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Roger Keen on Metacrime and Metahorror

November 13, 2017 Leave a comment

My colleagues at Darkness Visible have conducted this with interview with me, concentrating on the metafictional aspects of Literary Stalker and also touching on the broader aspects of ‘self-knowing’ fictionality in film and literature, citing some of my favourite examples:


 

Roger’s new novel Literary Stalker is a psychological crime thriller with horror overtones, but it’s also metafictional – that is, it has self-awareness about its fictionality – and Roger has used the terms ‘metacrime’ and ‘metahorror’ to describe this tendency within the genres the novel occupies. So, we thought we’d ask him explain a little bit more deeply about what he means, and give us some other examples.

Darkness Visible: Literary Stalker involves Nick, a writer who is composing a novel about revenge murders. Is it this layering of novels-within-novels that gives rise to the meta dimension you talk about? And how is this different from a novel taking place in the real world, as oppose to a fantasy, for example?

Roger: Yes, the layering is part of it, certainly, but only one aspect. And Nick indeed does inhabit the ‘real world’, but that ‘reality’ is constantly being called into question by what he does and thinks. As an ‘unreliable narrator’ Nick is in a league of his own! He’s writing his novel – The Facebook Murders – where the characters are effectively his real enemies (he even keeps the same names for the purposes of a first draft), and he gets his alter ego narrator, Jago, to murder them in stylised ways, as in the movie Theatre of Blood.

So his novel is a projection of his wishes, a realisation of the revenge he desires in real life. And as the story progresses, the lines blur, fiction and reality interchange, as Nick is progressively ‘taken over’ by his novel. Which is a very ‘horror’ idea, but because it’s ‘psychological’ rather than ‘supernatural’, it still retains ‘real world’ integrity – at least for most of the time. But throughout there are these ‘nudge-wink’ moments, and towards the end the metafictional undermining and rug-pulling gets stronger, till the twists at the climax which leave you wondering what exactly is ‘real’ and what isn’t.

Read more on Medium.

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Roger Keen Interview: “I find the best kind of inspiration comes from unexpected things”

October 27, 2017 Leave a comment

Huge thank you to Hannah of The Dorset Book Detective for interviewing me about my writing and some of the ideas surrounding Literary Stalker.

The Dorset Book Detective

Roger Keen Author PicRoger Keen, filmmaker and psychological thriller writer, discusses his work and the influences behind it.

Tell me about how you came to define your writing style. What drew you towards writing thrillers?

When I started writing, I was initially drawn to literary fiction, particularly American countercultural writers such as Kerouac, Burroughs, Henry Miller and Richard Brautigan. But I also liked classic crime and noirish fiction, ranging from Poe and Conan Doyle to Raymond Chandler, Patricia Highsmith and Ruth Rendell. Later, I decided to write dark horror-type short stories, because there was a market for them in small press magazines, and literary stories were harder to place. The types of stories I liked to write were more psychological rather than supernatural, and more rooted in the real world than in the realms of Gothic fantasy. I was always interested in aberrant psychology and read about it widely, including true crime books…

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Literary Stalker, a Novel by Roger Keen

Literary Stalker CoverThree years ago, in the autumn of 2014 – and extending into 2015 – I experienced a kind of creative fugue, which resulted in my entire ‘novelistic memoir’ approach to past, present and future extended works being rebased as pure fiction – but of the metafictional kind. As a result, Literary Stalker – an old idea from the 1990s – got a new lease of life, and The Empty Chair, my next intended novelistic memoir, got recalled to the workshop.

As a psychological crime/horror novel, Literary Stalker would seem a large and radical departure from that novelistic memoir direction, and in some ways it is, but not in others. I did write psychologically-orientated crime, horror, fantasy and noir fiction back in the ’90s, having short stories published in various (now largely forgotten) small press magazines such as Psychotrope, Threads, Sierra Heaven and others with similarly freakish names. I also wrote two or three novels running along the same lines, which never saw the light of day, though one came close. This whole authorial thrust petered out in the late ’90s, and though I continued writing articles and reviews concerning weird and genre fiction and film, I lost the inspiration for actually creating such fiction myself. Instead, amongst other projects, I pressed on with more versions of the semi-autobiographical novels that would eventually be (almost!) de-fictionalised as The Mad Artist and The Empty Chair.

Though nominally a memoir, my previous book, The Mad Artist, is based as much on my attempts to turn its material into novels as it is on the events – the psychonautic adventures – themselves. That’s what gave me the incentive to write it in the form that I eventually chose – a self-begetting narrative with nested versions of itself and strong metafictional overtones. The Empty Chair also follows in that direction, but is taken much, much further. My creative journey of September 2015 onwards involved applying these same techniques to a piece of actual made-up fiction rather than assemblages of autobiography. And the ‘Literary Stalker’ project, which came from my horror-writing days of the ’90s, proved an ideal vehicle.

What made the idea work, content-wise, was my rediscovery and multiple re-watching of a favourite hoary old horror movie of the 1970s: Theatre of Blood, staring Vincent Price as the deranged Shakespearian actor Edward Lionheart, who compiles a hit list of the critics who’ve given him bad reviews and then murders each one in a different theatrical setting taken from a Shakespeare play. My idea was to make Literary Stalker a pastiche of Theatre of Blood, where the narrator, Nick Chatterton, uses the plots of classic crime and horror films as the templates for the revenge murders of his enemies. But he’s not actually committing these murders, he is writing them up in his novel The Facebook Murders, and the story of Literary Stalker is the story of the composition of that novel-within-a-novel.

The Facebook murders are actually being committed by Jago Farrar, Nick’s alter ego and narrator, and Jago himself is writing a novel – Social Media Avenger – based on his murders, which is narrated by Miles Hunniford…Etcetera! This might remind you of the wonderful model village in Bourton on the Water in the Cotswolds, which contains a model of itself, and a model of the model, and a model of the model of the model. And indeed it’s also like that sublime movie Synedoche New York, about an autobiographical playwright who gets to workshop his own life story, eventually needing to dramatise the workshopping itself, and then to dramatise the dramatisation of the workshopping, and so on infinitely, with actors playing actors playing actors…

So, in a sense Literary Stalker marks the completion of a circle or loop or Möbius strip between my old ’90s horror/crime work and the later meta-memoir tendency. The narrator, Nick Chatterton, is gay – for reasons which become clear as the novel progresses – and his creation was something of a challenge for a straight author…but that’s another story. I will be penning more pieces – and perhaps making some films – about the gay, homicidal and metafictional aspects of the work, so stay tuned.

More details about Literary Stalker can be found on the publisher site here: Darkness Visible.

An excellent review by Noel Megahey appears here on The Digital Fix: Geek Life.

It is available as a paperback and on Kindle in the UK here: Amazon.co.uk

And in the United States here: Amazon.com. Also on other Amazons worldwide.

Review: Leaf by Leaf by Leaf Fielding

Leaf Fielding, member of the legendary ‘Operation Julie’ LSD-manufacturing-and-distribution ring, was busted in 1977 and spent five years in jail, ending his sentence at Leyhill Open Prison. He published his memoir, To Live Outside the Law, in 2011 – a gripping account of the Julie bust, the events that led up to it, and Leaf’s more general life story, involving a difficult childhood, bad times at boarding school and eventual flowering into a young hippy in the mid-1960s. The book was the first insider account of the Julie affair and was well received, earning plaudits from luminaries such as Howard Marks, who typically described it as: ‘F***ing good!’

Several years on, Leaf has now published Part 2 of his memoirs, entitled Leaf by Leaf, which continue the story from the point where To Live Outside the Law ended – his release from prison. After initial exhilaration, Leaf is subject to volatile mood swings as he faces the inescapable tally of traumas that prison life has inflicted on him, and also the realisation that healing himself won’t be a simple process. Moreover it is now the early 80s, the grim Thatcher era, and by this time the vivid psychedelic colour that infused the previous two decades of British life has all but drained away.

Read more on: Psychedelic Press UK

The Beat Writers and the Psychedelic Movement

March 16, 2017 1 comment
Allen-Ginsberg-and-William-S-Burroughs cropped

Allen Ginsberg & William Burroughs in later years.

 

This article was adapted from my talk at Breaking Convention 2015, held in London at Greenwich University. It has now been published by the excellent Oak Tree Review, which investigates the many branches of psychedelic culture throughout history, specialising in its manifestations in art and literature.


 

In their activities and writings in the late 1940s and ’50s the Beat writers – principally Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg – prefigured and influenced the Psychedelic Movement, which came into flowering a generation later. When those epoch-making cultural changes got underway in the ’60s, the Beats were naturally looked upon as mentor figures and elder statesmen, and Timothy Leary, who was of the same age group as them, was happy to recruit and induct them into the cause – through his Harvard program. This produced some unexpected and volatile results – Tim Leary got more than he bargained for – and the end product as regards the three major Beat writers was one spectacular success, one mixed case, and one spectacular failure.

It all started in New York in 1943, within the Columbia university scene where the Beats first hooked up. At the time Jack Kerouac was in his early twenties, and already saw himself as a writer. Bill Burroughs was older, in his late twenties, and was known as a raconteur and intellectual, and became a mentor figure to the group. Allen Ginsberg was the kid, still a teenager, and just enrolled at Columbia. There were other key people in the group, such as Lucien Carr, another student, and everybody became fictionalised in Kerouac’s novels – most notably On the Road.

At around this same time Burroughs first tried morphine and became an addict, so the events of his first novel Junkie run roughly concurrently to On the Road. In both books, which are strongly autobiographical, there are many references to recreational drug use, and they open a marvellous window onto pre-psychedelic bohemian life – exactly the kind of scene which would develop eventually into the hippie scene.

Read more on: The Oak Tree Review

Review: Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson

January 25, 2013 1 comment

Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? coverMost misery memoirs are first books penned by people who are often not primarily writers, but who simply have extraordinary tales of woe to articulate. It is a very commercially-driven genre, where writing quality is not paramount, sometimes involving ghost writing; and it’s become a bandwagon that the ever expanding ranks of celebrities are wont to climb onto, as their names alone will sell books.

This makes Jeanette Winterson a special case with Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? as she’s an established writer of long standing, and way back in her twenties she already addressed her turbulent and troublesome early experiences in her semi-autobiographical first novel Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit. So why revisit this territory and de-fictionalise it? Why re-clock the car to zero, so to speak?

It’s partly down to the changed perspective of middle age, where all becomes recast in a historical rather than an immediate context; and not only her own life but also her surroundings – Manchester and Accrington and their industrial heritage. She paints a picture that certainly supports the adage ‘it’s grim up North’, involving austere little houses with outside lavvies and no central heating or fridges or telephones. I am four years older than Jeanette, but as a southerner whose childhood was surrounded by ‘all mod cons’, hers feels like it belongs to an earlier generation.

Similarly she redrafts the almost 19th century figure of her stepmother, whom she refers to as ‘Mrs Winterson’ and who uses the matrix of her religious beliefs as an enabler of her abuse. Jeanette’s childhood involved corporal punishment, dished out by her father on the instructions of the dominant mother, nights spent of the front doorstep having been locked out of the house, and the burning of her hidden and forbidden book collection after it was unfortunately discovered.

Nevertheless Jeanette absorbed enough literature to get to Oxford to study English, become a successful writer and leave all that toxicity behind. But of course it’s never that simple. And so we come to what Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? is really all about – the spectre of unfinished business, the part of her story that serves as a corollary to Oranges. Read more…

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