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An Interview with Ian Charles Douglas, Winner of the 2021 Gravity Award

Today we welcome and chat with a special guest, Ian Charles Douglas, winner of the 2021 Gravity Award. His story, “Haunting of the Jabberwocky” can be found here. Without further ado, let us begin:

Q: First off, congratulations on winning the award! Before we get into the questions and discussion, do you have anyone special you’d like to thank or any shout-outs you’d like to give?

A: Well kudos to Brad and Rob for creating the Gravity Award. And my wife and kids for tolerating me.  

Q: We’re also interested in hearing a little more about you. Would you like to take a moment to introduce yourself beyond the information you supplied in your short biography?

A: Well, I’m Ian C Douglas. Grew up in London. I knew from an early age I wanted to be a writer. My teachers and family disapproved strongly, making me ashamed of my aspirations. I graduated from Nottingham University and worked in social care awhile. But I was unsettled, and gave up that career to backpack around the world. This was so exciting that I retrained as a teacher and taught in Hong Kong, South Korea, and Thailand, where I met my wife. It was here, rubbing shoulders with poets and painters in a university faculty, that I plucked up courage to start sharing my writing. A big step! This led to work as a travel reporter which was a lot of fun (free trips!). My family and I moved back to Nottingham, where I did an MA in Creative Writing (Distinction). Since then, I’ve built up a local writing practice. I do commissions, school visits, local TV spots, writing workshops, editing, literary fairs, and all kinds of book-related stuff. People can find out more about my writing and keep in touch at my website.    

Q: Jumping straight into it, “The Haunting of the Jabberwocky” is fresh and original, but it has some obvious inspirations. Upon reading the story — and rereading it! — we are often reminded of Alice in Wonderland, Sherlock Holmes, and Edgar Allan Poe in particular. Is it fair to say these stories and writers shaped your tale?

A: Definitely, Carroll’s appeal to me was that not only did he create a literary fantasy which entered our collective consciousness, but also, he had a genius for word games, puzzles and such. It was this that fascinated me and inspired me to come up with the story. 

Q: Were there any other major artistic inspirations or real-life events that led to your story’s development?

A: Well, like any creative I’m always fascinated by the imagination. Carroll had a superb imagination, we know, to invent those legendary stories. ‘Haunting’ is about an imagination that is powerful but has gone awry. I guess we could read plenty of subtext into that. The story is also a plea for mental health care that is compassionate, creative, and bespoke to the individual. Beamish represents the progressive spirit while Gyre the regressive.

On a quite different note, I used to live in the tropics. During this time, I had a run in with a foot-long venomous centipede. Nasty beastie, I had quite a fight on my hands. I didn’t kill him, which was a mistake. He later crept back in the house and bit our poor maid. She needed hospital treatment. The Thai Red Centipede is actually rare and I must say thoroughly unpleasant.        

Q: To broaden the scope beyond this story, what writers or other individuals have most changed your life and impacted your writing career?

A: Mary Shelley, Lovecraft, Ray Bradbury, Lovecraft, Tolkien, Asimov, CS Lewis, Peake, Le Guin, it’s a lengthy list. As a child I was a voracious reader and stories were lifelines. Something of a lonely child, books transported me to magical kingdoms and mysterious planets. I could become lost in a book for hours. These imaginary worlds were real to my youthful imagination. They offered sanctuary from a daily life that was at times harsh.     

Q: A major element of “Haunting of the Jabberwocky” is mental illness. Though it is a sensitive issue, it’s also vital to discuss and cannot be ignored or glossed over if we mean to truly understand or analyze the story. Would you care to share any personal experiences with mental illness and how these events might have helped form the foundation of your story?

A: My family has a long history of schizophrenia, bipolar illness, and clinical depression. My mother in particular suffered several years of extreme mental illness. I grew up visiting relatives in mental health hospitals. As an adult I also worked in the field of learning disability. So, I guess I have a longstanding familiarity with institutions of the mind.    

Q: The code-breaking was very well done. Do you have a history in cryptography or any education in the subject? Where did your ideas for all the different codes come from, and what led you to insert them into such a pivotal role of the story? It would have been easy to use the ciphers as mere plot devices. Instead, they become a central theme, which enriches them and adds a depth to the story that we very much appreciated.

A: Thank you! That was my aim in using the cyphers and riddles. To add an element of fun and intrigue to the reading. As I said earlier, it was Carroll’s passion for word games that formed the starting point. I do not have a history in cryptography. One of the perks of writing is that it becomes a way of studying something that interests me. So, this story gave me the chance to find out more about the subject. I researched the actual games that Carroll used to play. Rot 13, for example, is an actual cypher popular in Carroll’s day. And he is credited with inventing word ladders, which he called doublets. For the story I made up my own versions, which was a lot of fun.  

Q: We’re also certain that anyone, after reading your story, wants to know where you stand on hauntings, ghosts, and the supernatural. So, are they simply something fun to write about, or do you believe these things have a real place in our world?

A: Sadly, I do not believe in ghosts or the supernatural. They are a fascinating subject, though. What need do they satisfy in the human psyche? Ghosts are great for writers as they can have all sorts of subtexts or metaphorical meanings. They can be a riddle that needs cracking in itself. 

Q: “Haunting of the Jabberwocky” is quite a long short story. Have you written any novels? Feel free to share information regarding any of your other works that you’d like to mention, or if “Haunting” is part of a larger universe of your fiction.

A: I am the author of the Zeke Hailey novels. The fifth and final one is due out from my publishers at the end of the year. Zeke is a psychic teenager fighting an interdimensional demon on a terraformed Mars, two centuries from now. Find out more here .

I would love to find out more about Dr. Beamish’s casebook, (one of the characters from ‘Haunting’) because I suspect he had a few more brushes with the Victorian supernatural. Maybe one day.     

Q: Though the Gravity Award is a science-fiction award, the genre has always been slightly multi-disciplinary, and “Haunting” fits that mold perfectly. With hints of science-fiction, horror, mystery, and action, it feels as if every scene of your story offers the reader something new. This diversity gives it a fascinating depth, but also prompts a question: what’s your favorite genre, and why?

A: I use the term speculative fiction; it covers sci-fi/fantasy and the supernatural. I describe myself as a writer in this genre. Why? Sci-fi gives us a vision of a better tomorrow, it asks the big questions about life, the universe, and everything. It has one eye on the human condition and the other on the eternal. And fantasy gives me a way of voicing the dark corners of the mind. Plus, I’m an amateur historian, I even published a non-fiction kids history book. Fantasy is an excuse to go back in time.  

Q: We also love movies and television here at Center Field. Would you care to chat for just a moment about some of your favorite films and television shows, and possibly discuss to what degree cinema has influenced your writing?

A: Another long list, I’m afraid. Forbidden Planet, A Matter of Life and Death, Dr Who, Star Trek, Dead of Night, Alien. You’ll notice my choices are all golden oldies, reflecting my age. I think as a child you fall in love with the media of your time and it stays with you for the rest of your life. But I’m into modern stuff too, as a writer you can’t afford not to be. This is a golden age for speculative TV, thanks to the streaming giants. The Umbrella Academy, The Terror, Love and Monsters etc.

Cinema influences everything. Our cultural psyche is saturated with imagery and plot twists. And I try to write visually, it’s a part of my style.   

Q: Is there anything else regarding the story, your own writing, the contest, or details lingering in the recesses of your mind that you’d like to address or discuss?

A: Commiserations to the other finalists. I read them all. They were exceptional. And a big thank you to Center Field of Gravity staff for creating and running this wonderful opportunity for writers. I really appreciate the chance to submit and I’m very, very grateful to be the 2021 winner. I wish you great success in the future.  

Thank you for taking the time to talk with us. We very much appreciate it, congratulations again, and we wish you all the best in all future endeavors.

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