Author and Scriptwriter

'Among the most important writers of contemporary British horror.' -Ramsey Campbell

Friday, 18 December 2015

The Lowdown with... Stephen Volk

Screenwriter, playwright and author of novellas and short stories, BAFTA and two times British Fantasy Award winner Stephen Volk is best know as the man behind Ken Russell's Gothic, the notorious BBCTV 'Halloween hoax' Ghostwatch, the ITV drama Afterlife and, most recently, the ITV adaptation of Phil Rickman's Midwinter Of The Spirit. He is additionally the author of the novellas Vardoger, the highly acclaimed Whitstable and most recently, Leytonstone, together with the story collections Dark Corners and Monsters In The Heart. Born in Pontypridd, South Wales, he now lives in Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire, with his wife, the sculptor Patricia Volk, and a cat he doesn't like.

1. Tell us three things about yourself.
Doc Brown, Anna Maxwell Martin and David Threlfall in Midwinter Of The Spirit
1) I had my front tooth knocked out whilst playing cowboys and Indians. As a child, obviously. 
2) When I first moved to London I worked as an advertising copywriter and wrote some of the Green Cross Code commercials featuring Green Cross Man, played by David (Darth Vader) Prowse. 
3) I once went to Carrie Fisher’s birthday party and got stuck talking to George Lucas.

2. What was the first thing you had published?
The novelisation of Gothic, the first screenplay I wrote, which was turned into a film by Ken Russell. I only had a month to write it so it was a bit of a rush job, but I wanted to do it. I wrote it in first person from Mary Shelley’s point of view and that didn’t quite work. I also used too many exclamation marks. My only edit note was to change “stigmata” to “stigma” since it was used in the singular.

Lesley Sharp and Andrew Lincoln in Afterlife.
3. Which piece of writing are you proudest of?
I’m proud of the things which more or less live up to my intention (or turn out better, if they involve collaboration). I’m never completely happy with anything, but I’d say Ghostwatch, Afterlife and Midwinter of the Spirit all exceeded my expectations, largely due to the extraordinary amount the cast or crew brought to them in each case. In terms of my fiction writing, certain short stories that require a lot of work to get right make me proud to have pulled it off. I’d say my story “White Butterflies” is one. “Celebrity Frankenstein” is another. Also my novellas “Whitstable” and “Leytonstone”, both of which are very close to my heart.  

4. …and which makes you cringe?

Films that get cocked up along the way. Movies where there were seven drafts too many, or I got kicked off. The Guardian. The Kiss. Octane. All lost track of the original intention, and bad ideas inexplicably replaced good. But any film that actually gets made and works is some kind of miracle.

5. What’s a normal writing day like?
Facebook and emails. Coffee. Procrastination. Guilt. Anger. Self-loathing. Pages. Dinner. Telly/ box set/DVD.

6. Which piece of writing should someone who’s never read you before pick up first?
Maybe “Whitstable”. I think a lot of the subject matter I return to is in there. Faith, or loss of faith. A hero with flaws or weakness. The threat of harm. Film culture. What the horror genre means and why we love it. How we battle fear, if we can. Those ideas are my canvas, really. They extend into “Leytonstone” and they’ll be present in the third of the trilogy when I write it.

7. What are you working on now?
I’m discussing new ideas with the producers who did Midwinter. I’m writing the pilot for a new TV series called Empty Chairs for Clerkenwell Films, the production company behind Afterlife. I’m also doing more work on a script called Playtime I wrote with Tim Lebbon now we have a director attached. I’m also hoping to have news soon about a movie I’ve been developing called Extrasensory, which is out to casting as we speak. Plus my next collection of stories, The Parts We Play, will be published by PS Publishing in 2016. Which I’m very excited about.

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