Background Notes for Messages from Weirdland

Some background for Messages from Weirdland, which appears in Black Static #69, which is available now.

I arrived at Edward Gorey’s incredibly twisted and beautiful world late in life. As a child I was a huge fan of Charles Addams, and his New Yorker cartoons, some of which featured The Addams Family. My dad had a huge hardback volume of his work that i leafed through endlessly, drawn to the humour, but also to the strange morbidity of it all. Death and misery as comedy. I didn’t grasp the finer qualities of it then, but I knew I found that dark stuff fascinating for some reason, and I’m fairly sure it had a hand in shaping the person I became. I still love Addams’ work (I’m gradually putting together a complete collection of his books), but Gorey is fascinating and alluring in an entirely different way.

Edward Gorey’s often incredibly detailed pen-and-ink drawings usually depict vaguely unsettling narrative scenes in Victorian and Edwardian settings. They’re often written in verse, in the style of Edward Lear or Lewis Carroll. They are camp and strange and deeply morbid. I’ve always admired the depth of artistry and fine detail in Gorey’s work: the mad Victorian wallpaper, the gramophones, the topiary, the framing. His most famous work is probably The Gashlycrumb Tinies, which purports to teach children their ABCs through the unhappy (but very witty) ends of twenty six children. Once seen it’s never forgotten. I’ve thrown in my own twist on that idea for Messages from Weirdland, but more on that later…

So at the start of the year when I noticed that a new biography had been published on Gorey – Born to be Posthumous by Mark Derry – I bought it with the vague idea that something of Gorey’s life might suggest a story. As it was much of the story arrived fully formed before I’d even started reading the biography. Nonetheless the book was useful for adding little details that would provide colour to my story. The phrase, A spot of The Morbids was one of them, and suggested an entire character to me.

Edward became Franklyn Hathaway, and in my story, rather than being a rather lonely single gay man, he has lived happily with his wife, Elspeth for many good years. Like Edward, Franklyn is also a rather snappy dresser, although he never (at least in this story) goes as far as Ed by wearing a floor length fur coat!

Ive written quite a few stories now that feature people in the public eye. I’m attracted to creative types – musicians, artists, writers, sculptors – I think there’s a fascination for me with fame and what it does to people, how it defines and changes them, and what become of them after the muse leaves them. I think everyone has a natural inclination to wonder how these people go about their transformed lives, and how their creativity affects the people around them.

Messages from Weirdland (a title that popped into my head one night just before I went to sleep) starts with bad news for Elspeth and Franklyn Hathaway. And then the Curlicue arrives…

The Curlicue wore white canvas tennis shoes.

He was the colour of a bruise, with a hint of chartreuse.

He’d arrived to interrupt the interview, just as the doctor was breaking the news.

He needed no excuse.

Once I realised that Messages from Weirdland would feature not just aspects of Franklyn’s own morbid little tales, but extracts from them, the idea flowered outwards, and suddenly I had a larger idea than I thought I could handle. This happens to me all the time. I have the initial inspiration, and tell my girlfriend, Amanda that this one will be short – 5000 words max – and then I have another idea, and another and suddenly I’m starting to think there’s a novella in there somewhere. Eventually I arrived at a point where I could either expand it or curtail the ideas and wrangle it all into a much tighter and more focused novelette. The latter decision obviously won out, but there is a much longer version of Messages from Weirdland in me too. Maybe I’ll pursue it one day.

What eventually swung it was a letter that features late in the story, from Elspeth to Franklyn. I wrote it one evening (again, just before going to sleep – I really should start writing in the middle of the night), and it left me in tears afterwards. I was convinced at that point that these were characters that I cared about, and hopefully so would others.

There are other things that I’d like to mention about Messages from Weirdland but I’d be here all day, so I’ll keep it brief.

Mrs Martynov and Vivian are a composite of the photographer, Vivian Maier, who’ll probably be the subject of a story I have planned for later in the year, and which share some aspects of this story.

Luna, Franklyn’s Chihuahua/ Maltese cross is based on my own dog, Daisy. Luna is Franklyn’s anchor when he becomes unmoored from his life, and Daisy has been that for me. I didn’t realise how much I could love a dog until we adopted her two years ago. She’s been crucial in easing my daily struggle with anxiety and depression.

I wrote the A-Z of deaths one afternoon when I was struggling with the plot. I kept going back and refining it, coming up with better rhyming deaths, and then filing it away again. I had to convince myself that it would work within the story, but I’m glad I finally decided to include it.

One of the great joys of being published in Black Static is that Andy Cox marries the story with the perfect artist. I’ve been lucky enough to have had artwork provided by George Cotronis, Ben Baldwin, Martin Hanford and Richard Wagner. Messages from Weirdland has an absolutely brilliant piece of art by Vince Haig, which perfectly captures the heart of the story, and pays homage to Gorey’s work. I’m so pleased with it.

My thanks, as ever, to Andy Cox. This is my seventh Black Static story and my 16th TTA Press story overall. I sold my first tale – Blue Nothings – to him back in 1995. I always trust him to do a wonderful job with my work. For this story Andy managed to find a font which is called Gorey. That’s really going the extra mile!

Hope everyone enjoys Messages from Weirdland. Please let me know what you think.

Simon

Buy the new issue of Black a Static here — https://shop.ttapress.com

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