Short Sharp Shocks! 72 is Weed by Night by Sarah L. Johnson. The book is published on the 2nd July but is currently available for pre-sales. It has a cover by Adrian Baldwin. Prior to publication Dean and Sarah talked about it...
DEMAIN PUBLISHING: Welcome to DEMAIN Sarah! A pleasure to have you here. Can you tell us a little about yourself and why you became a writer?
SARAH L. JOHNSON: For the money and fame of course! I figured by now I’d have put a gram of cocaine up my nose and wrapped my Ferrari around a telephone pole. Naturally I’m disappointed in how this has turned out.
DP: Haha – I like your honesty. Um, okay, what’s your background.
SLJ: I used to be a respiratory therapist, working in acute care and ICU. You see folks at their most vulnerable in those settings. You also see a hell of a lot of funny things. Like a guy walking into the ED (after driving himself there) with a paring knife just sticking out of his head like a weird antenna. Those sorts of experiences and details make it into my work all the time.
DP: Wow, that’s...odd but I guess you have to have a sense of humour in those situations. Was that your first introduction into the horror genre?
SLJ: No - As a kid I was obsessed with this fairy tale treasury full of gruesome illustrations. Particularly one story about a mouthy young lady who sassed the wrong crone and then every time she opened her mouth, bugs and snakes fell out. Man, I loved that book.
DP: My Lord that sounds amazing! What’s your Short Sharp Shocks! About?
SLJ: Weed by Night is a story about matrilineal magic and sibling bonds. Kaia and Jack are teenage twins, sent to live on their grandmothers’ farm for the summer. Kaia is used to being the inferior twin. Jack is smarter, bigger, better, at everything. So, when her mom’s moms clearly favour her over her brother, it’s a pleasant surprise. But then Kaia starts dreaming about the garden, and then she starts to worry about Jack.
DP: And so she should...in writing Weed did you have to do much research?
SLJ: I’m a curious person so I read about all sorts of things all the time just for fun and often end up writing about them later, but generally speaking I hate research and do as little as I can get away with. For this story, I grew up in rural Alberta, so there’s a lot of my lived experience in it.
DP: Cool, cool. So, what has been your biggest creative success to date?
SLJ: Co-writing Terrace VII: Wall of Fire with my writing partner Robert Bose. A collection of stories based around the theme of lust and Dante’s tower of purgatory. I adore collaborating with other artists and creators, and co-writing these stories was so much fun it’s probably illegal in Kentucky.
DP: Haha! What books / authors do you read and do they influence you?
SLJ: I love weird books, queer books, books that take big swings at messy ideas and leave a splatter. Hanya Yanagihara, Poppy Z. Brite, Anne Carson, Yoko Ogawa, Megan Abbot, Donna Tartt (holy shit, The Secret History is a scary book). Everything influences me and I hope that never changes.
DP: I love Tartt’s work for sure. So what does horror mean to you?
SLJ: Horror is an experience, not a genre. For the purposes of marketing, I get it, but I’m a contrary person so I’ll happily run around slandering a lauded work of literature by calling it horror if that’s what I felt when reading it. If you haven’t read Bunny by Mona Awad, please correct that at your earliest convenience.
DP: I haven’t so I will. Thanks for the recommendation. What draws readers to the horror genre? What do readers look for?
SLJ: That’s such a good question and I often ask it of myself as a writer, reader, and publisher. Good horror doesn’t have to scare to be enjoyable, but good horror will intrude on your sense of safety in some way. Good horror poses questions you may not want the answers to. Good horror puts the bad thoughts in your head. Good horror lingers.
DP: It certainly does! Is there a new writer out there that interests you right now?
SLJ: Hailey Piper is coming out with some exciting stuff. We published her short story collection Unfortunate Elements of My Anatomy through The Seventh Terrace and it’s just killer. I’m looking forward to reading more of her work in the years to come.
DP: Ah yes, we know Hailey well. Great writer. Is there anything you are afraid of?
SLJ: My fears would make terrible stories because lists of awkward things I’ve said to strangers are what keep me up at night. My only fear worth writing about is my sleep paralysis demons, and I’m not brave enough yet [to put that in my work].
DP: Creatively is there anything you’d like to do that you haven’t done yet?
SLJ: It would be cool to try acting one day.
DP: Nice – I would like to try that myself too. There’s been a couple of times I’ve had to stand in on a play I’ve directed/produced when an actor’s been sick etc and I wasn’t a great fan but as I’ve got older I’ve been giving it more and more thought – perhaps I should sign up for some lessons. Is writing for you a long term or short term career?
SLJ: Who knows? I plan to make the most of it until I have to fake my death and start a new life in Moldova.
DP: Sounds great – the lockdown – how did you handle it?
SLJ: I’m an introvert, thus very good at entertaining myself, so it took me a year to get bored. I’ve been running a lot, dabbling in witchcraft, learning how to make cool cocktails, teaching creative writing over Zoom, getting high and losing my socks. I really can’t complain.
DP: Oh, I hope you found your socks! Final question then - do you have any funny stories to tell in relation to your writing...
SLP: I met George Saunders once. He put his hand on my shoulder for a photo and drew a cute doodle in my battered copy of Tenth of December. I nearly wept.
And why not?!
Thanks a million for your time Sarah - really enjoyed that. The best of luck with your Short Sharp Shocks!
If you would like to connect with Sarah L. Johnson direct:
Short Sharp Shocks! 71 is Autotomy Cocktail by previous DEMAIN author Zachary Ashford. The book is published on the 2nd July (available now for pre-sales) with a cover by Adrian Baldwin. Prior to publication Dean and Zach sat down and chatted.
DEMAIN PUBLISHING: Welcome back to DEMAIN Zach – hope you’re doing okay during this very very weird time. Let’s get down to it – can you tell us who you are and why you became a writer.
ZACHARY ASHFORD: For me, it was just something I’d always wanted to do, and although I’d done some courses and things, I never really sat down and just did the thing. When I eventually did, I had a story picked up by Dark Moon Digest (which later become the second half of my first Short Sharp Shocks!) and used that as impetus to keep going. I’ve not got a couple of novellas on Unnerving’s Rewind or Die line, a couple of Short Sharp Shocks! and a release coming out through Horrific Tales later this year. I’m thrilled to be writing stories that people seem to dig.
DP: I’m really happy you’re building your audience – thoroughly deserved. What was your first introduction to the horror genre?
ZA: I think I spoke about this last time, so I’m gonna give some love to my first real look at the Indie Horror scene this time. I was a reader of the Great Jones Street app back when that was live, and I found Max Booth’s story Blood Dust on there. That led me to his website, and a book by Patrick Lacey called Bone Saw. I bought that book and it kicked ass. I didn’t realise people were actually writing fun horror books like that, and BOOM, I was into a whole world of awesome stories. There’s so much cool stuff in the genre that it’s amazing to just immerse yourself in it.
DP: 100%! I love horror because it really is a broad church with something for everyone...so, your new Short Sharp Shocks!
ZA: Yes, as you know this is my second entry in the series, and although my first is a played straight, this one’s probably more similar in tone to my Sole Survivor novels. It’s very deliberately over-the-top. I wanted a comedic vibe to balance some of the more visceral aspects, and I’d been watching and reading some comedy-horrors and old-school EC comics around the time I was writing it. That’s not to say it doesn’t have nasty aspects; it certainly does, but I also want people to have a bit of a chuckle at this one, and know that it’s a bit ironic. I think I’d gone down a YouTube rabbit hole and was looking at the idea of CRISPR DNA experiments (and the fact they could be done with home kits) and wanted to make a kind of response to that. I hadn’t really done much with body horror before, and I wanted to give that a go. Hopefully, people enjoy it.
DP: I’m sure they will. I loved the black humour of it all and really thought it’d make a cracking low budget movie. I said previously that horror was a broad church, what does horror mean to you?
ZA: I’ve always loved this question. It’s so different to everyone that it makes for a great discussion point. I’m in the camp that says horror doesn’t have to be ‘scary’ as such. For me, it covers the gamut of things that are deliberately over-the-top and ‘shocking’ in terms of gore, extremity, and bad taste, as well as those things that give you goosebumps (like a well-crafted ghost story). Of course, there’s so much more to it than that. The psychological horror of things that make you uncomfortable or that have the cringe and squirm factor are just as much a part of the horror genre as the traditional ghosts and goblins stuff, and that leads me to my final point – monsters! I love monsters in my horror.
DP: I guess you’re frightened of monsters then?
ZA: Of sharks I am, yes. I don’t know if I mentioned this in the last interview, but considering they’re just big fish, they scare the crap out of me. I’m so not a fan of swimming in the ocean here in Oz. The place is chockers with them. They haven’t made their way into my work yet, but I think I’ll get there eventually. There’s obviously a lot of fun to have with them.
DP: There definitely is. I did write a shark story once for an antho which never happened, it was set off the coast of Australia actually – will have to dust that down someday soon. Um, so creatively is there anything you’d like to do that you haven’t done yet?
ZA: I have a background in radio copywriting, so I’d love to write a proper radio play. I’ve done some sequential shorts in the past, but nothing that I could release holus bolus. That would be amazing.
DP: I was lucky enough to have a short story broadcast on the BBC earlier in 2021 I’m really liking the medium and would love to do more stuff too – great fun where you can really let your imagination run riot. Writing: long term or short term career?
ZA: I’d love for it to be a long-term career, but even if it doesn’t become that, it’s something I’m going to keep doing. It’s very rewarding to see your stuff out there.
DP: Exactly, exactly! The lockdown...
ZA: We were really lucky here in Australia, and although we’re on the verge of another three-day lockdown tonight, we weren’t locked down for too long. The biggest challenge for me was teaching from home.
I bet it was!
Mr Ashford, cheers for your time – it was great talking to you again and all the best with your second Short Sharp Shocks!
If you would like to connect with Zachary direct:
We welcome back author R.J. Meldrum to DEMAIN with his brand new Short Sharp Shocks! Placid Point (Number 70 in the series). The ebook is out on the 2nd July (though currently available for pre-sales) and has a cover by Adrian Baldwin. Prior to publication Dean and Richard sat down and talked:
DEMAIN PUBLISHING: Great to speak to you again Mr Meldrum – for those that aren’t yet familiar with you or your work can you tell us a little about yourself.
R.J. MELDRUM: Hi, of course. I’m British, but currently living in Canada. I work as an academic in a university in Toronto. In terms of writing, prior to 2015 I’d been pottering for years, but never very seriously, or at least with no serious intention to get published. In 2015, I decided to self-publish a collection of short stories and that gave me the confidence to start submitting to publishers. Six years later, I’m nearing 200 stories published (both reprints and originals) and my work has appeared in a number of magazines and anthologies. My first novelette, The Plague, was published by DEMAIN in 2019.
DP: Indeed and great fun it was too. So would you say your background has had some influence on you as a writer?
RJM: I was born and brought up in Scotland, but have lived in both England and Wales, as well as Canada for the last ten years. That experience of living in different places allows me to write with first-hand knowledge of all these places; allowing me to set my stories both in different parts of the UK and North America. I’m a scientist by training – so I do try to inject logic and science into my stores. John Lansing, one of my few recurring characters, is my ‘go to’ scientist/doctor and I suppose he is partially based on me.
DP: Oh nice one, I didn’t know that. I personally think spending time in other countries really does add something to a writer’s armory (so to speak) – what was your first introduction to the horror genre?
RJM: I think like most kids growing up in the 70s and 80s, my introduction to the genre came through TV and books. I vividly remember the television adaptation of Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot, which scared the hell out of me. I also remember the Hammer House of Horror television series, which was also pretty scary. I read books by both King and James Herbert and those combined with the television series, got me hooked.
DP: I don’t think I’ve seen that version of Salem’s Lot – with David Soul right? – need to check it out. Okay, so your Short Sharp Shocks!
RJM: This is my second publication in this series. It’s an eco-horror – nothing supernatural in this story. The ‘villain’ is a bio-engineered micro-organism and it wreaks havoc on a small, lakeside village. It’s a departure from my normal story, but I enjoyed writing it and I hope that readers find it fun to read.
DP: I really enjoyed it too so I’m sure your readers will as well. Did you have to do much research when writing it?
RJM: I normally don’t do research, but for this story I did. I enlisted the help of a couple of lake ecologists to make sure I got the biology and other scientific aspects correct. For this story, the scientific basis for the story had to be plausible – I hate reading stories where a fact is wrong or the actions of a character aren’t realistic or plausible – it spoils it for me.
DP: Me too. With everything going on on the planet right now do you think the genre is affected by world events?
RJM: I think horror should reflect both real life and current events – it has to. Horror should reflect humanity, especially the negative parts of society. My stories have used climate change, pandemics (including COVID) and various disasters as backdrops. Without reflecting and commenting on current society, horror is less relevant and less important (in my opinion). Horror has always taken current events or developments and reflected them in a dark way. I think that’s important.
DP: Sure and as the world is a scary place right now do you think that the horror genre is dead or at least on its last legs?
RJM: No, I don’t think so – at least I hope not! Horror as a genre is very broad and trends do come and go. I can think of a few parts of the horror genre that I don’t read or enjoy, but each to their own! Most people have read a ‘horror’ book in their lifetime, even if they didn’t realise it. I think there is a lot of potential in the genre, as long as it stays current.
DP: Final question then: is writing for you a long term or short term career?
RJM: I’ve written on and off for most of my life, but I’ve only been published in the last few years. I enjoy writing and that is the main reason for doing it, but it’s also great to see my work in print. I’d love to be able to make my living from writing, but I suspect that will never happen, but plan to always write – well, as long as I keep having ideas!
Thank you so much for your time. All the best with Placid Point.
If you would like to connect with R.J. Meldrum direct:
July 2nd sees the publication of Madison McSweeney’s Short Sharp Shocks! The Forest Dreams With Teeth (Book 69 in the series) – currently available for pre-sales with a cover by Adrian Baldwin. Prior to publication Dean and Madison sat down and talked about it.
DEMAIN PUBLISHING: Welcome to DEMAIN Madison, hope you’re doing well…so, let’s talk your background and whether that has had any influence on you as a writer.
MADISON MCSWEENEY: Hello! I grew up in the suburbs of Ottawa, Ontario; Ottawa’s the capital city of Canada, so by nature it’s a place where drama and absurdity go hand-in-hand. My family had eclectic interests – my parents were involved in everything from politics to carnivals, so they always knew interesting people and had a lot of wild stories. They were also big movie and music buffs, so I was raised on classic rock and cult movies. I think my fascination with offbeat characters and everyday surrealism comes from that.
I found myself drawn to the macabre very early on. I wrote a fairly awful poltergeist novel when I was about eleven, then spent my teen years writing angsty poems and attempting to write angsty dystopian sci-fi novels. Plus lots of pulpy horror stories.
I was a student journalist in high school and university, mostly covering the local arts and culture scene, and I learned a lot about the craft of writing through that (I also developed an unhealthy aversion to any paragraph more than three lines long). My first fiction publication was a fantasy detective story called ‘Daydream Noir’ that appeared in the 2015 Fiction Issue of The Fulcrum, the University of Ottawa’s campus paper.
DP: Wow, that’s really interesting – your parents sound very interesting people and quite inspiring. What was your first introduction then into the horror genre?
MM: I actually can’t remember not being a horror fan. I grew up with the Goosebumps books and cartoons like Tales from the Cryptkeeper, Scooby Doo, and Courage the Cowardly Dog (which is still terrifying even as an adult), as well as urban legend-related shows like Mystery Hunters. I was also really into the Chucky series as an eight-year-old (still am), and my mom got me into Tim Burton at a pretty young age. To be honest, though, it probably all started with The Wizard of Oz.
DP: Yeah, that’s bleedin’ scary isn’t it. I’ve always had a soft spot for Chucky too! Okay, so your SSS!
MM: ‘The Forest Dreams With Teeth’ begins around a bonfire of heavy metal records and horror movies. A high school student has been mysteriously murdered, and desperate parents are lashing out at the usual scapegoats. When a teenage metalhead gets caught up in the hysteria, he discovers that the town’s madness is being used to feed an ancient evil.
Essentially, it’s an occult horror story that subverts the narrative of moral panics. The plot was influenced by folk horror (particularly The Wicker Man and The Ritual) and old-school weird fiction; I was reading a lot of Robert E. Howard at the time and I liked the idea of a suburban outcast as a sword-and-sorcery hero, reluctantly thrust into a world of black magic.
DP: Very cool influences there too – so in writing ‘The Forest Dreams With Teeth’ did you have to do much research?
MM: Not for this story in particular, but I’ve done a lot of research into moral panics over the years, particularly the so-called “satanic panic” in the 1980s and 1990s.
I first became interested in the topic as a high school student, after learning about the PMRC’s campaign to censor any music they deemed “obscene.” Later on, I was haunted by the West Memphis Three and McMartin Preschool cases, particularly the innocent people who lost years of their lives to false accusations. If you study those stories, you’ll find that the real “villains” are often self-proclaimed experts who manipulated vulnerable people into providing false confessions and convinced juries to believe absurd conspiracy theories. That’s why the villain in ‘The Forest Dreams With Teeth’ is a therapist – he’s someone who should know better, but he’s weaponizing hysteria for his own ends.
For anyone interested in learning more, I would recommend Sam Dunn’s documentary Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey, Frank Zappa’s The Real Frank Zappa Book, the Paradise Lost and West of Memphis documentaries, Damien Echols’ autobiography Life After Death, and the HBO movie Indictment: The McMartin Trial.
DD: I’ll check those documentaries out asap as they sound really interesting. What is Madison McSweeney’s biggest creative success to date?
MM: My debut novella is coming out from Filthy Loot in the near future, so that’s exciting.
DD: It is! And the best of luck to you. Tell me about your influences.
MM: I’m a big fan of Clive Barker, Anne Rice, Ray Bradbury, and Stephen King, as well as older writers like Arthur Machen and H.P. Lovecraft. Outside of the horror genre, I’m really into SFF authors like William Gibson, Michael Moorcock, and the comic book writer Grant Morrison. I also read a lot of poetry.
Stylistically, I’ve been highly affected by Ray Bradbury’s poetic use of language. Authors like Neil Gaiman (particularly his and Terry Pratchett’s Good Omens) emboldened me to embrace humour and playful language. Clive Barker’s philosophy – the idea that the unusual is not inherently evil – profoundly influenced my perspective on writing horror, and Stephen King’s reflections on the genre (particularly his non-fiction book Danse Macabre) were also very impactful.
In hindsight, I can trace a lot back to YA authors I read when I was younger. The Canadian humour writer Gordon Korman gave me a taste for quirky characters, and Sarah Ellis’s short stories (often assigned in high school English classes) were an early introduction to the subtly surreal, slice-of-life fantasy stories I enjoy.
DD: I’ve never really got into Neil Gaiman – I did read American Gods but that’s about it – perhaps when I get five minutes I should give him another try. What does horror mean to you?
MM: Horror to me is about celebrating the strange, championing the outsider, and pushing past the bounds of reality.
At a very basic level, the appeal of the genre is that it gives us the chance to experience things we might never encounter in real life. I’m drawn to fantasy-horror for that reason: I’m fascinated by bizarre creatures, esoteric cults, and the possibility of alternate worlds. But even the most run-of-the-mill slasher movie accomplishes that goal; I mean, how often do you see someone cut in half with a chainsaw?
DD: I like your definition for sure Madison and I’ve started to get into cults a bit – when I was a student my friend and I were ‘tapped up’ by this cult member. He started talking to us on a bus one day and we realised then he was following us and kept turning up at our house and even at our university. He eventually got the message but the whole experience must have lasted six months or so. Very very odd. Anyway – is there an upcoming book / film that you’re particularly looking forward to?
MM: I’m really looking forward to Robert Eggers’ The Northman; after The Witch and The Lighthouse, I think we can safely assume it’ll be stunning. And I have a good feeling about the upcoming Texas Chainsaw Massacre sequel.
As for books, I hear Brendan Vidito has a novel coming out soon, which I’m excited to read. His short story collection Nightmares in Ecstasy blew my mind - it was like reading Books of Blood or watching Videodrome for the first time again. Of course, I’m also psyched to read whatever Clive Barker comes out with next.
Outside the horror genre, I’m looking forward to reading Patricia Lockwood’s new novel No One Is Talking About This; I love her poetry, and her autobiography Priestdaddy is one of my favourites.
DD: I remember the first time I read Clive’s [Barker] work and I don’t think I’ve ever felt the same since…is there a new writer (or director) that interests you?
MM: A lot of awesome books have come out of the indie horror scene recently!
Sam Richard’s Sabbath of the Fox Devils wormed its way into my brain and didn’t leave. Joanna Koch’s The Wingspan of Severed Hands was a thrill. (Frankly, everything Weirdpunk Books publishes has been rad; I have several on my shelf that I’m looking forward to digging into.)
Hailey Piper is very versatile and she has a knack for writing settings that come alive; I really dug Benny Rose, The Cannibal King for that reason.
I find the bizarro scene very exciting – it’s so diverse and literally anything goes. I had a lot of fun with Danger Slater’s Impossible James last year, and I recently enjoyed Madeleine Swann’s surreal flapper mystery The Vine That Ate the Starlet.
I’ll also read literally anything Grady Hendrix writes – he’s brilliant at fusing gimmicky concepts with raw, character-driven horror stories.
As for directors, Romola Garai had an incredible debut last year with her gothic/folk horror hybrid Amulet. I hope she does more horror.
DD: Ah, we know Joanna and Hailey here at DEMAIN for sure. Last one then, creatively is there anything you’d like to do that you haven’t done yet? If so – what is it?
As a politics nerd, I’m a big fan of satirical shows like The Thick of It, Yes Minister!, and the British version of House of Cards; I would love to write something like that.
I’ve also got an idea for an offbeat YA story floating around in my head, and I have a set of recurring characters who I plan to build a longer fantasy novel around.
Madison! Thanks a million for your time. All the best with your Short Sharp Shocks!
If you would like to connect with Madison direct:
We welcome author Ross Jeffery to DEMAIN with his entry to the SHORT SHARP SHOCKS! series (Number 68) Milk Kisses & Other Stories. The book is released on Kindle on the 2nd July 2021 but is available currently for pre-sales.
A couple of weeks prior to publication, Dean and Ross sat down and talked about it.
DEMAIN PUBLISHING: Hello Ross! Great to have you as part of the family over here at DEMAIN. For those that don’t know you, can you tell us a little about yourself and Milk Kisses?
ROSS JEFFERY: Hi! I’m Ross, I’m the Bram Stoker & Splatterpunk nominated author of Tome, Juniper and Tethered. I live in Bristol but I’m originally from Downham/Bromley (South East London). I’ve always had a passion to tell stories, but always thought that writing was above my reach, that it was something I could only gaze at fondly and dream of one day doing. I’d never been very good at English at school, hated reading out loud in class and I have to say it put me off, I had an awful teacher that used to pick on me. But I eventually went to university to study film and video production and rediscovered my love of telling stories, and started the process of writing, I initially sent out short stories and then one day one got picked up, I had the bug and then things just steadily progressed and now I’ve written three books with a few others on the way.
DP: Teachers hey (it’s okay, I’m sure they’re not all bad haha) – I had a similar experience with an art teacher of mine when I was at school where he came up behind me grabbed my brush and snapped it in two saying I had no aptitude for painting. I was only 13 or so. Wow. Anyway, anyway, so your background, can we talk about that and whether that had any influence on you as a writer.
RJ: My background is from a working-class family, my dad has always been a person that’s said if you really want something in life you’ve got to go out there and get it yourself, no one is going to give you a hand out. I guess he was right, for me writing has never come easy, it’s a labour of love don’t get me wrong, I love creating stories, I love the process of writing, but it’s the grammatical and spelling side of things that I’ve always struggled with (but I’ve discovered that’s what a good editor is for) – but as with anything if you want to be good at it, you’ve got to keep practicing, keep striving and now, I don’t even think about those hang ups I had about my own self-worth – I just write and take what comes from it, and so far people seem to be really enjoying what I have to offer, it’s a very humbling experience!
DP: It is, it is. What was your first introduction to the horror genre?
RJ: Stephen King’s IT I had stolen my dad’s hardback copy of it at about age nine – I read it at night when they’d gone to bed, most of it went over my head, but I was smitten with what it had to offer. My dad used to have a big old bookcase in our lounge, full of hardback, all horror, The Exorcist, The Rats, Misery, The Entity, Pet Sematary (pretty much every King hardback at the time) – and for me I’d love just taking those books out and gazing at their covers, and then flicking through the pages. I remember those days fondly. As for horror films – I’d watched Jaws, The Thing and The Exorcist at a very young age and they are still some of my favourite of the genre, but I guess a lot of that has to do with nostalgia and how it felt at the time.
DP: Definitely – I love The Entity, one of my favourites! So, the reason we are talking – your Short Sharp Shocks!
RJ: Yes. Well, these three stories are a few drippings from my mind, I’ve a huge folder on my computer which is named ‘Beautiful Atrocities’ [great title for a collection by the way – DP] and it’s where I store all my short fiction, some are rough musings, some are short stories I’d like to expand upon and others are just sitting their waiting for a collection to form. But these three stories in particular are varied in their scope of horror and I feel that they each compliment the other and show a broad range of work. What I love about SSS! collections is the scope of each one and when the opportunity arose to put something together these three called out from the drippings and begged me to send them out into the world.
DP: We were very happy when we talked about the possibility of you being involved in the SSS! series and we know you really get what it’s all about. What would you say is your biggest success to date Ross?
RJ: My novel Tome – it’s up for a Bram Stoker Award for superior achievement in a first novel and it’s also up for a Splatterpunk Award for best novel [well done !!!! – DP]– so that’s just been crazy, never in my wildest dreams did I ever think it would be recognised by two great horror organisations, it’s blown me away and imposter syndrome has definitely kicked in, but I’m just humbled by the whole thing and looking forward to seeing what happens in the coming months!
DP: Thoroughly deserved. What books / authors do you read and do they influence you?
RJ: I read everything, I don’t just stay in the horror genre – although I do love horror and all it has to offer, sometimes I need a break to preserve my sanity. Everything I read influences me in a way, there is some great work going on in the Indie Horror Scene and some of those voices that have influenced me to date would include people like Gemma Amor, Eric LaRocca, Kev Harrison, TC Parker, Michael Clark, Laurel Hightower, Tracy Fahey and many others. Other authors that I love would include Donald Ray Pollock, Cormac McCarthy, Chuck Palahniuk, Stephen King, Benjamin Myers, Josh Malerman and Hubert Selby Junior.
DP: Some cracking authors there and wow, only the only week was I having a discussion about Hubert Selby – glad that somebody else digs his work. What does horror mean to Ross Jeffery?
RJ: When I read a horror book I want to be horrified, I don’t want some half assed attempt at a scare I want to be shredded by fear and anxiety – but also I don’t want something to be gratuitous just to offend, it needs to have a good story, great characters and brilliant pacing – their the three things I look for. David Foster Wallace said “Good fiction’s job is to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.” That’s what I try to do with my horror.
DP: I’ll admit I’ve never read Infinite Jest but it’s on my TBR – I really like Wallace’s work though so now you’ve inspired me to read IJ. What draws readers to the horror genre? What do you think readers look for?
RJ: I think readers of horror are looking to face their fears, well that’s what I’m looking for, I’m looking to dip my toes into that murky water from the comfort of my chair, to be scared but know I’m safe, I believe from a young age we’re conditioned to be scared of things, why else do we say Boo to babies!
DP: Haha indeed, indeed! With everything that’s been going on for the past 18 months or so, would you say the horror genre affected by world events? Do you ever put world events in your work?
RJ: I’d say heavily so, but I also believe we should be doing this more – In Tome I’ve used this book as a vehicle to highlight the systemic racism that is still deeply imbedded in our cultures today. Tome is set in Juniper a fictitious town but not far removed from our own, it’s a microclimate of a society, a racist society and I tackled this issue head on – I also go into more detail about the book and the atrocities I’ve tried to shed a light on in the afterword, which I believe makes for good reading and shows the reasoning behind my vision.
DP: Is there an upcoming book or film you’re particularly looking forward to?
RJ: Josh Malerman’s Goblin which is just out actually and I’m also chomping at the bit for the next Michael Clark book to drop – I’ve beta read this and I can tell you it’s something special. Also I’m very much looking forward to Kev Harrison’s latest offerings that are slowly bubbling away behind the scenes.
DP: Ah we know Kev very well here at DEMAIN. What new writer (or director) interests you and why?
RJ: Eric LaRocca – man this guy has exploded onto the scene, each of his works are just beautiful, horrific, but beautiful – before reading his work I never realised how beautiful horror could be. He’s one that has a bright future in this writing game, and I for one will be cheering him on all the way – also he has a poetry collection Fanged Dandelion with DEMAIN which I’ve got ready to go!
DP: Haha – we love Eric and his collection has gone down a storm. There’s so much love for him in the community – deserves it too. There have been numerous reports recently that the horror genre is dead, what do you think?
RJ: As long as there are horrors going on in this world, the horror genre will remain – but it might not look the way we think it should, I’m a strong believer that the work going on in the indie horror scene is much better than at the big publishers – they don’t seem to know how to market horror and I have to say the majority of the books that have scared me this year have all been either self-published or published by indie presses – they’re able to take a chance on an author that a big publisher wouldn’t – that’s why reports suggest the horror genre is dead, because big publishers are just sticking to their guys and girls who they know have sold some books, they don’t want to take the risk on the little guy or girl. It’s a money-making machine that isn’t as invested in the author as they once were, and that’s fine, indie horror is doing pretty well without them.
DP: True, true. Is there anything that Ross Jeffery is scared of?
RJ: I’m petrified of Spider, any spider, I’ve tried to get better over the years, trying not to put my fear across to my children, but I can’t man… spiders are the devils spawn. And no, I’ve never written about spiders, I probably never will… but never say never!
DP: Creatively is there anything you’d like to do that you haven’t done yet?
RJ: I’d love to collaborate with an author on a novella or a novel, the process intrigues me and I’d love to give it a go… we shall see, I’ve put some feelers out!
DP: Best of luck! Let us know how you get on with that. Final question then Ross: is writing a long term or short term career for you?
RJ: To be a career I guess it would need to pay my bills and for me to live a comfortable life, that would be the dream yes! But I’m in for the long haul – I’m using writing as a creative outlet and from early on I’ve always said that I write books for me, I write books that I’d love to read and if people dig that, cool, if they don’t – they don’t. Things are moving in the right direction, I’m happy where things are at the moment, but I’d love to do this as a career, read and write who wouldn’t?
Ross – thanks a million for your time and all the best with your upcoming Short Sharp Shocks!
If you would like to connect with Ross directly:
Other social media: https://rossjeffery.carrd.co
DEMAIN welcomes author A.D. Barker to the family! April 8th sees the publication of his novella Society Place (cover by Adrian Baldwin). During February, Dean sat down with him to chat…
DEMAIN PUBLISHING: Welcome, welcome. I know we’ve been trying to work together for a while so we were very happy that you considered DEMAIN as a home for Society Place. Let’s start with who you are and how (and why!) you became a writer.
A.D. BARKER: And I’m very happy to be here. I had a pretty poor education and left school not really knowing how to read and write, certainly not to the standard I should have been at at 16 anyway. It took me a long time to catch up after that. Most of my 20s really. Yet, I always had a head full of ideas, and it was incredibly frustrating that I had no real outlet for them. I couldn’t even get them down on the page, not really. But the drive was there and slowly, over a number of years, I taught myself how to read and write. And I wrote a lot. All of it terrible, but over the course of about a decade or more, I began to find my way and develop my own style.
I don’t know where it came from, and I’ve often thought it best not to analyse it too much, but a lot of it is to do with movies. I was obsessed with cinema when I was growing up and it’s been a lifelong love. Movies made me want to create, to do something with my life. They made me, and still make me, want to create. Moreover, writing has been a way for me to focus my life. I don’t feel right when I’m not writing.
DP: You and me both. So your background, did that influence you as a creator do you think?
ADB: I come from a working class family in Derby. My dad is a bricklayer and mum was home with me and my sister. I had a very happy childhood and I am filled with nostalgia for my past. I’ve always been a nostalgic person. I get nostalgic for times I didn’t even live in. The past and our relationship to it seems to be a theme that runs through my books. I’m drawn to writers and filmmakers who also have that yearning sense of nostalgia: Ray Bradbury, Stephen King, Steven Spielberg, these artists have that pull of the past and I am very influenced by all three of them.
DP: Yes, I can definitely see the Spielberg influence actually in Society Place. I’m intrigued about your having nostalgic feelings for times you haven’t lived in. I’m a bit like that with Napoleonic France. It’s very odd. Actually saying that now whenever I’m in Paris (in particular) and I come across something ‘historical’ it does affect me. I remember finding the spot where Henri IV was assassinated in 1610 and I was overcome with emotion, very overwhelmed, quite odd but hey ho, it takes all sorts haha. So what was A.D. Barker’s first introduction to our wonderful ghost/horror genre?
ADB: My first introduction to the horror genre came from watching all the Universal monster movies at a very early age. They ran on BBC 2 in the 6pm slot and I devoured them. I was pretty young. Five or six maybe. I loved Lugosi in Dracula, but my favourite was The Wolf Man. I love all those films still, they're beautiful. They also showed a lot of 50s Sci-Fi in that slot, but that may have come later. I remember Invaders From Mars really scaring me. I wish they'd show stuff like that on TV now. They’re difficult to find on streaming services as well.
My mum and dad both like horror movies and encouraged my interest in monsters and ghosts. Dad tried to show me the original King Kong when I was very, very young, but that was too much for me. I made it up until Fay Wray was chained up and Kong was moving through the trees. That was it for me. Too scary. What a film that is.
They got me a copy of A Pictorial History of Horror Movies by Denis Gifford, which was a seminal book for a lot of horror fans growing up in the 70s and 80s. I would look through that book for hours. I still have it.
DP: Us talking is making me nostalgic now. You just don’t get those films on tv nowadays do you? BBC2 used to be brilliant on a Friday night (I seem to remember) where they’d run the old horrors, the Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes and series like Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers and (had to check this to get the title right) King Of The Rocket Men. When I was a kid I lived in Saudi for a while and there was a video shop we’d go to and there was no copyright over there so it was all ‘knock offs’ but there were so many US shows we didn’t get in the UK. Halcyon days for sure. The kids today are sure missing out! Anyway, anyway, Society Place…
ADB: Yes. Society Place is a ghost story about a young widower who moves into a very haunted house during the blistering English summer of 1976. I wanted to play around with the traditional set up of a ghost story and subvert it somewhat. I suppose if it has the flavour of any other author it would probably be James Herbert, but for me it’s a little different to my other books in that this is the first one to have a female protagonist, and the first not to feature the world of movies and movie-making as a backdrop. It is also my first horror novel, I suppose. The Electric was supernatural and Dead Leaves is about horror fandom, but neither were horror novels. This one has some creepy stuff in it, I think.
DP: It definitely does! When I read it the first time I really got the James Herbert vibe and it wouldn’t look out place next to him on the shelf. Because of the nostalgic aspect and because the setting seems very close to your heart (not saying it is, that’s just the way it comes across, there’s a real ‘love’ there) I guess you didn’t have to do much research?
ADB: Not too much, but the research I did was a lot of fun. Like what was on Saturday night telly August, 1976, and how hot it got that summer. I was one year old during that heatwave, so of course I can’t remember it, but my mum has told me about it many times. Especially about the ladybird invasion. Had to do a bit of research on that.
But mainly the book came together from a sense of place that I knew very well, as the street and the house are based very much on the house I grew up in until I was eight. Nostalgia again, you see.
DP: I love ladybirds. One time in Cannes I was sitting out on my terrace writing and I suddenly realised that the paper I was writing on, the table, the floor, the bushes were all covered in them. Beautiful! Um, so, did you find Society Place difficult to write?
ADB: Only in terms of finding the time to write. I began the book in 2017, wrote a couple of chapters and then got distracted by other projects and didn’t touch it again for about a year. And this happened again and again. It was just one that I kept coming back to, until I finally sat down and finished it during the first lockdown in the spring of 2020.
DP: The best projects take the longest time I find. There’s a screenplay which was so easy to write the first draft but I knew it wasn’t ready and for the past four/five years I’ve taken it from the shelf, tinkered with it, put it back. Another couple of years and I’m sure it will be ready. I was annoyed at first with the process but now I love returning to it every couple of months and changing a comma here or a full stop there haha. I ‘knew’ you before I knew you because of your novels (and your film work)- what would you say was your biggest creative success so far?
ADB: Hard to say. The Electric and Dead Leaves both did pretty well. Especially in terms of reaction they got from readers, but I’m still working on that big success that will enable me to get up every morning and create and get paid for it. I still have a day job. I think if you’re able to make a living from doing something creative in this day in age, I’d say that is a big success. Whether you’re earning millions or just enough to pay the bills. That’s success to me.
DP: Especially with everything that’s happened this past year or so. It’s been tough for a lot of industries but for us creatives I’d it’s been even tougher and a lot find themselves as part of the ‘excluded’. Hopefully we’ll start to see some movement come the summer and we can put some of this behind us…tell us about the books (or authors) you read and do they influence you?
ADB: Well the aforementioned Ray Bradbury and King are pretty high on the list, but there are many others. I like Paul Auster a lot, Magnus Mills, Bret Easton Ellis. I tend to find an author and read a lot of their work in quick succession and learn everything about them. Been on a Walter Tevis kick lately. Mockingbird is great. And Daphne du Maurier, been working through her work as well. I also love Dickens.
DP: Some AMAZING names. I’m a massive fan of BEE and actually recently ordered all his early books again as I love them. I met him once at a private event in London when he was doing a tour for his Imperial Bedrooms and he’s exactly what you expected – it was a very very funny night. When I personally get interviewed about my own writing I mention Clive Barker a lot as an influence which is 100% true but sometimes I forget how important BEE was too me. I was at university when a friend introduced me to his work and I was blown away. I know this next bit is going to sound pretentious, sorry, but after I graduated I used to spend a lot of time in Eton in this one particular pub and over a series of weekends (not that many actually, I think two months) one summer I wrote a novel which was heavily inspired by BEE. It was very dark, so dark actually that I put it in a box and it’s in my storage unit. I was really happy that I wrote it though and maybe one day I’ll go and retrieve it and see if it’s any good. Lordy, I’m getting nostalgic now! Okay, moving on! What does horror mean to A.D Barker?
ADB: My book Dead Leaves is all about my deep love of the horror genre. That one is set during the video nasty era of the early 80s and is about a group of horror fans and their search for the notorious “nasty” The Evil Dead. There’s a lot of books and films about music and how a passion for a certain band or artist drives a group of individuals to form their own band, but I found there was nothing about how being a horror fan makes you want to create your own horror films or write your own horror novels. The drive and desire that springs from loving something so much is a universal one and applies to anything. Anything you are inspired by that makes you want to create your own art. Horror, both films and books, made me want to create my own art. Romero films made me want to make my own films and Stephen King books made me want to write my own books. That’s how much it means to me.
DP: With that in mind then, what do you think draws readers into the horror genre? What are readers looking for in ghost stories?
ADB: Ghost stories are about atmosphere. They are about tone and style over a driving narrative. Most ghost stories, particularly really good ones, are not heavy on plot. In many ways ghost stories are very internal. Less is often more in a ghost story. I think readers want a real sense of place and time, and a creeping dread running beneath the ordinary and mundane.
Horror has a far wider remit than that. Horror is a genre of extremes and audiences and readers embrace that.
DP: That’s very cool actually. I’m directing a ghost story feature film as soon as the restrictions are lifted and I think the cast will find that useful. Cheers! So it’s been a tough 2020 / early 2021 – so much has changed and nothing will ever be the same again. It’s been a massive shift. Do you think our genre is affected by world events?
ADB: Horror is definitely a genre that reflects its times. Vietnam hung heavy over those 70s films made by the likes of Romero, Craven, and Hooper, and you could say Jordan Peele and Ari Aster are reflecting these times. I’m not sure I have done it myself, although the politics surrounding the video nasty craze and the general state of the country in the early 80s certainly hangs over Dead Leaves. I haven’t written a contemporary novel yet, although there are parts of Society Place set in 2019. I kind of write to escape from modern life to be honest.
DP: There’s nothing with that. I’m working with another writer on a period piece but what’s crazy is that though we were both clear it has nothing to do with the times we find ourselves in, it seems it is even though it’s set 200 years ago. Very weird. Okay, is there a horror book (or film) soon to be released that you’re looking forward to?
ADB: In terms of horror I’m not sure. I’m looking forward to Last Night in Soho and I’m interested to see Army of the Dead. Axelle Carolyn’s The Manor and a couple of others. I’m interested to see what Robert Eggers does next, and David Lowery. As for books I’ll be reading The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix and whatever Stephen Volk has coming out next.
DP: And is there any new name (in books or films) that interests you?
ADB: In terms of the horror genre, I’m into a new horror author named David Irons, who writes very 80s-flavoured horror. His books are like the straight to video horror fun from that decade. But my current interest is an old, classic author, Ira Levin. He’s my next kick. I’m not very current.
DP: Very cool! Mr Levin has certainly written several influential novels hasn’t he? Probably because of the pandemic, when life has been scary enough, it’s been reported that the horror genre is dead, what would you say to that?
ADB: Rubbish. Dark times always spawns great horror and when we look back to the films that have come out in the past five or so years, from Get Out to Hereditary to The Ritual to Lights Out to Host, I think we’ll see how rich it’s been. Horror novels are big business again as well, with writers like Paul Tremblay and Josh Malerman hitting the bestseller lists. And streamers like Shudder are producing fantastic original content. I think there’s a lot more great stuff to come. Audiences and readers want the catharsis, because watching and reading horror is a catharsis act. Always has been and always will be.
DP: I think you’re right. Watch this space, hey?! What is A.D.Barker scared of then.
ADB: Well I have kids now so everything scares me. Once you have kids it’s all over, man. The world is terrible and scary and beautiful and amazing. There’s a scene in Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin where a man drowns leaving his baby alone on a beach, and the alien, Scarlett Johansson, just walks away, leaving the kid. Well, before kids that scene probably would have washed over me, but I watched it just after my first daughter was born and it destroyed me. I still think about that scene. It wrecked me.
DP: Creatively is there something you’d like to do but you haven’t quite managed yet?
ADB: I want to write and direct another feature film. A Reckoning was so low budget and so DIY that it was more like a long student film. I’d really like to make something on a more professional level. I’d also like to work as a screenwriter for hire and work for other directors.
On the novel side, I want to write my grand epic. I want to write something big and sweeping and I hope to be in a position to be able to do that someday.
DP: The best of luck, so writing is a long term career for you?
ADB: Whether I make any money or not, whether I have ten readers or a hundred readers or a thousand readers, I’m in it for the long term. I’ll always write. It’s something I have to do.
It definitely is. And we’re richer for it.
Mr Barker, thank you so much for your time. I enjoyed that immensely and I know readers will love Society Place.
If you’d like to connect with A.D. Barker direct:
(Photo of A.D. Barker by Lee Allen)
On the 31st March we welcome Reyna Young to DEMAIN with her horror novella, Welcome Home Natalie (cover by Adrian Baldwin; available now for pre-sales). As the lockdowns both sides of the Atlantic were in full swing, Dean and Reyna found time to chat…
DEMAIN PUBLISHING: Welcome, welcome Reyna! Hope you’re well and safe. We will talk more specifically about Welcome Home Natalie in a short while but for those that don’t know you can you tell us a little about yourself…
REYNA YOUNG: Hello, I’m happy to be here of course and okay, sure. I was born and raised in San Francisco; I run Last Doorway Productions, an indie film company. I’m also late night Horror Host ‘Miss Misery’ of the popular syndicated show Movie Massacre. I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was a little girl. I was obsessed with Goosebumps, Edgar Allan Poe, Scary stories to tell in the dark, and whatever horror books I could get my hands on. I started writing my own short horror stories at a young age and as I grew and read more I knew it was what I wanted to do. I love to tell stories.
DP: That’s brilliant, so many strings to your bow. Well done. So, Welcome Home Natalie…
RY: The story is set in a small town where a girl who ran away from home, comes back to deal with her mother’s death. Haunted by her past she faces what she left behind and the ugly truth of why her father left her so long ago.
DP: Powerful stuff. In writing the novella did you have to do much research?
RY: I found myself re-reading my favourite ghost stories before writing mine, I find reading others works inspires me.
DP: Me too – I have a couple of novels lying around which I go to if I’m not finding my own words flowing and a few paras in I find I’ve switched off from my own writing enough to find the inspiration needed to go back to it later and hopefully continue – that’s the theory anyway ha ha. Did you find Welcome Home Natalie difficult to write at all?
RY: Since this particular story began as a dream I had, I found myself kind of floating through it, I wrote it down after having it sit in my mind for a few weeks. I wrote down pieces of the story from my dream, did some reading and then finally sat down to write it out. I find everything I do to be a challenge, I do my best not to feel or think something is difficult in fear I’ll never get it done.
DP: Yes, the problem with ‘over-thinking’ hey…affects us all from time to time. Creatively then what is your biggest success.
RY: It’s hard to say, I have had so many creative successes it’s hard to choose. I have a successful syndicated television show; I have four films in worldwide distribution. I’m also a published author; I find everything I do to be a big success. Not to sound conceited; I’m proud of everything I‘ve done as anyone should.
DP: Exactly and why not…you touched before on your influences…
RY: I still read Goosebumps; I love R L Stine books. Stephen King, Caroline Kepnes, Joe Hill, Fred Wiehe. Everything I read influences me. I can read Shirley Jackson over and over again and never get tired of her.
DP: Some great names there…a very broad church of horror writers actually…what does ‘horror’ mean to you?
RY: It’s the thrill of being scared and loving every second of it. That spine tingling sensation that draws up your back scaring and exciting you all at the same time. There’s nothing wrong with jumping from a scare in a film or reading it in a book that puts a smile on your face after.
DP: Nice! Is there a horror book or film coming up (and appreciate that due to the current pandemic everything’s a bit up in the air on that front) that you’re particularly looking forward to?
RY: I was looking forward to the next Ghostbusters film or Halloween but that is now on hold due to the pandemic as you say so I’ll just have to wait a little longer. I have not bought Stephen King’s new If It Bleeds book yet, I’m looking forward to reading that.
DP: Cool, cool. So, is there anything Reyna Young is frightened of?
RY: Honestly; Home invasion films scare me, I have not written anything like that yet, I’m sure I will down the road but for now I haven’t thought about writing one. They scare the crap out of me because it’s something I’ve feared since I was little, to have your home that you feel so comfortable in to be invaded, especially now that I have a child. Having an intruder or intruders take over your happy home scares me.
DP: I know where you’re coming from on that score…creatively you’ve achieved a lot (again, well done) but is there anything you’re yet to do which you really want…
RY: Ah, good question. Good question. To be honest, I would like to publish a romance novel. Don’t laugh.
DP: I wouldn’t dare…and why not a romance novel, I’d read it. So these lockdowns, what’s your routine been like?
RY: Honestly; just less going out. I work from home and take care of our little one and work on running the film company and working on my projects. Kind of nothing new to me; I think the one thing I freaked out the most about was not having the option of going out which is weird. I feel bad I can’t take my son out to the park, things like that but luckily we have a back yard and I ordered him a slide and some yard toys for him to play with.
DP: Brilliant and finally Reyna, what is something your readers might be surprised to find out about you?
RY: After I finish writing a short story of novel I like to drink a tall glass of Ovaltine to reward myself. Hahaha.
LOVE IT! Thank you so much for your time Reyna, stay well and safe. The best of luck with Welcome Home Natalie which will be out as an ebook from March 31st.
If you’d like to connect with Reyna direct:
February 28th sees the publication of TR Hitchman’s horror novella Little Bird (with a cover by Adrian Baldwin and currently available for pre-sales). Just after the New Year, Dean and the author sat down to discuss it.
DEMAIN PUBLISHING: Hello and welcome to DEMAIN! It’s great to have you here and hope 2021 isn’t treating you too badly (all things considering). I appreciate (especially nowadays) that time is precious, so let’s get straight down to it: who exactly is TR Hitchman and why did they want to be a writer.
TR HITCHMAN: Hello! I initially wanted to be an illustrator, but have always loved reading so began to write short stories that I hoped to illustrate, the writing took over though and I found myself writing more and illustrating less!
DP: And did your background have some influence on you as a writer?
TRH: My dad is a great reader and loved ghost stories, so his reading choices influenced me a lot, I remember him talking about Borley Rectory and the ghost hunter Harry Price, we often watched Hammer House of Horror and I loved Roald Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected and his stories influenced me today – love a story with a dark twist.
DP: Ah, I love Tales Of The Unexpected! What were your other introductions to the horror genre?
TRH: Mainly ghost stories, MR James, HG Wells, Edgar Allan Poe, Walter De La Mare, really stuff on my dad’s bookshelf, also a child of the eighties so Hammer House of Horror!
DP: Some great names there for sure. Let’s talk about your novella…Little Bird…
TRH: It’s primarily a ghost story. I am intrigued about certain places, especially where something horrific has happened, Auschwitz is such a place that has a horrific past and I have also wondered what lost souls may remain there. It’s a story about loss too, a daughter’s relationship with her father, a father’s loss of a daughter, the children that lost their innocence in those camps.
DP: Indeed…did you have to do much research when writing?
TRH: Most of my stories I tend to set in modern day or at least somewhere in my life time. Sometimes if you want to set a story in a particular place it’s good to get a feel for the area etc – Google comes in handy! With Little Bird I had to do a little research, I haven’t visited a camp myself, so I read a lot online, looked at photographs and read some articles from people who had visited them, even watched an online tour.
DP: I suspect you found some very harrowing stuff…did that impact the writing of the novella – did you find it difficult to write?
TRH: I find all writing difficult, the first draft always is! Some ideas come easy than others. Little Bird, I had an idea of the story how the story was going to end so that always helps.
DP: Yes, it does! Okay so what is TR Hitchman’s biggest creative success to date?
TRH: In 2016 I had a short story collection called Child of Winter published with Corona Books.
DP: Brilliant! Can you tell us about the books (and / or authors) you read and whether they influence your writing?
TRH: I read a whole host of fiction, not all ‘horror’ but the stuff I enjoy has a dark edge, a favourite author is John Ajvide Lindqvist, there is something strange and beautifully disturbing about his writing, I love Shirley Jackson’s short stories, most recently I’ve enjoyed Adam Nevill. Of course Stephen King – he’s an excellent story teller. I’ll mention Roald Dahl – I recently reread his short stories and his dark twists certainly inspire my work.
DP: I’m a great fan of Let The Right One – the book and the movie versions and of course Adam Nevill is a writer at the top of his game. Horror is a very broad church, what does it mean to you…
TRH: It’s that feeling that something isn’t quite right, the slow creeping fear that builds slowly, when you say to yourself “I don’t like this…” For me it’s a form of escapism, strange though that sounds.
DP: No, I think that’s perfect and many a time I’ve escaped into horror…do you think that is what draws readers into the genre?
TRH: I think people like to feel fear, it makes you feel alive, it wakens something inside that in our otherwise ‘comfortable world’ we don’t experience, it’s a form of escapism. I think readers like that feeling of unease.
DP: They do! So, we’re going through some tough times right now but perhaps by the end of the year things might have returned to ‘normal’ (of course, whatever normal is) – do you think the genre is affected by world events?
TRH: It can do, I often get inspiration from news articles, most recently I wrote a flash fiction piece inspired by the recent pandemic. We seem to be living in a disaster/horror movie at the moment!
DP: We do don’t we, BUT perhaps it is providing a lot of inspiration to us creatives…is there a horror novel / film that you’re looking forward to reading / seeing?
TRH: I’m always on the lookout for writers I’ve never read before, I often discover writers that have been out there for a while but are new to me! No one specific in mind, but the internet always is opening up new doors for me!
DP: It’s great for that isn’t it…is there a new writer (or director) that interests you right now?
TRH: I know he’s not new – but the films of Ben Wheatley intrigue me. I love the films of Guillermo del Toro…
DP: Two great directors there…there have been numerous reports of late that the horror genre is dead, would you agree?
TRH: We go through phases I think, vampires were big a few years back, people like to be scared, we just change what scares us….
DP: Fair enough…what is TR Hitchman frightened of?
TRH: I have anxiety, so there’s a long list, life is scary! Death is a thing that frightens me and yes, it’s in a lot of my writing.
DP: I’m with you on that one – particularly as you get older. During this whole pandemic it’s like one day blurs into another and your life flashes before your eyes…before you know it…okay, let’s stop there. Is there something creatively you haven’t been able to do yet?
TRH: I would like to write a script for a film – something short and creepy!
DP: So writing for you is a long term career?
TRH: Definitely long term!
DP: Cool. So these lockdowns…
TRH: The first one I struggled – I found the anxiety of it just squashed any creativity! This time around I’ve tried to be proactive, I work full time anyway so have to fit my writing around that. I’ve started a book review blog and working on a novella, so keeping myself busy!
DP: That’s the way forward I think. Outside of the pandemic Do you interact a lot with your readers?
TRH: I don’t have that much experience but I did do a launch with my collection and it was lovely to talk to potential readers but I’m not that famous yet!
DP: And finally, what is something your readers might be surprised to find out about you?
TRH: I have a sense of humour – I’m quite funny in real life and not very dark and serious as my writing may suggest.
I bet you do!
Thank you for your time, the best of luck with Little Bird!
If you’d like to connect with TR Hitchman direct:
Book Review Blog: www.tanyastratford1.wixsite.com/treads
January 29th also sees the publication of Yolanda Sfetsos’ The Wired City which is Book 2 in our new Weird. Wonderful. Other Worlds’ series. The cover is by Adrian Baldwin. Over the Christmas / New Year period Dean and Yolanda (who also has Short Sharp Shocks! AND Murder! Mystery! Mayhem! Books under their belt) sat down and talked about this new story.
DEMAIN PUBLISHING: Happy new year Yolanda! Welcome to the new series…for those that don’t know you (yet!) can you tell us about yourself…
YOLANDA SFETSOS: Hello! Great to be back and yes, happy new year to you too. Well, I live in Sydney, Australia and spend a lot of my day lost in fictional worlds. Sometimes they’re mine, other times they’re not, but I love to lose myself in stories. It’s the reason I became a writer. There was nothing else I could do, not when ideas started turning up inside my head when I was a kid, and the characters wouldn’t be quiet until I told their story. Being a writer has always been a part of who I am.
DP: Me too! What was your first introduction to the fantasy / sci-fi / weird genre?
YS: Like most people my age, Star Wars was one of my earliest introductions to sci-fi/fantasy. I was a little kid when Episode IV came out and can still remember how amazing it was to experience this movie. After that, anything that came along featuring robots, space and an interesting but weird ensemble of characters caught my attention.
DP: Definitely, I’m definitely a Star Wars guy 100% but also love Star Trek and I’d love to write something in that universe one day, I’ve got a couple of ideas for novels, I also wrote a spec episode of The Next Generation when I was a kid which is in a drawer somewhere but a film, that’d be the ultimate…anyway, anyway, tell us about your novella…
YS: The Wired City is a story about a bored android who wants to live a better and more exciting life. When she stumbles on a mysterious classifieds message, her life gets a huge boost of adventure. A LOT more than she ever imagined. This is a story that I’ve wanted to tell for a while, but it didn’t come together until last year. One night, I was wondering if I should trunk the idea, when suddenly—Tolliver decided to speak up and tell me all about her adventure. After that, the story came together very quickly and I really enjoyed writing it.
DP: And we enjoyed reading it so well done. Did you have to do a lot of research before writing?
YS: Most of my research for this one was about mechanical brains, androids, cyborgs and Mars. I did all of this online. The internet can be a very helpful creature sometimes. Besides, I’ve been doing robot research for years.
DP: Ah, then I guess you didn’t find the story particularly difficult to write?
YS: Not really because I LOVE robot stories and have always wanted to tell one of my own. This is my love letter to a genre I’ve enjoyed and have found fascinating since I was a kid.
DP: What would you say is your biggest creative success to date?
YS: My biggest, personal success is having the ability to write. Telling stories is one of my favourite things to do and I feel very fortunate to be able to do it.
DP: And you do it very well – which has been proven by the great reviews you’ve received for your DEMAIN titles…with regards to the WWW! series – what does ‘weird’ mean to you?
YS: To me, ‘weird’ is pretty much anything that isn’t considered mainstream. It’s a label that people put on something they don’t understand. I find most of what’s considered to be weird to be very interesting and even beautiful in its own very unique way.
DP: That’s great and I’m with you on that. Creatively is there anything you’d like to do that you haven’t yet achieved?
YS: I would love to write a cosy mystery one day. One featuring an amateur sleuth who loves tea, books and cats. Ideally, I would like to keep the supernatural out of this story…but I know that’s an almost impossible thing for me to achieve. LOL.
DP: Haha – I know what you mean, there’s so many stories I start writing which are meant to be ‘calm’ but by the time I’ve finished them they’ve become a very very different beast. I’m guessing writing isn’t a short term career for you?
YS: Always a long-term thing for me. I can’t imagine not writing. I mean, where would all of these ideas trying to burst out of my head go? 😊
DP: True, true…trying not to end on a depressing note, how are you handling all the covid restrictions / lockdowns?
YS: I can’t believe it’s 2021 and we’re still in the middle of this Covid-19 nightmare. I’m a homebody, so the lockdown hasn’t been that much of a problem. As long as I get to go out for a daily walk, I can handle spending the rest of my days inside writing, reading, watching, and hanging around with my husband and cat.
Great to speak to you again Yolanda…all the best with The Wired City.
If you’d like to connect with Yolanda direct:
On the 29th January DEMAIN will be releasing the first two books in a new series called: Weird. Wonderful. Other Worlds. The first title is The Raven King by Liz Tuckwell who is already part of the DEMAIN family with two Short Sharp Shocks! to her name. The covers and general branding for the series is by Adrian Baldwin. A couple of days into the new year Dean and Liz spoke about this new book and exciting venture.
DEMAIN PUBLISHING: Happy New Year Liz! Welcome back to DEMAIN and congrats to you – kicking off the new WWW! series in style. For those that don’t yet know the Weird. Wonderful. Other Worlds. titles will have a very broad brief covering a bit of fantasy, a bit of sci-fi, a bit of weird…more on that as we talk, let’s first remind our readers a little about yourself and why you became a writer.
LIZ TUCKWELL: Happy New Year! Yes, I’m Liz Tuckwell, I’ve only started writing seriously since 2011. I’ve always been interested in writing and wrote a very bad children’s novel when I was thirteen. English was my best subject at school. But life and work took over for a long time and I stopped writing. Then in 2011, I went to a seminar where the speaker was talking about doing what you loved. In her case, it led her to starting a smoked kipper business (each to their own). That had a big impact on me – what did I really want to do? The answer - of course - was write, so I started writing again and attended writing courses. I went part time at work then which helped to get me started again. I do regret getting distracted and giving up writing but tell myself the old cliché – better late than never!
DP: Dead right. What’s your background Liz and has that influenced you as a writer?
LT: I grew up in South East London/North West Kent, so I think London has had a big influence on me plus having airport and ports close by to fly away to other countries. I realised that London wasn’t the centre of the universe when I studied for my degree in Manchester. I’m very much a city person. My feeling about the countryside is that “it’s a nice place to visit but I wouldn’t want to live there”. That’s why urban fantasy is one of my favourite sub genres. I actually did my dissertation on science fiction, it was called “Images of Women in Science Fiction” and featured Ursula K Le Guin, Joanna Russ, Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein.
DP: Really? I never knew that, I’d love to read it…mine was about the Salem Witches and I’ve always wanted to revisit it and completely rewrite the conclusion…anyway, so your first introduction to the fantasy…
LT:…fantasy/sci fi genre was through my dad who liked to read science fiction. I read the books he had lying around. These were mainly what you’d call classic science fiction, I suppose, Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov etc. I remember going to the adult library to pick out books for him. Librarians were more relaxed in those days about children going into the adult sections. So, I got to know the science fiction shelves of my local library very well. There used to be a Woolworths near the library that had a stall full of remaindered paperbacks from the USA. I was first introduced to Fritz Leiber’s Gray Mouser and Fafhrd and other sword and sorcery authors through those and some other great SF novels such as the Greenwich Village Trilogy.
DP: That’s amazing – I need to check those books out as I’ve definitely not read any Leiber before…and your WWW! Book, The Raven King, let’s talk about that…
LT: It’s the second story I’ve written about [characters] DI Lis Liszt and DC Jaz Sharma although it’s the story of how DI Lis Liszt and DC Jaz Sharma met and the start of the Supernatural Crimes Squad. The first story was called A Dead Mermaid on Eel Pie Island and appears in the MCSI: Magical Crime Scene Investigations anthology. It’s set in a world a few years after the ‘Great Unveiling’. This was when supernatural creatures revealed themselves to the world after centuries of hiding. The world is still getting used to the fact that they and magic really do exist. I thought that the Tower of London would make a great setting for a story and once I learnt more about the ravens, well, they had to be in it as well. The ravens disappear from the Tower of London and the fledgling Supernatural Crimes Squad has to work out what is going on and who is behind this.
DP: Yes I think that was a particularly clever angle…I’ll have to check out the first story (as I’m sure a lot of your readers will once they’ve read The Raven King). Did you have to do much research before writing?
LT: I had to do a fair amount of research. I researched the ravens, Welsh mythology, Welsh, and the Tower of London. Ravens are amazing creatures. I hadn’t realised that they really can talk. Google is my best friend for finding useful and interesting websites. I visited the Tower of London to get a feel for the layout, the buildings and the sense of the place. Looking at maps was not enough. It’s a fascinating palace (and it is a palace not just a fortress as I learnt during my research). There was a documentary series about the Tower on TV at the time, which I watched purely for research purposes of course. Luckily, the ravens featured a lot in the programmes.
DP: I will admit that there is a plot line / character in your story which has affected me profoundly since I read it about a certain period of history I’m really into and I’ve been thinking about it a lot now – I won’t say what as I don’t want to ruin it for anybody else but I’ve made a connection between two points / episodes in history which as far as I know have never been linked before so I’m going to do some more research on that…thank you very much! Um, anyway, did you find The Raven King particularly difficult to write?
LT: I found it difficult to write as it’s a prequel and I was trying to keep it as realistic as possible while being a fantasy story. I found a prequel much harder to write than starting from scratch because you have to make sure that you don’t contradict what you’ve already written and there aren’t any discrepancies. I regretted a couple of the decisions I’d made in the first story but too late now! It’s very tempting to stop and spend ages looking up a query rather than getting on with the story.
DP: That’s so true! Can you tell us about books / authors who influence you?
LT: I love Ben Aaronvitch’s Rivers of London series, that’s obviously been an influence on this novella. His sense of place and the interesting characters he creates is inspirational. I also like Charlaine Harris, China Mieville and Jasper Fforde. Charlaine Harris was one of the earlier writers about vampires and I loved her take on them. I think China Mieville’s The City and the City is a great book about the amazing capacity of human beings to see what they want to see. Jasper Fforde has such a fantastic imagination and he makes the impossible seem plausible and logical especially in his later novels such Shades of Grey (I bet he wishes he’d chosen a different title for that one), Early Rising and The Constant Rabbit.
DP: I wonder how many customers have picked up Jasper’s Grey rather than the slightly more famous one and then got to the end and thought “hang on, what the hell is this?!” ha ha…do you have a favourite ‘weird’ author / book / film?
LT: I’m not sure that I do. I really like China Mieville as I mentioned before. I read the ‘classics’ by H P Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith when I was younger. Some of the authors I like who can be considered ‘weird’ are Neil Gaiman, Shirley Jackson, Angela Carter, and Tanith Lee. One author who’s not normally associated with ‘weird’ is Daphne Du Maurier but I think her story, The Birds, is brilliant and memorable, and much better than Hitchcock’s film.
DP: That’s a great call. It is a cracking story and I’ll have to find some time to read that again. What does ‘weird’ mean to you?
LT: To me, ‘weird’ means old weird like H P Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith although I realise there’s a lot more variety in weird fiction than that. China Mieville described it as ‘tentacle fiction’ which does sum it up for me. It’s a crossover between horror and fantasy with a dash of science fiction. I think it’s fair to say that some horror fantasy is also weird fiction but not all weird fiction is horror fantasy. One sub-genre of ‘weird’ fiction I like very much is occult detective. I love the nineteenth century occult detective stories and modern ones like Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files and Randal Garrett’s Lord Darcy stories. I especially like the Lord Darcy ones because they’re also alternate history. I think my Lis and Jaz stories fit into that although I haven’t written a story involving tentacles yet.
DP: Personally I’m not into alternate history too much but a few years ago I did read and enjoy a great deal Richard Dreyfuss / Harry Turtledove’s The Two Georges and when I moved to France a friend gave me a book by Ben Elton called Time And Time Again which really captivated me and had a cracking twist…what do you think draws readers into the genre…are they looking for something specific?
LT: I think readers are looking for stories about non-traditional monsters in a universe where the protagonists are pretty insignificant and sometimes powerless against malign creatures and forces they don’t understand. That’s certainly a mood for our current times. I feel there’s a surfeit of vampires, werewolves and zombies at the moment, so to have other monsters is refreshing.
That’s so true Liz!
Thanks a million for your time.
The best of luck with your WWW! And congrats again for being the author to launch the series.
If you would like to connect with Liz direct: