Author and Scriptwriter

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

Monday, 25 April 2016

The Lowdown with... Nina Allan

Nina Allan’s stories have appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies, including Best Horror of the Year #6, The Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy 2013, and The Mammoth Book of Ghost Stories by Women. Her novella Spin, a science fictional re-imagining of the Arachne myth, won the BSFA Award in 2014, and her story-cycle The Silver Wind was awarded the Grand Prix de L’Imaginaire in the same year. Her debut novel The Race was a finalist for the 2015 BSFA Award, the Kitschies Red Tentacle and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award. Nina lives and works in North Devon. Her blog, The Spider’s House, is here.

1.     Tell us three things about yourself.

One of my first horror movie memories is of watching Jacques Tourneur’s Night of the Demon as part of one of the BBC’s Friday night ‘Horror Double Bill’ features. The second half of that double bill was Freddie Francis’s The Ghoul, but that was deemed a) too late and b) too scary for me to stay up for. I enjoyed Night of the Demon, but remember being disappointed that the actual demon didn’t get more screen time – Don Henderson’s bloodstained feet creeping down the attic stairs in the trailer for The Ghoul seemed much more up my street. I still hold a lot of affection for The Ghoul because of that early attachment, though it’s easy to see that of those two films it is Night of the Demon that is the cinematic masterpiece. Certainly to my adult self it seems even more impressive now than it did then. Not a bad introduction to the genre.   

When I was at secondary school, I used to conduct impromptu readings from Herbert van Thal’s Pan
Books of Horror Stories for the benefit, if you can call it that, of my assembled friends. I remember George Fielding Eliot’s ‘The Copper Bowl’ and Flavia Richardson’s ‘Behind the Yellow Door’ were among the most requested – although I don’t think my teachers were so keen...  

If I could only take one horror novel to a desert island, it would be Joyce Carol Oates’s Bellefleur. For me, Oates’s dark fiction is without equal, and this generation-spanning saga of a family who may or may not have vampires among their number is a superb place to begin. There are echoes of Mervin Peake’s Gormenghast in the richness of the book’s language and the scope of its narrative, but Oates is thoroughly her own writer and the wit, irony and erudition with which she approaches her material make Bellefleur a masterpiece of modern gothic. I feel I could spend a long time on that island with only Oates to read and still find new delights to savour.

2.     What was the first thing you had published?

That was actually a translation I worked on of a Russian novella called The Peasant, by Dmitri Grigorovich, which was published in 1990. My first published piece of fiction was a short story called ‘The Beachcomber’, which appeared in an issue of the British Fantasy Society journal Dark Horizons in 2002.

3.     Which piece of writing are you proudest of?

I always tend to feel happiest with whatever work I happen to have completed most recently, so in this case I’d have to name my second novel The Rift, which is due out next year. The Rift is about two sisters, Selena and Julie, and the mystery surrounding Julie’s disappearance at the age of seventeen. The book started life as a story about alien abduction, but developed into something rather different. I am very pleased with the way it has turned out, and I’m looking forward to seeing what readers will make of it.  

4.     …and which makes you cringe?

Nothing I’ve written makes me cringe, exactly – I’ve always tried to produce the best work I was capable of at any given time, which is all you can do as a writer, really. But I’m not particularly fond of any of the stories I wrote prior to 2007, when my first collection came out. I find those early stories too derivative, too tentative, although many of the themes and character types I’m drawn to are already present, in embryo.

5.     What’s a normal writing day like?

I am avowedly a morning person, and most of my first-draft writing gets done between 9am and 5pm. When I’m writing first draft I like to get 2,000 words in a day if I can. I tend to discard a lot, and might need two or three attempts before I can find my way into a story. I have huge admiration for writers like Jonathan Franzen and Nicola Barker, who disconnect themselves entirely from the internet while they’re working, and this is something I’m thinking of trying myself with my next book. I’m actually quite disciplined about staying offline when I need to, but it’s incredibly easy to get distracted, if you’re not careful. It’s important to get rid of mental white noise, to create a space and an atmosphere that fosters concentration at a deep level. I don’t agree, at all, with all the doom-saying about how the internet has shortened people’s attention spans on a permanent basis – I think the online life is as capable of stimulating creativity as it is of stifling it – but for me at least it’s essential to switch off sometimes, to get properly back in touch with what I think and feel, without the running commentary of peer group opinion in the background constantly badgering me to react to this or that. The main reason I don’t do social media is that I find that level of intrusion – that sense of being constantly available for comment – disastrous for work. Consequently I tend to use the internet in what is a very old fashioned way: a kind of speeded-up version of the postal and library services!
6.     Which piece of writing should someone who’s never read you before pick up first?

I think I’d probably say The Harlequin, which won The Novella Award last year. It contains some of the metafictional elements I’m so fond of, but it’s also a relatively straightforward story about the effects of war, both on those who experience the violence first hand and those who stay behind, who are often left to pick up the pieces afterwards. It’s a story about a haunting, and a murder and I like it a lot. The physical book, from Sandstone Press, is a beautiful thing.

7.     What are you working on now?

Another novella, and my first piece of full-on horror fiction for more than a year. I’ve wanted to write a Lovecraft-inspired piece for ages, and I think it’s safe to say this is one, although it contains no overt Mythos references. I’ve been having a lot of fun with this story, which should hopefully see the light of day later this year.

Friday, 22 April 2016

(More) Things of the Week 22nd April 2016: The Feast Of All Souls Reveal!

As you know, I've another novel due for release this year, this time from Solaris: The Feast Of All Souls (formerly known as Redman's Hill.)

As you can see, it also boasts an awesome cover by Ben Baldwin.

The suburb of Crawbeck, on a hill outside Manchester, overlooks the woodlands of Browton Vale. Alice Collier was happy here, once; following her daughter’s death and the breakdown of her marriage, she’s come back, to pick up the threads of her life. 

378 Collarmill Road looks like an ordinary semi-detached house. But sometimes, the world outside the windows isn’t the one you expect to see. And sometimes you’ll turn around and find you’re not alone. John Revell, an old flame of Alice’s, reluctantly comes to her aid. The hill is a place of legends – of Old Harry, the Beast of Crawbeck, of the Virgin of the Height and of the mysterious Red Man – and home to the secrets of the shadowy Arodias Thorne.
Alice’s house stands at a gateway between worlds. On the other side of it, something has woken. And she and John, alone, stand in its way...

You can read Solaris' official press release here, featuring Jon Oliver saying nice things about me.

The Feast Of All Souls will be published in December 2016.

Monday, 18 April 2016

Things Of Last Week: 18th April 2016

I am a very bad person.
I normally do Things of the Week every Friday, but got a little distracted, not least because we had dinner guests - Priya Sharma and her partner Mark came round for dinner, several rounds of Cards Against Humanity (I won a pack of these a couple of months back) which is set to become a guilty pleasure, I suspect.

The only reason we didn't end up playing all night was because Priya had a Blu-Ray of Mad Max: Fury Road. So I finally got to see the damn film, and it was incredible. Charlize Theron is superb as Imperator Furiosa (and what a cool name that is) and Tom Hardy... damnit, Tom Hardy is Tom Hardy. After seeing him in Locke, I understood exactly why so many people go chicken oriental about the guy. He fits very snugly into Mel Gibson's boots here, but Theron basically owns this film, which is just great stuff: almost completely non-stop action, but it actually builds in heart and character development and emotional power without sacrificing a moment's pace. I will admit to welling up slightly at one point. To avoid spoilers, I'll just say this: "Witness me."


Bottom shelf, second from left. :)
This week, things have ticked along. I've enjoyed my break from Devil's Highway continues, and
used it to rewrite some more of The Song Of The Sibyl. And then a new idea came along, and has started twitching into life. Should be worth the few days it'll hopefully take to bring it into the world. There are a few things I was putting off until 'after the book is written' that I'll try and do before going back to it, I think. I've a fairly tight deadline, but life's always fun lived close to the edge. (Famous last words, I know.) But you can't always do the sensible thing: see this excellent blog from Chuck Wendig.

This week has been the week of the London Book Fair, and both my publisher Snowbooks and my agent Tom Witcomb were there. They're probably just about recovering now!

And - nearly forgot! Angels Of The Silences got another review - this time on Hellnotes:

Bestwick’s talent for capturing the distinct voices of his protagonists is what sets this novella apart from others with a similar plot. Wrapping up in a quick but solid conclusion, Angels of the Silences will leave a lasting impression on any reader lucky enough to cross its path.

I'll take that. :)

May the Liberator carry you safely home.
On a sadder note, the actor Gareth Thomas died last week. I was a huge fan of Blake's 7 (and it was an influence on Hell's Ditch: there's a reason there's a character called Darrow in it...) and Roj Blake was, of course, the role he was best known for, but he had a long and solid career on the stage and television, and was actually twice nominated for a BAFTA, for the TV play Stocker's Copper and the series Morgan's Boy. (He even has an uncredited, blink-and-you'll-miss-him appearance in Hammer's Quatermass And The Pit - right at the beginning, as a workman...) Not to mention the cult TV series Children Of The Stones. Another series I always loved him in was the underrated Knights Of God, where he starred alongside John Woodvine, Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes and (in their final TV appearances) Nigel Stock and Patrick Troughton in a dystopian thriller set in a ruined Britain controlled by an order of clerical fascists. It was written by Richard Cooper, who's always good. I still have Cooper's novelisation of the script somewhere.

Knights Of God has never been released on DVD in the UK, but until it is, it's on YouTube:

Sunday, 17 April 2016

The Lowdown with... Mark Chadbourn

A two-time winner of the British Fantasy Award, MarkChadbourn is published in the UK by Penguin Random House, a screenwriter for BBC Drama with many hours of produced work, and a former newspaper and magazine journalist reporting from across the world.

1. Tell us three things about yourself.
1) I have a pseudonym who is slightly more popular than the real me - the historical fiction writer James Wilde.  He’s published the best-selling Hereward series of novels about the English warrior who led the rebellion against William the Conqueror.  It’s weird having two separate identities, and exhausting having to keep up with two sets of social media and blogs.
2) I’ve been shot at, set on fire, imprisoned by gangsters and threatened with murder.  All while I was working as a journalist.  It’s not what I would call a hobby.
3) I had the opportunity to stand for Parliament, but eventually decided to turn it down.  While it’s
one of my core beliefs that we should all try to give something back to make the world a better place for others, I felt it would have gone against the very essence of being a writer.  One of the writer’s jobs, I firmly believe, is to challenge authority in all its forms, to hold it up to exacting standards on behalf of people who don’t have a voice, and you can’t do that if you’re a part of that authority, or, I think, if you’re a flag-waving member of any political tribe.  You need to be a strong-minded independent who has the freedom to say any king has no clothes.  There are plenty of other people out there perfectly capable of getting elected and waving flags, not so many who can stand up and have a platform to challenge.

2. What was the first thing you had published?
I’d worked as a national newspaper journalist, originally covering general news and crime - riots, murders, disasters - and then entertainment, interviewing various film,TV and music industry celebs, so I’d had lots of things published since my first day of work.  But none of it felt really important to me as I was only ever interested in getting some fiction out there.  My first published work of fiction was the first thing I’d ever submitted - a short story called Six Dead Boys in a Very Dark World - which was bought by Fear magazine, then a nationally published and influential mag.  As it was the first story I’d sent out, this writing stuff seemed like a bit of a lark, and at the time I didn’t really appreciate how fortunate I was to get such a high profile start.  Six Dead Boys went on to win me the Best New Author trophy in Fear’s first annual awards.  On the back of that recognition, I got a mainstream publisher - Piatkus, who published my debut novel Underground - and an agent.  So that story pretty much changed the course of my life, and gave me what I have today, which is the luxury of earning a crust by writing.

3. Which piece of writing are you proudest of?
I’m proud of the way certain pieces seem to touch the lives of others.  When you hear back how certain people have been affected by what you’ve written, it’s both incredibly humbling and also hugely baffling how something you’ve scribbled down can get that kind of response.  From that point of view, I guess I’d cite the Age of Misrule books - World’s End, Darkest Hour, Always Forever, one story split into three books - as I’ve received so much feedback from all over the world.  But I don’t really feel proud of the actual writing of anything.  I think to say you’re proud means you’re satisfied with what you’ve done, and I don’t think a writer should be satisfied.  There’s always some way to make a story better.

4. …and which makes you cringe?
The very first script I wrote for the BBC medical drama Doctors.  It was so, so bad.  I tried to watch it when it was broadcast and had to walk out after two minutes.  I’ve never watched a single thing of my broadcast work since.  It’s a sharp learning curve when you move from prose to screen, and what looks perfectly acceptable on the page doesn’t always seem so when it’s coming out of the mouths of actors.  I had to unlearn everything I knew, and start again to try to master this new medium. Thankfully the Doctors staff saw me as a work-in-progress, and gave me all the guidance I could possibly want to improve my screenwriting.  And I really am thankful of that because it is so hard to be a good screenwriter without some form of mentoring.  For me, learning on the job is always the best way, which, I suppose, is why so many UK screenwriters get their start in ongoing drama.

5. What’s a normal writing day like?
I try to mix it up.  My thinking: if you’ve managed to escape the rat race of a 9-to-5 office job, why inflict that on yourself when you have the freedom to define your own day?  Sometimes I’ll work at home, sometimes in the pub, the cafe, in the middle of a field or the garden in summer, in my local area, up a mountain or by the sea.  I do at least some work every weekday, though, and what I do is dictated very much by deadlines.  There could be a novel and a TV script needing completion at the same time, which would entail working on one in the morning and the other in the afternoon.  It’s not easy to switch your thinking like that.  But neither is it, by any work definition, ‘hard’.  If it’s got to be done, it’s got to be done.  I think to make a living as a writer in the 21st century, you need to be prepared to work across media, and that’s always going to result in conflicting deadlines.

6. Which piece of writing should someone who’s never read you before pick up first?
A novella - The Fairy Feller’s Master Stroke - based very loosely around the painting by Richard Dadd, which hangs in the Tate.  The original PS Publishing publication is pretty pricey now, but I’ll be bringing it out in ebook shortly.  If that’s not available, grab one of the Hereward books.  You don’t have to be a fan of historical fiction to enjoy them.  They’re bloody thrillers.

7. What are you working on now?
 I’m in development with a TV crime series, which I can’t contractually talk about.  I’m waiting for the green light to begin work on a film script.  And I’ve just started writing Pendragon, the first book of a Dark Age series, which has an Arthurian slant.  This will follow on from the final Hereward book, which is out in July.  And a few other projects simmering away on the back burner.

Monday, 11 April 2016

The Lowdown with... Elizabeth Massie

Elizabeth Massie is an award-winning author of novels, short fiction/collections, media-tie ins, poetry, and nonfiction. Her more recent works include the novels Hell Gate, Desper Hollow, and Ameri-Scares –Illinois: The Cemetery Club, the novelization of Versailles (based on the 2015 French mini-series of the same name), and a nonfiction book of poetry and meditations, Night Benedictions. Elizabeth has won the Bram Stoker Award twice – for her novel Sineater and her novella “Stephen” – and the Scribe Award for her novelization of the third season of Showtime’s original television show, The Tudors. Active in Amnesty International for more than 30 years, Elizabeth also writes letters on behalf of victims of human rights abuses worldwide. She lives in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia with her husband, illustrator Cortney Skinner.

1. Tell us three things about yourself. 

1. I’m a ninth generation Virginian who lives in the Shenandoah Valley with husband, illustrator Cortney Skinner, next door to best friend and sister Barbara Lawson, and within just miles of son Brian, daughter Erin and son-in-law Ben, and grandkids Anya and Elliot. 
2. While horror tends to be my mainstay, I also write mainstream fiction, poetry, nonfiction, skits, and educational materials. 
3. I relax by knitting very long scarves.

2. What was the first thing you had published? 

A short story, “Whittler,” which appeared in Dave Silva’s great horror magazine, The Horror Show, back in Jan. 1984. Dave was an incredible editor who gave quite a few writers their start.

3. Which piece of writing are you proudest of? 

Geez, that’s a hard question. I’m happy with a lot of them, but if I had to pick a top few those would be the novels Sineater, Hell Gate, Homegrown, and Desper Hollow. Oh, and the not-for-kids pictures books You Gonna Die, Fly and Damn You, Demon.

4. …and which makes you cringe? 

Any writing that has made me cringe never got past the editing phase and has been retired to that land where all crappy writing goes to die. Buh-bye and good riddance!

5. What’s a normal writing day like? 

I roll out of bed anywhere between 7 and 8, stumble into the kitchen to fix a hot chai, then wander into my home office. I’ll play a round or two of Scrabble, check Facebook (okay, who doesn’t?), then pick up where I left off on the current writing project. I’ll work ‘til noon, have lunch with Cortney (who also has a home office), get back to work until 2:30, stop to read and rest. At 4, Cort and I usually head into town (we live out in the country amid cows and foxes and skunks) to Starbucks where we find a creative boost in the change of setting and the chance to see other people. Head home around 6, have dinner, watch re-runs of something (currently that would be Seinfeld). If I’m on deadline I’ll go back to work until, perhaps 10. If not, I’ll knit. I crash around 11, though sometimes I manage to stay up to watch The Daily Show and the Nightly Show. On rare occasion I make it long
enough to see the last half of Perry Mason on MeTV.

6. Which piece of writing should someone who’s never read you before pick up first? 
I’d suggest Sineater or Hell Gate. Sineater is set in rural mountainous Virginia (not far from where I live) and Hell Gate is set in historical Coney Island. Both fascinating locations with so much potential for scares.

7. What are you working on now? 

I’m working on a new horror novel tentatively titled Red House, a mainstream novel with no title as of yet, and a non-fiction book on religion. I’m also trying to figure out how to start a blog. I keep messing it up, but I’ll get there!