Author and Scriptwriter

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

Thursday 24 January 2019

The Lowdown with... Jeanette Ng

Jeannette Ng is originally from Hong Kong but now lives in Durham, UK. Her MA in Medieval and Renaissance Studies fed into an interest in medieval and missionary theology, which in turn spawned her love for writing gothic fantasy with a theological twist. She used to sell costumes out of her garage. She runs live roleplay games and sometimes has opinions on the internet.

1. Tell us three things about yourself.
Thing #1: So when I was six, I wanted to change my name to Cinderella. I was probably just into the Disney film because of sparkles and pretty dresses, but it has since imprinted upon my soul. I still read pretty much every retelling and reimagining of the cinder girl that crosses my path.
Thing #2: My favourite saint is Thecla, who after listening to Paul preach about chastity decided to run away from her fiancĂ© and stalk Paul instead. She then went around healing people, trailing miracles in her wake. When the authorities sentenced her to be torn apart by wild animals, the lionesses in the pit came to her aid and defended her. She self-baptised by leaping into a vat of man-eating seals (lightning came down to strike down the seals, don’t worry). Though the pendant I wear is of St Dymphna, who protects against mental illness.
I should probably also note that I’m neither actually religious nor Catholic. I’m just a medievalist who likes hagiography.
Thing #3: I write and run live role play games. The last one my ref team and I did was wuxia-inspired, which I was very proud of. I finally got to try and reenact the tropes I grew up with in Hong Kong into a roleplay game. One learns a lot when trying to pare down a culture into a page of A4 for a player to quickly digest. Also, my housemate and best friend embroidered a mantle that is worthy of the gods. It had on it all the animals of the zodiac.

2. What was the first thing you had published?
I’m not completely sure, but I think it’s 'Three Hundred Years' in Mythic Delirium. It’s free online still, and it’s a short story about a mermaid anchorite. I was rereading Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Mermaid and felt that more should be made of its religious themes. Most retellings focus on her desire for romantic love rather than an immortal soul, when she wanted both in the HCA text and one is the means to the other. If a human man were to love and marry her, the mermaid would share in his soul and thus gain one of her own. At the same time, I was reading a lot of 12thC anchorite theology as well and this motif of Christ the Bridegroom who loves you for your soul, that his love is both romantic and redemptive, all this just seems to fit together in an interesting and creepy way. So I wrote a few thousand words inspired by that.

3. Which piece of writing are you proudest of?

Anything I can finish, to be honest. I’m very good at first chapters and not so much the last few. I always say my hard drive is a graveyard of beginnings.
I am probably most proud of 'How the Tree of Wishes Gained Its Carapace of Plastic', which appears in Not So Stories, edited by David Thomas Moore. It’s based on a real wishing tree in Hong Kong that my father lives near. The gimmick was to tell the story of the tree and some regional history with the veneer of folklore and metaphor. Explain along the way why the plastic tree can be as real as one of bark and wood and sap. It’s quite short even for a short story but it’s also very personal for me.

4. …and which makes you cringe?
I know that there are those who think it’s a selling point (and I love you all), but I still regret not editing out the lyrics that I accidentally quoted in Under the Pendulum Sun. I was listening to a lot of Hamilton on loop at the time and it just happened...

5. What’s a normal writing day like?
It usually takes a lot of pottering about the house before I can settle in to write. I try to get all the chores out of the way, else I’ll feel a sudden desire to do laundry halfway through a tricky sentence. I like the quite of the night, or at least early evening, when I know there’s nothing to interrupt me. I wash my face with cold water because that tricks my brain into thinking I’m drowning and the burst of wakefulness is handy. I have a thermos of hot water and a teabag of Pu’r on hand and yeah, then I try to write.
I’ve always written at night. I started when I was at boarding school, partly because it was the longest stretch of uninterrupted time I had to myself. No one was going to need me to rescue them from daddy long legs, nor would there be an impromptu Korean romcom party that I just had to go to. I’m not sure writing in the small hours is a very good habit because it means I can be going to bed at 8am the next morning having logged several thousand words, but sadly I’m also quite set in my ways.

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

I’ve only really got one novel out, so Under The Pendulum Sun is where I would steer most readers. It’s a gothic novel about some Victorian missionaries who go to fairyland. It ends very poorly for them and along the way a lot of theology gets discussed and a number of creepy things happen.
I do write things that aren’t gothic pastiche.

7. What are you working on now?
A thousand things and nothing, to be honest. I’m smack in the middle of the well-documented phenomenon known as the second book blues. I’m doing a lot of research and frankly I’m more comfortable talking about the binned projects with snappy summaries than I am of the amorphous blob of the work in progress. Borgias in Space is on hold. As is the excursion with Venetian glass blowers and mask-wearing demons. There’s a whole 50k of sleeping beauty wakes up in Napoleonic France that had to go. I mourn all of them and I’m sure they’ll get recycled in a decade or so, but for now, they can languish in the folder of doom.

Monday 21 January 2019

The Lowdown with... Tracy Fahey

Tracy Fahey is an Irish writer of Gothic fiction. Her debut collection, The Unheimlich Manoeuvre (reissued in 2018) was nominated in 2017 for a British Fantasy Award for Best Collection. Her short fiction has been published in more than twenty Irish, US and UK anthologies and her work has been reviewed in the Times Literary Supplement. In 2016 two of her short stories were long listed by Ellen Datlow for The Best Horror of the Year Volume 8. Her first novel, The Girl In The Fort (Fox Spirit Press) was published in 2017 and her second collection, New Music For Old Rituals was released by Black Shuck Books in 2018.

1. Tell us three things about yourself.
The Gothic is hardwired into my system. My PhD is on the resurrection of the Gothic home in Irish contemporary art, and my first collection, The Unheimlich Manoeuvre examines the Gothic home through a series of stories on the uncanny. I finished both thesis and collection in the same week in 2015. That was a busy week…

I’m very influenced by my upbringing and surroundings in rural Ireland. The history and nature of Irish identity and folklore runs like a seam through both my YA novel, The Girl In The Fort, and my second collection, New Music For Old Rituals.  But traveling also informs my writing; every country I’ve visited I’ve made story notes based on the different locations – I also feel that my sense of identity emerges more strongly when I’m divorced from my immediate home setting.

I’m hugely influenced by the writing of Shirley Jackson, Donna Tartt, Angela Carter, Ray Bradbury
and Tana French.

2. What was the first thing you had published?
My very first publication was of the story ‘Looking for Wildgoose Lodge’ in the Impossible Spaces anthology released by Hic Dragones. It was a wonderful start to my writing journey; for the launch I was invited to do a reading in Manchester side by side with writers Ramsey Campbell, Douglas Thompson, Tej Turner, and of course, the wonderful Simon Bestwick! [ED. Aw, shucks.]

3. Which piece of writing are you proudest of?
There are some stories I am especially fond of.  My new collection, New Music For Old Rituals, deals with the folklore I grew up with, so stories from it like ‘Buried,’ ‘The Changeling,’ and ‘The Crow War’ feel earthed in a place I know very well.
‘I Look Like You, I Speak Like You, I Walk Like You,’ from The Unheimlich Manoeuvre is also dear to me, partly because it had a difficult journey towards publication. In spite of rejections I still clung to my conviction it rang true. I think it was hard to place as the theme is a difficult one - it deals with domestic abuse - and due to the quixotic nature of the protagonist, the story doesn’t really fit comfortably into a recognisable story arc. But I persevered and it finally found a home in JU Litzone Volume 10.

4. …and which makes you cringe?

I’m not embarrassed by anything that’s in print now, but some of my teenage efforts make me giggle to recall them. I went through a phase in my early teens where I just wanted to be S.E. Hinton and I wrote solely about motorbikes and gangs and knife-fights. It was the antithesis of ‘writing what you know,’ but I had fun and I’m wholly unrepentant.

5. What’s a normal writing day like?
I don’t really have a ‘normal’ writing day, as I also work full-time; I run a fine art department, a postgraduate research centre, research and teach. So writing tends to be done early in the morning, late at night, or covertly, on breaks. That’s why I always carry a notebook and pen around with me. If I think of something I have to set it down on the page immediately. Otherwise it’s lost forever in the Great Abyss, and the older I get, the wider the Great Abyss yawns before me…
Most of the time I write and edit on my own, but this year I worked very closely with Justin Park on my reissued collection and The Black Room Manuscripts Volume IV and it was wonderful to have someone else on hand to throw ideas back and forth to, and to get immediate feedback for my suggestions. That’s why I really treasure beta readers too; sometimes I get lost in a forest of my words, and someone fresh to the situation can analyse it for me much more coherently than I’m capable of.
At weekends, or on holidays, I get the chance to write in a more focused way – to get in The Flow - and that is both wonderful and terrifying. In 2018, The Flow deserted me for a spell – the first really difficult time I’ve had since I started writing – and it took a lot of self-coaching and self-motivating to get myself back on track. Being blocked is hard, but the hardest part is believing that the blockage can shift and melt away in time. I think it’s really important to be honest about these tough times as often on social media all you can see are people’s successes and staggering word counts, but not all the crying and pacing and rending of garments that goes on in the background.

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

The Unheimlich Manoeuvre summarises a lot of themes that are very central to my work; the uncanny home, domestic confinement, doppelgangers, dolls and dystopias. So if you’re curious about my (slightly) skewed world vision, pick that one up from the Sinister Horror Company.
However, if folk horror and folklore are more to your taste, I recommend either New Music For Old Rituals (from Black Shuck Books) or The Girl In The Fort (from Fox Spirit Press).

7. What are you working on now?
This year I’m already working on a couple of projects. I have a third collection in the pipeline, I Spit Myself Out, which examines terrors that come from within; from within the body or within the mind. It’s based loosely on the essay by Julia Kristeva, ‘The Powers of Horror’, just like The Unheimlich Manoeuvre was centered on Freud’s ‘The Uncanny.’ I find every collection I’ve put together needs to have a theme in my head that I can then spin a series of divergent realities around.
For the rest of 2019 I’m also working on a podcast, some non-fiction pieces, some stand-alone short fiction, a novella, and am currently co-scripting a one-off graphic novel (which is a Secret Project but a very exciting one). This year I’ve resolved to say yes more to more diverse creative projects, to push my boundaries a little and although I’m slightly scared at the prospect, it’s also quite an exhilarating thought.

Monday 14 January 2019

The Lowdown with... Nadia Bulkin

Nadia Bulkin writes scary stories about the scary world we live in, thirteen of which appear in her debut collection, She Said Destroy (Word Horde, 2017). Her short stories have been included in editions of The Year's Best Weird Fiction, The Year's Best Horror, and The Year's Best Dark Fantasy & Horror. She has been nominated for the Shirley Jackson Award five times. She grew up in Jakarta, Indonesia, with her Javanese father and American mother, before relocating to Lincoln, Nebraska. She has a B.A. in Political Science, an M.A. in International Affairs, and lives in Washington, D.C.

1. Tell us three things about yourself.
- I've been stung by jellyfish or jellyfish-adjacent creatures twice, in California and Florida. The second time was actually a man o' war, and I had to rip the tentacles off my leg with my hand while swimming. Suffice it to say, I didn't take any chances when studying abroad in Australia.

- My first dream job was "first female soccer player," until I realized many women had gotten there before me. My second was paleontologist. I still fantasize about that one.

- I'm kind of obsessed with plane crashes, which I realize is very morbid. I find shows like Air Crash Investigation very calming (although I'm still not sure the Hong Kong International Airport should have aired it), because they show how far we've come in aviation safety.

2. What was the first thing you had published?
"The Five Stages of Grief," a short story in Three-Lobed Burning Eye, in 2008. It's about a family that can't let go of their dead youngest daughter, even when her ghost starts going bad. The first stories I published were almost exclusively about mourning and accepting deaths in the family - it was the best way I knew to work through my father's death. It helped a bit, though therapy helped more!

3. Which piece of writing are you proudest of?
 Probably "Endless Life," which I reprinted in my collection. It's a story about a hotel that's haunted by the ghost of a maid; except everyone assumes that she's the ghost of a famous dictator who died in the hotel. Writing this story was like standing up a ship in a bottle - it needed such a soft touch, writing from the perspective of a bored and angry ghost in a post-colonial, post-authoritarian society - even my subplots about death tourism and paranormal investigations were tricky issues of power and exploitation. I loved writing it, and the end result was very me.

4. …and which makes you cringe? A lot of my writing, obviously, makes me cringe. Stuff I never finished, stuff I should have taken another editing pass at. I definitely cringe when I read the stuff I wrote as a kid. I think the only piece that I actually regret publishing was a modern magical realism/fantasy story that I think gave people the wrong impression of who I was as a writer. The sad part was that people really liked it! Alas, I was just mimicking a popular style instead of trying to find my own voice. And that's the part that makes me cringe.

5. What’s a normal writing day like?
It involves a lot of walking. I need a lot of "processing" time to write - when I was a kid walking around the playground and talking to myself, it didn't come across so well - and I process best when walking and listening to music (I make playlists for every story). When actually writing, I always have the TV on. That may sound weird, but sound and stimulation are a huge crutch for me - silence actually makes me kinda panicky. I'm a slow writer, but I'm very deliberate - I don't do second drafts.

6. Which piece of writing should someone who’s never read you before pick up first?
Depends on what they like (is that cheating?). To compromise between out-and-out horror and "softer" horror, I'd say "Intertropical Convergence Zone," about a lieutenant collecting magically-imbued items for the dictator he works for. I think that story was the first piece of mine that a lot of people read, and it's on my web site. However, I wrote that story ten years ago, so for something more recent I'd say "Wish You Were Here," which can be found in Ellen Datlow's Best Horror of the Year vol. 9.

7. What are you working on now?
My agent and I are pitching a grief/mental health memoir, written through the lens of being a long-suffering tennis fan. If it gets picked up, it'll be the saddest thing I've ever written, so I really hope it does! I'm also pleased to be participating in a few fun projects I can't talk about yet.

Monday 7 January 2019

The Lowdown with... Paul Tremblay

Yup - after a looong hiatus, The Lowdown has returned! And our first subject is the award-winning novelist Paul Tremblay.

Paul Tremblay is the author of the novels The Cabin at the End of the World, Disappearance at Devil’s Rock and A Head Full of Ghosts. His other novels include The Little Sleep, No Sleep till Wonderland, Swallowing a Donkey’s Eye, and Floating Boy and the Girl Who Couldn’t Fly (co-written with Stephen Graham Jones).

His fiction and essays have appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Supernatural Noir, and numerous Year’s Best anthologies. He is the author of the short speculative fiction collections In the Mean Time and Compositions for the Young and Old and the hard-boiled/dark fantasy novella City Pier: Above and Below. He served as fiction editor of CHIZINE and as co-editor of Fantasy Magazine, and was also the co-editor the Creatures anthology (with John Langan). Paul is currently on the board of directors for the Shirley Jackson Awards as well.

Paul is very truthful and declarative in his bios. He once gained three inches of height in a single twelve hour period, and he does not have a uvula. His second toe is longer than his big toe, and yes, on both feet. He has a master’s degree in mathematics, teaches AP Calculus, and once made twenty-seven three pointers in a row. He enjoys reading The Tale of Mr. Jeremy Fisher aloud in a faux-British accent to children. He lives outside of Boston, Massachusetts.

1. Tell us three things about yourself.
I'm an excellent three-point shooter (basketball). I suck at gift wrapping. When I listen to music I still imagine myself as the performer.  

2. What was the first thing you had published?
A short story called "God of Roads." It wasn't very good. 

3. Which piece of writing are you proudest of?
A Head Full of Ghosts. It remains the story that came closest to matching what was in my head before I wrote it.

4. …and which makes you cringe?
A whole slew of short stories written during the years 1996 to 2003.

5. What’s a normal writing day like?

Procrastinating, self-flagellation, then maybe and hour or two or 500 words, whichever comes first.

6. Which piece of writing should someone who’s never read you before pick up first?
A Head Full of Ghosts, again. For my horror work, it's my statement of purpose.

7. What are you working on now?
Finishing a few short stories I owe and a novel with the working title Survivor Song.

Tuesday 1 January 2019

Goodbye, 2018, Hello 2019...

I love this picture far too much not to use it again.
So... whew. It's really strange to think another year's passed already. But it has, and now we're nearing the end of the first day of 2019.

364 of them to go.

Some people are dismissive about New Year's Resolutions. I'm not: this is the perfect time to look back on what you've achieved, and look ahead to where you want to be.

I wrote a novel this year, and a play, and several short stories. I saw another novel into print, plus a mini-collection and (with Penny Jones) a chapbook. I saw a novelette published by; I saw my fiction published in major anthologies, reprinted in The Best of the Best Horror of the Year.

Cate and I celebrated our second year of marriage, and our sixth year together.

I got to see Laura Mauro win a totally unexpected (on her part) and hugely well-deserved award for Looking For Laika.

I helped start up something new: Shock Against Racism, raising money to combat racism and the far-right.

I discovered a new sense of purpose in my writing, one I thought I'd lost.

So, for 2019, what do I want to strive for? Where do I want to be?

I still want the dusk. I still want to be able to earn my living doing what I love. Time is short, for all of us. God alone knows what the next year will bring, for the world at large and for the UK in particular. I want that time to count, to be spent doing the stuff I care about and that I was put here to do.

I'm still hoping against hope that we'll find a way to halt the national insanity that is Brexit before this deranged suicide cult screws us for decades to come. (Even if we do, there'll still be divisions, but you know what? Maybe, just maybe, it's exposed the hatred and ugly-mindedness that's festered so long in our country. We can't be in denial about those things any more. And yes, I know that not every Leave voter did so out of bigotry, but don't tell me that there isn't a sewer of racism, small-minded, mean-spirited spite and cruelty running through our public life and our national culture. Maybe, now it's publicly on display, we can hope to recognise it and drain it. Crazily optimistic? Yes, but you've got have some hope.)

I want to see a change of government too. So I'm going to try and be more politically active in both those causes in the coming year.

This year, I'm going to write the final book in the Black Road series. I'm going to rewrite the one I drafted in 2018, and try to complete, or at least begin, another book after that. I want to start learning how to draw. I want to lose more weight and become fitter and healthier. I want to find more ways to turning what I love to account, so I can spend all my time doing it.

One step I've taken in that direction is to launch a Patreon account. Among other things, I'll be serialising a novel, The Mancunian Candidate, there for my supporters to read. There's a free sample available to read, to whet your appetite.

Let's hope we can get through 2019, that the things we fear don't happen and that the things we hope for do. Let's hope we're all still here at the end of 2019, and that things are better for us than they were at the start.

Good luck, everybody.

See you soon.