Although University had its trials and tribulations for me, I will say that I am so grateful to my creative writing tutors for introducing me to the art of short stories and flash fiction, because to me that’s what it is. I would say I have a stronger connection to flash fiction, because it’s shorter, and because it demands more of you in fewer words, but also because there’s less to have to revise when you’re on the fifteenth edit. When it comes to short stories, I think I love the idea of them more than actually writing them. I love the idea of writing a short story masterpiece in an afternoon by the windowsill, but believe me what you do write in the first draft it usually never considered the masterpiece at the end.
It’s universally known that short stories can be hard, so when I discovered StrangeBooks, a unique home for surreal and weird fiction based in Brighton, I was intrigued. StrangeBooks is run by author Mike Russell and Jay Snelling who offer their readers only the strangest and mind-boggling fiction out there! After reading both Mike’s books, Nothing is Strange and Strange Medicine, I got the chance to ask Mike and Jay a little more about the collection.
1) Mike, this collection of undoubtedly strange fiction made me think of both dystopian worlds and Alice in Wonderland! Where did you get your inspiration?
Thank you. I am a fan of Alice in Wonderland. I share Alice’s bemusement at the world.
Inspiration for me is exactly that, inspiration. I have moments of inspiration that come at odd times. For this reason, I have post-it notes in every room in my house and carry a pad of them wherever I go. Post-It yellow is a wonderful colour. My living room is Post-It yellow. But I don’t write on the walls.
Where inspiration comes from is a mystery. I love exploring the places that inspiration reveals to me and I have a huge desire to share what I discover. We are all mysteries surrounded by mystery and filled with mystery! I like to explore that mystery.
2) How long have you been writing for?
I began writing seriously when I was 12 years old. I started writing a novel called ‘Imagine Infinity’. I designed the book cover and wrote a fair amount before deciding that I needed more life experience and abandoned it. That tells you a lot about the sort of child I was! I thought that this unfinished attempt was lost until my parents found it in their loft a couple of years ago. I still like the title. Years later, I began writing another novel whilst studying art at university, then I began writing short stories which I performed in clubs & bars. Happily, I kept being invited to perform more! This showed me that there was an audience for my writing. It was then that www.strangebooks.com was born.
3) Do you find you’re more at ease writing flash fiction or short stories?
I love both and I feel comfortable writing both. With flash fiction I enjoy creating a glimpse of a larger world. Sometimes a very large world! It’s amazing how few words are needed for the reader to imagine something vast. I am currently working on short stories which contain diagrams.
4) Did Brighton itself have any influence over you when you were writing these stories?
Not directly but I have always enjoyed the absurdities of the English seaside town and its imagery does appear from time to time in my stories.
Brighton is a place where you can walk down the street wearing nothing but a spoon and no-one will mind, in fact people will probably look at you with as much indifference as possible to show just how un-shocked they are. This is a wonderful thing. However, intolerance is sadly never far away and Brighton is certainly no utopia. The title ‘Nothing Is Strange’ is a wonderfully inclusive phrase. However, ‘Nothing Is Strange’ refers to more than a defence of the unusual… for its significance to be fully understood you will have to read the book!
5) Are you planning another collection with a different theme?
My next book to be published is a novella called ‘Strungballs’. That’s a scoop! ‘Strungballs’ is a little darker than the previous books. You mentioned the word ‘dystopia’ in relation to some of the stories. ‘Strungballs’ begins as a dystopia. It is to be released before the end of this year. If you follow www.strangebooks.com you will be alerted as soon as it is available. I can say no more about it. I also have novels and more short story collections planned.
6) Who would you say is your inspiration ?
I love and admire artists who have a unique vision. Here are my favourites: Philip K Dick, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Angela Carter, David Lynch, Jan Svankmajer, Rene Magritte, Leonora Carrington.
1) Jay, What do you see in the future for strangebooks? Do you feel other genres may be on the horizon or are we just falling further down the rabbit hole?
There will definitely be more books from Mike – I know this as I’ve seen some amazing prototypes for book covers! As far as I know, the genre shall remain similar. Mike’s stories are difficult to pigeon-hole but some lean closer to fantasy, one or two touch upon horror and many are unclassifiable!
We also have (starting next week) some great new merchandise available through the website, T-shirts and bags with Mike’s amazing designs taken from the book covers. Who wouldn’t want a T-shirt that tells everyone that Nothing Is Strange or printed with a smile that is so insanely happy that its ends meet?
2) Which is your favourite story from ‘Nothing is Strange’ and ‘Strange Medicine’?
Ooh, this is difficult. In ‘Nothing is Strange’ my favourite is ‘The End of Sex’. Many people have said that they enjoy it because they find it funny, but to me it’s extremely romantic and sweet. For ‘Strange Medicine’, the decision is more difficult, which is odd as there are fewer stories. I think if I really had to choose, I would say ‘Mime’. How Mike can manage to describe the act of a mime, motion by motion, and actually plant the image of the mimed object into my head just baffles me! It’s clever and mysterious stuff. He’s not even a mime himself (although he does wear a lot of stripes).
Thank you very much to strangebooks for sending us some copies of Mike’s books and providing brilliant answers to our questions! Both these books by Mike Russell are unlike anything I have read before and if you are interested in taking a further look into flash or short fiction these are a pair you must check out!