‘My mother was a circus clown. My father worked the talk-show audience member circuit.He wrote poetry in his spare time and was published in torrid little journals that came with a free book of matches.’
‘Your mother sounds interesting. Growing up in a circus would have been fun.’
‘I wouldn’t know. I was raised by a flange of baboons.’
I was born, as we so often are, to biological parents (literally, my dad was a Marine Biologist).
I was the youngest of 4 surviving children and an unknown number of others who never made it past zygote or were simply sold for research purposes to make ends meet. The 70’s were a hard time for us.
My place of birth is Kaikoura, New Zealand. It’s a beautiful place, where steep mountains plunge into dark seas with canyons so deep that colossal squid and whales duel it out in the crushing depths.
In places the undersea trenches come so close to the shore you can literally see the line in the water, blue becomes black less than fifty feet from shore. As kids we would swim there, unconcerned about monsters from the deep with a hunger for tender flesh rising up from the thousand foot deep submarine abyss beneath us.
I think that might be why I always felt a sense of familiarity with HP Lovecraft. His dank and inbred families of his mysterious New England, seemed so much like Kaikoura.
Some years ago the “whales came” and it became a great eco-tourist destination for people to engage in whale watching. Support industries for this surge in tourism turned the town into a resort. When I grew up there it was a farming and fishing community.
The whales didn’t just suddenly show up one day. They had always been there. In the 19th Century people came in their hundreds to see the whales. They came to see them get harpooned, dragged ashore and butchered. Old whale blubber boiling pots and whale bones are part of the historical sights of the town.
I grew up in the farming community outside of Kaikoura. Under Mt Fyffe. In winter it would be dark by 4.00 PM as the sun went behind the mountain. There’s nothing more Dunwich than New Zealand forest in perpetual shade; hanging moss and whispering shadows.
Growing up on a farm gave me a frank understanding of life and death.
Sex was a common occurrence – at least for the livestock all around us. I remember being somewhere in that vast middle-age of childhood (between 7 and 10) and my parents gravely asking me if I had any questions about sex and where babies come from. I wracked my brains for hours trying to think of something I didn’t already know.
Death is also a constant on farms. Animals die. People die. Great Cthulhu however, does not die. In fact, if Cthulhu had the necessary mammary organs and could be milked in a commercial operation, it would be a great farming venture.
We farmed pigs and then experimental nut-tree crops. Dad ended up working as a laboratory manger at the local cheese factory and mum (a trained physiotherapist) worked at the local hospital.
Our black and white TV blew up when I was 7. We didn’t get a replacement until my grandmother died and we inherited her colour TV when I was 11. I spent those long years reading and writing. I read Readers Digests by the hundred and The Encyclopedia of Forensic Medicine.
The Drama In Real Life stories in RD and the graphic images of corpses in the forensic medicine textbook influenced a lot of my writing and thinking.
When I was 12 we moved south, to Christchurch. I stayed there for six months. Then went to boarding school in Nelson for a year. Boarding school is a fascinating experience. If you want to experience life in a Soviet era gulag or see exactly what living in Lord of the Flies would be like – go to boarding school.
During my one year (age 13) of boarding school, I broke another boy’s arm and someone’s leg. All in fights.
I broke my own leg that year too – but that was after I slipped on a frosty embankment during a morning training run and sat there for two hours waiting for the school nurse to come and see if I was okay.
After a year, my parents decided I should return to Christchurch. So that meant another school and gee, that went well. I think it is fair to say, I fucking hated school.
The best thing I did at school (when I was 17) was an anger management course. I learned to not beat the living shit out of anyone who I deemed a threat. It was quite a revelation and I haven’t hit anyone in anger since then.
As soon as I had finished enough of my seventh form (senior year, what they now call, Year 12?) to graduate, I left.
Now 18 I had my first full time job less than a week later. That was an eye-opener. The real world is quite different from school.
Over the next 15 years I became a father (at 19) went through various work experiences, went to a community college as an adult student, studied nursing, dropped out, traveled overseas, returned, worked and did all the fun things that you do when you are in your 20’s and 30’s.
Then I had a sleep apnea operation which corrected a life-time’s worth of sleep disorder. I turned a job at the bank into a career spanning ten years, and I met Damaris, who I ended up married to (we just celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary).
About the time I met Damaris, I started writing seriously again. I hadn’t done that since I was a kid. I started with short stories – got published. Started working on novels, got published. Now I work in government projects during the day and write horror and speculative fiction at night.
You can find a list of my current books on Amazon here
I’m on Facebook as Paul Mannering and on Twitter @paul_mannering