Staying in with Marc Joan

It’s an absolute pleasure to welcome a new to me author Marc Joan to Linda’s Book Bag today to tell me all a bout his latest book. Let’s find out more:

Staying in with Marc Joan

Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag Marc and thank you for agreeing to stay in with me.

You are most welcome, and thank you very much for the opportunity!

Tell me, which of your books have you brought along to share this evening and why have you chosen it?

I have brought Hangdog Souls, which is my first full-length work. Although I have recently finished a second novel, at present Hangdog Souls is my only published novel, so the decision was made for me!

It sounds as if second book syndrome hasn’t affected you though!

I hope this book won’t always be the only full-length publication, but it may well end up remaining my favourite one, as it was deeply informed by formative experiences of my life – not least, my ‘third-culture kid’ childhood in South India. (explanatory note: a ‘third-culture kid’ childhood refers to an upbringing in a country and culture that is different from that of one’s parents / one’s passport country).

I love that premise. What can we expect from an evening in with Hangdog Souls?

Well, I think every reader will take something different from any given book, according to their own personality and life experiences to date. After all, even a single word can mean slightly different things to different people. Consider, for example, ‘river’. To an English person, the word may conjure up the gentle, idyllic waters we remember from ‘The Wind in the Willows’. To a Chinese person, the word may recall the capricious violence of the Yangtze and its devastating floods. And to an Indian person, the same word could carry connotations of death, rebirth and the sanctity of Mother Ganga. If a single word can carry different subjective flavours, a whole book most certainly can, and should. So I don’t think it is for the author to say what readers should expect or get from a given narrative.

Oh absolutely. I couldn’t agree more. It always fascinates me how different readers bring their own experiences and perspectives to their reading.

But I think it is fair to say this much: that Hangdog Souls can be read at different levels (for example, as a set of linked literary/gothic stories set in South India, or as an over-arching metastory dealing with guilt, absolution and living with bad memories) and that reviewers to date have compared the book to work by David Mitchell, Haruki Murakami, Vladimir Nabokov and MR James. Hopefully that gives readers an idea of what they might be getting themselves into! I should also say that the writing style, vocabulary, tense, etc changes as the story proceeds from the ~1790s to ~2070, so it is difficult to provide a representative extract. But perhaps a flavour of the book can be detected in the following excerpt:

Thirukumar sits on one side of the table, and I on the other; between us waits the old wooden chessboard. This Thiru adjusts and re-adjusts, fraction by tiny fraction, until its planes mirror those of the table. Nailed to the board is a metal tea-strainer; its wire-mesh dome is fixed above the board’s very centre, as if to cage geometry. To my right, a twelve-volt powerpack enjoys similar precision, centred between board’s edge and table’s edge. Here, however, Thiru’s careful symmetry is desecrated: two tangle-prone wires, each ending in a crocodile clip, uncoil from the power unit in disordered spirals. Thiru paws at them, frowning, but their helices defeat his linear needs. He tuts, and positions them in the usual way: one crocodile clip grasping the mesh of the tea-strainer, and the other gripping a pair of metal forceps. Then he sighs, my brother, and runs his hands through hair uncut since we started the Dairy.

“Harikumar? Ready?” he asks.

              “Sure am, dude.” With my gloved left hand, I pat the Thermos of dry ice; with my right, I wave a glass capillary tube. The tube has a rubber bulb at one end, which I squeeze between finger and thumb. “All systems go.”

That’s fabulous Marc. Of course, I now need to know what they are up to!

What else have you brought along and why have you brought it?

I’ve brought the original artwork for the cover of Hangdog Souls. This was produced for us by Prasad Natarajan, a professional wildlife artist based in Bangalore. Every element of the cover art directly relates to key elements of the book. The moon cycle relates to themes of both astronomy and astrology, which surface repeatedly throughout the narrative. The parakeets also are intimately linked to astrology (though if you don’t know why that should be, you’ll have to read the book to find out!).

I don’t and I will!

The two plants at the bottom of the picture are, respectively, Datura (also known as moonflower or thorn-apple) and eucalyptus. The former is well-known for its poisonous / hallucinogenic properties. The latter is widely grown as a commercial crop in South India, including in the Nilgiri Hills, which is where Hangdog Souls is mostly set. Eucalyptus is particularly key to the story — one of the protagonists steals eucalyptus seeds from Cook’s Endeavour on its return from Botany Bay and brings them to the Kingdom of Mysore in India, hoping thereby to make his fortune. Finally, the central, dramatic face of the cover art may require some explanation. It is a representation of a ‘kirtimukh’, which is a grotesque commonly employed in the intricately carved Hindu temples of South India. The kirtimukh seems to occupy a similar niche to that of the gargoyle on European churches: it is often placed high up, and is sometimes said to ward off evil spirits. However, the kirtimukh seems to have more of mythological basis than the gargoyle; briefly, it represents an all-powerful, unstoppable fundamental force summoned by a god to battle a demon. The demon is utterly consumed by this elemental force; similarly, in Hangdog Souls, one of the characters tries to steal elemental energies for his own selfish ends, and ends up being annihilated. So Prasad did a wonderful job with the artwork – we are all very happy with how it turned out.

I think the cover is absolutely fabulous Marc and now you’ve explained the significance to the story it’s truly whetted my reader’s appetite for the book. Thank you so much for telling me all about Hangdog Souls.

Hangdog Souls

Kingdom of Mysore, 1799. A guilt-racked British Army deserter tries to win safety for those he loves — but his reckless bargaining only leaves him trapped between destinies, condemned to facilitate centuries of suicide and murder. Death after death, each death diminishes him, until — a quarter of a millennium later — a Keralan astrophysicist has the chance to annul the soldier’s Faustian bargain. But Chandy John is weakened by his own burden of grief. Will this twenty-first century scientist become just another helpless nexus between undeserved death and undeserved life?

Hangdog Souls is set in the Dravidian heartlands of South India — and in a blurred edgeland where alternative realities elide. Through linked narratives of guilt, shame and the search for absolution, this book takes readers from the arid Tamil plains to the highest peaks of the Nilgiris, and from occult horrors in Tipu Sultan’s kingdom to creeping madness in the world of particle physics.

Spanning three hundred years, the stories in Hangdog Souls weave together the fates and fortunes of multiple characters — individuals that echo through the generations, asking always the same question: What weight can balance the death of an innocent?

Published by Deixis Press on 27th July 2022, Hangdog Souls is available for purchase here.

About Marc Joan

Marc Joan spent the early part of his life in India, and the early part of his career in biomedical research. He draws on this and other experience for his fiction, which has been published in magazines including Lighthouse Literary Journal, Structo, Bohemyth, Smokelong Quarterly, Hypnos, Chroma, Madcap Review, Danse Macabre, The Apeiron Review, STORGY, Literary Orphans, Bookends Review, Sci Phi, Weird Horror (Undertow Publications), The Dread Machine, Sein und Werden and Nightscript. His novelette, The Speckled God, was published by Unsung Stories in Feb 2017; he is a contributor to the forthcoming Comma Press anthology ‘Mirror in the Mirror’, the Night Terror Novels anthology Ceci n’est pas une histoire d’horreur, and the DBND anthology ‘Ghost Stories for Starless Nights’. His first novel, Hangdog Souls, was published by Deixis Press in July 2022.

Marc has been placed in various competitions as follows: he was a finalist in the Aesthetica Creative Writing Award 2017/2018; Runner Up in the Ink Tears Short Story Competition 2017/18; received a Special Mention in the Galley Beggar Short Story Competition 2017/18; long-listed for the Brighton Prize 2017; reached the last 60 (from nearly 1,000 entries) of the 2018 BBC National Short Story Award; received an Honourable Mention (placed in the top 4%) of the 2020 CRAFT Short Fiction Prize; was winner of the 2020 Punt Volat Short Story Competition, and finalist in the same competition with a second entry; was long-listed in the 2020 William van Dyke Short Story Prize (one of 20 semi-finalists from over 400 entries); achieved Highly Commended in the Gatehouse Press New Fiction Prize, 2020; was finalist / selected for publication in the 2020/21 Aesthetica Creative Writing Award; was short-listed in the 2021 Short Fiction / University of Essex International Short Story Competition (one of seven short-listed from ~780 entries); was long-longlisted in the 2021 Brick Lane Bookshop Short Story Prize; proceeded to the second round (top 5% of entries) of the 2021 Bridport Short Story Prize; and had two stories long-listed in the 2021 Exeter Story Prize.

For further information, visit Marc’s website, or follow him on Twitter @MarcJoan5.

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