Ask the Author: Alan Moore

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Alan Moore You may very well be right that a counter-culture needs a certain amount of insularity or distance that the internet doesn’t provide, and I think there are also other factors which abet this situation. I recently acquired a wonderful array of small-press poetry magazines from the 1960s and 1970s – poetry was always somehow at the heart of the counter-cultures that I remember – and what most struck me was the immediacy and authenticity of these stab-stapled physical artefacts. Obviously produced a home by people who were driven by a real passion, these were very definitely anti-corporate manifestations of a dissenting culture. I’m not sure how much real articulate dissent contemporary internet is capable of fostering. Still, it’s with us and clearly isn’t going away. It’s my hope that an alternative culture could emerge that is not so completely in thrall to the internet; that can use that technology for the things it is genuinely useful for, but that can also appreciate the need for a supplementary print and artefact culture, which is fulfilling different needs. This is a subject which I’m relatively optimistic about, and which will be the subject of a day-long seminar that I’m taking part in at Northampton’s Nene College on November the 28th, along with Robin Ince, Josie Long, Francesca Martinez, John Higgs, Grace Petrie, very possibly Melinda Gebbie and an outside chance of Scroobius Pip and some Syrian refugee poets. I think that the event will be streamed – a clearly positive use of the internet – and so I suppose we’ll have a chance to find out then how workable modern technology is in regard to a counter culture. And in the evening, we’ll be having an old-fashioned Art School Dance, which as any admirer of the poet Pete Brown would surely tell you, goes on forever.
Alan Moore By definition, The Birth Caul must be the most personal piece of my writing that anyone has actually seen or listened to. However, next year I expect that to be superseded by Jerusalem, which is as close as I will ever be able to get to articulating my experience and my background in terms of a fiction.
Alan Moore It’s really only fictional people that live in horror stories. Real people, even if they’ve been the subject of special rendition and are currently receiving electric shocks to their genitals somewhere in Egypt, are not in a horror story: they are in the same ordinary reality as you and I, which we are all a part of and which we all, by our actions and inactions, help to create. I think it would be best if we agreed that we are living in the real world, and if at times it reads like a horror story – or worse – then we are the only authors, and we are the only authority that is in a position t fix or change that.
Alan Moore I’m sorry, but I genuinely never give a moment’s thought to matters like this, and really can’t provide an answer for this question.
Alan Moore Well, in order to fit the criteria of an event that could actually happen you would be very limited in your number of choices. It would have to be some nuclear war or environmental collapse scenario, I imagine, so perhaps a novel like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, or a television production like the English film Threads, which I can best describe as The Day After for grownups.
Alan Moore I suppose I had only an average person’s interest in occult matters for the greater part of my life, and while there were various factors that led to me becoming a magician back in 1993, one of the most compelling was writing a few lines of dialogue in From Hell to the effect that the one place gods and supernatural beings inarguably existed was within the human mind, where they were real in all their ‘grandeur and monstrosity’. Being incapable of finding an angle from which that wasn’t true, and realising its implications, I felt I had no real choice other than to become a magician.
Alan Moore Hello, Mindy. Nice to hear from you. I’m fine, thanks, and hope you are, too.
Alan Moore With enough energy and ingenuity a writer can do almost anything. If you want to see a brilliant example of a drama involving a single individual isolated in a single room, then I strongly suggest you watch Robert Altman’s stunning film Secret Honor, starring the uncanny Phillip Baker Hall as disgraced former president Richard M. Nixon in his post-Watergate retreat at (I believe) San Clemente, sitting in a heavily-guarded room and speaking his awful truths obsessively into a tape-recorder. If you ever see a more accomplished or more disturbing Gothic drama, I’d be very surprised: at the end of the film the viewer is absolutely desperate to get out of this cramped little room full to bursting with evil history, and at the same time is aware that the central character never can. I can even imagine a good enough writer being able to craft a compelling narrative about an empty room with absolutely nobody in it...but probably best not to try this at home.
Alan Moore In my opinion (which is not at all humble, and which, indeed, often stridently insists that it be universally accepted as established fact) place is probably the single most important element of any work of fiction; arguably even more important than the characters and the plot, as it is always place that both character and plot emerge from, and exist in the context of. This is true whether we’re talking about a real, existing location, or about a landscape that the author has invented. While place is obviously massively important in successful horror fiction – Lovecraft’s fictitious Arkham or real Boston; M.R. James’ Aldeburgh; Ramsey Campbell’s Brichester or Liverpool – I would say that this was just as true of every other type of fiction. Certainly, an exhaustive investigation of a place that is very tiny when considered in three dimensions and immense and haunted when considered in four or more is what the entirety of Jerusalem is predicated on. And while there are certainly considerable horrors and tragedies bound up in that place, I feel that unless we excavate the whole of a place, including its humour, its triumphs, its history and its politics then we run the risk of not understanding it in its entirety. Of course, the slant that we put on a place will vary depending on what we want an individual story to achieve, but I would advise that you find out absolutely everything that you can about a place, trusting that fascinating or reveal details will be uncovered, or previously unnoticed poetic linkages. Nearly all of what I consider my most important works are predicated on place: Lost Girls in the Bodensee area; From Hell in London; Voice of the Fire and Jerusalem in Northamptonshire and the half-a-square-mile Boroughs district respectively; all of my magical performance pieces set and performed in Fleet Street, Highbury, Red Lion Square, or at a Victorian Crown Court in Newcastle; and of course Unearthing, which was an attempt to combine a deep study of a very unusual place with a deep study of an individual who had lived his entire life in that place – a necessary combination of psychogeography and psychobiography. Yeah, place: where would we be without it?
Alan Moore The scariest way to die, surely, would be after a life that was not sufficiently considered, understood or engaged with, wouldn’t it? As for your question on the re-reading and editing process, it depends on the author and on the work. With Jerusalem I’ve been very exacting and thorough. Other works, I’ll proofread them a couple of times and then leave it to the production people and editors. But that’s just me. Mike Moorcock tells me that he has to resist the temptation to go back and look at a work because he feels that if he did he’d never stop fiddling with it or revising. One of the benefits of coming from a background of pulp periodicals like Mike and I is that everything is at such a breakneck pace that you don’t really get the time to develop a habit for fussiness.
Alan Moore You have to understand that I’m from an English, not to say a Northampton, working-class background, and that the way that we traditionally regarded Halloween over here before we had the America re-imagining of the phenomenon imported, was as a serious and ominous event that was part of the witches’ calendar. My grandmother, whom we lived with, was unwavering in her insistence that since this was a night in which malevolent and destructive supernatural forces were abroad and roaming freely, this was also a night when sensible people, particularly children, should stay indoors.
I feel, personally, that this was a properly respectful attitude to the ‘spirits of a place’ that accumulate, if only in that place’s legend and dream and imagination: these things are an important part of a place’s psychological reality, and I would actually prefer not to see them reduced to a fourteen year-old girl in a ‘sexy witch’ costume. Still, each to their own, and I’ve no doubt I shall spend this Halloween handing out money to, hopefully, some of the neighbourhood’s younger children accompanied by their parents, as these are always very respectful and point out to the children that they are actually talking to a real warlock. And of course, if they’re not with their parents I can ritually sacrifice a couple of them to my deformed 2nd century snake-god. Then everybody’s happy.
Alan Moore To be honest I see at least a hoped-for socially evolutionary purpose in almost everything I do, although please don’t question me too closely about Astro Dick. That is certainly the deliberate intent behind any of my major works, and indeed I think of it as the only real function of art of any kind: what would be the point of writing a book, composing a symphony or constructing a painting if you didn’t intend it to alter the world to at least some small degree? I mean, other than making money?
Alan Moore My favourite Poe story, at least at this moment, would probably be The Telltale Heart, one of the first stories by ‘pauvre Eddie’ that I ever read. I wouldn’t say that his work has been a major influence on my own, save for indirectly through writers like Lovecraft, but I would say that Poe taught me to appreciate the unique register of feverish delirium and encroaching insanity that is curdling and creeping in all of his greatest and most memorable stories.
Alan Moore Well, fairly obviously, none of them. I think it’s a common misapprehension, often among horror movie fans, that serial murderers are in some way interesting – like that really clever music-and-food- appreciating one in The Silence of the Lambs – rather than the hopeless and damaged inadequates that, if you actually read a few serious books on the subject, they almost invariably turn out to be. In fact, the way that John Waters makes a fetish of (literally) clowns like John Wayne Gacey and his dopey paintings, makes me wish that someone I formerly considered to be an important voice in modern cinema couldn’t just, you know, grow up a bit.
Alan Moore If I had to pick just one, then it would probably be The Blind Owl by (and I’m almost certain to mangle the spelling of this, not having the book to hand) Sedagh Heyat. Please don’t take my word for this, but instead read the book yourself and see if you agree. My guess is that it will make you feel almost ill with dread, and as worried for your own sanity as you would be by a long night of fitful sleep and terrible recurring dreams. Enjoy.
Alan Moore It’s difficult to say. I suppose it would be either my initial induction into magic, on the night of Friday January 7th, 1994 in the company of Steve Moore; or it would be my attainment of the solar sphere Tiphereth and an attendant vision of the crucifixion – quite stunning even (or especially) for someone who has no belief at all in Christianity – a couple of years later in the company of my musical partner Tim Perkins; or conceivably it would be the early 21st century occasion described in my short story/photo novel/ triple album box-set Unearthing, again with Steve Moore, where I encountered his personal lunar goddess Selene and shortly thereafter attained the magical grade/level of consciousness described by the term Magus. I’m pretty much incapable of listing my favourite films or books, as my answers to the rest of this series of questions demonstrate resoundingly, so asking me what I think was my most spiritual experience is pretty much doomed to elicit an answer that is even vaguer and more equivocal.
Alan Moore For my money, psychological horror beats physical gore hands down for its ability to actually disturb us and penetrate us to our very core. After all, teenage boys and young men, a group famously anxious and uncertain of its own masculinity, will not uncommonly attend a slasher film in raucous groups, and relieve their mutual tension by making a lot of noise and laughing rather too hard at the most violent scenes, as if to demonstrate that they’re much too manly to be scared by a mere film, while in fact demonstrating the exact opposite. My point is that you don’t get the same thing happening at a showing of Polanski’s Repulsion, do you? Also, it must be said that almost any halfwit can elicit a visceral reaction from their audience by having a character’s eye gouged out, while it takes considerable skill to get beneath an audience’s skin psychologically. I know which I’d see.
Alan Moore I think the most frightening quality in a monster – real or fictional, human or otherwise – is its distance from our world of common human understanding; the sense that we are confronted by some sort of awareness that is absolutely nothing like our own, with interior processes and perceptions and agendas that are utterly foreign to our own and which are therefore unreadable to us. In this sense, things like werewolves, vampires or H.R. Giger’s franchised aliens aren’t really any more disturbing than a runaway car that’s heading in your direction. If there’s something with fangs or teeth like a typewriter carriage that’s making its way towards you, then you probably don’t have that many questions about its motivations, or your own: it’s evidently trying to kill you, and you , just as evidently, would rather not be killed. Being killed, whether it be by a tumour, a drunk and masturbating truck driver or a reanimated mummy enacting a vengeful curse, is something that, as humans, we should probably be used to by now. Something wanting to kill us...often a really ugly and monstrous something...has been our constant companion since the Palaeolithic. Much more alarming, in my estimation, is the entity of which we haven’t the faintest idea what it wants; the dancing dwarf in Twin Peaks as opposed to the shuffling and brain-seeking cadavers of our zombie movies. This posited unknowable entity doesn’t even have to mean you any harm or be aware of your existence in order to terrify. The very fact of its irresolvable and unfathomable nature is enough to haunt and obsess us forever after, to the point where we might end up wishing that we’d encountered a nice, down-to-earth, uncomplicated rampaging sasquatch instead.
Alan Moore As somebody who believes that he has had a conversation with a biblical demon mentioned in the apocryphal book of Tobit – and the important thing there is that it is what I believed was happening – then I’d have to say that demons seem to be perfectly reasonable individuals who just happen to have a dirty job. If you like, they’re celestial sewer maintenance personnel. As a result of this, I don’t really think that there are any such things as evil spirits...unless we’re talking about the ordinary human variety that seem to inhabit a distressing number of our political and religious leaders. Regarding these, I wouldn’t say that I was scared of them, as I think that both institutions are going through cataclysmic changes that may turn out to be their death throes. Perhaps the word is ‘wary’, in that given the historical belligerence and self-interest of both politics and religion, I doubt that those death throes are going to be of the quiet, peaceful, brave and dignified variety. More likely they’ll involve a lot of noise and damage, and very probably more than a few people will be hurt. Just leave the evil spirits out of this. They’re blameless, and nowhere near as evil as we are., because they don’t have the same incentives.
Alan Moore That’s a very good question. I suppose if I didn’t believe that anarchistic ideas in literature could have a useful and positive effect upon, as you succinctly and accurately phrase it, “the catastrophic trajectory of our species” then I wouldn’t have any incentive to get out of bed and start writing (or breathing) in the mornings. I think we should all remember that it is supposed to be our culture that drives our politics, whether our politics like it or not, rather than the other way round. Ginsberg’s Howl and its subsequent obscenity trial established the defence of artistic merit for the first time, and had a massive liberating effect upon the arts and culture that continues to the present day. And while the literary and musical protest movements of the 1960s didn’t actually end the Vietnam War – I rather suspect that was down to the tenacity of the little guys in black pyjamas – these artistic movements certainly didn’t hurt in their efforts to make the war more untenable with those American people who didn’t want to be the first ones on their block to have their boy come home in a box. In fact, I’d say that that the historic success of artistic protest-movements is probably the reason why we haven’t seen a youth culture or a progressive movement in music, literature or the arts since around 1990: they were working, so we aren’t allowed to have them anymore. Frankly, Rafa, whether such efforts have any chance of succeeding at all, as ethical and developed human beings I don’t think we have any other conceivable choice but to behave as if they do.
Alan Moore
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