Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: Congratulations on the upcoming release of your horror novel, For Rye! For those who may be unfamiliar, how would you describe the book’s premise, and what inspired you to tell this story?
Gavin Gardiner: Thank you so much! It feels good to be finally getting it out into the world. I’ve thought a lot about how best to describe this strange, little nightmare of mine, and I keep coming back to one word: transformation. I’ve always been fascinated by characters that undergo radical change throughout the course of a story, and was curious to see how far I could take this theme of transformation.
The story itself centres on Renata Wakefield, a traumatised novelist on the brink of suicide, who is drawn back to her childhood hometown of Millbury Peak following her mother's ritualistic murder. I wanted to start with a protagonist both haunted and scarred by her past, and see to what extremes I could take her story.
So yes, the inspiration behind For Rye was very much founded in my fascination with moral ambiguity, and the capacity for a character to undergo profound change. I feel the book stays pretty close to this thesis. Fiction is obviously driven by character change, but I feel the change that Renata goes through is quite unique – I certainly haven’t read anything like it – and I’m really excited to hear what my fellow horror-lovers make of it!
BD: The novel deftly combines psychological character studies with more traditional horror. What can you share with us about your creative process in weaving these narratives together, and what have been some of your creative influences?
GG: Although the story of For Rye never required any supernatural elements to make it work, I still have a great fondness for supernatural horror and the monsters therein. I knew the main villain of my novel (the identity of which remains a closely guarded secret to everyone except those who have read the book) had to be as horrifying as the most despicable of supernatural horrors, but of a strictly human horror. This was my mission, and it’s yet to be seen if I succeeded in this aim.
Anyway, in order to achieve this I knew I had to rely on, as you said, a mix of psychological and traditional horror. These were the two main colours in my palette, and my approach to mixing them together was to revisit some of my creative influences that you asked about. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein remains perhaps my all-time favourite novel, and readers of For Rye may spot some deep parallels with that story. The works of Shirley Jackson helped inform the ‘domestic horror’ of my novel – as well as the storms raging within even the most apparently unassuming of minds – and writers such as Clive Barker and James Herbert helped influence the more grisly phases of the story, of which there are many. My hero Jeff Long, as well as Laird Barron and Carol Anne Davis, all played pivotal roles in driving me to write this story, but I could continue with this list of influences, both literary and cinematic, pretty much all day. I’ll save you that excitement.
BD: At Fanbase Press, our #StoriesMatter initiative endeavors to highlight the impact that stories can have on audiences of various mediums. How do you feel that Renata’s story will connect with and impact readers, and why do you feel that this story was important for you to bring to life?
GG: I’m going to make this known right off the bat: This is not a happy story. There’s very little in For Rye that will prove uplifting or morally affirming to readers, at least not in the traditional sense. Renata’s story was somewhat of a catharsis for me, an unloading of nihilistic anxiety; a war cry of hopelessness, of sorts. I went in with the primary objective of shaking my readers, of dragging them from the comfort of, as I see it, a prevailing kind of ‘template’ within commercial horror. Although this popular ‘standard’ does not negate the presence of brilliant work emerging in the genre every day, I still wanted to attempt to upset the apple cart, so to speak.
It should be said that I conceptualised the plot of this novel before I’d properly studied story structure and the ancient narrative archetypes that make up the fiction we know and love today. As a result, I feel I’ve ended up with quite an unconventional tale, once that I considered revising to ‘slot in’ with the accepted standards that we’re used to. In the end, I didn’t. For better or worse, this thing kind of exists by its own rules, and although it’s been well-received with advance readers, I honestly have no idea how it’s going to go down with everyone else. As an author, it’s pretty terrifying crafting something that may well hit too few established tropes and structural patterns to resonate with the masses, but it’s also kind of exhilarating sending something out into the world that – coming full circle with my creative influences – is a bit of a Frankenstein’s monster. But terror and exhilaration are surely what a fanatical horror fan such as myself should be used to, so I’m sure I’ll be fine regardless.
BD: Do you foresee expanding the novel into subsequent books or even into other entertainment mediums, if given the opportunity?
GG: A great deal of my inspiration and influences come from cinema, and so naturally I’d jump at the opportunity for my novel to be adapted for film, so long as it was in the hands of the right creative team for this story. Then again, I expect every writer would jump at the exact same thing, so I’m nothing special.
To address the other part of your question: I definitely have no interest in dragging out the story of For Rye further than is natural. Any readers of the novel will hopefully testify to how complete the experience on the page actually is. It’s my intention that the final couple of pages will leave any reader fully satisfied that this particular nightmare has nowhere left to go. Christopher Nolan compared his incarnation of the Joker to the shark in Jaws: He emerges when you least expect it, wreaks havoc, and descends once again into the murky waters. I think of the events of this story in a similar way, in that the tragedies and traumas unfolding throughout For Rye play out in a contained period of time, a single despairingly grim episode that erupts, then extinguishes in a climactic solitary flash. For Rye is a speeding train heading towards untold tragedy, and once you’ve seen how that tragedy is realised, I’m confident you’ll understand why there’s nowhere left to go. You’ll see that some horrors are just too catastrophic for even the proverbial shark to re-emerge once the waters have settled.
Despite all of this, I have a very specific, rather grand plan for the future of every piece of fiction I’ll ever write. What is this plan? All will be revealed soon.
BD: Are there any upcoming projects on which you are currently working that you would like to share with our readers?
GG: Although my primary drive at the moment is to share the nightmare of For Rye with as many people as possible, I’m also sitting on a completed novella called The Last Testament of Crighton Smythe. A release date is yet to be set for this gruesome and quite different tale, but readers can sign up to my newsletter via www.gavingardinerhorror.com to be kept in the loop, or follow me on the social media channel of their choice. The novella is more ‘stream of consciousness’ than For Rye, and I’ve taken to calling it my American Psycho meets Catcher in the Rye.
Besides that, I’m currently knee-deep in the planning stages of my next novel, Witchcraft on Rücken Ridge. This is a folk horror set up a mountain, and promises loads of cult, cave, and cannibal fun for all the family. It’ll focus once again on the psychological above all else, but will explore themes and tropes I’ve yet to turn my hand to. I’m really excited for this one, and hope you’ll join me for the ride.
BD: Lastly, what is the best way for our readers to find more information about For Rye and your other work?
GG: Once again, your readers are invited to sign up to my newsletter via my website, or visit my Linktree to find me on their preferred social media channel. While you’re on my website, you can read the first three chapters of For Rye to see if it’s the kind of nightmare you need in your life. Spoiler alert: It is.