In this podcast Catriona Ward talks about The Last House on Needless Street, The Girl from Rawblood, Sundial, and much more.
About Catriona Ward
Catriona Ward was born in Washington, DC, and grew up in the United States, Kenya, Madagascar, Yemen, and Morocco. She studied English at the University of Oxford, and later, completed a Creative Writing Masters at the University of East Anglia. Ward won the August Derleth Award for Best Horror Novel for her debut, The Girl from Rawblood, and again for Little Eve, making her the first woman to win the prize twice. Ward is the internationally bestselling author of The Last House on Needless Street.
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Howls from the Dark Ages
Reader beware, you’re in for a medieval scare.
Lure by Tim McGregor
Tenebrous Press presents Lure, a novella of otherworldly Folk Horror by Tim McGregor. In a fishing village on an alien shore hang the bones of ancient, forsaken gods. The arrival of a new god brings dissent and madness, and threatens to tear the starving community apart. Against a backdrop of brine and blood, Lure blurs the line between natural disaster and self-destruction. Eric LaRocca calls Lure “a monstrously inventive fable. Immersive and utterly compelling.” Preorder at tenebrouspress.com now. Lure is out July 18th.
Michael David Wilson 0:07
Welcome to This Is Horror, a podcast for readers, writers and creators. I'm Michael David Wilson, and every episode alongside my co host, Bob Pastorella, we chat with masters of horror, about writing, life lessons, creativity, and much more. Now, today's guest is Catriona Ward. She is the author of sundial, the last house on needless Street, and other novels. And this is the full conversation. We spoke for about an hour. We got into a hell of a lot. We really covered much of her career in that time. So I thought this was a fascinating one cat was an amazing guest. I'd love to get back on the show soon. But before the conversation, a little bit of an advert break.
Bob Pastorella 1:26
tenebrous press presents lawyer a novella of otherworldly folklore by Tim and Gregor in a fishing village on an alien shore hanging the bones of ancient for second gods. The arrival of a new God brings to send in madness and threatens to tear disturbing community apart against the backdrop of Brian and blood. Lord blurs the line between natural disaster and self destruction. Eric Hello raka calls lawyer a monstrously embedded fable, immersive and utterly compelling. Preorder and tenebrous press.com Now lures out July 18.
Welcome, dear visitor to my museum of medieval oddities. Have you heard of howls from the Dark Ages? Perhaps you'd be interested in a little tour through these echoing holes? Who mean why I am the curator and I am most pleased to present you with 18 Holding exhibits. Read up aware beware you're in for a medieval scare house from the Dark Ages available now on Amazon and audible
Michael David Wilson 2:38
Okay, well with that said here it is it is Catriona Ward on This Is Horror. Catriona, welcome to This Is Horror.
Catriona Ward 2:51
Thank you very much. Thank you very much for having me.
Michael David Wilson 2:54
Yeah, it is an absolute pleasure. And to begin with, I wanted to ask you about what some of the early life lessons that you learned growing up? And I think I'm really interested to hear what you might pick out for this because I know that you moved around a hell of a lot from Washington, DC, to Kenya to Madagascar, to Morocco to name a few.
Catriona Ward 3:23
Yeah, yeah. I mean, the thing is, if you're a child, you don't you don't know anything different than your own childhood really do you. So to me, it just seemed normal. And in retrospect, especially looking at my books, I can see how some things from that childhood and kind of filtered through. I think it was an amazing childhood. I mean, you know, we used to, we used to catch comedians in the garden and Madagascar and keep them as pets. And that just just a regular thing used to do on an afternoon after school. But it was miraculous, and incredible. And you know, you saw some of the wildest and most far flung places on Earth really. And also, it was probably a little bit lonely. In in Madagascar again, for instance, we had like six people in the entire school, and all the schools taught in one room and the teacher would just move back a row at a time teaching each grade as it as it were. So not very sociable. And also because it's pre internet. There was not really any way to keep in touch with people after after you left and we'd stay in each place for three years at a time. Because my father is a water economist he does. He works on water scarcity in dry, arid and developing countries, which is why we spent so much time in in places like Yemen and Madagascar. So there was a sort of sense of life being quite episodic. if you will. You you would You'd be fully immersed in a place, and then and then you would leave and probably never see anyone. There. Again, again. So, what, what happened to me anyway, is I became incredibly close to my family and my family became my world. And there's something I think there's something really nourishing and wonderful about that. I think it also can make you perhaps, you know, it asks you to, it asks you to think about questions of, you know, how close is too close? How do you know when does when does love become dependence. And these are things which I think are returned to in my work all the time. I'm always fascinated by family and because obviously, your job as a horror writer or writer of the Gothic was the darker side of fiction anyways, you kind of, you know, it's sort of your job to ask the question, what if, what, what if this nice thing went wrong? And I think about that all the time with family, you know, and I think that that definitely comes through my books. Yeah, there's, there's a sense of kind of family being a sort of source of strength, but also potentially, perhaps, because you're so in love, love becomes almost like a cage, you know, because you're so dependent on them. And I think that that, that forms a strong backbone, all my all my books, really, I do think, particularly, there was one experience on Dartmoor which, because we I didn't know, I didn't really know anything about the UK, but we used to come back to Dartmoor every summer to the same house. And Dharma was incredibly magical to me, because growing up in the tropics, like the idea of like Heather, and Big Sky, country, and wild ponies, and things like that, it just, I just loved it. And it seemed incredibly exotic. But there was a particular thing which happened, which I think perhaps drew me to this particular area that I wrote in, which is, when I was about 13, I started in that house on Dartmoor, I started waking up in the middle of the night, the hand in the small of my back, pushing me out of bed, and fall quite hard on the floor. So very physical, real sensation. And it was probably the most frightening thing that's ever happened to me. Um, I, you know, that sensation you get when there's someone in the room and you can't see them or hear them. But you know, that they're there. That was very strongly that feeling was very strongly present. And it was just a feeling of overwhelming intent, that there was something in the room that did not mean me well. So I used to just get up, run, run out and crawl into bed with my sister in her room. And, and we went on like this every year, I think for about four, four years, every summer was spent like this. And several things occurred to me about this, which I think, speak to the nature of horror, really. One is, I never mentioned it to anyone. And my sister never mentioned it either. And I think that's, it's interesting, isn't it? We never told her grown up. Why didn't you do that?
And I think there's something about the nature of fear, which is really shameful. You know, we're ashamed of being afraid. It somehow makes us feel vulnerable. And when so when I came to read my first sort of proper, Gothic or horror story, which is the Monkees poor by WW Jacobs, I felt that fear again is unmistakable, completely unique feeling of almost like a hand reaching into you. It's something you can't really get in the daylight hours. I felt that and I felt that was I was reading this wonderful short story. And I thought, this is where you put it, this is the architecture to contain this feeling. This is how you build it, build a cage for it. So I started, I started writing, I started writing. And I found I found out actually my 20s that obviously, having no access to up to anything, really. My assumption was, of course, that I had seen a post that that was what else what has happened. Actually, it's something called a hypnagogic hallucination, which happens on the cusp of sleep. Very, very vivid, and I still get them actually, but once you know what they are, they lose a lot of their potency. But it in a way. It's strange, isn't it? It didn't really make a difference, what what the nature of experience was, whether it was a ghost, or a sort of form of sleep, paralysis, almost it, it didn't really matter, because the experience and the fear was the same, if that makes sense. You know, in a way when people often ask me if I believe in ghosts, and I sort of I don't know if I do but I also think it doesn't matter matter either way, whether I believe in them or not. People have been seeing Have them ever since they've been people. And the experience of seeing them is as real as anything else. And I was I think about that a lot. When I'm writing anything, anything which deals with those kinds of specific fears you get you get in the night, that, you know, that fear is the fear is real, no matter what else is or isn't. But, yeah, I took a lot, I took a lot from that, from that experience, and sort of, maybe, I think that thing about shame is remains important to me as well, because you I think writing horror, which I do, you can, you have to make yourself vulnerable. And you have to sort of go through that, that sense of vulnerability and shame. To communicate with the reader, what you're essentially doing is opening yourself up and saying, This is what I'm afraid of, are you afraid, but to and if you are, you know, let's take my hand, and we'll go through it together. It's an extraordinarily empathetic, and compassionate, I think, form of writing the Gothic and horror in particular, the kind of horror that I gravitate towards, because you're sharing things that, that live at the deepest levels of you, and that, that we spend most of our adult adult lives trying to cloak or mask. And I think that it also has probably plays into the reasons why people perhaps construct, you know, these hierarchies of genre, you know, with horror, always at the very bottom or busy with your literary literary literature literature at the top, and then horror, right down in the, in the ditch somewhere. And I think that is because of it, there's, there's a sort of resistance to the idea to the idea of letting these feelings in, when we spend so much time constructing psychological defenses to keep them out. So there's a tendency, perhaps, to dismiss them as somewhat childish. And, and somehow blesser. Whereas actually, you know, they're conduits to the deepest parts of ourselves.
Michael David Wilson 12:12
Yes, and there's, there's so much that I could jump off of with that. But I think I want to learn a little bit more about this hypnogogic hallucinations. I'm wondering, when you learned what it was, did that make you any less afraid when you would then subsequently experience them? Because I mean, I tend to find that once we begin to understand something, there's a possibility it can be less scary. And of course, that's why with movies, we talk about, you know, the argument whether to or not to show the monster because the point where you can define it, there's a possibility that you can then understand it, and then you can overcome that fear. But if you can't even visualize or conceptualize what it is you're dealing with, then you remain in this perpetual state of fear.
Catriona Ward 13:10
Well, it certainly, I certainly have, I still, I think habitually sort of slightly dread the night, which I think is appropriate, appropriate, I think, you know, the healthy, healthy, who sort of quite, quite sort of like a push pull relationship with, with the darkness. But I mean, I one one thing that I, I definitely see seem to be the case early on, before I understood or been told what what the phenomenon was, was obviously, this happened to me, this happened to me wherever I went. So in logical reasoning, it wasn't the places that were haunted, it was me. And that was a very frightening idea. I think. I think it it did feel like, you know, when, particularly when I was younger, asking yourself a question of, you know, what, what is it that, you know, what is it that that's, that's happening? What's the exact quality of experience? Is something following me? Is there something about me which which attracts whatever this is? And I never, I never really because of this, it's such a, such a sort of primal and really, quite, kind of visceral experience is just fear. It feels it does sort of tend to dominate, dominate your life a little bit, because you just as I said, just slightly dread going to you dread you dread the darkness and dread going to bed because you always got to kind of come through this. This barrier or or it's lining wait for you and you don't know whether it's going to happen or not. I think when I discovered what it was, it was certainly extremely relieving. Because it meant that needs the existential questions were taken away from it. Although the experience itself didn't necessarily get more visceral, less This really frightening did at least, you know, mean that I could stop asking myself whether I was plagued by satan or something like that, you know, which is always a handy thing to be able to put to rest. Yeah,
Michael David Wilson 15:15
yeah, no, there any particular triggers that you've identified or I suppose, situations or conditions that might make one of these hallucinations more likely.
Catriona Ward 15:28
I mean, it's always stress is always a trigger for them. And sometimes, um, you know, unfamiliar environments can also do it like, mainly, I usually find it they go hand in hand with them with migraines, weirdly enough, so when I, when I start getting big headache, headaches, and I know that perhaps, you know, they're not they don't they're not far behind. Because I think they probably get come from the same place, you know? Or at least, you know, the same sort of sublimated stress anyway, is probably the, the trigger for it. And I still see the light on, in which drives might partner mad, because, you know, I mean, at the age of 41, slipped light on surely, but it's just a psychological thing. And it certainly it certainly helped
Michael David Wilson 16:26
can verify how bright is this light? Are we talking? Bad bedside lamp as a tiny Himalayan salt? What are we dealing with?
Catriona Ward 16:38
I sleep on a floodlit soccer field. No. It's just just yeah, just like a bedside lamp. And I find myself much I find I've obviously, over the years, come to acclimatized become acclimatized to that, and I sleep now better, much better in daylight under the light on that I ever do in the darkness? Because it's just what I've gotten used to.
Michael David Wilson 17:03
Does your partner have a sleep mask? I'm wondering how you negotiated that as a couple. Yeah,
Catriona Ward 17:08
no, we've, we've, we've, we've, we've invested heavily we probably keeping the sleep mask industry of Britain going single handedly? Because it's definitely necessary. Yeah, but And you sort of, I think you just you just learn you learn to accept each other's little eccentricities? Certainly, certainly, you know, a talking point early on.
Michael David Wilson 17:36
Yeah. Yeah. I mean, it has to be and I guess it's a good way to filter out if someone's a good partner or not, because it's gonna come early doors, it's like, well, the light is staying on.
Catriona Ward 17:53
Yeah, I know. It's so strange, isn't it to be someone who likes horror, but is so afraid of the dog. But then I think that's probably the natural I think that's probably the natural order of it, isn't it? Because why would you? How could you write? How could you write horror without being afraid of the dark in a way? Because if you're not afraid of it, then how can how can you? How can you communicate that fear how to share that fear with the reader?
Michael David Wilson 18:21
Yeah, so I think, yeah, there's been writers who have said and far eloquently, far more eloquently than I'm going to that essentially, I mean, if you're to scare the reader, you have to scare yourself. And I think in a sense that can apply to most emotions that we put on the page. If we want the reader to feel it, then we should feel it to
Catriona Ward 18:44
try to Yeah, that's right. And that's why it's sort of you can always tell when you're not doing your job properly. No, because you're not writer's block isn't the inability to put words on the page. It's the inability to feel. And that's, that's something that's the sort of the most the most frightening thing is when you you've written like this, perhaps 1000s of words, and you look at it and you're just like, but it doesn't, there's no, there's no depth and no resonance or emotional resonance there. That's, and that's when you sort of that's the sort of terrifying thing when you realize you just can't connect.
Michael David Wilson 19:22
Yes, I really hate it when that happens. Because you know, you, you know, like, really, I've made it work before, but there's never an exact formula. It's like, you can't, you can't consult the writers handbook in terms of how to feel and convey that emotion it It either works or it doesn't. And that seems to be no real rhyme or reason to it to use an awful cliche.
Catriona Ward 19:50
Yeah, that's right. And each book is different as well and requires different things of you. So whatever's work last time is almost guaranteed not to work this time. And it's true So you have to spend so much time figuring out what each book needs, what it wants from you. And learning, learning, learning the world all over again, with each book. It's, it's quite, it's quite arduous. And always, you always think why always do anyway, when I finish a book, I'm like, Oh, I know how to write now. And it's brilliant. And I start next year, I'm like, oh, no, I don't.
Michael David Wilson 20:20
Yes, yeah. I wonder cuz you studied at Oxford University? Was it quite daunting going from a school in which it was six people in the entire school to a massive University?
Catriona Ward 20:38
Yes, yes, it's very astute of you, it was it was completely feral, really, as well. So, um, I, I loved I loved university, because it was the first time I'd ever really had a sustained opportunity to learn and read. Because it's been, my education is quite slow. It's quite, quite haphazard, really. And so that, that part of it I absolutely loved I, you know, for the first time, there was sort of this wonderful world and access to, you know, to book some ideas and other people who are interested in books and ideas, which, you know, I hadn't had a lot, a terrible amount of, either. That bit was absolutely revelatory to me. And I felt like I, I feel like I learned to think and become, you know, I became sort of, yeah, my mind was, was, was sort of shaped and forged. By that experience. And socially, I was not so well developed. I just, I also had this thing of like, I think I'd learned, I used to call it chameleon Ising. Actually, whereby, you know, you're dumped into which I was always dumped into a situation, which you're going to be temporarily very much immersed in, but then you're going to leave behind forever, you learn to adapt really quickly, and sort of mimic the behaviors and speech patterns. If one, like I had an American accent when I was in America, and like, I don't know, do I, and there's a sort of, you learn to quickly just ape the, the culture that you're in, and then as you discard it later. And that's really, it was really helpful. It took me a while to learn how to make friends, you know, once I got very, very, I got, I got very, very excited by the idea of like, you know, having people who you could just be friends with, and he would just be considered a constant and consistent presence in your life. And I made some my very best friends at university and continue to do so. But there was, I mean, I just, I did have like, the tendency to just get a bit overexcited at parties, because then it didn't really hadn't really been too many parties. And, you know, I wasn't used to just having this sort of social life available to me. I think being genuinely being a weird child is often a very good starting point for being a writer anyway. So in that respect, I ticked all the boxes. But it's, you know, there's no, I think, in a way, never be too successful. It's about school. Socially, anyway. Because, you know, it's the strange misfits who go on to do great things. Obviously, there's a huge broad generalizations, but
Michael David Wilson 23:38
yeah, and I suppose even if you were really popular at your school, it's like, when you've only got five friends.
Catriona Ward 23:48
How big of a boost? Is it? Really? Yeah.
Michael David Wilson 23:52
Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I think Oxford is amongst my favorite places in the UK, and certainly steeped in literature and the arts. So a fantastic place to go to university, I would imagine.
Catriona Ward 24:12
It was wonderful. And, you know, I opened up, you know, my, it opened my mind up to or to, you know, to real learning, and I loved that. I thought it was a really, yeah, I can't speak highly enough about it. I think one thing because it's intensive, and you know, there was a lot of work. And you also treat, you know, you learn the canon of English literature. That's, that's the starting point, the cord on the spine of the course. Really, one thing I think, perhaps did happen inadvertently, was I spent so much time you know, work like analyzing and getting, you know, getting a sort of huge respect and, um, have, you know, kind of outside perspective on on writing? I think it was, I think it was a little bit of a psychological barrier to overcome to actually start writing myself. Because I, it seemed like I had to reverse the stream, when you've been you spent three years kind of be being like, instilled with massive respect for the canon. It can seem hard, it can seem a difficult concept that you could yourself contribute to it, you know, it seems like something that you just you know that the only goes one way doesn't you know, doesn't you can't contribute to the flow of it. I think, swings and roundabouts, isn't it? I would I wouldn't give up the massive amount of reading and thought and ideas that were instilled in me for anything. I think it's just, you just you just have to get over yourself a little bit.
Michael David Wilson 25:58
Yes, yes. And I mean, it's, of course, apparent that you've had a love for literature, from an early age. But, of course, before you started writing the girl from rawblood, you did some acting in New York. So I'm wondering why that happened? No, because it looks like the natural trajectory was building towards writing. But then there's this interesting side mission as it were doing some acting in New York. So I mean, you you absolutely cues the right places to do these things. I mean, acting in New York literature in Oxford, you you have got it down.
Catriona Ward 26:49
Well, it's, it's that's a nice perspective. It never feels like that at the time does it——muddling through your 20s? Always feel like, just sort of fumbling away in the dark? Really? Um, no, I actually wanted to ask Milan before I wanted to write, I think, I think in retrospect, that's because what was really attractive to me was storytelling. And those are obviously two very, very key forms of it. I do notice, you know, that I tend to write. And this is also a gothic tactic as well. But you know, I'm very attracted to very, very close immersion in first person. Voices from the dark as it were. So almost like, almost like a series of monologues. Not, the books are constructed, like a kind of, yeah, there's a sort of dramatic kind of monologue element to them, I think. And I still use like, you know, the thought the building blocks and tools of acting, I still use to like, instinctively to like to build a narrative that just simple things like objectives and obstacles and beats and the way you, the way you score a scene tend to give it to give it kind of drama, and needs, and wants and things like that. I still think those those tools just made their way into my consciousness. But it is hell, it really is, like, I have so much respect for actors. I can't, I can't, I just couldn't do it myself. I could sort of do the work if someone gave me a job. But I had this awful, I'm terrible nerves. And we're just used to freeze up whenever I had an audition. And unfortunately, auditioning is a huge part of the job. Yeah, so kind of like the biggest bit. So I just realized that I could either beat my head against a brick wall for the next however many years or try and do something else. I don't think they necessarily made that it wasn't like I turned from acting to accountancy, like a sensible person. Arguably, like, arguably, the frying pan into the fire. But I think I found that because I could make make almost what I love is about writing as you can, you don't need anyone else's permission to do it. And you can make all your mistakes in private. And that can make it very lonely. It's a very private wrestling with your, you know, with your thoughts and demons and angels, but it's also your own struggle. You do it and but you know, you don't, there's no compulsion to show it or share it with anyone until until you until you're ready. And I found that kind of revelatory.
Michael David Wilson 29:36
Yes, yes. And so I mean, as you said that acting was the first passion. So of course having a huge interest in cinema and film. Does that mean you have aspirations to screenwrite?
Catriona Ward 29:52
Yes, I mean, that's something I'd very much like to get more experience with, sort of working, working towards and because I think it's very exciting. Ching, it's a very exciting medium to work in, because you can, you know, you have, it's very, I think it's, I find it very, it's quite different to, to writing prose. And you've also got that wonderful layer of adding really talented actors interpretation on top of it, and it becomes something new becomes an animal you don't recognize. And I think that's really exciting. I mean, in terms of needle street, I just trust the Imaginarium so much. I think it's, if you'd asked me, I would have said it's an unfilmable book, but apparently, it's not. Which is good for me. So watching what they're doing and and they're very claimed to have given me a seat at the table. And I've got an executive produced title, which, you know, quite often, with adaptation, understandably, the objective can be to just keep the, the author as far away from it as possible. And then people get possessive or, or maybe they just don't want interference. While they are they do or they work their magic, you know, but they Andy Serkis in Jonathan Cavendish and Tenergy the people who were turning the engines of production for needless stranger, incredibly generous and sharing. And they, you know, they seem to regard the author's input as a source of advantage, which is quite, quite a dramatically different idea. But I'm just, I'm having a great time. A great time with them. I think. I do have got ambitions in terms of screenwriting. But I've got, I've got a lot of books to write at the moment, as well, so got to concentrate on that.
Michael David Wilson 31:47
Yeah. And I mean, I should ask, how did the deal initially come about for the film rights for the last house on needless Street?
Catriona Ward 31:56
Well, my, my, my, my film and TV agent sent to several places, we were really lucky, actually, because we had more than we had three or four people interested. Again, a great surprise, a very welcome but great surprise to me, considering what you read the book, so it's part of it's narrated by a talking cat. Yeah. So there is lots of challenges. And it's very, very immersed in in very close. First Person narratives. I always, always said with that book that my intention was for the reader to feel like they were in a character like a skin, or some sort of uncomfortable experience. And also, you know, the hat, difficult to imagine how that transpose is to film. But we luckily, there seem to be some really nice piece of people with vision. So we originally for it. So we, we had I suppose the equivalent of a little bidding war and but the Imaginarium were the first people to first people to leap and say, we want this, it was certainly had so much conviction. And they had so much like empathy for the material. And I just, they're all They're an amazing sort of house, storytelling house, you know, they've got such wonderful, whatever talent. So in the end, the decision came down to there was a host of there was, you know, several good choices to be made. But I felt in the end, it could only it could only really have been then. They were just so enthusiastic and sensitive to it from the very beginning.
Michael David Wilson 33:37
Yes, and I think having that enthusiasm, and particularly early doors, when there's not so much of a bidding war, you know, that's the kind of place you want to go for someone who, even before it's become popular is like, Yes, I believe in this. This is the vision this is something I want to put on screen.
Catriona Ward 33:58
Yeah, I mean, it was yeah, it's, it's wonderful to be given the chance to work with people like that, because, you know, there's even books you know, books can break your heart, but I think movies can really break your heart knew the industry and, and the difficulties of getting, it's like, you know, how difficult it is to get two people in a room for content for coffee, you know, imagine getting all the ducks in a row that are necessary to to make production happen. But then that's what you just need someone who's tenacious to to the point of insanity, which which they are and I mean that
Michael David Wilson 34:41
and, I mean, you said before that you scare easily, as evidenced with the light on at night, I suppose most of it. But I know, too that you've said that you can't actually really watch horror films. So I'm one during what is your limit? I mean, can you watch dark thrillers like parasite? Can you watch any Flanagan's work? I mean, I want to know where the limit is where the line? Well, yeah.
Catriona Ward 35:15
I've been looking for the line all my life. But um, no, it's, I can obviously watch horror films, I just find them unbearably frightening. So I, you know, I'm like, I just jumped at the literal drop of a hat. I just, you know, my heart is in my mouth. The whole time? I think so. Mike Flanagan. Absolutely. Yeah, I guess I can I can do I can do that. Although I did find some of that Hillhouse interpretation. On almost sort of throttling the brightening. I just, I think it's the difference between on the page and on the screen, there's a sort of, there's a really sensory and immediate difference, whereby, with prose, you're you have to bring as the reader half of the half of the equation to bear, the writer does half of it. And usually the other half, so you're sort of meeting in the middle is a sort of collaborative act, you know, involved in it. Whereas with film, you're, it's being presented to you, someone else's vision, you know, that very literal, visual, visual interpretation of something. And I find for some reason, I find that immensely scary. And one thing that I loved I know some horror films I absolutely love. But I couldn't watch them again. Like, the Babadook was amazing. I couldn't watch that, again. It's just hereditary. Amazing. couldn't watch it again. It's just I was just on unnerving. And, you know, I, I find that visual things take up residence in my imagination. In a way, in a in a with fear anyway. Maybe it's maybe it's sort of related to the idea of sort of very quiet, sometimes quite visual, you know, hypnagogic hallucinations, maybe I don't, maybe there's a sort of connecting tissue there and why I'm so much more afraid than visual medium. But although I will say I've never ever been as frightened at 10am on a Sunday morning, as I was reading The Haunting of Hill House for the first time that that whose hand was I holding? Seen? Famous for a reason? You know? And I remember, I remember, I was just do it, you know, lovely, lovely, easy Sunday morning, lying in bed, read a bit of a book. No, no, no, I just remember actual cold thrills running up and down my spine. So, you know, it can be done. It can be done with with the written word as well. There's something so concrete and final about the presentation of visual like, offering to the mind.
Michael David Wilson 38:09
Yes. Or at least when you read The Haunting of Hill House, you weren't also simultaneously having a hypnagogic hallucination. That was good, wasn't it? Who's whose hand Am I holding? And whose hand is that on my back?
Catriona Ward 38:25
Well, there you go. Yeah. Yeah, so that could have been a whole mess, couldn't it? Yeah.
Bob Pastorella 38:35
I can only imagine how bad that would be. And I think I probably have a little bit of that because I have nightmares.
Catriona Ward 38:40
Oh, do you? Yeah. So
Bob Pastorella 38:43
So throw in but also have pareidolia. So throw that in. And that's nightmare inducing? Because in I work context, so wear glasses at night, so when I'm not wearing any I know, visual enhancements. Like a you know, a rolled up blanket can look like a severed head. Right? You wake up to that and you're like, going what, what is that? Oh, I'm just gonna go back to sleep. I'm just thinking to work. Just getting your in your hearts going? You know,
Catriona Ward 39:17
yeah, the pricing children everywhere just because it goes away. Well, I'm blind. I'm blind in one eye. So I've got a similar thing is that I don't have a lot I don't have any vision at all on my, on my my right hand, my right, my right hand side, and no proof of peripheral vision at all on that side, obviously, either. And it's just, you know, that thing of just what the most frightening thing is, what's what's happening in the corner of your eye. The less the less vision you have, the more frightening becomes.
Bob Pastorella 39:51
Yeah, and that's, that's where men to me I think that you know, kind of keeping up with the pareidolia is always something interesting in the corner. Have your I know, it's, you know, golly, I probably have the the thing you were talking about I can't pronounce the Hypno. Because, yeah, yeah. Because that's that's usually when the night tears, you know, they happen right when I'm about to go to sleep. So that's weird stuff that your brain does.
Catriona Ward 40:25
And you must, you know, obviously it's it must be a hangover from some very useful old kind of hunter gatherer kind of instincts does beg the question of why do we need such things now? Why do I need to do these things? Exactly. Pardon is very interesting thing, though, because in a way, that's kind of what you do in your writing. And it's sort of in a in a it with words, is you have to find patterns and things and make congers can just sort of similarities out of stuff on? I don't know, it's just it seems, it seems like there's a sort of correlation there with the process. Must must be quite unpleasant and
Michael David Wilson 41:12
messed up thing to another. I I wanted to talk a little bit about sundial and I want to kick off by talking about what some of the most messed up experiments were that you found out when researching this book.
Catriona Ward 41:31
Yeah, I Well, yes. So. And I'd like to preface this by saying that a lot of people think I made this up I did not I sort of wish I had because it would have been it hadn't happened in real life. But I did not last. So I wanted to write about mothers and daughters, and about nature and nurture. But it was a sort of book needed this. You just need it needed. It needed a vehicle or like, or something to help carry those themes along. I came across this experiment on the site called the Black Vault, which basically, is a how houses 1000s and 1000s, of declassified, sometimes quite heavily redacted, but declassified FBI and CIA documents. And there was this experiment in between 1965 and 1967, at Langley, Virginia, where the CIA is based, where they essentially created six remote controlled dogs. So they by running electrodes, into the limbic systems of and into the, into the certain brain, areas of the brain of these dogs, and then creating, having a little, like, a controller, they would stimulate the pleasure centers and the dog would learn to seek out the pleasure center. So it would learn that if it might cast around and then started to turn right and it got the got the pleasure response, it would then turn right. So you could you could make them do quite simple things like sit, sit, stay, and turn, you know, turn in a square, but complete success. And one thing I find eerie, and while the repugnant is and went into the book, as well, obviously, is that they had to obviously lift off a part of the cranium and create a middle, middle kind of cement hat, little hat made of dental cement, which would cover the expose skull in which the wires ran down through something. So theory about that image and horrible. But what I found kind of most ghastly is that when they succeeded, so there was a complete success, the experiment, they did it, the after some quick grizzly failures, they achieve their aims. And then they shut down the experiment and had all the dogs destroyed, because there was just no use for it. There was no practical application for this at all. And I always think, always makes me think of that line in Jurassic Park about you know, you're so busy wondering whether you should whether you could even stop to think about whether you should. And I, there's just something about it, which is the hubris of it, in trying to jump the fence. So, you know, we've always we've always debated these questions haven't been, who am I? What am I and why? How much of me is due to environment? How much to genetics, or freewill? And this is the sort of great question that the set at the center of us as far as I can see, and has been all of our human existence. And this seems to me to be an attempt to jump the fence over all those all those things, the building blocks of who we are, and play God in a very specific way and all Lenovo, I found it. I couldn't believe no one had written about it before actually, it's so monstrous and strange and petty. And once somehow. So I took, I took this, I took this I took this historical artifact and put it in the book. And it's so cuz sundial is about, obviously briefly, it's, it's about love a mother who comes to realize that her daughter, Kelly, has very troubling tendencies, and in fact, perhaps, is hurting animals. And in fact, once Willa is trying to hurt her younger sister, Annie, so Bob takes her back to sundial, which is the home she grew up in, which is a sort of facility deep in the Mojave Desert in Southern California. And she then she sort of tells tells her the story of who they are, and why perhaps she should be more careful than most about these, these impulses, these impulses. And it's Yeah, Kelly is a sort of a canyon, Robert, stuck together in this kind of two hander, whereby each one of them comes to suspect that the other is trying to kill them. And I love for me, I love I love this sort of strange tension, but it is a novel about essentially about love. And although it may not sound like it,
but I think it's very easy to sanitize or prettify that mother daughter bond, you know, I think I think there are a lot of feelings that go on in it, which are not so acceptable, which are not so not not so nice, or, or socially, like, socially relevant. I think that that what I really wanted to do was to put the other side of it the, you know, the really deep, feral visceral feelings that I think sometimes happen in families it to any family, who, on a very basic level hasn't wanted to murder another member member of that family at times. It's just, you know, these these, it's a complex, Twisted Braid of feelings. And you can't really have the good without the bad because it's so powerful. And I, I've really enjoyed exploring that and looking at in the face, I think, because if you think not, not love is in particularly family, like mother daughter love and romantic love, I suppose, also are often portrayed as these very quite, quite night or quite, you know, as I say, quite sentimentalized emotions, but actually, they're, I mean, they're dark, you know, they're made of, they're made of all of these, like deep, primal needs and, and long history, and there's nothing clean or clean, cut or easy about about that kind of love. But that doesn't lessen its power, it doesn't lessen its relevance. So sundown is all about that. It's all about the difficulty of the difficulty and power of love and in the family, particularly between the mother and the daughter.
Michael David Wilson 48:29
I understand, too, that you spent some time in Mojave to realize that this was
Catriona Ward 48:37
yes, it was amazing. The desert, it's sort of the dam, it just it's incredible. It's sort of it's, there's so many so few wild places left, you know, really wild places, and the desert was one of them, I would have to say, I've been you know, I've been in the desert in Morocco and Egypt as well. And they're very, very different, different different things. And the Bahamas will be loud. It's got it's full of, it's full of like, likes and clicks and words and, and wind, the wind is so loud. It's very noisy place. And it's also got this amazing capacity for you look at all that you look at all this expanse of space and air and big sky. But actually it's a trap. It holds you in place just as easily as a cage would do. Because you can't go into it. Because you'll die. It's it's a there's so many things that can kill you. And from rattlesnakes to scorpions to mountain lions to coyotes, you know, it's, it's not for us. It's indifferent to our needs and our human wants. And I find that sort of simultaneously quite scary also reassuring. You know, there's a constancy to it. That sort of somehow comforting. I don't know, maybe that's just the horror writer in me.
Michael David Wilson 50:01
Yeah, where were you staying? When you were in the desert?
Catriona Ward 50:07
We were we started out in Joshua Tree, and then just traveled up. So just like, like middle Airbnbs and motels and you just you also get a sense of the community that the desert sort of attracts as well, because it's not it's not really, it's not for it's not for the it's probably not for the most kind of like socialized gregarious people. There's a kind of, you know, you've got to, you've got to have a certain that has certain, like, wildness behind the eyes, I think, can live out there. It's just, it's just so beautiful. And, yeah, there's something you just don't get, we just don't get that opportunity to be able to look at you know, stand on a stand on a hilltop and look around, and there's just nothing. There's no people, there's no powerlines there's no, there are no buildings for miles and miles around. It's, it takes you back to your most atavistic self. I find it so beautiful.
Michael David Wilson 51:17
Yeah, now, I'm aware of the time constraints that we have. So I'm gonna jump to the girl from rawblood So jump back to that, in fact, so, I mean, this was, for many people, they kind of learned to write through writing many different books, but you learned to write through writing this one multiple times over the course of seven years. So yes, I mean, I would love for you to talk us through that.
Catriona Ward 51:50
Well, my first thing, like first thing I would say is to any aspiring writers don't take seven years to write is to not, do not. And I, yeah, I did, I'm in the middle. So I stopped, I started and it was, when I started. In my late 20s, it was my mid mid 20s, that it was so bad, everything I wrote was so bad. And I sort of knew that it would all be very bad for quite some time. And there was a sort of despair, but also kind of relaxation in that in that knowledge. And I wanted more, but I wanted it to be. I don't again, I don't know why I decided this, I wouldn't I wouldn't make this decision. Again. I wanted it to be not not just a sort of modern version of a gothic novel, I wanted it to be an actual gothic novel. So I, every single word, as far as I, as far as it was, in my power to ensure it is, is in tune with contemporary usage all the time. So it's, it's told in kind of fragmented narratives between the Napoleonic Wars, going forward to just after the First World War. And for each, each era, I had, I had a sort of pattern text that I that I used. So for instance, where there's there's a doctor's doctor's diary, classic Dracula. And then, you know, there's a sort of modernist, almost kind of Virginia Woolf esque kind of post war section. And then there's, there's a very classic Austin, Austin like section set in Italy. And the time it took, like research, research can be your, your support and your, you know, something that gives you that lens, your wings, it can also really become a sort of crutch. And the time I spent researching whether someone would have used a particular form of contraction in, you know, 1802 was was was probably probably perhaps the best spent things, but I was so determined that everything we knew that there'd be no anachronisms and everything be accurate in terms of the writing style. And it also just, it was also my first you know, circling back to what we were talking about earlier. It was my first attempt to try and capture that fear in the night. You know, this girl from rawblood is about Iris who and whose lives alone with her father on this lonely house on Dartmoor. Where do I get my ideas? And every single Bianca family was originally Spanish and every single member of them has been taken because if you marry or have children, she comes it's got white skeletal figure and essentially frightens you to death. So it's just ominous SD, the family has dwindled down to two, those two iris and her father. And it's all about where the iris negotiates the curse. And you move, move through the generations and getting getting snippets and insights from irises and sisters and related characters, because she must have come from somewhere. So who is she and watching what was the event, this great event sparked? sparked this, this, this generational haunting. And I, you know, I'm very proud of it now. I just, it's, you just, you've never written a book until you've written a book. And that that that Rubicon to be crossed is so huge. I mean, you never think you'll never think you'll be able to do it until you've actually done it. And then of course, once you've done it once, you got to do it over and over and over again. And each time I have to say, you know, it may get a little bit easier, but not that much. It's just this great immersion in all of you, you know, in everything you are, and particularly that that book in particular, very much was a way, way of processing sort of hypnagogic hallucinations that I had. So there's it's very connected. To my, to my fears very specifically.
Michael David Wilson 56:19
Yeah. And of course, you say you haven't written a book until you've written a book. But I mean, you did not start out with an easy one. I mean, connected narratives taking place between 1840 and 1990. So I mean, straight off the bat, there's a lot of research that needs to be done.
Catriona Ward 56:41
I mean, yeah, I think I think I set myself up with a very strong with a very strong challenge. Yeah. But I was very, I was, I was very, I was very proud of it. And very surprised I actually finished it, I thought, because I've been working on it for so long. But it just it became just a background noise to life really. And I even though there's something very sustaining about having a book to turn to, because it's just, it's a little private Wellspring that you can always you can always go to, and nobody else is there. Nobody, nobody is asking, asking you questions or, you know, trying to get you're trying to make you do things, or it's your, it's your private struggle, but it's also your private world. And I used to talk I used to deal with writing a bit like a seance because I was also working. And so I'd sit at the table, you know, after work, you know, glass of wine, light a candle and just wait to be visited. And it's a terrible way to approach writing. You know, it's nowadays, you don't wait to be visited, you just you make make the news come, but it was I didn't know any other way to do it. And so while that was written mostly at night, I would say, into the small wee hours. I don't know, maybe you can sort of tell, you know, in some parts of there's just got that quality of it was written mostly after dark.
Michael David Wilson 58:10
And I mean, I think as well with your work, if you were to kind of join some of them together, you can say, girl from rawblood and little Eve that represents a phase of your work. And then the last house on needless Street and sundial represents another phase which Yeah, and it really begs the question, and so you got to a forthcoming book, I believe, Looking Glass sound? Yes. Why is that?
Catriona Ward 58:45
Um, I think it's, well, I It's another quite high concept one. Allah Nicholas street set on the New England coast. Kind of Stephen King Country really. I'm, you know, obviously, Stephen King has a huge influence on my work, and always has been. And it's about a failed writer who retires to the New England coast to write the revenge novel, or his recently dead nemesis. And this is the, you know, the person who befriended in college who, who then stole his his his memoir to use as the basis for that first novel, and then he became the writer that our protagonist has always longed to be the great celebrated celebrated kind of author so now he's dead. Our, our protagonist, Wilder is going to write the tape down to reveal his his perfidy and, and show what really didn't tell how it happened. That you know that this famous novelist actually nicked the original idea, but things not all go according to plan. And he started to find these notes written in greening all around the house and he Nik is dead Nemesis is writing. And isn't the events, the events from both books start to bleed into the reality of what's happening now? And it's a, you know, there becomes a question of who's who's writing. Which I find sort of terrifying in itself the idea that one might not be real. Because what, once you spend so much time feeling unreal anyway, it's kind of it's a kind of big existential horror inherent in that, I think.
Michael David Wilson 1:00:31
Yeah, yeah. An existential horror. I spend far too much of my time pondering.
Catriona Ward 1:00:38
Yes, exactly. Yeah, yeah.
Michael David Wilson 1:00:41
All right. And is there a release date for that one?
Catriona Ward 1:00:45
Yes. It's April 2023. In, in the US and in the UK, so it's out from torn. I love the lovely tour Nightfire in the US, and the lovely vibe books in the UK. And yeah, it's, it's yeah, it's exciting. It's, I'm still dreaming it and still got it behind the eyes, because I'm still working on it. It's probably the hardest thing I've ever done. But then they all are on me.
Michael David Wilson 1:01:15
And yeah, they certainly feel like it at the time. I think it's only when you step back, you can begin to have some objectivity and say, Okay, well, which one was actually the hardest, but, you know, at that point, it's like, well, this new one I've just started obviously.
Catriona Ward 1:01:34
Yeah, well, yeah, exactly. They're all gonna break your heart in some way or another.
Michael David Wilson 1:01:40
Yeah. Yeah. Well, thank you so much for chatting with us. This has been a lot of fun. And we definitely have to get you back some time, because there's so much more we could go into so perhaps, in fact, to coincide with this novel next year.
Catriona Ward 1:02:00
That's a great idea. I'd love that. Also, niggly little Eve is coming out in the states in October. So nice that it's never been released in the US. And Nightfire. I've just taken it on. So it's getting and you know, it was my it was my least beloved book in terms of sales, which is strange, really, because then it went on to get the Shirley Jackson. I don't know. But it's been given this lease of life, you know, which I'm so excited by.
Michael David Wilson 1:02:26
Yeah, well, fingers crossed that it does well with the publicity machine that is to Nightfire I mean, fantastic. And, yeah, unfortunately, you know, as as you know, awards and critical acclaim and sales does not always the correlation. It can be frustrating, but it is what it is. You know? How, where can our listeners connect with you?
Catriona Ward 1:03:00
Oh, yes. Okay. So I'm, I'm just, I'm on Twitter. So I'm just at Catriona Ward. And I'm also on Instagram. I'm CatWard66. And those are places I don't have a website. I never knew why I don't why don't I have a website those are the places my I kind of dispersed news really. And I love, love to chat. I love to chat to readers, love to chat to anyone, really, anyone who likes Anyone, anyone who likes horror and books. So please seek me out.
Michael David Wilson 1:03:37
I mean, they all have fun when you spent a great deal of your childhood isolated. It's like you're trying to now have all the conversations that you were meant to have so that the kind of average of your lifetime you evened it out a little bit.
Catriona Ward 1:03:52
That's very simple. There's an unnervingly astute point. Yes, I think there's a lot of there's a lot of alert. Yeah, well, yeah, exactly. But what is what is horror and social media for except for, you know, people who are still learning children inside
Michael David Wilson 1:04:11
you go. When you have any final thoughts that you'd like to leave our listeners with?
Catriona Ward 1:04:21
I suppose. If one is to think one's thinking about what, as aspiring writers, I'd say, Don't be afraid of what people tell you the industry demands. Don't be afraid of what you think people want to publish or read. Because that's a chimera, you're, you can chase it. You can chase it forever and never get it right. But the one thing that you can do and the only thing you could control is the book that you write. So write the mad, anarchic book of your heart. And don't worry about anything else.
Michael David Wilson 1:05:00
Thank you so much for joining us for the conversation with criterion award. Join us again next time when we will be chatting with Matt Wesolowski. But if you would like to get that ahead of the crowd, if you'd like to get every episode ahead of the crowd, then become our patron on patreon.com forward slash, This Is Horror. Not only do you get to listen to every episode early, but you get to submit questions to interviewees. And we've got a number of great people coming up soon we got the likes of Connor Habib, Kevin Lucia, Ronald Kelly, just to name a few. And not only do you get that, but you become part of the writers forum, and the discord and at the moment, we're having an amazing Writing Challenge. It has been fantastic to see so many of you join us. It's a really supportive and thriving community. So if you want to challenge yourself, for this year, if you want to write a story a week, write a novel in 90 days write a novella in amount of really becoming a This Is Horror patron that is the place to get all that motivation, support that camaraderie. So you know, I challenge you go to patreon.com forward slash This Is Horror. Sign up, check it out for a month and if you don't love it, then cancel but you know, what, have you wasted $3 but not gonna be a waste because you're gonna get all those bonuses. I before I wrap up, a little bit of an advert break.
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Michael David Wilson 1:07:57
Well that about does it for another episode of This Is Horror. And just keep doing your best in writing and in life and also expect the best of others expect that whatever happens is of good intentions that they were also doing their best and if you can live life like that, then I think it becomes a better place really. So with that said, Take care yourselves be good to one another or read horror. Keep on writing and have a great, great day.