16th February 2019
The Saturday Interview: C. R. Dudley
Thank for very much for your time. Could you tell us a little about yourself?
My name is Caroline, aka C.R. Dudley. I’m from York, UK, and have published two books to date - Fragments of Perception and Mind in the Gap.
I tend to describe myself as an artist, writer and mind explorer, which I suppose sounds a bit grandiose on the face of it. But those three things are inseparable parts of what I do - everything is one big, connected work of art.
Have you always wanted to be a writer?
I’ve always wanted to be a writer, but I didn't always know I wanted to be a writer. It sounds strange, I know. Writing has been with me my whole life - I made lots of books when I was a child, wrote journals and poetry throughout my teens, and continued to write stories and streams of consciousness as an adult. But I never considered that actually becoming an author was something ordinary people could do. It was only through a period of introspection and starting the Orchid’s Lantern blog that I realised it's the one thing that makes me feel most like myself and therefore the one thing I should strive to do with my life.
Why did you choose to write Mind in the Gap as a series of short stories, rather than as a single narrative?
There were several factors in that decision. Firstly, because it has a lot to with subjective realities, I wanted to write something fragmented and multi-faceted. Something that forced the reader to fill in the gaps, just like our perceptions of the world around us. I wanted to write stories that make sense independently, but whose meanings alter when faced with information from another angle or another level up. I was trying to produce little ‘ah-ha’ moments for the reader as they witness a shift in the big picture. Secondly, there's a running theme of commuting in the book. Almost all of the protagonists have their strange experiences while commuting in one way or another. So it was in my mind that if the book was in bite-sized sections, or short stories that took perhaps ten minutes to half an hour to read, they’d be perfect for real-life commuters. And lastly - I love writing short stories. I do have a novel in progress, but I don't think I’d have the ability to construct it if it wasn't for starting out with short stories. They’ve taught me a lot about my style, points of view, getting to the core of a story, how much of the scene I can rely on the reader to bring to the mix, and how to push buttons that create a lasting impression.
‘Mind in the Gap’ is a collection of short stories exploring reality and consciousness. Are these themes that you have a particular interest in?
Most definitely. I’m very interested in the philosophy of mind and the way people perceive the world in unique ways. Discovering the works of Robert Anton Wilson in my early teens had a lot to do with that, I’m sure.
I’ve always read a lot of non-fiction - philosophy, psychology and science - and I think the ideas I come across inevitably find their way back out again in the form of short stories, albeit merged with weird technology and emotional connections.
What do you hope people will gain by reading it?
Entertainment, first and foremost. New worlds to experience, or versions of ours at least… And ideas to ponder. It’s always been a big element of my storytelling to leave the reader with a puzzle for which their own perceptions are the final piece.
Do you have a favourite book as an adult?
Wow, that’s hard! I think anyone who loves to read would struggle to come up with a single favourite. I’d probably have to say something by Steve Erickson - he’s been my favourite author for the longest time and has written some wonderful, under-appreciated books. I think my favourite of his is Our Ecstatic Days. It’s experimental, emotional and has multiple layers of meaning to it.
What made you choose self-publication for ‘Mind in the Gap’?
For me, there was never any question of doing it another way. I feel it’s important to maintain full creative control on my projects, and to work to timescales that suit what I'm trying to achieve. Although it can be challenging, it also appealed to me to learn about all the additional disciplines involved in publishing - formatting, cover design, marketing etc. I do think the term self-publishing is a bit of a misnomer though. Producing a professional product usually involves outsourcing some of these things to experts. It's a team effort. So I tend to describe myself instead as an independent author.
What would you say is the most important lesson for someone starting out as an independent author?
I think the single most important thing is not to short-change yourself on quality. It’s so important, especially given the quantity of books out there these days - you want to give yourself the best chance to stand out for the right reasons. Without gatekeepers, the temptation is to publish a book as soon as you’ve written ‘The End’, but if you want to do yourself justice, that’s only half of the task done. Share that draft with people who will give honest critiques, take constructive opinions on board and adjust your work accordingly, even if it takes that bit more time.
The first story in your collection - ‘The Predominator’ - is quite neonoir-ish in tone. Is that genre a favourite of yours?
That’s not something that was particularly in my mind as I wrote it, but then my influences are very eclectic. My favourite genres are slipstream, new weird, magic realism: that sort of thing. Haruki Murakami, JG Ballard, Steve Erickson, China Mieville, Franz Kafka - I think there are elements of all of those in my work. But I’ve also taken influence from postmodern, satirical science fiction like The Illuminatus Trilogy, Black Mirror and near-future dystopian fiction authors such as Stephen Oram.
I've found it difficult to categorise Mind in the Gap, and Fragments of Perception before it, because of that.
That is a wide-ranging list! I’ve never been able to decide whether I like JG Ballard or not. For some reason, Vermillion Sands didn’t really agree with me. Have you read it?
I haven’t read that one, no. It’s funny, but for many years I had a love-hate relationship with Ballard’s books myself. They always left me with this horrible, uneasy feeling inside, even though I could appreciate the skill involved in creating such an effect - like he was poking at something in the reader’s unconscious mind with his symbols and pointed phrases. It was only after reading The Atrocity Exhibition that I really began to appreciate his genius.
Some of your stories have a very wry sense of humour: I’m thinking of ‘Seek Assistance’ as a particular example. Is that important for your writing?
Some of the topics I deal with in the book are quite heavy on the mind, so it was important to me that I had some light relief in there. The ‘skits’ in between the main stories, which make up their own little tale, have a whimsical tone and are almost all wordplay and my attempt at humour.
Seek Assistance is probably one of the most absurd stories in the book, and I always think if you can't laugh in the face of absurdity, then you're taking yourself too seriously. Or, to quote Robert Anton Wilson: “If you don't laugh at all, you've missed the point. If you only laugh, you've missed your chance at illumination.”
I think that’s very wise. I remember a quote advising “Make it dark, make it grim, make it tough, but then, for the love of God, tell a joke.” I think too bleak a tone becomes exhausting after a while - a lesson I learned during a Black Mirror marathon. Do you have a favourite episode?
I’d probably have to choose ‘San Junipero’ as my favourite, and for that very reason - it was a relief to see something beautiful among the bleak landscapes we tend to get in future fiction these days. I also liked Hang the DJ from the latest series. I think that was the most philosophical one to date, with clever ideas about the nature of consciousness disguised as a dystopian love story.
Do you think that speculative fiction on and off the page has become too bleak these days?
I think the things that could go wrong in the future are always going to be more attractive to write about than the things that could go right. Science fiction especially has always been about highlighting weak points in today's societies by shocking us with bizarre extrapolations. What I like to see are ideas that could be interpreted either way, because very few scenarios in reality would be bad for everyone and in every case.
Outside of writing, what are your other passions?
I like to paint. I make abstract, experimental pictures that explore states of lucidity and pareidolia. I’ve stopped exhibiting for now so I can focus on my writing, but it's still very much a passion of mine.
Going back to ‘mind exploration’, I suppose you could say my other passion is mysticism. I've studied several different schools of thought in this area and have ended up going with ‘whatever works’ - the chaos Magick approach, though a lot of what I use these days comes from Thelema. Practically, that means I am a practitioner of mediation and yoga, and experiments with putting things into and extracting things from the unconscious mind.
Other than that, I love reading, heavy metal, and spending time in the forest.
That’s fascinating! Could you elaborate on these experiments please?
I mainly play about with the different states of consciousness reached through meditation and yoga, or through sleep. I take notes on images, phrases and feelings that arise from different objects of focus and use them to decipher my personal inner symbol systems. Then, I create new combinations of symbols to focus on and see how it changes what I become aware of in the external world. It's a path similar to the one my character Nav is taught in Mapmakers - begin by convincing yourself well enough that you will find a 2p coin in the street and it will soon show up…
Do you feel that these experiments have made you more creative and a better writer?
They’ve certainly helped me to see connections where I wouldn't have imagined them existing otherwise. They've taught me to think about things in a more intuitive way, to more easily access the ‘dreaming’ part of the mind, and to shut out troublesome thoughts that hold back the writing flow. So, yes, I think they're an important part of my creative life.
Thanks very much for your time.
Find C.R. Dudley's blog, flash fiction, reviews and more about the mind experiments at orchidslantern.org.