My guest today on the Open House is supernatural/paranormal author of The Herbert West Series, Audrey Driscoll.
About Audrey Driscoll
I grew up reading books, and became interested in making stories myself. I worked out scenes and bits of dialogue, and made my friends act out little dramas based on my favourite book at the time – Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book.
With that background, it was inevitable I would become a writer. It just took a while. After establishing a career as a librarian – first at the University of Saskatchewan and then at the Greater Victoria Public Library in British Columbia – I had a meaningful encounter with H.P. Lovecraft’s character Herbert West.
Strangely fascinated by HPL’s corpse-reanimating physician and his friend the nameless narrator, I built a set of stories around them. In 2000, I was compelled to write them down. The result was The Friendship of Mortals and three more novels, which constitute the Herbert West Series. Self-publishing became respectable and relatively easy just in time to rescue me from the sad fate of the Unpublished Writer.
Reluctant to abandon the characters I had spent so much time with, I wrote and recently published several short stories as supplements to the Herbert West Series. I am currently at work on a sequel to the series.
My other interest is gardening a patch of earth on southern Vancouver Island. I post about that at least as often as I do about books and writing — with pictures! To me, writing and gardening are forms of alchemy — a mysterious process of creating excellence from the chaos of the world.
Now time to meet Audrey in person and discover which questions she has selected to answer.
Tell us about your chosen genre of books that you write and why?
Well, I didn’t really choose a genre. You might say I was ambushed by a group of genres in collusion.
It began with a story by Howard Phillips Lovecraft, an early 20th century American writer of horror and weird fiction. This story, called “Herbert West, Reanimator,” is out and out gruesome horror involving reanimation of corpses, with unfortunate consequences. While I wasn’t too keen on the grisly stuff, I was quite interested in Herbert and his sidekick, the unnamed narrator of the story. I found myself expanding on the story to explain their reasons for doing what they did, and in 2000 I wrote down this expansion – a great big fanfic, you might say. That became my first novel, The Friendship of Mortals, which I published in 2010. Three others followed it, forming the Herbert West Series.
Now, while the first book has elements of horror, the other three don’t, really. Well, a bit here and there, but horror is not their primary focus. Those books are more adventure-supernatural-psychological with a bit of romance. The Great War keeps popping up as a plot element, but not enough to warrant a “historical fiction” label. That’s kind of a problem, if you think about it. People who expect Book 2 to focus on more experiments with corpses might be disappointed, unless they engage with the story and my way of telling it. I guess I find actual living humans, their desires and motivations, more interesting than zombies lurching around.
Which is your favourite leisure pastime?
Gardening. I came to it in two ways. My mother was a keen practical gardener, and had vegetable gardens and fruit trees wherever we lived. At an impressionable age, I read a book called Herbs and the Earth by Henry Beston. It was published in 1935. Mr. Beston wrote about his favourite herbs and their histories, and described his herb garden in Maine with such eloquence that I simply had to try growing these “noble” plants. Once I had my own plots of earth, first in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan (where winters are very cold) and now in Victoria, British Columbia (where they are not), I came back to gardening full force. Not just herbs; I had a good vegetable garden in Saskatoon, but my present garden is inhabited by several large trees, rendering it inhospitable to plants that can’t compete with tree roots. Herbs do quite well there, along with an array of other tough plants. Must-have plants that can’t handle the local conditions, such as Himalayan blue poppies – or tomatoes, for that matter – are cossetted in containers.
Gardening complements writing really well. It gets me up and outside, away from the desk and computer. In the garden, I experience real things – soil and weather, birds and bugs, plants going from seed to flower to compost material. Anything I achieve there is in cooperation with the natural world. And while I’m weeding or edging or digging, the writer part of me is free to mull over the current project or dream up new ones.
On my blog, I write about my gardening experiences (with pictures) about as much as I do about writing. Aside from Henry Beston, my favourite garden writers are Eleanor Perenyi and Henry Mitchell. All three names should be preceded with “the late,” incidentally. Book friends, like face-to-face ones, leave the scene as you get older.
Is there any invention that is a major part of our lives that you wish had not been invented?
Agriculture, ironically enough. I think of it as the real Original Sin, that removed humans from within Nature and allowed us to become a destructive force. It wasn’t really an invention; I suspect it developed gradually, as hunter-gatherers started creating conditions to favour the plants and animals they found most useful. Eventually, though, it led to private ownership of land, empires, conquest and colonization, the market economy, the slave trade, haves and have nots, environmental degradation, an array of diseases, and other ills of “advanced” civilizations. Ultimately, we got present-day industrial agriculture, which has some really awful aspects.
I wonder how human culture would have developed if we had remained hunter-gatherers, and what kind of shape Earth would be in now. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be typing this on a computer keyboard for sharing on the internet! But I think we would still have art, music, and storytelling.
What is your favourite colour and why?
Purple! The colour of magic. The cover of my first book, The Friendship of Mortals, is a glowing purple. I love it in all its shades, especially blue-violet. In fact, blue is a close second favourite. Colours are important in my books, in part because of the underlying theme of alchemy, in which the different stages are marked by colour changes. Black, white, yellow, and red are the main alchemical colours, with red representing the achievement of perfection, the Philosopher’s Stone. When I commissioned cover images for the Herbert West Series books, I asked the designer to use these colours.
Alchemy is actually quite colourful – think of the Emerald Tablet and the Green Lion, and the “peacock’s tail,” a stage in which an array of colours appears. Then there’s the blue flower of Romanticism, which, being rare and elusive, is also related to a mystical quest
As a gardener, I’m always lusting after blue flowers – gentians, delphiniums, and of course the blue poppies. Many blue-flowering plants are quite tricky to grow, the Himalayan blue poppies being true prima donnas. Rainfall in my area is pretty much opposite to what they need – wet in winter and dry in summer. I supply water during the growing season, of course, but to avoid crown rot due to winter wet, I have resorted to placing little roofs over the plants’ wooden tubs from October to March. Sometimes I think that’s a bit much, but when the plants bloom, it’s worth it. And if there really were blue roses, I’d be growing them.
I see I’ve strayed a long way from purple. I actually do wear purple quite often, and have done for years. I didn’t wait until I was old. It’s a magical colour, in all shades from dark to light.
Can you tell us about your work in progress and plans for your Blog
I have nearly finished writing the first draft of a novel provisionally titled She Who Comes Forth. It’s a distant sequel to the four books of my Herbert West series. It’s set in Luxor, Egypt, in the autumn of 1962, and could be called “women’s adventure.” I expect to be working on it throughout 2018. I don’t really have any plans for my blog; it has always been a seat-of-the-pants effort. I hope to write some reviews of indie books and post some garden photos, along with updates on the work in progress. A few reblogs, and possibly a rant or two, if I get sufficiently fired up about something.
Books by Audrey Driscoll
About the first book in the Herbert West series – The Friendship of Mortals.
Herbert West can revivify the dead – after a fashion. Miskatonic University Librarian Charles Milburn agrees to help him, compromising his principles and his romance with Alma Halsey, daughter of the Dean of Medicine. West’s experiments become increasingly risky, but when he prepares to cross the ultimate border, only Charles can save his life – if his conscience lets him.
More Details: Arkham, Massachusetts, 1910. Librarian Charles Milburn takes up a position as cataloguer in the Library of Miskatonic University. He becomes the keeper of the Necronomicon, an ancient book of secret lore kept in the Library’s vault.
Herbert West, a medical student with a dubious reputation, requests access to the fabled book, and Charles grants it despite his misgivings. So begins a friendship that takes Charles far from the rules of cataloguing and the conventions familiar to an honest young man from a good Boston family.
Herbert West can restore the dead to life, he says, and he persuades Charles to be his assistant. Their experiments, carried out in secret by night, in improvised laboratories and by stealth in the hospital attached to the university, achieve success – of a sort. Charles finds himself caught between the demands of his fascinating friend and his growing attraction to Alma Halsey, daughter of the Dean of Medicine.
In 1914, as war begins in Europe, Charles is both relieved and distressed to say goodbye to West as he sails away to France to serve as a medical officer. Over the next four years, West’s letters reveal a mixture of cynicism and black humour that hint at – what? Charles doesn’t know and would rather not guess. Engrossed in cataloguing the books of an eccentric professor, he develops an interest in alchemy as a way to transform the base into the excellent.
West returns from the War to a career as a surgeon utilizing techniques perfected on the maimed, dying …and dead? Lonely and self-doubting despite his professional success, Charles can’t bring himself to abandon West as his reputation grows and darkens. Rumours of illicit experiments overshadow West’s spectacular public successes, and he begins to crack under attacks from colleagues and threats from his gangster brothers. Beleaguered on all sides and under threat of investigation, West appeals to Charles for help. Charles is sympathetic until West reveals the perilous nature of his plan.
Vacillating between horror and hope and haunted by West’s misdeeds, Charles must draw on his knowledge of alchemy and his tottering faith in powers beyond himself if he is to save his friend’s life. Only his conscience stands in the way.
One of the recent reviews for the book
In this book, the writing is smooth; the sentences and paragraphs have a perfect balance; the characters are interesting, authentic and believable; dialogue flows naturally.
The plot is based on a short story by H. P. Lovecraft, an American horror fiction author from the early 20th century. It deals with a clever, enigmatic and devious medical student and physician, Herbert West, who concocts a potion and develops a method to re-animate the recently deceased – with varying degrees of success. Enigmatic he may be, but he exerts a strong influence over the narrator of the story, university librarian Charles Milburn, to such an extent that Milburn seems to prefer West’s bedside manner than that of his girlfriend, Alma Halsey. Milburn becomes West’s assistant in grave-robbing and laboratory experimentation.
Driscoll plays off the interplay between West and Milburn perfectly. “Don’t be an idiot, Charles, just do it,” says West – and Milburn does it, always, despite seeing ethical problems in West’s work. Later he describes himself as “a guilt-ridden being who had wrestled with the dilemma of friendship with a murderer.”
And then there are the re-animated corpses. How will they behave when brought back to life? How long will they survive for? Will they die (again) or have to be killed? The fact that Herbert West himself has no clear idea about the outcome of his experiments only adds to the suspense.
The book loses a bit of momentum around the two-thirds mark, when both West and Alma are out of the country and communicate with Milburn via mail. But when West returns, Milburn again falls under his spell, the experiments continue, the dead rise, and the final chapters lead to a gripping finale.
Read the reviews and buy the book: https://www.amazon.com/Friendship-Mortals-Herbert-West-Book-ebook/dp/B00IZUC5V4
Also by Audrey Driscoll
Read the reviews and buy the books: https://www.amazon.com/Audrey-Driscoll/e/B00J7X7QVC
And Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Audrey-Driscoll/e/B00J7X7QVC
Connect to Audrey
Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/”Audrey%20Driscoll”
Audrey’s requested piece of music is Schubert: auf dem wasser zu singen- ian bostdrige (tenor) + julius drake (piano)
My thanks to Audrey for sharing her interests and books with us today and I am sure she would love to answer any questions you might have. Thanks Sally
If you would like to participate in the Open House Interviews, I am now scheduling for end of March. Once I receive your answers, I will put in the diary.