Usually when we think of horror stories about tattoos, we imagine infections or words spelled wrong or images of lost loved ones looking nothing like how they really looked. But in his debut novel Strange Ink (paperback, Kindle), horror writer Gary Kemble presents a story about an unwanted tat that’s scarier than telling your overprotective mother you got one on purpose.
To start, what is Strange Ink about?
A failed journalist moves into a spooky old house — you know this is going to end well, right — and tattoos start appearing on his body. He has to unravel the mystery before the vengeful spirit consumes him.
Where did you get the original idea for Strange Ink and how different is the finished novel from that initial concept?
I love ghost stories and I had the idea of a ghost that manifests through tattoos. The finished novel is fairly close to the original concept, although early on in the research phase I thought about setting the back story — no pun intended — in the 1970s.
So this wasn’t suggested by my mom as a way to stop me from getting the full back tat of The Simpsons I’ve been thinking of getting since 1989?
Ha! I would rather be possessed by the spirit of Bart than the spirit of some shady special ops dude any day.
Strange Ink has been called a horror story. Do you agree with this, or do you think there’s a subgenre of horror, or some other genre, that describes this book better?
Does this mean I didn’t put enough of Harry’s ex in there for it to qualify as romance?
Horror is a broad church, and I’m proud to be branded a horror writer. Not literally branded though. I’d say it’s a blend of crime and supernatural horror.
Are there any writers or specific stories that had a big influence on Strange Ink?
I’m a big Stephen King fan and I also love the emotional resonance of Joe Hill’s Horns. I hope that I’ve captured some of King’s “weirdness in Normalville” vibe, and also hope readers care as much for Harry as I did for Ignatius.
How about non-literary influences; are there any movies, TV shows, video games, or pen & paper role-playing games that had an influence on Strange Ink?
Definitely. Supernatural and The X-Files. Also there’s a 1998-99 show called Brimstone that I caught an episode of on late-night TV, and an intense Australian revenge flick called The Horseman, not to be confused with the Dennis Quaid vehicle Horsemen.
You’ve also written quite a few short stories. Why did you decide this story needed to be longer? Or was it more that you sat down to write a novel and this is what you came up with?
When I came up with the idea it felt like it could sustain a novel. I held onto the idea for quite a while before starting work on it because I was scared of screwing it up. I managed to get an Australia Council grant, which allowed me to go part-time at work to write Strange Ink.
Earlier I asked about the movies, TV shows, and games that influenced Strange Ink. But has there been any interest in adapting Strange Ink into a movie, show, or game?
I would love to see Strange Ink adapted into a Netflix series. I think that long-form, binge-able visual storytelling really gives the characters space to develop and you get to see the threads emerge and intertwine. Like the first season of Daredevil.
Finally, if someone enjoys Strange Ink, what scary book of someone else’s would you suggest they read next?
After years of mainlining horror I don’t really get scared anymore, but if they’re keen for more gritty Aussie noir, you can’t go past Iain Ryan’s The Student.