Hello my Freaky Darlings,
1. What drives you to write?
I suppose it’s a matter of love and compulsion. I love reading, I love language and I love fiction. Reading for me is a physical as well as a mental pleasure, it’s also highly emotionally stimulating. I’ve loved playing with words, both their sound and meaning, since I learned to speak. Fiction, for me, uncovers and offers explanations for the mysteries of existence. The fierceness and intensity of my love for all these things probably fuels the compulsion I have to write. Like most writers, writing is as essential to me as breathing or eating.
2. What attracted you to writing horror?
I guess it’s a way of accommodating the more destructive sides of my personality and finding a safe way of managing and facing up to them. Fear and aggression are rarely useful or positive emotions. They often fuel one another and the only good thing in my life that has ever come out of either would be the horror fiction I’ve written.
3. Who are your favourite horror writers?
Heavens, I bet every writer who answers this question has problems with keeping the list short. My first love in horror was Robert Bloch, possibly one of the most underrated writers in the field. I love the way he structures stories and the way they build, like a joke, to a punchline that invariably catches you unaware. I also love his jet black, ever present humour, in both these ways he was more of an influence on my own work than I may care to admit. Reading Lisa Tuttle as an adolescent showed me how to harness my own fears and make compelling fiction out of them. She continues to terrify me to this day, especially her brilliant short fiction. Ramsey Campbell’s work did the same for me and still unsettles and unnerves me whenever I pick it up. Richard Matheson and Charles Beaumont have also been very important to me and they allow me to segue neatly into the screenwriters I love as they wrote for the Twilight zone alongside the inestimable Rod Serling. Nigel Kneale was a TV writer of genius who has scared me senseless many times. To come full circle Stephen Volk is a contemporary screenwriter and who also writes the sort of short fiction that everyone should read for it’s savagery and sophistication.
4. Which horror novels do you think every horror fan should read?
Ah, now if you’d said books I would have gone for three groundbreaking anthologies Dark Forces edited by Kirby McCauley, 999 by Al Sarantonio and Black Water edited by Alberto Manguel which every horror fan should definitely read. Novels are more difficult. Off the top of my head I would suggest The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, The Shining by Stephen King and The Third Policeman by Flan O’Brien, simply because it is a work of genius.
5. Ebooks or paperback?
When it comes to publishing I’m happy to see my work in either. For sheer reading pleasure I prefer paperbacks. I love the tactility of them, the musty smell of old books and the crisp, fresh smell of new ones. The feeling of turning a page and cracking a spine is sadly missing from an Ebook for me. Of course if I was to express my ideal preference it would be for a hardback.
6. What would make you pick up a novel by a new author?
An exciting or a novel concept that I hadn’t encountered before. Characters that intrigue me and also the author’s writing prowess, if they have a good style and ability to tell a great story I’m hooked.
7. Who is your favourite fictional character?
That’s a really, really tough one, but after staring at my groaning bookshelves for a while I’d have to suggest Daniel Pearse from the amazing novel Stone Junction by Jim Dodge. Another work of genius.
8. Do you plot your stories or does it just unfold before your eyes?
If I’m honest, it’s a little of both. I usually spend a lot of time plotting in advance but sometimes a story gets impatient with me and tells me to just sit down and write the damn thing. Even when I’ve plotted something quite tightly the story will often surprise me by taking unexpected turns. There is always a journey of discovery as you uncover the first draft, even if you think you know where you’re going. One of my favourite jokes goes: ‘Q: How do you make God laugh? A: Tell Him your plans.’ Bearing that in mind, I suspect you would probably have your novel in uncontrollable fits of giggles if you were to show it your chapter breakdowns.
9. Do your characters take on a life of their own and do things you didn’t plan?
Constantly! As I was coming towards the end of my second novel I was worried about a few loose plot threads and was trying to think of a sub plot I could quickly add to address them. Then out of the blue one of my characters suddenly revealed a whole sub plot that had been going on right under the main characters’ noses that completely reframed the whole story. I had no idea about this until she started to outline it. I sat there taking dictation from her thinking the whole while “why the hell didn’t I think of this?” She even made reference to all kinds of tiny events in the novel that I had forgotten about and suddenly made complete sense of them. Many reviewers commented on this surprise sub plot and singled it out for praise, but to this day I really don’t think I can take any credit for it. It all came from my female lead.
Sci fi visionary Philip K. Dick used to speak with his characters and consult them independently of his fiction. He was especially fond of a few characters and he would interact with them in a fictional realm, a little like divination. When he needed their support or advice he would sit at his typewriter and type “Phil walks into Leo’s office. He sits at Leo’s desk, wearing a hang dog expression. ‘Something on your mind Phil?’ Leo says. ‘Well I’m glad you asked,’ says Phil. ‘As it happens … &etc’.” He had on going relationships like this, with some of his characters, for decades after the books they appeared in were published. This is because the characters were independent entities to him. Grant Morrison also talks about putting on a fiction suit and stepping into stories and I’ve met Chaos magicians who claim to have summoned up and interacted with fictional characters in very real magical ceremonies. So I guess they’re all exploring a similar vein, which begs the question: do we come up with our characters, or have they always been there, simply waiting for us to write a story to house them?
10. Do you listen to music when you write or do you need silence?
It all depends on my mood, my environment and the passage of fiction I’m writing. I recently discovered that a lot writers share my habit of writing to film scores. These are great to write to because they’ve been specifically composed to tell a story and create a mood. For this reason they can be of great benefit to the writer wanting to enhance a mood in order to capture it. Music is also useful to create a bubble and block out the outside world so you can focus your concentration (something that is essential to a writer). If the work isn’t flowing though music can be one more distraction and is best dispensed with. In these instances complete silence is best.
11. Do you do a lot of research for your stories?
Shedloads! If you’re writing fantastical fiction and you want your reader to buy into your more imaginative concepts you’ve got to make every other detail as real as possible, which involves tonnes of research for me.
12. Facebook or Twitter?
I’m tempted to say neither. I spend more time on Facebook than twitter because I find it more focussed and less distracting. However twitter doesn’t have the same insidious undercurrent of dictatorial censoriousness that Facebook has. People don’t get blocked from Twitter with the alarming regularity that Facebook suspends people’s accounts and there’s not the same level of threat from the admins. The other thing that Facebook, like LinkedIn, gets totally wrong is the insistence that you must know people before connecting. This defeats the whole purpose of networking and runs counter to how most people use those sites. It’s like inviting a bunch of industrial professionals to a networking event and then insisting that no one talks to anyone that they don’t already intimately know. Beyond stupid really. They’re all useful in their own ways but I’m looking forward to the day social media evolves to address these issues. When that happens I’ll be at the head of the stampede deserting Facebook.
More than anything it’s the business and admin side of the job, not to mention the precarious nature of freelancing in this field. People think of writing as a dream job, but they forget to take into account that you do it under nightmare working conditions.
Oh and one other thing that annoys me is getting to the end of an interview and realising that I haven’t plugged my latest book. I have a new novelette coming out from Crystal Lake Publishing, an extreme erotic horror called Stuck On You. I can positively guarantee that this will be the sickest, filthiest thing you’ll read all year. It will turn you on even as it turns your stomach. Trust your Uncle Jasp on this, you know it makes sense.
Stuck on You is a sick, twisted, quick read that will leave you uncomfortable and disturbed. It should also not be read on a full stomach, you may end up losing your lunch or dinner. Trust me on this.
And as a little extra, here’s a little Video Edition with Jasper having some fun with Zombies: