"I didn't know it was monkey until after I'd eaten it, because it came served up in a mango stew....I stayed with the ethnic hill tribes...The women of the Akha tribe had teeth sharpened to points and lips stained red with betel juice. This gave me dreams I can't possibly discuss." -- Graham Joyce
British author Graham Joyce is absolutely someone you should know about and definitely read. The British author's dark novels are notable for an atmosphere of suspense and underlying themes of "otherness," sexuality, and the power of that which is "slightly beyond our senses" more than the traditionally supernatural.
"Yes," he agrees, "the slightly beyond our senses, or at least beyond our consciousness. A sense of dark forces mustering. Sexuality for example is -- despite all the modern, open talk about the subject -- a force that manipulates us well beyond the point most people would want to concede. It's out of control, yet the consensus is to pretend to each other that we've -- just about -- got the lid on it. Ditto venality. This is the wolf. It's out there. And that's the link to the darkness."
Getting to know Joyce through U.S. publication of his novels, however, has been a bit convoluted. Most Americans first became aware of Joyce with THE TOOTH FAIRY (1998) although REQUIEM (1998) was published here at almost the same time. Those two books were followed by DARK SISTER (1999). INDIGO was published January 2000 here in the states and DREAMSIDE was just released in June.
But, DREAMSIDE is really his first novel (1991), followed by DARK SISTER (1992), HOUSE OF LOST DREAMS (1993) -- which we haven't even seen on this side of the Atlantic --REQUIEM (1995), THE TOOTH FAIRY (1996) and THE STORMWATCHER (1998). THE STORMWATCHER has yet to be published in the U.S.
Why did it take so long for Joyce to get published here? After all, he's won the British Fantasy Award three times -- for DARK SISTER, REQUIEM, and THE TOOTH FAIRY. "Publishers in the U.S. thought my books were crap, then they changed their minds," he says. "I've no idea what persuaded them. It's mysterious."
Not that he had to make any tremendous changes in the novels for Yanks as opposed to Brits. The U.S. edition of DARK SISTER differs somewhat from the British version. "Because the U.S. audience had seen REQUIEM and THE TOOTH FAIRY, I felt my writing had moved on, and I was aware of more than one or two shortcomings in DARK SISTER," Joyce explains. "I had the enthusiastic attentions of Bryan Cholfin at Tor who was patient enough to work with me on improving DARK SISTER. Logically, I might have done the same improving work on DREAMSIDE. However, Bryan had moved on by this time and the opportunity passed.
"The only other book in which there are some difference is INDIGO. This is the first book which I've set (partly) in the U.S., and my answer here may sound obsessive, but I actually like these kind of technical challenges. I had European and American characters each in both American and European settings. The language nuances of this can drive you crazy. Do you Americanize the American point-of-view in America? Or in Europe too? Does an Englishman in Chicago walk down a pavement or a sidewalk? And if he stubbornly sticks to a pavement, can he push a child in a buggy rather than a stroller, while smoking a fag, without making an American laugh while you're trying to make a serious point? And how far do you change it without patronizing your readers or losing the subtlety of voice. And so on. Hence the different version. If it had all been set in England, like THE TOOTH FAIRY, I wouldn't have monkeyed with it. Maybe this is stuff that only writers find fascinating, but when you're trying hard to write through the words instead of with the words these things are banana skins littering the pavement. Or sidewalk."
Before having to seriously worry about such nuance of language and where to toss fictional banana skins, Graham Joyce was a Development Officer for a National Youthwork agency, representing the United Kingdom to the European Confederation for political and fundraising purposes. "Do you understand any of that [job title and explanation of former career]?" Joyce asks. "Me neither when I look at it, even though I did it for eight years. Got to travel a lot, including to the Communist countries before the Iron Curtain came down. It was a great job but I quit. You know the thing: Boo hoo, there's an artist going mad in here! So I went to the Greek island of Lesbos. The head of Orpheus is lodged in a rock there and continues to deliver oracles, plus it was Sappho's island, plus Aesop, and has other towering literary associations, that's why I chose it. I had a secluded house on the seafront with no electricity and water from a pump. It was beautiful even though it was infested with scorpions, which was a bit of a freak at first but I found out you can come to strict terms with scorpions."
Joyce wrote steadily for fifteen years before he got published. "If I couldn't get published tomorrow I'd still be writing. It's something to do with feeling so overwhelmed by this experience of life that you have to tell someone about it, and in a way that re-orders the experience to make it manageable. Why keep at it? Just stopping it would be a real challenge. Sometimes I have an anxiety about whether the constant processing one does as a writer gets in the way of another kind of living."
Teaching Creative Writing at Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, England. may help him keep his perspective. "I have to get out once a week and speak with people or I start thinking I'm the Emperor of Abyssinia. I may be rough and loutish, but I'm gregarious and thoroughly lovable with it and I need the contact with colleagues and students. My students are wonderful. Whatever rubbish I come out with they pretend to treat it with respect. Plus I get to work with superb colleagues like Kathryn Hughes the famous biographer and poet Mahendra Solanki. Great minds."
His new book, SMOKING POPPY, took him far from Nottinghamshire. "SMOKING POPPY, is set on the borders of Thailand and Myanmar, in the opium growing jungle uplands." The novel follows a father who goes to Thailand to find a daughter jailed there on drug-smuggling charges. Once there, he finds the young woman imprisoned in Chiang Mai is not his daughter. He and his companions -- his son and his pool-playing partner -- go on to further discoveries in the jungle of the opium growing borderlands where they find the daughter tormented by mountain spirits. "It's a book about fatherhood. It's a book about the kind of demons you don't recognize until they stand next to you." Simon & Schuster will publish in the U.S., Orion-Gollancz in the UK; both sometime in 2001.
While in Thailand doing research he ate monkey meat. "Not a whole monkey. And I didn't know it was monkey until after I'd eaten it, because it came served up in a mango stew. (Heck. mon frere, mon semblable and all that.)
"I stayed with the ethnic hill tribes to research this one. The women of the Akha tribe had teeth sharpened to points and lips stained red with betel juice. This gave me dreams I can't possibly discuss."
Dreams, however, are discussed in DREAMSIDE, lucid dreaming in which the dreamer has capacity to be conscious of and to control one's dreams. Not that the author has ever experienced much of it himself. "Tried. Failed. One brief experience of dream lucidity while writing the novel. Very exciting but couldn't sustain it. Wouldn't have got out of bed if I'd succeeded"
For now he's "tidying up" SMOKING POPPY and has lots of ideas for the next project, but "as always, it's a question of choosing the right one."