Interview – Alasdair Stuart and The Pseudopod Tapes
‘Not the end of the world, just the end of the year’
Alasdair Stuart, one of the UK’s most knowledgeable and passionate genre journalists has finally decided to do a book. And not just any book, he’s not just offering up his in depth genre gems for your delectation, it’s better than that.
In the Pseudopod Tapes, Alasdair gathers a years worth of outro’s from one of the worlds leading horror podcasts and collects them all together for you in this volume. Stuart hosts Pseudopod with a sharp wit, clear insight and warm humour. It translates extremely well to the page.
You may have noticed that The Eloquent Page doesn’t do interviews. There are a couple of reasons for this. Firstly, there are a plethora of websites and blogs out there that do interviews far better than I ever could. Secondly, and I’ll admit this may not be immediately obvious on the web but, in real life, I’m somewhat socially awkward when it comes to authors and writery types. These are the people who fill my head with stories for goodness sake. They are all a bit rock and roll and I remain constantly in awe. Don’t believe me? If you ever spot me at a convention I’ll be the one hiding at the back to embarrassed to speak (not easy to blend in when your 6ft 2 and have bright red hair but I’ve been told I’m like a blogging ninja).
What was my point again? Ahh, Yes.
I’ve finally decided to try and overcome my fear and I’ve done an interview. Just to make things a little bit complicated/interesting I’ve decided to talk to an author about his non-fiction work and how if fits into the genre field.
So without any further flim-flam or shilly-shally on my part here it is…
Who is Alasdair Stuart? and what the heck is a ‘Pseudopod’?
Alasdair Stuart is, or was, a kid increasingly used to being jokingly ‘mistaken’ for the newsreader of the same name. Oh sure, being able to jokingly claim that I was the host of POLICE! STOP THE FUCKING CAR! had it’s moments for a while, but there were more important things to discuss, like getting the hell out of Dodge. Dodge in this case being the Isle of Man, where I grew up. It’s lovely there, and I adore it, but if you don’t leave you’ll never leave and even if you do you’ll probably end up coming back. 300 kids graduated in my school year and as far as I know I’m one of two that never went back to live. Which in some ways is a shame as it’s the only place I’ve ever lived where the police give press conferences with lines like ‘a pistol, commonly known as a gun’.
One of the things that growing up there did help me with immeasurably is the ability to make my own fun. I was at the cinema so often the ushers would let me know what was good and what wasn’t and chat whilst I was waiting in line. I pretty much watched out the local video store and every time we went on holiday to the main land I’d come back with a case full of books and videos. I learnt to cram pop culture into my head as fast as possible, both as a coping mechanism and because it’s ACE, and that’s a skill I’ve taken forward into adult life. Which is nice. Seriously, I sort of have the pop culture vortex from 1970 upwards on permanent standby. It makes watching or reading a lot of things pleasingly metafictional. Like my theory that Colonel Caine in Lifeforce and Sir Harry Pearce in Spooks are the same character for example…
As for Pseudopod, well, it’s really two things. Firstly, it’s an award-winning horror fiction podcast that I got the host job at by literally sticking my hand up and saying ‘Hire me, I’m ACE’ which is completely unlike my usual procedure and actually bloody worked which is frankly amazing. I love it, because firstly it means I get to read really interesting new horror on a regular basis and secondly because it basically gives me an excuse to pretend to be Jack Killian from Midnight Caller, or Chris the DJ from Northern Exposure and talk about things and stuff after the end of each episode.
It’s also a neat metaphor for what Pseudopod does. We extrude out into horror fiction, gradually absorbing the best and brightest talents and adding them to our body of work, Sort of like the Borg but slightly more tentacular.
So each week the podcast delivers a new story and once that’s finished you spend a few minutes discussing the themes that the fiction explores. What prompted you to collect these outros together in a book of their own?
I’ll take massive creative frustration for ten points? I’m a freelance journalist and I’ve been a fiction writer since I was 18 and the last three or four years have seen, at times, what’s seemed to be a never ending parade of authors getting book deals who I either know, am good friends with or helped get their start, through something like Hub or much more indirectly Pseudopod.
Me? Not so much. Oh I love writing fiction, and of course the irony in all this is as I’m writing I’ve just completed edits on a story which is going to be in an actual book and everything, but fiction has, for me, right now, yet to pay back the amount of effort being put in. I was no longer sure whether I was doing it because I wanted to or doing it because everyone else was and I can’t think of a better reason to step away from something than that.
But I still wanted…something, something out of my head and on the page and that’s where the Pseudopod outros came in. It actually turned out to be a really interesting writing exercise too as the pieces of work, as they were, had dodgy openings and closings. The outro essay is preceded by the introductory bumf for the week and followed by the weekly plea for donations and the quote of the week. Paring those off and making the pieces stand on their own was a real challenge.
Lets talk a little about process. What steps do you take when preparing an outro? Is there meticulous planning or is it more organic than that?
Weirdly, it’s sort of half and half. For a long time, from the punctuality side of things, I was the weak link in the chain at Pseudopod. This isn’t me being self deprecating by the way it’s the simple truth; I had real trouble, for all sorts of reasons, getting my work in on a timely fashion. The last couple of years that’s been very different and this year it got to the point where, when we were getting ready to move back to the UK from California in September, I was actually writing the last couple of outros for November. I would literally get dropped at a coffee shop in the morning (They have BOTTOMLESS coffee! You only pay once and you drink as much as you need! NO WONDER THESE PEOPLE GOT TO THE MOON FIRST!) and write until I either A) needed to head home or B)Marguerite swung by to pick me up.
A couple of weeks ago the last couple of stories for the year were finalized and I was able to round the process off so from a structural and planning point of view it is I suspect, worryingly meticulous. So much so in fact that my plan next year is to write them in months, so I’m always about four weeks ahead. In terms of content? I have little idea what’s going to be in them until I read the story. A lot of the time it’s my gut punch reaction to the story, sometimes it’s what I think the story is saying and sometimes it’s whatever’s on my mind at that moment and how it relates to the story.
Are there any occupational hazards to being a freelance journalist?
Give me a moment.
Yes, there are two.
1) Money. You’re not going to have a lot of it. A lot of the time. This will be a problem so when you do get it, make sure you use it wisely. Tea and biscuits counts as wisely. So do comics.
2) You will feel like you’re not being recognised for your hard work and that you are, a lot of the time, no one’s priority. The second is sometimes true. The first is sometimes true but less than you think. Both of these will gnaw at your self worth and make you doubt the validity of every word you type. You’ll assume failure, you’ll assume that people will answer emails straight away when they never answer them at all. You’ll assume it’s personal. It’s never, ever personal. It’s usually difficult and it’s always, always worth it.
Trust me. I got paid to write about spaceships last week. I got paid to write the line ‘It looks like a butcher’s shop and Westminster Cathedral got drunk and did awful, sweaty things to one another.’ You CAN’T BUY that kind of fun.
Final question, on an entirely unrelated note, who would play you in the movie version of your life?
I’ll give you three:
-Henry Rollins. Mr Rollins got me through hell at school, with his spoken word tapes. He’s a big guy, like me, he’s overarticulate like me and he lost his best friend at an entirely too young age, like me. He’s funny and smart, and angry and unlucky and he’s my hero. I saw him in December last year and he’d just turned 50 and talked openly and calmly and with no pain about his friend. He was enthusiastic and funny and healed. I aspire to that.
-Guy Garvey, the lead singer of Elbow. Because I can’t sing for shit but having seen them live last night we have very similar senses of humour.
-Gary Cole. Because he played Jack Killian on Midnight Caller and I stole pretty much my entire schtick from him. Seems only fair to throw him a paycheck as recompense, right?
So there you have it. My first ever interview. My thanks to Alasdair for his time. I appreciate the opportunity to picks his brains about all things geeky.
The Pseudopod Tapes is published by Fox Spirit and will be available from 21st December 2012. I’ve been lucky enough to read it already and it’s insightful, honest and utterly absorbing stuff, a must for any self-respecting genre fan. As an additional aside I’m in totally agreement with Mr. Stuart’s opinion on the whole Lifeforce/Spooks thing. Seriously, watch them both. He’s entirely right.