Interview: Ed Cottrell

Interview: Ed Cottrell

We talk to Ed Cottrell (whose story appeared in issue forty-four) about parasites, horror, and how to pronounce the unpronounceable.

The world is filled with interesting parasites. Did any in particular form part of your research or inspiration for “Catastrophe (Or Larva)”?

There isn’t a specific parasite, but perhaps, somewhere in the back of my head, I was thinking of the parasitic wasps which lays eggs inside the bodies of mice.

When I started writing this story I had no clear image of the larva. I still can’t visualise it – except for specific parts (particularly its teeth, belly and legs) which become visible at particular moments. I was mostly interested in finding ways to describe it that were both cute and repulsive. I invented various physical characteristics as I needed them to appear in the story. That’s partly because it’s more fun to write that way, and it also meant the characters who care for the larva never really “see” it. I pictured the larva weaving a cocoon of cute fantasies around itself, through which it is occasionally visible.

Sound seems to be important to your story. There are howls, clacks, clicks and murmurs. It would be an interesting piece to hear read aloud – but do you have an idea in your own head of how the name of the larva might sound?

Exoskeletal mouthparts are necessary for some of the larva’s clacking sounds. As it sounds in my head, you could approximate the larva by smacking your teeth and snapping your fingers at the same time. The trilling sounds are a bit like a parrot.

The name of the larva (in my head) does not have a particular sound. (If anything, I think of it as an anti-sound, a kind of inverted language or a vanishing point. But this isn’t really in the story, it’s something in the back of my head.)

Some characters in your story are disgusted by the larva, while some are loving and affectionate towards it. Did you aim to make the reader feel a certain way about the larva? What are your personal feelings towards creepy crawlies?

I was hoping to produce a kind of sensory oscillation – flipping between fear or disgust on the one hand, and caring instincts on the other. That’s actually quite similar to how I feel about insects in general…

“Catastrophe (Or Larva)” could be classified as a horror story. How do you generally categorise your work? Does genre matter?

Genre doesn’t matter hugely to me – I’m more drawn to an author’s style rather than the genre or category they’re fitted into. When I’m reading I don’t immediately differentiate between realism and fantasy or horror. That said, a lot of the time I am drawn to monsters and monstrous or transformed things. My earliest interest in weird creatures probably goes back to the stop-motion animation in Jason And The Argonauts (harpies are imprinted on my earliest memories). I love the strange creatures and the skewed logic of many Studio Ghibli films (particularly Porco Rosso). I also love Tove Jansson’s Comet Over Moominland (which is in some ways an apocalyptic story full of imaginary creatures). The Melancholy Of Resistance by Laszlo Krasznahorkai is maddening and apocalyptic, and includes a gigantic taxidermied whale and a strange, stunted character known as “The Prince”. I’m currently reading the collected stories of Leonora Carrington, which are brilliant and funny and weird and horrifying… But I’ll stop here, to avoid turning this into a list of books I like at the moment…

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Ed Cottrell lives in London. He was a winner of the 2014-15 Ideas Tap “Inspires” national story competition, and in 2015 spent two months as a resident writer at Toji Cultural Foundation in South Korea, where he worked on a novel manuscript.