In the run up to Hub's Doctor Who special I will be posting a series of small interviews with those writers who have kindly contributed specially commissioned pieces for the Easter Special.
Hi Simon. There are quite a few writers and critics out there who believe that the Horror genre shouldn’t be taken serious and that the modern Horror novel has no place amongst ‘proper’ literature. How would you respond to this?
Literature and story-telling is involved with people who are experiencing extreme situations that provoke extreme emotions. Love is an obvious one. But dramatic situations often involve fear, or out-and-out horror. For example, fear of attack, fear of failure, fear of losing control of our lives. So, if you look at the myths and stories that have evolved with humanity a huge number involve some horrific situation whether it be plagues, monsters, vengeful gods unleashing disasters. We’re hard-wired to expect confrontations with horror at some point in our lives. Reading about horror or watching horror movies is perhaps a form of rehearsal for that big dramatic event we subconsciously anticipate is just around the corner.
The Vampires in your popular ‘Vampyrrhic’ saga are based rather heavily in Norse mythology. Was this a conscious decision on your part to make them different from Vampires in other novels?
Yes, when I decided to write a vampire novel I wanted my vampires to be completely different to the fictional vampires that were around at the time. My vampire-like creatures are the product of Viking gods seeking revenge on humankind for abandoning them. On a broader note, mythology’s deeply tangled up with my imagination. Much stems from my history teacher father who would regale me with the beliefs of Vikings, who invaded the area of Yorkshire where I grew up. He talked about legends in the same breath as he talked about historical fact. The two became fused into one for me. It still seems to me that humanity’s ideas about creation, life after death, heroic deeds, and so on, are as much a part of human history as road-building, windmills, cities and the rule of law. To pop in an analogy here: humanity is the glass orb of the light bulb, mythology is the electricity that makes it radiant (equally, to a dispassionate alien observer of Earthlings, sport, dancing, music and other arts would appear irrational behaviour. But we need ‘em. File that need under Man Shall Not Live By Bread Alone.)
If you weren’t writing Horror what would you be writing right now?
I’d be writing in any other genre. BUT it would always emerge as horror. I’ve written crime and sci-fi in the past and it always slides into the horror zone.
Do you meticulously plan your novels or just set out optimistically with a vague plot line?
I guess I’ve got a sixth sense that tells me that an idea for a novel will erupt into life. Generally, I try and allow the idea to gestate; as it does so I start jotting notes; those notes come faster and in more detail and suddenly it feels I’ve logged onto a fully formed story. The trick is to get it out of my head and onto the page. However, as I write the novel I then tend to map out the plot, so I know where I’m headed.
Which writers had the biggest impact on you growing up, both as a reader and an aspiring writer?
When I was a child I loved reading spooky stories, and the classical myths and legends. The first ‘adult’ writers I got myself hooked on were Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke and John Wyndham. The first writer that triggered a kind of epiphany where I truly began to understand the sheer power of words was Arthur Machen (1863-1947). This Welsh wizard wrote in such a way it has the power to transfigure mind and soul (at least I think so!). As an aspiring writer, Machen was so important to me. I loved his autobiographies that chartered the struggles and excitements of a fledgling writer.
You’re throwing a dinner party and you can invite anyone, living or dead. Who would you invite?
Shirley Jackson, Arthur Machen, William Hope Hodgson and Edith Nesbitt. All these writers have a visionary element to their work. Arthur Machen is a brilliant, mellifluous wordsmith. Shirley Jackson is first rate at writing chilling fiction. Just check out The Haunting. William Hope Hodgson wrote the mighty Night Land (1912); this features adventure and monsters, and a vast pyramid shaped fortress that sits in a desert at the closing of the world. Both Hodgson and Machen influenced HP Lovecraft who in turn influenced many a famous horror writer. Edith Nesbitt wrote her fiction over a hundred years ago and it is incredibly sassy, sexy and powerfully horrific.
We’d pour the wine and talk late into the night. Ah, I can dream, can’t I?
Which book do you wish you’d written?
If I’d written Machen’s The Great God Pan, which is one of my favourites of all time, then I couldn’t have enjoyed it in the same way. It’s superb, transcendent work. I’m glad I didn’t write it, though. This way I can sit back and enjoy the magical prose.
Which one of your novels so far are you most proud of and why?
That’s like asking a parent to name their favourite child. However, Blood Crazy produces a twinkle in my eye. The book has such a cult following world-wide and generates fan mail every week. Blood Crazy almost has a life of its own now and has been translated into Russian, Greek and Japanese.
What piece of advice would you give to an aspiring writer?
Never give up. That is, if you truly want to become a writer. Persistence is the key. If you keep trying to write you will keep learning, and you will get better and better. It’s alright if your stories are awful to begin with. They will improve.
What can you tell me about what you’re working on right now?
I have a few projects at a nebulous state, so wouldn’t want to go into detail just yet, as I don’t have titles and so on. However, one book that is released in March, 2010 is Humpty’s Bones from Telos. I started this as an exercise in short story writing. Happily, the lives of the characters fascinated me so much that a short story became a novella, and I’m just so thrilled with the power of this piece. The idea began simply with a woman discovering what appeared to be an ancient shrine at the bottom of her garden. As she digs deeper she discovers a skeleton that becomes increasingly peculiar as she tries to piece the bones together. Then come some very strange events…
Thank you Simon for taking time out of your busy writing schedule.
Thanks for inviting me to be part of your blog, Scott!