Midnight Echo #15 Showcase: David Schembri
Updated: Nov 29, 2020
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 David Schembri. Welcome David!
Who are you and where do you write from?
Admittedly, I had to think about this probably more than I’d expected to. I really enjoy interview questions. Like always, I’d organised my word doc, filled in the easy bits, like: website, biography and other links, then, I’d have a stretch, roll up my sleeves, and get ready to get stuck into the first question. This time, I found myself with a frozen smile on my face, staring at the first question as though it was some scientific mathematical equation I had to solve – maths is never my strong point.
I sat back in my chair, finished my afternoon cup of de-café (yes, I drink de-café in the afternoons. Believe me, it helps me get a better sleep). I had a think of how best to approach this answer, but I realised, quite by accident, that I have covered most of it in the above. I’ve stated a few things I don’t publically announce on my social feeds, and if you do follow me around, then you know pretty much the kind of personality I am. For those of you who don’t follow me, that’s ok, the gist of it is: I’m a husband, a best friend, a loving dad, a chum to my mates, and probably to worst joke teller of all time (just ask Marty Young) I tend to laugh before delivering the punch line...
My writing comes from numerous places. Yes, yes, I write from the heart, but that’s such closed answer. I can do better than that and without making you roll your eyes. My ideas can be roused from things I notice from day-to-day life, something I watch in the media, a film I viewed (mostly a bad one, which encourages me to take on a challenge and write it properly) and of course, a dream which remains in my mind days or even weeks after it happened. Life experiences melt into my stories, every one, from one aspect or another. I believe the most often period that allows me to think clearly, is when I’m chopping wood. Sound strange? It isn’t really when you think about it, and just before you raise your hand, no, I’ve never written a story about anyone going to town on another character with an axe… yet.
I live on a small piece of land out in the country Victoria. We have a wood fire, so one of my weekly tasks is to go out to our shed and split wood for our little Norseman wood heater. This process is quite therapeutic. Nothing to it, really. My graphic design job can be demanding, and yes, life as a family man has it’s share of challenges, so wood splitting presents to me an activity that doesn’t require much of me at all, just a bit of strength, a good splitter, and an accurate aim (a wood splitter into the shin doesn’t feel too great, believe me). I think I came out with one of the longest onslaught of curse words one can think of when that happened.
Anyway, all I do is sit one piece of wood onto a large slab, and chop. One after the other until I’m left with a nice pile of respectable pieces that will burn well. I then stack them neatly into my little shed, and load some others into a wheelbarrow, so I can cart them to the house ready for use. During this process, my mind becomes clear, and when it is in this state, a little creative bell starts to ring and I wonder off. Ideas start forming. Some of my best work was first conceived during this time, some are obvious if you’ve read them, and others, not so much.
And yes, if I’m ever stuck on what to write, I would go out and split wood, because I may come back inside with a new world to build, or a monster to create.
Please comment on your involvement in the AHWA and its importance to you.
I first discovered the AHWA through an old Yahoo Group called ‘Southern Horror’. This was back in the very early stages of my writing. I was, at the time, working on a novel manuscript whilst my wife was taking Japanese Language lessons in Melbourne. We lived in the inner city suburbs at the time, rather than our country living nowadays, so there were a couple of hours a week where I would sit in the university library, attempting to write my first novel.
The process left me wondering about a community, and if there was a club or a group I could associate with. This was also a time where the internet was relatively new and I was still struggling to understand what an email was…
I did some searches and found Southern Horror on Yahoo, and joined up. I generally kept a quiet presence there and would just read through threads occasionally, when I noticed a post from one of the active members. It was an opening for a Podcast series called ‘The Fourteen Days of Halloween’ which was being run by an American company ‘The Writing Show’.
This really got my attention, so I emailed the member who made the announcement, the author (now a good friend) Marty Young, and expressed my interest. From there, he directed me to the AHWA, and I became involved in the way I knew best. I’m an artist and Graphic Designer, so I offered to help design little logos and support-graphics for the early AHWA website.
A few months down the track, I became a judge at the 2005 Australian shadows awards. This gave me an excellent opportunity to network with the other judges and read some amazing work.
After a couple of years, I became a member of the committee and was heavily involved with the realising of Midnight Echo, our beautiful magazine. I had taken the role of becoming the magazine’s first art director. I’d constructed the first three issues of the publication and had assisted the following two. After leaving the committee to pursue more time for family and writing, I have remained a supporting member.
My quest was to find a community I could engage with, and that still exists today, which keeps me returning to show my support. I love seeing new members pop up on our facebook feed, and I have no doubt they will experience the rewards of being a part of this living, breathing community of genre writers.
Why does the short story / flash fiction /poetry format appeal to you?
This first surfaced when I was reading through entries when judging at the Australian Shadows. Before then, my only exposure to the short format was when I read Night Shift by Stephen King, and that was many years beforehand. I read through some wonderful and clever entries, which were no more than a few thousand words. The thought had never really occurred to me to try and write shorter stories, as at the time, I was still buried inside my second novel attempt, and struggling. I was also very new to my quest in taking writing more seriously, so I was at the beginning of my journey – sometimes I think I still am! So, inspired by some great stories, I thought that trying to form a story that was just a thousand words or a little more, was not out of my depth. Ideas came, and that’s when I wrote my first short fiction piece Touched, which went on to get published in the Horror Day Anthology and also by Ripples Magazine. From there and onward, the shorter form of fiction became an obsession. Micro pieces also came at abundance, and the ability to create tiny worlds and getting them published was such a thrill.
Poetry came later down the track. I also run my own graphic design studio, so I was approached by Sydney publisher, P’rea Press, to do a cover design for their next release. I discovered they were a publisher of weird poetry. This was new to me and intrigued me instantly. After doing the design work for Kyla Ward’s collection The Land of Bad Dreams, I not only read that book, but also purchased and read many others from the publisher, such as the inspiring Emperors of Dreams.
I developed a nice friendship with Danny Lovecraft, chief of P’rea Press, and he gave me tips on the best books to read if I wanted to learn how to write verse. I went into my study of the form and was soon invited to submit to an anthology. I wrote my first two poems for consideration for that book and they both were accepted. So that’s what fuelled my love for verse. I was in a small rock band when I was in my early twenties, and I wrote a lot of rhyming lyrics, so I think because of this, I’ve taken a flare to writing rhyming poetry. I have been writing a little poetry every year, but would love to devote more time to it. To date, I average on about one poetry publication a year, which is great in-between my short fiction work.
Can you tell us what inspired your contribution to Midnight Echo #15?
My instant interest came to me when the guest editor was announced. I’ve worked with Lee Murray on a couple of occasions, both as an artist and as an author, so the opportunity to be able to submit a story to this issue was too hard to pass up.
[Aw. That's so kind. Thank you, David.]
Secondly though, it was the open theme to her issue. I love open themed submission calls. It provides the freedom I love when thinking about a new story. I can of course rise to the occasion when writing on a theme, but a blank canvas is where I shine. So, that’s what I had in front of me; an editor I really wanted to work with again, and a clean slate to form a new story on.
I then went through the vault in my head; stories that are there and had not yet been given the chance to hit the page. That’s where I found this story, My Claire. This was originally a film script idea. I just loved the notion of a mourning grandfather taking care of his zombie grandchild. All set in one room, and with the dialogue driving the story, painting the pictures and building the world. I was also quite conscious of the deadline, so this story fit in well in terms of me getting everything just right before submitting.
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?
Yes, these are troubling times, and to be honest, I have been reading the horror fiction genre a lot lately. In saying that, it’s not all that I’ve been reading. Whilst having a bit more time to read during the lock down periods, I have also taken to reading biographies and musical history. To face facts, this was to get my mind off what’s happening in the world and allowed exposure to reading material I would not have normally chosen. It was nice to have a break in trend and fill my mind with lighter subjects, and this of course depended on who or what I read about. I’d been reading Misery by Stephen King. During my time through this fantastic novel, I did enjoy moving to a totally different book to ease my head from the tension of the story, and to also ease my head if I’d had a rather stressful day. So, I read parts of a history book about the Rolling Stones, which I’m still really enjoying.
I’m sure there are many people who mixed up what they’d read, so I didn’t feel it out of place to still write a horror story. I like to think of horror as an escape of sorts too, just like diverting to any genre. Yes, it is more important now more than ever. I have placed some black humour in My Claire, so I’d hoped to offer a grin or two. The story is dark and has its gory moments, but I’ve also placed it in the fictional world.
I think due to the state of times, I didn’t feel like writing something that could potentially happen, like a psychological horror piece, or a story focussing on decease or lock downs. I needed to escape as well, so that’s why this story was so appealing to write and I could still satisfy my horror writing bug.
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?
Well, here is a way to know me a little more. The book titles are in no particular order:
The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien
I learn more every time I read it, and there is plenty to memorise! It’s one massive work rather than a trilogy and I just never get tired of it. Yes, I read the songs…
Post War Baby Austins by Barney Sharrat
I’m a classic car owner, and this is the old car I have. I’m rebuilding mine slowly and my father use to work in the Austin factory back in 1955-56, when they were making these cars in Australia. I love reading about the history of this little piece of motoring, so this book would have me engulfed for years.
For my last choice, I could very well make it an easy answer, like a collection of Lovecraft or Sterling, but as much as that is hard to pass up, I want to keep my library of three rather well rounded. So my last choice would be:
The Story of Cinema by Mark Cousins
I love movies. And as much as I love viewing them, I love reading about them and how they are made. This probably explains why I enjoy reading about musical figures. Reading about great forgers of any art form gives me a wonderful insight to how they do things, and provides me with an endless amount of inspiration. Books are my download as well as watching films. The rest of the time, I’m an ‘up-loader’, creating content for others to enjoy.
Poe, Straub, King & Co aside, can you name any lesser known but deserving writers of horror fiction whose work has resonated for you recently?
This is a tricky question for me as I’ve recently been reading more known names. As for other readings, the works have been of local authors for the purpose of illustrating their work. In saying this, the works of the following authors have been great and well worth a read for anyone wanting to read horror fiction or poetry. Some of these authors may be known to you, but others a totally new. Over that past two years, the works of Kyla Lee Ward, Ashely Capes and Devin Madson are not to be forgotten. Also Robert Hood and the poetic works of Clarke Ashton Smith and Richard L. Tierney, have a lasting place in my reading list. Furthermore, any essays and written works on horror fiction and poetry by S.T. Joshi should never be overlooked.
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?
It’s always a seduction for me. I would’ve submitted anyway due to the reasons I wrote earlier. However, I’m a traditionalist, like a lot of people, I love bookshops and the growth of my own library. I can re-read books more that I would attempt the re-read of an e-publication. So, the announcement that the issue was going to be also offered in print was of course some additional fuel. Although the world of publishing has changed and moved into the online and device-reading source, the art and form of the traditional paperback or hardback book, will never die.
I’ve never forgotten a cool comic I noticed pop up a couple of years ago (I wish I could credit the author), where a broom says to a sad book in a bar, “Don’t worry about it. Look at it this way, the vacuum cleaner came out years ago but people still find a use for me.”
What are you working on right now?
My latest collection of horror stories Beneath the Ferny Tree, is about to be resigned by its current publisher, Close-Up Books. So, that’s exciting to me, to continue its life out there in the market. I have a number of longer short stories that I’m currently sourcing homes for, but they may be collected for a future work along with a crime-based novelette. More on that if it comes to fruition.
Hot on my list is my zombie graphic novel, Unit 12, which I try and push its progress within my Facebook page and Instagram feeds – come and check it out! This was time well spent during lock down in Victoria, so I’m excited to keep it going.
I’m at the final stages of outlining my fantasy novel, Talisman. This project has been going for a few years now, and is nearly ready for me to re-draft it with its new direction. With everything I do with books, I also have a bevy of illustrations to accompany this project.
I’m also illustrating a children’s book, not horror, but it certainly something close to my heart which I hope to see ready in the next six to twelve months. It’s a massive task but great fun.
I also have my zombie novel, Still Hearts, which has been critiqued and is waiting for me to re-draft.
Lastly, there’s my completed horror novella, Hell Night, which is currently being considered in America. If that comes back to me, it will be my first priority to seek a new home.
Like all of us, there’s lots on the go…
David Schembri is an author, artist and genre poet from rural Victoria. He is the author of the horror collections, Unearthly Fables (in collaboration with The Writing Show, 2013) and the Australian Shadows Awards-nominated collection, Beneath The Ferny Tree (Close-Up Books, 2018).
David’s short fiction has been published by Chaosium Inc, Horror World Press, Things in the Well and Midnight Echo.
His poetry has appeared in several issues of the Hippocampus Press Magazine, Spectral Realms, edited by S.T. Joshi. Poetry appearances are also noted within the Anno KlarkAsh-Ton Anthology by Rainfall Books, and issue 13 of Midnight Echo Magazine.