The Lock-In Podcast is back and this week’s guest is Galway writer Maura McHugh, author of horror and dark fantasy fiction, and a writer for 2000 AD, including the time-travelling Psyche novella, which is set in the Judge Dredd universe. She’s the creator of Irish comic book heroine Jennifer Wilde which is being developed as a computer game. Her collection of original stories, ‘The Boughs Withered’, was published last year. She’s written for radio and she’s working on a screenplay.

Click on the player below to play the podcast audio (download: 22:15; 13MB; MP3), or scroll down to watch the video.

“I was always a total nerd in person – when it wasn’t cool at all in Ireland. Very uncool! I loved horror as well; that’s always been a strong thing and I was actually quite an introverted kid. I read a lot and the only thing my parents had to worry about was the fact that I liked these horror novels with these lurid covers!”

As a child she was a fan of the Judge Anderson character in 2000 AD; she feels especially priviledged to have been given the opportunity to write for the character as an adult.

“I never ever ever imagined as a child that I would write Anderson, and I literally nearly fell off the couch when I got the email on my phone, when that happened. I love writing her. I just finished a short story on her in the 2000 AD Megazine, which is the magazine that comes out every month, and that was the 30th anniversary of the Megazine. 2000 AD has been continuously published (in its weekly form) for 42 years … so it’s an amazing thing to be part of this incredible institution … every great comic book writer from the UK and also Ireland has appeared in 2000 AD. I’m really honoured to be a part of it, frankly.”

On the surface, a writer’s work might seem ideally suited to lockdown conditions. However she admits it has been a challenge. She joined a co-working space in order to create a separation between work and home life, but that had to close its doors when the pandemic struck.

“I’ve started to finally hit my stride back … late August, September I really started to re-establish my rules, which are: social media needs to be kept at a distance; consume news in moderate amounts; and remember: there are amazing people in the world doing fantastic things all the time, and the reason we are all still running is because of these brilliant people in the world, like our health workers, teachers, the people in the shops and the delivery people, people who check on the elderly, the care-homes. There are just really so many amazing people doing tremendous work.”

In terms of her own reading, Maura recommends The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells. “It became like a comfort food to me during lockdown.”

“There’s really so much television and shows on at the moment. I’m currently watching things like Loveccraft Country, which is real horror … and in fact I was just looking at the trailer for a new computer game which is Cyberpunk 2077 which, I have to say, I am super loving the look of it. So I’m also playing games and stuff like that but, again, I have to be careful … you use that to distract yourself from the reality of what we’re living in and you have to kind of get a balance between stuff that’s going to shore you up and help you through things and not get lost in it either. So that’s what I try to do.”

I wondered about her thoughts on how life appears to be imitating art, especially when it comes to dystopian fiction.

“I think that kind of dystopian threat has always been in literature, you know, since the 19th Century. So there’s always been a thread of that and, to be honest, it’s funny I should mention Cyberpunk the game … Cyberpunk always said: the mega-corporations are going to eat you and your life is going to become completely controlled by the Internet and all of these things, and all of that has actually come true, in different versions of it. So I’ve a very soft spot for dystopians because, a lot of the time, if they’re done right, I actually am a big believer in having hope in stories. I find in really grim dystopians that offer you no hope of any survival – that’s a chore for me. So I need something within it that still says that, even in these situations, we can have our freedom and we can actually fight to have freedom. And I think that’s actually really where the arc of the world is going, but we always have these blips. And the Judge Dredd universe is a dystopia: the whole thing about it is a police state. But within that, the whole thing about the Judge universe is that it’s a satire critique of what we have now, and it always has been that way. So it’s very useful to have that universe to go into and occupy and tell stories, which are actually relevant to today.”

But has dystopian fiction ever conceived of something like social media as the tool for manipulation that exists today?

“I think that social media – the likes of Facebook now and in particular with the likes of Cambridge Analytica – I think that we’re in the Wild West days still, and people just never conceived of that this could happen, and it has to be regulated and it has to be controlled because you can’t have multi-billion dollar corporations controlling, dictating and manipulating our lives. It’s just impossible. And I have to say we’re lucky to be in the EU because, at least – i mean, they’re not perfect so I don’t want to get into a debate about them – but at least they actually have said that we have a right to privacy”

Maura McHugh’s website is at splinister.com.

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