Interview: Oliver Brackenbury

KAY HAWKINS: Thanks for agreeing to speak with us!

To start us off, could you tell us a little about your book JUNKYARD LEOPARD

OLIVER BRACKENBURY: It’s my first novel, after years of screenwriting, and I’ve been told it has a very cinematic feel as a result. Fair enough!

It’s about a young woman, Mary, with terrible anxiety problems…until she wakes up one morning feeling better for the first time in her life. Not perfect, but better. Her immense gratitude puts off questioning why her legs feel sore from running, or why there’s now, on the cupboard under her bathroom sink, a padlock she doesn’t know the combination to. Little does she know she’s started putting on a bizarre costume at night, heading down to the financial district, and using found tools from her job at a junkyard to slaughter entire floors of late working Lehman Brother types.

It’s about the ripple effects of doing what you know isn’t the right thing, but doing it anyways because damn it feels better to act than to be passively demoralized in the face of huge, complex forces beyond your control.

HAWKINS: That sounds very interesting. What inspired you to write about that?

BRACKENBURY: It was born largely of frustration. Like a lot of people, I wasn’t pleased by the lack of any real penalty being applied to the corrupt Wall Street types responsible for causing so much mayhem in society, especially since the crash of 2008. Even before you start the story, my dedication makes it pretty clear how highly I think of those guys.

I’d also had recently had a profoundly bothersome film set experience, which left me desperately in need of creating a story in a way that didn’t require large sums of cash or relying on others to make things happen. So, with these frustrations combined, I took a ball of research I’d been gathering for about a year, put on some music that evoked appropriate imagery for me, and started banging out the first few pages.

Now, that might leave someone thinking that the murders in the book were a source of catharsis for me. Honestly, that wasn’t their role! The cathartic bits for me were covering relatable economic concerns in the characters of Mary and James, as well as leaning into the descriptions of the dick-ishness of the finance sector characters like Gerald and his father. But if you get some satisfaction from reading about a corrupt banker getting their jaw knocked off by a homemade mace, hey, I ain’t gonna let the air out of your balloon.

HAWKINS: That sounds rather intense. Do your story ideas usually come to you that way?

BRACKENBURY: No, blessedly. Funny enough, in trying to kick off brainstorming for a new original screenplay idea, I went back through my notebooks from the past few years and listed the ways I came to past ideas. In no particular order, they were…

  • Dreams
  • Irritated by A Thing (and want to do something positive with that feeling)
  • Wanting to invert/play with a genre or trope
  • Wrestling with climate change / other social issues
  • Playing about with gender & sexuality
  • A  specific, self-made writing challenge
  • A dumb one-liner that just came to me
  •  ???
  • Easily the number one origin of my story ideas is my voracious non-fiction reading, which often leads to disparate dots being connected in my head to form an interesting picture. I’m not saying you could influence my writing via my Amazon or Indigo wishlists but, uh, you could totally influence an author’s writing via those lists is what I am getting at here… ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

HAWKINS: When you started writing it was it what you expected?

BRACKENBURY: In some ways! Coming from almost exclusively writing screenplays, I expected more room to breath with things like descriptions of setting or character’s clothing, and boy howdy did the medium deliver. My experience in film taught me to scale back that stuff because, as I was literally told more than once, “You’re not writing a novel”, and because you don’t want to backseat drive the costume designer, set designer, director etc etc. As the son of two goldsmiths, who grew up reading Vogue in one hand and Batman in the other, it was very gratifying to be able to dig deeper into the fashion of the characters, and I’ve leaned even harder into that with my current manuscript.

What I didn’t expect, and was delighted to discover, was how writing this particular story led to things I was very happy to do, yet hadn’t thought about at all until I found myself doing them. Gerald, for example, is a character who acts more or less as the platonic ideal of these finance criminals – and he’s blinded shortly after his introduction. I ended up writing what I’m told is a pretty good portrayal of a person with a disability, in that he doesn’t let his new condition define him, wallow in self-pity, or constantly have to explain his condition to others. This was almost entirely a side-effect of his incredible arrogance, which causes him to refuse to acknowledge any change he doesn’t like for as long as he can.  A happy accident!

HAWKINS: Was horror a genre you planned to write in, or did it just kind of happen?

BRACKENBURY:  I can’t say as it was. I felt like I’d just write the story, then look back over the thing and figure out the genre afterward. However, while I’m not too concerned about someone imitating The Figure – the costumed killer side of Mary – in real life…I didn’t want to sell the violence as an actual solution for anything, which is how it might come off if I made it cool n’ stylish, no matter how many characters openly condemned it. So I made a point of making the violences unsettling, as horrific, as I could. This made calling it a horror novel feel correct, even if I hadn’t explicitly set out to write a genre piece.

HAWKINS:  When did you first realize you wanted to be an author?

BRACKENBURY:  I fulfill that “wanting to write my whole life” cliche, even dictating a story to my mum that I got the local library to carry – with illustrations by yours truly, of course. Many years later I made a goofy video out of it. Aside from an incredibly teenage attempt at a novel, a post-apocalyptic tale set in Not My Small Hometown, about Not-Me and Definitely-Not-A-Girl-I-Liked….I wouldn’t do more than write the odd short story until early 2013.

Then, for the reasons I gave in my answer to your second question, I got properly started down this path. I’m currently putting the final touches to my next manuscript and hope to properly begin my third before the year ends. It’s safe to say I’d like to keep writing novels the rest of my life.

HAWKINS:  Who would you say has inspired you most in your writing?

BRACKENBURY:  When it comes to authors, there’s a trifecta who are rarely too far from my thoughts. William Gibson for his thoughtful, engaging descriptions, Kurt Vonnegut Jr. for his sweet & cynical humanism, and Hunter S. Thompson for the fire in his belly. The last comes easiest, but if I can touch upon all three of those qualities in something I write then that’s a real home run.

That being said, I do go out of my way to read authors who aren’t Classic White Guys, and search for inspiration from sources other than fiction. Frequent visits to the Art Gallery of Ontario, and a love of building playlists to go with specific manuscripts or screenplays, have both inspired a great deal as well.

HAWKINS: One more question to wrap things up.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

BRACKENBURY: Figure out a system that works for you, knowing it will never really stop evolving. Read about other writer’s systems for research & writing not to be intimidated by them or to copy outright, but to see if there are any parts you can pilfer to improve what you’re already doing. There’s no Perfect Way To Write, and there never will be, so don’t stress about figuring that out. Just keep a healthy headspace while periodically tweaking the knobs on your own imperfect machine.

HAWKINS: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me today. It was a pleasure speaking with you.


You can watch a book trailer for, and purchase, Junkyard Leopard

Some places you can find Oliver and his work: