REMAINS TO BE TOLD – An interview with Kiwi author Paul Mannering
REMAINS TO BE TOLD – An interview with Kiwi author Paul Mannering
In this unique interview series, we chat with the contributors of Kiwi horror anthology Remains to Be Told: Dark Tales of Aotearoa, edited by five-time Bram Stoker Award-winner Lee Murray (Clan Destine Press, 1 October).
Today, we welcome award-winning author Paul Mannering, whose short story “A Throatful of Flies” appears in the anthology.
Tell us about your story in the anthology.
I grew up on a small farm outside of Kaikoura, New Zealand.
Often, during those endless summers of childhood I would go and stay on a sheep station, a sprawling farm in the hills that covered 3300 acres and bred a few thousand Drysdale sheep for wool. On these working holidays, we did everything from mustering stock, to planting trees. Farm chores at home were a drag, here it was a fun holiday adventure.
It was during one hot summer when I was there for a couple of weeks that I was tasked with helping the current farm hand with butchering some old rams. These were elderly sheep, long past their useful lives and now they were to be killed, cut up and fed to the pack of working dogs.
We got the job done and as the story told, somehow a prize stud ram – worth an eye-watering sum, got in the stockyard with the elderly rams. We killed him too.
The offal pit was real and since I was young enough to remember seeing sheep guts and heads being sucked into that ragged hole in the centre of the sheets of roofing iron – it has haunted me.
I had an anthropologist’s education in religion – all observation and curiosity but no actual faith or ritual other than the token church visit at Christmas so the idea of a portal to hell was not that realistic. If someone asked me to imagine such a gateway, I would see that black hole, fringed with the bloated bodies of massive blowflies.
The pit has appeared in several story ideas in various forms, though this is the first published story to go into details.
Would you like to share a paragraph from your story?
I was in high school the first time I cut a throat.
Tilt the head back, a long stroking slice with steady pressure. Press harder against the slight resistance. Drag the blade through the delicate rings of cartilage that make the airway. The deep flesh shining with the metallic rainbow colours of spilled diesel fuel. The blood spurts, of course – though I barely noticed, my focus caught instead by the blank stare of the sheep gripped between my thighs. The ram shivered, kicked, and faded. I lay it down and we pressed hooks through the cooling skin at the back of the hock; between the Achilles tendon and the bone on the hind legs. The chain rattled as we winched the beast upside down to drain its blood onto the dark stained concrete.
It’s just meat, I told myself.
Three more rams waited in the tight enclosure of the stockyard pen. That afternoon, Wayne, the hired hand, and I cut and hung them all. We laid their freshly flayed skins out on a table frame ingrained with the grease of years of animal fat. Made of wooden slats older than me, the table came from the woolshed where the rousers used it for sorting wool.
We salted the hides skin side up and left them to dry. The roughly butchered meat went into a big copper pot over a banked fire to be cooked for dog tucker.
The guts and heads went into the offal pit.
The pit was the gateway to Hell.
What does horror mean to you?
Horror is the stories that I can never forget. Novels, short-stories, films, radio-plays – that all come flooding back in perfect detail when I know it’s perfectly safe to walk down the dark hallway to the bathroom in the middle of the night. At the same time knowing that I wouldn’t walk that dark passage for a million bucks.
Horror is the thrill of the unseen and the arrogance of reminding ourselves that it’s just fiction. It’s the fairy tales where the witch eats Hansel and Gretel and Little Red Riding Hood dies screaming with the wolf’s hot breath on her throat.
Which author (living or dead) would you most like to sit next to on a long plane trip and why?
Probably a middle seat between Chuck Tingle and Clive Barker. Chuck because he has created an entire genre around his books which as absurd as they are, actually tap into the zeitgeist of the Western world at the moment. Clive Barker, because he writes the most horrifying and haunting prose that woos you like love poetry.
Is Halloween a thing in New Zealand? Yes or no?
New Zealand doesn’t really celebrate Halloween – which is a terrible shame. For me it means horror movie marathons and telling spooky stories in the dark.
Ever talked to the dead?
When I worked in a funeral home, I always talked to the dead. When embalming or dressing the deceased, talking to them was my way of remembering that this is a person and worthy of respect and dignity in the handling of their remains. Mostly would tell them what I was doing, as if they were a live patient in need of care.
Got a fun dead body fact?
The time it takes for a human body to rot away in a typical home compost heap depends on the size and how far you want it gone. It would be at least a month to become compost. After 30 days the body will be liquifying, the bones could take a year or more to break down.
Zombies have surrounded the house. It’s okay, you’ll just wait them out. And you have three great books with you to occupy the time. They are:
Max Brooks – The Zombie Survival Guide (for reference)
Stephen King – The Drawing of the Three (it took me 30 years to read book 1 of his Dark Tower series, so it seems like a good use of a lot of spare time).
Gabriel Marquez – 100 Years of Solitude (because I need more irony in my diet)
What’s a horror short story that you think everyone should read?
“The Strong Will Survive” by John Everson (published in his outstanding collection, Needles and Sins). It is a story that you read once and then realise that you need to read it again, just to understand what you have witnessed. It is the most poignant, moving, and utterly horrific story I have ever read. The remarkable thing is that this is a very gentle tale in a collection with stories containing graphic violence and horrific scenarios.
Thanks for stopping by, Paul!
Featuring uncanny disturbances, death, and the dank breath of the native bush, Remains to be Told: Dark Tales of Aotearoa is an anthology of dark stories and poems mired in the shifting landscape of the long white cloud, and deeply imbued with the myth, culture, and character of Aotearoa-New Zealand. Laced with intrigue, suspense, horror, and even a touch of humour, and comprising a range of subgenres, the volume showcases some of the best homegrown and Kiwi-at-heart voices working in dark fiction today.
Includes stories and poems by Neil Gaiman, Owen Marshall, Gina Cole, Tim Jones, Lee Murray, Dan Rabarts, Marty Young, Debbie Cowens, Paul Mannering, Tracie McBride, Kirsten McKenzie, Jacqui Greaves, Nikky Lee, William Cook, Bryce Stevens, Kathryn Burnett, Celine Murray, Denver Grenell, Del Gibson & Helena Claudia. Foreword by six-time Bram Stoker Award-winner, Lisa Morton.
Remains to be Told: Dark Tales of Aotearoa is published by Clan Destine Press Australia with the kind support of Creative New Zealand. Original cover art by Sir Julius Vogel Award-winner, Emma Weakley. https://www.clandestinepress.net/products/remains-to-be-told
Paul Mannering is an award-winning New Zealand writer living in Canberra, Australia. He is the author of The Tankbread series (Permuted Press) The Drakeforth Series: Engines of Empathy, Pisces of Fate, Time of Breath, and Heroes of Heresy (IFWG Publishing), horror fiction Hell’s Teeth, EAT, and The Trench (Severed Press), and numerous short stories. He is the producer and narrator of podcast audio dramas at BrokenSea Audio.
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