Veterans in Horror: Interview with Richard Wall
About Richard Wall: Born in England in 1962, Richard grew up in a small market town in rural Herefordshire before joining the Royal Navy. After 22 years in the submarine service and having travelled extensively, Richard now lives and writes in rural Worcestershire.
His first short story, “Evel Knievel and The Fat Elvis Diner” (available on Kindle), was soon followed by “Five Pairs of Shorts” a collection of ten short stories, and another short story called ‘Hank Williams’ Cadillac’. Richard’s latest venture is a collaboration with UK musician, ‘Half Deaf Clatch’, in which Richard wrote a short story to accompany the concept album, ‘Beelzebub Jones – A Good Day To Be A Bad Guy’. Richard’s stories reflect his life-long fascination with the dark underbelly of American culture, be it tales of the Wild West, or of the simmering menace of the Deep South, or the poetry of Charles Bukowski, or the writing of Langston Hughes, or the music of Charley Patton, Son House, Johnny Cash, or Tom Waits. A self-confessed Delta Blues music anorak, Richard embarked on a pilgrimage to the USA to visit the Deep South, where a bizarre encounter in Clarksdale, Mississippi inspired him to write his début novel, Fat Man Blues.
Tell us a bit about your military service. Years? Branch? Specialty?
I served for 22 years as a submariner in the British Royal Navy. My specialty was maintenance of submarine electronics equipment, and then later designing training courses for submarine technicians. I retired in 2002 in the rank of Warrant Officer 1st Class.
What role, if any, did reading and writing play during your military service?
I’ll read a cereal packet if there’s nothing else around! I used to go to sea with a bag full of books to read during any spare time. For me, reading a few pages before going to sleep was a great way to decompress and give my brain a rest. It also sparked interesting conversations with fellow book worms, which helped pass the time. Also, whenever I was shore-based away from home I would join the local library and read in the evenings in an attempt to stay away from the Mess – with varying degrees of success.
What inspired you to start writing?
I think my love of reading started it all. At school, I enjoyed writing stories, compositions and the like, but that kind of fell by the wayside when I joined the navy. I didn’t take up writing again until after I retired from the navy. I joined a writers’ group in my home town and the rest is history.
What was it about the horror genre that drew you to it?
Books by Stephen King, Clive Barker, Dean Koontz, Graham Masterson and the like were common currency onboard a submarine, and rightly so. When I started writing I didn’t set out to emulate any of these authors, my stories just seemed to gravitate towards the horror genre.
What role, if any, does your military experience play in your writing?
My stories tend to feature veterans who are struggling to come to terms with their combat experiences. I served during the Cold War, which was mostly playing ‘cat and mouse’ with Soviet submarines so we never got to see the ‘whites of their eyes’. I’m extremely lucky that I never was never involved in direct combat, but I have met veterans who served in Northern Ireland, The Falklands, Croatia and the middle East who are suffering the consequences. The main character in my novel Near Death is a former army priest who served at a Field Hospital during the Korean War. He gets involved with investigating a series of murders, the brutality of which ignites his ‘Gross Stress Reaction’ (now called PTSD).
What is your favorite depiction of military service in all of literature? Why?
The World War Two memoirs of the British comic writer, Spike Milligan. Spike was drafted into the British Army and served as a gunner in the Royal Artillery. He fought in North Africa and at Monte Cassino in Italy where he suffered shell shock after a near miss with a mortar shell. His memoirs capture the essence of what it feels to be part of a group of young men from diverse backgrounds, thrown together in military service. From the hilarious, often absurd conversations between soldiers, to the mind numbing terror of seeing your pals being blown apart.
What’s something about veterans most people don’t know?
I think most civilians have little knowledge or appreciation of how much mental weight a veteran may be carrying around. Behind every medal ribbon is a story that usually involves some form of trauma. Outwardly they may appear to be functioning, inside may be a different matter.