Midnight Echo #15 Showcase: Anthony Ferguson
In the seminal novel that launched a genre, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley wrote, “There is something at work in my soul, which I do not understand.” With this single sentence, Shelley cuts at the reason that so many of us embrace dark fiction. And it is with this notion in mind that I am showcasing some of the dark souls who contributed their twisted and chilling creations to the 2020 edition of the AHWA's annual magazine Midnight Echo. Today, my guest is Anthony Ferguson. Welcome Ferg!
Who are you and where do you write from?
I was born when the world was a fiery ball of flame. Like many things in life, I came to writing late. I had a mixed upbringing. Left school at fifteen, became a welder for four years. Left and travelled Europe. Lived in England, my place of birth, for a year. Came back and finished high school. Got into uni and did a BA and a Masters in Arts.
I was always drawn to literature and writing. Always a fan of the horror genre, but not exclusively. It never occurred to me to write for publication until my mid-thirties, and then it took me a decade to learn the ropes.
I write from my study… No, you dolt, they don’t mean literally… oh right, thanks Chuckles…I write to purge my inner demons and frustrations. I find it both cathartic and emotionally rewarding. I write for the love of it. Recognition and money are secondary concerns, but I relish the appreciation of my peers. I love the process of creation. The mental stimulation brought on by concentration and honing the craft. Hell, I could do this full time if someone would pay me.
Please comment on your involvement in the AHWA and its importance to you.
I joined the AHWA around 2007 I believe, though it feels much earlier. The records state 2007. I’m on the committee, and have been for about 3 years. I currently administer the AHWA Short Story and Flash fiction comp.
The AHWA played a huge role in my development as a writer. Through constant feedback and hard knocks, through crit groups and mentorship programs, and through my own determination and stubborn refusal to give up, I eventually became a competent writer. I really could not have achieved this without the help of my peers in the AHWA. I enjoy the company of the friends I have made through the horror community.
Why do certain literary formats appeal to you?
Short stories gave me my start in creative writing. When I started out, I never imagined getting published. Now I’m about 45 stories in (with a LOT more than that sitting in the rejection pile of course). I never imagined being able to write longer fiction, but now I have moved in that direction. One novel down and another well in draft. A couple of non-fiction books.
Flash fiction I came to when I was comfortable with the short story writing process. I find it a fun challenge to whittle a tale down to a tiny fraction of words. I enjoy the discipline of cutting each unneeded word, while still getting the gist of the story across. I find it a minor miracle when I somehow cut a first draft of 500 words down to 100. Incredible.
Poetry ain’t my bag, man. I like reading it. Lack the sensitivity to write it. Unless it’s humour or smutty verse. I can knock that stuff out in an instant.
Overall, short stories are good because I can complete the process in a reasonable time frame. Say a month. First draft, a couple of re-writes, send to beta readers, final edit, start the submission merry-go-round. Obviously, longer fiction has a much longer gestation.
Can you tell us what inspired your contribution to Midnight Echo #15?
I sure can. About a year ago, the missus showed me a picture in a magazine of an alligator frozen vertically in a lake in the US. The accompanying piece discussed the natural phenomenon of brumation, in which gators hibernate in an upright position, half in and half out of the water. From a distance, they can be mistaken for small trees. I immediately thought, oh Hell yes, this is a horror story begging to be written. I juxtaposed my love of serial killers, and the rest is history.
Why did you have to be so dark? 2020 has had its share of darkness. Do you think horror is more or less important in these very turbulent times?
I think it’s up to the individual and their personal situation, their experience of the events. Life is always harder for the poor and the sick. Losing your job and not being able to pay the rent or put food on the table would be horrible enough. The obvious link between covid and the horror genre is the apocalyptic vibe. I find it horrific in the way certain people responded in certain places, in a blind panic, as if the world was ending. It gives pause for thought on how quickly and how easily society could collapse if a bigger disaster hit us.
Is it more or less important? I don’t know. Horror has always been important to me. On a surface level, you’d think tales of hope are more edifying in these times. As pure escapism, horror is fine.
The Marie Kondo challenge: in an effort to de-clutter, you’re only allowed to keep three books on your nightstand. Which three would you choose and why?
Oooh only three? This is going to be tough. I would choose 300.
Ok, in no particular order:
Post Office - Charles Bukowski. Long ago a friend introduced me to the stylings of Buk, and a lifelong love affair was born. Yes, he was a terrible drunken old misogynist, but some of his poetry in particular, evoked the beauty of the world of the down and outs, the forgotten people. I grew up poor. Post Office was his first novel. Hell I can’t even remember much of it, but to me it proved that even a broken down old has been can still make it in this world.
Falling Angel – William Hjortsberg. A forgotten novel from a forgotten author and a forgotten film. My favourite horror film of all time, so of course I had to hunt down the book. I have two copies, one a limited edition hardback signed by the now late author. The perfect blend of gumshoe detective noir and Satanic horror. Just a beautiful piece of horror writing. The posthumous follow up novel, Angel’s Inferno, has just been released. God knows why it has taken so long to surface. Colour me excited, even if it’s shit.
How Steeple Sinderby Wanderers Won the FA Cup - Okay, this is a novel about soccer, but it is considered a classic in soccer circles. I own two copies. One a limited edition hardback I got for a pittance at the UWA Save the children book sale a couple of years ago. The other an older hardback from the original Battye Library car park book sale. I first encountered the book in my local library when I was 15. It was written in 1975, when the now deceased author was in his sixties. I grew up in an English immigrant household and played soccer from the age of 8 up until my mid-40s, when my body gave out. Some of my fondest memories of my late father are bonding with him in our lounge room in Perth, watching the only live soccer match available on television in the 1970s, the FA Cup Final. Those late nights conjured up images of romance and glory on far flung Elysian fields. Images I tried (and mostly failed) to conjure up myself in my sporting career. Memories that will stay with me forever, and this book captures that magic and romance.
Poe, Straub, King & Co aside, can you name any lesser known but deserving writers of horror fiction whose work has resonated for you recently?
I always like to give big ups to my friend Daniel I. Russell, who has a range of dark horror novels out there. Deb Sheldon’s work is also excellent. I try and keep up with the releases of the many friends I’ve made in the AHWA. Marty Young, Claire Fitzpatrick, Steve Dillon, Cameron Trost, Stephen Dedman, Chuck McKenzie, Greg Chapman, Paul Sheldon, Martin Livings, Lee Battersby, K.A Bedford. Too many to list. Apologies to any friends I didn’t mention. In terms of other horror writers, I currently read a bit of Joe R Lansdale and Richard Laymon, but they don’t need the publicity.
Midnight Echo #15 is being offered in both print and ebook versions this year. Did the offer of print make a difference to you? Are you seduced by the waft of vanilla and printer’s ink?
Oh Hell yeah. Give me print over the new-fangled tech any day of the week. I sit in a study surrounded by wall to wall books, double stacked. Piles of books on the floor. Sure I have a Kindle, and it’s great for travel, and the ebooks are so much cheaper, but it sits untouched on my shelf for much of the year.
Plus the print copy of ME15 adds to my own vanity shelf. Gotta love that.
What are you working on right now?
Well let’s see. My n/f book on Aussie serial killers, Murder Down Under, is due out in the next month or two with Exposit Books in the US. I just had a chapter on the Birnies accepted into a forthcoming true crime book on killer couples, which should be out sometime next year. I have a few unpublished short stories doing the rounds of magazines and anthologies, looking for a home.
My big project is a follow up novel to my first. Called Gap Year, it follows the adventures of two English girls who go backpacking in the wilds of WA to escape a traumatic experience back home. Suffice to say, things do not go well. It’s really more of a novella as it’s currently only about 40,000 words.
Anthony Ferguson is an author and editor living in Perth, Australia. He has published over forty short stories and non-fiction articles in a range of magazines and anthologies in Australia, Britain and the United States. He wrote the novel Protégé, the non-fiction book, The Sex Doll: A History, edited the short-story collection Devil Dolls and Duplicates in Australian Horror and coedited the award-nominated Midnight Echo #12. He is a committee member of the Australasian Horror Writers Association (AHWA), a submissions editor for Andromeda Spaceways Magazine (ASM) and has been a judge for the Australian Shadows Awards. His works have been shortlisted for both the Aurealis and Shadows Awards. His latest book, Murder Down Under: Notorious Australian Serial Killers, will be published by Exposit Books in 2021.
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