A peacock. Photograph by Vidhya Narayanan.
Posted at the Weird Fiction Review in the past week, The Weird (or Étrange) Questionnaire is Éric Poindron’s Weird (or Étrange) riposte to the Proust Questionnaire. I’d read the post, and seen Jeff VanderMeer’s answers to the questions, but wasn’t planning on answering it myself until Neddal Ayad wrote asking whether I’d be willing to do so for a future WFR assembly of responses. So here we are. The rules are as follows:
…there are sixty questions (twice as many as most versions of the Proust Questionnaire). Spend no more than a minute on each, and an hour in total. However, don’t keep checking your watch: “let writing define time.”
In the end I took longer than an hour but the time limit is a good idea, otherwise I’d have spent far too long pondering, revising, qualifying remarks, unqualifying the qualifications, and so on. Deadlines have their uses.
The Weird Questionnaire
1: Write the first sentence of a novel, short story, or book of the weird yet to be written.
The first night of winter moonlight revealed a pattern of tiny runic figures etched inside the window glass.
2: Without looking at your watch: what time is it?
3: Look at your watch. What time is it?
4: How do you explain this—or these—discrepancy(ies) in time?
It’s always later than you think.
5: Do you believe in meteorological predictions?
“Believe” seems the wrong word in this context since the question concerns a conjecture based on scientific study. Short-range forecasts are fine, long-range ones seldom seem to be.
6: Do you believe in astrological predictions?
If this refers to newspaper columns, they’re always so vague they may as well be computer-generated. Maybe they are.
7: Do you gaze at the sky and stars by night?
Yes, when I’m out of the city.
8: What do you think of the sky and stars by night?
My bad eyesight (the stars are always a blur), the length of time the light has taken to reach us, how the familiarity of the few stars we do manage to see shields us from the true immensity of the stellar gulfs.
9: What were you looking at before starting this questionnaire?
A guest post by Clive Hicks-Jenkins on Kathe Koja’s blog.
10: What do cathedrals, churches, mosques, shrines, synagogues, and other religious monuments inspire in you?
Further appreciation of the values of art, architecture and related crafts. In the case of cathedrals: astonishment at the feats of labour required to build them in a pre-industrial age; their presence as sites of accumulated history.
11: What would you have “seen” if you’d been blind?
The gold of the tigers.
12: What would you want to see if you were blind?
One of my eyes has never functioned properly which means I don’t have stereoscopic vision, can’t see 3D films or 3D pictures of any kind, etc. I don’t miss something I’ve never experienced so if I’d been born blind I might feel the same about the condition.
13: Are you afraid?
14: What of?
The usual stuff, mostly the premature death or possible suffering of loved ones.
15: What is the last weird film you’ve seen?
For Halloween I re-watched the Robert Wise film of The Haunting.
16: Whom are you afraid of?
Fundamentalists of any creed or nationality.
17: Have you ever been lost?
Yes, in London once or twice, and once here in Manchester when I got on the wrong bus in the evening, realised I didn’t know where I was then got off in a completely unknown area of the city. It was a strange experience being only a few miles from very familiar streets but with no idea which way to turn. I got home by calling a cab.
18: Do you believe in ghosts?
“Believe” is a word I distrust, not least because belief is the province of the fundamentalist. I’m generally agnostic about things that can’t be explained. I’ve always been interested in paranormal matters whilst being equally interested in hard science. The agnostic impulse makes me impatient both with the clichés of paranormal studies and the routine dismissal by science of anomalies that won’t fit the current view of things. This answer shows I’ll risk pomposity rather than simply say “yes” or “no”.
19: What is a ghost?
A ghost is a loaded term, unfortunately, like “UFO”, one of those clichés that bring a mass of unwanted baggage to any discussion.
20: At this very moment, what sound(s) can you here, apart from the computer?
A track from The Plateaux of Mirror by Brian Eno and Harold Budd.
21: What is the most terrifying sound you’ve ever heard: for example, “the night was like the cry of a wolf”?
For some reason I find enormously loud klaxon sounds very disturbing: foghorns or particular kinds of sirens or alarms. I’m thinking of the grating alert that sounds when a sluice-gate opens in The Parallax View and Warren Beatty’s character nearly gets killed. It’s as much the implication behind the sound as the sound itself, a warning to flee or suffer the consequences, the sense that vast actions are in progress which may destroy us.
22: Have you done something weird today or in the last few days?
23: Have you ever been to confession?
Yes, I was ineffectively raised as a Catholic.
24: You’re at confession, so confess the unspeakable.
The Pope is gay.
25: Without cheating: what is a “cabinet of curiosities”?
A repository of the inexplicable, prodigious or uncategorised.
26: Do you believe in redemption?
In a religious sense, no; in other senses, sometimes.
27: Have you dreamed tonight?
I’m sure I did but I don’t recall it.
28: Do you remember your dreams?
29: What was your last dream?
Something about two boys meeting each other. “I bet they’re going to kiss,” predicted my omniscient and disembodied self. They did.
30: What does fog make you think of?
The way a slight change of circumstances alters our perceptions.
31: Do you believe in animals that don’t exist?
Books are full of them.
32: What do you see on the walls of the room where you are?
A large cinema poster for Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu the Vampyre.
33: If you became a magician, what would be the first thing you’d do?
Restore the original ending of Orson Welles’ The Magnificent Ambersons.
34: What is a madman?
The psychiatric Other.
35: Are you mad?
No, but I have been labelled as such.
36: Do you believe in the existence of secret societies?
Yes, I have a nice book by Arkon Daraul on the subject.
37: What was the last weird book you read?
The Wine-Dark Sea by Robert Aickman.
38: Would you like to live in a castle?
No, they’re cheerless, draughty and impossible to heat.
39: Have you seen something weird today?
40: What is the weirdest film you’ve ever seen?
41: Would you like to live in an abandoned train station?
42: Can you see the future?
I’ve had enough very striking precognitive dreams to regard them as being more than confirmation bias. How they work is a question for science.
43: Have you considered living abroad?
In America and in France.
Familiarity breeds contempt.
46: What is the weirdest film you’ve ever owned?
L’Ange by Patrick Bokanowski.
47: Would you liked to have lived in a vicarage?
Yes, if it wasn’t too far from civilisation (ie: a city).
48: What is the weirdest book you’ve ever read?
49: Which do you like better, globes or hourglasses?
50: Which do you like better, antique magnifying glasses or bladed weapons?
Antique magnifying glasses.
51: What, in all likelihood, lies in the depths of Loch Ness?
The crushed dreams of generations of Nessie hunters.
52: Do you like taxidermied animals?
I like the ones in our local museum since they’re Victorian creations that include a tiger frozen in the act of leaping. Also a genuine dodo.
53: Do you like walking in the rain?
Yes, if I have an umbrella and waterproof shoes.
54: What goes on in tunnels?
What happens in the tunnels stays in the tunnels.
55: What do you look at when you look away from this questionnaire?
The aforementioned Werner Herzog poster.
56: What does this famous line inspire in you: “And when he had crossed the bridge, the phantoms came to meet him.”?
Phantom is a word that for me brings to mind that silly costumed comic-book hero. So the first thought was of a crowd of such figures meeting somebody.
57: Without cheating: where is that famous line from?
I’ve no idea.
58: Do you like walking in graveyards or the woods by night?
I like walking in graveyards at any time. Woods at night are treacherous places.
58: Write the last line of a novel, short story, or book of the weird yet to be written.
“The peacocks are never what they seem,” she said.
59: Without looking at your watch: what time is it?
60: Look at your watch. What time is it?