What first attracted you to horror writing?
An 80s childhood in rural Tasmania effectively forced me to develop an imaginary world to escape into or go insane. My parents got me into fantasy and science fiction early on – from Dad, The Lord of the Rings, from Mum, the books of John Wyndham – but it wasn’t until we moved to England that I really began to appreciate the sense of dark, creaking age which underpinned fantasy cycles like Mythago Wood and the Dark is Rising sequence and I starting getting into authors like James Herbert, HP Lovecraft, and Ramsey Campbell. For me, the evolution from reading to writing horror stories came out of playing role-playing games with my mates in high school and University; things like Call of Cthulhu, Chill and Vampire: the Masquerade. Next to movies, these were the closest I could get to actually being in one of those stories. But being the monstrous and egotistical control freak that I am, I found more and more that I wasn’t content leaving the characters’ actions up to the players when there was a particularly juicy scene or headfuck moment I had in mind, so I found it more satisfying to write it out as I wanted it to happen in the first place. There’s a certain devilish glee in writing horror, in putting imaginary people through hell, sometimes literally – and I still role-play with my mates (we’re currently in a game based on Charles Stross’ ‘Laundry’ books) – but I think they’d agree that it’s better for everyone that I keep it safely on paper.
It would have to be The Narrows. Not just because it’s my first novel, but because against all the odds it’s actually somehow managed to get published as well. I’ve always written stories for my own satisfaction and told myself that if they get published, well, that’s a bonus, and the learning experience of seeing it go from a collection of tatty notebooks to a mass-market paperback has been an absolute joy. The problem is that now I’ve actually gone and done it I have to be a lot more professional with the next one and not take so long to actually finish the bloody thing.
What are you working on now?
I’m currently working on a novel tentatively called ‘Tourmaline’. It’s a bit more in the urban fantasy genre rather than outright horror, though there is a very strong horror element. It’s about where people go when they dream too deeply; sometimes they get lost, and sometimes they bring things back with them. The internal tag-line in my head is ‘Inception Meets Jaws’.
Who do you admire in the horror world?
Far and away it would have to be Clive Barker. Discovering the Books of Blood and Weaveworld when I was a teenager was like a revelation. I found that it was possible for the horrific to be magical – and vice versa – without having to recycle the easy clichés of ghosts, vampires and werewolves. The Damnation Game is so rich, both narratively and stylistically, that if it were published today it would be lauded by literary types as a masterpiece of ‘magic realism’. Most of all I admire the aesthetic sensibility which underpins his work. Sure, there is gore and nastiness all over the place, but even something like his arguably most visceral work ‘Hellraiser’ is about more than just hooks and bondage gear – there’s an exploration of the furthest limits of human relationships which I think a lot of the torture-porn copycats miss.
Do you prefer all out gore or psychological chills?
Easy polarities like this always make me twitchy. It’s like saying do you prefer sweet or sour? Or would you rather be on top or underneath during sex? I think the best experiences combine both, to whatever degree. Violence without the fear and anticipation of violence or its consequences is about as scary as watching somebody gut a fish. Similarly, fear and paranoia without the threat of actual visceral harm at some point may be scary, yes, but would you really call it horror? We’re creatures of both flesh and mind; to me, horror is about how far you can dare yourself to go in pushing the boundaries between the two.
People should vote, floss every day, and kiss their kids good night. If they want to read stories which are trying – maybe successfully, maybe not – to avoid standard horror clichés and yet still scare the pants off them, I hope they’ll like mine.
Recommend a book.
American Gods, by Neil Gaiman. I want to have that book’s babies.
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