Author and Scriptwriter

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

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

The Lowdown with... Georgina Bruce

Georgina Bruce is a writer and teacher living in Edinburgh. Her stories have been published in Black Static, Interzone, Strange Horizons and elsewhere. She has a blog here.
1. Tell us three things about yourself.
I hate talking about myself. Seriously, my life is empty and boring. I really like dogs, though.
2. What was the first thing you had published?
I actually sold the first short story I ever wrote – 'The Egg'. A film company bought it and turned it into a short film. The first story I had in print was called 'About a Leg' and was published in Ink, Sweat and Tears in 2008. It's about a boy who thinks he's his grandfather's leg.
3. Which piece of writing are you proudest of?
'Cat World', which was published in Interzone 246 and then reprinted in Salt's Best British Fantasy 2014, still makes me cry, and I think that's something to be proud of. Making people cry. Mwahaha.

4. …and which makes you cringe? 
Ha ha ha oh my god. Some of my stories... I'm like, was I high when I wrote that? It's embarrassing. I usually think my stories are amazing, right up until the moment that they're in print, when I suddenly see all the terrible horrible bad and stupid things I've done.
5. What’s a normal writing day like?

I get up early to write most days. Like 5.30 am. So the day usually starts in a blur, and I'll be just hitting my stride when I have to stop writing about 7.30 and get ready for work. I sometimes manage to write a bit in the evenings, and then I write like mad all weekend. If I'm not writing a novel, I probably don't do this. But I've been writing a novel for a long time now.
6. Which piece of writing should someone who’s never read you before pick up first?
'White Rabbit', because it's the best thing I've written. [SB: The Guardian thought so too; Damien Walter has things to say about it here.] Then they probably shouldn't read anything else, in case they're bitterly disappointed. (Lol jk read everything please.)
7. What are you working on now?
A novel, called The Geography of the Moon. It's a weird and maybe scary story about a woman who loses her way in life. At least, it was meant to be that. It's ended up being mostly about dogs. [SB: Update: Georgina has now finished the first novel, and is now working on a second. Be afraid. Be very afraid.]

Friday, 27 May 2016

Things of the Week: 26th May 2016

So this week has principally been about Getting Back Into The Groove.

Cate had another week off work after the honeymoon, allowing us to relax a little... and to get on with stuff like writing thank you notes (a lot of them!) and, among other things, buying a new bed! (Our existing one is a cheapo model with a knackered mattress.) Thanks to all the people whose gifts have made that possible.

Cate and I both decided recently to work together at losing weight and getting into better physical shape; that was after I was referred for a talk on bariatric surgery (aka weight-loss surgery) at the end of March. We both came away with a strong 'HELL NO' attitude to it, but if anything it made us more committed to living healthier lives. And it's been working. A couple of years ago, I was 24 stone (that's 336 pounds, to US readers) and had managed to drop to about 23, but my weight was stuck around there. By the time we got married, I was down to 22 stone.

Then came the honeymoon, and there was a lot of going out for meals and eating that extremely nice ice cream they do in Barmouth. By the time we got home, we'd both some - but by no means all - of the weight back on.

Initially I tried to go straight back to counting calories, keeping to 1800 or less a day. Didn't work; I kept getting hungry between meals, craving sweets and treats. So I indulged myself. A little. Not as much. But bit by bit, I've eased myself back into my old routine.

Today, I weighed myself, and for the first time in years, I'm under 22 stone. Okay, 21 stone, 13 and a quarter pounds, but psychologically speaking, that's a big milestone. Next target - 21 stone and less than ten pounds. Then less than 21 and a half stone. And so on. Baby steps. They work.

They work with the writing, too. While I'm still able to write full-time, I need to make every day count. That means not only Devil's Highway and the remaining Black Road novels, but short stories and a couple of other WIPs that I'm struggling to find time to work on, not to mention the 'admin' side of things - everything from finding writing markets for stories and submitting them, to putting together a list of my short stories for my agent, doing something about a tribute anthology I inherited, booking tickets for a show, applying for grants and bursaries, writing some spec non-fiction articles... all the little bits of stuff that need doing but keep getting put off because of the big tasks.

That meant working out a schedule for the day that would let me do all those things. But, like the dieting, you can't just impose a whole new regime at once - not least because I have to type up Devil's Highway from the dictated recordings in order to rewrite it, and that's a big job, still ongoing. But bit by bit, I'm getting there. Baby steps again. And the work is getting done.

Albeit slowly, and not without stress. Just this morning, I found the end of one chapter missing. I know I recorded it, but the file isn't where it's supposed to be. It might be on the old laptop, if I can get the damned thing running again. If not... well, I'll try not to panic. Get it typed up, then write in any missing bits. One problem at a time.

But as, piece by piece, the story materialises in concrete form, I find I'm getting excited about it again, remembering why Helen and Gevaudan and the rest got my interest in the first place. My only worry is how little time I've left myself to get everything fixed and ready. All hands to the pump.

I got in touch with my agent on my return; he's reading Black Mountain and enjoying it, which is good news! He'll have some notes soon, and hopefully a way forward for Mynydd Du to rise once more. In addition, I need to put together a full listing of all my short fiction for him... (see 'Admin') My Dad's reading Black Mountain too, mainly to make sure I haven't screwed up monumentally with my Welsh. Apparently he's enjoying it as well, though, even though he's not particularly a horror fan...

The final piece of news is a sadder one: Gary Fry today announced that, after over a decade, he is closing down Gray Friar Press.  Gary is, and has been from the word go, a class act. I have him to thank for publishing two of my story collections, Pictures Of The Dark and The Condemned, and it was also down to him that my short story 'The Moraine' first saw print (later to be reprinted in Ellen Datlow's Best Horror Of The Year.

 I'm just one of numerous authors given a break and a start by Gary. He's also been an absolute model of how to run a small press: when the printing firm Biddles went into administration, making it cost-ineffective to proceed with the hardback of The Condemned, he promptly refunded those who'd pre-ordered it, offered them copies of the paperback and also provided them with a PDF of the additional story the hardback should have included. On top of that, he took the hit caused by the money lost, while still paying me the full royalties owing for the book.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is how it's done.

Gray Friar has been a solid bulwark of the UK small press, and it's very sad to see it go. Here's to Gary and all he does in the future.

And on that note.... have a good weekend, folks.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

The Lowdown with... Tom Fletcher

Tom Fletcher was born in 1984 and studied Creative Writing at the University of Leeds. His first novel, The Leapingwas published by Quercus in 2010 and shortlisted for the 2011 British Fantasy Society Best Novel award.The Thing on the Shore (Quercus) was published in 2011and The Ravenglass Eye (Jo Fletcher Books) in 2012His first fantasy novel, Gleamwas published by Jo Fletcher Books in September 2014, and he is currently working on its sequel. His short stories have been published by Comma Press, Flax, Nightjar Press,, The Big Issue in the NorthPS Publishing, Two Ravens Press, Centipede Press, Obverse Books, and Spectral Press, amongst others.
Tom lives in Cumbria, tweets here and has a website here.

1. Tell us three things about yourself. 

This is the kind of question that should be fun to answer, right? Like, I could make things up. Or use it as an opportunity to make people aware of those things that I wish people knew about me. I know that sometimes I think, 'Oh, I wish people knew [xyz] about me. Then they'd understand. Maybe they'd even buy my books.' But right now I can't remember what [xyz] might be. I can't think of much, to be honest. I'm boring. But the truth about boring people: there aren't any. There are private people, who don't much care whether others find them interesting or not. I'm quite a private person, I guess. I think this is a problem as an author in 2016; like, I think it makes me bad at social media and marketing myself. At expending lots of energy either revealing myself, or creating an internet self. 

Three things:

a) I'm boring / private / bad at the internet

b) I'm thirty-one

c) All my books are brilliant, like...seriously. Compelling but also deeply relevant to your own personal situation. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll identify. You'll be sick, you'll find the protagonists sympathetic (but not too sympathetic) and you'll be a better person after you've read them (unless you're deep-down irredeemably bad, in which case you won't enjoy them and I don't even want you reading them anyway).

2. What was the first thing you had published? 

Technically, a poem when I was at primary school. It was called 'The Picnic Nicker', about a man made of food who'd steal your picnic. Time to come clean was a collaborative effort, written with my parents, and probably should not have been published as the work of a nine year old. Or...I can't remember how old I was, how old that fictive poet was.

As an adult, a story called 'The Big Drift'. I wrote this at university, for the Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror module (a v good module, obviously, taught by Dr Stephen Keane, who writes non-fiction that I recommend). Then submitted it to Comma Press after I graduated...they were putting together an anthology of new (i.e. unpublished) writers. (I didn't declare 'The Picnic Nicker'). It's about an astronomy enthusiast who alienates his family.

3. Which piece of writing are you proudest of?

There are sections in THE LEAPING that I wrote in an unthinking kind of way that I really love. Actually, that goes for all my novels. I can write short stories in this way too; 'A Steak For Don', published by Flax Books in an anthology called 'Before The Rain' is one I'm proud of. Recently, Nightjar Press published 'The Home' which I'm very proud of. I couldn't tell you what it's about, because I don't know. 

That unthinking way of writing is what people call 'flow', I guess. Though I prefer Michael Stipe's phrasing - he talks about his 'vomit songs', that just spill out with little or no effort. I'm probably proudest of my vomit stories. When I've figured out how, I'm going to write a vomit novel, and that'll be it, that'll be my Best and Final Work.

4. …and which makes you cringe? 

All of it, everything. I can't explain how I'm simultaneously proud and ashamed of all my published writing, but I completely 100% am.

5. What’s a normal writing day like? 

It doesn't matter what time I get up, it always feels too late. I have to shower, get ready etc...I can't work in pyjamas or in bed or anything. I try to make the room nice (I don't have a work room, I'm normally at the dining table or a desk in the corner of the living room or something). Coffee, etc. Then sit at the laptop and plug away, feeling increasingly despondent, feeling increasingly like my ham-fisted prose is a total betrayal of the wondrous scenes and stories in my head. I normally give up in a rage at about 6pm.

I don't really have regular writing days though - I tend to take a week or so off work at a time, and have a writing week, each day as described above. In between I make notes and plan things out and just jot down a couple of hundred words here and there.

6. Which piece of writing should someone who’s never read you before pick up first? 

There are two strands to my work now - Largely Horror, and Largely Fantasy. If you're interested in the former, go for THE LEAPING. If the latter, go for GLEAM. But my sincere advice is to start with both.

7. What are you working on now?

I've just delivered the sequel to GLEAM, which is called IDLE HANDS. While I'm waiting for the edits on that, I'm making the first tentative steps into the as-yet-untitled third book. The whole trilogy is kind of knockabout adventure...The Dark Crystal-meets-Tarantino-meets-Tank Girl-meets-Tom Waits. Hopefully with something to say about our work culture too.

Friday, 20 May 2016

Things of the Last Two Weeks (Part Two)
The last few days have seen me trying to get back into the groove of writing. It's been a bit weird, not least since the laptop I've had for the better part of ten years - my trusty E-System, a Christmas present from my parents in 2007! - finally appears to be dying. As laptops go, it's had a pretty good run, so I can't complain, but I'm trying to work on the purple Acer laptop I bought last year.

See, the E-System's one flaw - or its biggest advantage, from my point of view - is that it's rubbish at connecting to the internet, meaning that I can work on it pretty easily without being distracted by Facebook. The Acer is great at connecting to the internet. That wasn't so bad in Barmouth, where there was no wifi in our flat, but now we're home again.

And yes, I've installed Freedom. Thing is that, unlike the version I've used in the past where you just downloaded a programme onto the machine, Freedom is now some weird cloud-based thing. And even when I've switched it on, the damn thing still connects to the internet. So once again, the wacky world of IT has delivered an updated, upgraded, 'improved' version of something that's about as useful as a pork pie at a bar mitzvah.

Even so, my short story mojo continues unabated. I wrote another story the day after my wedding, and two more on the honeymoon with another underway. That's a total of eight short stories so far this year, most of them in the past month.

That said, I need to get back on the Devil's Highway; there's still a lot of work to do before the deadline at the end of June. It's been nice, though, to work on some again.

Writers can be divided up any number of ways - and probably shouldn't be divided up at all, but that's another story - but one of the most interesting is the old question of whether you're a Planner or a Pantser. That is, do you plan out what you write before getting started, or wing it and make it up as you go? It's more of a spectrum than an either/or thing - much like sexual orientation, which gives me something of a segue to this blog post by Janine Ashbless, also known as Keris McDonald. One of the UK's foremost erotica writers, Janine is a confirmed Pantser. (And when she gets the time, she writes some superb ghost/horror fiction under her Keris McDonald byline - highly recommended if you can track some down! You can find out more in her Lowdown.)

Until recently, I'd have described myself as a dyed-in-the-wool Planner. That's certainly how my novels have been written - with more and more detailed planning, in fact, before I set pen to paper. A few years ago, I extended the practice to short stories, as I was finding hardly any time to do them. For the past couple of years, in fact, I've hardly written any stories that weren't to commission.

And I was feeling dissatisfied.

The short fiction I did write was feeling stale, repetitive, done before. There was a time when what I'd written had come both easily and from somewhere deep in me. I believed in it and felt proud of it, and many people had liked it a lot. All without planning. I wanted to get back there.

The last few short stories have all had that quality, or some of it. I think I'm some way to go before I'm getting the same thrill from what I do as before, but I'm on the way. It'll have to be fitted in around the novels, but that's not necessarily a bad thing - and among many other things, short stories can be great playgrounds and testbeds for ideas and settings and characters you may want to do more with.

So all of that's been nice.
Less happy was yesterday's news that the YA science fiction author Nicholas Fisk had passed away, albeit at the good age of 92. I grew up reading his science fiction - along with Dr Who novelisations, books like Time Trap, Antigrav, Space Hostages, Trillions and the classic Grinny (an odd sort of alien invasion novel that's also damned creepy) were some of the first SF I read as a boy. His story collection Sweets From A Stranger was superb too. He wrote intelligent, thought-provoking and entertaining stories and novels for young readers that still hold up today (and are worth a read by adults too.)

In other news, Laura Mauro, a very fine writer, wrote this excellent piece on magical thinking and OCD. I suspect a lot of writers have MH issues of one kind or another, if only in the form of depression caused by banging one's head repeatedly against the brick wall known as reality.

There was also this fascinating article on bodies of strange creatures allegedly found in a London basement. In fact, they're the work of writer, illustrator and sculptor Alex CF, which is going to be of great appeal to anyone who enjoys the outre, the macabre or the just plain weird. I've included two images from his collection here; go to Alex's website and see the rest.

Two final items. First, my old friend Rob Kemp, who readers of the 1990s small press may remember as r.j. krijnen-kemp, author of a small but perfectly-formed body of weird stories, wrote this article on a bit of Shropshire folklore. Which reminded me of something else.

The late Joel Lane's first novel, From Blue To Black, told the story of a fictional '90s rock band; the book included the titles and even some lyrics of the band's songs. I got very into folk music in the late 2000s, and one of the titles, 'Still And Moving Water', caught my imagination, as did a line from the fictive song. I asked Joel if I could turn it into a song of my own; he agreed, as long as he got a co-credit, and my friend Iain Mackness recorded a very rough demo of it. Working on the recent tribute anthology to Joel ended up inspiring me to make a YouTube video for the song, and I was reminded of it again by Rachel Verkade's touching and perceptive review of Joel's posthumous story collection, Scar City, over at The Future Fire. So here it is.

Have a good weekend, everybody!

Graham Masterton Interview (Part Two) Now Live At This Is Horror!

The second half of my interview with the legendary Graham Masterton is now live at This Is Horror, and can be read here. In the second part of the interview, Graham talks about the depiction of violence, about the Katie Maguire series of crime novels and about his superb novel Trauma (seriously, one of the best things he's written.)

For anyone who missed the first half of the interview, it's available here. Or, indeed, here.

The Lowdown with... Juliet E. McKenna

Juliet E. McKenna is a British fantasy author living in the Cotswolds. Loving history, myth and other worlds since she first learned to read, she has written fifteen epic fantasy novels, from The Thief’s Gamble which began The Tales of Einarinn in 1999, to Defiant Peaks concluding The Hadrumal Crisis trilogy. Exploring new opportunities in digital publishing, she’s re-issuing her backlist as well as bringing out original fiction. She also writes diverse shorter fiction, reviews for web and print magazines and promotes SF&Fantasy by blogging, attending conventions, teaching creative writing and commenting on book trade issues online. Most recently she’s been campaigning for the reform of EU taxation on digital sales causing serious problems for small press and independent publishing. Learn more about all of this at her website.

1. Tell us three things about yourself.

My hobbies, besides reading, are knitting, embroidery and the martial art, aikido.

I’m the family DM when we play Dungeons and Dragons with our sons. Yes, we bred our own next-generation gamers.
My track record with killing house plants is roughly on a par with a ghost in the TV series ‘Supernatural’. I do okay with gardens though. 

2. What was the first thing you had published?

If that means ‘in print, for other people to read’, a poem in my secondary school’s magazine in (I think) 1977. It was called ‘Looking at a Painting’, and contrasted a grandmother imagining all sorts of stories based on what she is seeing, with a teenager thinking being an adult requires a very different response. I wonder if I still have a copy of it anywhere...

If that means ‘in print and paid for’ that would be my first novel, The Thief’s Gamble. Long form is my natural writing length so I didn’t take the short-story route to a writing career. 

3. Which piece of writing are you proudest of?

Oh come on, that’s like asking me which is my favourite son! I’m proud about different things which I’ve achieved in different pieces of writing but to ask me to rate them in any kind of order? Not a chance.

Something I’ve done which I’m proud of which I’d like more people to be aware of? The Chronicles of the Lescari Revolution trilogy. 

I aimed to really and thoroughly overturn preconceptions about epic fantasy being consolatory and conservative, advocating ‘the return of the king’ and all that. This is the story of what happens when the ordinary people have had enough of being run over roughshod by the ambitions of princes and wizards...

4. …and which makes you cringe?

That, alas, is easy. In my first book someone sees people climbing cliffs and confidently states they’re gathering seabirds’ eggs to eat. Er, sorry, no, not at that (clearly stated in the text) time of year, they’re not. So my excuse, after the fact, is the speaker is a city girl and knows next to nothing about ornithology!

5. What’s a normal writing day like?

Get up around 7 am, have breakfast, sort whatever domestic administrivia can’t be avoided. Once or twice a week, head out for a session at the gym.


Once I’m at my desk, I fire up the computer, check social media stuff, check email, deal with whatever might arise from those – as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Open up the Work in Progress and review what I wrote last time. Tweak and tidy up as I go, doing bits of line editing, that kind of thing. Not starting any substantive rewrite unless I’ve had some nightmare realisation about a major problem while I was in the shower.

Check my notes about what I’m writing. I’m very much a planner and outliner, so there’ll be a notebook beside my keyboard with the overall idea set out plus additional pencil scribbles, arrows, stars, bits circled, as my thoughts develop or change as the actual writing unfolds.

Crack on with the wordsmithing until midday/one o’clockish when I break for lunch –usually watching some bit of telly. That can be anything from a SF/fantasy serial to a historical documentary to a US drama like The Good Wife or Nashville.

Back to work, picking up where I left off – and I will be all the more productive for having taken a break. Write until I reach a natural break point some time after 5pm, or until the Husband gets home from work.

Cook the family dinner, catch up with the Husband’s day, then we’ll relax together with some telly or a good book, the usual sort of thing. Unless it’s an aikido night in which case we’re off to throw people around a padded mat for a couple of hours.

That’s the theory, anyway, and it’s a routine I’m very much striving to get back to, after spending so much of last year being a political lobbyist on international digital VAT.


6. Which piece of writing should someone who’s never read you before pick up first?

I’d say the first thing they should do is head for my website where there are some free stories as well as sample chapters from my novels. That way they can get an idea of my style and decide if it appeals. If it does, well, The Thief’s Gamble is the first novel so that seems like a good place to start.

7. What are you working on now?


I have just returned rewrites on a short story for an ‘Alien Artefacts’ anthology. 

I’m currently working on an Aldabreshin Compass related short story. I’ve decided to write a few of those, to accompany the ebook publication of that series. The first one’s free for reading via the Free Stories page on my website. 

I’m also planning the rewriting needed for the opening of an unpublished novel which I want to get out on submission to literary agents as soon as possible.

I’m also noting down thoughts for a possible Patreon project.
 That’s enough to be going on with, I think.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Things of the Last Two Weeks (Part One): 19th May 2016

Well, I'm back. Sorry the blog's been a tad quiet, and for the absence of The Lowdown. It returns tomorrow, all being well.

Still, there's a pretty good excuse for the long hush: Cate and I finally got married on Saturday 7th May this year. The following Monday we were off on our honeymoon to Barmouth, which we got back from a couple of days ago.

Cate mentioned a friend of hers saying 'I needed a holiday to get over the holiday!' and in the best possible way, I think I know what they meant. Returning to normality is a slow process after a week or so like that.

We were told to enjoy every moment of our wedding day, as it all went by so fast. And it did. And at the same time, it seemed to last forever - again, in the nicest possible way. My face hurt from all the smiling. Family and friends were there, and a lot of writers. God knows how many horror stories we've inspired. One day I'll have to write about it myself - make sure it's all immortalised in prose.

We took a moment, too, to remember Cate's Mum Pauline, and Joel Lane, who would have been our
best man: special thanks to Bernard, who did that job on the day, and to the one and only John Llewellyn Probert for reading a short extract from one of Joel's works. I could go on and on about all the different people who made the day so special, like our bridesmaids Amy and Becky, or... but I'm going to stop there now, because I'll end up leaving someone off! But thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone who came. It was a special day.

The honeymoon was lovely too - on past trips to Barmouth we've been cursed with some grotty weather, but that week was glorious. I'm tanned several shades darker than I was before - or at least my face and forearms are! So we walked along the beach, spent a lot of times in the beautiful cafes on the Quay, like Davy Jones' Locker and The Anchor, spent even more time in various gift shops (Cate) and second hand bookshops (both of us), and spent most evenings in the restaurants - The Captain's Table and (again) The Anchor being two particular standouts. If you're ever in Barmouth, those are both great places to eat.

They're even naming drinks after my stuff now....
We made a couple of day trips, to Porthmadog and Bala, and on the second actually found a bottle of liqueur called Black Mountain, aka Mynydd Du!

The day before we left, we went to St Mary's Church at Llanaber, where my gran is buried, to pay our respects and put some flowers on the grave. Daft, I know, but I find myself talking to her, even though she isn't there. She worried, I think, in her last years, that I was never going to get married or settle down with anyone. I wish she and Cate could have met - they'd have loved one another to bits.

We walked back from Llanaber, over the railway tracks and down the full length of the prom, which, be assured, is a bloody long way, especially in hot weather. Luckily, the Quay also boasts an ice-cream parlour called Knickerbocker's, which was a pretty good motivator. On the way there, we actually bumped into the registrar who'd married us, who was spending the weekend on the coast...!

So, a lovely day and a lovely honeymoon. And I'm a very happy man. Hopefully Cate's an equally happy lady. I love her very much and hope for many happy, healthy and prosperous years with her.

Here's some music, because for some bizarre reason this seems to be the song that sums up the whole thing for me. (Cate will probably think otherwise, but even the happiest marriage has the odd disagreement.) ;)

 Peace and love to all,

Simon x

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Paul Pinn: A Tribute

As promised, I've written a longer piece in memory to the late Paul Pinn, who passed away this year from cancer. You can read it over at This Is Horror.

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Graham Masterton Interview (Part One) Now Live At This Is Horror!

One of the most popular - no, hands down THE most popular - Lowdown I've done to date was with Graham Masterton. It was a very interesting one, too, and I'd been thinking for a while that a longer interview would be worth doing. So I asked Graham if he'd be interested and he said yes!

The interview, for This Is Horror, touches on subjects such as research and the writing process, as well as Graham's Katie Maguire crime novels and his excellent novel Trauma (aka Bonnie Winter.) It's a pretty substantial length, so it's being published in two parts. The first is up at This Is Horror now.

Things Of The Week: 3rd May 2016

Paul Pinn
Well, only another four days until I'm a married man. People keep asking me if I'm excited, but I'm not, particularly. Not yet. Things like this tend not to really start kicking in for me until the day itself. At which point I will become a gibbering wreck.

The project I mentioned went off to a writer friend who'd done a lot more work in that vein... and came back with multiple footnotes and, basically, instructions to fix the hell out of this. Which is fine, and as it should be. Obviously (like most writers) I would have preferred something along the lines of 'OMG YOU ARE A GENIUS AND I AM NOT WORTHY'... but you have to earn such things. Maybe I will, or (more likely) a 'yep, this is okay.'

Writing is a constant learning curve, and different forms of it - plays, screenplays, poems, novels - all have different rules and disciplines. It took a lot of hard work and failed attempts to make the jump from writing short fiction to writing novels that didn't gargle donkey balls. Likewise this. There will be failures, problems to fix, lessons to learn...

And that will be good. You have to get outside the comfort zone to do anything worth while.

On a related note, I've been recovering my short story mojo over the last few days. Partly that's to do with the short story 'And Ashes In Her Hair' written for a project in memory of Joel Lane; it may also be to do with a recent interview I did with Graham Masterton (the first part of which will be online later today) on, among other things, the writing process. Anyway, I was approaching the deadline for a story I'd been asked for, so I buckled down and wrote it. I've been heavily focused on planning out my work before writing it over the last year or so - it's been a very useful discipline with regard to novel-writing - but I think it's actually become counter-productive with short stories (although it has helped in the past.) So I dived in. And wrote an 8,000 word story over Friday and Saturday. Then a 3,000 word story on Sunday.  And, this morning, a 2,700 word story.

There was sadder news this week though; I learned yesterday that the author Paul Pinn, who
produced some of the best horror fiction of the 1990s, usually in the small press of that period, passed away earlier this year from cancer. Paul was an incredibly nice guy and a hugely talented writer; I'll be producing a fuller tribute to him soon. In the meantime, let me commend his first story collection, Scattered Remains, to your attention.

Monday, 2 May 2016

The Lowdown with... Duncan Ralston

Duncan Ralston was born in Toronto in 1976, and spent his teens in small-town Ontario. As a “grown-up,” Duncan lives with his girlfriend and their dog in Toronto, where he writes dark fiction about the things that frighten, sicken, and delight him. In addition to his twisted short stories found in GRISTLE & BONE, the charity anthology THE BLACK ROOM MANUSCRIPTS (Sinister Horror Company), Extreme Horror Author Matt Shaw's EASTER EGGS & BUNNY BOILERS, DEATH BY CHOCOLATE (Knightwatch Press), and THE ANIMAL (Booktrope) his debut novel SALVAGE is available now. Upcoming works include the novellas WOOM (a "Black Cover" book from Matt Shaw Publications) and EVERY PART OF THE ANIMAL (Shadow Work Publishing).

1. Tell us three things about yourself.

I’ve worked behind the scenes in television for over ten years, but not in writing. I’ve written several pilot scripts (one of which has received awards) and spec scripts (my favorite is for the USA Network series Psycha show cancelled shortly after I finished writing my spec episode, called Dial M for Mustache… Also Murder, involving a poisoning at a mustache convention). As yet, I haven’t had anything produced.

In 2014, I stupidly stumbled into a Twitter beef with Dan Harmon (creator of Community, a show I enjoy a fair bit), during which he visited my blog and flamed my “free Canadian ebook.” Very shortly after this, I gained a blog stalker who pops up every now and again to tell me I suck and should quit writing. Based on prior behavior, I’m half-convinced it’s Harmon.

A really great story moment in a movie or TV show makes me choke up a bit. Reading a book, it just gives me chills. I guess it’s because one is a more cerebral experience and the other is more emotional.

2. What was the first thing you had published?

I self-published a short story, “//END USER,” in the spring of 2013. Originally I’d wanted to send it out to publishers, but I saw a trailer for the movie Her, and worried there would be enough similarities people might think I’d ripped it off. Although they both feature artificial intelligence with a female voice, it turned out the two couldn’t be more different. I love Her, but I wish it hadn’t come out when it had, because it might have been my first short story sale. That being said, it works quite nicely as a bit of darkly comic relief in Gristle & Bone, the first book I’ve had published by a genuine publisher, Forsaken.

3. Which piece of writing are you proudest of?

My first novel, Salvage. I’m very pleased with the amount of praise Gristle & Bone has gotten, but Salvage is a deeply personal book, and a story that had been percolating for years before I finally took a stab at it. For the most part, it’s been getting good feedback. Which is nice, because I was worried no one would like it.

4. …and which makes you cringe?

My actual first novel, The Midwives. I blasted through the 90,000-word first draft in three months with no outline and only a few ideas of where it would go. It’s pretty messy. I’m not even sure if several of the secondary characters (the eponymous midwives) have been correctly named throughout. There are some decent moments in it, but it needs a major overhaul. I’ll go back and rewrite it at some point, make it into something worth reading... for now, it’s just a really heavy stack of paper with some ink stains that resemble phrases.

5. What’s a normal writing day like?

Trying to get into something that will hold my attention with all the many distractions! I usually do my social media stuff in the morning, get it out of the way, then write for a few hours before work. On a weekday off, I’ll write most of the day, and try not to forget to eat and walk the dog.

6. Which piece of writing should someone who’s never read you before pick up first?

I’d recommend Gristle & Bone, my collection of (mostly long) short stories. It’s a mix of character stuff and really bleak, nasty horror, with tales of cannibalism, cults, werewolves, phantom pregnancies, and porn ghosts. The centerpiece is the novella, Scavengers, told by a man coming to terms with the small town mass murder his neighbors committed, which may or may not have been the extermination of a cabal of half-human monsters.

7. What are you working on now?

I’ve got a couple of short stories coming out in some really exciting anthologies in the first half of the year, filled with an excellent assortment of talented writers.

Currently, I’m working on a top-secret project with the gentlemen at The Sinister Horror Company that’s turning out to be very scary and fun. I’ve also just signed with the inimitable Matt Shaw for an extreme horror novella which should prove to be my sickest story yet.

Aside from that, I’m also planning to finish off a couple of horror novels I started last year (my girlfriend might literally kill me if I revealed any details), along with two psychological horror novellas, Every Part of the Animal and The Method. I hope to publish them all, or have a publisher secured for them, by the end of 2016.