interview by Joe Vaz

From Issue 14 (Oct 2011)

Where is home?
I live in London, UK

Do you write full-time?
No, my day job is aerospace engineering; writing is a hobby.

What’s you day to day like as an aerospace engineer? What projects do/have you work on?
I do a variety of things – writing the software for flight simulators is a big part of the job, plus I’ve done wind tunnel testing in the past, also future concepts development for airframe design, and I’ve looked into A.I. techniques for autopilot design. (That kind of thing tends to come in handy for the SF side of the writing, but the horror writing really is disconnected from my main job).

What inspired this story?
I once did a writing exercise with some friends in my writing group, trying to think of motivations that could make an evil character do evil things while knowing they were evil. Power over other people was one, immortality was another, and relief from pain was one I came up with. That idea went through several twists before I came up with the demonic figure that is in the background of this story, actively seeking out pain as a way of staying alive.

Pain is an ongoing theme in Jiang Shi. Is there a particular memory of pain that you drew upon?
As it happens, there is. I was moving house once and tried to lift a heavy box into the back of a van on my own. I almost had it in, but then my foot slipped as I was stepping up and I skinned the front of my shin on the metal step. The whole front of my shin was bruised and cut, even the bone was bruised. Unless you experience it yourself, it’s easy to imagine that that kind of pain is just a temporary physical sensation, that you can somehow work through it or shout a couple of times then get on with what you were doing, but no – I lost ten minutes of my life curled up in the back of that van and I can remember every second of it. When I described what Daniel is going through, that level of pain is pretty much what I described.

How much research was involved in the writing process?
I looked into the Opium Wars in a lot of detail, not just for background – I was originally intending to find some real-life incident that I could work the story around. I didn’t do that in the end, but I knew a lot more about the time and place, which was useful.

Could you tell us a little about the Jiang Shi myth?
Jiang Shi are a kind of reanimated corpse popular in Chinese ghost stories. Literally the term means “stiff corpse”, but it is often translated as “hopping corpse”, and is believed to stem from the practice of transporting the bodies of people who had died far from home. They would be carried by two people, one in front, one behind, with the corpse in the middle, hanging upright from a long bamboo pole the carriers had on their shoulders. As they walked along, bamboo would flex, making the corpse appear to hop as if moving along on its own. After a long journey in hot weather, the sight of this badly decomposed body hopping along the road would be pretty scary.

Why does Captain Getty, who has dealt with pain for so long, choose to embrace such pain?
By the end he knows that chemical relief can only take him so far – the near-limitless supply he had on his ship was slowly killing him, the hospital-rationed doses have no effect at all, and by now he knows not to trust any miracle cure that gets waved under his nose. All he can do is accept that pain as a central part of what limited lifespan he has left.

Are you working on anything right now?
I have a couple of Science Fiction novels either in the planning stages or underway, plus one complete, and a number of SF & Horror short stories, also at various stages of development.

Where can we read more of your work?
So far I’ve been published in the Book of Dark Wisdom and the Horrors Beyond anthology (both Elder Signs Press), the UK horror magazine Midnight Street, and the Canadian SF magazine Neo-Opsis.

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Joe Vaz

Joe Vaz is the founder and editor of Something Wicked, which occasionally affords him the honour and good fortune to hang out with really cool people.
In his other life he is a film and television actor who gets small parts in big movies, most recently in Dredd 3D, due to be released in September 2012.

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