My book, The Wanderer, was in part conceived as a spiritual successor to Charles Robert Maturin’s 1820 novel, Melmoth the Wanderer, a work which gripped me when I first read it in my mid-twenties. Melmoth is very odd text, which brings, to the violence of the Gothic, a high-Romantic sensibility, but also, and more incongruously, the comical, sceptical, and metatextual mood of Renaissance and Enlightenment satire: Rabelais, Cervantes, Swift, Sterne, and Diderot. I wished to emulate some of Melmoth’s strangeness: its awkward, but potent, blend of tones.
The seeds of The Wanderer were planted much earlier, though, when a childhood love of the Sherlock Holmes stories led me to Conan Doyle’s Professor Challenger tales. The 1912 novel, The Lost World, struck a particular chord, and I became obsessed with fantastical colonial romances. But, sometime in my early teens, I realized – to paraphrase McArdle, a newspaper editor in The Lost World – the big blank spaces on the map had all been filled in, that there was no room for romance left anywhere, and also that such imperial adventures belied darker truths. I turned away from them then.
Later in life, I discovered and was captivated by Edgar Allan Poe’s weird novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. Its strange story of exploration took me back to the tales I’d loved as a child, and got me wondering where a writer could set an adventure as bizarre as Pym’s in a world in which even the wildest and most desolate places have been explored and tamed, new means of transport and telecommunication technologies have elided distances, and globalized culture has eroded difference. That was when I came up with the central premise of The Wanderer. My solution was a dislocation, not in space, but in time. I made my protagonist immortal and set much of the story in the far-flung future, when civilization has collapsed and history is nearing its close. MP Shiel’s The Purple Cloud was a particular influence on me in thinking about the desolated world I wished to depict. And from Jorge Luis Borges’s short story, ‘The Immortal’, I took a sense of disaffection and amorality in the undying.
Interwoven with the post-civilization strand, is one with a present day setting; the deathless narrator recounting the events of the evening on which he first learnt of his immortality. The portmanteau horror story was a big influence on this. A hint as to the structure came from Arthur Machen’s The Three Imposters, while the mundane strangeness of the some of the short fiction of Shirley Jackson and Robert Aickman suggested the tone.
I also wished to present the novel as a found manuscript, to generate a sense it could be something real in the world, that its horror might seep, might bleed out. William Hope Hodgson’s The House on the Borderland, Caitlín R Kiernan’s The Red Tree, and Mark Z Danielewski’s House of Leaves were touchstones for this.
My attempt, when writing The Wanderer, was to fuse these various influences into a new whole, on the model of Melmoth, a whole that I hope would be both weird and pulpish, a chimera botched from incongruous parts, a Frankenstein’s monster…
There was one more key influence on the novel – eerily, a retrospective one. While editing the book, after completing my first draft, I came across a reference, in Iain Sinclair’s Dining on Stones, to a novel by one Walter Owen, titled, More Things in Heaven… Sinclair’s narrator describes this book as being a sequence of linked narratives about cursed manuscripts, manuscripts that cause readers to spontaneously combust, and warns that it is supposed to be itself cursed, supposed to confer, ‘malfate, paranoid delusions, death…’
Intrigued by a seeming resemblance to The Wanderer and undeterred by Sinclair’s narrator’s claims of malign influence, I ordered up More Things in Heaven… at the British Library. On opening it, I felt an eerie shock. The first line of Owen’s work runs: ‘On the 14th July 1935 Mr Cornelius Letherbotham, an English gentleman resident in Buenos Aires, died under extraordinary and distressing circumstances.’ The first line of The Wanderer was (and is): ‘On the 18th December 2010, Simon Peterkin, a British Library archivist and writer of weird tales with a small, if cultic, following, disappeared from his Highgate flat.’ I read on, gripped by a horrid fascination, and discovered more and more correspondences. Then I began dabbling, working more, this time intentional, allusions to More Things in Heaven… into my novel.
Then, in the block I was living in at the time, there was a bad fire. No one was hurt, but the building was gutted. I stopped tinkering after that.
:: The Wanderer is published by Perfect Edge Books. Find it on Amazon UK