{Interview} Contents May Unsettle: Author David Court talks to Kendall Reviews.

The Kendall Reviews Interview

David Court

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Kendall Reviews: Could you tell me a little about yourself please?

David Court: My name is David Court, and I’ve been brave enough to put my stories out there for about seven years now. By day I’m a software developer, but by night I’m an enthusiastic liar. I’ve had three collections of short stories released so far – The Shadow Cast by The World, Forever and Ever, Armageddon and Scenes of Mild Peril. My fourth collection – Contents May Unsettle – is out now on Burdizzo Books. I’ve had prose published in several anthologies, and my comics work has featured in Tpub’s The Theory, one tale of which – Battlesuit – was released as an animated film in 2020. I’m currently putting the finishing touches to my first full-length novel – The High Room.

KR: What do you like to do when not writing?

DC: I’m a keen film buff and video gamer, so it would appear I spend ninety percent of my waking hours in front of a screen of some kind. I’m also a keen board gamer, those that take three hours to set up and then another nine to complete. All in all, I think my geek credentials are safe.

KR: What is your favourite childhood book?

DC: When growing up, Thursday night was Library night – Bell Green Library was like a treasure trove for me. It’s long since moved and changed, but the building even now still features quite heavily in my dreams, so clearly had some impact. I remember progressing to horror quite early – the lurid covers probably attracted me in much the same way that VHS covers would, later on in my teens. I remember Stephen King ‘Salem’s Lot really standing out to me, and from then I was addicted. My parents pretty much turned a blind eye to what I was reading, as long as I was reading. That was until Shaun Hutson’s Slugs when I dared ask my mum for the meaning of a word I’d read – Vagina – and that saw me banned from horror books for a while.

So, I can blame ‘Salem’s Lot. It’s a book I’ve never revisited, for fear it won’t captivate me so much. As long as it remains read only once, it retains its magic.

KR: What is your favourite album, and does music play any role in your writing?

DC: I have a revolving list of favourite albums – I listen to a lot of music – so it’s impossible to pin it down to a single one. I passed through Goth and Metal-head phases in the late eighties and nineties, so once upon a time, it would have been Floodland by Sisters of Mercy or Master of Puppets by Metallica. However, at the moment, it’s 2006’s Victory for The Comic Muse by The Divine Comedy. Neil Hannon, as a songwriter, has the brilliant knack of crafting songs that range from earnest and heart-breaking, to genuinely laugh-out-loud funny. Every album is an utter triumph. Music plays a critical role in my writing – Despite trying, I simply cannot write in silence, but I also can’t write to music with lyrics either. Film Soundtracks typically accompany my writing process, thematically chosen to match what I’m writing. I have many Spotify Playlists to write to, and they feature a lot of Clint Mansell and Paul Leonard-Morgan. Tron: Legacy is a particularly good soundtrack to write to.

I’m somewhat lucky in that a short film – Battlesuit – was made from one of my stories. Edward Patrick White (who also composed the music for the Gears of War games) wrote the soundtrack and it’s on Spotify, so I’m occasionally lucky enough to be able to write to a soundtrack based around something I created.

KR: Do you have a favourite horror movie/director? 

DC: Alien. It was a film I was a little obsessed by even before I saw it, having seen it covered in Starlog magazine and having read the Archie Goodwin and Walter Simonson graphic adaption. It was one of those films that could never have lived up to the hype or level of expectation I had in my head, and yet when I caught it on its TV premiere in the eighties, it exceeded my expectations and more. It’s still a masterclass in suspense and atmosphere, with completely believable characters acting in authentic ways in a plausible setting. I try and re-watch it often, and it hasn’t dated in the slightest (and has the benefit of having an awesome sequel).

KR: What are you reading now?

DC: Going through a comic phase at the moment and re-reading Jupiter’s Circle – the prequel series to Jupiter’s Legacy, recently given a Netflix adaption. It’s a good read and certainly moves at a far quicker pace than the TV series. I enjoyed the Netflix series, but it moves at a snail’s pace in comparison to the comics and will end up being nine or ten series if they keep to the current speed. Not sure that many viewers will have the patience for a superhero tale given a Game of Thrones epic spin.

KR: What was the last great book you read?

DC: Bad Wisdom: The Lighthouse at The End of the World, by Bill Drummond and Mark Manning. It’s a book I come back to often, re-reading once every few years. It’s a bizarre piece of work, half travelogue, half stream-of-consciousness. It tells the true story of Drummond and Manning’s (AKA Zodiac Mindwarp) and their attempt to travel to the North Pole to sacrifice an icon of Elvis Presley. The book mostly defies description, being two accounts of the same journey told in two contrasting and different styles. I revisit it frequently to remind myself how exciting and unconventional prose can be.

KR: E-Book, Paperback or Hardback?

DC: Although I’m pretty much format agnostic(!), I’m a big fan of the humble paperback. There are few sights as satisfying as a shelf of dog-eared scarred paperback spines. There’s nothing like the tactual sensation of turning pages, and hardbacks have a better job of hiding their age and reading history.

KR: Who were the authors that inspired you to write?

DC: Despite loving Stephen King, he’s less of an inspiration to me than writers such as Alan Moore and, to a lesser extent, Grant Morrison. Both writers seem to delight in experimenting with the form, and even their weaker works remain exciting, fresh, and different. Both often have as many ideas in their short story runs as many authors have in their entire body of work. I remember during Morrison’s UK superhero tale Zenith, as published in legendary British comic 2000AD, I was genuinely excited to read the next part. To have even one of my readers as excited about my writing is something that genuinely thrills and compels me.

KR: Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer to just see where an idea takes you?

DC: It depends on the story. For my shorter works of fiction, it’s enough to have an outline in my head. I’ll work out the “beats” the story needs to hit, the set-pieces in it, and that’ll be enough to work with. That doesn’t always work because sometimes I hit snags as I’m writing – how could this character get here? Why would this character do this? – But it mostly works.

For my longer stories and novels, I’ll write the whole thing as a synopsis. Each chapter might only be described in a sentence or so, but that’s my route planned out. The route may deviate wildly and that one chapter suddenly becomes four, but it gives me just enough structure to work with. It’s like writing specifications for software – experience tells you how much detail you’ll need.

Overall, it’s an organic process. I’ll know by the nature of the story the way I have approached it – that’s only come from the experience of getting it wrong so many times in the past!

KR: What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?

DC: Very few of my stories, through their nature, have required anything other than cursory research. My search history would probably be of great interest to the authorities, littered with details of poison timings and effectiveness, and murder weapons. However, I decided to set one of my stories in Ireland during the time of the plague in the fourteenth century and wanted it to feel authentic. The research for this was addictive, and I’ll admit to having to physically stop myself from losing myself in it and actually write the bloody story. It’s something I’d like to attempt again, though – having an authentic historical setting.

KR: How would you describe your writing style?

DC: I don’t think I’m a particularly sophisticated writer, to be fair. Somebody once told me that my stories read like I’m sitting across a table reading them to you, and I’m perfectly happy with that. They read like I speak, and I can hear my speech patterns in my turns of phrase and sentence structure. I’m a storyteller at heart – I just want to entertain you. John Wagner, the creator of Judge Dredd, once said I was “highly readable” and I’m pretty happy with that verdict coming from someone as talented as he is.

KR: Describe your usual writing day?

DC: I work full-time so it’s about grabbing time whenever I can, mostly in the evenings and at weekends. My job as a software developer means my time – and goals – are very regimented, and I’ve tried to adhere to that rule for writing as well. To set aside time and make sure it’s used valuably – that time might not be spent writing anything but instead researching or editing. As long as I’m doing something that moves the story forward.

KR: Do you have a favourite story/short that you’ve written (published or not)?

DC: The aforementioned Irish Plague Story, Let It Cry, is a particular favourite. Not only is it one of the stories best received by my readers, it received an excellent adaption on the Tales to Terrify podcast and also featured on A Personal Anthology, which is a website where writers and critics dream-edit personal anthologies of their own favourite short stories – so it meant a great deal to me that a story I was so fond of, ending up meaning something to other readers too.

KR: Do you read your book reviews?

DC: I do. I’ll be honest in that I have a few of the better ones bookmarked to inspire me when I’m feeling at a particularly low ebb, or when my get-up-and-go has got-up-and-gone. And I’m also particularly guilty of possessing that unfortunate writers’ knack of ignoring a dozen favourable reviews in favour of dwelling on a sentence or two from less favourable ones.

KR: How do you think you’ve developed as an author?

DC: I came to writing relatively late in life, having had my first story published in my early forties. You’d think I’ve have begun my writing career with at least a modicum of common sense picked up over those four decades, but I think I made every rookie mistake possible. Releasing to any publisher who’d have me if they pandered to my good nature – regardless of the terms and conditions – and embarking on a full-length novel as one of my first projects.

Needless to say, I got shafted several times, gave a lot of my time for free for next to no result, and said mega-epic was an absolutely unpublishable (and mostly unreadable) disaster. I’ve subsequently learned to value my own work and time more – if you don’t consider your own stuff important and worthy, then why should anybody else?

Reading over my earlier works, I can’t help but feel my writing has improved considerably. It’s like a muscle, isn’t it? The more you exercise it, the stronger it gets. I feel carrying out any creative activity achieves the same result.

KR: What is the best piece of advice you’ve received regarding your writing?

DC: I’m lucky enough to have two exceptionally good beta readers, one of who is a very talented writer, the other a gifted poet and editor, and they’re very good friends as well. They’ve both encouraged me to write and to keep on writing, and – as mentioned with regards to it being like a muscle – that’s the best single piece of advice I’ve been given. Write, write, and write some more.

KR: What scares you?

DC: I’m a claustrophobe, but that pales into significance next to my fear of death. I know we all suffer from it to one extent or another – it’s a perfectly natural fear, after all – but in my case, it can be absolutely crippling. It isn’t helped by the fact that I’m an atheist and dread the onset of nothingness. If anything, I envy those who have faith and the comfort that must bring. I used to believe myself, but those days are long gone. Existential dread or eternal nothingness are quite common tropes in my work, and I believe they all stem from that. I write what scares me.

KR: Can you tell me about your latest release please?

DC: Contents May Unsettle is a collection of twenty short stories and poems, a mixture of various stories published in other anthologies over the past couple of years, and some new stuff original to this collection. It follows in the footsteps of The Shadow Cast by the World, Forever and Ever, Armageddon and Scenes of Mild Peril in that it’s a collection of science fiction, horror, and satire. I’m really proud of it, and it’s my strongest collection yet, I think. I’ve always tended towards shorter series but Contents May Unsettle is my attempt to write slightly longer tales. It also includes – in one tale – my first foray into erotic horror fiction, a piece for an experiment from one of my past publishers that never saw fruition.

KR: What are you working on now?

DC: Like with so many of my friends who are authors, the pandemic seems to have – not unsurprisingly – sapped a lot of creativity. I’ve written the old piece here and there – and the odd article for Ginger Nuts of Horror – but haven’t committed myself to anything new. That said, I was working on a new novel before the pandemic and have been making final tweaks to that, revisiting it when it felt right. It’s a deviation from my normal stuff, moving away from science fiction and fantasy and into the realms of contemporary fiction. It’s called The High Room and is a coming of age tale set in Coventry during the nineteen-eighties.

KR: You find yourself on a desert island, which three people would you wish to be deserted with you and why?

You can choose…

a) One fictional character from your writing.

DC: I tend to write about a lot of damaged individuals, or despicable people getting their comeuppance – not ideal island companions. However, there’s a story in my last collection Scenes of Mild Peril called In Vino Veritas, In Vino Mors. It’s a dying man telling of his adventures – Albarossa is a wine collector who made it his life’s work to collect the strangest and most eldritch drinks known to man. He’s travelled the world, traversed its darkest, secret, and legendary places, and has lived several lifetimes worth by the time we catch up with him. To have him as a companion during his prime would be quite something – the tales he’d tell – and his extraordinary knowledge of survival skills would be a bonus.

b) One fictional character from any other book.

DC: I’ll have Snoopy. Man’s best friend, right?

c) One real-life person that is not a family member or friend.

DC: Bill Hicks. His comedy was as thought-provoking as it was hilarious, and he elevated stand-up comedy into somewhat of an art form – his work was magical, his routines complex spells. I’d love to hear what his take on the current state of the world was, and the hilarity might put us off being stranded away from civilisation.

KR: Thank you very much, David.

David Court

David Court was born and resides in Coventry, UK, with his patient wife Tara and three less patient cats. When not reading, being immune to explosions, writing software for a living, or practising his poorly developed telekinetic skills, he can be found writing fiction. David has had several short stories printed in various anthologies, including Fear’s Accomplice, The Voices Within, Sparks, Visions from the Void, Weird Ales and The Theory. Battlesuit, a short animated film based on his story of the same name, was released by HAZFILM in 2020. Including this current book, he has four collections of short stories – The Shadow Cast by the World, Forever and Ever, Armageddon and Scenes of Mild Peril.  David’s wife once asked him if he’d write about how great she was. David replied that he would, because he specialized in short fiction. Despite that, they are still married.

You can find out more about David by visiting his official website www.davidjcourt.co.uk

You can follow David on Twitter @DavidJCourt

Contents May Unsettle

The fourth collection of prose by David Court, author of “The Shadow Cast by the World”, “Forever and Ever, Armageddon” and “Scenes of Mild Peril”..

Features twenty tales of madness and obsession, treachery, super-heroics and apocalyptic dystopias.

You can buy Contents May Unsettle HERE

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