What first attracted you to horror writing?
I’ve always been a voracious reader and the kinds of stories that have always attracted me have been the darker ones, the ones without a neat, happy ending, the ones that left me troubled for days, if not years, afterwards. So when I started writing these were the kinds of stories that came out. I never made a conscious decision to be a horror writer, and sometimes I do feel my work to be a difficult fit for the genre (My first novel took ages to find a home and the most common reason for rejection was given as, “It’s great but we just don’t know what to do with it.”). Without knowing precisely why, I find myself drawn to darkness. To the things we’re told not to look at, not to mention, not to think about. To the people who inhabit the social outskirts and the monsters we’re assured can’t exist. This is the very heart of horror, and it’s the place I feel most at home.
I suppose that would have to be my debut novel, Madigan Mine, which has been very favourably reviewed and which has also just won an Aurealis Award for Best Horror Novel. Of my shorter fiction, I would count my novella Painlessness and a recent story, ‘She Said’, as being among the best – and possibly best regarded – work I’ve published so far.
What are you working on now?
I’m finishing my second novel – working title Perfections – which is going to be quite a different beast to my first. I’m not sure how it will fit within the conventional horror genre, although it will still be very much dark fantasy. After that, I have a small short story collection to complete as part of the Twelve Planets series from Twelfth Planet Press. Now that is going to be a dark and nasty little book indeed and I’m looking forward to getting my hands dirty again!
Who do you admire in the horror world?
Most of the writers I find inspiring and challenging tend to straddle genre lines. Caitlin R Kiernan, Kathe Koja, Peter Straub, Stephen King and Poppy Z Brite spring immediately to mind in terms of the amount of room they take up on my bookshelves. Paul Haines, Kaaron Warren, Margo Lanagan and Angela Slatter are Australian writers whose work continuously astonishes and appals – in the best possible sense – although again, none of them work exclusively in horror. Oh, and there’s Shirley Jackson, of course. I definitely count her among my patron (dark) saints!
Do you prefer all out gore or psychological chills?
I’m definitely more attracted to the psychological these days, although the physical – the horror of the body and what can be done to the body – is often intimately bound up with that. My favourite works of dark fiction are those that provoke a feeling of dread, a sense of the uncanny and the liminal, but also an intimation of the wondrous.
Why should people read your work?
I really don’t know how to answer that – except perhaps by describing the kind of work I do. My stories tend to be contemporary and urban and usually quite realist in texture, although there is almost always an element of non-realism around which the story is centred. I write about people who are broken, or at breaking point, people who are outside and overlooked and discarded. Generally, I aim for the creepy and the uncanny and the unbalanced – although I don’t flinch from visceral horror when it’s called for – and I’m fascinated by taboo. I also love playing with language, style and structure, though never (I hope) at the expense of clarity. And I guess if all that sounds like your cup of tea, then you probably should read my work.
Recommend a book.
A book? Just one? Gosh, that question is almost cruel and unusual. Right now, I think I would have to go with The Red Tree by Caitlin R Kiernan. It’s an astonishing novel. But then so is Liar by Justine Larbalestier. And The Road by Cormac McCarthy. Really, you might need to gag me . . .