Monday, October 4, 2010

Bob Curran: Our Favorite Story Teller Shares His Thoughts on Monsters

As we begin October we thought it only right to kick off our homage to all things that go bump in the night with an interview from our friend and author Dr. Bob Curran.

Bob has authored 9 books with New Page including his most recent releases: Dark Fairies, Werewolves: A Field Guide to Shapeshifters, Lycanthropes, and Man-Beasts, and Zombies: A Field Guide to the Walking Dead. His latest book Man-Made Monsters comes out later this year.

NEW PAGE: When did your fascination with all things “monster” begin and how?

CURRAN: I suppose such an interest – not specifically in monsters but with all things supernatural – began when I was very young. I grew up as you may know in a rather remote mountain area of County Down in Northern Ireland where superstition often still played a part in everyday life . My grandmother, with whom I grew up, kept a small shop at a crossroads which she closed every evening at 6 o’clock but neighbours could still get things if they came to the back door. Then they were usually brought in and tea was made and they gathered in our kitchen. My grandfather was a fiddle player and there used to be music and story-telling. It was all very impromptu – but there were nevertheless some great stories going round. Some of these concerned fantastic things which people were sure that they’d seen maybe along the roads in the twilight and I suppose I imagined great monsters living in the bogs and hollows. Later, as I grew up and moved away, I began to realise just how important these stories were – as a means of interpretation and also for holding the community together. And so I began to explore what they meant in some of my books. It was a way of unpacking my childhood I suppose.

NEW PAGE: Why do you think people are so excited by the lore of paranormal creatures?

CURRAN: I think that’s probably connected to my last answer. People, I think, tend to look for meaning and explanation in things which they see around them or which happen to them. Some of those are sometimes interpreted, I think, as having a paranormal dimension as it’s maybe the easiest explanation. For example, if you go up a ladder six times and nothing happens and I go up once and fall off and break my leg, I would as myself the question “Why did that happen to me?” The answer which could be given is that it’s say the work of witches or fairies or something like that. Vampires and zombies too address questions about death and living forever which are very basic human questions. The idea of the werewolf asks the question “Where does the beast end and the human begin?” So, I suppose given my own background in psychology, I tend to explore how people frame up the world for themselves and part of that is sometimes seen in paranormal/supernatural terms.

NEW PAGE: Can you tell us a little about your upcoming book
Man-Made Monsters?

CURRAN: One of the things that have fascinated many people is the creation of life by Mankind itself. This would place Humanity on par with the Supreme Being or with Nature which I suppose would be an exciting concept. But there is also the question – what if it went wrong or what if we couldn’t do it as well as a Supreme Being? This has formed the basis of a whole number of tales – Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein or the legend of the Jewish Golem for instance. It is this concept and some of these tales which the new book explores.

We look at the aforesaid Frankenstein monster and at Mary Shelley’s influences – the claimants who might be the real Doctor Frankenstein; we examine the legend of the Golem; the allegedly artificial life that the medieval alchemists created in their alembics and of course early robots. Many people think that robots and mechanical men are a relatively modern concept, but in the ancient world there were computers and all sorts of robotic things including a full mechanical orchestra.

As usual, it will be illustrated by Ian Daniels and I’ve already seen some of his illustrations for the book and they are absolutely terrific. The book should be out around mid-November of this year.

NEW PAGE: I’ve heard that you worked as a comic book publisher for a time in the U.S. Who are your favourite man made monsters from comics?

CURRAN: I’ve always been interested in comics and still maintain that interest comic and art books. Ever since I was a child I was interested in the fantastic creatures that used to appear in British weekly comics and later Marvel and DC. I worked mainly in the underground on the American West Coast and in Europe during the late 1960s and early 70s. And you’re right I did run a small press for a time – Fool Moon Press - which published some sci-fi and suchlike.

I still do a bit of comics scripting from time to time so the interest is still very strong. I used to read a lot of Marvel and I suppose some of my favourite monsters were the Frankenstein creature which used to appear in Marvel or Mr. Hyde who used to fight a lot of superheroes in various comics. Both of these characters fascinated me because they both had a strong human element to them as did DC’s original Eclipso. The monster which interested me the most I suppose was Amsterdam a ghoul-like creature which threatened the inhabitants of the East End of London. It was never spelled out whether this was a created monster or just an unfortunate who had become such a creature. The magazine in which I worked folded before I got the story finished. I often wonder how it would have ended. Maybe time for it to re-emerge in some shape or form?

NEW PAGE: Personally, I’m a Zombie fanatic, so Zombies: A Field Guide to the Walking Dead was a very exciting read for me. Between all the creatures you’ve written about which would you say is your favourite and which would you be most afraid to encounter in “real life”?

CURRAN: Oh, I’d be afraid to encounter any one of them As for my favourite, I’m not really sure as many of them interest me in different ways. People tell me that they’re zombie or werewolf fans and that’s great – from the range of books that I do it means that they can find something in my work that interests them. The main question for me though is not “Do these creatures exist and what would I do if I had to face one?” rather it is “Why should we want to believe in these beings – what need do they fulfil and what do they tell us about ourselves?” which is a more general question. And I think a lot of my books ask those questions and are actually me trying to make sense of them. I really do love the research and finding out about them – and if I can take the reader with me on my journey of discovery so much the better.

NEW PAGE: On a more personal note, is there a specific book or author that you’ve read that had a substantial influence on your life or the way in which you view the world?

CURRAN: Difficult question. As I said I grew up in a very rural Irish community during the later 1940s and the 1950s and I was about 16 before I even saw a television. So much of my early and formative years were centred around reading as a sort of pastime . So by the time I’d grown up I’d already read a great deal, all of which I think has had a profound influence on me. The first book that I can remember actually buying with my own money was when I was about 11 was an old Arrow copy of Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” . Later I began to read collections of ghost stories – I’ve always enjoyed the traditional ghost story to the modern horror. However, I have read a great deal of and have enjoyed Stephen King. And I used to read a lot of H.P. Lovecraft. But a lot of the books which might have influenced me haven’t been horror stories at all and a lot of American writers have interested me over the years – I’ve found John Steinbeck’s “Grapes of Wrath”, a very powerful book as is William Faulkner’s “As I Lay Dying” which is a marvellous book. I also read a great deal of Jack Kerouack in the 1970s – particularly “On the Road” and “Maggie Cassidy” . Maybe my favourite writer though is another Irishman Liam O’Flaherty, particularly his short stories which reflect a lot of the countryside where I was brought up and some of the people that I knew.

Interview by Kristen Zimmer

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