JOHN WISNIEWSKI: WHEN DID YOU BEGIN WRITING?
Gomery Kimber: I was 11 when I spent the summer holidays writing a 20,000 word science fiction story. I still have it somewhere, though I’m not sure I’d want anyone to read it.
I missed a lot of school because of ill health. I collected comics, war stories were my favourites. I progressed to reading thrillers and science fiction. With my friends I used to play RPGs, like Dungeons and Dragons, and Traveler. There was a Lovecraft game as well, Call of Cthulu I think it was titled. RPGs were a form of story-telling as well. I had a yearning for adventure and excitement like all kids, but because I was so often sick the urge was stronger.
In my teens I started to write thrillers and detective stories, none of which were published, naturally. I used to write fan letters to my favorite writers, people like Frederick Forsyth, author of “The Day of the Jackal.” I had a dream that I’d become a foreign correspondent and travel the world collecting material for my novels, but it was just a fantasy: I was a working class kid from northern England; that kind of thing could never happen to someone like me.
The best thing about the rundown town I grew up in was the public library. It was my second home. I began to read literature – Hemingway, Hesse, Martin Amis – but there was one section of the library that always attracted me: the books on the paranormal and unexplained. That was the beginning of the novels I now write, metaphysical thrillers, occult spy stories. I suppose it began with a daydream – what if Aleister Crowley had walked into a James Bond novel? Although it’s people like the mystic teacher G I Gurdjieff and his follower P D Ouspensky who appear in my fiction now.
JOHN WISNIEWSKI: ANY AUTHORS THAT MAY INSPIRE YOU?
Gomery Kimber: Shelved beside books on the paranormal was the section on psychology. One title drew my teenage gaze: “C G Jung – Lord of the Underworld.” That was the book that introduced me to my writing hero, Colin Wilson.
By now I was feeling something of a misfit – bookish kid in a working class environment who harbored a secret desire to become a novelist – and so when I discovered Wilson had written a book titled “The Outsider” I knew he and I were going to have a long relationship. Of course, I wrote a fan letter to him and he wrote a very nice letter in reply. It was the first of many. Colin was tremendously encouraging and generous. Reading him, it felt like a light had been switched on in my brain. For the first time I’d found someone who addressed questions about meaning and purpose. And of course, as anyone who had read Wilson knows, reading him is an introduction to so many other writers and thinkers. It was in final part of “The Outsider” that I first came across the names Gurdjieff and Ouspensky, both of whom I would later begin to study.
I’m not the only writer who has been so influenced by Colin Wilson. Alongside my interest in literature I was a teenage music fan, into punk and new wave. I remember buying the first Blondie album, and when I bought the second one I wondered what had happened to the bass player, Gary Valentine. It was years later that I found out Gary (real name Lachman) had left the music business to study philosophy and become a writer, and his first published work was about . . . Colin Wilson (I think it was Blondie guitarist Chris Stein who lent Gary a copy of Wilson’s book “The Occult”). I’ve since read many of Gary’s books which I highly recommend. He’s even published a biography of Colin Wilson.
All of Gary Lachman’s work is factual. As far as I know he hasn’t published any fiction. I’ve always been drawn more to fiction than to fact, and Colin Wilson produced more than a dozen novels. His notion was to use popular forms of genre fiction as vehicles for his ideas. My fiction is the same. My first novel, “The Killing House,” can be read as straight forward entertainment. The ideas contained within it don’t get in the way of the narrative, but if you’re interested in eternal recurrence, for instance, or the possibility of there being life after death, then “The Killing House” is for you.
Colin Wilson believed that the novelist’s task is a spiritual one: to free ourselves from the narrowness of everyday life, its “close-upness,” and to convey to the reader a kind of “wide-angle” vision of reality. That’s just what I aim to achieve in my novels.
Rickardo Hanratty, the main character in “The Killing House,” is based in part on Robert Irwin, the sculptor-murderer of Beekman Place, Manhattan in 1937. Hanratty uses Neville Goddard’s ‘mind magic’ techniques to help him assassinate people. Neville has become well known again largely due to the efforts of Mitch Horowitz.
JOHN WISNIEWSKI: COULD YOU TELL US ABOUT WRITING “THE KILLING HOUSE,” WHAT INSPIRED YOU?
Gomery Kimber: I was on holiday on the island of Cyprus in the eastern Mediterranean. In a restaurant I met two Russian Air Force pilots on furlough from the fighting in Syria. There are a lot of Russian expatriates on the island, which also has a significant British military presence. One day I glimpsed a Russian flag flying over a house. As we drove closer we saw that the house was a mansion in a huge compound and the flag was roughly the same dimensions as an Olympic swimming pool. As you know, in the early 1970s Turkey invaded Cyprus and now the island is divided between Turks and Greeks, the border patrolled by the UN. I’m not much good at holidays. I got out a notebook and pen, let my imagination loose on what was going on around me, and that was the beginning of “The Killing House.”
Now, your everyday international thriller doesn’t interest me very much at all. If a novel is to hold my attention then it has to have what Colin Wilson called “wide-angle vision.” It shouldn’t merely reflect the everyday, but”‘liberate the human imagination” and give the reader a glimpse of what human beings might become. That was where Neville Goddard entered the equation.
Have you heard of Neville? I first heard about him just before my trip to Cyprus, when Mitch Horowitz published a book about this charismatic mystic. Neville (as he was known) believed that the human imagination is God, and that our thoughts create our world – in a literal sense. Now, you can see why Neville’s teachings would interest me, chiming as they do with Colin Wilson’s ideas about the human imagination. Mitch Horowitz quite rightly emphasizes an ethical approach to these kinds of New Thought practices, to become what you desire but without harming others in the process. However, my business is writing entertaining thrillers, and since, as they say, the devil has the best tunes, I began to think along the lines of someone – say an international hit man – using Neville’s ‘mind magic’ techniques for nefarious purposes.
Most criminals are stupid, short-sighted and lacking in self-control. It was obvious that my hit man couldn’t be such a man, not if he was to discipline his imagination so as to influence the future. I remembered reading about a murder case from the late ’30s. Robert Irwin was a sculptor who murdered the mother and sister of his girlfriend at Beekman Place, Manhattan in 1937. Prior to the killings, Irwin was preoccupied with the idea of ‘visualizing.’ It had struck him that before a sculptor could make a work of art he had to visualize the work with his mind’s eye. For Irwin, the function of the human imagination ought to enable us to close our eyes and ‘see’ whatever we want to see. Unfortunately, Irwin was unbalanced, and tormented by his sexual drive. Before the murders he decided that he would be able to increase his powers of visualization if he cut off his genitals. He almost bled to death in the process.
These two elements – the mystic Neville and the crazed killer Irwin – I combined to give me the basis of my international hitman, Rickardo Hanratty, also known as The Big Shilling. I knew that a character such as this could not change: he’s a killer at the beginning of the story and a killer at the end. So he couldn’t be the protagonist. That started me thinking along the lines of a young criminal who wants to be just like The Big Shilling, which is how the main character, American Troy, came along. Troy’s just a kid and doesn’t realize what he’s getting himself into. He’s a movie buff and thinks being an international hit man will be like one his favorite auteur-directed uber-cool Euro thrillers. It takes him a long time to realize The Big Shilling is not just teaching him how to be an assassin, he’s also teaching him that our thoughts influence the reality we experience. Troy has a terrible time of things. Does he really visit the afterlife when The Big Shilling drugs him? Does he really see the whole of his life in flashback when he almost drowns trying to escape from Cyprus?
The Big Shilling’s mantra is: ‘Believing is seeing.’ American Troy’s annoyed by this (The Big Shilling annoys everyone: he’s a joker, a trickster). ‘Believing is seeing’ isn’t logical, it doesn’t make sense. Seeing is believing, right? And it’s only after the hit on the Russian oligarch who lives on the island in a house flying an enormous Russian flag that American Troy realizes that if he’s going to get off the island alive he’s got to imagine that he already has.
Initially, ‘The Killing House’ was going to be a one off. The Big Shilling is a murderer, and my initial idea was that he’d get what was coming to him. However, the character started to take on a life of his own. He was too interesting to kill off, and far too funny. He had to appear in another novel. This is titled “The War Party” and is scheduled for publication later this year. I have plans to turn the series into a trilogy. In the final novel, the character finally gets his comeuppance. But that’s all in the future. At the moment I’ve got a deadline to finish my second novel, “Earth With Hell To Mingle,” which will be published by Procursus this spring.
JOHN WISNIEWSKI: WHAT MAKES A GOOD CRIME/SUSPENSE NOVEL?
Gomery Kimber: I think we’ve left the ‘whodunit’ far behind. The best crime novels are ‘whydunits,’ and I mean that in the existential sense: why was the crime committed, and what does this tell us about human psychology?
My interest is in the existential sleuth, whose primary concern is the meaning and purpose of human existence. The detection of the crime, while it needs to be convincing in procedural terms, must take second place to much more profound matters. As Wilson scholar Nicolas Tredell notes, this may well lead to the breaking of genre boundaries, the detective tale expanding into areas traditionally occupied by speculative fiction and the metaphysical. The final scene of revelation, when the detective identifies the perpetrator, is therefore made secondary to what might be called the evolutionary disclosure, a signpost pointing the way to the future development of human consciousness, for instance.
The reason I find most crime and suspense novels so unsatisfying is because they fail to do this. They’re like gorging on candy or junk food when what you really need to satisfy your hunger is a wholesome, balanced meal.
Colin Wilson was a friend of the psychologist Abraham Maslow who most people know about for his Hierarchy of Needs. Wilson applied Maslow’s theory to criminality, the most basic crimes being those of survival, stealing food, for instance, or money to pay the rent. Wilson identified certain Victorian murders as exemplifying Maslow’s need for self-esteem, killers who kept up a façade of being respectable members of the middle class. But the most interesting cases are those of self-actualization, Maslow’s highest category. Once the ordinary person’s needs are met he or she may turn to some creative endeavour, learning a musical instrument, writing poetry, or painting. And the criminal self-actualizer may do the same. Charles Manson, for instance, was convinced his songs were as good as The Beatles’. The problem was, Manson didn’t have the self-discipline needed to be a self-actualizer, and so when he didn’t become a popstar he reverted to type, his lower self took over and the results were brutal.
Manson took the left-hand path. My character The Big Shilling is similar. In the final novel of the trilogy he is imprisoned in a psychiatric hospital and the story of his life is pieced together by a psychologist who discovers the assassin, like Robert Irwin on whom he is partly based, was driven to what he did by a misdirected evolutionary urge.
JOHN WISNIEWSKI: DID YOU GET TO MEET WITH COLIN WILSON?
Gomery Kimber: No, I didn’t, sadly. He died in 2013 after a long illness. But we still have his books and he is ever-present in them. He wrote more than a hundred. He used to say that in the future there would be many Wilsonian writers and I think he was right. There’s Gary Lachman, David Moore and now Gomery Kimber.
JOHN WISNIEWSKI: ARE YOU WORKING ON THE KILLING HOUSE BOOK 2 CURRENTLY?
Gomery Kimber: I’ll finish writing ‘The War Party’ after completing the final edit of my occult war story ‘Earth With Hell To Mingle.’
‘The War Party’ picks up where ‘The Killing House’ left off. The Big Shilling is asked to perform another seemingly impossible hit: a whistle-blower has taken refuge in the London embassy of a Latin American country hostile to the US, but how to get to him, short of blowing up the entire building? The Big Shilling has the answer: hypnosis. Now, we all know that it’s impossible to hypnotise someone and direct them to commit a crime against their will, don’t we? Well, in fact this is not true. There are cases in the history of crime when hypnosis was used to do exactly that – the famous Castellan case in France in the nineteenth century, Franz Walter in 1930s Germany, and many more. And so, the Big Shilling achieves his goal by hypnotizing a member of the embassy staff who poisons the whistle-blower.
And, the Big Shilling being the strange character that he is, the story morphs from being merely a crime thriller into the realms of science fiction. Already, in the first book of the trilogy, the Big Shilling witnesses the appearance of a UFO in the Lebanon. Now he encounters a young man who believes he has been abducted by ufonauts who seem to be able to take over his will by means of hypnosis. The Big Shilling, who is always looking for ways to increase his own strange powers, immediately wants to meet these ‘aliens.’
JOHN WISNIEWSKI: IN THE KILLING HOUSE THE MAIN CHARACTER’S MANTRA IS ‘BELIEVING IS SEEING.’ IS THIS IMPORTANT TO THE CHARACTERIZATION OF THE PROTAGONIST?
Gomery Kimber: You could say that ‘believing is seeing’ is not only the idea around which the story of ‘The Killing House’ revolves, but also all of my work. This is why I write: to shape the world. My novels may be a world of their own but as soon as the reader enters into them and suspends disbelief, then the reader’s actual world may be changed as well.
You know that Graham Greene’s novels had a particular flavour – he was a Roman Catholic and a pessimist, and this was what informed all his stories to the extent that his gloomy fictional world became known as Greeneland. Well, I think of my own fictional world as Kimberland, and rather than being a world of sin and futility and melancholy, it is one of optimism and meaning. That is the essence of the mantra, ‘believing is seeing.’ If you think your life is pointless and that human existence has no purpose, then that is how you will experience being alive. However, if you believe the opposite, then your life will be much more fulfilling. Life is colonising matter: that was Colin Wilson’s mantra and it’s mine as well.