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.

1 comment:

Ramsey Campbell said...

A fine interview with a splendid writer.