Keith Anthony Baird isn’t the first person to write their own version of a fairy tale. But as he explains in the following email interview about his grimdark fantasy horror novella In The Grimdark Strands Of The Spinneret (paperback, Kindle), he didn’t just want to tell a fairy tale, he wanted it to “…come across like a fable” as well.
I always like to start with a plot summary. So, what is In The Grimdark Strands Of The Spinneret about, and when and where does it take place?
The aim with Spinneret was always to imbue it with an archaic quality, so it would come across like a fable. Its sense of place was left ambiguous by design in the hopes the story could transcend cultural divides and be embraced by a broader audience.
In true fairy tale fashion, its place in time is obscure too, in keeping with tales of old. The story is centered on a noble maiden who is forced to flee after her family are betrayed and slaughtered by those deemed loyal, who’d made a pact with an opposing household.
Chased down by soldiers with hunting dogs she takes to the wilds, and on the point of capture, is saved by the timely intervention of a powerful spell caster. With no life to return to, she inhabits the hermit’s mountain dwelling and is schooled in the art of magic. Though her heart is bent on revenge, and her dark intentions lead her down a path towards a more sinister spell craft. In time, her legend grows and she becomes a powerful necromancer of renown.
With her intent set on regaining the seat of power within the kingdom, she weaves subtle deceits with those who seek her out in order to bring down the ruling house. Many are deceived in her tangled web of vengeance, but does all come good in a fairy tale ending? Best I don’t include spoilers here.
Where did you get the idea for the plot of In The Grimdark Strands Of The Spinneret?
In truth, it was something which evolved during the writing process. I had an initial idea, along with the title, but my main intention from the very beginning was to craft an adult story within the framework of a child’s fairy tale. The themes are cyclic, recurring throughout, and I wanted to see just how far I could push the envelope in terms of content. Much of the inspiration behind the work came from non-fiction sources which I read in my younger days. These were a mixture of folklore, mythology, and occult books which made up quite a sizeable collection. Such sources, combined with a desire to craft a tale heavily akin to traditional European fables, were the basis of the atmosphere and tone I wanted to bring to the novella.
In The Grimdark Strands Of The Spinneret is subtitled A Fairy Tale For Elders. How is it not for youngsters? Is it graphic, is it sexual, did you use a lot of words like “fiduciary” and “amortize”?
I specifically set out to hang an adult story on a fairy tale setting. Therefore, it’s rife with adult content and unsuitable for youngsters. A lot of the violence is quite graphically represented, and there is some sexual content too. I do, however, think it’s suitable for a young adult audience.
In The Grimdark Strands Of The Spinneret is, as you say, a fairy tale, and obviously a grimdark fantasy story — it’s right there in the title. But are there any other genres at work in this story as well?
There’s certainly a very strong element of horror throughout. The bloodletting is a prominent feature of the narrative. At around the mid-section of the story, there’s a rather large action sequence, with a battle scene involving invading forces and defenders of the vale. It’s actually a key part of the story, despite not being in the same vein as the rest of it. But without doubt there’s a huge element of mystery pervading the whole, something very much planned to be an overarching dynamic woven through the story.
In The Grimdark Strands Of The Spinneret is your second novella after A Seed In A Soil Of Sorrow, though you’ve also written two novels [The Jesus Man, and Nexilexicon], a novelette [This Will Break Every Bone In Your Heart], and a short story collection [And A Dark Horse Dreamt Of Nightmares]. Are there any writers, or specific stories, that had a big influence on Spinneret but not on anything else you’ve written?
In terms of specific influences, there weren’t any that brought any direct bearing on the story itself. Readers / reviewers have stated there’s a quality to the writing which brings to mind the works of Edgar Allan Poe, Neil Gaiman, and Mervyn Peake. A gothic feel certainly permeates the tale but that wasn’t a conscious part of the delivery. I was reaching for something far older in terms of tone, more like how tales were presented in medieval texts but with a contemporary take on it. Certainly a goal was to present a piece which had a quality of “being passed down through the ages” while still being accessible for the modern reader.
How about non-literary influences; do you think In The Grimdark Strands Of The Spinneret was influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games?
Again, there were no direct influences from other forms of media. I strive for originality in whatever I write, so I try very hard to make my process an immersive one. That way, I endeavor to keep any outside influences at bay. I knew, however, the story would evoke comparisons with movies and TV shows. Readers often draw comparisons between one thing and another. I’m sure it helps in visualizing settings, scenes, and other elements of the world you’re inviting them into. If I was to offer up any kind of visual media as frames of reference, then I’d say the story is thematically akin to The Witcher, as well as Game Of Thrones and House Of The Dragon, with shades of the movie Hagazussa.
In my early teens I was introduced to Advanced Dungeons & Dragons by a Canadian friend. A bunch of us would play back then using books, figures, multi-sided die, and adventure modules. I would imagine it’s all online these days. Those role-playing sessions did bestow useful source material which became buried in my mind. So, when it came to visualizing some aspects of the story, my thought process was already equipped with what I needed for fashioning the behaviors and interactions of characters such as warlocks and nobles. It also helped in shaping backdrops for the imagined infrastructure of the township and the kingdom in which the story takes place.
While we’re on the subject, Hollywood loves making scary stories into movies. Do you think In The Grimdark Strands Of The Spinneret could work as a movie?
I can certainly see Spinneret as being ripe for visual adaptation. Undoubtedly a movie, but equally at home being either developed by a streaming platform or a Hollywood production company. Dark fantasy is definitely enjoying a lot of project investment these days, so the possibility exists. Any adaptation would have to be “effects heavy,” especially when considering such things as spell casting, human-arachnid hybridization, and the numerous gory elements of the death scenes involved. Netflix’s Dark Bay facility — which houses its huge and sophisticated real-time display instead of the traditional green screen technology — would be the ideal environment for the shoot. The facility makes it possible to have a multitude of virtual locations under one roof, all by utilizing an LED wall known as a volume, effectively allowing filmmakers to switch out photorealistic backgrounds at will. Given the broad scope of cinematic backdrops required for Spinneret that would probably be the easiest way to bring it to the screen.
And if Netflix wanted to adapt In The Grimdark Strands Of The Spinneret into a movie, who would you want them to cast as main characters?
That’s a tough question. Essentially, the story has two main characters, with the rest being a supporting cast.
For the baron, I envisage someone like Marton Csokas. He played an excellent villain in the 2014 movie The Equalizer, alongside Denzel Washington. I think he’d bring the necessary callousness of the character to the performance.
As for the crone (necromancer), she occupies the entire fifty-year span of the timeline, and so she’d need to be played by two actors: one old, one young. As a young maiden, Chloe Grace Moretz, who was also in The Equalizer, would fit the bill. I believe she’d portray a sense of innocence turned steely determination rather well. Her older self would be a character in her early seventies, so without the use of CGI ageing technology, I’d probably pitch for someone like Kim Basinger. Certainly, in terms of likeness between both women, I think that would be passable given the supposed five-decade shift. I also think it would be interesting to see Basinger in a role like that, something she’s not really known for. For it to work with those actors in mind, it would need to materialize in the next two years, though. Moretz is currently 25, and Basinger 69.
So, is there anything else you think people need to know about In The Grimdark Strands Of The Spinneret?
Yes, I’d like readers to understand the writing style of the piece is indicative of the work itself. Any expectation it will be mirrored in other works of mine will not have any weight. Spinneret is very much stylistically specific, as in fact are all my works. The atmosphere and tone of one doesn’t translate to another. I always imbue each one with its own sense of time and place.
Finally, if someone enjoys In The Grimdark Strands Of The Spinneret, which of your other books would you suggest they read next?
If Spinneret appeals, then I would suggest an equally bleak title would be The Jesus Man. It was my debut piece of fiction. Whereas Spinneret is period dark fantasy, The Jesus Man is post-apocalyptic cosmic horror on a biblical scale. The world building is vast, yet the same sense of the inevitable pervades, only much more dominant. Anyone liking religious horror with a very strong possession theme running through it should give that a read.