What first attracted you to horror writing?
The first horror piece I ever wrote was an entry for the ‘End of Story’ competition. They had different story openings that entrants could write the ending for, and I just found it was the horror one that appealed to me. The ideas were suddenly flowing, and my fingers were itching to start, and it’s been that way ever since – the ideas that come to me always seem to be horror or dark fantasy, with the occasional shot at SF, although those tend to be pretty dark too!
I’m sure I’d always have found my way into horror, though, because I find myself drawn to writing that’s concerned with the mysteries in life – the questions we just can’t answer. I think the seeds of my fascination were there in my obsession with fairytales when I was a kid: they’re so wrapped up in magic and darkness and the unexpected.
That would be my novel A Cold Season, which is out now from Jo Fletcher Books, a new imprint at Quercus. It’s about a young mother building a new life for herself and her child after the loss of her soldier husband. She moves to a village on the edge of Saddleworth Moor, but strange events leave her isolated and vulnerable – Darnshaw is marooned by snow, and Cass is pitted against forces she can hardly comprehend in a fight to protect her son.
What are you working on now?
The next novel is well underway. Path of Needles is a cross between a twisted fairytale and a crime story. I’ve always been fascinated by fairy ales – not the anodyne, all scares removed versions but the archetypal tales that are somehow strong enough to survive through centuries, passing from mouth to mouth, adapting and taking on their own magic.
I’ve also been busy with short stories for some forthcoming anthologies. I’m going to be in Magic from Solaris, Where Are We Going? from Eibonvale and Resurrection Engines from Snowbooks, among others. There’s also a chapbook coming out in June from Spectral Press, of my story The Eyes of Water.
Who do you admire in the horror world?
I admire Joe Hill enormously, not just because I enjoy his work – Heart-Shaped Box and Horns are terrific novels – but because he didn’t use his family connections when he was getting started. It’s hard to get a foothold in publishing, so having Stephen King as a father could have been a very useful way to get a foot in the door! Instead he disguised the connection by shortening his name and made sure he achieved success in his own right. Quite rightly, he did – his work is terrific.
I prefer psychological chills to gore, and that’s definitely reflected in my own work. I’m not a big fan of things where the violence is there purely for shock value, whether in books or films. On the other hand, I’ll do gore if it’s necessary to the story. Sometimes, underplaying the effects of violence or the darkness in the things people can do to each other isn’t doing anyone any favours. I’m thinking of things like the scene where a poacher is caught, in Pan’s Labyrinth – the brutality is incredibly impactful because it contrasts so sharply with the fairytale feel of much of the film. That reminder of the grimness of the reality in which the main character is living is necessary and extremely effective.
Why should people read your work?
Oh, the ‘sell yourself’ moment! Well, I hope people will find A Cold Season gripping, and while it looks at the psychology of a mother trying to protect her son, and following the emotional ups and downs, there’s also plenty of action and twists and turns along the way. And it’s set in a snowed-in village on the edge of Saddleworth Moor, which is a fascinating place – I worked there for nine years and I hope I’ve injected some of its capacity for beauty and loneliness and eeriness into the book.
Recommend a book.
I love The Road, by Cormac McCarthy, which is the story of a father and son trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic landscape. It made a huge impression on me – it’s the last book I remember finishing and turning straight back to the start to begin again. It’s immensely powerful and so, so beautifully written. The audio version is terrific too. It’s read by Rupert Degas, who is incredibly versatile – he’s an absolute riot in his audio versions of the Skulduggery Pleasant series, so it’s hard to imagine he’d do such a good job of this book too, but he does. His recording has just the right tone and pace and quietness for The Road – it’s absolutely hypnotic.
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