Interview: with Carlington Black

The myth of Carlington Black arose from the shaken soil of Wellington, where he lives in a dilapidated coastal warehouse with a dog called Dunsany and cat called Poe belonging to his dead parents. He knows strange people and strange things and retells them as strange stories. You can read more of his strange stories here and here. Find Carlington's story Strings of Love in Issue #02 of Breach.

There are millions of people around the world with great story ideas, but who never even start to write them down. What drives you to sit down and aim for finished, published stories?

I finish my stories because I have an obligation to the people in them. Largely, they're people whose lives are not normally noticed, or celebrated. They're ordinary. It feels like they should be recorded, and experienced by others - because they matter. I also feel an obligation to the ideas, like there's life in each idea that shouldn't die - can't die. Ideas are born from the soil, the conglomeration and accretion of space dust. I have an obligation to nurture and spread them.

Do you have any particular writing rituals you are comfortable sharing?

Each idea arrives as a nightmare, a dream, or a physical experience. I jot the core idea down, but I don't look at the note again. The story takes shape and grows in my mind over days and weeks. When the story has matured I write it all down in an eight hour burst - start to finish. It's the writing stage where the characters take over, and stuff happens that I never thought about or expected. I then edit and add to it in an iteration or two over a couple more hours, in which the characters come to life, and it's done. These are all short stories at the moment. But even for a novella I'm writing, the core story was laid down in a day, and I'm now letting the characters grow it out.

What books are beside your bed right now?

My Kindle of course, but the hard copy pile is IF Science Fiction, February 1965 (picked off my shelf for the cover story by AE Van Vogt), Majipoor Chronicles by Robert Silverberg and Waterloo by Bernard Cornwell.

To what degree do you feel everything has already been written, in some form or another? Have you ever started writing a story, only to discover someone has already written it?

I'm currently sitting on a story where the answer to your question is about to be "YES" - the irony is that after I had the idea I remembered Arthur C Clark's Nine Billion Names of God. They way I intend to play the idea out is of course, completely different. And that's possible because it turns out that the one thing humanity is not short of, is ideas, or ways of expressing them. And neither is the universe. It teams with combinations of molecules. When you add metaphysical and emotional interpretations, the numbers of expressions could only be represented by powers and exponents. There's so many ideas that we can't remember them all, even when recorded. Human frailty and obsession with the present means we are repeating many things, but we just don't care. What matters is largely only what is alive now. But we ignore the past ideas to our cost: I discovered the work of Lord Dunsany a while back, and realised that I was tapping into his self-same dark life forces. He opened me to new nightmares. I recently rediscovered Jack London and and realised how his curt hyper-reality I read as a very young boy was now influencing my storytelling.

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