David Rix is the proprietor and general headperson of Eibonvale, and has been publishing his own work alongside a roster of other writers' for a few years now. In days of yore, the term "self-published" would have set alarm-bells ringing in my head, redolent as it is of vanity publishing and delusions of literary greatness entirely unsupported by fact. But over the last decade there has been something of a sea-change in genre fiction. As mainstream publishers have become increasingly unwilling to take a punt on any original new horror/supernatural writing (unless, of course, it's some juiceless pastiche penned by a "proper" writer from the literary establishment) and modern technology has made desktop publishing easier and cheaper, many genuinely talented authors overlooked by the big publishers have decided to "self-publish and be damned". This seems to be especially common among authors of innovative weird fiction that experiments with the boundaries of the horror novel, such as Quentin S. Crisp, whose last novel Remember You're A One-Ball" was self-published, and none the worse for it! So I tried to approach Rix's book with an open mind, which wasn't all that difficult given the high quality of the tales he's submitted to the Tartarus Press Strange Stories series. I especially loved his novella-length effort "The Magpies", which dabbled in strange new themes amid the Dartmoor landscape but displayed the sort of confident writing it takes good old-fashioned technical expertise to pull off.
What The Giants Were Saying is also set on and around Dartmoor in the Westcountry. I was born and largely brought up in a tiny village close to Dartmoor and Exmoor and used to enjoy visiting the moors for a walk in the heather or a slightly suicidal scramble on the massive "tors" - natural piles of huge rocks that dominated the moorland and were often named after living things they were thought to resemble, such as the dog-shaped Hound Tor (though Hell Tor was the most exciting to the infant Silence for obvious reasons.) The same sense of an animated and even sentient landscape is present in What The Giants Were Saying, except for the fact that it is a newer addition to the moors - a field of wind turbines - that appears to be imbued with latent life. That, at any rate, is the feeling the hero, Don, gets when, distracted by the mobile-phone argument he's having with his girlfriend, he runs his car off the narrow moor road and crashes headlong into Dartmoor's only turbine field. While still reeling from the crash, he experiences an amazing vision of the turbines as they really are, which causes him to re-think his career as a painter of tasteful landscape scenes. But when he returns to the scene of his vision a few days later, he meets a mysterious girl called Feather who also haunts the turbine field and has a surprising amount to teach him about the landscape he inhabits, and a lot more besides. But the painful apprenticeship Don undertakes to explore his creativity begins to affect his personal life in a very destructive way...
I enjoyed the spare, dynamic style and Rix is good at dealing with emotions at fever pitch. He explores the artistic impulse more thoroughly than much supernatural fiction - it's strange that, while stories about haunted violins, sheet music, paintings, statues and god knows what else have been rife for the past 20 years very few writers really explore the part the creation process could play in a supernatural or horror context (Oliver Onions did it quite a lot, but he's just a genius anyway.) Some may find the "art/not art" polarisation on display a bit crude, but I found the characters' search to create art by the most extreme methods convincing enough to carry that. Perhaps the best thing about this book is the imagery, with seemingly disparate visuals and ideas pulled together to create weird pictures that sear the mental retina like a flare in the dark.
To be quite frank, this is not quite Rix at his best and he clearly had some way to come technically before reaching the heights of The Magpies. He also displays a couple of habits that got on my nerves slightly - for instance, having his characters always say "it is", "I am" etc. instead of "it's" and "I'm" buggers up the flow of the dialogue (though this may be deliberate of course.) And some readers may not take to the jerky rhythms and short sentences. I also found the second and last story in the collection - a follow-up to What The Giants... with the same characters) a bit thin and confusing, although that might just be me being thick. Liked the moths though. Most importantly, no-one can fail to be touched by Rix's bounding enthusiasm, and many artists may even be a bit inspired by the way Rix is willing to "take it to the wire", like his characters Don and Feather.
In short, I shall definitely be keeping a look-out for more David Rix! And a subsidiary "well done" to Tartarus for including him in their anthologies when it seems the major publishing houses are happier to wallow in the Meyer of paranormal romance [SEE WHAT I JUST DID THERE?]and third-rate faux Victoriana.