Monday, December 9, 2013

Dreaming Monsters with Anna Taborska

Today we welcome author Anna Taborska, who's talking about her intriguing collection of horror short stories, FOR THOSE WHO DREAM MONSTERS.

(What a gorgeous cover! The artwork, and interesting stories, truly make this a book to collect!)

Anna shares about the book:
The book is dedicated to all those who, like me, suffer from nightmares and/or are compelled to explore the dark side of human nature. There are all kinds of monsters in the book, many of them of the worst type – human.

I had the good fortune to receive an offer from British writer Reggie Oliver, also an excellent illustrator, to illustrate my work, so each of the stories in the book is accompanied by an eerie and beautiful piece of artwork.

Christine, thank you so much for inviting me on your blog.

I come from a film-making background. The process of making a film is lengthy. It starts with writing a screenplay and, if funding is not forthcoming, often ends there – with an unproduced screenplay that only a handful of people ever read. While trying to find a producer for my film projects, I started writing horror short stories and, in November 2013, Mortbury Press (get print version in UK) (home of The Black Books of Horror) published 18 of them in my first book, FOR THOSE WHO DREAM MONSTERS.

Here’s a little bit about the stories behind the stories in the book:

* Schrödinger’s Human – A psychopathic physics professor acquires an extraordinary cat.
This story was inspired by the fascinating “Schrödinger’s Cat” thought experiment. I figured that if a cat can (at least theoretically) be alive and dead at the same time, then it can certainly be in two places at once. Like quite a few of my stories, this one incorporates a recurring nightmare I used to have, of fleeing something through a landscape that shifts and changes. One of the most amazing places I’ve ever seen are the Paris Catacombs, and I used imagery from these in one of the dream sequences.

* Little Pig –  (See a short excerpt below.) Fleeing from a hungry wolf pack, a young mother has to make a horrific choice.

A family friend once recounted how, when he was picking up my grandmother’s best friend Irena from Heathrow Airport, the elderly lady, on accidentally crushing her glasses, uttered the phrase “Little pig”. He thought she was senile, but it subsequently turned out that “Little pig” was an expression denoting a small sacrifice, which would somehow avert a greater disaster. The phrase was one used by Irena and my grandmother, who were born and grew up in the Eastern Polish Borderlands (now Ukraine). The winters there were harsh and, when travelling in horse-drawn sleighs through the forest in winter, people would often take a piglet with them, to throw to the wolves if they came after the horse. I wondered what one would do if the wolves were closing in, and there was no little pig to sacrifice.

* Fish – A violent assault fuses a hapless postman with his pet scorpion fish, turning him into a man-eating fish monster. I’ve had quite a few nightmares about being caught in murky water with a variety of horrible creatures beneath me and all around. I wanted to write a story about a scary underwater beast.

* Buy a Goat for Christmas – The inhabitants of an African village get more than they bargained for when a foreign aid worker turns into a werewolf.

This story was inspired by a poster on the tube (on a London Underground train), which read something like this: “That’s the family and its conscience taken care of. Buy a goat or some chickens from Farm Africa for £10… An enterprising blacksmith can convert weapons into farm tools, e.g. swords to ploughshares. A tank converts into 3,000 farm implements.”  Well, what if the enterprising blacksmith had other plans?

* Cut! – A film director hires a psychopathic actress, believing that she’ll be “a natural” to play the violent lead in his slasher movie, but soon comes to regret his decision.

This film was inspired by a casting tale narrated to me by a film producer friend. The film shoot is based on my early experiences of working in the film industry, including directing my first film, The Rain has Stopped. The film director in my story is a tribute to the wonderful Richard Rush movie The Stunt Man (1980), in which Peter O’Toole superbly portrays a charismatic megalomaniac film director.

* Arthur’s Cellar – Arthur faces a challenge when the Nazi cannibal his grandfather keeps in the cellar goes on the run.

I wanted to write a story that would be relatively easy to film. And I wanted to show how complex people are, and how often they live in complete denial, unaware of their own extreme hypocrisy. Arthur has a normal, loving relationship with his grandfather – a twisted psychopath who truly believes himself to be “a good Christian”.  I hope that one day I’ll get to shoot the screen version.

* The Apprentice – A sadistic baker’s prayers are answered when he acquires a mute apprentice.
I wanted to write something about a sadistic brute who loves making little heart-shaped buns. And something with a twist in the tale.

* The Girl in the Blue Coat – a dying man working on his autobiography dictates a ghost story to his ghost writer.

I wanted to explore how powerful emotions can live on long after the people who experienced them have died, thanks to the power of storytelling. The ideal vehicle for this type of narrative seemed to be the “story within a story” format (such as that used in films like The Locket (1946, dir. John Brahm) and The Saragossa Manuscript (1965, Dir. Wojciech Has)), so that’s what I experimented with in The Girl in the Blue Coat.

Mindla’s story was told to me by an elderly lady I interviewed in Poland when researching the Second World War. My interviewee’s husband, also present at the interview, added that the local peasants had seen “Death walking up and down the ditch” in which Mindla’s body had been dumped. I decided to make Mindla’s story more “western” and “Gothic” by changing Death to the familiar trope of the restless spirit of a dead girl whose body has not been found.

 In reality, Mindla’s partially clothed body was found in the ditch at the bottom of the peasants’ fields, but not the bodies of the two Jewish girls also mentioned by my interviewee. The town in the story is real (I simplified its name, which is actually made up of two words); its history and fate are real. It has haunted me ever since, as have the stories of many of the other 100 or so people I interviewed at that time. I don’t really like to revisit those stories, but some of them have been keeping me awake lately.

* A Tale of Two Sisters: 
I. Rusalka – A young man goes in search of his mother’s village in Eastern Poland, and ends up falling for the wrong girl.

I was tasked with writing a Gothic tale based in an unusual location, so I chose Poland, where tales of evil nymphs abound. I wanted to bring together something of the beautiful nymph-related ballads of Polish poet Adam Mickiewicz with work by my favourite writer of all time, William Shakespeare.

II. First Night – A young Brit visiting the home of his ancestors falls victim to an ancient curse.
I felt I hadn’t finished with Polish nymphs just yet, and I wanted to explore the myth from the other side – from the nymph’s point of view.

* Halloween Lights – A dying man is drawn to the wrong light.
I was asked to write a tale for Halloween. If on that one day a year the dead are allowed to walk among the living, what would happen to a lost soul trying to find his way to his beloved?

* The Coffin – Jack’s shortcut through the local cemetery costs him dearly.
When I was about thirteen, a friend of mine and I went for a wonder in a cemetery at night. In the distance we spotted a pale-coloured grave or sepulchre, seemingly on the paved central path. No matter how quickly we walked away, the stone slab seemed to get closer and closer. When I was asked to write a vampire tale, the moving grave slipped its way into my story.

* The Creaking – when young Tommy Tyrell goes missing, his bloodthirsty and influential father raises a lynch mob and goes in search of a scapegoat.

The story was inspired by another horrific event from history: a pogrom in which Jewish men, women and children were murdered following a false accusation of child abduction and blood libel. As usual, fact is infinitely more disturbing than fiction.

* Dirty Dybbuk – Good girl Mitzi goes bad after she’s possessed by the disembodied spirit of a deceased nymphomaniac.

This story was originally written for an anthology of humorous Jewish horror, which sadly never came into being.

* Underbelly – A woman makes a deal with a man-eating demon in order to alleviate the pain caused by her cancer.

It always horrifies me that with all the apparent progress being made in modern medicine, terminally ill people frequently suffer the most terrible uncontrolled pain. At the time I wrote this story I was feeling rather disillusioned with the medical profession and with people in general.
* Tea with the Devil – The owner of a museum of devils has an unexpected visitor.
A story inspired by my visit to the Museum of the Devil in Warsaw, Poland.

* Elegy – In a Poland occupied by Nazi German forces, a Jewish author records his childhood memories while waiting for the liquidation of the ghetto in which he has been imprisoned.

Written for an anthology celebrating the life and work of Polish Jewish writer Bruno Schulz, killed in 1942, this story was inspired by Schulz’s own writing, by a play I saw as a teenager based on Schulz’s life, by a film by Polish director Jan Jakub Kolski called Burial of a Potato and by eyewitness testimony I heard from Poles about the liquidation of the Jewish ghetto in Zduńska Wola.

* Bagpuss – Since her father walked out on her and her mother, Emily’s only comfort has been her cat Bagpuss. When Bagpuss disappears, Emily goes to extreme lengths to make sure that her mother won’t abandon her as well. 

I dreamt this story, but, on waking, I only remembered that it was a story about the loneliness of a girl whose cat goes feral. I worked from that starting point, developing the dream sequences from an amazing poem called Metamorphoses by Polish Jewish poet Bolesław Leśmian, in which plants turn into animals. As the cat in my dream was called Bagpuss, it seemed only natural that the cat’s 12-year-old owner should be called Emily – after the little girl in the 1974 UK children’s television programme Bagpuss created by Peter Firmin and Oliver Postgate. I also remember that Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle was at the back of my mind when I wrote this tale.

Favourite story
Of all the stories in FOR THOSE WHO DREAM MONSTERS, my favourite is probably Little Pig. It’s the story that seems to have made the biggest impact on readers, and has opened the most doors for me. Renowned editor Ellen Datlow selected it for her anthology Best Horror of the Year Volume Four, and the screenplay version of it was a finalist in the Shriekfest Film Festival Screenplay Competition. Of all my screenplays, it was also the one that came closest to getting funding, although sadly it didn’t, so it still only exists on paper.

Little Pig Extract

The sleigh sped through the dark forest, the scant moonlight reflected by the snow lighting up the whites of the horse’s eyes as it galloped along the narrow path, nostrils flaring and velvet mouth spitting foam and blood into the night. The woman cried out as the reins cut into her hands, and screamed to her children to hang on.
The three little girls clung to each other and to the sides of the sleigh, their tears freezing onto their faces as soon as they formed. The corner of the large blanket in which their mother had wrapped them for the perilous journey to their grandparents’ house had come loose and was flapping violently in the icy air.
“Hold on to Vitek!” the woman screamed over her shoulder at her eldest child, her voice barely audible over the howling wind. But the girl did not need to be told; only two days away from her seventh birthday, she clung onto her baby brother, fear for her tiny sibling stronger than her own terror. The other two girls, aged two and four, huddled together, lost in an incomprehensible world of snow and fear and darkness.
The woman whipped the reins against the horse’s heaving flanks, but the animal was already running on a primal fear stronger than pain. The excited yelps audible over the snowstorm left little doubt in the woman’s mind: the pack was gaining on the sleigh – the hungry wolves were getting closer.

Most important story
In terms of importance, the most important story is that of The Girl in the Blue Coat, as the lady who related Mindla’s story to me in the first place was desperate for the her childhood friend’s story to reach a wide audience. I hope it will.

Future plans
In terms of future plans, I am working on a screenplay based on a novelette which will hopefully be published next year in my new UK-based collection. The working title is Bloody Britain, but this might change.

* Watch the video:

1 comment:

  1. From one published horror writer to another, I have to say that your book looks very good.