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Dabbling in the Extremes – Liam Hogan

Updated: Nov 28, 2019

Liam Hogan, author of 'Better Babies'.

My writing has always been touched by the strange. More commonly inspired by ideas than by characters, it's the reason I'm drawn to speculative fiction, where a mischievous “what if?” lays down a story's central conceit. Two statues, communicating by Morse code via the plucked tail Feathers of pigeons: that's strange. A scientist, lifting the Kisses from the bottom of love letters? Strange. A London Rat, telling you why there's always one within six feet? Strange again.

But not weird. Not extreme. Twisted, but not warped.

And I wonder: when does strange become weird? What line does it have to giddily skip across? It's more than just an idle query. I have sat at the computer with an ambition to “write weird” and largely been thwarted. Perhaps my scientific background hampers me: I like my stories to have their own logic, even if that's not “our” logic.

It's not just me who struggles; definitions of weird fiction are as hard to nail down as it is to write. Perhaps this is why I've failed, (as yet!), to secure a spot in “Best Weird Fiction” (Undertow Publications), or regular journals of the peculiar such as The Shadow Booth. But that these markets exist shows there is an appeal to the weird side (we have cookies), and not just for writers.

It seems to me that the truly bizarre defies both logic and intuition, and tweaks the nose of good taste for good measure.

Forced to dig deeper, I'd tentatively suggest that weird is anti-realist. The strange getting stranger throughout the tale, never becoming normalised, (as it does in my stories). This might explain the “breathless” nature of such fiction that even HP Lovecraft alluded to. Weird is also, perhaps by definition, transgressive, though I'm not sure transgressive is necessarily weird.

Case in point; not all stories in Stories About Penises are weird, even if the subject matter is transgressive through rarity alone. (Is rarity alone enough?) On the other hand, my contribution, ‘Better Babies’, about a man who tries to jumpstart evolution by irradiating his testicles, is by no means the weirdest of the lot. But like them, it takes this under-talked about extremity to the extreme.

Perhaps the clearest (and least useful) thing I can say about weird is, “you'll know it when you read it”. Or, on rare occasions, write it. Because, every so often, without necessarily meaning to, I find myself in foreign lands, with neither map nor compass. Such was my Shakespeare inspired zombie porno rom com, Romero & Juliet, and such was the case with ‘Better Babies’.

If there is a common link to these two “I can't believe you wrote that!” pieces it is dark humour. For this particular writer, the ability and encouragement to transgress also brings a freedom and the joy to say to hell with it, let's see where this goes. Perhaps, on this basis, what I end up writing might be classified as “WeirdPunk” rather than just plain weird.

Or is that what Bizarro is? Anyone?

That I enjoy my dabbles in the extremes is good, because the results are harder work to place than my more well behaved pieces. Sometimes, they're MUCH harder to place. 'Better Babies' was written long before Stories about Penises, and very quickly ran out of places I could send it. But that's okay. Every so often, a gutsy new publisher comes along, and with luck and patience, the fit is perfect.

Liam Hogan's short story 'Better Babies' will be published in our Stories About Penises anthology, release date 28 November 2019. Orders are now available. For updates, sign up for our newsletter.

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