Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: Congratulations on the upcoming release of Shells! For those who may be unfamiliar, how would you describe the book’s premise, and what inspired you to tell this story?
Joshua Radburn: Thanks for the kind words!
To be honest with you, the main drive behind bringing Shells to life was nostalgia. I simply—self indulgently, perhaps—wanted to exist in a place I had fond memories of. Shells is based on the merged diegesis of three short films me and a couple other guys cobbled together as part of our A Level Film Studies course. I can’t think of a time in my life where learning was so fun and engaging, and I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so hard in my life either! That leaves a mark on you, you know? So, at its core, Shells is a love letter to the cinematic topics I became so enamoured with over ten years ago - specifically Film Noir, Shocking Cinema, and the Nouvelle Vague.
As for the premise itself, Shells is set in 1970s London and follows Joe, a grumbling cockney detective tasked with recapturing a prolific mass murderer who—quite incomprehensibly—has escaped from police custody. Haunted by the death of his partner a year prior and unwilling to let old vendettas die, Joe brings his past with him, muddying a case that veers into the ostensibly supernatural.
BD: The novel deftly combines the supernatural horror and noir genres. What can you share with us about your creative process in weaving these narratives together, and what have been some of your creative influences?
JR: I’m lucky noir and horror parallel each other in so many ways. Aesthetic, mood, flawed characters, and so on - they’re all shared pillars, so I didn’t have to work too hard to make the genres fit together. Any tropes or clichés that may have seemed at odds initially were usually ironed out by an iconoclastic modus operandi, which I picked up studying the Nouvelle Vague—another movement where a lot of its innovators paid homage to Film Noir. So, there’s this, like, surprisingly tidy triangle on which I could build this story.
Obviously, the main bulk of direct influences come from cinema.
Charlie Blue, the terrifying figure whose mask takes up the book’s cover, is based on your classic slasher villain, characters who are portrayed on the surface as men, but in their demeanour and action hint at being something… more. I like towing that line. I like making the audience wonder about the extent of a villain’s true power without giving a definitive answer.
Noir classics like Big Combo and Dead on Arrival lend a heavy stylistic hand to Shells, too. They’re bursting with these perfect shadows—in every sense of the word—which Charlie Blue and Shells’ gangster cast thrive in. Those movies are filled to the brim with broken, yet still endearing, characters. Those are almost always the most relatable to me. That said, this novel is set in London, not America, where the Noir movies reign supreme; to make Shells’ characters resonate a little closer to home, Guy Ritchie’s mob movies (in particular Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels), as well as Ken Loach’s social realism classics (My Name is Joe and Sweet Sixteen), were a huge source of inspiration.
In regards to the French New Wave, I always had a love-hate relationship with Goddard’s Breathless, but one positive take away was its playfulness with genre. All I had to do was make sure I didn’t go too slapstick with it. The likes of Truffaut’s 400 Blows was a little more narratively accessible and down to earth in that regard, and so that also proved a great wellspring.
Bottom line? I guess Shells is a Frankenstein’s monster of a work, and I loved the process of balancing all of these different sources.
BD: At Fanbase Press, our #StoriesMatter initiative endeavors to highlight the impact that stories can have on audiences of various mediums. How do you feel that Joe’s story will connect with and impact readers, and why do you feel that this story was important for you to bring to life?
JR: That’s a cool initiative - I love it! Hope I can do it justice.
Joe goes through a lot in this story, and his genesis isn’t all sunshine and rainbows either. So, before we meet him, he’s already developed this hard edge and a whole lot of demons. I think a lot of people will relate to his overwhelmed, done-with-it-all outlook. Because no matter your background, nobody’s exempt from the effects of our experiences. Everyone’s had to dig deep and grit their teeth at some point in their lives just to make it through the day. But rather than try to manifest a synthetically positive outlook, I say we should own that sarcasm, that bluntness, that prickly vibe we might give off when the world is beating us down. We’ve earned as much. What really matters, I think, is how you focus those hardships. Will you let them crush and overwhelm you? Or can you redirect that festering antagonism outwards, using it as a fuel for progress? Even goodness?
Maybe that’s a bit of an antithesis to most “inspirational” memes/quotes you see floating around on the web these days, but hey, that’s people, and that’s Joe. Sometimes you’ve got to personify life and make an enemy out of it to get anywhere. Smiling and thinking positive in order to manifest a better reality isn’t always realistic.
All that said, Shells is still an escapist material, filled with tropes the audience can latch on to. That familiarity can be therapeutic, I think. Yes, scary is good, but I also wanted this story to be fun! It’s influences certainly are, and doom and gloom is only as effective as the peaks and valleys you pair it with. I really hope that translates to readers; I’d hate for people to walk away from Shells with more stressors than they started it with!
BD: Do you foresee expanding the novel into subsequent books, if given the opportunity?
JR: I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t thought about it! But the short answer, unfortunately, is no. Which is a bit of a shame, because I adore writing these characters. They’re all so much fun to throw obstacles at and watch react. But when I stand back and really think about the story, it’s told in its fullest here.
I also feel the meta nature of Shells would lose some of its umph if I wrote a follow up, or a prequel, or even a series of prequels... (See, I told you I’d thought about it.) Like I say, Shells is a framed love letter to genre as much as it is a story, and you wouldn’t take something like that out of the frame in which it’s presented. It’s all part and parcel.
BD: Are there any upcoming projects on which you are currently working that you would like to share with our readers?
JR: I’m juggling a couple projects at the moment, which I’ll hopefully slog through in record time compared to the decade it took to write Shells. I’m not sure how much I should reveal at this stage, but one is the beginning of a trilogy, a superhero novel that tackles the ethical conversation surrounding “reformation vs retribution.” The other is a standalone sci-fi novella. It goes big. Very big. Which is ironic, considering the word count. I’m super excited about both projects and can’t wait to share more as they progress.
BD: Lastly, what is the best way for our readers to find more information about Shells and your other work?
JR: You can keep up to date by subscribing to the non-invasive mailing list on my website: www.authorjoshuaradburn.com
You can find all my socials there, but here’s a list of those, too:
Thanks for having me!