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A Terrible To-Do about Voodoo
An Interview with Stephen Gallagher

conducted by Sandy Auden

© Stephen Gallagher
Stephen Gallagher
Stephen Gallagher
When Stephen Gallagher published his novel Oktober in 1987 it was to be his temporary farewell to genre fiction, at least as far as his readers were concerned. Never a writer to remain in one place for very long, Gallagher used the early part of his full-time career to examine supernatural horror (Valley of Lights), Northern European legends (Follower), dystopic science fiction (the novelization of his own radio serial, The Last Rose of Summer), and techno-horror (in Chimera). Oktober appeared, and here was Gallagher's murkiest and probably most ambitious novel at that juncture. A Kafka-esque tale of a man literally in the wrong place at the wrong time, Oktober is a tale of chemical malpractice on a continental scale, dealing as it does with a drug which unleashes the collective subconscious. The unfortunate protagonist is experimented on and afterwards persecuted, not least in the hallucinogenic scenes in the Nightmare Country. The book went on to out-sell even the successful Valley of Lights. But Stephen Gallagher was not resting on his laurels. He published mainstream thrillers for a while, although some of the material he presented during this time had been written earlier.

Stephen Gallagher Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: White Bizango
SF Site Interview: Stephen Gallagher

'Voodoo is actually quite a sweet natured religion,' opens Stephen Gallagher, talking about his new novella, White Bizango. 'I'd always fancied doing something about the reality of voodoo, but there are frequently surprises with the way a project can work out.'

Gallagher has had a varied writing career. As well as being an active novel writer, he's also worked extensively in television -- from episodes of Dr. Who and Bugs, to creating the Chimera and Oktober mini-series. In his long experience, he has had several projects take some unusual turns on their way to fruition, and his voodoo idea was going to be another one.

'What started White Bizango off was a phone call from an agency in London. They wanted to do something with voodoo and asked me if I had any ideas. I said "Yeah, I want to write about the reality of voodoo."

'You see, the screen version of voodoo is extremely lurid and extremely vicious. It's all about ignorance and fear, chicken bones on the doorstep, and caricatures of black people rolling their eyes in terror -- like the Bond movie, which just lifted all the iconography and used it for sensational effect. But voodoo is a religion that is practised by masses of people in Southern Louisiana and New Orleans, even to this day. It's become blended with Catholicism but the spiritualist churches of New Orleans are actually voodoo churches. It's not just dark secrets of Haiti, it's a part of everyday life.'

'I know this because I have a very good friend over in New Orleans. It's a hotbed of voodoo over there and we've had lengthy conversations all about it. He was the one who told me that it was actually quite a sweet natured religion. It's not aggressive, it's not necessarily vindictive, and it's no more scary than Christianity is scary. If you've got a Christian who happens to be a representative of the Inquisition then, yes, any religion can be scary.'

'For White Bizango, I started with the notion of the religious faddists -- people who've read a book on Buddhism say, and then go round fancying themselves as Buddhists, with no huge internal commitment to the religion what so ever. I wanted to explore how these faddists can unwittingly open their door to something when they don't appreciate the power of it. I'd also heard that there was a unit in the New Orleans police called the Voodoo Cops. From that I invented these Cult Crime Co-ordinators, whose job it is to address the problems caused by the people who misuse religious conviction and belief as a means of extortion and black mail.'

'With all this bubbling up, I started an ongoing dialogue with the London production company. I would send page after page of material and they would get back to me and say "this is fantastic" and "yes carry on in that direction, we're gonna show it to the network." Then the next thing I know, I get a note from one of the top guys saying "oh by the way, these voodoo cops, can they have some special supernatural powers?" And suddenly the entire balloon deflated. Everything I'd been working towards, this 100% reality, just went out of the window and it became Voodoo Cops With Special Powers. They didn't want zombies who were people that were completely subjective to the dominant will of another person, they were wanted monsters who were being raised from the dead.'

'We kind of parted company at that point, leaving me with this mass of protoplasmic material with no where to go. It was a whole year before Pete Crowther from PS Publishing asked me if I would do a novella for his company. I pitched him the voodoo story and he went for it.'

'But there was still one twist left. I set about doing this thirty thousand word novella and after about thirty five thousand words, I had to ring Pete up to say that I was having a bit of a problem. It was running out of control and turning into a novel because the material was dictating it's own shape and length, in the way material like this often does. Fortunately, Pete said OK, see where it goes. So I did.'

'And that's how White Bizango became the novel that I'd never intended to write.'

(This interview first appeared on Sci Fi Channel Europe.)

Copyright © 2005 by Sandy Auden

Sandy Auden is currently working as an enthusiastic reviewer for SFX magazine; a tireless news hound for Starburst magazine; a diligent interviewer/reviewer for The Third Alternative and Interzone magazines and a combination of all the above for The Alien Online. She spends her spare time lying down with a cold flannel on her forehead. Visit her site at The Auden Interviews.

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