Charles Tan Interviews Jonathan Oliver

Jonathan Oliver’s anthology End of the Road is a 2013 Shirley Jackson Awards nominee.

Charles Tan: In your introduction, you mention how the key word you used for End of the Road was weird. What’s the appeal of the weird for you?

Jonathan Oliver: Horror is quite a strong word, and that’s absolutely fine. I’m an enormous horror fan; in genre fiction horror is pretty much my first love. But with horror, you can get a whole set of preconceptions from folks – serials killers, gore, ghosts etc. And those are important parts of the genre, but horror is much broader than that. I do like strong, shocking stories – Adam Nevill’s story ‘Always in Our Hearts’ closes the collection and packs a real punch – but I also like stories that instil unease, that introduce otherworldly, weird elements to the every day. (I’m a huge fan of Ramsey Campbell and Robert Aickman, who are utter masters of this. Melanie and Steve Tem too). With the weird, you can perhaps have a broader palette. But yes, at heart, I think of this and my previous anthologies, as horror anthologies, and celebrating good horror writing shouldn’t be something we shy away from.

Charles Tan: What was your criteria in selecting the stories for End of the Road?

Jonathan Oliver: There were writers I’d wanted to use for a while, but hadn’t had the opportunity yet to do so, writers who were new to me, and writers who I was keen to further champion. The main criteria though was to explore the theme as thoroughly and broadly as possible. So you have great twists on familiar tropes, such as the spectral hitchhiker in Ian Whates’ ‘Without a Hitch’ and the haunted road in Rio Youers’ ‘The Widow’, but then you have stories that take the theme apart and rebuild it into something unusual. So, Sophia McDougall’s ‘Through Wylmere Woods’ is a story about a new road being built, but it’s also about self-discovery and liberation. When putting together a themed anthology, there is always the small fear that stories will overlap in terms of narrative devices and resolutions, but I’m thankful to say that this has never happened to me. I give the writers a brief, sure, but I also encourage them to stretch the brief to breaking point.

Charles Tan: There’s wider diversity in your list of contributors. Was this a conscious choice on your end and what were the challenges and benefits in doing so?

Jonathan Oliver: Because End of the Road is essentially a collection of strange travel tales, I wanted to give the anthology a bit more of a ‘world genre’ feel than my other anthologies. To help me seek out suitable authors, I asked Lavie Tidhar (champion of world genre fiction, and brilliant author in his own right) to recommend some non-Western genre writers writing in English. This really helped open the collection up, and broaden the definition of the road story. Some of the other authors I was already familiar with and a few I’d worked with a fair bit already. Having a diversity of voices was really important for me in putting together this collection. I wanted to show how broad the church of horror and the weird is and show off why it’s as valid a form of literature than any other.

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