Strange Playgrounds was a suitably odd beasty; asked now, I wouldn't be able to tell you quite where it came from. The stories that comprise it come from all over the place; derivations of novels and novellas I started when I was too young to know any better, revisions of revisions of re-writings of stories I started back at university (the title story was, originally, an attempt to re-write Edgar Allen Poe's The Pit and the Pendullum, to make it an entirely sensory experience, without any explanation or clear resolution, which I still feel dilutes Poe's otherwise glorious short story).
How it came together was almost a matter of happy accident; suddenly, I found myself with a folder full of work and nowhere for it to go. At that time, I hadn't even realised that were consistent themes and threads between them; they simply were, in isolation from one another. It wasn't until I started arranging them into one document that they began to somehow sing together, as part of a much, much larger work, that consistency became apparent.
What I find particularly fascinating now, looking back, is what they reflect: stories such as Storm Song, the disparate halves of which were written by two very different people (who happen to share similar face): the first half in the throes of love, the second in its ashes, stories such as The State of Lovers, which initially began as a joke between myself and a friend about how wonderful it would be if one could emulate Victor Frankenstein, taking bits and pieces of one's perfect mate and stitching them together. The original forms of the story are so far removed from what it eventually became...semi-comedic, graphic horror-erotica, in which the idealised man is not, as in the finished tale, merely dreamed into being, but cannibalised and stitched together from fragments of pilfered and murdered men, the end result something shambolic and tormented; never good enough for the pair who squabble and bicker and eventually end up murdered by their own lover/child. As those who have read the story know, this is a far cry from what it ultimately became; so much so, that it may as well be an entirely different piece. This came about due to frustration with that original tale; it worked, technically, but it didn't express what I wanted it to; it felt...dishonest, somehow, so I re-wrote and re-wrote and abandoned and left and forgot and came back to until, eventually, The State of Lovers came about; an examination of what the desire for perfection reveals about us, what the need for ownership and control over our own ideals betrays. I like the piece that appears in Strange Playgrounds; of all the stories that do, it is often the one I enjoy reading over the most, if only because it comes from a place of genuine emotion, of true despair and yearning and desperate, desperate desire.
What surprises me perhaps the most, looking back, is how different I am now, both as a person and as a writer; most of those stories were old by the time Strange Playgrounds as compiled; stories whose writer(s) had, in a very real sense, passed on and been consigned to the graveyard of shed or murdered selves. I do not write as I did then anymore; the stories that will appear in the up and coming Born in Blood are, whilst ostensibly similar in imagery and concept, far removed in terms of theme, style and implication.
Strange Playgrounds, I like to think, is a fairly redemptive piece of work, taken as a whole; despite the darkness, the filth; the human extremity into which the stories dip, most have at least a strange hopefulness, at their resolution; a potential for change or transformation, celebration in the mire. This is particular interesting given that many of these tales were produced in the throes of a clinical depression that lasted around ten years, as though my imagination was attempting to project possibilities of its breaking, to operate in a place where it could see some potential, even where my conscious mind could not.
Born in Blood, by contrast, is almost entirely shorn of hope; there is nothing redemptive in its stories or in the ovaer-arching mythology that most of them feed into. Dead worlds, broken states; apocalypses and extinctions, murderers and abusers and victims, victims, victims...these stories are expressions of a despair that I, as their writer, no longer feel (certainly not to the same degree), but understand. They are metaphysical hopelessness; a statement that there is no divine poetry, no justice; no pattern or meaning to being, save what we impose upon it, and that, in that, the abusers are blessed, the victims damned; the truly despairing condemned to that condition, forever and ever and ever. Not an endorsement of that status quo, you understand, but a suggestions that it is perhaps closer to the actual state of waking reality than the dark fairy-tale quality of Strange Playgrounds.
It's been an interesting experience, walking them again; seeing them more as a reader now than the man who wrote them. Not stories I'm sure I'm capable of writing, any longer, but ones I'm glad some manifestation of me did, at some point in time.
George Lea is an entity that seems to simultaneously exist and not exist at various points and states in time and reality, mostly where there are vast quantities of cake to be had. He has a lot of books. And a cat named Rufus. What she makes of all this is anyone's guess.