Charles Tan interviews Reggie Oliver

Reggie Oliver is the author of the Shirley Jackson Awards nominated The Dracula Papers (novel) and “A Child’s Problem” (novella).

For your novel, The Dracula Papers, Book I: The Scholar’s Tale, what made you decide to explore the Dracula narrative?

Dracula is one of the most compelling characters in all fiction, but little or nothing is said in the Bram Stoker novel about his origins – how he came to be a vampire. I am interested in origins, particularly the origins of evil. The facts of serial killing are banal and sordid: what is compellingly interesting is how a human being, not so dissimilar to us, comes to be a serial killer. Bram Stoker’s original title for Dracula was “The Undead”, and here I found the clue, because the most interesting thing about Dracula is not that he sinks his fangs into the necks of young maidens, but that he has lived for hundreds of years and could potentially live forever. We all of us, in some way or other, want to live forever, and so I discovered both an understanding of my central character and the perennially fascinating central theme of this book: the craving for immortality.

What drew you to Richard Dadd’s painting of “A Child’s Problem”?

Richard Dadd was a promising painter of the early nineteenth century, and, had he not gone insane and murdered his father, he might have had as successful a career as his friend and contemporary W. P. Frith, and been no more interesting. Insanity however gave his work a quality unique among his contemporaries and seldom matched even till today. That quality is one of brooding menace and profound psychological unease. All of his mad paintings have a palpable threat, but that threat is enigmatic. The atmosphere that comes off his painting “The Child’s Problem” is frightening, but why is it frightening? It appears, like so many Victorian paintings, to be telling a story, but, unlike those other “sane” paintings, the meaning of the story is unclear. The painting both compels and mystifies, and it would not leave me alone until I had lifted the veil on at least part of its mystery.

Does your experience as a playwright influence the way you write fiction (or vice versa)?

I began my writing career as a playwright and I still write plays. One is about to go into production as I speak (or write). Plays happen in real time and so structure is all important: every event, every scene has to advance the narrative and make its point. I tend to write my stories in “scenes.” I tend also, wherever possible, to rely on dialogue to convey character and atmosphere. A great many of my stories are first person narratives and the narrator is rarely if ever a simple alter ego. This gives me the opportunity to engage the reader in all kinds of interesting games to do with “unreliable narration.” Remember, of course, that unreliable narration does not mean unrevealing narration. I have a one man show which I have performed based on two of my stories which are character monologues. Essentially I see myself as a story teller rather than a story writer. And the watchword for the story teller, as Henry James used to say, is: “Dramatise! Dramatise!”

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