Saturday, 6 September 2014

Interview: Lee Battersby, author of The Corpse Rat King

Lee Battersby is a really funny guy. I had read and review his book The Corpse Rat King and found it really funny, so I was quite optimist about him. Then, I went to his blog and couldn't stop laughing. He's witty and has a really scary and weird omen for our world. So please, welcome Lee Battersby!

Will you tell us a little bit about yourself? 

I’m a fat Australian guy in his mid-40s. Former stand-up comic, cartoonist, tennis coach, public servant and widower. Currently an arts administrator married to a fellow author, with 2 insane children and three equally insane bonus children. I’m in love with the Goon Show, Lego, Daleks, Nottingham Forest football club, and British comedy panel shows. Favourite music includes Madness, They Might be Giants, the White Stripes, Butthole Surfers, David Bowie, Alice Cooper and just about anything ska (I knew he's a great guy!). I’ve had just shy of 80 short stories published, won a handful of awards, have a children’s novel coming out in early 2015 and would kill all of your grandmothers for a chance to write full-time for a living. 
- I found The Corpse Rat King to be a book about initiatory trips (for both Marius and Gerd), was I right? Did you want to convey a message? 

“The Corpse-Rat King” arose from a conversation I had with a fellow author about our mutual distaste for those vaguely Arthurian soft-focus medieval fantasies where everything is nice and clean, and everyone looks like they discovered shampoo five hundred years early and nobody ever really seems to get dysentery or scabies or rickets, and heroes are always square jawed and noble and blah blah puke. Starting out, I really just wanted to poke fun at those novels by making everything rather scrofulous and having a hero who was a weaselly, greedy coward, which is what I imagine most people are, when it comes to a choice between self-preservation and making some cash or sacrificing it all for some nebulous, unknowable “greater good”. 

Once you get started writing, of course, narrative rules take over: you can’t have a novel solely about running away and not engaging with the plot, so sooner or later Marius would have to face up to the requirements of the story. And much as I wanted Gerd to be a focus of well-earned derision and contempt, I ended up rather liking him, so couldn’t bring myself to really grind his face in the dirt for 250 pages. That is, of course, after killing him right at the start… 

As far as overt messages go, no. I didn’t set out to teach my readers any grand moral lesson, so much as I lined up a series of occurrences and my natural inclinations as a storyteller led me through them. If there is any message in the books it’s a result of my personal inclinations coming out in the writing rather than any attempt to set out a grand theme. 

- You've written a sequel "Marching Dead" already. Can you tell us a bit about it? 

“The Marching Dead’ was released by Angry Robot Books in October 2013. It takes place a couple of years after the events of “The Corpse-Rat King”. Marius has made good his promise to settle down with Keth and leave behind his life of petty crime, and they’re living together in a little cottage in a country village. Then the dead abduct Keth, Gerd and Granny show up on a quest of their own, and Marius is drawn into a journey to recover Keth, save the world, and solve the mystery of why the dead have stopped dying. It’s profane, scatological, angry and, hopefully, downright funny as hell. 

- Do you plan other books with Marius and Gerd? 

My contract with Angry Robot was for two books. They’ve been delivered and there’s no talk of a third, so yes, I’d say that’s all for Marius and Gerd for now. The second book reaches a good ending for all concerned, so I’m okay with it. 

- Which subjects are more difficult to write about? 

Any subject which has great emotional resonance to the writer can be immensely difficult to portray effectively, because it can be difficult to maintain the necessary objective distance from the narrative. If you get caught up in the right and wrong of it, or try to hard to push the emotional consequences onto your reader, you run the risk of taking the narrative away from the story, and every time you do that you invite the reader out of the story as well. As soon as the reader stops believing in the story you’re telling, you’ve lost them. 

- Which events will you attend in the next months? 

I’m rather secluded, living not so much in the most isolated capital city in the world but 80 kilometres away from the most isolated capital city in the world, so I don’t see many events. I am attending CrimeScene WA, a Western Australian crime writing convention, in October, and I try to get to a day or two of the Perth Writers Festival each year, but that’s about it. Finances do not permit wider travelling: Worldcons and Eastern States events are simply off the agenda, and travelling overseas is not an option on my income. I’ve had a few forays over the years, but right now we’re on a single income, so it’s not likely for some time. 

- What are you reading now? 

I’m currently reading a ridiculously large pile of graphic novels from the new library that’s opened up recently in our region. (Reaches over to top of the pile) Next up: Sandman Mystery Theatre: The Face & The Brute. Generally I enjoy historical true crime books, hidden histories and biographies of obscure weirdoes, and when it comes to fiction I lean towards cross-genre authors like Jonathan Lethem and China Meiville. I’ve been enjoying a lot of crime fiction recently as well. 

- What do you look for in a good book? Is there anything that will make you put a book down, unfinished? 

I like a plot. I like characters in action. Endless reverie or deep meditations on the fragile nature of interior expression are not really my thing. I like the feeling that all the characters, antagonists included, are working towards a goal they believe in: nobody is evil just for the sake of being evil, or good just because their armour is shiny. Joe Abercrombie is a master at this: every character is a combination of self-belief and self-interest, and as a consequence, they’re believable as hell. 

If the story-telling snaps my credulity; if the characters begin to act stupidly simply because the plot demands it; if the laws of physics and consequence are dispensed with; if the people within the pages are cardboard, or cut-out superheroes, or transparent mouthpieces for the author’s personal beliefs; if the book is just plain damned boring, then yeah, you’ll lose me. 

- If you could experience one book again for the first time, which one would it be? 

“Lord of the Rings”, I think. I first read it when I was ten, and was so blown away by it that I read it annually until I was in my twenties. I’d never encountered anything on such a scale, with characters that lived so vibrantly on the page and a story of such consequence and import. I’ve read very little since that matches it for scope and sheer majesty. 

- What's next for you? 

I have a children’s novel called “Magit and Bugrat” coming out from Walker Books in early 2015. It’s about a young girl who lives in a cemetery with no exits or entries, and how she copes when the stork drops a baby into her life. It’s easily the saddest and, I hope, most beautiful thing I’ve written. And I’m just completing the first draft of a supernatural story about a personality aspect of the Devil that was sloughed off during the Fall and has achieved a level of humanity that enables him to live amongst humans, and what happens when the Devil starts to reabsorb his missing aspects in an attempt to ascend to Heaven. An interesting topic for a lifelong atheist to tackle because, for me, I’m using somebody else’s fictional characters to tell my story but I feel no pressure to respect that original author’s creation, so I’m rewriting some very key religious icons in my own image. 

Why so serious questions 

- What would be your desert island read? 

Apart from a book on how to build boats? If I could be indulged with one non-fiction book and one fiction book it’d have to be “Necropolis: London and its Dead” by Catharine Arnold, a look at the funerary and mortuary history of the world’ greatest city that is simply overflowing with facts and narrative possibilities that set my imagination ticking, and “The Scar” by China Meiville, my first Meiville read and still a favourite book: so rich in imagery and imagination and sheer *voice* that it’s a constant benchmark I’m trying to attain. 

- Your favorite villain? 

I don’t really have one. I think people are their own villains, and any antagonist that doesn’t have the reader eliciting at least a moment of sympathy at some point is just a two-dimensional punching bag. Take a character like Black Dow, from Joe Abercrombie’s First Law series and “The Heroes”. He *should* be a vile, hateful creature, but he’s placed against alternatives so much worse that, as reprehensible as he is, you can see why he’s playing the game he does, and what it means for his culture if he falls. That’s the essence of a great character, one who transcends simple good/bad dichotomies. 

- Whose hero do you wish you had created? 

Oh, God. I’m still trying to create my own. I don’t know that I’d ever wish to have created someone else’s creation, but there are a few I’d like to work *with* along the way. There are a bunch of comic book characters I’d love to write for: Hellboy, Daredevil, Wonder Woman, Hellcat, Strontium Dog…. a great big long list that would look ludicrous if I put them all down at once. I’ve written Doctor Who, which was mostly fun. 

- Seeing on your blog that you have a BattBio, a BattBiblio... do you have a Battmobile too? 

No, but I do have a Battersblog and a Batthaim! It’s just one of those quirky little things that make being lumbered with a surname like Battersby worthwhile: that first syllable can be attached to any number of concepts and be claimed for my own. It’s a silly little thing to do with my web presence, to help tie my pages together. 

- Do you have more info about the upcoming invasion of the world by dinosaurs in Lego Dalek armour? 

I, for one, welcome our new plastic Dalekosaurus overlords. 


If you want to have some fun, go read some poste from his blog or follow him on Twitter or Facebook!

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