The Horror Tree Presents – An Interview with Nicholas Bowling
The Horror Tree Presents – An Interview with Nicholas Bowling
By: Ruschelle Dillon
Ruschelle: I’m here sitting on the thickest branch of the Horror Tree hoping you’re not looking for a new log for the Log Lady from Twin Peaks. This tree is haunted and off limits. Speaking of Twin Peaks, your most recent work, The Follower, which dropped July 20th, 2021 is described as Twin Peaks meets Welcome to Night Vale. Could you give us a little taste of how The Follower conjures both the strange Twin Peaks and Welcome to the Night Vale?
Nicholas: Well. I wasn’t consciously channeling Twin Peaks, but tonally it shares quite a lot, I think. I like to create feeling in my (adult) books where the world just feels a bit out-of-joint – a sense of unease or menace beneath the surface of things that can’t quite be articulated. I like to wrongfoot the reader, too, in terms of tone and genre. I want them to feel unsure of how they should react to a certain scene or character. Absurdity is good for that. It allows you turn something funny into something violent or upsetting very quickly. David Lynch is obviously the master of this, but I think it also comes from my general experience of the world. It’s a very odd place, and people are very odd, and we’re all involved in a kind of group delusion that it’s anything other than that. Normality is a fiction that barely holds together most of the time. Also: The Follower has a peak. But just one.
As for Night Vale – I wasn’t even aware of it until my publisher told me it was in the same neighbourhood as The Follower. But I’ll get on it.
Ruschelle: Were you a big fan of the show Twin Peaks?
Nicholas: I loved it. It’s basically my perfect thing. Obviously I was too young to see it when it first aired, but I remember discovering it for the first time in my twenties and watching it in a kind of disbelief – at how much I enjoyed it, how much it resonated with me. I don’t know if you’ve ever got that – when you watch a film or read a book and you feel like someone is articulating what’s in your brain better that you could. It was almost a nostalgic feeling, and I mean that in the original sense of the world. Like a homecoming. I realize this sounds quite stupid and pretentious.
Ruschelle: What was it about the Welcome to Night Vale series that drew you into creating your own world of strange and illogical?
Nicholas: Embarrassingly… I’ve never read or listened to it! I never seem to get around to anything that people recommend to me. Particularly podcasts. But I promise I’ll try.
Ruschelle: I’m going to ask it. I know I shouldn’t, but I can’t help myself. So, what is really at the top of Mount Hookey? And have you ever been there?
Nicholas: A revolving restaurant. I went there once and had a pint of prawns and got the worst food-poisoning of my life.
Ruschelle: You’re penned children’s books! Which do you find more of a challenge, writing for adults or children?
Nicholas: I’m not sure one is more challenging than the other. They’re both hard, in slightly different ways. I find that children’s books go through a way more intense editorial process – the plot has got to work like clockwork, and you can’t afford to have any slack in the story. With adult books I suppose you can, for better or worse, afford to be a bit more self-indulgent. What I mean by that is that you’re less in thrall to plot. You can put in scenes whose focus is more about tone or characterization, and the hard bit is writing these in such a way that people don’t get bored. I’m still not sure I know how to do that.
Ruschelle: I’ve heard many people say that Latin is a dead language. I’m sure you hate hearing that, being you ARE a Latin teacher! Would you ever write a book entirely in Latin to entice the masses to read the old language once again?
Nicholas: Absolutely no way. Firstly, I’m incredibly lazy. Secondly, I’m not actually that good at Latin, and I’d be looking in the dictionary for every other word. Thirdly, if actual Roman writers like Virgil and Ovid – I’m talking true GOATs, here – aren’t enough to entice people to read Latin, what kind of chance do I have?
Ruschelle: Has Latin showed up in any of your books as an important plot? Or will that be in the NEXT book? LOL
Nicholas: Yes! In the Shadow of Heroes was a children’s book I wrote a couple of years ago that was set in Rome under the Emperor Nero. There’s one particular plot point that revolves around the mistranslation of a bit of Latin (I’m not telling you what it is).
Ruschelle: You’re a stand-up comic! How often does comedy play out in your writing?
Nicholas: I really need to get that removed from my bio. I used to do a lot of stand-up comedy, and I had a solo show at the Edinburgh Fringe festival in 2013. I still have a bit of an itch to get back into it, and I get a kick out of making stupid videos and tweets, but I wouldn’t describe myself as a comedian anymore. I do want to make people to laugh, though. Usually the comedy in my books is something absurd or surreal or, in the case of Alpha Omega, satirical. But like I said earlier, I also want my books to be both funny and sad (either alternately, or at exactly the same time). I love that kind of ambiguity. In fact, thinking back, there was a kind of sadness in my Edinburgh comedy show, too.
Ruschelle: What material do you write for your stand up gets the most laughs? I’m not going to ask what gets the groans because horror/comedy writers always slay. Get it? Slay? I’ll shut up now…
Nicholas: It’s funny – I used that pun about horror-writers in my most recent gig and got the biggest laugh of my career.
Ruschelle: What type of comedian are you? Slap stick, sight gags, blue?
Nicholas: Usually I just dress up as an 18th century fop and chase a pig around the stage for about an hour.
Ruschelle: I would buy a ticket to watch that play out. Onward…I read in another interview, yes, I do my due diligence and stalk all my interviewees, that you have a superpower or something. ((whispering)) I hear you have a magnetic coccyx. How do you temper writing, being a stand-up comedian and a superhero? Do you stick to villains’ cars? Color me intrigued.
Nicholas: My coccyx is actually pretty normal. Handsome, certainly – but normal. Sometimes when I do these sorts of things my answers to questions are not wholly truthful. Full disclosure: this has happened a few times in this interview.
Ruschelle: You’re a writer. Writers make up stuff. When you get caught in some bollocks, run with it, like I do penning interview questions. Now, If you could give one piece of writing advice to new writers out there, what would it be?
Nicholas: Hmm. Nothing beyond the usual cliches, sorry. They’re cliches because they’re totally true. Just show up and do the work. Writing is, like everything, about practice. You first draft will always – I mean always – be no good. But get to the end and go back and do it all again. Practise, practise, practise. And in about 10 years you might have a vague grasp of what you’re doing and how you’re doing it. I’m hoping that will ring true for me in 2 years’ time.
Ruschelle: Retrospectively, what is the worst piece of writing advice you ever received? Would you ever pass it along just to see if it fairs well for someone else?
Nicholas: Will Self told me he always drinks 2 litres of Nesquik before he starts his day’s work. Always just made me feel sick, but he’s much more successful than I am, so who’s to say?
Ruschelle: If you were asked to write a new version of Twin Peaks what would you do to it to slap your unique brand on it?
Nicholas: Are you kidding? A new version of Twin Peaks? Get outta town!
Ruschelle: After The Follower explodes online for everyone to read, what’s your next project?
Nicholas: I’m halfway through my next children’s book, which is about gravediggers and body snatchers and women scientists of the 19th century. Then I’ve got a book in me that I’ve been waiting to start for the last ten years or so, about a rural English village that’s unnaturally prosperous. The idea of the “English eerie” is something I find very interesting. I find these tight-knit communities in the middle of nowhere, where everyone knows everyone’s business, fascinating and unsettling and ripe for stories. I suppose that’s quite Twin Peaks too, isn’t it? A small community whose quaintness masks something more sinister. Seems like I don’t really have any ideas of my own, do I? Oh well.
Ruschelle: Thank you so much for hanging out with me here at the Horror Tree! It’s been a pleasure. So, will you please tell your newfound fans how they might find you on the www?
Nicholas: Well, I pop up occasionally on twitter as @thenickbowling. I also have quite a stupid website that I haven’t updated for about 2 years. But I’m very, very proud of it. It’s here: www.nickbowling.org.