Booksquawk interviews DarkWaves author Simon Kearns
Interview by Pat Black
Booksquawk: Infrasound is a fascinating topic. What prompted the idea of linking it to people's experience of supernatural phenomena?
Simon Kearns: Years ago, I saw a “Secrets of the Dead” episode wherein they investigated the possibility that megalithic monuments were designed to amplify sound, and perhaps to purposefully create infrasound. It was this programme which introduced me to the work of Vic Tandy – a scientist who discovered the link between subsonic sound waves and the classic symptoms of a haunting.
Booksquawk: I see a lot of parallels between this story and some modern classic ghost stories, such as The Stone Tape. Was it difficult to balance the idea of scientific inquiry with the traditional set-up of a spooky story (the key tension of the narrative)?
Simon: Yes – it was difficult balancing the two. I had initially wanted to write a completely rationalistic narrative, one in which science trumps all other beliefs, but the supernatural aspect of the tale would not allow it. As I progressed I found the disturbances in the cellar infiltrating other areas of the book, and my own thought processes. I think this helped enormously with the arc of the story.
Also, by setting up the protagonist as someone so sure of himself and his scientific method, it was fairly easy to maximise the extent of his “fall”, as it were.
Booksquawk: Like sightings of UFOs, Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster, advancing technology seems to be killing off popular perceptions of what was once seen as the "unexplained" or "world of the unknown". Where do you see the ghost story going in the future as advancing technology makes it easier to debunk phenomena?
Simon: I see the ghost story adapting to the technology we produce. Take, for instance, the example you mention of UFOs. If one looks at representations of UFOs from before the invention of the airplane, they largely resemble dirigibles. The height of the UFO craze coincided with the Cold War, a time when humanity lived with the fear of mass destruction caused by something that comes from the sky.
It is true that as we understand more and more about the world around us, we are losing elements of its mystery. Then again, science has leapt so far ahead of the common person’s comprehension that it is creating new mysteries. Horror usually dwells on archetypal fears, but I find the most engaging scares come from those stories that play with new technologies and the grey areas that surround them. Frankenstein is a classic example of the how to utilise the anxiety caused by scientific advances. More recently, we have had Stephen King’s Cell, and the stunning Korean horror film (and book) Pulse. My favourites of recent years, Primer and Ex-Machina, are a great melding of sci-fi and horror.
Booksquawk: Were you aware of the British tradition regarding ghost stories when you were writing, or was it something you were consciously trying to avoid, or subvert?
Simon: That British tradition is very much ingrained. I was consciously playing with clichés: the old English inn, the cellar, the denouement with the protagonist alone in the dark. At the same time, I wanted the characters to be thoroughly modern — the almost fetishistic reliance on gadgets, the fact that their first reaction when spooked is not to think of ghosts, but psychological explanations. Also, the narrative is often at pains to explain the neurological processes of fear, as if it too needs to lean on something it considers factual.
Booksquawk: Finally, tell us a bit about your next project.
Simon: I have another science-meets-horror book that I am currently submitting to publishers. It is about recording dreams, and, (a new experience for me), it is written in the first person singular, which I found to be surprisingly liberating.
Other than that, I have tentatively started a book about god and death which will very subtly toy with ghostly goings on. When I get the chance, I would like to write a book about quantum computers, entanglement, and AI — plenty of grey areas there to exploit.
Read the review of Dark Waves here.