Join us as we peek behind the scenes of our new anthology, ON TIME. Learn more about Maul Allan Hewish in his featured interview.
ABOUT THE STORY
What inspired your story?
I have this dental X-ray of my wisdom teeth lying around somewhere in my art folder because there’s something about the inverse, smoky imagery of an X-ray that I find captivating. Somehow or other, I got to thinking about how creepy ultrasound photos really are, if they were stripped of context. Without the prior knowledge of a pregnancy or even what a pregnancy was, if someone showed you an ultrasound, and said that this thing was growing inside them – it would be extremely unsettling. The train of thought led to a scene, as these things sometimes do. I got this really stark impression of the main scene in the story, just the dark basement and the pregnant protagonist strapped to a mystery machine. Waiting, with her sister at the computer, like ghost hunters in a haunted mansion after nervously asking for any presence to make itself known.
Can you tell us a little bit about your protagonist?
I can’t say her name in the interview, since that’s a bit of a plot point – but she’s a fairly young mother who in my mind represents the unspoken fears we all have about parenthood, but one in particular. There is a subtext lurking under the story which is basically “what if I don’t like my child?” Or exploring the body horror of sharing flesh with something that is not you. Naturally, she’s overwhelmed by the concept, and her relationship with Maddy, her sister, is really put to the test with her latest adventure into Occult science.
What is the most interesting thing about the world you’ve created?
Definitely the mad science. A little of my Occult learnings have crept into it, but most of it is the sort of dark science Lovecraft liked to dabble in, where the mystery of some arcane machines allows us to do the impossible. I have a personal love of weird X-files episodes and other 90s media that makes use of old computers in ways that we know is impossible. Most people think that makes it goofy, or that it’s a blooper. But you can’t argue with the evidence of your eyes – so even though it is impossible for that machine to run on windows 98, it implies a pretty intimidating amount of intelligence to think that a person did in fact retrofit that hunk of junk into a machine capable of speaking to the dead. Scoffing and sneering that it is impossible sort of misses the point. Of course it is – that’s why it’s so terrifying. This person knows secrets about technology and our world that are beyond our understanding. You take something that we roughly know how it works, and make it do something it can’t. There’s a sense of the uncanny about that. David Lynch and Stephen King often do this, and I love the sense of chaos it suddenly dips the entire world into. Like knowledge and understanding are no longer safe.
What genre or mix of genres does your story fit into?
I’m terrible with genres. They’re a bit vague in any case. Technically, Stephen King’s Christine is a romance between man and car, but you wouldn’t recommend it to the same people who love Adam Sandler’s 50 First Dates. I associate more with the flavour and mood – I’m a bit abstract like that. So how about this.
My story is a quiet house, it’s 4 AM, and the world is nothing but darkness and brooding thoughts. You see a picture that by day, doesn’t seem all that special. But the night gives it teeth. There is a bit of haunting quality to it that you somehow didn’t notice during the day. You can’t take it down because it’s just a picture, and to do so would give a weird credibility to its power.
So instead, you turn away. But you can’t stop thinking about it. You try and distract yourself, but nothing helps. Every thought spirals out from that invasive splinter lodged in your head.
That’s my story.
How have your personal experiences influenced this story?
None of my personal experiences have particularly influence the story, though some of my studies have. I think it’s more heavily influenced by my favourite beats in other similar sorts of stories. I have always thought the most terrifying thing about any alien or paranormal story is the part where the invader speaks. That first contact; the breathless moment waiting for some strange, unfathomable mind to communicate intent. Trying to decipher it and the many ways it could be understood – hoping their intentions are benevolent.
What would you like readers to take away from your story?
Nothing too heady, I’d just be happy if people had a little Existential thrill. I think the concept of soul and mind, the separation of self from the body are all such ephemeral subjects. I name drop a lot of stuff, but it’s such a bastardization that it’s not an accurate representation of the material. Don’t take it too seriously. There are some interesting philosophical ideas in there, for sure, but ultimately all of it is in service of giving you a good yarn for a rainy night. Maybe something to chew on mentally if it tickled your brain stems.
What was your favorite part of the story to write and why?
Suspense. I’m weirdly attracted to making things drawn out and dangling threads. I know a lot of people get frustrated and don’t have the patience for it. But I’ve read entire classical stories built on the idea of stringing the reader along and they get away with it just fine, so I figure I’d just write what I find the most fun to read.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
When did you write your first story, how old were you, and what was it about?
I was in the sixth grade when I started writing a Harry Potter fanfic, about a magical school called Ishmatriff set in Australia. Wrote it all out by hand and it filled up several exercise books. I think like a lot of kids in the 90s I got swept up in the Pottermania, but it quickly led me to more interesting science fiction books and survival stories. I started trying my hand at typing up longer and longer pieces once we got a family PC, seeing how big I could make them. I wrote a weird dimension hopping, time-travel story, then a fun post-apocalypse war story that was very similar to the Gear of War universe, where a weird race of grub people that lived under the surface rose up and started a war. I wrote it a long time before that franchise came along but it was bit of a laugh when I dug out that old story and compared the broader strokes.
What is your writing survival checklist? (Aka, what helps your write the best: music, snacks, coffee, complete silence, a stress ball, a cat, or an outline, etc.)
Music, snacks – complete lack of other responsibilities for that day.
What has influenced you most as a writer?
Good horror, whether that be novels or movies. Crafting an atmosphere of anticipation and dread is all about subtext and subtlety, and I think it one of the hardest things to pull off. I’m not even sure I could confidently say I’ve mastered it. Very few have.
But as with everything, even the bad stuff usually teaches you something. Maybe a bad story has a good hook, that with a better approach could turn into something good. Those always fascinate me. Give me something new to chew on, whether it be philosophical, a new kind of world or just a plain old what if?
What font do you prefer to write in?
Comic sans. I’m kidding.
It’s Times. I used to use a lot of different fonts when I was in the sixth grade, aka before I knew better. Times New Roman is industry standard for manuscript formatting, so if it doesn’t hurt your eyes to write with it, I think it’s weird not to go with that.
Do you have any writing blogs/vlogs/podcasts, etc. that you would recommend?
I generally don’t really pay much attention to blogs and vlogs, I’m a bit removed from a lot of these sorts of social media. I am also wary of taking advice from others, because everyone’s process is very different. Plus, I went to a university course on creative writing only to learn that I’d already written more than any of the people teaching, except for one or two published authors, one incredible and the other a former brick-layer who hated creativity and thought that storytelling was just about a process, ticking off boxes and neatly filling sequences. Everyone there was dull and literal and obsessed with deciphering texts in the correct manner. It was bizarre and completely removed from any sort of reality. Since then, I steer clear of all writing advice that I don’t specifically seek out. In the rare case I’m looking to expand my understanding of a certain literary concept, I just read the works most prominently featuring it, and if I’m still struggling, I might seek out an article here or there to give me a bit of extra context.
What is your favorite and least favorite word, and why?
According to a word map I made of my debut novel (to be published later this year, check out my website), the most frequently used word in there is ‘like’. Even then, the word density has a pretty nice spread. It’s only 836 occurrences in 160,000 words. I guess I love similes.
That didn’t really answer the question though. Hmm. I like words that sound like what they are when spoken, like the word “spill” has this really nice mouth feel. You can actually feel the word sort of spill out of your mouth when you say it, the hard p sound followed by the flick of the tongue after. Maybe it’s childish, but I wish more language sounded like what it was. I think English would be less of a rats-nest of dead ends and borrowed tongues if there was a more cohesive core.
I think my least favourite word is any American spelling of a word. I’m looking on in quiet rage at the red squiggle Microsoft Word has put under favourite.
Maul Allan Hewish is a Brisbane-based author and visual artist, who dabbles in Sigil-crafting, Tarot and Western Occultism. His fiction, art and poetry deciphering the horrors of waking life, mirror his own experiences with mental-illness and childhood trauma. His works have been published twice in Grotesque Quarterly Magazine, and he has a story featured in the Transcendent anthology on dreams and visions. He lives with his loving partner Katya. They spend their free time having long discussions on the merits of bad horror movies, video-gaming, and collecting obscure miniatures. For more updates, check out his website: www.themaul.net