How long have you been writing for?
I’ve been writing ever since I can remember. When I was a kid, I mostly wrote fantasy imitative of Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain Chronicles and Susan Cooper’s Dark Is Rising series, then detective fiction when I became obsessed with Agatha Christie. I didn’t begin to seriously commit myself to horror until I turned 15 and read Lovecraft and Robert Bloch for the first time.
What is it about horror that made you think ‘This is the genre for me’?
When I was a kid, I was absurdly easy to terrify. Edgar Allan Poe’s tales and Roger Corman’s adaptations of them traumatized me for months on end. I read Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black in one night and wasn’t able to sleep, it haunted me so deeply. I was, in other words, ridiculously sensitive to even the slightest stimulant of terror. Then I found an anthology with one of Robert Bloch’s stories — his blend of humor and horror really appealed to me and made the terror more palatable while not robbing it of its visceral strength. Lovecraft’s writing, both his fiction and his essay on the supernatural, was the final revolution of my metamorphoses. He articulated the genre’s philosophical and spiritual implications, its ability to open the reader up to the perception of eerie, alien phenomena outside the realm of ordinary experience, more clearly and eloquently than any writer since Edmund Burke in his transformative theory of sublime terror. All of a sudden, the genre’s power didn’t seem like something wholly chaotic: or if it was chaotic, there was a spiritual dimension to this terrifying yet somehow pleasurable chaos that I wanted to understand and harness. At the age of 15, I began to write stories that were basically pastiches of Lovecraftian horror and even though they weren’t very good, I think I learned a lot as a writer from these early experiments. After that, I began to mature into my own peculiar brand of horror, though I like to think that I still have a touch of these early influences.
Any tips for combating writer’s block?
As someone who struggles with it quite a lot, especially during the editing stage, I am still working to find the most effective cure-all for this problem myself. However, I’ve found that it’s best to know when to quit the field with a project and try something different. There’s a lot to be said for returning to a frustrating project with fresh eyes rather than try and force it into submission. Another thing that I’ve found helpful is to channel your current obsessions or interests into a project: experiment with trying to write in the voice of a favorite writer, or capturing the atmosphere of a scene in a film that you enjoyed. It’s surprising how returning to early exercises in imitation that young writers engage in quite frequently can still be of invaluable use to maturer writers who have hit a creative roadblock.
Any rituals you have before starting a new story?
Besides, of course, making certain that I’m nicely caffeinated, I like to write a short blurb-like paragraph with the basic plot of the story so that I feel like I have something of a guideline. I don’t like to outline too much with short stories because that takes away the spirit of improvisation and can rob the process of its creative energy. Novels are a bit different — it’s good to have at least a skeletal outline of each chapter. Then, for both short stories and novels, I like to think of three or four distinct images or impressions that I want to depict in the story and write these down. I like to think of them as guiding nodes that allow me to remember vividly what kind of atmosphere I’m trying to generate. I have a very cinematic imagination, probably due to watching too many movies, and so usually for me these take the form of brief “scenes” or “stills” from an imagined production of my story. These nodes also allow me to vividly imagine my characters as physical beings inhabiting a particular world.
How do you handle character creation?
I find using Dungeons and Dragons character sheets helpful but it’s fun to see the many ways other people go about this. I too find RPG manuals to be creatively stimulating! I love paging through my Call of Cthulhu guidebook for ideas on monsters and villains in particular. I find that my sources of inspiration tend to be varied: sometimes a particular actor will serve as the physical inspiration for a character’s movements and mannerisms, while a character in a novel will serve as an insight into a character’s psyche. I play “what if” a lot while I watch movies and read books and often I’ll see certain characters in fairly typical situations and wonder what that same type of character would do in a wholly unrelated situation. History, too, provides a wealth of inspiration. The villainous Judge Complin in my serial Gothic novel The Cost of a Rose, for instance, is loosely based on Thomas Burnet, an early 18th-century hanging judge and libertine, infamous for his sardonic and wittily blasphemous sense of humor.
Any projects coming up (or currently out) you’d like to share with us?
I’m currently working on editing a final draft of a Gothic horror novel set in 17th century Scotland called The Feast of the Innocents. It involves grisly, ritualistic murders; a sinister, social-climbing chimney-sweeper; and a young hero with a mysterious past, on the run from a bloodthirsty assassin-torturer. I’m also, of course, continuing my serial Gothic thriller The Cost of a Rose on my blog, which features a young servant falsely accused of murder and tormented and pursued by his arch-enemy, the sadistic Judge Complin. It’s all very Sadean — something like the adult, Gothic version of A Series of Unfortunate Events. I am also working on several short stories — one, a reimagining of Jonathan Harker’s encounter with Dracula’s brides and the other a dystopian sci-fi horror tale.
How can we support your work?
Visit my blog and leave a comment if you enjoy what you read — reader encouragement truly means so much. Of course, if you’re an agent or know an agent who would be interested in a 17th century Gothic horror tale with large doses of folk horror, grisly terror, and brooding atmosphere, do let me know!
I’ve noticed quite a few Silent Hill nods in your writing; do you have a favourite game in the series?
Well, firstly, thank you for saying so as that’s quite a compliment. I’ve always admired the atmosphere and masterful blend of supernatural and psychological horror in that franchise. If I had to choose a favorite game, well, that’s a bit difficult. I’ve only played through Silent Hill 3 myself, though I’ve watched playthroughs of the other games. I guess that 2 & 3 hold a special place in my heart: I love the Dantean horror of Silent Hill 2 as each character confronts some manifestation of their past guilts and traumas, but I also love the Lovecraftian horror of Silent Hill 3 which has a stronger emphasis on the sinister cult at the heart of the town’s history.
What about ‘gothic horror’ drew you in so much? You’re one of my favourite authors currently dealing with truly gothic tales.
Thank you so much! As you probably guessed from my Silent Hill reply, I am very drawn to horror that has a strong emphasis on atmosphere — that is, the texture of a particular setting. I think that the Gothic, with its emphasis on history, landscape, and larger-than-life characters really foregrounds atmosphere and gives it a symbolic and emotional resonance. Castles, for instance, aren’t just dwellings in Gothic novels — they’re symbolic of a dark past, of the character of their past and present owners, and of some sinister and inescapable power. Indeed, everything in the Gothic is alive with some kind of malignant power and meaning and mystery. As a kid, I was always drawn to the paperback Gothic romances that I would find in used bookstores, as well as the Gothic writings of Poe and Hawthorne. As I grew older and read the British Gothic novels of Matthew Lewis, Ann Radcliffe, William Godwin, and Charles Robert Maturin, my love for the genre was confirmed. Moreover, I’ve always been drawn to historical settings, particularly 17th and 18th century Britain, and my love for setting horror tales in the past makes the Gothic a natural habitation for me. There is a stylistic attraction as well: my novel The Cost of a Rose could, of course, be set in modern times with a few tweaks and adjustments, but it would be a bit trickier to have those same grandiose flourishes of language and setting — and I think the Gothic, with its love for exuberance, gives me an opportunity to really play with prose as poetry.
Any advice to people just starting out in their writing careers?
Keep trying and don’t be too hard on yourself if there are times in your life when inspiration runs dry. I know that common wisdom often dictates that a writer should write every day, but sometimes due to other responsibilities or the fickleness of the Muse, that’s simply not possible. Just do the best you can and remember that there’s more to writing than getting words down. Reading history and literature, listening to inspirational and evocative music, communing with kindred spirits, is essential as well. No great writer ever writes in a vacuum.
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