Interview with Dan Coxon, author of Only the Broken Remain
Today I’m chatting with Dan Coxon, an author I greatly admire. He’s been a part of the British horror/strange fiction scene for many years. He’s been at the helm of the legendary Tales From The Shadow Booth anthologies as well as the multi award winning anthology, This Dreaming Isle, and now he has his debut short fiction collection Only The Broken Remain coming out with Black Shuck Books
1) Tell us a bit about yourself
I’m a writer and editor based on the outskirts of London, probably best known for editing the anthology This Dreaming Isle (shortlisted for the Shirley Jackson Awards and the British Fantasy Awards). I’m also editor for Unsung Stories (Best Independent Press, British Fantasy Awards 2018 & 2019), and a freelance editor at Momus Editorial. My short fiction has appeared in Black Static, Nightscript and Not One of Us, and the anthologies Nox Pareidolia and Humanagerie, among many other places. Earlier this year I had a mini-collection, Green Fingers, published by Black Shuck Books, and they’ve just published my first full-length collection, Only The Broken Remain. Oh, and I bake a mean loaf of bread.
1) Tell us about your new story collection, Only The Broken Remain.
Only The Broken Remain is a collection of stories about people who are marginalised or excluded in some way, sometimes through no fault of their own, sometimes as a consequence of their actions. I’m really interested in these types of characters: people who have been worn down by life and cast adrift, but somehow find the strength to carry on regardless. There’s a quiet heroism in not giving in. So you’ll find stories about a disenfranchised immigrant worker who forms a pact with the local foxes, a social misfit who finds his ideal job failing in front of a circus audience, an accountant who has embezzled funds and loses herself – literally – while on the run in Australia… I’m sure you get the idea. Some are previously published, while a handful are new and original to this book.
1) What is it that drew you to British folk horror?
Part of what I do is folk horror, for sure, but I’m generally interested in weird fiction and the uncanny. I suspect the success of This Dreaming Isle will see me tagged as ‘the British folk-horror guy’ for a while, but that was really something that grew out of a specific situation, at a specific time, and I think flogging it for years to come would be a mistake. When I first started work on that anthology, we were in the midst of the Brexit vote, and nobody knew what the future held for Britain, whereas now… well, actually we still haven’t a clue, have we. But there was a sense in which folk horror was examining and reframing the ways in which we view the past, and I really liked that about it. It felt like the perfect antidote to rampant nostalgia – a timely reminder that the past was actually a dark, dangerous place, and not at all the ‘green and pleasant land’ some politicians seemed to be hankering after. That said, folk horror bleeds through into lots of other genres – ghost stories, for example, could be said to be both uncanny and folkloric – so I’m not quite done with it yet. I’m just keen to keep it as one possible tool of many, rather than the entire toolbox.
2) Do you write in other genres?
I’ve written science fiction before (with only moderate success), and had a story in a ‘Year’s Best’ body horror anthology once (I don’t write body horror usually, although I do love early Cronenberg). For many years I was trying to write ‘literary’ short stories, so my earlier work tended to avoid any of the horror genre trappings – it was much more down-to-earth and mundane. Strangeness started to creep back into my fiction about six years ago, though, and I think it’s here to stay. I won’t claim that everything I write will be horror, but it will certainly all be odd and unsettling in some way. In fact, some of the stories in Only The Broken Remain are probably weird fiction rather than horror or folk horror. I prefer to let each story lead me where it will, rather than trying to impose genre ‘rules’ on it.
3) How have you been spending your time during lockdown?
This is going to be a very dull answer, so I’ll keep it short. Looking after my kids, home schooling, learning to bake a really good loaf of bread, fighting the weeds at my allotment (and losing), putting up a shed, painting a shed, utterly failing to organise the chaos inside a shed. I’ve not had much time to read or write – at least, not as much as I’d like – but there’s been some of that too. Plus trying to earn enough of a living to stay afloat. My freelance editorial business is my main source of income, and the cashflow can be erratic at the best of times – lockdown was a challenge. One that I seem to have navigated so far, thank god.
4) What book are you currently reading?
I’m re-reading Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle, which is just as great as I remembered, and even more weird. She’s wonderful at those adept little touches that just throw you off-guard with a couple of words. That’s true mastery.
5) Who are your favourite authors?
This list tends to change with the seasons, but at the moment I’m very into Robert Aickman, Jeff Vandermeer, Joel Lane, Paul Tremblay, Alison Moore and Robert Holdstock. I’ll always have a soft spot for Iain Banks, too.
6) How would you describe your work?
Strange fiction, of every flavour.
7) Do you have any advice for new writers?
Read lots, write lots, and try to keep moving forward all the time. There’s a tendency to write something that you’re convinced is great, then sit back and try and place it somewhere. It’s important to send work out for publication, but you should always be working on the next thing – that’s how you improve. Also, don’t listen to too much advice. What worked for someone else might not do it for you.
8) In the future, do you have plans to write a novel ?
I’m actually about 30,000 words into one, but then lockdown got in the way (see earlier notes regarding home schooling, work, etc.) I’ll be going back to it at some point soon, and who knows, I might even finish it. By the time I’ve done the edits, found an agent and sold it to a publisher, you might see it around 2025 sometime. In the meantime, though, I have two new anthologies slated for next year (one fiction, one non-fiction), so I’ve got plenty to keep me busy.