I first encountered Simon Dillon after the publication of “First Love,” a romantic fantasy anthology released by Dragon Soul Press. My own story “The Rusalka of the Murashka,” to my mind, had scant chances of being accepted, I assumed initially. This wasn’t a book that would take horror authors…or would it? Well, yes, DSP was quite content to snag two of us.
Simon Dillon’s story, “Papercut,” I soon found, was one of my favorites in “First Love.” Original and bold, it brings to mind a teenage version of The Neverending Story. At the same time, it’s quirkiness repeatedly dissolves into something darker, which leaves readers with the impression that Carrie White’s mother might be dropping in on the main character at some point to say hello.
After “Papercut,” I discovered that, much as I suspected from his work’s general tone, Dillon is primarily a horror author and, at that, one of the best ones that I’ve had the pleasure to meet through social media and work with. His book “The Spectre of Springwell Forest” is a true page-turner with a shock ending that, if it ever winds up with a film adaption, I will not be surprised.
I figured an interview would only be fair and so, without further ado, here it goes….
- Introduction, please?: My name is Simon Dillon, and I’ve contributed a short story to a fantasy anthology. That sounds like an Alcoholics Anonymous confession (the first step is admitting I am a writer, or something like that). Anyway, my short story is entitled Papercut and it concerns a lonely teenage boy living with his overbearing Jehovah’s Witness mother. A mysterious girl made entirely of paper then appears in his dreams, taking him on a journey which changes his life. Papercut is my second short story published with a traditional publisher. The first was Once in a Lifetime, an existential horror tale that appeared in the anthology All Dark Places. My publisher, Dragon Soul Press, has also published my ghost story mystery novel Spectre of Springwell Forest. Prior to that, I had other horror/thriller novels self-published, including The Thistlewood Curse and The Birds Began to Sing. Although they are my current focus, I haven’t just written horror novels. My most “personal” (and relatively speaking successful) novel to date is entitled Children of the Folded Valley, a dystopian memoir about a man looking back on his life growing up in a mysterious cult. I have also published a few children’s adventure novels, including Uncle Flynn and Echo and the White Howl. I don’t typically write romantic drama, but my novel Love vs Honour is my one and only foray into that arena. It involves a teenage boy and girl from strict Christian and Muslim backgrounds respectively. To placate each set of parents, one pretends to convert to Christianity and the other to Islam, leading to inevitable dramatic complications.
- Your story, “Papercut,” featured in the Dragon Soul Press anthology “First Love,” focuses largely on Jehovah’s Witness beliefs. What drew you to write about this particular religion?: I had heard from a few people who have been “disfellowshipped” by the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and their stories struck a chord with me. I don’t come from a Jehovah’s Witness background, but I did spend my formative years in a cult which had a number of similar ideas and principles. The claustrophobia and isolation associated with both their stories and my own memories proved an inspiration.
- There is not a great amount of representation of Jehovah’s Witnesses within the fantasy genre. What hurdles did you come up against mixing the two things?: There isn’t much out there about Jehovah’s Witnesses in any genre, although there is a very interesting recent film entitled Apostasy. That said, I didn’t really feel there were any hurdles as such, placing the Jehovah’s Witnesses in a fantasy tale. I am a big believer in “grounded fantasy”. It might sound counter-intuitive, but I believe fantasy often works best when it sits alongside dirt-under-the-fingernails realism. The film Pan’s Labyrinth is a good example, with the brutal realism of the Spanish Civil War contrasting with the girl’s encounters with the Faun. In my case, I tried to contrast the mundane and oppressive religious routine of my protagonist Gabriel with the (apparent) escapism that the Paper Girl brings. Of course, as in Pan’s Labyrinth, later in my story the two worlds collide.
- Personally, as a reader, I felt the story pointed towards encouraging young people to choose their own spiritual path in life; rather than necessarily accept what is prevalent in the household to which they are born. Was this your intention?: That’s a very good way to interpret the story, and it is certainly what I personally believe. However, I wouldn’t say I set out to write the story with that in mind. I was more interested in writing a successful genre piece which would tug at the heartstrings a little.
- Whether or not the story genuinely falls into the fantasy genre seemed vague up until the very ending, given that a sizable chunk of the story is set in a dream. When you were writing, were you always certain whether or not the dream would actually be a reality?: I never write any story without knowing the ending first. In fact, typically the ending is what occurs to me first, and I work backwards from that point. The shared dream idea, and the possible involvement of supernatural entities of ambiguous origin was foreseen from the outset. I enjoy writing stories that blur the line between dreams and reality. Some of this comes from personal experience. For example, a few years ago, my late father appeared to me in a recurring dream, trying to show me something that had happened to me in my past which I had forgotten. I didn’t want to see this incident, and when I refused, I would always wake up. Then one day I decided to go and see what he had to show me. I awoke the next day with what had been a repressed traumatic memory fully reinstated in my mind. I had perfect total recall of what I had repressed. It was extraordinary.
- Dream interpretation is a major theme to this story and you seemed very comfortable writing it. Have you done so before?: Have I interpreted dreams? Or have I used dream interpretation as a narrative device? Funnily enough, the answer to both questions is yes. I have on occasion suggested possible meanings to one or two friends when they have confided in me about their dreams, not that I am an expert by any means. I find the mental, psychological and spiritual implications in dreams fascinating, and so yes, I have also written about them a number of times. Papercut is the most obvious example, but there are key moments in The Birds Began to Sing, The Thistlewood Curse and in one or two of my upcoming novels that also delve into this area a little. I’ve actually written one as yet unpublished novel, entitled The Deviant Prophet, which was entirely inspired by the dreamscape of my closest friend.
- Given the ending, was the main characters’ transformation into paper symbolic of the loss of faith or purely coincidental?: That’s an interesting and clever interpretation, and a part of me is sorely tempted to say yes. Alas no, it was a coincidence (but a happy one). I have used symbolism in a number of other stories – for example in Uncle Flynn, where the panther is symbolic of fear.
- Are short stories your preferred way of expressing yourself as an author or do you more enjoy writing longer pieces?: I generally prefer novels, but short stories are fun. Because they take less time, I am often more inclined to take risks with them. This year I hope to finally tackle a series of seven science fiction novellas which I have had planned out for some time. The novella format is something I have never tried, being a kind of halfway house between short story and novel, so that should prove an interesting challenge. However, novels remain my preferred format.
- What makes “Papercut” unique from your other work?: I wrote Papercut to be quite sweet and innocent, whereas a lot of my other writing is about the death of innocence. There are a few dark edges, and yes it deals in themes of religious oppression, but I wanted it to be hopeful and optimistic.
- What’s next on the literary horizon for Simon Dillon?: This year I’m hoping to contribute a short story to Coffins and Dragons, a Dragon Soul Press anthology about dragons and vampires. I have to confess I am not particularly interested in writing about either, but when my publisher said it would be good for me to join in with this one, I had a think and came up with a concept that I think will surprise people. My story is more of a satire, with human characters that are symbolic of a dragon and vampire respectively. Of course, it might be too off-brief to be accepted. We’ll see. However, I definitely have two more novels being released this year: The Irresistible Summons in July and Phantom Audition in October (the latter is an exclusive title reveal for you). Both are ghost story mysteries in the same vein as Spectre of Springwell Forest. After that I have several other novels already written that I’d like to unleash on the world, including another children’s adventure, another horror novel, an epic Arthurian fantasy romance, and a dystopian future shock drama that satirizes both sides of the so-called culture wars in America. I’m keeping tight lipped on those for now.
Well, there you go. Tomorrow is the launch of Dillon’s “The Irresistible Summons.” I will be one of the authors introducing him, along with authors Kathryn St. John, Stephen Herczeg, Charles Reis, and Kevin J. Kennedy.
If it’s anything like the last book I won’t be able to put it down!
Follow Simon Dillon here:
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.co.uk/l/B00NVPO1PQ