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About Audrey Driscoll
Audrey Driscoll lives in Victoria, British Columbia, where she practices the alchemies of writing and gardening.
An Interview With Audrey Driscoll
Q: What is the story behind your books?
A: Quite literally, it's "Herbert West, Reanimator," an early short story by H.P. Lovecraft. Herbert West, Lovecraft's corpse-reanimating doctor, has more personality than many of HPL's protagonists, whose main function is simply to experience horror. I began wondering about Herbert -- what lay behind his bizarre interests? Why did his friend help and support him? To answer those questions I wrote the four novels of the Herbert West Series, which take Herbert on a long journey and transform him from an amoral, rational scientist into a wounded healer, psychopomp and magus.
Q: What genre do your books belong to?
A: That's an excellent question (which is what interviewees say instead of "I don't know"). The Lovecraft story on which The Friendship of Mortals, the first book of the series, is based, is a combination of science fiction and horror. I retained elements of these genres, but I would call this book, and the others of the series, "psychological fiction." Instead of the process of corpse revivification, or what the corpses do once they come back to life, I focus on Herbert West and his librarian friend, Charles Milburn. I explore their friendship, the choices they make, and how they deal with the consequences of those choices. The second through fourth books of the series depart almost entirely from horror, apart from the ordinary human kind. Readers who come to the series because of its origin in HPL's story may be disappointed, but I think my characters and their situations are sufficiently interesting to keep them engaged. If I had to create a genre label for the series, I would go with "literary supernatural/psychological." Lumpy but accurate.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I'm preparing to publish She Who Comes Forth, a novel that is a sequel to the Herbert West Series. It's set in Luxor, Egypt and the Valley of the Kings in 1962, and involves archaeology, geology, ancient magic, and secrets. Once it's launched, I plan to write three more short "supplements" to round out the Herbert West Series, which I will publish as a collection with the four existing supplements. At some point I may also publish Winter Journeys, a novel I wrote several years ago, about Romanticism in art and life.
Q: Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
A: I've lived most of my life in western Canada, primarily Vancouver Island. The city of Victoria, where I have lived for more than 20 years, is full of authors, artists and other creative types. When I started writing, I did not have to look far for support.
Q: When did you first start writing?
A: Aside from juvenilia and poetry, and essays required in school and university, I began writing seriously in November 2000.
Q: What motivated you to become an indie author?
A: You know that saying -- "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over but expecting a different outcome." Well, that's how I came to regard the submissions process. When self-publishing on the internet became possible, I reasoned that was a more optimistic plan than to give up and stash my manuscripts in the basement or continue the send-out-and-wait submissions process.
Q: What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
A: Creating characters and situations that come alive in my imagination and embodying them in prose for others to discover.
Q: Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
A: Yes -- it was an adventure set in ancient Egypt, inspired by one of Joan Grant's "far memory" books (that purported to be based on her past lives). I was about 14 when I wrote it. And now I'm writing another novel that is an adventure set in Egypt. Life is full of circles and spirals.
Q: What is your writing process?
A: It's best when I'm obsessed with the story I want to tell. The writing then is inevitable, like giving birth. I don't have to find time for it; everything else in my life has to be fitted in around writing time. The obsession also helps to carry me through the tough parts of connecting the scenes that come to me in their entirety, needing only to be transcribed. I always write my first drafts in longhand. Coming back to the spot where I left off -- rather than the beginning of a document on a computer -- makes it easier to continue with the story rather than fiddling with the beginning. It also helps that reading my scribble isn't as easy as a Word document, where the words jump out in stark clarity. Once that first draft is done, I transcribe it into Word, and endless revision begins.
Q: Was there anything about the writing process that surprised you?
A: Two things: first, the extent to which my characters seemed to come alive and influence the plot in ways I didn't expect. Second, the fact that music I listened to as I was writing sometimes found its way into my novels, becoming part of the plot in some cases and in others influencing the outcome. The ultimate example is my as yet unpublished novel Winter Journeys, which is actually about Franz Schubert's song cycle Winterreise.
Q: Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
A: No, but I remember the effect of my favourite book when I was a kid of 8 or 10 -- Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book. I was totally captivated by Mowgli's life in the jungle with the wolf pack and devastated by the ending when he goes away to live with humans. I made my friends act out scenes from the book, drew pictures of them and read it again and again for years.
Q: What are your five favorite books, and why?
A: I have re-read these books many times, which I suppose makes them favorites.
1. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien.
2. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy.
3. Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake.
4. The Throat by Peter Straub.
5. Fire From Heaven by Mary Renault.
I can feel a lot of other titles jostling around, trying to get on the list. Also, these are just fiction; I have another whole list of nonfiction books and poetry.
As to why these books, the only thing I can say is that I found the characters real and the stories compelling.
Q: What do you read for pleasure?
A: Almost anything. Lately I find myself turning to nonfiction, possibly because reading it I avoid comparisons with my novels. (Haha). I don't deliberately seek out "best-sellers" or the latest prizewinners. If such books catch my attention it's for other reasons. The process involved in selecting books to read and is both complex and somewhat irrational.
Q: Who are your favorite authors?
A: Over the years, I have loved the writing of these authors: Kenneth Grahame, Rudyard Kipling, Robinson Jeffers, Stephen King, Peter Straub, Elizabeth Goudge, Henry Mitchell, J.R.R. Tolkien, Mary Renault, Mary Stewart, H.P. Lovecraft and many others. That's an incomplete list, and is not in order.
Q: How do you approach cover design?
A: My original cover images were all homemade and looked it. Lacking the tools and talent for improving them, I decided to commission professionally designed images. I am very pleased with them, and the process of working with a designer to realize the essence of my novels graphically was exhilarating. When I published my books in print, I already had quality covers that needed only to be upgraded to printed book form. Quite apart from the marketing aspects, cover images should be beautiful so as to complement the books they represent.
Q: Describe your desk
A: Either a pile of paper with a computer to the side or a computer with a pile of paper to the side, depending on whether I'm writing a first draft or something else. Also lots of small scraps of paper with ideas, notes to self and other random scribbles, weighted down with rocks.
Q: What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
A: The possibility that any day something wonderful might happen.
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Giving up her New York City life, Alma moves to Providence, Rhode Island and begins tracking down another man from her past – one she’s assumed to be dead for more than 15 years – none other than renegade physician Herbert West. It seems he’s living in Providence under the name Francis Dexter, and is once more engaged in nefarious doings. Once she’s gathered enough information, Alma plans to write an expose.
Things get complicated when Alma discovers that Charles Milburn is also in Providence, working for “Dr. Dexter,” and English neurosurgeon Edward Clapham-Lee is also looking for Herbert West. Everything goes wrong when the house she is living in catches fire. Seriously injured and far from home, Alma is forced to accept the hospitality of the man she has made her quarry. In Dexter’s house she finds healing, strangeness and unexpected friendships, and realizes that her real quarry is herself.
Alone with Dexter for several days, Alma has occasion to revisit her relationship with him and discover the roots of her disaffection. Soon after Charles’s return from a business trip, the three repair to Cape Cod where they celebrate their renewed friendship, until the appearance of Edward Clapham-Lee – a man as amoral and dangerous as Dexter's former self – demands a return to Arkham for a final reckoning.
More Details: Seeking relief from grief and illness in the refuge of Bellefleur Island, Francis Dexter relives in memory his early years when his name was Herbert West. To survive his mother’s disappearance, the capricious attentions of his father and the brutalities of his brothers, young Herbert makes himself into a juvenile strategist and warrior of vengeance.
Turning to science as a solace for emotional turmoil, Herbert studies medicine at Miskatonic University in Arkham. As both student and physician, he pursues forbidden experiments with single-minded determination, seeking to discover the secrets of life and death. The Great War presents West with a great opportunity, but in that maelstrom of violence he crosses the frontier of rationalism into the territory of the bizarre.
Recoiling from these poisoned memories, Francis Dexter turns to his years on Bellefleur Island and relives his tumultuous relationship with the artist Julian Vernon. For the first time since his troubled childhood, he allows himself to become emotionally attached to another human being, but the idyll is eroded by depression, drugs and jealousy and Dexter’s choices result in tragedy.
Saved and supported by Margaret Bellgarde, Dexter allows himself to be drawn into her family to recover from illness and sorrow. Until a day in July when his past confronts him and forces him to face the truth about his role as physician and healer.
More Details: Boulogne, France, 1916. Wounded soldier Andre Boudreau awakes to find himself under the care of renegade physician Herbert West of Arkham, who is serving as a medical officer in the Great War. Having lost his memory and reluctant to return to a home and family he cannot remember, at the end of the War Andre gratefully accepts West’s offer of employment.
In Arkham, Andre works as chauffeur, valet and lab assistant, serving with unquestioning devotion the man he calls the Doctor. He remains loyal when West is forced to escape from Arkham by drastic means, changing his name to Francis Dexter. In the course of a bizarre journey across North America, Andre finds himself in charge of their travels as Dexter, his health and judgment impaired, grows increasingly unstable.
Arriving by tramp steamer on the West Coast, Andre is eager to begin a new life, despite his loyalty to the Doctor. A chance meeting brings them to Bellefleur Island, where Andre finds work as a lighthouse keeper. Hoping that the island may offer a chance for the Doctor to begin anew as Dr. Francis Dexter, Andre leaves him in the hands of Margaret Bellgarde.
Married young to ambitious lawyer Richard Bellgarde, Margaret is devastated when he volunteers for service in the Great War and is killed in action. Offered a home on Bellefleur Island by her father-in-law, Margaret gives birth to her son there and becomes absorbed into the island’s life.
With the arrival on Bellefleur of Dr. Francis Dexter, Margaret finds herself questioning him about his past and herself about her future. Showing him the beauties of her island home, sharing conversations and experiences, Margaret comes to find Dexter attractive as well as mysterious. Charming but evasive, Dexter builds a successful medical practice and spends summers exploring the coast with sailor and artist Julian Vernon.
When tragedy strikes, Margaret finds herself in a unique position to help Dexter, but first she must choose between the inclinations of her heart and the principles she has taken for granted all her life. Her choices have unfathomable consequences for her family and the island she loves.
More Details: Arkham, Massachusetts, 1910. Librarian Charles Milburn takes up a position as cataloguer in the Library of Miskatonic University. He becomes the keeper of the Necronomicon, an ancient book of secret lore kept in the Library’s vault.
Herbert West, a medical student with a dubious reputation, requests access to the fabled book, and Charles grants it despite his misgivings. So begins a friendship that takes Charles far from the rules of cataloguing and the conventions familiar to an honest young man from a good Boston family.
Herbert West can restore the dead to life, he says, and he persuades Charles to be his assistant. Their experiments, carried out in secret by night, in improvised laboratories and by stealth in the hospital attached to the university, achieve success – of a sort. Charles finds himself caught between the demands of his fascinating friend and his growing attraction to Alma Halsey, daughter of the Dean of Medicine.
In 1914, as war begins in Europe, Charles is both relieved and distressed to say goodbye to West as he sails away to France to serve as a medical officer. Over the next four years, West’s letters reveal a mixture of cynicism and black humour that hint at – what? Charles doesn’t know and would rather not guess. Engrossed in cataloguing the books of an eccentric professor, he develops an interest in alchemy as a way to transform the base into the excellent.
West returns from the War to a career as a surgeon utilizing techniques perfected on the maimed, dying …and dead? Lonely and self-doubting despite his professional success, Charles can’t bring himself to abandon West as his reputation grows and darkens. Rumours of illicit experiments overshadow West’s spectacular public successes, and he begins to crack under attacks from colleagues and threats from his gangster brothers. Beleaguered on all sides and under threat of investigation, West appeals to Charles for help. Charles is sympathetic until West reveals the perilous nature of his plan.
Vacillating between horror and hope and haunted by West’s misdeeds, Charles must draw on his knowledge of alchemy and his tottering faith in powers beyond himself if he is to save his friend’s life. Only his conscience stands in the way.
October 1962. The developing nuclear missile crisis in Cuba is of no concern to Francesca "France" Leighton. Recently turned 21, France travels from her home in Providence to a job at an archaeological dig in Luxor, Egypt. She takes with her two legacies—an emerald ring from the grandfather she never knew, and an antique cello from his friend, a man she loved like a grandfather.
The dig disappoints. France is relegated to sorting chunks of stone, the dig's director makes unwanted advances; rivalries and mistrust are everywhere. And it's too darn hot. Tasked with playing her cello at a gathering of archaeologists, France meets the enigmatic and fascinating nuclear physicist Adam Dexter. She's smitten, especially when he promises to show her the secrets of Egypt, including a hitherto undiscovered tomb.
After a risky balloon cruise ends in a crash landing, France is forced to leave the dig. Despite warnings against solo explorations on the west bank, she finds herself with Adam Dexter in an eerie house near the Theban Necropolis. Adam's promises are alluring, but he is both more and less than he seems and his motivations are disturbing. Fleeing his house, France makes a horrifying discovery.
Through an image of Osiris, France discovers the true reason for her presence in the Theban Necropolis. As the world teeters on the brink of nuclear war, she must call upon resources both within and beyond herself to meet the perils that await her in the world of the dead beneath the Western Peak.