This month sees the release of Fae Visions of the Mediterranean, an anthology of 24 stories and poems exploring horrors and wonders of the sea. Among these is Simon Kearns’s flash fiction horror story “Mare Nostrum,” set among the refugees and people smugglers of the North African coast. We asked Simon a few questions about his work.
Simon Kearns grew up in the North of Ireland and now lives in the South of France. His debut novel, Virtual Assassin from Revenge Ink, 2010 (left), explores personal responsibility in a corrupt society. Dark Waves from Blood Bound Books, 2014 (below) is about a powerful haunting and the rationalist determined to debunk it.
“Mare Nostrum” is one of the most classic horror stories in the anthology, economical and tight, unflinching in the face of villainy and tragedy. Can you tell us where the particular setting of the story came from?
The setting is the Libyan coast. After the fall of Gaddafi, there were huge numbers of people trying to reach the Italian islands. This was before the Turkish/Greek crossing became the big news story. Every week in 2012, the death tolls were rising. Thousands of people drowned.
What particular moment in the refugees’ journey did you choose to focus on, and why?
I chose to focus on the moment when the refugees, most of whom have crossed deserts and war zones, come up against the edge of the sea. It is here that they are at the mercy of the people smugglers. It is here that they are loaded onto unseaworthy vessels and sent out onto the merciless waters of Our Sea. How many have sunk without a trace in the waters between Libya and the Italian islands? How many children have gone down with their desperate parents? How much of a damn do we in Europe give for the plight of these people?
What is your connection with the Mediterranean Sea itself?
When I was a child, my mother and I visited a number of countries on the Med. I remember all the other children, no matter which country we were in, could speak enough English to communicate with me. Now, I live about 50 km from the Med, and, as far as my family is concerned, it really is Our Sea.
Your novel Virtual Assassin explores personal responsibility; “Mare Nostrum” also features a complex moral situation and the bad guys who take advantage of it. Do you think it is possible to "not take a side" in crises like this?
It is possible to claim you are not taking a side, to wash your hands of a problem, or call yourself a cynic and deride any given situation. But the fact remains, the majority of people who cross the Med do so to escape the aftermath of Western interventions. And those interventions are the actions of our elected representatives. In Virtual Assassin, the protagonist reaches the conclusion that our society profits from global inequalities, and, as such, no one in the West can be called innocent.
Do you find a lot of difference between the northern end of Europe where you grew up, and the southern province where you live now?
There are many differences simply due to climate. In southern Europe people take their time to do things, eating, walking, meetings. In 30+ degrees, you don’t want to rush. As for the population, I find the locals much the same as those from my own provincial hometown: honest, hard-working, proud.
Complete this sentence: "There is a special area in hell reserved for …"
… those who knowingly profit from the misery and deaths of others.
Is there a peculiar monster that is said to haunt the streets of your hometown?
I grew up in Ireland where you can hardly walk down the street without tripping over something otherworldly. Probably the most memorable is the Banshee, a woman all in white seen when someone close to you is soon to die. Not only would it be scary enough to see such an apparition, you also have to contend with the imminent death of a loved one! As a child we told each other stories about the Banshee: she was heard crying in a housing estate, she was seen combing her hair in the children’s playground. It was often the banal locations of these reported sightings that made the stories all the more forceful.
Would you like to visit another planet?
If the journey is pleasant and the climate agreeable, yes, I would.
What are you working on now?
I’m halfway through a new novel. Four people, three siblings and a girlfriend, pass a weekend in an isolated villa in an unnamed Mediterranean country. They discuss god, death, and ghosts. I am fascinated by our ability to hold contradictory beliefs, such as the overlap of rationalism and superstition.
Thank you, Simon!
Simon Kearns’s “Mare Nostrum” can be found in Fae Visions of the Mediterranean.