s an incredible artist, and the piece he’s produced for Sunflower Junction is subtle but really effective and powerful. I absolutely love it.
Sunflower Junction is a story about loss and running away and how we choose to deal with the things we think we can’t cope with. It’s also about music. This is the fourth story I’ve written about songwriters and how music becomes a way of finding something within oneself. In Sunflower Junction, it’s to some extent about a search for a folk musician who produced one transcendent record, only to lose himself in one particular song that may have ultimately sent him mad. I love creating the stories of musicians and imaginary records in their history.
Ryley Walker’s stunning Primrose Green, released a year or so ago was the inspiration for some aspects of the story, as were John Martyn’s and Tim Buckley’s similarly transcendent music. There’s often a sense, particularly live where these musicians are seemingly reaching for something beyond the music, and it’s at this sweet spot that my Sunflower Junction lies.
There’s also a man running from grief and hiding in a faded seaside town, an aging drug addict writing about one perfect time in his life, and a woman crippled by years of abuse. This makes it sound like hard going, but that wasn’t the intention. I like to think that here’s always a note of hope in everything I write.
Here’s a little taster…
So it was after midnight when I finally put the CD on, and was instantly engulfed by it. The warm currents of languid guitar, the tight, jazzy upright bass and drums, the speckled sunlight of the Fender Rhodes piano and vibes, and then the punctuation of the restless trumpet or clarinet. It sounded like late period Doors, or Tim Buckley or early Van Morrison, like Bitches Brew-era Mils Davis. A stoned, summery, somnambulant trip. Every song had something to say to me. A midnight crawl through an empty Los Angeles on Baby Blue Eyes; a pastoral rumination in an English meadow at the height of Spring on Forget Me Not; a tight jazzy tour through a sweaty Parisian club and its backrooms on Johnny Jump Up; and then there was the centrepiece of the album: the long, almost improvisational jam of Sunflower Junction, the words conjuring bizarre images, the music spiralling and turning into a mantra, a spell, a summoning; circling and retreating, repeating and shifting like a mathematical equation, each time changing one number, one word, one note in order to find its way into something even more heightened, more ecstatic…
I listened to it again, this time through my headphones. And I sat beside the window, watching the dark mass of the sea rushing to the shore, until the first blush of light of another day stole through the clouds. I dreamed of Emily again. I tried to turn away from her but my subconscious had been denied her for another day. It wanted me to feel something again. And every time I turned away, she was there, as perfect as she’d ever been. Another woman preserved in aspic, but for different reasons.
The dream was on my pillow when I woke. It was a broken, ugly thing, like the head of a dead sunflower, the yellow petals blackened at the tips, curled in over the centre. I picked at the sticky petals and caught fractured glimpses of the dream I’d had; quick flashes of memory, tugs of loss and longing that I’d trained myself not to feel. But curiosity got the better of me and I pressed my fingers deep into the puckered flesh of its folds, and felt her there, felt something I hadn’t felt in a long time because it was the past, and the past was an empty room to me now.
I withdrew finally, and watched the grey light of day creep across it. Finally I found an old jam jar in the cupboard, gathered up the dream and placed it inside. I put it on a shelf a closet where I couldn’t see it.