Each month, I’m doing a feature to showcase one of the many talented authors in last year’s volume of World Unknown Review. I feel a little bad that Russell Proctor ended up with the shortest month by being our February feature, but I’m also way too obsessed with keeping things neat and orderly. I do owe him an apology for the delay in getting the interview posted, though. My computer has been acting up, but I’ve finally wrangled it into submission. So here’s Russell Proctor, author of the chilling and intense “First Symphony.”
Let’s start simply, as always: who is Russell Proctor?
Russell Proctor is an Australian writer born deep in the Twentieth Century who writes horror, fantasy and science-fiction. He is the author of a horror-fantasy series called The Jabberwocky Book, of which the first two parts, titled The Red King and An Unkindness of Ravens, are already out, and the third volume is forthcoming this year.
At present, I am semi-retired, tutoring school and university students in the evenings and writing during the day. My interests include hiking, astronomy, and cats. I have travelled extensively throughout the world, preferring out of the way places to modern civilization, for example having visited Antarctica, walked the Kokoda Track in Papua New Guinea, and climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa. I don’t describe myself as a thrill-seeker but certainly prefer my travels to include adventures rather than just “tourist traps”. As a skeptic and futurist, I’ve examined the methods and ideas of science and pseudo-science in my novel Plato’s Cave, which satirizes humanity’s endless quest for meaning in life and conflicting beliefs about the nature of reality. My time as a professional actor included working in film, TV, and stage productions. I have also written and directed plays and musicals.
The protagonists of Proctor’s The Jabberwocky Book should seem familiar; his books continue the stories of Alice Liddell and Dorothy Gale with a new light. Illustrations by Ruth Germon.
How did you discover the World Unknown Review, and what inspired you to submit your story “First Symphony”?
World Unknown came to my attention through the Horror Tree website, which is a great resource for writers looking for markets. World Unknown struck me as quirky enough to consider my rather quirky story, so I sent it in.
Where did you get the idea of this story and its haunted score?
A few years ago, I helped out with a performance of Havergal Brian’s Symphony No. 1. This particular work is known as the Gothic Symphony and has the distinction of being apparently cursed, rather like Shakespeare’s play Macbeth, such that no performance of it will ever go according to plan. The Guinness Book of Records (1974) recognized it as the largest, longest, and most technically difficult symphony ever composed. It has been performed in full only a few times and wasn’t first performed until the composer himself was 90 years old. The “curse of the Gothic Symphony” is a legend that makes musicians everywhere shudder. Such an incredible work was easily the foundation for my story about a haunted music score. Actually, I didn’t play in the orchestra, I helped backstage, so my role more like that of Abby the stagehand than one of the musicians.
One of the delights of “First Symphony,” for me, was how intense the act of conducting the music is for Jerome. Have you played any instruments yourself?
When I was a teenager, I tried to learn the guitar. When I discovered that six strings were far too many for me to cope with, I switched to bass guitar, only to discover four strings were just as bad as six. To date, those are the only instruments I have tried to learn. The trouble is that I lack any sense of rhythm (which is a bit of a handicap when playing bass). This means I also cannot dance. I have, however, been a professional actor. Performance on stage, whether it be acting or playing music or dancing, involves pretty much the same level of emotional and physical input. So when writing Jerome, I just brought my own stage experiences into it. Also, I have a number of musically talented friends who helped me with the technical details.
I’m not one for musical “favourites,” but I listen to a lot of classical music, mostly while driving. As far as modern music goes, I confess to being a prog rock fan. (Wow, that shows my age. Is prog rock still classed as modern?) I don’t have any particular artists or songs that I like especially. I’ve found most of the music genres and artists around today don’t interest me much. That’s not saying they are bad, they just aren’t my thing. If it was a choice between a Rolling Stones concert or Taylor Swift, I’d choose Mick and Keith.
Who would play your main character in a film version of “First Symphony”?
As an actor myself, I always love seeing new talent in films and stage performances. I don’t know of any “name” actor I’d like to see play Jerome. The actor who plays him is someone as yet undiscovered.
Who are your biggest writing influences and inspirations?
>The three writers who I have most time for are Roger Zelazny, Mervyn Peake, and William Hope Hodgson. All three had incredible imaginations and a sense of the bizarre. All three wrote genre-bending books that defied literary conventions. Zelazny’s control of dialogue was masterful. Peake, who was an artist as well as a writer, brought an intense visual element to his writing. Hodgson was a flawed genius whose true talent has largely been under-appreciated. He makes a cameo appearance as a character in my novel An Unkindness of Ravens.
I am currently reading a YA fantasy series by Y. K. Willemse called The Fledgling Account. The first four books are out and three more to come. It’s about a boy called Rafen who discovers he is one of a group of defenders of a world called the Mio Pilamur against an evil force called Nazt. I like the way Willemse has given us something new, not just her version of high fantasy conventions.
What’s next for Russell Proctor?
> I have two books ready for release. One is a sequel to Days of Iron, titled Shepherd Moon, and the other is the third and final volume of The Jabberwocky Book, titled The Looking-Glass House. They should be out this year. I am currently working on several new projects. The main one is a new horror/time travel series called The Scream of Years. Another one is a third book in the Days of Iron series, and I am also making notes for a fictionalized account of my real-life adventures in Africa when I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro and went on safari in the Serengeti. That one is to be called Up, Down and Sideways.
Where might we be able to find more of your work?
Anything else you’d like to share?
Writers tend to be divided into plotters and pantsers. They either plan everything before writing or make it up as they go. Writing by the seat of their pants, as it were. I’m sort of in between. I like to have an idea of what is going to happen in a story, but how it turns out is often very different to original intentions. I might know the end of a story, but how I get there is only discovered as I write. I prefer it that way as it’s like being both a reader and writer at the same time. Of course, research is important, too. I usually write something, then go and do the research and have to change it all. But the initial idea is already there.
Mega thanks to Russell Proctor for being a part of the WUR family! I hope you enjoyed this little look into his mind as much as I did, and, as a huge Alice and Oz freak, I can’t wait for a little room in my budget to check out The Jabberwocky Book! Please check out his story, “First Symphony,” and consider picking up a copy (or two or five!) of the 2015 World Unknown Review in which is is featured!