1. How do you dream up your characters and situations?
Good question. I guess the first element is, “what would I want to see?” In terms of characters, I want a good representation of the people you might find in a city like London. That means people who are young or old. Male or female. Those who are skinny or overweight. Factor in other things like their sexuality, interests and such – just to get realistic characters.
For the situations? I guess what I’m looking at is the fantastical set against a realistic setting. It could be two friends on a fishing trip on a lake. Or a jogger journeying home late on London Underground. A bunch of people catching live music in a sweaty venue, packed shoulder to shoulder. I like the narrative that nudges the everyday into something off-kilter. Sinister, even.
2. What are your quirks, so readers can understand you as a writer more than your advertising spiel?
My quirks? Ahhhh, I’m sure I don’t have any… No, I’ll tell you the biggest one – at least as a writer. I love my quiet and solitude in equal measure. I wouldn’t say I’m the most gregarious person, but I can engage with people, no problem. When it’s time to write, the quiet alone isn’t enough – people need to disappear. When I have that level of quiet and solitude, then it’s easier for me to really relax and sink myself into the story I’m crafting. In general, I don’t like too many people around me in terms of crowds and tourists and such. My honey knows this from when we’re out and about, holding hands: when people veer to close, her grip tightens along with mine. Her way of saying, “babe, it’s okay,” or some such, I guess. And making sure I don’t break her hand…
So, yeah, I can do people, but not crowds, if that makes sense. I guess another quirk is that I’m often at the mercy of my stomach. Lifting weights, which includes heavy squats, keeps some degree of size, strength and appetite about me, kung fu keeps me in shape to handle the weight I carry. If you can talk food, it’s definitely a tick in the plus column! Same goes for talking about heavy lifting or martial arts.
3. How do you develop your characters?
What I want is realistic characters. One thing I do look at more and more is in terms of presenting characters that maybe aren’t so commonplace. I’d been thinking on using a tall woman as a character, for example. Sure, there are tall women out there, but from a writing point of view, if you’re taller than most men and women, how does it make that character feel? How do people react to that character?
And that’s just with the outer appearance. In creating a character, what are they like inside? Are they creative people? Are they shy people? Witty? Thoughtless? I don’t necessarily need to go into a whole bunch of detail in the story at a given point, but just a couple of brush strokes to give a taste of what the character’s like. Some I’ll craft from thin air, so to speak. Some may borrow a trait from someone I know or met. Some may be faces that I see when I’m out and about, on a commute, in a bar, whatever.
4. What are you reading now?
Currently on Thomas Tessier’s, “The Nightwalker.” I’d ask a bunch of people to recommend an eerie novel for me to get stuck into and that’s the one Eric Ian Steele came up with. So far, I wouldn’t say it’s eerie or creepy, but it does a good job of presenting a disturbing mystery and drawing you in.
5. Why do you write and what drives you?
You know, I could say a number of things here. I could say that I want to tell stories. Or that I want to surpass my previous work. I want to wow the audience. All of that, and they’re all true. I guess I just like to write, in spite of the fact that it can be a very tedious process at times. As for what drives me, again, that’s a whole bunch of answers. I want to surpass myself, I want to wow my audience, I want to create something fresh, something compelling.
6. Who inspires you?
From an author point of view, definitely Michael Crichton – may that good man rest in peace. What I like about his work is that for all the detail and scientific rationale that’s layered into his work, his stories move at a fluid pace. There’s action, there’s drama, maybe a little sex and violence – but there’s that mystery that keeps you turning the pages.
More recent inspiration comes from the likes of Rhys Hughes and Erik Hofstatter, off the top of my head. I had the honour of meeting him at a BFS gathering last year and he told me about his aim to have written 1000 stories. At the time, he’d already written over 800! And there I was thinking that me doing the One Story A Week challenge from This Is Horror was something. With Erik Hofstatter, it was from having read the Rare Breeds novella last year. Now I don’t read a whole lot, in terms of one book after the next. I’m certainly not a prolific reader like some are. But having read the Katerina novella, I had to pick up Rare Breeds. If you want writing with that macabre sensibility, something that is …gloriously uncomfortable, look no further. It’s some good shit.
I’d have to cite Lee Markham as well. And this is key. Because, as an HWA (Horror Writers Association) member, you get to opt in to read work that authors want considered for a Bram Stoker award. Even outside of HWA membership, I’ve read a fair amount of horror; hell, I grew up on stuff like that. But when I’d opted in to read Lee Markham’s “The Knife”? I’d never read anything like it – I went as far as calling it a game-changer: it straight-up blew me away. That’s the kind of reaction I’d want from a reader.
7. What inspires you?
In author terms, it could be anything. I could be reading the Evening Standard and read something about an unexplained disappearance, and that might inspire to write something. I love the theme tune to the Phantasm film from way back when, and that music brings to mind a sense of something off-kilter, something eerie. So that inspires me. Most of my work has at least one quote at the beginning (but a few stories may have a dictionary-type definition instead). The quotes inspire me. The same way that you’d shop for a pair of shoes or a shirt or a car or whatever, so it is with a quote: I want to find something that fits. And as such, I might spend an hour or so looking for one.
Generally, I’ll come up with the idea first and then it takes a little time to come up with the title. But the quote is the hors d’oeuvre – it’s the taster for what’s to come. It might even alter the flow or feel of the story I have in mind. But I’ll sift through a whole mountain of them to pick the right one, the one that gives the right flavour and mystery for what’s to come.
8. Is there a single thread/ idea/belief which appears in everything you write?
I like to think that my stories deal in fear – not something to shock, like a jump scare, but fear. So it’s not only about those instances where someone’s eyes roll back in their head and they grin at you while murmuring in ancient languages. I want those quiet moments too: where that person is sat in silence with the demon deep-rooted in their mind, glaring at them. The moments where someone sees a ghost and turns to run – only to see that they can’t run anywhere. And the ghost comes closer.
More and more in my stories, I like to explore fear. Different characters will fear different things. Different characters will react differently to the same thing. Not everything to be feared is malicious or sinister, even if it appears that way. But that’s the kind of stuff I want to explore and hopefully deliver in my work.
9. What book/ story/ movie do you wish you’d written?
Honestly, there isn’t one. For those who create those stories, I’m happy to enjoy them as part of a captive audience without thinking, “damn, I wish I’d done that.”
10. How often do you think of an idea, but see it’s been done? What do you do?
I honestly don’t think that’s happened. There may have been similar ideas on a couple of occasions, but it’s not fazed me. I just think that even if you asked two writers to write about the exact same thing, they still wouldn’t write the same story. The flow will be different, the inflection will be different, the characters will be different. You just need a story compelling enough to hook your audience. Thanks for letting me ruminate a little.