Author and Scriptwriter

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

Monday, 3 August 2020

The Lockdown with... Sean Hogan

Sean is a writer and filmmaker living in Margate. He has published three books to date: England's Screaming, Three Mothers, One Father and a critical monograph on the film Death Line. His feature film credits include The Devil's Business, Future Shock! The Story of 2000AD and The Borderlands, as well as a long trail of cinematic corpses that he'd rather not talk about.
  1. Tell us three things about yourself.
I once annoyed Sylvester Stallone so badly at a London Film Festival Q&A (simply by asking a non kiss-ass question) that they terminated the session immediately afterwards.

I own a psychotic cat named Tuco, who I have long suspected isn't actually a feline at all, but a demon familiar from the lower depths of Hell.

Kim Newman and I devised two horror anthology plays, The Hallowe'en Sessions and The Ghost Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore (written by ourselves and a host of other extremely talented genre writers) and staged them both in London. People often ask if we'll ever do another. The answer to that is, I directed both shows and it nearly killed me. Twice. I'm not particularly eager to try for third time lucky.
  1. Many writers have said the COVID-19 outbreak and the lockdown have made it harder for them to create. Have you found this? Has the outbreak affected you as a writer and if so, how?
I haven't found that it's affected me too badly, possibly because, as someone who's decidedly agnostic about social media anyway, I usually manage to resist the urge to doomscroll too much. So my day-to-day writing routine is pretty much what it always was – bursts of activity punctuated by general indolence.
  1. What was the first thing you had published?
That would be my book on Gary Sherman's excellent film Death Line, back in 2017. I'd done various bits of non-fiction writing (interviews, essays, reviews) over the years, but when I was actually commissioned to contribute to what was ostensibly meant to be a series of critical monographs, the book somehow ended up being mostly fictional. I had such a good time doing it that it A) served as a gateway into me doing more prose fiction, and B) ended up spawning the next two books I had published.
  1. Which piece of writing are you proudest of?

I suppose it would have to be England's Screaming, simply because it was an idea I'd long fantasised about, without ever really believing I would or could actually write it. And when I did finally decide to make the attempt, I still had no idea as to exactly how I was going to go about it, or whether I was capable of writing something of novel length. So the fact that I even completed it felt like a massive accomplishment at the time. Now that the book's been published and people seem to be responding to it, there is definitely a certain sense of pride that I managed to pull it off.
  1. and which makes you cringe?
The horror stories you hear about screenwriting are all entirely true. So you can pretty much go to my IMDB page and pick out any film not called The Borderlands (where, incredibly, they just shot what I wrote without changing anything, and it worked!) where I was employed solely as a screenwriter, and I guarantee you that not only do they make me cringe, but reliving the memories of working on them is enough to send my blood pressure surging through the roof.
  1. What’s a normal writing day like?

It really depends what I'm working on. Scriptwriting is almost second-nature to me now, so I find that decidedly less onerous and can get much more done without wanting to burst into tears or make a dash for the wine rack. But if I'm working on prose fiction (which I've been doing a lot more of recently), I'm still training my writing brain to think that way, which makes the work a lot slower/more frustrating. Add to that a healthy case of Imposter Syndrome (“I'm just a screenwriter, what moral or ethical right do I have to write ACTUAL PROSE?”), and I'm grateful if I can slog through 1000-1500 words in a day. And possibly this is entirely down to my own laziness, but I also seem to be an either/or writer. That is, I only seem to be able to work on one thing on any given day – I generally don't, say, find myself bouncing between prose pages in the morning and scripting in the afternoon.
  1. What work of yours would you recommend for people on lockdown and in need of a good book?
If I actually liked kids, I might compare this to having to choose between my own children. Well...I'll say England's Screaming again, because it's the meatiest of the books and seems to generally be having the desired effect for readers; that is, it's not solely aimed at those people who'll get every last obscure film reference, but should also work both as a primer on some interesting movies you might not have seen, and as a plain and simple story. But while I'm at it, I'll be completely shameless and say that if you liked that one, then you might want to consider picking up my other 2020 book, Three Mothers, One Father, which is a Eurohorror semi-sequel to England's Screaming, and possibly even the monograph on Death Line, the narrative portion of which functions as a sort of prequel to it. (I hear shared universes are very hot right now.)
  1. What are you working on now?
Two writing projects, currently: a game script for a first-person shooter, and a novel proper, The Corpse Road. And there are one or two film projects bubbling under, assuming we're not all just scrabbling around in the ruins of civilisation come the end of the year...

Friday, 24 July 2020

The Lockdown with... Daisy Lyle

Daisy Lyle is a British dark fantasy blogger and writer based in Normandy, though she spends a great deal of time in Devon. She is a technical translator and former aerospace engineer. For the past sixteen years she has written a fiction blog called Darkling Tales (here and more recently here) where she reviews both recent supernatural fiction and lesser-known weird tale authors of the past. She also contributes book reviews to the UK-based Ginger Nuts of Horror website. Her debut novel is The Viridian Mode

1. Tell us three things about yourself.
Thing 1: I have a lifelong fascination with pop videos, both rubbish and otherwise, and wish I could make them as a job. Although my favourite era of pop video is the first half of the eighties, recent favourites include “Mantra” by Bring Me The Horizon and ‘Many Moons’ by Janelle Monae.
Thing 2: I won the Inquisitor crossword twice but the first time they failed to send me my prize (the famed bottled of champagne), and the second time it arrived, but turned out to be cava. I look down on cava even more than I look down on people who do sudoku, and if I’d been at home when the bottle arrived I’d have smashed it in the yard. Instead my mother and her boyfriend drank it, the plebs.
Thing 3: I am intermittently a Friend of Arthur Machen (when I remember to pay the subscription) and I once had a beautiful dream that I met him in the Sheffield city centre branch of Boots and he said he was a Friend of Me too.
2. Many writers have said the COVID-19 outbreak and the lockdown have made it harder for them to create. Have you found this? Has the outbreak affected you as a writer and if so, how?
My output as a writer hasn’t been affected by the coronavirus at all. I live in rural isolation and have to deal with boredom a lot due to a series of poor life choices, so the lockdown barely affected my mood or productivity. Also, those dark mutterings about the collapse of the publishing industry will provide me with a perfect excuse for literary failure, should I require one.
3. What was the first review you ever wrote?
Before Darkling Tales I used to have another Livejournal “community” with an even more poncey name, Souls Adrift. On the historic day of August 12th 2004 I wrote a one-paragraph review of ‘Amour Dure’ by Vernon Lee. I was very enthusiastic about that story and still am, I’m a massive Lee fan. Quite a lot of people posted in Souls Adrift but I terminated its community status one day in a fit of pique, probably because people weren’t paying enough attention to me. That just meant I had to think up a whole new name when I inevitably made another community, and that’s how the new one ended up with the terrible name of Darkling Tales.
4. Which piece of writing are you proudest of?
When I was seven me and my twin sister compiled a survey about sex which included the question “Would you get a sex change?” This was quite edgy for the year [REDACTED]. Both our parents answered in the negative, though I am pleased to report that my twin sister is now my twin brother so the whole thing wasn’t a complete waste of time.
5. …and which makes you cringe?
Everything else I’ve ever written or tried to write. Also, I keep making factually inaccurate statements in my Darkling Tales posts, and once had to be politely corrected by Ellen Datlow for alleging that one of her anthologies didn’t have any non-UK/US writers in it. Along with Richard Dalby and Stephen Jones, Datlow is my favourite horror anthologist of all time, so this aroused an odd combination of emotions in me, namely giddy delight at my existence having been noticed by such a being, mixed with a scalding shame that has still barely faded to this day. Since then I’ve tried to be more careful with fact-checking but I still do stuff things up quite regularly.
6. What’s a normal writing day like?
It starts late – I’m very nocturnal and never write until the last four hours of my day (except for the month when I was doing the revision work on The Viridian Mode), though I get a lot of my ideas in the early evening walking about the countryside. After dinner I go up to my bedroom to grapple with said ideas until they turn into fiction. I try to write every night although as I work from home the day job does get in the way sometimes.
7. What work of yours would you recommend for people on lockdown and in need of a good book?
I would imagine The Viridian Mode is quite suitable for people undergoing the rigors of lockdown as it’s pretty escapist. Although it’s mainly set in the real world there are several incursions into another dimension, and while the fantasy is definitely of the dark variety it also offers romance and (one hopes) a few laughs. If people miss the great outdoors or being able to go on holiday to the countryside they might also enjoy its setting, which is on a decaying country estate in Devon, described at some length. In all my writing I am constantly trying to emulate authors like John Buchan, E.F. Benson and L.T.C. Rolt, who were fantastic nature writers as well as excellent ghost story authors. The Edwardian era and the 1920s were particularly good for writers of that kind although there are still some great ones today, such as Mark Valentine and Quentin S. Crisp.
8. What are you working on now?
I’m working on my second novel The Shrine of Zero. It’s my first attempt at largely urban fantasy and combines a lot of my hobby-horses: vinyl records, goth bands, British “new towns”, moths and, of course, bonkers Victorian religious cults and street traders. It’s going to be bigger and more complicated than my first novel but I’m having fun inventing a tailor-made magical system for one of my characters.

Friday, 17 July 2020

The Lockdown with... Tom Johnstone

Born in 1968, Tom Johnstone came to writing rather late in life, and so pursues it with the quiet desperation of someone conscious of the relatively short time he has left. His novella The Monsters are Due in Madison Square Garden, published by Omnium Gatherum Books, is mainly set at the time of the 1939 Nazi rallies in the place mentioned in the title, but has a certain resonance in this age of right-wing demagogues in power in Britain, America and elsewhere. His collection of interlaced stories, LastStop Wellsbourne, has a fair amount of socio-political commentary baked into it too, so much so that David Longhorn of Supernatural Tales called it a ‘state of the nation’ novel in short story form, and says of the author that he “has quietly risen through the ranks to become a first-rate craftsman of the short story.” His stories have also appeared in such publications as A Ghosts and Scholars Book of Folk Horror (Sarob Press), Single Slices (Cutting Block Press) and Best Horror of the Year #8 (Night Shade Books), with further anthology appearances scheduled in Nightscript Vol. 6 (Chthonic Matter Press) and Body Shocks (Tachyon Publications). Also forthcoming from Omnium Gatherum Books is the sequel to The Monsters…, entitled Star Spangled Knuckle Duster

1. Tell us three things about yourself.
I can operate a Hayter ride-on lawn-mower (sort of).

I was once a stagehand on a production of ‘The Scottish Play’, which took place on the island of Inch Colm in the Forth, and starred John Bett, formerly of 7.84 Theatre Company, with the audience ferried out there for each performance.

I spent a good part of the mid-nineties up trees and sitting in front of bulldozers on various road protests. Not really the up-a-tree part so much as my climbing ability and head for heights leaves a fair amount to be desired.

2. Many writers have said the COVID-19 outbreak and the lockdown have made it harder for them to create. Have you found this? Has the outbreak affected you as a writer and if so, how?
In some ways, it hasn’t affected me at all, as my ‘day job’ has remained unaffected, so I’m not benefiting (or suffering) from any extra time at home. If anything I’ve been busier at work, so more tired. Last summer, I took to writing in a pub on the way home from work, scribbling rough drafts down in a semi-inebriated haze (well, in a notebook actually!), which proved surprisingly productive. One of the stories I wrote in this fashion (finishing a tale I began in a creative writing workshop co-hosted by the fabulous and delightful Victoria Leslie) will be appearing in Volume 6 of Nightscript! But it’s a writing setting that is obviously out of reach to me at present.
The virus has negatively affected my writing in practical ways, which have had a knock-on effect on my creativity. A novella that was supposed to be part of a series, due for publication in the spring has now been delayed until the Autumn, because of the impact of the virus on sales. This has somewhat taken the wind out of my sales with regard to working on the next one in the series.
On the other hand, the crisis and its political ramifications have inspired me to produce fiction about it. When the outbreak first reached this country, I swore blind I wouldn’t write a ‘virus story’, thinking the market would be flooded both with virally-themed anthologies and enough stories on this subject to fill them several times over. I’ve since relented and written something called ‘Untogetherness’, which thanks to my observations of what it’s actually like to live through this situation as opposed to typical fictional representations of what it might be like, I sincerely hope is not too corny. But it’s yet to find a publisher, as the deluge of Covid-themed open calls ready to snap it up doesn’t seem to have materialised…

3. What was the first thing you had published?

A short story called ‘Trail of Tears’, credited to ‘T.R. Johnstone’, in Dark Tales magazine, Vol. 12. The first one credited to ‘Tom Johnstone’ was ‘Dairy of a Madman’, in Dark Tales 13, which also featured a story by a writer many readers of your blog will have heard of, a certain Priya Sharma.

4. Which piece of writing are you proudest of?
‘The Beast in the Palace’, my Georgian gothic novelette set in and around the Brighton Pavilion in 1829, as it’s one of my boldest stylistically, structurally and thematically. It was the first, and to date only, story I sold to Black Static, so it has a special place in my heart.

5. …and which makes you cringe?
All of them, including even the aforementioned story in places. And let’s not even start on the adolescent poetry. There’s no escape from the Cringe Factor in anything I write, I find, and there’s nothing like getting something published and irrevocably in the public arena to make you spot every shortcoming, glitch, typo and other unforced error in your work. Re-reading your own work is almost as risky as reading your Amazon reviews, or indeed any reviews. On the other hand, I sometimes take a fresh look at a story that’s been rejected so many times I’ve decided to retire it (unceremoniously, without even a carriage clock) and think, You know what? This isn’t too bad. It isn’t too bad at all… That’s how I came up with my first collection. Most writers do the sensible thing and pack their debut collection with reprints of their most prestigious story sales. I filled mine with unwanted stories. So more of an album of interesting B-sides and out-takes than a greatest hits compilation. I’m really selling it here, aren’t I…?

6. What’s a normal writing day like?
On working days, I aim to start writing from 5.30am until 6.30am in time to leave for work. In practice, I piss around checking my emails, the submissions grinder, social media, news sites (for research purposes of course) and then write for about ten minutes, or at best half an hour, but somehow between these and longer sessions at the weekend, when put together and edited they end up amounting to something I can persuade myself is worthy of publication.
I used to pull all-nighters, but I can’t do that these days. I find self-doubt and negativity is stronger in the hours of darkness, which makes them better for editing. Unless I’m drunk, in which case I can scribble stuff down in the pub (or could in pre-Covid times...)

7. What work of yours would you recommend for people on lockdown and in need of a good book?
The collection I mentioned earlier’s a good one: Last Stop Wellsbourne, published by Omnium Gatherum Books. I may have called it an album of B-sides, but to stretch the musical metaphor, it’s also something of a concept album. The title refers to my adopted home town of Brighton’s ‘lost’ underground river the Wellsbourne, and also the lost town of the same name I’ve invented, in the tradition of weird, haunted places in horror literature from Lovecraft’s Miskatonic Valley to Joel Lane’s Clayheath. And while it does include a fair amount of unpublished stories, there are also some reprints I certainly wouldn’t write off as B-sides, such as ‘The Beast in the Palace’, which fits in well with the theme: George IV, who was responsible for draining the Wellsbourne ‘irl’ as the cool kids say, appears in the story as a character in a way readers will, I hope, find hard to forget…

For those who enjoyed the Spine Chillers readings that were like Jackanory for classic horror fans in the Eighties, I’ve started making videos of fireside readings of some of my stories. Here are some links to the ones I’ve done so far: What I Found In The Shed, Mum And Dad And The Girl From The Flats Over The Road and The Man In The Black Suit, Part One and Part Two.  

8. What are you working on now?
My main focus at the moment is the third novella in a sequence about reluctant occult detective Herb Fry and his associate Daniel Spiegel. The first, narrated by Fry, is called The Monsters are Due in Madison Square Garden, which Omnium Gatherum Books published two years ago. The second, Star Spangled Knuckle Duster, told by Spiegel, is due out shortly. I’m currently in the process of writing The Song of Salome, which returns to the Universal Monster Movie theme of the first.
Actually, at getting on for 30,000 words each, and with their historical scope and scale, taking in events from the 1919 Red Summer to the 1950s Red Scare, and including historical characters such as Meyer Lansky and Bela Lugosi, the first two feel more like short novels. I’m hoping the third one will have more of the concentration and intimacy of a novella.

Monday, 22 June 2020

The Lockdown with... Kari Sperring

Kari Sperring is the author of two novels (Living with Ghosts [DAW 2009] and The Grass King’s Concubine [DAW 2012], the novella Serpent Rose [NewCon Press 2019] and an assortment of short stories. As Kari Maund, she has written and published five books and many articles on Celtic and Viking history and co-authored a book on the history and real people behind her favourite novel, The Three Musketeers (with Phil Nanson). She’s British and lives in Cambridge, England, with her partner Phil and three very determined cats, who guarantee that everything she writes will have been thoroughly sat upon. Her website is here and you can also find her on Facebook.
1. Tell us three things about yourself. (If you’ve done this previously, ideally tell us three different things than last time!) 
I’m really not that interesting! Ummm…
1) Since childhood, I’ve loved ankle-length skirts and as a result I’m the proud custodian of the Cambridge Skirt Mountain. I keep and wear them for years: the oldest one at present is about 30 years old (the previous oldest, a much loved light denim number, sadly fell apart about 8 years ago).
2) I’m Anglo-Welsh: my mother is Welsh, my father partly Welsh, but the families all lost the spoken language in the 19th century, when it was heavily suppressed. I speak a bit – I used to be better, but I am out of practice.
3) Politically, I am waaay to the left – my twitter handle is CBRedwriter (red in the Red Flag sense, for US readers, not the GoP!). I grew up in a very politically active family, and was out leafletting and canvasing with my mother from around 8. I’ve always been left-wing and as I’ve got older, I’ve got increasingly anti-nationalist, too, because it is always, in the end, exclusive. Minority and oppressed cultures and peoples must be protected and supported: I won’t compromise on that. But I don’t like arbitrary boundaries based on accent, ethnicity, language, culture or anything else of that kind.

2. Many writers have said the COVID-19 outbreak and the lockdown have made it harder for them to create. Have you found this? Has the outbreak affected you as a writer and if so, how?
I think it’s been mixed, for me. At the start, I was more productive: my partner Phil has been working for home, and I found that helpful. I also really appreciate the drop in traffic noise. At the same time, I’ve been working with my local mutual aid group and that can be distracting – I do a lot of monitoring the various help-lines and it’s sometimes hard to concentrate when you have one eye on the email all the time. But I have also had days where I have found it hard to get motivated, which is probably at least partly due to the background stress levels out there.

3. What was the first thing you had published?
The very first thing was an academic article on the mid-11th century Welsh king Gruffudd ap Llywelyn, in the journal Cambridge Mediaeval Celtic Studies (now Cambrian Mediaeval Celtic Studies). I wasn’t paid: academic journals don’t pay, in general. But it was my very first professional publication. My first professional fiction publication was a short story called ‘Strong Brown God’, in Glorifying Terrorism, ed. Farah Mendlesohn. About books and water and ending repression, so the socialist flag was already flying.

4. Which piece of writing are you proudest of?
Oh, that’s hard. I am never completely satisfied with anything I write, because I never feel that the end product has captured completely the image I had in my head. Academically speaking, it would be either my first book, Ireland, Wales and England in the Eleventh Century, because it opened up a debate about some of the fixed ideas and embedded prejudices in the field (particularly around the nature of legitimate kingship), or a paper I wrote on Denmark (‘A Turmoil of Warring Princes: Political Leadership in Ninth-Century Denmark’) because it was new territory and brought together materials that had been neglected. In terms of fiction…. I really don’t know. Maybe the novella Serpent Rose, because it’s so different to the rest of my writing.

5. …and which makes you cringe?
Everything I wrote for Star Trek fanzines in my teens! And, well, there’s at least one story out there that I don’t like much, but the editor will probably kill me if I say which one. Oh, and the current draft of what I’m working on – a state of affairs which is true of everything I write.

6. What’s a normal writing day like?
A lot of cats! I log into my writing group’s chat room, look at and deal with email and anything else that’s come in of that kind, try and tidy my desk a bit, talk to Phil or a cat, open a file, look at Facebook, peer at the file, read the news online, wonder what the hell I thought I was doing when I wrote that last paragraph, look at Facebook, sigh a lot, add some new words, hate the new words, look at news online, mutter about how much I hate the w-i-p, add some new words, fuss a cat, add some new words…. Something like that.

7. What work of yours would you recommend for people on lockdown and in need of a good book? 
Living with Ghosts, because it’s fairly pacey for me; or, in non-fiction, The Four Musketeers: the true story of D’Artagnan, Porthos, Aramis and Athos, which I co-wrote with Phil.

8. What are you working on now?
The book that will not end, aka A Fire of Bones, which ties together Living With Ghosts and The Grass King’s Concubine.

Friday, 19 June 2020

The Lockdown with... Gary McMahon

Gary McMahon writes stories. Some of them have been published and received favourable reviews. He is also the author of several novels, and hope to write another one soon. He holds a black belt in shotokan karate and watches way too many horror movies for his own good.

1. Tell us three things about yourself.

I'm a black belt in shotokan karate. I have a torn meniscus. Legally, my middle name is Zed.

2. Many writers have said the COVID-19 outbreak and the lockdown have made it harder for them to create. Have you found this? Has the outbreak affected you as a writer and if so, how?

The lockdown has put me into a kind of creative paralysis. I can't write. I can't even read. I think it's more to do with issues I'm having with my day job than anything else – I moved companies last summer and it's proven to be the biggest mistake of my career. Because of the COVID crisis, I'm now stuck there.

3. What was the first thing you had published?

A short story in a small press 'zine called Nasty Piece of Work.

4. Which piece of writing are you proudest of?

My latest collection, Some Bruising May Occur.

5. …and which makes you cringe?

Lots of early stuff that, thankfully, I've forgotten.

6. What’s a normal writing day like?

I don't have writing days. Writing hours or minutes; like stolen moments with an illicit lover.

7. What work of yours would you recommend for people on lockdown and in need of a good book?

8. What are you working on now?

A novella called You Are Not Like Us. I've also been working for five or six years on a haunted house novel called The Quiet Room.

Monday, 15 June 2020

The Lockdown with... Tiffani Angus

Tiffani Angus is a Senior Lecturer in Publishing and Creative Writing at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge and the General Director for the Anglia Centre for Science Fiction and Fantasy. She’s the author of the debut Threading the Labyrinth (Unsung Stories, 2020) and of several short stories in a variety of genres. She doesn’t currently have a garden, but that’s okay because she’s more a fan of going to gardens that other people have built. You can find more about her writing at her website and follow her on Twitter or Instagram.

1. Tell us three things about yourself.
This question always makes me wonder whether the mundane is too boring or the weird too ridiculous. Let’s see: the mundane is I was born in the American Southwest and do NOT miss the heat (I’m a human fern so British weather is just fine with me pleaseandthankyou); slightly edging toward weird is that decades ago one of my closest friends dubbed me Martha Anne—a combination of Martha Stewart and Anne Rice; and random is that Grady Hendrix called my writing style a ‘fucked up midwestern gothic sensibility’, which I try to live up to. Oh, and a bonus mundane: I love roller coasters but don’t like Ferris wheels.

2. Many writers have said the COVID-19 outbreak and the lockdown have made it harder for them to create. Have you found this? Has the outbreak affected you as a writer and if so, how?
The lockdown has made it harder to write because I am now home working, and I teach creative writing at uni, so there is no break from the office. Plus, teaching creative writing means spending many of my working hours helping my students figure out how to improve their writing—I have to be “on” when interacting with them—and that can be draining when it’s time for me to work on my own writing. My attention span has been shot and I find myself moving from thing to thing after a short bit of concentration, which doesn’t exactly help me with finishing the manuscript I’m working on now! But I know I’m not alone in this; a lot of my writer friends are finding they’re dealing with the same feelings.

The main way the lockdown negatively affected my writing is by undermining my debut. My novel, Threadingthe Labyrinth, was supposed to come out April 13, with launches at a convention and a bookstore, and a big party I was going to throw where I live, etc., and of course that was all cancelled. Then the publisher and I decided to release the ebook on time but push the paperback release to July because that certain big box online store moved shipping physical books way down on its list of importance. So my launch has been strangely elongated and a bare simmer instead of having the chance to give off some steam. Hopefully I can celebrate it in person in public somehow later this summer.

3. What was the first thing you had published?
The first story I had published was “If Wishes Were Horses” at Strange Horizons in 2009 (and you can still read it there for free!). In late 2008, I went to my first ever SFF writing workshop, Viable Paradise, and took a draft of that story. Afterward, I decided to send it out, and SH took it. It’s very short so I give it to students to show them that a story doesn’t need to be a million words long, but I felt like a one-trick pony because it was a long time before I sold another story.

4. Which piece of writing are you proudest of?
Threading the Labyrinth, definitely. The basic description is that it’s about 400 years in a haunted English garden, so it took a lot of research, but I think I ended up with something special thanks to many people who helped me develop and edit it. And I can look back on it and feel proud that I wrote it and it’s published *and* I got a PhD with it (well, in part—I also wrote a 40,000-word critical commentary to go with it). I got my box of author copies the other day and it’s still surreal to see them.

5. …And which makes you cringe?
Luckily I was a bit older when I started publishing, and I had some experience in workshops, etc., and had heard the warnings, so I haven’t had a long history of publishing that includes possible clunkers at the beginning of it. I did publish erotica, which some people would cringe at, but I rather like that story—I was stepping out of my comfort zone! But I do cringe when I think about a bad contract I signed that gave a publisher a story of mine for 3 years that I never made a dime off of. I chalk that up to a learning experience and use it to warn students what to watch out for.

6. What’s a normal writing day like?
I don’t have “writing days” unless I completely clear the decks and get to concentrate on just writing. That happens incredibly rarely because of my job and life stuff. I would LOVE to be able to do that “writerly” thing of taking 6 months off to see what I could finish, and I envy writers I know who get to do it full time (but I know that is extremely rare). So, I tend to write in dribs and drabs when I’ve got time and brain space. Usually what happens is I get a weekend or a solo retreat if my partner is out of town; I will make sure I have food in so I have no reason to go out and I will sit in my pajamas, unshowered, and just GO. I write fast when the stars are aligned and have gotten 10K written in about 24 hours this way.

But I don’t have any rituals; no necessary coffee (smells great, tastes like poo) or tea or cigs; having some good dark chocolate with salt nearby helps; and I listen to music or noise without lyrics because otherwise I sing along as I write (which isn’t the best habit!). I don’t tend to edit as I go; I believe in just barfing it out on the page and then going back to figure exactly what in the hell I wanted to write the story about. That approach took a long time to learn how to do. Then I go back with that idea—the theme(s) or the EGG as I call it—and edit so I can answer the ‘so what?’ question.

7. What works of yours would you recommend for people on lockdown and in need of a good book?
Definitely Threading the Labyrinth, especially if they miss big gardens or even outdoors and are worried about their place in the big scheme of things, in the future, and need reminding that our lives are about slowly building our stories. If they want more garden-related reading with a weird twist, they should check out my short stories “Fairchild’s Folly” (about correspondence between Thomas Fairchild and Carl Linnaeus, published in Irregularity), “What Cannot Be Described” (about Maria Sibylla Merian in Suriname in search of a mysterious moth, published in The Book of Flowering), and “On Tradescant Road” (about a time capsule that doesn’t move chronologically, starring John Tradescant, in BFS Horizons #4). Having said that, some of my other stories are available online—for free!—from various publishers; you can find links here

8. What are you working on now?
I am trying to finish a novel I started about a decade ago, before I started Threading. It’s about an apocalypse, so not the best topic to be writing about right now, but I am close to the finish line. It isn’t a pandemic, though, so maybe it has a shot! It’s about women and children left behind after everything goes to hell, and about a mother and daughter trying to find each other in this new world. I was inspired to write it, in part, by that saying “If women ran the world there’s be no wars”—I wanted to call shenanigans on that and explore the darker side of things. For fun I call it Little House at the End of the World and writing it has, in part, fed into (and been fed by) my research into women’s bodies in apocalyptic fiction; I have become known in my circle as the “tampons in the apocalypse” person. I can think of worse things!