Gray Matter

MURIEL GRAY’s debut novel, The Trickster, reveals agpassion for horror fiction and is a far cry from the ‘feisty feminist’ tome that many will be expecting. Ann Donald unleashes some demons and finds out about her darker side.

aomi. Martina and Muriel are apparently this month’s Bananarama. according to the literary world. As fate would have it. the model. the tennis-player and the broadcaster have all published debut novels within weeks of each other. resulting in their being lumped together in the ‘celebrity Iit.’ category much to the chagrin of Muriel Gray. ‘I’ve just had this woman from The Guardian asking me.’ she splutters before launching into art evil and delicious impersonation. “Do you think of yourself as Naomi Campbell?” Oh yeah I’m her fuckin’ double. Dream on. I'm not even a celebrity in that way and I’ve been writing for ten yers longer.’ Having overcome the prepos— terous notion of this question. the self-confessed ‘Eight-stone. peroxide blonde. beardless hillwalker’ erupts into one of the volcanic fits of giggles that regularly punctuate her conversa— tion. The outburst over. she settles down with a calming glass of milk in her buzzing film production office to discuss her surprisingly impressive literary debut.

‘Even Stephen King’s books like The Shining and Carrie are beautiful technical masterpieces with pace and tone that show a certain type of American Iite.’

The Trickster is a meaty tome of horror liction that has more in common with Twin Peaks and HG. Wells than the schlock/gore fodder many associate with the genre. The novel focuses on the internal struggle of a man who has disowned his Native American heritage. Yet when a vile. demonic evil unleashes a whirlwind of sicken- ing death and destruction upon the quiet Canadian Rockies ski-town of Silver. Sam Hunt’s all-American family life finds itself under cataclysmic threat. Packed with sharp dialogue and a pacy. tension-ridden plot. the novel could not be further from the ‘feisty feminist in a Glasgow tenement’ storyline that Gray believes many were expecting her to write.

Attempting to explain her deep. dark passion fora much-maligned genre that is renowned for its terminally unhip. combat-jacketed Treky readership. Gray confesses: ‘I’ve been a huge horror fan since l was fourteen. so if I was ever going to write fiction it had to be horror. It’s very childish I know but I love it.’ Given her child‘s tartan skate jacket. bog-brush hair-do and unrelenting exuberance throughout the interview. one could easily mistake the 36-year- old producer and mother of one for an avid teenager. Rising to the defence of her beloved genre she says: ‘Horror has a bad name because

there are people like James Herbert who can‘t write for toffee. But if you look back it’s got an incredibly honourable past in terms of Shelley and Bram Stoker. Most of the great classical British writers and some Americans dabbled in the supernatural. Even Stephen King’s books like The Shining and Carrie are beautiful techni- cal masterpieces with pace and tone that show a certain type of American life.’

The slice of American-pie life that Gray chose to illustrate in The Trickster is not one that owes its inspiration to Norman Rockwell’s rose- tinged paintings. In order to lind a suitable setting for the evil spirit’s bodycount. Gray took herself off to the tiny Albertan ski-town of Banff for research purposes. ‘lnitially I was inspired by the Albertan railway which was built by Scottish engineers and I found terribly romantic.’ she explains. Subsequent reconnais- sance missions led to acknowledging half of the Albertan community. with an invaluable part played by ‘The Banff detachment of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police’. ‘Rocky Mountaineer‘ and ‘Co-Co Powderface‘ among others. The latter title belongs to the head of the Stony Indian Reserve which Gray visited in order to gain an understanding of the native Canadian life that is so integral to the book. After this crash course in Cree culture. Gray can now count among her Renaissance woman talents: an ability to translate such Cree gems as ‘dung-hole chief of shits'. a Mastermind knowledge of shamanism. and the ability. when pressed. to drive a train through tunnels.

A vital theme within the novel and the horror genre is of course religion: The Trickster may encompass fragmentary tracts of shamanism. Catholicism and Scots Presbyterianism. but its author is indignant about accusations of peddling any pedantic school of thought. ‘I don’t respect any religion.’ says Gray. ‘I‘m not PC. I think their religion is as ridiculious as Protestantism. Catholicism or Islam. They‘re all stupid.’ Where she does acknowledge the aspect of religion is in its simplistic role. ‘With horror you have to suspend real-life belief and believe in an ultimate good and an ultimate evil. It’s escapism. Perhaps that’s why I like it so much.’ she ponders.

One final and vital area of research for the serious purveyor of horror is the visceral world of gore and guts. Though Gray made a conscious effort not to wallow in the grotesque and graphic prose passages that defile many a genuine attempt in the field. there is one partic- ular description that required verification with a pathologist. The sentence in question is ‘The corpse. found in a buckskin sack. had been split up the spine. the organs removed and the heart stuffed up the anus. the penis in the mouth.‘

Gray starts to explain in serious tones the possibility of this operation before bursting into an eruption of giggles as she visualises the scenario. ‘I had to check whether it was possible to get a heart up a rectum. but it’s a very malleable organ you know!’

Whether the profane act will remain in the film version that her company Ideal World is producing. remains to be seen. However. before that stage she must brace herself for the ego- assaulting experience of book-reviews. In fact. she was initially so concerned about a biased media reaction that she contemplated publishing the book under a male pseudonym but wisely decided to stand by the work. ‘I know how delicious it is when you’re being terribly funnily rude about someone.’ says the seasoned critic. Anticipating a wave of negative press she laughs breezily: “I’ll probably enjoy getting all indignant and angry over my cornflakes but forget about it by lunchtime.’

Indeed. the likeable turbo of activity has other more important things on her packed agenda to get excited about than negative press. Just back from Moscow from filming The Transpmt Show for Channel 4. she’s about to immerse herself in the world of CB radio and America’s dusty highways and long—distance truckers to research her next horror novel. Indeed. Gray seems to be far more interested in playing with her toy HGV truck than worrying about any critical fiak. J

The Trickster is published by Hatyn’rC'oI/ins at £12.99. Muriel Gray will he at Nil/oils Bookshop [74—176 Argyle Street. Glasgow on Sat 8 October; /---2pnt.


The List 23 September ~(i ()ctobcr ION 13