Nic Parker’s excellent adventure into Hell
Horror novels are often associated with all out terror or a sense of nausea at the harrowing scenes within. The story of an uncle, Charlie Ward, who is just your average nice guy until someone from Hell abducts his niece, is Nic Parker’s debut novel and offers an adventure with some interesting twists. It is also a tale which doesn’t forget its horror heritage. Nic paints an interesting picture of Hell, its hierarchies, denizens, the temptations and horrors which lie in wait for the determined Charlie. Within this entertaining vision of an honest soul’s journey to his ultimate goal of saving his niece through many trials and is a study in relationships and whether such honesty can be corrupted.
Writing a novel can be a daunting prospect for anyone, but Descent to Hell is particularly remarkable in the sense that Nic is German and has decided to write in English.
I wanted to know why Nic did this and what particular barriers she had to overcome to express herself effectively in a second language.
Why write a novel in English, which is your second language?
I’m using English in so much of my private life. For example, the books I read are in English. So are the TV series and movies I watch, which is in their original language. So when I sat down to write my novel I tried to write in German, but I just couldn’t find my voice. English words were constantly popping up in my head while I was writing, particularly when I was trying to describe something. This is when I thought I would try and write in English.
Occasionally I do have problems in expressing myself in English and have to go to the dictionary. But this only gives me something new to work with, because I’m always learning new words. English language is also a great love of mine.
How did you learn to speak and write so well in English?
Unfortunately I’m not in contact with my mentor anymore, but this is down to a lady called Barbara. She studied English and is ten years my senior. I met her when I was sixteen. She was the one who taught me not to stop learning after school, otherwise everything would be gone and I would never be able to expand my vocabulary.
So she sent me magazines, paperbacks and video cassettes all in the English language. Since leaving school I’ve had more contact with the English language through hearing and seeing it far more than I ever did at school. I also somehow make contact with Brits easily, so I have a lot of friends and pen friends. Facebook has made this even easier.
Are there a lot of English books for sale and English language films to see in Germany?
No, unless you’re on satellite TV, which is in English, and you’re able to choose box sets. Other than that there’s hardly anything on terrestrial TV. They used to broadcast movies in their original language a few years back, but we are a country that uses dubbing a lot, unlike the Dutch who leave everything in the original language. So it’s down to buying material through online stores who are able to supply everything in the original language.
The larger bookstores in Berlin, Frankfurt or the major cities might have a niche where they may sell American books, if there are a lot of English or American people nearby, but not in normal bookshops. This is why I use online companies selling books.
That is one of the reasons I have for not supporting my local bookshop as much as I might because I have to wait a year for a German translation. I want to read the book straightaway and I prefer the original.
There is a difference in reading a book in its original form and its translation. There is an expression “lost in translation”. Do you find this is so?
I was talking to a Kiwi friend of mine about his books, which are very dark. But he’s got a lot of extremely dark humour in them. The Germans get this in the translation, but the French don’t, because the French always say there’s never any humour in his books.
Although Brits think that Germans have no sense of humour at all, we do actually get the British sense of humour. We love things like Monty Python and Fawlty Towers. I think that’s why not much is lost in translation. There may be just a few idioms or one or two things that might need explaining, but other than that, if you have a good translator there will be no problem and you can transfer it all into the new language.
What is the difference in writing in English to speaking in English?
When I’m writing I have a lot more time to correct what I’m putting down. At the moment it’s quite fluid. When I’ve had alcohol and the night is advancing I usually have to go to bed because I can feel speech fail coming on. This tells me I need to relax my brain.
But I do dream a lot in English.
When you’re writing you’re not thinking in German first and then translating?
No, because I’m thinking in English. I don’t have to stop after every sentence and it’s fluid. I would actually have to think more if I wrote in German.
If you have someone writing in their own language, they may use a dictionary, not because they’re trying to find a word that makes them sound clever, but because they need a more effective word. Do you do this?
Yes, if I’m going over things again if something doesn’t sound right, I will use a dictionary to find a word that better describes the moment or situation. I would always try and choose the most everyday word and never use something pretentious, it wouldn’t be my style.
You’re primarily interested in crime and horror. How did you get interested in those genres?
My mom. She’s a big fan of those genres, so they are a big love of my life. I grew up watching all the old Hammer films and the old black and white films late at night. My mother would put me to bed on Friday evening at eight o’clock and would wake me up at eleven because I wanted to see a movie so much. Like the ‘Thing from Another World’, ‘Tarantula’ and all the classics. We would watch the movies together. So I think that spawned something in me. She also bought me horror comics. When I was older I used to read books by Clive Barker. I’ve always been a horror fan, and will always be a horror fan.
Hitchcock is one of your idols. Why is this?
Because Sir Alfred was awesome. He would say things like “You can’t treat actors like normal people. You have to treat them like cattle”. I think the Americans didn’t get his humour. He would say these things with a deadpan expression and people thought he was very rude. He was living at the wrong time, because today his movies would be cherished, when they weren’t back then.
He was way ahead of his time. Most people put ‘Psycho’ as their favourite movie. But he really broke the mould for those kinds of movies. ‘Frenzy’ is one of my all-time favourites, because that movie had nudity, lots of scenes that made you cringe, like when Rusk, the murderer, is on the back of the lorry and trying to pry the dead woman’s fingers off around his pin that he had lost. If you see that now it is still one of the most awesome thrillers. The major audience wasn’t ready for his films. I think it’s the way people today who like his thrillers really admire his work so much.
Hitchcock’s films do make you very uncomfortable because he puts you right in the situation and makes you feel the stress of the person involved, who may not necessarily be the victim, but the perpetrator.
Exactly and if there was some new gadget he could use for making his films, or do a very long shot, or like ‘Rope’ which was just in one room. He experimented and tried new things. Many directors today have forgotten the subtle ways in which the camera can be used and it’s all ‘Fast and Furious 23’. The fun seems to be gone.
You’ve decided to write in the horror genre. What are the elements that go up to make a horror story?
That’s a tricky question because horror is a very wide field. There’s psychological horror where nothing supernatural happens at all, or just a normal slasher type of killing spree. Then there are ghosts and all the supernatural stuff, demons, monsters. Horror is a huge field and you can be as creative as you like. Also if you go towards the supernatural, other monsters or dimensions, you can bend the rules to your will. That’s very appealing because it means you can be lazy because you don’t have to do extensive research.
You could be so outrageous to the point where it doesn’t hold its shock value. The idea of horror is that you evoke a very strong emotion with your audience, probably of fear or terror.
We may be living in a crazy world, but most people are living normal lives and know what to expect, what’s happening around the corner, and that the worst thing that can happen to you is an accident. When you read horror books or, for example, a book about a serial killer, it’s the feeling that you might not be as safe in your own home as you think you are, because there could always be an intruder or someone stalking you. Some people believe in the supernatural. I don’t, but I love indulging in reading it.
It is all about having the sense that your perfectly normal world is being disrupted. In a horror novel the protagonist’s world can become unhinged from one second to another and things they never thought possible are actually happening to them, so they have to fight for themselves or their loved ones. Sometimes in horror novels the whole world is as stake, with dark powers taking over. I think that’s a universal fear, I think it’s what grips people.
How did you come up with your concept for your novel?
I can’t remember, because I literally began writing and the novel developed from there. I have several ideas in my head at one time or suddenly I wake up one morning with an idea, or something comes to me while I’m brushing my teeth. The ideas just keep developing and linking up this way.
Where all of my writing originates is from stuff I’ve seen or read over decades. It probably mingles in my subconscious and then comes out again.
When I sit down to write, the plot is in my head already. Naturally I will edit or delete things.
Do you write sequentially?
It depends. If I start to write a book where the plot is totally in my head. I can write from beginning to end. But largely my approach is somewhere in between. Sometimes I have started with different themes in the beginning, middle and end and I write around these.
There are a great many subtleties in Descent to Hell which you have to make sure are properly worked into the text and make sense for the story as a whole.
I probably don’t even think consciously about doing this because I’m too involved in the story and enjoying writing it and creating characters that people will like or loathe, because they are unpleasant.
Are the characters or the plot more important to you?
You have to do both, because you can make an obnoxious character great if you develop him or her well enough and if the story around them is great. You can write the most amazing story, but if readers can’t relate to the character, then they’re not going to continue reading.
Describe your book.
It’s a horror story.
Well, it’s supernatural horror fantasy and a classic quest. Charlie Ward’s niece Susie has been abducted by a demon and now Charlie, a non-believer in religion, has to accept that there is a Hell, otherwise he won’t be able to find the secret gate to Hell. Charlie is a pragmatic man and his only goal is to free Susie, who is like a daughter to him. I’d like not to go into further detail where Charlie’s journey will lead him but he will encounter lots of strange, hostile and unique characters, some quite familiar to readers from other tales but unlike you’ve experienced them before. The quest to find his niece will become an ordeal for Charlie’s will and stamina. A friend of mine didn’t like the fact that Charlie descends to Hell completely unprepared as he thought he should go down there with full action gear and go all Steven Seagal on the demon’s asses. I find it more fascinating to have an ordinary guy having to gather all his physical and emotional strength to overcome all atrocious obstacles put in his way…