Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: Congratulations on the upcoming release of The Last Testament of Crighton Smythe! For those who may be unfamiliar, how would you describe the book’s premise, and what inspired you to tell this story?
Gavin Gardiner: Thanks very much, Barbra, and cheers for having me on Fanbase Press again!
The Last Testament of Crighton Smythe (bit of a mouthful, I know) revolves around a disillusioned young man who finds he has a rather peculiar talent: He can see exactly when and how anyone he meets is going to die. I think of this novella as my American Psycho meets Catcher in the Rye, so you can expect lots of disjointed stream-of-consciousness narrative, mixed with impulsive, unhinged behavior from our protagonist. Without giving too much away, we may also be dealing with somewhat of an unreliable narrator…
As for what inspired me to tell this particular story, I’d just come out of writing my debut novel, For Rye, which leant more towards poetry-inspired prose and description. I’m stubbornly adamant in offering my readers fresh approaches to the horror genre with each of my new releases, and so this was as far in the other direction as I could manage. I’m not going to lie, it’s a weird one!
BD: As a follow up to your work on the horror novel, For Rye, what can you share with us about your creative process in working within the shorter constraints of the novella format, and what have been some of your creative influences?
GG: My understanding of story structure has come a long way since my writing of For Rye, and I found working to this shorter, less demanding format quite useful in applying what I’d learnt. I see the novella as a kind of microcosm for the novel, a scaled-down version of longer-form pieces. It’s interesting because so many structural rules from the novel apply to the novella, but I found I had to incorporate lessons I’d learnt in my short story writing, as well. You learn early when working in flash fiction the importance of keeping up the momentum in every single sentence, and I found I was able to mix this philosophy with disciplines from novel writing.
As for influences, I looked to horror filmmaker Ari Aster for this one. His debut horror, Hereditary, was a brooding, grim, nihilistic tale that I felt was in the same stylistic ballpark as For Rye. He chose to follow that with Midsommar, another horror masterpiece which this time incorporated comedic elements. I was writing The Last Testament of Crighton Smythe around the time of its release, and he definitely inspired me to push the comedic angle. It’s not overbearing, but Midsommar opened my eyes to the counterintuitive truth of how much further a dash of comedy can push the horror of a story. It’s a smart way to follow up a super-serious piece, subverting expectations and showing that you’re not interested in cloning your previous successes. Clever dude, that Ari Aster.
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 Crighton’s story will connect with and impact readers?
GG: As with For Rye, Crighton’s story is one of empowerment in the face of oppression and subjugation. Stories in that vein tend to come packed with moral richness – ‘stuff’ to take away from the experience and make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. It’s safe to say you’ll get no warmth or fuzziness from my stories. Think Frankenstein’s monster, a creature who initially harbors noble intentions, but is branded an abomination by societal standards, leading it to turn villainous. This pretty much fits the bill for both Renata Wakefield of For Rye and Crighton Smythe.
How will his weird, little story impact readers? The very best horror should be full of difficult subject matter for the reader to confront, and all my stories are packed with this kind of stuff. I strongly believe in the psychological benefits of horror (and have written about it extensively on my website), and I feel I’m doing a service to my readers by giving them plenty of tough realities to chew on. It’s my hope that you’ll come out the other side of The Last Testament of Crighton Smythe somewhat disturbed and shaken, but also with a sense of catharsis and psychological fulfillment. If you lose a couple of night’s sleep over it too, that’s a bonus.
BD: You are also currently working on another novel, Witchcraft on Rücken Ridge. Is there anything that you can tell us about the premise or plan for this upcoming book?
GG: Ah yes, the current wall I’m bashing my head against! Writing a novel can be like trying to solve a never-ending Rubik’s Cube, like some mad Hellborn puzzle that once solved just throws up a face-full of new puzzles. But it’s my desire to write stories that are like interconnected tapestries, mad tangles of cause and effect in which a reader can really invest. I don’t want to keep all the puzzle-solving fun just for myself!
But yes, Witchcraft on Rücken Ridge is going to be – yet again – a very different beast to those of my previous stories. I’ve been long fascinated with the subgenre of folk horror, and decided to write my follow-up novel inspired by this rich and terrifying strain of the genre. This one will be my very own folk horror set up a mountain, full of caves, cults, and cannibalism! Fun for all the family, as usual.
BD: Lastly, what is the best way for our readers to find more information about The Last Testament of Crighton Smythe and your other work?
GG: I always love to connect with new readers across my social media channels, where I’m pretty active in teasing upcoming projects, as well as hosting giveaway competitions, doing the odd live reading, and lots more. Signing up to my newsletter will also give you sneak peeks into future works before everyone else, and my website is always filled with lots of juicy horror goodness.
Find me on the channel of your choice via my Linktree (linktr.ee/GGardinerHorror) and look out for The Last Testament of Crighton Smythe dropping this Halloween! Crighton can’t wait to meet you…