View Full Version : Authors Who Write 'Under The Influence'

Julian Karswell
03-25-2009, 10:23 AM
Apart from some of the well-known mainstream examples (such as Dylan Thomas, Wilkie Collins, Ernest Hemmingway, William Burroughs, Jack Kerouac et al), which weird fiction writers appear to write whilst 'under the influence', whatever that might be?

Bernard Capes
Some of Capes' phrases and sentences defy comprehension yet they swagger with vivid imagery. It has often occured to me that he may have written when under the influence of alcohol.

Robert Aickman
There's a case for arguing that Aickman used alcohol to help him write, especially towards the end of his career (refer 'The Stains' in particular), but also that he dabbled in automatic-writing, dashing down tenebrous prose fresh from nightmare. I also wonder whether he was prescribed an anti-psychotic or sleeping drug given the depressive, often paranoid nature of his work.

J.S. Le Fanu
Yes, it's well known that Le Fanu imbied copious amounts of Green Tea, but that still doesn't adequately explain the disturbing and vivid imagery in many of his stories. Given that he became a virtual recluse in later years, leading a furtive, insomniacal nocturnal existence, I wonder whether like Wilkie Collins he also developed an opium habit. Laudanum was popular with artists and writers in the mid to late C19th, and according to the critic S.M. Ellis, Collins took enough opium each day to kill twelve ordinary men. Given that Le Fanu had immense trouble sleeping, and that he was grieving for his dead wife, and that opium was not only widely available but also widely prescribed, I wonder whether he was a regular user.

M.R. James
That James smoked tobacco copiously is well-known. However, in reading many of his stories, I form the impression that he dashed many of his tales down after experiencing disquieting nightmares. It is my belief that nightmare - fuelled by personal anxiety, fear and guilt - was the single biggest influence on James.

Edgar Allen Poe
Similar case to Le Fanu. I think Poe's work - especially the rambling, poetic, nihilistic horror - hints at a mind fuelled by hunger, narcotics and alcohol (in addition to the various psychological issues).

03-25-2009, 12:09 PM
This reminds me of a story I heard or read years ago, which is (I believe) true. I can't remember who it was, but someone thought that he'd discovered the secret of the universe whilst under the influence of drugs. He wrote it down but, when he looked at the sheet of paper the following day, found that he'd written:

There is a strong smell of ether

(I have this stored in my brain, along with 42, as a supposed secret of the universe.)

My own attempts to write under the influence of alcohol or other drugs (as well as such states as illness and tiredness) suggest that these are not good for composition.

vegetable theories
03-25-2009, 03:48 PM
I think that's an interesting theory about Aickman. I wondered when reading his autobiography if he wasn't a borderline alchoholic. But, as J G Ballard said in his most recent autobiography, people used to drink a lot more then.
Didn't Michael Moorcock say that Ballard's imagination had been completely changed by his one acid trip ?
I think drug use is less interesting in art when it's about changing the original ideas that might happen before the creative process. I like the idea that drugs might change things formally. Might create something more fractured and free. But I suppose, as Odalisque rightly points out, you have to combine the drug experience with the "rational", critical, wide-awake brain.
David Lynch said that he couldn't produce art without caffeine and sugar. I can vouch for the mind-altering properties of large amounts of coca-cola.;)

03-25-2009, 04:15 PM
Didn't Michael Moorcock say that Ballard's imagination had been completely changed by his one acid trip ?

In the documentary Crumb, about the comic artist Robert Crumb, he stated that his entire perception was altered for a few months by an acid trip. He started drawing distorted characters and things that "didn't have to make sense." His vision kicked off the underground comic boom and he is a true original.

03-25-2009, 08:12 PM
I think that as with the greater population at large, the amount of substance induction is both under-reported and largely underestimated. In the end, I would suggest that most of the artists or writers, clearly those who don't wear their drug use as a badge of honor or flaunt it, in other words, those that didn't have substance use as part of their artistic identity, are probably alot more common than their polar opposites such as Jim Morrison, William Burroughs, Poe, Hunter S. Thompson, and any number of other writers, painters and musicians that did. I think that in the end, some people can get away with it, and some can't. Human beings have been driven to alter their consciousness for time eternal, and I am certain that many of what can be considered perrennial masterpieces have been conceived and executed under the influence of one psychoactive substance or another, and certainly some by well-respected, revered, world-class artists. Conversely, I am sure there have been plenty of trainwrecks and profound failures that came into existence the same way.

Julian Karswell
03-25-2009, 08:24 PM
Didn't Michael Moorcock say that Ballard's imagination had been completely changed by his one acid trip ?

In the documentary Crumb, about the comic artist Robert Crumb, he stated that his entire perception was altered for a few months by an acid trip. He started drawing distorted characters and things that "didn't have to make sense." His vision kicked off the underground comic boom and he is a true original.

Interesting. Your use of the word 'vision' is of course significant and is often interchangeable with 'hallucination', depending on what side of the mirror you happen to be standing.

William Blake is often called visionary; we usually describe Richard Dadd as a tortured genius; as for Heironymous Bosch, well, his work almost defies analytical deduction, but the word hallucinatory surely applies. Historically we've been happy to label things as visionary but nowadays we put the word to a more prosaic use. Today visionaries are business leaders who predict future economic trends where in medieval times they were believed to glimpse unique insights into life, the universe and everything.

Mental illness, genetic inheritance, traumatic experience, emotion, ingested inspirants - I freely acknowledge the effect these factors can have in terms of informing and influencing a person's work - but for me the tricky issue has always been the split personality of divine inspiration and diabolic intervention. I'm agnostic - or rather, I am as sceptical about the existence of God as I am the Devil - so I have real trouble believing that either of these deities can truly influence an artist since neither can logically exist. When artists claim to have been inspired by God or the Devil they must surely be motivated by well-meaning ignorance or disingenuous duplicity. People who claim to hear evil voices in their head are just as misguided as those who claim to have glimpsed God's face, aren't they? Both have to be deluded; it is the only plausible rational explanation.

A human brain is composed of millions of random connections. Various things can stimulate ("influence") these connections - or indeed, can create new ones or kill the old ones - and from these connections the ideas originate.

I can accept that Robert Crumb was profoudly influenced by LSD because the science is there to back it up, but if he hadn't taken anything, and instead claimed to have been influenced by Him Upstairs or Him Below, then I wouldn't be satisfied, and would cast about for another explanation, such as mental illness. Of course, this only applies to artists who can be labelled 'visionaries'. M.R. James was a fine writer of ghost stories but his work is not visionary, merely accomplished, if gilded with the dark horror of nightmare and subconscious anxiety.

You often see those awful signs in workplaces: "You don't have to be mad to work here - but it helps." Yet nowhere is the claim more inappropriate than in the modern day workplace environment where conformism is tacitly celebrated by a thousand unspoken social protocols, ranging from Friday afternoon cake-buying to water-cooler gossip-mongering. That's why I prefer this variation:

"You don't have to be mad to be a great artist - but it helps."

G. S. Carnivals
03-25-2009, 09:10 PM
Didn't Michael Moorcock say that Ballard's imagination had been completely changed by his one acid trip?
"As I wiped the paint onto the grass, the pelicans watched me from the flower beds. The same vivid light flared from their plumage. The foliage of the willows and ornamental firs seemed to have been retouched by a psychedelic gardener with a taste for garish colours. A magpie swooped across the overlit lawn, feathers brilliant as a macaw's."
J. G. Ballard - The Unlimited Dream Company

Julian Karswell
03-28-2009, 07:06 AM
I just wanted to apologise for my earlier comments regarding mental illness and its possible influence on art - I hadn't realised that there had been a rather unpleasant argument involving a fellow called "Alby" a few months ago which had touched on similar issues. In mitigation, I do have daily contact with children (my own and others) who have serious mental disabilities, and so would always treat the matter seriously and with compassion.

03-28-2009, 02:02 PM
Hope it's OK if I take up this theme – if you (meaning the board as a whole) would rather drop it, that's fine.

Obviously mental disorder can crush or blunt creativity as often as sharpen it. And psychoactive drugs definitely will. You'll never read an anthogy of great weird stories or poems written under the influence of Prozac or lithium. The great Alan Garner has said that he wrote very little for twenty years because he was taking lithium for manic depression, and it blunted his creative edge. When he came off the drug, his creativity returned – and so did the illness. Doesn't mean that his writing was fuelled by madness: the relationship is much more complex.

I would speculate that very little creative work is actively helped by drug intake, but much emerges from troubled and unstable emotional states that can also fuel alcohol or other drug abuse. That doesn't mean that trauma is automatically good for your creativity, though it can darken your imagination and give you more unusual dreams – however, I suspect few people, if given the choice between happy and less creative and being unhappy and more creative, would take the latter option. Writers who drank a lot may well have been creative in spite of that, not because of it.

Some of the most powerful creative work has come from buried trauma and instability in people who were fairly stable on the surface. Lovecraft is a good example: people tend to forget that he had a mental breakdown in his teens. We don't know why, but it would seem likely that his father's death was part of what disturbed him. The fear of damaged identity, symbolised by facial injury or deformation, continued to haunt him. His writing accessed deeper levels of emotion than his essays and letters, which is why the latter are often disappointingly normal.

Finally, there are many people with severe mental problems who are not creative and whose ability to communicate is poor. Their suffering, I suspect, is greater than that of someone who can express some of what they feel through words or music or art, and in that way gain some ownership of it. The worst torment is not shared or understood. It runs through silent lives like a stain.

Mr. D.
03-28-2009, 05:13 PM
Diagnosing mental illness is really just for practical purposes. For example, if every time I went outside I imagined that the buildings on both sides of the street were leaning over and about to fall on me I would be mentally ill since this halucination interfered with my ability to live my life. However, if I imagined the same thing but knew the difference between imagination and reality I wouldn't be ill at all.I think that there are a lot of people wandering around who spend much of their time in some kind of parallel universe. This includes a lot of artists. As long as they are in control and can tell the difference between the different universes there is no problem. In fact I think it helps since the parallel universe is usually a lot more interesting than the day-to-day world.I think that I have that problem, if it is a problem. I have never fit in anywhere. Smehow, no matter who I am with, I see things a lot differently than those around me. When I say something in a serious vein those around me laugh and think I'm oh, so funny. When I make a joke everyone gets serious and says, "You knw, I never thought of it that way before." Yukio Mishia once said in an interview that he had the same problem. That really worried me for a few years when I was a teenager.I have a responsible job and am respected at home and work but I always feel as if I'm passing. Does anyone else feeel like this?

Julian Karswell
03-28-2009, 10:06 PM
In my early twenties I had a couple of weird experiences. On one occasion, when I was working in an unemployment benefit office, a large elderly man suddenly appeared at about four o'clock just as things were winding down for the day. All of a sudden he was there sitting opposite me on the other side of the glass. He was bald and wore a large raincoat and kept rubbing his eyes. He sat side on to me, and spoke in a bored, intensely tired monotone voice. He never looked at me direct but kept peeking at me out of the corner of his eye. Anyway, he had just arrived in town, but couldn't remember where he'd come from, didn't know his national insurance number, and had no fixed abode (none of this was extraordinary: many people really do live like this). I spent nearly an hour helping him fill a claim for unemployment benefit in and gave him a piece of paper to take round to the DHSS office for a emergency payment which he stared at blankly and scrunched up in his hand. I then had to let him out because we had locked up. A few minutes later when I left for the day via the staff exit, I saw him standing in the shadows of a doorway, staring at nothing in particular, still clutching the piece of paper, looking forlorn and....well, dead. If he'd been cheery or younger or a woman I would have probably asked him if he was OK - maybe even slipped him a fiver - but there was something repulsively pitiful about him, so I slipped away quietly for my train home. The next day when I arrived at work there were two policeman talking to the supervisor. She called me over and told me they wanted to ask me some questions about the man from the day before. It turned out that he was a child murderer and had absconded from nearby Broadmoor Hospital.

On another occasion when I was working in local government I was manning a public counter when a very drunk and incoherent middle-aged woman suddenly turned up and began ranting at me. As I made it a rule never to pick fights with the public - inept managers made far better targets - I listened sympatheticaly and politely. But when she started breaking down and getting hysterical - over what was really a minor issue in her community charge bill - well, it seemed a bit extreme, so I said I would see what I could do, and retreated through a door back into the main office in order to check her file to see what her history was. It turned out she was the mother of a young lad called Mark Tildesley.


All very unpleasant.

Then there was the time when I was interviewing a man about his claim for a community charge rebate when he suddenly leapt up, ripped his shirt open, and exposed a chest riven by open-heart surgery scars. "You lot did this to me!" he screamed. After the interview had ended I told my line manager I understood why he hadn't wanted to interview the guy, and he smiled ruefully, before crossing to a cabinet to retrieve a ten inch high typed and revised manuscript. It had been written by the angry "client's". It was an autobiography which had been woven into a complaint about the injustice of the poll tax. I didn't read it - it was a bizarre, disturbing, rambling document - but I did skim through enough to realise that he wasn't quite normal.

Were any of these people mad? I'm still not sure.

In closing, a lighter story, which I was told as true. I had a colleague who had a friend who worked at Broadmoor Hospital. He said that one day a new director or governor arrived to replace the outgoing head, and was wandering around the grounds killing time while his predecessor was finishing a meeting. He stopped to admire a particular flower bed and complimented the elderly gardener who was working on it. He then introduced himself and asked the man how long he had been working there. The man smiled and said he was a patient. The new governor chatted to him for a few minutes and allegedly formed the impression that the man appeared quite sane and reasonable. Towards the end of the conversation he asked how long had he been a patient etc, whereupon the man told him he'd been committed for life for killing his wife, and had been there for many years (about thirty I think). The man asked the governor if he'd consider reviewing his case. The new man said yes, he would, but he couldn't promise anything, even though he was apparently struck by the severity of the sentence and the man's seemingly normal behaviour. Then someone arrived to say that the old governor had finished his meeting and was ready to arrange the handover, so he walked off, bidding goodbye to the patient. A few moments later he was felled by a large stone which the gardener had throw at the back of his head. "Now, you promise you won't forget?" he allegedly said.

I can't vouch for the truthfulness of the last story - it has always seemed a little bit too polished to me - but the other ones are true.

03-29-2009, 05:02 AM
'Ah, well, my writing falls into two degrees, the writing done under the influence of drugs and the writing I've done when I'm not under the influence of drugs. But when I'm not under the influence of drugs I write about drugs.
I took amphetamines for years in order to get energy to write. I had to write so much in order to make a living because our pay rates were so low. In five years I wrote sixteen novels, which is incredible. I mean, nobody, I don't think anybody's ever done it before. And without amphetamines I couldn't have written that much. But as soon as I began to earn enough money so that I didn't have to write so many books, I stopped taking amphetamines. So now I don't take anything like that. And I never wrote anything under the influence of psychedelics. For instance, Palmer Eldritch I wrote without ever having even seen psychedelic drugs."

-Philip K Dick

03-29-2009, 03:12 PM
I first read Jean Lorrain in the anthology Fantastic Tales edited by Italo Calvino. It has his story "The Holes in the Mask". I really liked it, so I bought Nightmares of an Ether Drinker. I haven't read all of this book yet, so I will hold off on the recommendation. The following description was taken from the Tartarus site. The book is sold out.


Nightmares of an Ether-Drinker by Jean Lorrain translated by Brian Stableford
Ether was Jean Lorrain's inspiration, but in the end it also killed him, horribly.
Lorrain, already a leading figure in the French Decadent Movement of the 1880s and 90s, was well aware of the dangers of ether, but unlike many other psychotropic drugs ether is a stimulant, and it provided the already ailing author with the stamina as well as the inspiration, to write. We can only assume that he hoped for some kind of Faustian bargain whereby any physical damage incurred would he offset by originality gained.
The drug certainly helped provide the feverish, nightmarish atmosphere of these wonderfully decadent and sophisticated tales, and many of the apparitions with which they are peopled. And, as he must have known it would be, Lorrain's fragile health was fatally undermined...
Brian Stableford's superb translations represent the first appearance in English of Jean Lorrain's ether-inspired 'night- mares", originally collected as Sensations and Souvenirs in 1895. They include the highly influential 'L'Egregore' ethe Egregore', 1887). The later tales also translated here for the first time are in the tradition of the contes cruel, and in them the influence of ether-drinking is still very much apparent.
In his authoritative new Introduction Brian Stableford presents Lorrain as one of the select band of literary figures "whose life and art were bound together into the most seamless whole. He was the man who embodied, more intimately and more inescapably than any other, the absurdities, affectations, paradoxes and perversities of the Decadent style and the Decadent world-view."

Published in 2002 by Tartarus Press
ISBN:1 872621 65 1
Limited to 350 copies

10-31-2010, 01:52 PM
tenebrous prose fresh from nightmare.

Just started a real-time review of TENEBROUS TALES by Christopher Barker (Julian Karswell):
http://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2010/10/31/tenebrous-tales-by-christopher-barker/ (http://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2010/10/31/tenebrous-tales-by-christopher-barker/)

11-01-2010, 02:01 PM
tenebrous prose fresh from nightmare.

Just started a real-time review of TENEBROUS TALES by Christopher Barker (Julian Karswell):
http://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2010/10/31/tenebrous-tales-by-christopher-barker/ (http://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2010/10/31/tenebrous-tales-by-christopher-barker/)

I am so far about three-quarters through this book and I thought I should get
some thoughts down on electronic paper while I still thought them! I seem to be
getting through this book very quickly, much more quickly that I expected -
voraciously. I did not really have any other expectations before starting this
book and I tried to put out of my mind anything I think I knew about its
author. But if I *had* had expectations, then they must surely now have been
exceeded, *whatever* they were. It's as if I have entered a fiction world with
fiction characters and situations from the Horror and Weird and Ghost Story part
of my love for literature: almost caricatures, some almost mad, but it's like
they have come out of fiction, then been 'seasoned' with real life, and later
put back into fiction for me to read. That's the only way I can explain it.