Gary Budden on Writing the Hollow Shore 14th October 2017 – Posted in: Unthology
Gary Budden talks about how he wrote his Unthology 7 story, The Hollow Shore
The inspiration for my story in Unthology 7, ‘The Hollow Shore’ is in fact a real geographical location, called (you’ve guessed it) the Hollow Shore; the name itself a perfect piece of poetry immediately lending itself to fiction. It’s just one part of a string of bleak and flat marshland that stretches across the ten miles from Faversham Creek before finally petering out at the town of Whitstable; my home town, incidentally.
The place, unremarkable to some I’m sure, exerts a strong pull on me. The landscapes that feature in the story may be familiar to those who watched the impressively bleak Channel 4 drama Southcliffe, a programme that used the unsettling eeriness of the Kent marshes to great effect. I’d recommend it.
Part of the appeal is how empty this small area is; the south east of England is an immensely overcrowded place, and in summer especially, towns like Whitstable (once dilapidated and half-forgotten) absolutely heave with tourists. So to find an area that feels remote, though it is not, in an area I know so well, has a strong pull. The unfashionable element of the landscape is also a big part of the appeal; as I wrote for Elsewhere Journal, the marshes defeat the macho instincts of the landscape enthusiast. There’s no three marsh challenge, no summits to conquer, just mud, mire and curlews. About a year ago I walked these ten miles with an old school friend, in cold February sunshine, eventually turning that walk and the history of the area into a piece of creative non-fiction for Structo magazine, called ‘ Hollowshores’. But I realised I wasn’t done, and so returned to the marshes, this time as a setting for fiction. I will probably return to it in my writing again and again.
There are stories on these marshes. An allegedly haunted pub, The Shipwrights Arms, stands alone among the reeds, home to the spectre Hollowshore Harry. Along the banks of the Swale, separating the mainland from the Isle of Sheppey, offbeat historians have suggested roots of the Beowulf and Grendel myths. Monsters in the reeds. Illegal raves happen, out of sight and mind. Boats are swallowed up by the mud, pylons march threateningly across the landscape, are you are, invariably, alone out here.
So that was the location sorted; but how to fit a story into it? The rest of the inspiration for ‘The Hollow Shore’, by far the bleakest piece of writing I’ve yet produced, came from three separate impulses:
One, I witnessed the library at the end of my road get demolished and get turned into luxury flats.
Two, I was reading a lot of British weird fiction – MR James, Robert Aickman, Arthur Machen etc., and watching the old BBC Ghost Story For Christmas films (A Warning to the Curious and Whistle and I’ll Come to You directly fed into ‘The Hollow Shore’).
Three, I wanted to write a horror story about bland high-street Britain and the recession (which is now over, thanks George!)
This all led to ‘The Hollow Shore’. There’s elements of the fantastic in the story; bird species that don’t exist but sound like they should, fake pubs in a real town, fictional guidebooks from publishers who never were, but I wanted it set in real world of signing on, gentrification, Costa Coffee and franchise bakeries. Of divorce and credit card bills. Horror and the fantastic work most strongly for me when grounded in a clear, often mundane, reality. The story is supposed to capture the unease of modern capitalist Britain, and how life can end up disappointing you. I hope it does.