Emmet O’Cuana Interview

IMG_0215 Hailing originally from Dublin, Ireland, Emmet O'Cuana read and reviewed a book each day for a site fittingly titled, 'A Book A Day Till I Can Stay' for the duration of his Australian residency application process. This daily regimen led to a freelance writing career, with reviews and features published in FilmInk magazine, as well as his new website The Momus Report. Emmet also co-hosts the monthly podcast 'Beardy And The Geek' which focuses on Australian comic creators. His story, “Tiresias: A ‘blood-punk’ fantasy” appears in Issue #59 of Aurealis.

In ten words or less (haikus allowed), what is “Tiresias: A ‘blood-punk’ fantasy” about?

Imagine a one-night stand between Bram Stoker and Nora Barnacle.

Did you imagine the universe your story would take place in before you imagined the story itself? Have you imagined much more of the world, outside of the “Tiresias: A ‘blood-punk’ fantasy” short story?

What I had in mind was a reinvigorated vision of the turn of the century British Empire, ironically funded by an Irish man’s invention, the Vulcanist device. If you read H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds, or Bram Stoker’s Dracula – Erskine Childers’ The Riddle of the Sands is also notable – these works all speak to a prelapsarian sense of insecurity regarding a possible imperial collapse. The resource wars of this age therefore are waged over blood instead of oil – my little joke at the common Gulf War protest slogan. We are told by Eddie Rialto a little of what this means for the unfortunate underclass of this brave new world. They are savagely exploited for their own bodily fluids in underground tunnels that power homes. Extend that impression to the outlying colonies and you have an horrific vision of what this means on a global scale. Mention is also made of a Holy Russian Empire, a reversal of sorts with the literally cut-throat capitalism of Vulcanism leading to an all-out rejection of religion, so what we know as former Soviet nations are in this universe hotbeds of spurned fundamentalism. This was all background detail dreamt up to lend incidental meaning to Eddie’s offhand conversations with Douglas.

While I appreciate the genre of steampunk for its treatment of alternate history – Tim Powers’ The Anubis Gates is a favourite of mine for one – I do find it troubling how uncritical the genre’s depiction of class can sometimes be. So I came up with an aside of sorts – ‘a blood punk fantasy’ – that rendered this age of scientific marvels a little more red in tooth and claw.

How much of the story was influenced by real-life circumstances?

Well growing up in Dublin, there is constant mention made of James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, William Butler Yeats, James Stephens etc. Of the bunch my favourite growing up was Stephens – his book The Crock of Gold is a fantastic read, a comic satire riffing on religion and mythology. However, for all this talk of Dublin’s literary legacy, few folks actually read these works – with Joyce in particular the victim of a reputation as being incomprehensible. Of course vampire fiction also has strong roots in my hometown – I used to pass Le Fanu road in Ballyfermot to get to school as a kid, named after the author of Carmilla. For a number of years I worked in the same building as Bram Stoker, Dublin Castle, which according to the tour guide who would pass beneath my window each morning was the inspiration for Castle Dracula – I’m fairly confident this was made up though. Vampire novels are very popular, whereas the Irish literary masters are left sitting on book shelves in homes around Dublin, talked about but rarely read. So I got the idea into my head to attempt a mash-up of sorts, mixing Stoker’s Dracula with Joyce’s Ulysses. To my mind they’re both simply stories and I resent the pidgeon-holing of them which can be off-putting to new readers.

As for the sequence set on Seán Mac Dermott st., the church described is still standing, a beautiful abandoned Presbyterian chapel. It featured in the story as I was mugged outside it by a pair of knife-wielding junkies. So a wee bit of autobiography thrown in there for good measure.

Can we look forward to a larger work in the Tiresias universe?

As it happens the very first thing my long suffering wife said upon reading the short story was ‘This is meant to be a novel’. I am interested in writing a longer form story using the same premise, but the danger of it being derivative of Kim Newman’s Anno Dracula series gives me pause. My first instinct is to produce a larger pastiche work – what if James Joyce were to write a vampire novel set in Dublin – complete with stream of consciousness narration, puns, glossolalia and scatological excess.

Whether anyone would read such a thing is another matter!

As well an author, you are also a freelance journalist and podcaster. How has this affected your fiction writing?

The headlong rush of writing to a deadline has done wonders for me. There is no time to be sitting on your hands trying to dream up the perfect phrase to describe an actor’s latest career move. That has helped make me less precious about having an idea for a story and then getting around to the business of actually writing.

Podcasting also has firmed up my process, as each show requires researching the interview subject and their previous work. What’s more Beardy And The Geek, which I co-host with Ryan Huff from GeekOfOz.com and is dedicated to Australian comics, has put me in touch with a host of writers and artists from around the country. Jason Franks, Andrew Constant, Christian Read, Darren Close, Douglas Holgate, Paul Bedford and Bruce Mutard have all been very encouraging in helping me pursue my own writing. I even have a few comic scripts of my own coming out in 2013.

What can you tell us (if anything) about your upcoming comic scripts?

Well my sincere thanks to Darren Close for inviting me to pitch a story for his upcoming Killeroo: Gangwars Anthology title. Seeing my name listed among the other contributors in the recent promotional ashcan booklet was a thrill – but not as big a thrill as when my artist Ben Leon sent through his pencils. That chap took my scribbles about a half-man kangaroo running around sinister underground tunnels in the Australian outback – to say any more would spoil the surprise – and delivered a relentlessly kinetic tour de force. Ben Leon. Remember the name. The story itself is titled ‘Country Matters’. It’s very odd.

I am also working on a book with a friend that we are calling Inner Western. Think of it as a surreal psychodrama. With cowboys. Set in Sydney.

There is yet another project that I am really excited about, but I can’t talk about it. I REALLY want to…. but I can’t.

What have you been reading/ watching and enjoying lately?

I’ve been watching so many subtitled shows – The Bridge, Spiral, The Killing – that it tends to take me a minute or two to tune back into English when I leave the house. All excellent examples of the current crop of Eurocrime dramas though, with intense plotting, talented casts and nail biting twists. I recently finished reading The Year of Our War by Steph Swainston, which I would heartily recommend, as well as Marc Singer’s wonderful book on mad Scotsman Grant Morrison, eponymously titled Combining the Worlds of Contemporary Comics. That was in aid of an academic piece I am working on.

Do you find the process of writing relaxing/ enjoyable?

I have met various creative folk who describe their work as having a calming influence, or who can sit down each morning and steadily build towards their goals. I once spoke to artist Nicola Scott at Supanova while she was drawing individual strands of Wonder Woman’s hair – she described the act itself as being zenlike.

I am not like that. The urge to write comes over me resulting in frenetic bursts of activity. It is ultimately cathartic, but I tend to write in a state of heightened panic and can be pretty impossible to be around. Thank goodness I am not a smoker, although every sentence I write probably has a vat of coffee somewhere in its ancestry.

When writing fiction, are you an outliner? Or do you make it up as you go along?

I tend to work to a broad plan, but leave plenty of room for elements to shift. The story I am working on at the moment had a defined beginning and end from the moment I first thought of the pitch, but the guts of the plot have since changed entirely. I nail down the meaning of what I want to say, but the execution introduces a degree of flux.

What do you consider a fiction writer’s responsibility to be?

Tell convincing lies. Wait, that’s rubbish – make money. Because at the end of the day the people who actually ‘suffer for art’ are your loved ones. So write something you can sell and then take them out for dinner.

If you could work with anyone, living or dead, who would it be?

When I was 22 I first read Frances Yates’ Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition. I had been ploughing through a lot of Robert Anton Wilson, Alan Moore, Philip K. Dick – who all touch on gnostic thought and mysticism, I was curious about what they were talking about. Yates’ account of Bruno’s life is fascinating and an excellent discussion of some fairly abstract ideas within a defined historical context. I think I started to fall in love a little bit with this woman who could write with such erudition and passion. It was only after I finished the book that I discovered not only was Yates dead, she had passed away the year after I was born.

And how would the collaboration work?

I see this more as a time travel question though. I would just like to sit in an audience and listen to Yates give a lecture on her research back in the 1960’s.

If you could give anyone, living or dead, real or imagined, any work of fiction, what would it be?

Again, cheating a bit, I would hand Bill Hicks a copy of Preacher #31, then invite Garth Ennis along to join us for a pint, sit back and just enjoy the banter between the two lads.

And finally, what are you working on?

I regularly update The Momus Report (http://themomusreport.blogspot.com.au/), which I use as a place to write about books, comics and film. I also have interviews in the offing with Patrick Meaney from Sequart on his new documentary The Image Revolution, as well as Andrew Leavold discussing the frankly unbelievable The Search For Weng Weng. I have seen some rough footage of Leavold’s picture and it is really interesting, not to mention bizarre. Then there’s Beardy of The Geek (http://www.bandtheg.com/), which will feature an interview with  Aussie creators traveling to the States for this year’s Caravan of Comics, including Bruce Mutard.

What do you have coming out?

In addition to the scripts I mentioned above – those I can talk about and those that remain top secret – I’m also working on a long-form piece about a certain Timelord due for the summer, as well as a chapter on a popular comic writer.

Where can we find it?

Filmink magazine here in Australia and the book chapter is due to be released by an American academic publisher.

To wrap up: What’s next for Mr Emmet O’Cuana?

Thanks to the folks at Laneway Learning, I’m preparing my notes for a talk on Grant Morrison to be given at The People’s Market here in Melbourne, Wednesday 27 March at 6.30pm . Also SYN Radio’s Arts Mitten will be releasing a podcast recording of my reading of Trekking to Undiscovered Countries, an essay published last month as part of In Brief magazine’s Paradise issue, due out before the end of the month.

Also in my immediate future I foresee coffee….lots of coffee….

Follow Emmet at @EmmetOC_ Or check out the Momus Report: http://themomusreport.blogspot.com.au OR how about everyone’s favourite Beard and Geek podcast, Beardy and the Geek

Also! Mr O’Cuana gave a rather fantastic talk on the inimitable Mr Grant Morrison:


“Tiresias: A ‘blood-punk’ fantasy” appears in Issue #59 of Aurealis

Image courtesy of Stephanie Fargher

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