We recently caught up with Peter Tennant, prolific author of horror, fantasy and speculative fiction and regular reviewer for the This Is Horror Magazine of the Year, Black Static.
This is the final part of what we think has been a fantastic insight into Peter Tennant and genre fiction.
How big is your ‘to be read’ pile?
PT: Short answer, enormous.
Long answer, at the moment I have enough books for review that if no more came in then filling the next eight issues of Black Static wouldn’t be a problem, even allowing for the fact that some of the books in the pile should never have been sent to us for review – we’re a horror magazine, but still get sent science fiction, straight crime, Arthurian romance, actor biographies etc – and some have grown a little long in the tooth and should really be retired. I do my best to give each and every book a fair chance at a review, including looking for other, more recent editions before ‘retiring’ them, but the numbers defy me and the odds for any individual title is something like two out of three. Even if I could afford to read and write reviews full time, and wished to do so, there wouldn’t be enough space in the magazine to cover everything we receive, and past experience has shown that the more we review the more people become aware of Black Static and send us material for review. That trend’s accelerated with the spread of electronic formats, which makes it far easier to send titles for review and economically feasible for people who previously might not have considered Black Static as a review outlet. By way of example, Dark Fuse is an American publisher with a line of limited edition hardback novellas, and previously there wouldn’t have been much point to their sending us books for review, but now they also publish in e-format and the playing field has changed. It really is a global market.
Most of the books I get sent are still ‘hard copies’, and that’s my preference as I’m a dinosaur where this new technology is concerned. There was a time when I used to actively solicit publishers to send us books for review, but those days are long gone and nowadays I only make the first approach if I know that it’s a title I’m definitely going to review (e.g. if it’s for a feature on a writer), as it seems unfair to me to make a specific request unless you can give solid assurances that a review will be done. Mostly I leave it to publishers and writers to query me regarding the possibilities of a review, and then I can either tell them that I don’t regard the title as falling within the magazine’s remit or express an interest in seeing the book, but with the warning that a copy is sent at their own risk and with no guarantee if or when any review will appear. I try to avoid making promises that I might not be able to keep.
Of course I have an even bigger ‘to be read’ pile consisting of all the titles that didn’t get reviewed and books I’ve acquired by other means, even some I’ve actually bought, but I have no idea at all how large that is – 400, 500 titles, maybe. I think of it as a reading fund for my retirement. I believe I saw Des Lewis talking about a ‘life clearance’ somewhere, discarding the material things acquired during your lifetime, and it’s an idea that appeals to me, so at some point I’ll start to unload all the books that I’ve accumulated over the years, thousands now, strip it all back and by process of elimination get to the hundred or so that I consider really essential. Then keep reading them over and over again until I die. Maybe.
Of all the writers you have interviewed who has been your favourite and why?
PT: Again, as with the question about sections of the magazine, I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to answer this. Obviously I have my favourites, but I’m grateful to all the writers who’ve agreed to be interviewed for Black Static over the years, who’ve given us some of their time and words, and I don’t want to go on public record saying that A was more interesting than B, or that C gave me answers by return while D dragged their feet and missed deadline after deadline, and that E didn’t call me the morning after, and F, if you’re reading this, please return the negatives as you promised when I agreed to interview you. I don’t want the umpteen writers that I’ve interviewed seeing this when it goes live and all but one of them thinking, “So WTF was wrong with my interview Tennant, you prick?” I have enough enemies as it is, thank you.
And of course, as with marriage, there are two people in an interview. The poor writer can only work with the questions they’re given and as far as that goes, sometimes I feel that I’m pretty crap. Interviewing people isn’t something that will ever come naturally to me. Put me in a social situation with a complete stranger, and usually I have no trouble talking to them, but in the formal context of an interview where I’m the interrogator and have to come up with questions that will elicit interesting answers I often feel adrift. The challenge is to strike a balance between asking questions the writer hasn’t already answered half a hundred times before and getting them to relay basic information that won’t already be familiar to readers of the magazine who don’t spend all day online and won’t have tracked down the last dozen interviews the writer has done by way of research. Basically then, if the interview wasn’t good for you the reader, it was me, not the writer.
Unless they were really, really boring of course, or talked a load of shite, in which case it was definitely them.
What I can tell you though, from feedback I’ve received, is the interview that appears to have gone down best with our readers is the one I did with Adam Nevill when Apartment 16 was reviewed, and I don’t think it’s any coincidence that was also the longest interview we’ve ever run, with Adam giving comprehensive and wide ranging answers to each question. Based on that, my impression is that Black Static readers prefer substantial interviews. Of course it could also be because a lengthy interview means less of Case Notes is devoted to me rabbiting on about why I like/don’t like books, but that’s a conclusion I’m trying to avoid as it’s bad for my ego.
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