Author and Scriptwriter

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

Friday 30 October 2015

A Ghost Story For Hallowe'en

Tomorrow's Halloween, so in plenty of time for that here's a small treat for you all: my story 'The Climb', which appears in the next issue of Black Static magazine.

'The Climb' was inspired by its setting, Pendle Hill in Lancashire. Even without the stories of the Pendle Witches, it's a strange, grim place: that part of north-west Lancashire is a harsh, desolate landscape, where the old milltowns are almost like island communities, separated by miles of bleak, empty moor and hill, swept by wind and rain.

Going across those moors - especially on a cold, wet autumn day (or better still evening) - it's all too easy to imagine this part of the world as it must have been a few hundred years ago, long before electric lights, telecommunications and the internal combustion engine made it a little less isolated from the rest of the world. And all too easy to understand how easy it was to believe in werewolves, witches, ghosts... in a whole dark world of deadly and unseen things.

Pendle Hill forms the setting for much of my first novel, Tide Of Souls. Tide Of Souls is a zombie apocalypse novel, complete with Biblical-scale flooding; 'The Climb', though, is a more traditional piece, on a much smaller scale, as Bryan, a widower, attempts an ascent of the hill. Bryan's on his own... or is he?

Here's the story, anyway. To spare you all the ultimate horror of looking at my face for fifteen minutes, it comes with a montage of pictures of Pendle and the area around it. If the story doesn't give you some sense of the eeriness of the Hill.

So turn down the lights, put on your headphones and press play. And whatever you do... don't look behind you.

The Lowdown with... Gary Fry

Gary Fry has a first-class degree and a PhD in psychology, though his first love is literature. He lives in Dracula's Whitby, literally around the corner from where Bram Stoker was staying while thinking about that legendary character. He has been writing seriously for about 10 years, despite dabbling with prose since his teens. His first sale was rather a grand one: a short story, 'Both And', to Ramsey Campbell for inclusion in the international anthology Gathering the Bones.

Gary has had a number of books published, including short story collections, novellas and novels. His first collection included an introduction by Ramsey Campbell in which Gary was described as a "master". All these books reflect Gary's predilection for page-turning narratives, complex thematic development, and compelling characterisation.

Gary has a deep interest in psychology and philosophy; indeed, related concerns inform his fiction. He likes to think that every facet of his thought can be strung together by reading his assorted pieces, each adding to the whole -- a 'vision', if you like, and if that doesn't sound too pretentious. But he's never been one to flinch away from ambition.

1. Tell us three things about yourself.

I have a PhD in psychology and that suggests some grand masterplan to steer my life down worthy paths. But the truth is that I just kind of drifted into academia and then postgrad study and then university research. I sometimes think my entire life has been an effort to avoid getting a job which involves wearing a stiff collar.
I live in Dracula’s Whitby, just around the corner from the house in which Stoker stayed while planning his great novel. Indeed, every day I walk the dog past the building, keeping my eyes firmly averted lest a figure appear in one upper-storey window, red of eye and sharp of fang…
I play the piano, badly. Well, no, that’s unfair. I used to be quite good and got to grade 7 as a teenager. But I’ve badly neglected it as an adult and don’t see myself returning very soon. My problem is that although I’m technically adept, I’m just not particularly musical. My timing is good, but I cannot pick out chords like peers were able to do. It’s just not there. And when I do something which requires a lot of effort, I need to feel as if it’s all worth it. In that sense, my musical career is a damp squib.

2. What was the first thing you had published? 
It was a short story in my native Bradford’s local newspaper the Telegraph and Argus. The tale was as soppy as a Facebook user’s fondness for kittens – about a young girl trying to reunite her estranged grandfather and mother – but there are some worthy phrases amid the clunks. I was reading Ramsey Campbell at the time and this seems to have rubbed off in such lines as, “Buildings towered above her like God’s in an identity parade.” There are nascent bits of latter-day me in there, certainly.

3. Which piece of writing are you proudest of? 
A bunch of cosmic novellas set on the northeast coast, each exploring a genuine location and grafting such a sense of place on to personal considerations: the economy, grief, employment, freedom, etc. So far there have been World Wide Web, Lurker, The Respectable Face of Tyranny, Emergence, The Doom that Came to Whitby Town (forthcoming), and more to come. I really want to claim this territory as my own, and will endeavour to mark the entire coastline with monstrous tooth and claw.

4. …and which makes you cringe? 
Ah, far too many, alas. I went through a period, maybe 2008-11, of writing heavily, of abandoning my usual freewheeling approach and believing that I needed to try harder. But the fiction, which read okay at the time, now seems laboured and clumsy, and I’d happily edit the shit out of it if I could. I won’t single out individual pieces, but rest assured they’re there, in cold print. Very cold.

5. What’s a normal writing day like? 

I’m completely undisciplined. I either write all day long and put out 5,000 words or do bugger all. I really wish I was more organised, was able to split my day between rival passions – a little reading, a little writing, watch a film, stroll the coastline, etc. But my brain will have none of that. OCD, me. Tunnel vision. Monomaniacal. This has the effect of me burning myself out regularly, switching between preoccupations over cyclical monthly spells. Oh for a quieter mind…

6. Which piece of writing should someone who’s never read you before pick up first? 
I’m tempted to say Lurker (DarkFuse), which is compact and exciting, and contains what I consider to be some of my best descriptive writing. I really researched the location – Sandsend near Whitby – and managed (I hope) to evoke a real sense of place. Alternatively, for a novel, I’d encourage the curious to check out the ebook version of my PS Publishing book The House of Canted Steps (reissued by DarkFuse), which is a 60,000-word scare machine, as tightly plotted as I could make it and packed with twists and turns.

7. What are you working on now? 
A new novella set in another northeast coastal location called Ravenscar, otherwise known as the “town that never was”. Indeed, that’s the title of the story. It’s a creepy place to visit. Briefly, the Victorians planned to develop it as a coastal attraction, a town to rival Whitby and Scarborough, but the plans misfired, and so although a few properties were built, the great majority weren’t, leaving just isolated buildings standing upon deserted terrain. It’s said that the project failed because potential buyers didn’t like the unpredictable weather or the steep descent to the beach…but we all know better than that, don’t we? Yeah, suuuure we do…

Thursday 29 October 2015

My First Vlog

Egad. The Horror. The Horror. As if Phil Collins coming out of retirement wasn't bad enough, you've now got video footage of my gurning phizog. Why? Because on Saturday I'm putting up another video - my reading my eerie tale 'The Climb', which will shortly be out in Black Static magazine. So I'll see you again then, assuming you don't think of anything better to do.

Wednesday 28 October 2015

Cor Blimey Guv...

A Londoner.
Ooh, well, that's exciting.

I'm going to be making an unscheduled trip to London next week (first time in about ten years!) W
hy? I can't tell you yet. But there should be a fairly exciting professional announcement from me very shortly.

Any of my London-based friends want to meet up for coffee before I head back?

Monday 26 October 2015

The Lowdown with... Maynard & Sims

Len Maynard (left) and Mick Sims (right)
Len Maynard (b.1953) and Mick Sims (b.1952) have been writing together for a long time. "We met in 1964, aged eleven, at Ambrose Fleming Technical Grammar School in Ponders End, Enfield. We weren't friends immediately, that came later, when, aged 18, we had left school and started work - Len as a lapidary in London and Mick for Lloyds Bank. Len left after 43 years, Mick left after 40 years - we do things for the long haul. We began to talk one night, in the bar of the Crown & Horseshoes pub in Enfield, went for a long walk after closing time, and a life time of friendship was born.

"Mick is married to Clare, Len isn’t married to anyone any more, and there are two children between us, Iain Maynard and Emily Sims, and two grandchildren, Elizabeth Maynard and Macie Sanchez-Sims. We both live in Hertfordshire, about 25 miles apart."
Their full bio is longer still, and well worth a read, which you can do here. They do pretty much everything in collaboration - including this interview!

1. Tell us three things about yourself.

Mick - I was born in one of the last pea-souper fogs London had and I was three days old before my father saw me for the first time as he couldn’t get to Kings College hospital before then. I am friends with Len Maynard because of a mutual girlfriend - I dated her and then Len did and berated me about the poor way I treated her and we began a lifetime of open and frank discussions. I suffered quite severe OCD for many years causing odd social behaviour and a general inner feeling of anguish most of the time.

Len - I was born at home in 1953 and spent my first few weeks in the drawer of a wardrobe – true! Mum and dad couldn’t afford a crib. I was dropped on my head onto a concrete path at about eighteen months – which might explain a lot. I grew up wanting to be a) a footballer, b) a wrestler) c) a bass player in a rock band. I started writing at twenty and haven’t stopped since. I think that’s four things, but I’ve had a rich and eventful life! Damn it! Does that make it five things?

2. What was the first thing you had published?

Mick - 'Curtain Call' a ghost story in London Mystery Magazine and 'Benjamin’s Shadow' in A Taste of Fear edited by Hugh Lamb - both 1976. W
e were writing together even then but I think those both came out under my name because we hadn’t made the sensible decision to amalgamate the names at that time.

Len – 'Curtain Call'. The story was one I began and faltered on after a few pages. Mick took it on and completed it successfully. At that time whoever finished a story owned it and got the credit, so the first couple of pages were the first of mine I saw in print – and, credited or not – it was still a thrill.

3. Which piece of writing are you proudest of?

Mick - the next piece. I never feel satisfied with anything I have written, mainly because the initial idea generally fails to materialise exactly as envisaged. Having said that I think the pseudonymous erotic romances are well written, the three thrillers we self-published last year (Let Death Begin, Through The Sad Heart, Falling Apart At The Edges) stand up well, the Department 18 series is getting stronger and stronger and Stillwater is a good ghost story novel. The unpublished work - see question 7 - I do feel is satisfactory.

Len – If I had to choose one piece it would be Convalescence (Samhain Nov 2015), simply because it was the hardest thing I’ve ever written. It contains themes that hark back to our first collection and have reappeared intermittently throughout our career. So the story has been a long time coming – over forty years. It was only now that I felt able to write it and address the themes honestly and properly.

4. …and which makes you cringe?

Mick - much of the early stuff of course, uncollected stories and some in the earlier collections, were experimental and so may not hold up to close scrutiny now. I think most of what we have had published is good enough to not feel embarrassed about. Maybe some of the letters and articles I penned in my early angry genre days might bite me where it hurts if I ever saw them today.

Maybe I have never really written anything special - feels like that sometimes, or else a ‘big’ publisher would have picked me up? Or an agent would have taken me/us on?

Len – It’s probably the first story I ever wrote – a horror story about a bad acid trip called 'Lester’s Strange Dream' (See what I did there? I was always renowned for my subtlety!) It was a pile of steaming… I sent it off to the Pan Book of Horror and the editor at the time, Herbert van Thal, had the good sense to reject it out of hand. Thank God he did – I’d hate for that story ever to see the light of day.

5. What’s a normal writing day like?

Mick - different every time. After forty years at the day job (banking) I took early retirement at the end of 2011 and since then every day is different. My time is spread between looking after granddaughter while daughter is at university (she travels into London several times a week), doing some freelance writing work (editing, proofing, ghost-writing), doing some business coaching work (coaching mentoring, training, access to finance), household chores, gardening, walking the dog, socialising when my patient wife can drag me out of the house… and writing. So each writing session will be different from the last. I might do some daily, it might be weekly. I might write 2000 words a day or I might have a mammoth 10000 day. It’s flexible, it’s fun and it’s free.

Len – On a writing day I get up and faff around for a couple of hours. When I finally sit down at the computer, I read through and amend what I did the previous day, usually rewriting most of it, and then I start. I aim for between 500 and 1000 a day, but life has a habit of disrupting that schedule. I take my granddaughter to and from school, visit my elderly mother and usually watch a DVD with her, feed myself – I’m getting better at that, making sure I cook a meal every day, and sit down for at least an hour, with a glass of wine and coffee. For years I used to exist on tea, toast and chocolate bars, so I’m getting better. When I finally fall into bed I usually nod off for a couple of hours before my brain starts whirring with plot or character ideas, and then sleep is a thing of the past. It’s not unusual for me to get up at three in the morning and go back to the computer to write.

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

Mick - Death’s Sweet Echo - our tenth story collection - for anyone wanting story length ghost stories and strange tales. Stillwater for novel length ghost stories, Convalescence for novella length ghost stories, and Mother Of Demons for those wanting to find out about Department 18. For thrillers I would say any of the three Enigmatic Press titles - maybe start with Let Death Begin.

Len -  All of the above.

7. What are you working on now?

Mick - Tickety Boo Press (Gary Compton) are bringing out Death’s Sweet Echo in October. Samhain are bringing out the novella Convalescence in November. We are co-editing an anthology of thriller stories for ITW (with Alex Shaw) and the reading period for us starts soon.

We have Three Monkeys - the first in a new 1950’s based crime series - and three novels in our Bahamas series of thriller - Touching The Sun, Calling Down The Lightning, Raging Against The Storm - all waiting to be placed with a publisher and we would love them to get accepted soon. We don’t work with an agent at the moment - but would love to have a decent one.

I am working on a new erotic romance novella, a supernatural short story, a supernatural novella, with plans for three new thrillers, and a possible religious drama that I have had planned for many years but never felt brave enough to try and write it.

Len – Again, see Mick’s reply but, I am actually working on the next Department 18 book, tentatively titled, The Tashkai Kiss. On the back burner is the second of the Jack Callum crime novels, the first of which, Three Monkeys, is currently looking for a home with a publisher.