A Conversation with Augustine Funnell

Lowestoft Chronicle interview by Nicholas Litchfield (August, 2011)

A successful comic book writer, his first two novels published through Harlequin Books, Augustine Funnell, at only twenty-four years of age, seemed headed for greatness. Remarkably, only nine short stories emerged over the subsequent two decades. In 1990, the New York Times praised one of his short stories. Four years later, Funnell had penned his last tale, unaware of the positive review. Now, seventeen years after his final short story, Lowestoft Chronicle, in an exclusive interview, discovers what happened to the multitalented storyteller.

BRANDYJACK | Laser Books | 1976-08-01 | ISBN: 0373720394

Summary: Brandyjack is a bawdy, boisterous traveling man whose hard drinking and ready fists regularly land him in trouble. Thoruso is a man of vision who has unlocked the hidden knowledge of the ancients and has planned to escape the struggle of Earth life. He will need Brandyjack's protection to realize his ambition.

REBELS OF MERKA | Laser Books | 1976-11-01 | ISBN: 0373720483

Summary: Brandyjack grows restless living in a settlement with Lotus. He decides to return to the city to find his old friends and new adventures.

Between 1975 and 1977, Laser Books published a series of 58 paperback science fiction novels through publishing house Harlequin Books. BRANDYJACK, #39 in the series, written by the Canadian author Augustine Funnell, writer-creator of the popular Monster, Monster series for Skywald Horror-Mood, was published in August 1976. The sequel, REBELS OF MERKA, #48 in the series, was published the same year.

We caught up with the man behind the nomadic hero, Brandyjack—a character with an unruly craving for action and adventure, and a truly enviable bar tab.

Lowestoft Chronicle (LC): We recently stumbled upon your action packed sci-fi novels and have been following the exploits of the brawling drunkard, Brandyjack. This month marks the 35th anniversary of the publication of BRANDYJACK, so it seemed like the perfect time to toast your good work.

Augustine Funnell (AF): So it's 35 years since BRANDYJACK was published. Truth to tell, I hadn't even thought about it. I try to think about BRANDYJACK and its sequel as seldom as possible. I was the ripe old age of 24, and it was written in 11 working days—and the writing shows it. While I am certainly glad you enjoyed it, I'm afraid that I don't share your enthusiasm for it. I'm not even sure that I've read it in its published form. I might have. Certainly I read the galleys, but I have no definite recollection of the other. The character was okay, but the story was pretty weak, I think. Although it might have made an acceptable comic book series in that time. There was a third in the series, submitted but rejected, and shortly thereafter the Laser line was cancelled, so any other projects I might have considered for it never saw the light of day.

I occasionally hear from someone who either read it back when the Dead Sea was just sick, or who recently came across it, and it is gratifying to have the work read now and again. I am under no illusions about its quality, but then again, I was just writing an adventure story that I hoped would be fun—I wasn't aiming for MOBY DICK. Although with the benefit of hindsight I do wish that I'd taken more time and thought a little more about it. Alas.... most of my short stories are better, but they were written as I got a wee bit better at the craft, so that's to be expected.

LC: You've written a number of stories over the years from science fiction to horror. Did you write any fiction after 1994 ("An Hour in the Dead Lands"), as this appears to be your last fiction listing?

AF: No, I've written nothing after 1994. Well, not true. I wrote a novel that generated nothing more than the merest smidgeon of a hint of a suggestion of interest, but I just woke up the morning after finishing that, and didn't write. Then I woke up the next morning and didn't write that day, either. The succession of days that I've awakened and not written is now approaching a couple of decades. There was never a conscious decision; it just happened. There was a time when I couldn't imagine not writing on an almost daily basis; it was as natural as drawing breath. Not enjoyable, most of the time, but just a natural thing—it was what I did. Today, I'm not sure that I'd even know how to begin a story.

LC: I read that you regularly submitted stories to the Skywald Horror-Mood because of "a large inventory." Were these comic scripts or short stories, as I only came across nine short stories by you?

AF: My large inventory of stories was both prose and comic-related material, but that comment related only to the comics stuff. I wrote a lot more than Skywald published, so the inventory grew while sales sputtered. I have nothing from those halcyon '70s days, though. Sometime in the '80s I turfed material that I thought was drivel. Turns out that all of the comic-book stories fell into that category, and the vast majority of prose material, too— several novels, and dozens of short stories. I might have a couple of short stories kicking around in my files, somewhere. Then again, I might not. I was pretty ruthless.

LC: It's sad to think a good story by you might get thrown away without anyone else reading it.

AF: I honestly don't believe that any good stories got turfed when I cleaned out my files—only things that would have made you wonder how the same guy could have possibly written "The Pig Man" and "River of the Dying." Certainly I liked them when I wrote them, or I never would have sent them anywhere, but with the benefit of a few years I could see that they were no good, and I'd probably be embarrassed now by their appearances in print. So it's just as well that they died their quiet deaths in richly deserved anonymity.

LC: In a review in The New York Times Book Review of the anthology UNIVERS 1, the reviewer remarked that your story "River of the Dying" cried out for expansion to novel length. Sounds like a very encouraging review—did you read it and think about expanding the story?

AF: No, I didn't read the review of "River of the Dying," and don't believe I'd even heard that one was written until someone—regrettably, I forget who—mentioned it to me in an e-mail a few years ago. Consequently, no, I didn't think about expanding the story. Although now, looking back on it, I can see how there might be room for expansion. Short stories are so much harder to write (at least, for me they were) that I'd probably lose something in the renovation.

LC: Can you tell us about the novel you finished after 1994? I thought "The Pig Man" was excellent. Considering you wrote it in 1993, your unpublished last novel might be the best thing you've written! Did you try to get it published?

AF: The novel written after "The Pig Man" story was a horror/fantasy piece that I thought was okay. It wasn't going to win any awards, but it wasn't entirely terrible. In fact, I didn't try at all to have it published, but my agent of the time—and at this very instant I searched online for information about that agent, only to learn that he died back on November 5, 2005. God dammit!—Dan Hooker of the Ashley Grayson Agency, did. He mentioned that there was some minor interest from some publisher or other, but that before anything could be pursued, the person at that publisher was sacked, and whoever replaced her wasn't interested. He sent it elsewhere, too, and suggested that I might want to rewrite the ending (or change it somehow, I forget exactly what he suggested), but I liked it the way it was, so I declined to act on the suggestion. There were only inconsequential nibbles from the "elsewhere" people, so nothing ever happened.

Even though I don't care for some of the material bearing my byline, it's nonetheless a little ego-stoking to know that someone, somewhere, liked it.


About the Author

Augustine Funnell is the author of the SF novels BRANDYJACK and REBELS OF MERKA, published in 1976. A writer of comic book stories, horror, SF and fantasy, he is best remembered as the writer-creator of the popular Monster, Monster series for Skywald Horror-Mood. He owns a bookstore in New Brunswick, Canada, which you can visit online at: www.gusbooks.com.


About the Interviewer

Nicholas Litchfield is the founding editor of Lowestoft Chronicle. Website: nicholaslitchfield.com