My Halloween Interview with Vladimir Poignard by Bill Kirton

On the Halloween that’s just gone, I was fortunate enough to have been granted exclusive access to the normally reclusive Vladimir Poignard, writer of some of the most chilling horror stories to have appeared this century. Poignard is consciously part of a tradition which stretches back to Poe, Wilkie Collins and even encompasses the excrescences penned by the Divine Marquis himself. When I went to meet him, I was surprised to be shown into the parlour of a small terraced house in Wigan by a woman in her seventies. She sat me down, brought through two cups of tea and a plate of shortbread biscuits, settled herself opposite me and said ‘Well, shall we get started?’.

In the course of the interview which followed, nothing compared with this revelation that the purveyor of some of the most explicit violence and psyche-shattering episodes in the whole of western literature was, in fact, Ethel Gringe, 78. Her three husbands had all died in mysterious circumstances but left her with a comfortable inheritance and all the free time she needed to write. When the shock of this discovery had subsided, I switched on my recorder and began.

BK:        Thank you so much for agreeing to see me, Mrs Gringe.

EG:        Call me Ethel, dear.

BK:        Er, well... Ethel, I must confess that you don’t fit the image I had of Vladimir Poignard.

EG:        I know, dear. That’s why I decided to come clean at last. I’m getting rather tired of all these emails from young women who want to marry me, or at least spend some time in the dank cellar they think I have here. Goodness knows where they get such ideas.

BK:        Well, that’s surely a tribute to the authenticity you achieve with your novels – the gory cellar sequence in Unbridled Chastity, for example. When Jessica vomited up the spectral essence and made it eat her sister’s eyeballs – that was pretty explicit.

EG:        Explicit, yes, but also absurd. And deliberately so.

BK:        In what way?

EG:        Well, what would you say that book’s about?

BK:        Evil, primarily. I mean, Jessica's elimination of the members of her family in progressively more chilling ways – the scalding, the epidermal peeling, the induced prolapses. It’s a chronicle of undiluted savagery.

EG:        Nonsense, I was just poking a bit of gentle fun at the point of view brigade.

BK:        Hmm, I’m not sure I got that from it.

EG:        Oh come, Mr Kirton. The eyeball clearly sees the saliva on the essence’s tongue. We even have the visuals of its journey down the oesophagus - a literal POV.  I mean, the optic nerve’s been severed, after all, and the sister’s in no condition to be a passive observer anyway. She’s only got sockets, for goodness’ sake. I thought it was just an amusing way of debunking one of those persistent creative writing myths.

BK:        Yes, I suppose that’s what I should have started with – your decision to become a writer. Your first book, Wolf, Baby, wasn’t published until 2002. Surely you’d written lots before then.

EG:        Yes, mainly romance. Remember Nurse Gossamer? It was adapted for TV. That was one of mine.

BK:        Really? So why the change of genre?

EG:        Comfort. Reassurance.  With viscera you know where you are. I suppose it started when I was watching my grandson, Charlie, empty a cat. He's always been curious about things. In the end, his parents had to stop buying him pets. It’s a pity. I got some of my best ideas watching him play with various little animals. And that time with the cat … well, when you’ve spent years writing about chaps with floppy hair, whose eyes smoulder and whose lips and fingers are adept at caressing the soft flesh of whichever part of the body your publisher is comfortable with, the idea of penetrating that flesh, folding back layers of it to find the real people beneath it, serving it to lovers with cauliflower cheese … well, it’s more meaningful than happy endings, isn't it?.

BK:        Perhaps, but your meanings often require the application of a questionable morality.

EG:        Oh, come, Mr Kirton. Morality and moron – they’re obviously from the same root.

BK:        Well, no actually. I think morality comes from Latin and moron from Greek. But are you saying your writing has no moral dimension?

EG:        Let me ask you a question. How moral is Halloween?

BK:        I don’t understand.

EG:        Parents dress their little darlings as witches, vampires, blood-spattered zombies and the rest, then send them out to beg for ‘treats’ from neighbours who just want to relax and watch TV. If the neighbours refuse to open the door, smile at the blackmailers on the step and hand over candies which they’ve been forced to buy, their house gets pelted with eggs. Is that moral?

BK:        I see your point, but take your story Halloween Ooze. Two child witches burned at the stake? Seven other children drowned while bobbing for apples?

EG:        I don't see your problem with that. It's the only way to convey the irony of the pathetic fallacy. They dress as witches and suffer the consequences. Their greed for apples causes them to duck their heads into water and they drown. Logical, crime and punishment, natural justice. Showing, not telling.

BK:        But it was your hero, Igor, who burned and drowned them. No one punished him.

EG:        Why should they? He's just the narrator.

(At this point, I heard a series of knocks and other muffled noises and, indeed, they’re faintly discernible on the recording. They seemed to come from beneath the floorboards but Mrs Gringe showed no reaction to them.)

BK:        Can we get back to your working methods? You’ll admit, I think, that you’ve invented some fairly extreme scenarios, some of which have had unfortunate consequences.

EG:        I suppose you mean that one with the baby and the fan belt.

BK:        Er, no. Actually, I was thinking of Plague Village. Your descriptions of the symptoms and physical effects of the disease caused outbreaks of projectile vomiting across Europe.

EG:        Caveat lector.

BK:        But that's what’s troubling about your success – this marrying of the extremes. On the one hand, there’s psychological, spiritual and physiological mayhem on an industrial scale; on the other it’s marketed as entertainment.

EG:        Oh dear, Mr Kirton. Have you never felt road rage, anger at queue-jumpers, a desire for revenge or retribution?

BK:        Yes, but—

EG:        But you’ve suppressed it, toed the line, felt smug in your moral superiority to those who’ve wronged you. My characters always redress the balance, remind us that we’re all carrying dark forces, savage impulses, and they unleash them. The priest who stirs real blood into the communion wine, the gravedigger with his necklace of teeth – these are the honesties I deal in. My people don’t pretend. Now, would you like another cup of tea?

I paused the tape and waited as she refreshed our cups. There were more muffled sounds from beneath us but, when I asked Mrs Gringe about them, she shook her head dismissively and said they were just part of her research for her current project.

And, unfortunately, that was where the interview was abandoned. A phone call from the local psychiatric hospital urged her to come over immediately. It seems that Charlie, her grandson, had escaped from his secure unit and was holding seventeen patients and two doctors hostage in the chapel. He’d already crucified a doctor and two patients and was prising the lid off the entrance to the catacombs to find spaces for them. As she replaced the receiver, Mrs Gringe chuckled and said, ‘He’s such a rascal’.


Jan Needle said…
Gosh that's amazing! By a weird coincidence, I actually interviewed Mrs Gringe when I was a young reporter on the Daily Herald. I even suffered what I now realise was an induced prolapse, although my news editor blamed it on too much Wilson's bitter at the Royal Brew. At the time she was a rather charming, and definitely sexy, young woman not many years older than I was. I would have propositioned her (nowadays we don't call it that, I believe) but I had my reporter's code to think about - it was several years before Rupert turned the Daily Herald into the Soaraway Sun. I realise now how lucky I was to survive. Strangely, at the time I congratulated myself on surviving Wigan rather than my interviewee. Come to think of it, having returned there quite recently, I still do. I still miss Wilsons bitter though.

PS In those days she was unmarried and had a different name. Clarice Sparrow or something. Some sort of bird, anyway. (Oh here we go - more journalistic sexism!)
Susan Price said…
Bill and Jan - I enjoyed your double act! Looking forward to your next exclusive, Bill.
Bill Kirton said…
Thanks all, especially Jan, because when I switched off the recorder, Ethel chatted on about incidents in her youth which she considered ‘too racy’ for inclusion in anything intended for public access. (And she was right.) We were discussing interview techniques and there was one particular incident with a budgie, two bacon rolls, some sellotape and a jug of Wilsons bitter which she shared with someone she called ‘a young reporter prone to blushing’ who resisted all her attempts at a less professional relationship until she showed him what the budgie did with the sellotape.
Jan Needle said…
Oh hell. Now I'll have to go to confession. And I'm not even a Catholic. But on a point of order, Mr Chairman, it was Scotch tape, not sellotape. Ethel said she'd tried that brand, but Joey (the budgie) said it wasn't strong enough for that sort of thing. Although as he had strong Wigan accent, he might actually have said something completely different. Never have I felt so inadequate because of my Southern upbringing. Incidentally, the Royal Brew was in a terrace in Charles Street, Manchester, which was knocked down and became part of the BBC northern HQ. It's now a car park, which says it all really, dunnit?
julia jones said…
"With viscera you know where you are" - bally hilarious / utterly nauseating. Thanks so much
Patsy said…
I'd have said that was a nice interview, but I read it. *shudders*
Umberto Tosi said…
Another outstanding post, Bill, full of surprises from the start. I still have goosebumps!
Enid Richemont said…
Brilliant! Sorry you survived - you'd have made an interesting corpse.
Bill Kirton said…
Thanks again, everyone. And, Enid, your 'Sorry you survived' is entirely justified.
Chris Longmuir said…
Ah, Bill! I see you're at it again. I really do worry for you and fear you will come to a bad end!
Bill Kirton said…
I already have, Chris. Several times.
glitter noir said…
Sorry for the delayed reaction to this brilliant post. I had limited wi-fi access on the train. Luckily, I was spared loud spells of the giggles that might have led to my being escorted back to my cabin. Well done!
Bill Kirton said…
Thanks, Reb. Glad you giggled - we need more of it.

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