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Meat is Murder: An Interview with Joseph D’Lacey

By Alan Kelly.

“No question now, what had happened to the faces of the pigs. The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.” – George Orwell, Animal Farm

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3:AM: Firstly, congratulations on winning Best Newcomer at the British Fantasy Awards for your gloriously depraved debut Meat. I’m delighted that such a bold, daring piece of literary fiction won. How do you feel about it?

Joseph D’Lacey: Thanks, Alan, I appreciate that very much. And it’s lovely to hear Meat referred to as literary fiction – even ‘gloriously depraved’ literary fiction. For most people’s money, it’s a horror novel. That said, I always believed it dealt with themes that give it both mainstream and cult appeal. I guess we’ll only find out in the future if either of those things are true.

As to winning the BFS Best Newcomer, I was utterly astonished. You can see the footage of me accepting the award on our blog. I had to fight my way into the ceremony from outside the banqueting hall because I’d been out for a curry with some scary horror pals. If they hadn’t ‘steered’ me to the awards, I probably would have been in the bar instead.

3:AM: In Meat you “put humans through abattoirs for the freak factor, for the sheer horror of it.” You admit that your research took you to slaughter footage, where you discovered that all over the world animals are farmed and brutalised. Was writing this novel as difficult for you as it was for me reading it?

JD’L: It was a terrible book to research, I mean truly horrifying, but a wonderful thing to bring to people’s attention in fiction. I occupied those shadowed, stinking slaughterhouse corridors and crushes for months. It sickened me. In fact, I was so disturbed by what I discovered and so aghast at what I knew I’d have to do to write the story that I quit about a third of the way in. If it hadn’t been for Bloody Books’ editor Simon Petherick showing real interest in the project, I might never have finished it.

As you know, I state in the afterword that I’m not a vegetarian. However, before the novel hit the bookshelves, I stopped eating animal flesh. That was Christmas ’07. I haven’t had any animal tissue in my stomach since then. I’m not the only one either, some readers have gone as far as veganism after reading the book. To know your work, your fiction, has affected someone’s life that profoundly is very satisfying.

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3:AM: I’ve read that you write by the seat of your pants, though the structure, characterisation and plot, the entire execution of your work, is flawless. Do you race to get to the end of a project your on and fill in the blanks later?

JD’L: It’s true, I’m not a great planner for the most part. I write to discover what happens next. I genuinely believe that a piece of fiction, once it has a hold of you, is all there waiting to be discovered. You just have to keep turning up and exposing more and more of it until you’re done. That doesn’t mean I don’t run into difficulties, I regularly do. When that happens, I usually turn to nature for answers and guidelines. I’ll ask a specific question about where the story is going or how I should be writing it and then I’ll head out for a walk somewhere quiet and watch what the natural world reflects back to me. My theory is that all I’m doing is allowing my subconscious to throw clues to my conscious mind. At which point I can continue the work knowing where I’m headed.

I can now contradict myself, however, because over the last year or so I haven’t been able to get a writing routine that works for me. This has meant I’ve been turning over at least three novels in my mind. When I came to start writing the one I’m working on right now. Tons and tons of notes and ideas erupted from me and I’ve had to plaster my office with index cards and bits of A4 paper with numbered entries on them. But even with what looks like a lot of planning I’m still getting elements of story developing very strongly which I had no idea about in my notes, I’ve given myself a year for this novel and the feeling of knowing I can take my time and get it right is lovely. Maybe I’ll do it this way more often.

3:AM: With Meat I was reminded of a more hardcore Under the SkinMichel Faber‘s sci-fi novel. There is definitely parallels between both books: Meat has a certain Orwellian spin, coupled with your own worldview of eco-horror and if push came to shove, we’d all be eating each other. We live in dark times, and there seems to be a collective of writers who are gravitating towards these subjects. What draws you to these places?

JD’L: I read Under the Skin last year, having heard a lot about it on the grapevine. I wasn’t disappointed. So often, telling a great story is the art of withholding information and Michel Faber does that wonderfully. Really creepy stuff. I liked the novel so much that we featured it in ‘Starting the Novel’ – a course I run at Warwick University with Meat‘s scriptwriter, John Costello.

Dystopias and Post-Apocalyptic worlds do seem to be on the rise in fiction. Personally speaking, such scenarios allow me to do two things: first, I know anything can happen because the usual rules don’t apply. Second, I can re-frame events happening right now in a way that makes people see how crazy they are.

In a wider sense, though, I think people are genuinely frightened that the world could end and that we might be the ones to cause it. Contemporary writers are expressing something many people are fearful of. This is natural and it’s also a good thing. I hope to revisit eco-horror themes in much of my work and to keep giving people, including me, a big fright by doing so.

3:AM: The novel does have a moral centre with the guilt-wracked, bolt-gunning Ice Pick Richard Shanti – who is secretly vegan, which is an offence in Aberyne, not only punishable by death – but also with the gutting and filleting process that precedes it. In the sphere of ‘shock’ literature, do you think moral centres for the most part are absent? I only ask because in a universe as terrifyingly cruel as the town of Aberyne, the reader is offered hope just when you think such a concept couldn’t possibly exist within the parameters of your story.

JD’L: I have a sense that all the best stories are moral stories to some degree. In myth and folklore, where storytelling has its roots, many tales are either moral or contain hidden wisdom. And today’s great stories are the same – The Kite Runner strikes me as a prime example. Honestly, I don’t read a lot of ‘shock’ literature but I know there is a feeling that horror cinema has abandoned morality, and even story, in favour of voyeurism. The need to shock and challenge just for the sake of it, is a strong one, especially in a world where that’s often the only way to get any attention. But even in these cases, there’s often some morality, albeit twisted to some degree, in even the darkest of tales. Where Meat is concerned, I knew from the start that it would be a strongly moral tale. Not all my work is like that though. Sometimes I just write nasty stories for the hell of it.

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3:AM: You co-founded Horror Reanimated with Bill Hussey, which is a division of Beautiful Books. When and why did you decide to begin this imprint? What are your plans with Horror Reanimated?

JD’L: Actually, Horror Reanimated isn’t a division of Beautiful Books and it isn’t really an imprint either. We certainly set it up with input from Beautiful and most definitely with their blessing but we run it autonomously. Occasionally, if we think there may be a conflict of interests, we let them know but, in essence it’s up to us what we do. Basically Horror Reanimated is a horror blog where we discuss and promote what we think is the best in the genre and horror culture in general. If we don’t like something, we just don’t review it. We prefer that to posting negative material. We also use it to publicise our own work, of course. There’s a third agent too, Mathew F. Riley – winner of the BFS Short Fiction Award – without whom the site would never have launched.

Earlier this year, as an experiment, we produced a chapbook titled Horror Reanimated I: Echoes. It was limited to 200 copies and we gave them away as we toured the UK launching Garbage Man and Bill’s The Absence. The chapbook was illustrated and contained a long short story by each of us. Each copy was signed and numbered too. The project was a success, and I think we may produce more limited edition works in the future.

3:AM: As you mention, you’ve also another book which is doing the rounds called Garbage Man, about waste management gone awry, and a novella The Kill Crew, a survivalist horror story about a bunch of mostly young women killing ‘commuters’. Have you anymore novellas in the pipeline?

JD’L: I love writing novellas. That territory between short fiction and novel length work sometimes throws up brilliant ideas. I’ve written five or six novellas so far. The thing is, though, that they are the kinds of stories that just ‘happen’ to me. I’ll be very surprised if I ever plan one. If I do, I’ll come back here and confess, though.

3:AM: Meat has been optioned by a producer. How much involvement have you had so far? I can only imagine the translation from page to screen with this material could potentially be fraught with difficulty?

JD’L: So far my involvement has been mainly with the scriptwriter and I would class our working relationship as close. The first draft of the script is absolutely superb and it has my every blessing. Where it goes from here is still hard to say. In the end, this may be where my involvement with the project ends. However, if the producer wants more input from me, I’ll be delighted to give. Film projects, as you rightly suggest, are notoriously rocky affairs, so I am forewarned and forearmed. But I do hope to see a screen adaptation of Meat within my lifetime.

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ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER
Alan Kelly [centre] is 3:AM‘s Film Editor. He has worked for a number of specialist magazines, Film Ireland, Pretty Scary, Penny Blood, Bookslut et al. He lives in Wicklow, Ireland, and is partial to pulp, noir, hardboiled, brainy erotica and horror fiction.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Sunday, November 29th, 2009.