The Unthology Interviews: Armel Dagorn talks to Kit Caless 14th October 2017 – Posted in: Interviews
Armel Dagorn: Your Unthology 8 story “Not Drowning But Saving” starts from the simple idea that people working for charities might get addicted to their roles as helpers/saviours. Then it takes this premise up a notch (or two), and leaves the reader wondering if this really is an outlandish fabrication, or if they simply haven’t yet stumbled upon that particular dark corner of the real world. I love stories that manage to pull off that kind of off-kilter realism.
First off, could you tell us about where that story got started (or your stories in general, for that matter) got started?
Kit Caless: Thanks for the kind words about the story. This particular piece came out of a novel that I shelved last year. I’d been working on the book for a long time, and I did finish it. But unfortunately it just never quite saw the light – both in the sense of me still being enthusiastic about it, and in its coherence. However, when you’ve written something that long, there’s always a lot of material you can mine for short stories! I rewrote one of the chapters into a short story, and it developed into Not Drowning But Saving.
In terms of other things I write, most of my stories start from a word, or phrase. I was given a book at Christmas, The Book of Human Emotions, which is perfect for me! I look up a word like ‘basorexia’ [n. the overwhelming urge to kiss someone], and I’m off scribbling away. Other than that, I find some of the non-fiction I write for money ends up influencing my fictional story telling. I have written a number of pieces for Vice about work, which has in turn led to a number of short stories based around conceptions and functions of work.
AD: It’s quite a dark story – though not without (dark) humour – and reading it, I found myself thinking about books and movies such as Fight Club (for the obscure, secretive group of a chosen few), or (The) Ring and its evil videotape (here the phone, which might not be lethal, but still ties the characters together in quite a creepy way.
Did you have any influences in mind writing it? Or nods to other works?
KC: I must say I love Fight Club, the film and the book. However, my gripe with Chuck Palahnuick is that no one can write about therapy groups without his name being brought up! Haha. He has certainly cornered that area of fiction and moulded it to his own. I love Ringu too, so you’ve nailed it. I think anything that links communications, secrecy and death is fascinating. Sometimes I think back to the chain mail letters my sisters used to get. You know the ones that said, ‘If you don’t pass this message onto 10 friends, you’ll die in eight Sunday’s time’ or whatever. There’s always been these weird communications threats, death from talking, ‘keep mum’ etc. I’m currently writing a story about a whatsapp group that mysteriously poisons you unless you invite ten friends to it from you contacts list. What else is writing if not just updating the same set of stories over and over again?
AD: What are some of your favourite writers/works in general? And do you find them to be influences? Can you notice their traces in your writing?
KC: It’s difficult to talk about influences from literature, I think. Someone else should tell me what has influenced me as I’m too close to what I write to be aware of any conscious influence. I haven’t sat down and though, ‘I would like to write like this woman’ or anything like that. I’m probably more influenced by music in that respect. I try to write to certain rhythms. With Not Drowning But Saving, I wrote most of it to a track called The Crow By DJ Food. It starts off with this beautiful singular double bass line and then adds layers one by one; a clarinet riff, a congo flourish until it builds to this cacaphony with strings and full drums. I found that the pace of that track was wanted I wanted to do with the story. Other times, if I want to write something glitchy I might listen to Mumdance or Preditah, or something fast paced I’d put on Heavytrackerz instrumentals or even some old Bad Company drum and bass!
AD: I find that Unthology has been showcasing stories that are more diverse in terms of “genre” than many literary magazines, or stories that are maybe more genre-fluid, incorporating aspects of speculative literatures, and in that regard I find that “Not Drowning But Saving” fits right in. Cliché question, but how do you feel about genres, and I suppose the often talked about genre vs. literary issue, in both your reading and your writing?
KC: Unthology is excellent in that regard. But with genre on the whole? Hmm. I don’t really understand genre other than as a device to market books. I’m not even sure what ‘speculative’ means, other than slightly weird storytelling. The ‘literary’ branding seems to do with making a books seem for a more discerning audience. I don’t really care enough to argue about it though. If the story or characters or place grab me in the book, it doesn’t matter what genre it is. Equally genre classification doesn’t protect me from reading shit books. I think Ballard said something along the lines of ‘The great thing about science fiction was that nobody lived in Hampstead.’ That was probably an ice breaker back then, but I don’t think it applies anymore. Sci fi in Hampstead rather than Shepperton and its surrounds would be the new thing to do now!
AD: I was thinking about your role as director/editor at Influx Press, which specialises in site-specific literature. As I re-read “Not Drowning But Saving”, I realised how unspecific it was about place. It’s the ultimate disembodiment: the whole story takes place on the phone, callers “sound” like they’re from New York, or Australia, and their employers can only be guessed at. Their names are fake, and their very jobs, working for NGOs, imply nomadic lifestyles.
As a result, the reader, instead of being transported to some location, is included in the limbo of the conference calls the characters take part in. Was that by any chance a way of getting out of your day job’s (or second night job’s) dictatorship?
KC: Ah good question! I hadn’t really thought about it like that, but you’re probably right. I find place writing, whatever you want that to mean, an absolute pleasure to read and edit. The closer you can hone in on one place, the greater truths you can illuminate. But I suppose with my own writing, yes, there is a disembodiment with that story. But that’s mainly because the characters themselves have become disembodied from any ethical grounding. As I was writing the story, a phrase about Colonel Kurtz in Heart of Darkness: “There was nothing either above or below him, and I knew it. He had kicked himself loose of the earth” kept going around my head. I feel like my characters are like that. You could also use a phrase on Kurtz further on in that passage to describe them too: “His mind was clear, even if it was focused exclusively on himself. His soul, however, was mad.” The characters in this story have all had their souls driven mad by altruism.
In terms of actually locating the story, the novel I mentioned that it came from is set on a nameless estate somewhere in the UK, which I purposefully left undetailed. Maybe this is why I shelved it! hahaha. Having said that some of my favourite books exist in unnamed locations – The Invention of Morel, or Will Wiles’s Care of Wooden Floors.
AD: What are you working on at the moment? What are your projects for the year to come?
KC: I’m busy at Influx putting out a number of books in 2016 which you can find out about here: http://www.influxpress.com
I’ll continue to write bits and pieces of non-fiction/journalism too. My favourite commission so far this year is for Architectural Digest India, where I’m interviewing a very famous interior designer. It’s not the usual sort of thing I would do, so I’m looking forward to that. I’ve started work on a new novel too, set in Clerkenwell, London. But everyone in the written world is working on a novel so the less said about that the better. In fact, pretend I never said it – it’ll probably just end up as a short story somewhere!