Graham Tugwell is an Irish writer of short, strange fiction and an incredible novel FOLD (currently seeking a home). Over eighty of his stories have been published across five continents. The first story in the Down Below The Reservoir series, Ireland’s first horror fiction podcast, is out today and another will follow every two weeks on iTunes, Stitcher, and from downbelowthereservoir.com. Graham explains how it all started…
I didn’t know what I was eating.
We had chosen a vegetarian place to meet and, feeling adventurous, I had plumped for a plate of random greens, washed down with an oddment of fruity juices.
Battling manfully through the tastes, I hadn’t quite heard Sarah Griff.
“Have you ever thought,” she repeated, effortlessly blithe, “About turning your stories into a podcast?”
I swallowed. “No. I… I haven’t.”
“Ah yeah sure, horror— it’s the big thing, everyone’s mad for it.”
I pushed the rooty-leafy remnants round the plate. “And, do you think,” I said, “Would it be… easy?”
She grinned and winked, all cheeky-like, “Course.”
That was the beginning.
Or one of them, at least.
I fell into horror backways. It just sort of… happened to me.
Six years ago I began writing short stories. Something odd happened. Everything I wrote seemed to go horrific on me. There was always that little twist, that little dig, those sweet moments of puncturing cruelty. Horror, stark and uncompromising, seemed to feed some artistic need in me, reflected how I experienced the world. Before long what had begun as a tentative experiment to expand my writing style, had mushroomed into a dense, interwoven series of tales set in a thinly-veiled analogue of my home town.
I discovered I was writing a grander narrative about Stories, about the effect a hostile narrative has on the people and places doomed to live within it, about, essentially, what it’s like to grow up in small town Ireland.
This was a horror that spoke to me. Could I make it speak to others?
There was an ungodly Thing in the Reservoir.
There was a conspiracy of all adults in the Town to placate it.
They let things, awful things, leak in from outside and it was always the young, the vulnerable who suffered.
It was they who were sacrificed to keep the stories going.
It was why we couldn’t love.
It was why we couldn’t make a place for ourselves in the world.
Why everything was always wrong.
Because the Thing in the Reservoir loved the world that way.
So I wrote the stories, one hundred and fifty in all. The town became the Town. An entire cosmology built up as I tried to explain to the audience, (but mostly myself) how this state of affairs came to be—and as I wrote the possibilities opened before me. The Town allowed me to expand the scope of what I thought an Irish short story could be. I always believed that the line between genre and literary fiction was an arbitrary one—there was no real reason why fine prose couldn’t harbour the odd willy-monster or two.
“How camp does this need to be?”
The voice came over the headphones. “Camp as you want, Graham.”
Okay. I cleared my throat. “We make history tonight!” I trilled.
I looked over at Rebecca Gimblett. “Camp enough?”
She thought for a moment. “You can afford to go camper.”
I took a deep breath. “We make Hiiissssstory tooniiiiiight!”
When the echoes finally faded I glanced at Rebecca.
“Such a thing as too camp, buddy,” she grimly intoned.
We were in Displace Studios in Dublin, picking up the last lines for the podcast trailer. Horror and comedy are the same thing, just the timescale is different. (How often has something terrible happened and someone chirped sure we’ll laugh about it tomorrow) That was what I loved the most, inspiring that uncertainty—should we laugh or shiver, or some awful mix of both? The short stories had it— if the podcast could somehow capture a queasy uncertainty of its own, we’d be set!
Over the previous months we had rambled around the quays discussing, picking apart, and finally selecting for the first season twelve stories out of the one hundred and fifty. Dave Rudden, a gent about forty percent curls and as fierce a friend as anyone could hope for, counted them off on his fingers. “You have your intro one. You have the sweet one. You have the absolutely horrible one. You have the mad off-the-wall one.” He made a swoopy motion with his hand. “That’s what you want. Always something new. Horror, humour and heart.”
(Good line, as usual.)
Twelve stories, and four to perform them— myself, Sarah, Dave, and Deirdre Sullivan, a woman of endless warmth and compassion and exquisite eyebrows. We had performed together before, as one incarnation of the Risky Proximity Players, so we knew the potential the stories had, how they were paced, which ones had thrilled the audience and which had dropped before them like some horrid wet intimacy.
But turning prose into podcasts presented challenges. I wanted to retain the sense of a told story, rather than cutting up dialogue into a radio play, with all its crockery clunks and dull domestic wittering. But how much of a narrator could I keep beyond just trimming the ‘he saids’ and ‘she saids’ and calling it a day? While each story needed to be approached on its own terms, an important part of writing to me has always been its lyrical quality. Focussing on this aspect clarified the role of the narrator—providing a rhythm that carried the dialogue with a terrible, inescapable momentum.
There is a constant tension between these two facets of the story—between the lived experience, and the reported one. The characters experience the plot now, in the moment, but the narrator imparts it as a memory of what happened— the stories are, at the same time, both immediate and unfolding, and distant and already done.
It’s that sense of unease I’d been searching for. Adapting the work for a new medium had returned me to the horror that drew me to the Town in the first place— the idea of being trapped in a narrative, of being doomed to play out the story.
And look, if that’s too arty-farty for you, and you want your proper horror, I chuck in a willy-monster every second story too.
See? Sarah Griff was right.
It is easy.
(c) Graham Tugwell
Down Below the Reservoir is available every two weeks from ITunes, Sticher and directly from www.downbelowthereservoir.com.
Support the podcast by donating to their Patreon campaign www.patreon.com/