We welcome author Dan Weatherer back to DEMAIN (we previously published his Short Sharp Shocks! The Necessary Evils & Sick Girl) with his novel The Underclass. The ebook will be published on the 13th November (paperback following early 2021) and is available now for pre-sales (cover by Adrian Baldwin, central image by Roberto Segate). In October Dean and Dan sat down to talk about this somewhat unique story.
DEMAIN PUBLISHING: Welcome Dan – let’s get down to it, can you tell us a little about your new novel.
DAN WEATHERER: I started The Underclass in the autumn of 2016, wanting to write a genuinely new take on the zombie genre, and although I believe I have succeeded in doing so, it was a hard sell to find a home for the book because the genre has been done, and then done some more. The idea providing the setting for the book is what would happen if the rules of death no longer applied? The characters in my book are not presented as zombies in the traditional sense; their bodies have died from illness, age or other, and continue to rot as expected, but the soul remains trapped, leaving the person trapped in a decomposing husk, in a world unwilling to accept or understand them.
DP: We’re not massive fans of zombie fiction BUT we enjoyed The Underclass because it was that new take, something fresh…though you originally wrote The Underclass prior to Covid, do you feel that it can be read as a metaphor for the pandemic?
DW: No, absolutely not. I finished the first draft of this book in 2017, when all thoughts of a global pandemic were as far from my mind as anyone else’s. The pandemic is ongoing, and its effects will be felt for years to come. It would be in bad taste for me to claim the book relates in any way to the horrors people are living through because of Covid 19. The book has always been about social division, and the way we treat others different from ourselves. Unfortunately, issues of race, religion, sexuality and cultural divisions still divide us. The Underclass highlights similar issues, just in a different, more extreme way.
DP: Indeed. Is the horror genre affected by world events? Do you ever put world events in your work?
DW: I believe so. I’m not one to ‘cash in’ on current horror. I believe humanity needs a way to digest, understand and grief over horrific events. To a degree, horror fiction can help, as well as entertain. But there’s a time and a place. I won’t be writing any pandemic material soon, if ever.
DP: There have been numerous reports of late that the horror genre is dead, would you agree?
DW: No, I don’t think so. I just believe there is too much real-life horror in the world at present, and there’s no escaping it. The world has always been a horrible place, but usually it has been a case of: “Oh, well it is horrible, but it is happening all the way over there, so, while I recognise how terrible things are, I’m untouched…I’m safe.” The Global Pandemic changed all of that. It affects each and every one of us.
DP: Yes, it does…creatively is there anything you’d like to do that you haven’t done yet? If so – what is it?
DW: I’m lucky in that I’ve now worked (in some form) in: Film, theatre, literature, art and videogames. There may be something I’ve missed, but my work really has allowed me to experience a multitude of creative disciplines, and for that I am thankful.
DP: So is writing a long term or short term career for you?
DW: As I write this, I genuinely don’t know. It took a long time to place The Underclass, and the writing industry is slowing, much like most others due to the pandemic and its economic effects. Upon restart, will there be room for authors like me, who are not really ‘name’ but still look at placing sizeable works? I’m also hard-stuck on my new novel, and have been for nearly two years…so who knows?
DP: Well, we wish you all the best with the new novel. With the [possibly first national] lockdown, how did you handle it? What was your routine, was there anything different you did to get through it?
DW: Lockdown was all about keeping my children safe, engaged and happy. It was tough, but you don’t need me to tell you that. We all experienced it. Routine was crucial, and having school work for the children helped. I didn’t get much writing done, but my children thrived, and seeing them return to school happy made those long, uncertain hours worthwhile.
DP: It definitely does! Finally Dan, what is something your readers might be surprised to find out about you?
DW: When I turned 40 (last year) I decided to retrain. I’m now a fully qualified TIG Welder!
That’s brilliant. Dan – thank you – always, a pleasure! The best of luck with The Underclass.
If you would like to connect with Dan direct, please visit: www.fatherdarkness.com.
Dan Weatherer is represented by the Cherry Weiner Literary Agency (USA)
We welcome James Marx to the Short Sharp Shocks! series with The Cliff House – which is book number 53. Here at DEMAIN we’d heard great things about James and his work so it’s brilliant he’s now joined the family (so to speak). The ebook, with a cover by Adrian Baldwin, is published on the 18th September but is now available for pre-sales. Prior to publication, Dean and James sat down and spoke about it.
DEMAIN PUBLISHING: Hello James, welcome to DEMAIN. Let’s get down to it, can you tell us a little about yourself and why you became a writer?
JAMES MARX: Hello! To be fair it’s only recently I’ve had the courage to properly call myself a ‘writer’. I’ve always been an avid reader of stories right from a very early age, especially myths and legends like Beowulf and the tales of Greek heroes, and have been blessed with an active imagination, so I guess it makes sense I’d write as well. From schooldays and all the way through my working life I’ve written stories, most of which were utter rubbish, but it all helped slowly develop my writing skills and techniques. You keep learning all the time. But it was redundancy a few years ago along, with little prospect of finding any future job, that gave me the opportunity to concentrate on my writing.
DP: And your background, has that had some influence on you as a writer would you say?
JM: Most of my working life has been wasted in IT and Project Management. I say wasted because it was incredibly boring, gave me no joy or satisfaction and ultimately led to a career dead end. It paid the mortgage and allowed me to buy ‘toys’ like various cars including a TVR sports car, but it was a very shallow existence. I stuck with it because it paid the bills, but in retrospect I think being made redundant was the best thing that could have happened to me. As far as influence goes I would say it had none. Yet it was the path I took to arrive at where I am today – and I have no regrets about that.
DP: By the sounds of it, that’s exactly the way to look at it! What was your first introduction to the horror genre?
JM: Aside from the scares as a child watching Doctor Who in the 70s I think it was reading James Herbert’s The Rats at an age I probably shouldn’t have. A friend’s dad had a small second-hand bookshop and as pre-teens we used to hang out in there browsing through all the titles and reading snippets. If there was something I found interesting I’d borrow, read and then return it. Like a little personal library. I discovered old copies of H.P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allen Poe, small hardback books that seemed like long lost secrets. The stories had a old world style that I still like to this day, but it was the slow creeping terror that really got my imagination going. Then of course you also have Stephen King, who I rate as an equal of Poe and Lovecraft. His Night Shift and Skeleton Crew short story collections are inspiring to this day, and easy books to dip into to re-read favourites. As you can probably tell, I really like the short story and novella format for horror.
DP: Ah, another author who talks about The Rats. And Skeleton Crew – I’ve said in previous interviews I’m not the greatest of King fans but that one’s a doozy. With regards to your (brilliant) Short Sharp Shocks! can you tell us a little about it?
JM: Of course I don’t want to give too much away but it turned out to be a story about emotional turmoil, loneliness and possession all set on a beautiful and quiet stretch of Greek shoreline. I wanted the readers to get to know the characters, feel the tension build, and wonder what was going to happen, right up to the final horrific events.
DP: I really enjoyed reading it as there were elements that reminded me of two of my favourite books, The Magus by John Fowles and Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco – well done for that. Did you have to do much research when writing it?
JM: There wasn’t much in the way of technical details to get right, most of it was down to geography. Google maps and memories of holidays were the main resources there. The Cliff House itself was a series of sketches I made, almost plans but not quite. That helped bring it to life in my mind when writing.
DP: I think that’s the first time an author has told me about going to that level of detail – tell me, did you find The Cliff House particularly difficult to write?
JM: Fortunately the plot was one of those creative moments (probably helped by some wine) where I wondered what would this person in that situation choose to do. I always have great difficulty writing anything to do with emotions. A lot of that is because I have Asperger’s Syndrome which in my case makes it difficult to deal with feelings, so they get suppressed until I have time to process, or allow myself to experience them. However the great thing about writing is that you can take that time to really think about how something would affect a character. It has meant I’ve gone through burning rage, crying with utter despair, and felt blissfully high with love all in the same day, which can be exhausting. Worth it though.
DP: 100%. Totally agree with you. The life of a writer hey?! You mentioned earlier a couple of names but what books / authors do you read and do they influence you?
JM: I’ve already mentioned Poe and Lovecraft and Stephen King, but I’m also a fan of action-thrillers too, my recent favourite reads in that line being Matt Hilton and Andy McDermott. Heading back into the world of the supernatural and magic there’s Jim Butcher (Dresden Files) and more vampire hunting with Laurell K Hamilton (The Anita Blake series). In fact I’m sure the amount of books my wife and I have ‘to read’ is greater than our life expectancy. Yet we still buy more! It’s the best sort of madness. I could talk for ages on all the different books we have to read from all sorts of genres and authors but now is not the time. As far as influences go, I think I tend more towards noticing narrative techniques used in different books and being drawn towards using those than I am to any particular style or theme. Then again I’m sure whatever I’m currently reading has to have a subconscious effect. It must do.
DP: I’m with you, I think everything we see / read is locked away somewhere in our brains and for us creatives we are able to draw upon it when needed (most of the time anyway!). In terms of ‘horror’ what does that word to James Marx?
JM: In the context of entertainment, it’s that chill of realisation that the situation is not at all what you thought. It is something either much worse or so far beyond the boundaries of normal comprehension that you simply don’t know how to deal with it. It provokes the classic fight or flight response but your body and mind are locked solid. You need to know what happens next but at the same time you don’t want to know. Look away, cover your ears, hide behind the sofa. It may be just a book or a film or TV show, but you experience a mild version of a life or death thrill and come out the other side shaken but relieved. Hey, let’s do that again.
DP: Again, a cracking answer! Is the horror genre affected by world events? Do you ever put world events in your work?
JM: What happens in the world has to have an effect on people’s psyche, and this must have a knock on to the sort of horror that becomes most popular. I’m no psychologist so don’t ask me to say what type of horror the current world situation favours, but I think we’re moving away from the fully visceral and gory and more towards tales that are socially and morally driven. But as a writer you have to write what you want to write, not pander to current trends or try to predict them. Personally I avoid using recent real world events in my stories because you immediately date the tale. Fine if you want to fix things at a set point in history, but I think you have to be very mindful and respectful of any victims of those events.
DP: Actually that point is well made. I’m currently working on a project with another writer now and we were keen to tell a ‘covid’ story but instead of setting it in 2020 we’re actually setting it a couple of hundred years before-hand. We’re having great fun putting that together. Is there a particular book / film you’re looking forward to?
JM: I have Vamphyrric Rites by Simon Clark I’d like to read at some point soon. I’ve been saving that for a rainy or stormy day because it would feel better reading it while rain lashes the windows. I loved his Vamphyrric so hope the follow on lives up to that. There have been very few horror films that have impressed me recently. Some great ideas that fell over in their execution. Maybe it’s the ever-questioning writer in me, but so many films get me going “so why didn’t they just...” – which is frustrating. I’d accept throwaway lines that explained why, but don’t leave plot holes I could fly a Borg Cube through let alone the Millennium Falcon. And I have sooo mixed up my genres there on purpose. Some folks’ heads will have just exploded.
DP: Haha – nothing wrong with that as far as I’m concerned. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a horror movie which has really knocked it out of the park for me. I don’t know why that is actually perhaps it’s just my own sensibilities and I’ve been more ‘comfortable’ watching (bingeing) tv series. I’ve been watching A LOT of non-British tv programmes (mainly from France, Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Iceland) which have been influencing me / my work quite a bit. With this in mind, there have been rumours amongst the community that ‘horror is dead’ – would you agree?
JM: No. I believe horror stories have been with us since tales were first told around the fire at the mouth of a cave, and will be with us as long as the human race exists. We love feeling that thrill and chill of being scared. I do think the popularity of different sub-genres of horror waxes and wanes. It’s probably depending on a lot of social, economic and maybe even political factors - things that have a subconscious psychological effect on us. No doubt someone far more intelligent than me will have already written a paper on the subject. Horror will always be there. Even if it’s just lurking in the closet for a while deciding which mask to wear next.
DP: Again, that’s a fair point, the genre is alive and well but some of the sub-genres need rebidding perhaps…what is James Marx afraid of?
JM: I have Acrophobia which is a fear of heights. I can just about go up a small ladder if needing to do some work on the garage roof but even then I feel shaky. As for that Mission Impossible scene with Tom Cruise on the Burj Khalifa [um, you’re not the only one – DP]...gives me the shivers! Okay, heights are not as creepy or horrific as having an 8-inch Vietnamese centipede crawl over your scalp and down your face. But give me the choice and Mister Poisonous Multilegs can strut his stuff rather than me dangle off a skyscraper at over eight hundred metres. I guess that’s just me though. Lie still, try to relax, let the critter make his way off your face and over your chest. Stay calm. Remember Sean Connery in Dr No? Oh crikey! Where’s it off to now? Oh no! Not down there! Is it too late to take the heights option? Actually there is plenty that freaks me out. Some stuff you think you could cope with but a lot that hits the big red fear button. As for it making its way into my stories...
Sure. You just probably haven’t read it yet.
DP: I know what you mean about thinking you can cope – I support Spurs and we’ve just introduced a ‘skywalk’ at the new ground. Apparently you can walk on the roof, in the rafters. Looks amazing. I was going to book tickets, then watched a video made by somebody doing it and my stomach left the building – there’s no chance am I going up there. NO CHANCE. Ha ha ha ha. Let’s move on quickly. Creatively is there anything you’d like to do that you haven’t done yet? If so – what is it?
JM: Crumbs! How long have you got? I have a story concept at outline stage that is a mix of classic horror, action and thriller with a touch of crime thrown in for good measure. Plenty of characterisation and world building done but I want to have a number of strong plot options before launching into it. I’d love to do a Blake’s 7 story but that would have to be fan fiction, and the idea of writing a decent Bond story greatly appeals too. Mainly because I’ve been disappointed with the plots of the recent films. These are in the maybe, someday, category. There are also plenty more horror ideas swimming around my head like dark shadowy eels and I’m sure they’re breeding. I’m going to have to let them out sooner rather than later...
DP: I’d love to do a Bond too – Tim Dalton is my favourite Bond so I’d love to write one for him. In terms of writing (and thinking about one of your earlier answers), is a long term or short term career for you?
JM: Definitely long term, though whether I can call it a career yet is another matter. I write because I feel the need to create and tell stories, I challenge myself to write stuff that I think is entertaining and fun for others to read. Sure, it would be great to make some money out of it, but that isn’t the point of writing for me. I’d still be writing stories even if I won the lottery simply because I love doing it and have a need to do it.
DP: I definitely have a need too. So, the lockdown, how was it for you?
JM: I have to say I’ve liked the lockdown. I’ll quantify that by breaking it down into a series of points:
Well we’ll leave it there – thank you so much for your time James, brilliant answers there, I enjoyed that. The best of luck with The Cliff House.
If you’d like to connect with James direct:
Book 55 in the Short Sharp Shocks! is Curfew by Kev Harrison. Kev’s no stranger to DEMAIN as he already has an entry in the first series (Book 13 – Cinders Of A Blind Man Who Could See) and is very much part of the family. Curfew (with a cover by Adrian Baldwin) is published as an ebook on the 4th September.
DEMAIN PUBLISHING: It’s great to speak to you again Kev – hope everything is well over there in Portugal. For those that don’t know you (yet!) can you tell us a little of your background and whether that has had influenced you as a writer?
KEV HARRISON: Thanks! I actually grew up in a really poor family on a council estate in Woking, but from an early age, my mum would drag my brother and I (subsequently my sister, too) to the library. I suppose it was a free form of entertainment. But that meant my head was pretty much permanently stuck in a book from about age 5 until my early teens. I think that was the first catalyst for my passion for storytelling.
DP: I remember what it was like to go to the library and lose yourself in books – think it’s a bit of a dying art nowadays as so many local councils have shut their libraries…very very sad. Okay, what’s the story behind Curfew?
KH: This story came off the back of a real life trip to a very weird and spooky B&B, not on the south coast of England but in the Alentejo, in Portugal. I was in a very small town called Borba, known for its wine, and the relationship between the owner of the B&B and the maid was pretty much identical to how I’ve portrayed it here. Once you’ve read this story, you’ll see how unsettling that is.
DP: It’s definitely unsettling – did you find it difficult to write?
KH: This was one that came to me quite naturally, though the edit process was more difficult. I sent it off to beta readers, as you do, and the feedback that came back was really quite different. I think the bizarre nature of a certain secondary character was a bit marmite. Some found it added something, others didn’t care for it. I opted to keep it in in the end.
DP: And we’re glad you did. We touched on libraries / books – what books (or authors) influenced you would you say?
KH: I think it’s almost impossible not to be influenced in some way by people we read. In terms of creating atmosphere and bringing the most out of the surroundings the characters find themselves in, I always find Michael Griffin and Adam Nevill incredibly inspiring. Equally, with authors like Max Booth III or Michael David Wilson, I look at their handling of dialogue and find it so natural, it makes me look at my own character interactions and want to pare them back so they feel more ‘real.’ For the ‘other worldly,’ if you aren’t moved by the way someone like Gemma Files can create something wholly different and weird with a capital ‘W’ then I just don’t get you.
DP: As always, some great names there. Turning to the horror genre specifically then, what do you think draws readers into the genre and what exactly are they looking for?
KH: I think in the dark times we find ourselves in – and I stress we were well into the dark before COVID added even more to the pile – people are looking for ways to escape. For the high stakes to belong to someone else, in a world that doesn’t really exist so that we can forget that the planet is burning or that an increasing number of countries are being governed by underqualified arseholes.
DP: Indeed! I keep hearing rumours that the horror genre is dead, what say you?
KH: I think this is something we hear every few years and I think it’s nonsense. There will always be people who are drawn to horror and, in fact, I believe we’re in a golden age for it right now, with more books and films getting more attention than the last couple decades.
DP: Agreed. So is there a particular horror book (or film) that you’re looking forward to reading / seeing (if we’re ever able to return to cinemas)?
KH I’m a huge fan of the films of Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead (The Endless is my favourite, but I have a huge soft spot for Spring, even if I can understand why it’s divisive). So their new one, Synchronic, I’m keeping my eye out for. On the book front, I loved Ross Jeffery’s Juniper earlier this year, so the prequel, Tome, which will be arriving in October is high on my wanted list.
DP: That sounds great. I’m not aware of Justin / Aaron so will check those titles out asap and I’ve seen quite a lot of great notices for Ross’s Juniper. What is Kev Harrison scared of?
KH: I’m terrified of horses. I recognise that they’re beautiful animals, but I’ve had a few near misses with them. They’ve never featured in my work so far, but who knows what the future might bring.
DP: Finally then Kev – is writing a short term / long term career for you?
KH: Definitely long term. I’ve been taking this seriously for only the past 3 or 4 years and it’s only the last year or two that I’ve started to build up a reader base, first with Cinders of a Blind Man Who Could See and then my debut novella, The Balance. I think persistence is probably the most important characteristic for writers to have.
Persistence is definitely the key!
Well, Kev thanks for your time as always, it was brilliant to talk to you. The best of luck with Curfew.
If you would like to connect with Kev direct:
DEMAIN welcomes back author Lee Allen Howard to the Short Sharp Shocks! series with Book 54 – The Night Creatures. With a cover by Adrian Baldwin, the ebook is published on the 18th September but is currently available for pre-sales. Prior to publication, Dean and Lee spoke about it.
DEMAIN PUBLISHING: Hi Lee! Great to have you back. So for those readers that haven’t yet caught your previous Short Sharp Shocks! The Elixir or aren’t yet aware of you/ your other work – can you tell us a little about yourself and how you became a writer…
LEE ALLEN HOWARD: It’s great to be here. It seems like I’ve always had stories to tell. In second grade, I started writing tales full of skeletons, witches, and blood. I’ve not stopped.
DP: Your background then, what was it and has it influenced you?
LAH: I’m a preacher’s son raised in church. Themes of faith show up in my fiction, notably my short story ‘Mama Said’ and my second novel, The Sixth Seed.
DP: And your first introduction to the genre?
LAH: It was either James Herbert’s The Rats or Thomas Tryon’s The Other. I credit these two books with introducing me to horror and making me want to be a horror writer.
DP: Ah, The Rats – remember it well and a whole bunch of us at school reading it on the bus home one night ! – so your Short Sharp Shocks!?
LAH: The Night Creatures is about a husband who denies his wife a simple pleasure and ends up succumbing to her nightmares.
DP: We thought it was a cracking little tale so well done. Creatively Lee, what would be your biggest success to date?
LAH: My most popular novel is Death Perception, a story about a young man who runs the local crematorium. He discovers he can discern the cause of death of those he cremates by toasting marshmallows over their ashes. When what he discerns differs from what’s on the death certificate, however, he finds himself in the midst of murderers.
DP: We’ll have to check that out – sounds very intriguing. What books (or authors) do you read and do they have an influence?
LAH: I read a wide variety of horror. My favourites are the paperbacks from the 1970s and '80s. The author I’ve read most of is Donald Westlake, writing under the pen name Richard Stark (the Parker series). Love those crime stories.
DP: They’re great aren’t they? What does ‘horror’ conjure for you?
LAH: Horror is an emotion, whether that be dread, terror, fright, or shock. Writing that evokes these emotions with the intent to unsettle and scare can be rightfully classed as horror.
DP: With that in mind then, there have been numerous reports of late that the horror genre is dead, would you agree?
LAH: I disagree. I think horror is enjoying a comeback, both in fiction and especially the cinema.
DP: Almost done, is writing for you a long term or short term career?
LAH: I’ve been writing fiction all my life, albeit sporadically. But, alas, I must pay the bills. So I’ve been employed as a technical writer for the software industry since 1985.
DP: Yeap, we all need to pay the bills. It’s been a tough year and this year (for obvious reasons) has been tougher than most. Quite a lot of creatives are having to diversify and there’s nothing wrong with that. We need to pay bills. We need to have a roof over our head. We need to eat. We do what we’ve got to do for our families. Finally then Lee, what is something your readers might be surprised to find out about you?
LAH: As well as a master’s degree in fiction writing, I earned a master’s in biblical studies and was a pastor for three years.
Now those sermons I would love to have heard.
Thanks for your time Lee – all the best with The Night Creatures.
If you would like to connect with Lee direct:
Book 52 in the Short Sharp Shocks! is M.I.C.H.A.E.L. by Jess Doyle. It’s published as an ebook on the 18th September (available now for pre-sales!) with a cover by Adrian Baldwin. Prior to publication Dean and Jess sat down and talked about it…
DEMAIN PUBLISHING: Welcome to DEMAIN Jess, it’s great to have you as part of the ever growing family.
JESS DOYLE: I’m happy to be here.
DP: So, can you tell us all a little about yourself and how (or why) you became a writer.
JD: I grew up in North Wales and moved back here after graduating in Newcastle and living in Chester for a couple of years. I’ve had a few admin jobs but always wanted to write. I started taking writing more seriously once the kids started school and I began submitting flash fiction and short stories a couple of years ago. The reason I became a writer is the same reason I became a reader: I’m in love with exploring new worlds and finding different people to be.
DP: That’s great – and your Short Sharp Shocks! in particular?
JD: With M.I.C.H.A.E.L. I set out to write a Gothic horror. I had a novella-in-flash format in mind, where each chapter is a self-contained story but read together they make a complete story. I didn’t religiously stick to that format but it was a fun challenge. The story begins with (fairly) modern day events and then goes back in time to reveal their cause. It gets pretty dark and hopefully it’ll scare a few people.
DP: I liked your format a lot and really enjoyed the mini-stories which made up the main tale – so well done. Did you have to do much research…
JD: Yes, I did quite a bit of research. M.I.C.H.A.E.L. has an historical element so I wanted to be sure of not making any obvious mistakes. I really love the research stage of a writing project, I find a lot of inspiration in reading about history and folklore.
DP: Me too – yesterday in fact I came up with quite an interesting WW1 tale which is going to be set in a French asylum – it’s not going to be a ‘heavy’ tale by any stretch of the imagination but I definitely need to do some research…how was the process of writing M.I.C.H.A.E.L.?
JD: I'm dyslexic so I tend to approach my writing with the understanding that I'm going to have to work hard. I’m not the fastest writer but I keep at it and I’m lucky to have support, my husband proof reads everything for me.
DP: That’s great – my motto has always been, never give up! So I’m glad you didn’t with M.I.C.H.A.E.L. Jess would you say that the horror genre is affected by world events?
JD: Yes, the world is full of horror so it’s not surprising that a lot of writers are inspired by that. But I think for a lot of people, myself included, horror is a distraction from world events. Escapism is my main motivation when I pick a book up and I think that’s fairly typical for those of us that love horror and dark fantasy. I particularly love folk horror which tends to be inspired by pretty primal fears. I have no intention of writing a pandemic novel!
DP: Creatively Jess, is there anything you’d like to do that you haven’t done yet? If so – what is it?
JD: There’s a lot I want to do, I’m just getting started really. I’ve been working on a graphic novel script recently so first thing is to get that finished and find a good artist to work with. I’m pretty interested in scriptwriting, a radio drama has been on my to-do list for a while. I want to write a full-length novel and a short story collection.
DP: Then we wish you the best of luck and please keep us updated on your future endeavours – if there’s anything we can do to help, well you know now where we are. You mentioned pandemic, How did you handle the lockdown – what was your routine, was there anything different you did to get through it?
JD: I have found it hard to write during lockdown. In the last few weeks I've made an effort to connect with other writers, which has really helped. I've formed a little writing group, connected to my local community cafe and we been meeting once a week via Zoom.
DP: That’s really cool. Finally then Jess Doyle, what is something your readers might be surprised to find out about you?
JD: I don't have an English degree. I did film studies instead. I loved studying horror!
Good for you.
Thanks a million for your time Jess – all the best with M.I.C.H.A.E.L.
Please find Jess on twitter at: @jcdoyley
We welcome back author Christopher Stanley (The Forest Is Hungry) to DEMAIN with his exciting new mini-collection Unbecoming Me And Other Interruption which is published as an ebook on the 18th September (but is now available for pre-sales). Cover, of course, by the brilliant Adrian Baldwin. As Lockdown was eased, Dean and Christopher sat down and talked about it.
DEMAIN PUBLISHING: Great to see you again Christopher! It’s a pleasure to work with you again, so, first things first can you tell us what was your first introduction to the horror genre?
CHRISTOPHER STANLEY: And great to be here! I think my first introduction to horror was a collection of short stories I came across in my school library when I was 10 or 11 years old. I can barely remember anything about it now, other than a vague recollection of the cover, and that it contained a mix of ghost and monster stories. I felt differently about that book to the other things I was reading at the time. The stories were dangerous, unpredictable, and exciting. I’m sure that’s what sparked my interest. And that’s why libraries are so important – they’re a chance to browse and discover new things.
DP: Ah, I know what you mean, when I was a kid I picked up a ghost annual (or something) by Daniel Farson so totally know where you’re coming from. So, your new Short Sharp Shocks!?
CS: My latest contribution to the Short Sharp Shocks series starts in much the same way as my previous one—with a father running to save his daughter. That’s also where the plot similarities end. I tried to write my first SSS book, The Forest is Hungry, with the sensibilities of a thriller. It was supposed to be a page turner. The new book is different. It’s a collection of three short horror stories: Devil’s Reach, Hell’s Teeth and Unbecoming Me; all of which I’ve written with more focus on character. In Devil’s Reach, I channelled my inner-Ramsey Campbell by taking normal situations and playing with them to create a sense of creeping unease. Hell’s Teeth was supposed to be a flash fiction story, based on the premise of re-transacting with a classic fantasy figure. Subsequent drafts grew longer as the young girl at the heart of the story, having tasted victory, decided she wanted more. The title story, Unbecoming Me, is a coming-of-age tale with a couple of significant twists. Growing up is so damned hard at the best of times, and the narrator in Unbecoming Me was in for a shock (or two) as he tried to juggle university with his lifelong search for requited love.
DP: We really loved the stories and the Ramsey Campbell ‘comparison’ is spot on. Personally I think Hell’s Teeth would make a cracking short film. In writing this collection, did you have to do much research?
CS: I cheated with a couple of these stories. I often find myself researching locations when I’m writing—making special trips, scrutinising photos I’ve found online, and talking to people who know the areas better than I do. In this collection, Devil’s Reach is set on a ferry crossing I’ve made many times, while Unbecoming Me takes place at The University of Birmingham, where I read Economics (more years ago than I’d care to admit). The school in Hell’s Teeth isn’t based on an actual school—it’s a composite of schools I attended when I was growing up.
DP: And did you find the collection particularly difficult to write?
CS: Yeah, the stories in this collection were tricky, to say the least. Trying to make the characters authentic, while moving the plot forward at a sensible pace, growing the tension, and not neglecting the horror, is the literary equivalent of spinning plates. A lot of plates. Once you start setting scenes, hinting at subplots, and weaving in backstory, there are many things that can go wrong. I guess that’s the craft. That’s what we try to do.
DP: Indeed we do. What would you say is your biggest success creatively to date?
CS: Every Christmas, I reflect on the previous year and consider what I’ve achieved with my writing that I hadn’t done previously. Being relatively new to the writing scene, and having so far managed to avoid any kind of overnight success, it’s easy enough to plot a steady upward trajectory in my writing achievements—getting published, winning competitions, selling stories, being asked to write a blurb etc. It’s satisfying. Last year’s highlight was The Forest is Hungry--my first standalone publication. This year, I reached another career milestone with the publication of my flash horror collection, The Lamppost Huggers and Other Wretched Tales. That was an incredible experience. I’m really proud of the result, too, with cover art by Kealan Patrick Burke and an introduction by Sunday Times bestselling author Christina Dalcher. So yes, I guess that’s my biggest success to date.
DP: Thoroughly deserved! What books / authors does Christopher Stanley read and are they an influence?
CS: Over the past few years, I’ve read and loved a lot of books by a lot of different authors. Amongst the highlights have been a handful of Ellen Datlow anthologies, including two Best Horror of the Year anthologies, and her recent ghost story anthology, Echoes. I know Datlow’s tastes are a little literary for some, but each of the anthologies I read contained many more hits than misses. More importantly, for someone returning to horror after a prolonged absence, they introduced me to some incredible writers—Nathan Ballingrud, Gemma Files, Paul Tremblay, Robert Shearman, Carole Johnston, John Langan, Alison Littlewood, Rio Youers and Bracken MacLeod, to name a few.
DP: Some cracking names there for sure. Um, okay, so what is Christopher Stanley scared of?
CS: As a father, I spend at least twenty-four hours a day worrying about my kids—their health, safety and wellbeing, and the amount of time they spend playing computer games. I think that’s why children show up in so many of my stories. The father in Unbecoming Me, like the father in The Forest is Hungry, is motivated by a desire to save his child. There’s no point at which he’ll stop or give up—these cease to be options once you become a parent.
DP: And finally, what is something your readers might be surprised to find out about you?
CS: By some strange quirk of fate (let’s call it ‘marriage’), my father-in-law is Vincent Price. Not the Vincent Price, but I can pretend.
Oh, that’s just brilliant.
Well, Christopher the best of luck with your new Short Sharp Shocks!
If you would like to connect with Christopher direct:
Just a little reminder that all DEMAIN covers and branding is done by the brilliant brilliant brilliant Adrian Baldwin. Please check out his other work and recommend him where you can.
September 4th sees the publication of a brand new historical / horror novel called The Fallen by Anthony Watson which would make this his…third (!) release from DEMAIN (he previously contributed to The Darkest Battlefields anthology and series one of the Short Sharp Shocks! with Shattered). The novel is typical Watson fayre with a heady mix of horror and history…the brilliant cover is by Adrian Baldwin and recently they sat down and chewed the cud…
DEMAIN PUBLISHING: Great to work with you again Anthony. Okay, a blank slate: who are you and why did you become a writer?
ANTHONY WATSON: Ha ha. Okay. Hi – I was born and bred in the north east of England, I now live in north Northumberland with my wife Judith and our two dogs. We’re pretty much out in the sticks which suits us both perfectly and can walk straight out the front door into woodland or, if we’re feeling more energetic, walk a mile or so to the beach. I worked in an NHS pathology lab for thirty five years before taking early retirement in February this year. My hand was forced by a re-organisation of the service in which I worked which meant I would either have to move or find another job in the hospital if I wanted to stay on, neither of which really appealed. Not going to work means I have more time to dedicate to writing which I’ve always enjoyed but took up seriously again about ten years ago. I’m not sure where the desire to write came from but I’ve always read a lot and so it’s probably a knock-on effect from that. I tend to live inside my own head a lot of the time and while I’m in there I’ll be thinking up ideas and plots. I write for my own pleasure (and to stop my head filling up with too much stuff) and would continue to so even if nothing else I wrote ever got published. That said, I’m still immensely proud if something I’ve written does get published (to say nothing of incredibly excited).
DP: I totally get that ‘living in your own head’ thing. I’ve had a very productive Lockdown creatively and lots of Zoom meetings etc but I need to get out into the world now and actually interact with human beings again. That will be a little strange I think. So, The Fallen, tell us all about it…
AW: The Fallen is set in three different time periods: present day, World War Two and 16th Century Russia. It’s set on and around the Arctic Ocean and the protagonists are the scientists onboard an Arctic research vessel, some merchant seamen in an Arctic convoy and a band of mercenaries seeking religious icons for Tzar Ivan the Terrible. All three groups encounter the same supernatural horror – a fallen angel – and the storylines are entwined with actions in one timeline having consequences in the others.
DP: I’m not an expert by any means but I’ve been doing some reading recently about Ivan – a very interesting period of Russian history…did you have to do much research when writing The Fallen?
AW: I did a ton of research - which I loved. It’s one of my favourite parts of the process to be honest; I love finding out stuff (far more than I ever did at school unfortunately) and find it hugely stimulating, often generating new ideas and plots as a result. Because a lot of The Fallen takes place in the past I did a load of research simply to get the details right – I think if you write something in a historical setting you have an obligation to do that, there’s nothing worse than having an anachronism which will take the reader out of the story [DP: we’re with you on that!]. For the Russian section I did a lot of digging into the life of Ivan the Terrible and especially his personal guards the Oprichniki - the organisation to which the main characters in this section belong. They used to dress completely in black and ride black horses with severed dogs’ heads attached to the saddles. The Arctic convoy section needed loads of research too, technical specifications for an oil tanker and just generally what life was like on board. I read HMS Ulysses and The Cruel Sea as part of that research. The modern day section led me into the world of submersibles and global warming and I now know a lot more about ice than I ever thought I needed to. A lot of what I learned I didn’t use (unlike Dan Simmons) but it was really useful to have in the background so to speak when I was writing. Some of it has found its way in but hopefully I’ve presented it in a way that merges with the text naturally and doesn’t feel like a massive info dump.
DP: Honestly, I think you’ve got it spot on and those Oprichniki deserve a book of their own! Would you say (because you’re trying to tie together history, horror and some sci-fi elements) that you found the novel difficult to write?
AW: I have to say that I didn’t! I love writing and, whilst I’ll, often paint myself into corners plot-wise I could never say that I find any part of the process difficult. Of the three sections, I probably found the modern day one the ‘hardest’ but that was only because of the way the plot unfolded, with the characters having to make rational assessments and judgements (about something which, on the face of it, is completely irrational) rather than simply responding to events which was more the case in the other two sections.
DP: I found the whole thing very ‘filmic’ and on a pure personal level, it really worked – I could see a lot of the ‘movie’ unfolding before me so well done! Creatively Anthony what would you say was your biggest success so far?
AW: Creatively what is your biggest success? It would have to be my first novel Witnesses. I have no idea how much of a success it was in terms of sales as the publisher unfortunately went out of business not long after it was published and I never made anything out of it but in terms of my own personal satisfaction I couldn’t be happier with it. I tried something a little different with the narrative style, jumping backwards and forwards between four different timelines and using different tenses and voices. Only one reviewer seemed to have any difficulty with it and the feedback I received was pretty positive so I’m glad I took the risk.
DP: Yes, totally agree. I’ve only ever seen praise for Witnesses so again, a well done from us. Can you tell us a little about the authors / books who possibly influence you?
AW: The majority of what I read is horror and I’ve been reading it for a long time so the fact that I’ve chosen it as the genre I want to write in shows there’s definitely been an influence! I’m spending a lot of time re-reading books I read when I was younger (it’s an age thing…) and am currently working my way through Robert R McCammon’s back catalogue and enjoying them just as much as, if not more than, the first time. The small presses are doing a marvellous job of keeping horror alive as a genre and there’s so much great talent out there to choose from. I’d like to think I have my own voice or style but I guess it’s inevitable that what I read will have some influence. I use the term ‘style’ loosely, I’m very aware that my writing tends more to the pulpy rather than the literary end of the spectrum. That said, I have just written (and submitted) an attempt at a literary short story and the only reason I gave it a shot was because among my re-reads I’m working my way through John Irving’s novels and there’s no doubt in my mind that if I hadn’t been exposing myself to such brilliant writing I would never have attempted it.
DP: Do you know you’re the second writer in as many days who has mentioned McCammon – I enjoyed his work when I was a kid and want to read some more and John Irving! Haven’t read him in a couple of years but definitely love his World According To Garp – good luck with your literary short! So in terms of horror, what does that mean to you?
AW: If we’re talking about the horror genre – as distinct from the emotion – then for me I prefer some kind of supernatural element to be involved. That’s not to say I don’t appreciate other forms it’s just that I find those stories that do include them to be more satisfying. To be honest, I’ve never really analysed why I enjoy horror and I’m inclined not to as too much analysis can sometimes spoil the thing under scrutiny. I read (and write) as a form of escape and horror can provide scenarios very different indeed to the humdrum of routine existence.
DP: So with that in mind, what frightens you?
AW: I have plenty real world concerns - the lurch to the right in politics, the destruction of the environment to name but two – but I’ve never felt confident enough to incorporate them into my writing. As I mentioned earlier, I lean toward the pulpier end of the spectrum and allegory and metaphor are something I need a bit more confidence to attempt. Within the horror genre, I’ve a bit of a thing for demons and stories of possession. I blame my Catholic upbringing. I’ve broached the subject a couple of times in my writing and of course the adversary in The Fallen is cut from that particular cloth too.
DP: Oh ha ha – I’m totally with you. I’m a Protestant but went to Catholic public school (yeah, get me lol) for a while and I totally have Catholic guilt – I can’t shake it, even now. A lot of my work is quite ‘religious’ and though I moved away from it, I’m actually being drawn back in ha ha. I’m angry with God for some reason and to be honest I think he’s angry with me…anyway, creatively, what have you not yet achieved?
AW: I think at heart I’m a frustrated film director. When I write, I’m basically watching a film I’ve directed and am writing down what I see. So yes, I would absolutely love to make a film – or have a film made of one of my stories. Because I write in (what I convince myself is) a cinematic style, I think a lot of my stuff lends itself to interpretation as a comic/graphic novel so that would be really cool too.
DP: Well, as I’ve said previously I can totally see The Fallen as a movie – and I definitely want to move into comics / graphic novels…imagine all the DEMAIN titles as graphic novels…the Lockdown then, how did you handle it?
AW: I wrote a novel during Lockdown! Just a short one, 63000 words, but I cranked it out in eleven weeks. I think it was probably a way of escaping what was going on, losing myself in another world. When I finished it, I felt bereft. I’d enjoyed spending my time in the world I’d created so much I think it made coming back to this changed reality – and the utter shambles of the government’s response - even harder.
There is so much more I could add to that last statement by I won’t ha ha! Brilliant to talk again with you Anthony. The best of luck with The Fallen – I hope it is a massive success for you.
Anthony’s website is: https://anthony-watson.blogspot.com/
Author Frank Duffy is no stranger to DEMAIN. Recently we published his ebook collection ‘Distant Frequencies’. His new joint collection ‘Night Voices’ (with Paul Edwards) is out on the 4th of September – it’s currently available for pre-sales…
DEMAIN PUBLISHING: Hi again Frank, hope you’re well since we last spoke. Let’s get straight down to it – in writing your stories in ‘Night Voices’ did you have to do much research?
FRANK DUFFY: Hi! As a rule of thumb (for me) short fiction requires a degree of economy. Therefore, I like to keep research to a minimum. To be honest, I find that life experience often serves as the best research for short fiction. For example, my story, Missing Country, is me drawing on personal experience. I did that exact job, the location is real, and that school exists. I simply relied on memory. But more often than not, it’s my imagination going for a run and exercising its artistic license.
DP: And working with Paul – can you explain that process?
FD: I’ve always wanted to work with Paul (Edwards), and we’d even talked about doing something together long before ‘Night Voices’ came about, but it never panned out at the time. Then last year, I floated the idea of doing a joint author collection. Neither of us had done one before and although it’s hardly a new idea, neither is it particularly common in the genre [DP – you’re dead right and that was why DEMAIN picked the collection up]. The basic premise was that we’d write six stories apiece, keeping it relatively simple. There was no discussion about linking them, which I believe works in our favour. We’re both thematically and stylistically very different authors. Plus, it also offers the reader a bit of variety. Since I’ve always admired Paul’s work, I was very happy when he agreed to work alongside me.
DP: What is ‘horror’ to Frank Duffy?
FD: I try not to get bogged down in what constitutes horror and what doesn’t. So the question is a good one. Because while the fiction I write might not always be what traditionalists call horror, it would almost be impossible for me to describe it otherwise. My definition is very broad. And I find I’m most often more likely to read and be interested in people who share this view. Horror for me is in some ways tied into the existential. It permeates ordinary life. Horror is the realisation life has passed you by without realising it. Horror is living in the past. Horror is failure to learn from mistakes. Regret. Stagnancy. Bitterness. Waging a perpetual war of competition. For me, all of these things represent horror in some way .
DP: That’s some great definitions Frank, I’m glad I asked that question – thank you. What frightens you then…
FD: Since I was a kid, I’ve been deeply phobic about flying. For many years I often dreamed about being stuck on a plane, or even being tricked into flying on one. However, it has only ever found its way into one of my stories, The Regression. I started out writing it as a serious piece, but somehow an element of macabre humour crept in there, and changed its overall tone. I guess the humour helped alleviate some of the emotions I was feelings as I was writing it.
DP: Ah, flying. Not my best subject so I’m going to quickly move on. The Lockdown – how you finding it?
FD: Since I was last asked this question, life in Poland has returned to normal, all things considered. I’m not sure this is a good thing, but it at least offers a semblance of the ordinary. Of course, there some residual effects. Most people (at least here in Warsaw), myself included, still wear masks in public places, despite this no longer being a legal requirement. The irony being, it’s probably more disconcerting to see people not wearing them. But generally speaking, everything has gone back to the way things were pre-pandemic.
DP: Ah, that’s great to hear. Finally then Frank, can you tell us something surprising about you?
FD: I once broke International Maritime Law to get my beloved dog, Mr Mole, across the Channel. The story is much too long to relate now, but suffice to say, the story also involved 47 hours spent travelling across land with Disco Polo music blasting for the entirety of the journey. And believe it or not, my mother’s home was once thought to be genuinely haunted. Only, another irony, I never noticed a thing until many years later, which shows I’m about as sensitive to the paranormal as a lump of coal. A rather poor admission to make being a horror author…
Ha ha ! A great place to finish. Thanks a million for your time again Frank, all the best with ‘Night Voices’.
Paul Edwards has been part of the DEMAIN family for a couple of years now and contributed a brilliant story to the WW1 / horror anthology ‘The Darkest Battlefield’. When DEMAIN was approached about publishing his new collection (jointly with Frank Duffy) called ‘Night Voices’ (as an ebook on September 4th but currently available for pre-sales; cover by Adrian Baldwin) it was a no-brainer. Prior to publication, Dean and Paul sat down and talked.
DEMAIN PUBLISHING: Good to speak with you again Paul, hope you’re doing okay…for those that don’t know you, can you tell us a little about yourself and how you became a writer.
PAUL EDWARDS: Hi! And yes, well, I am 44 years old and I live in the market town of Frome in Somerset with my wife, Mandy, and our two daughters, Lily aged 17, and Poppy aged 14. I’ve always had a drive to write; ever since I was a kid, I’ve loved writing my own scary stories! Being a lifelong horror fan, I’ve always written, read, and watched horror. It’s a genre that’s endlessly intrigued and fascinated me.
DP: You and me both – I feel I’m learning something new about the genre every day. In terms of your stories…
PE: My six stories were actually inspired by my day job as a Family Support Worker. Writing them felt cathartic – a way, I guess, of trying to make sense of some of the more difficult and challenging behaviours I’ve encountered through the job. After reading Frank’s tales, I was surprised by how (unintentionally) we’d touched on similar themes and ideas. I think the stories complement each other really well.
DP: They really do and that’s why I / we thought the collection really works with two authors…did you find any of your stories particularly difficult to write?
PE: I actually surprised myself by how quickly I wrote them! The ideas came fast and fully formed, and I wrote the first drafts in under a month. It’s the editing side I find most difficult – trying to hone and edit the work into reasonable shape can be a frustrating, exhausting process. I’ll reach a point where I’m absolutely sick of the work, and it’s then I know I need to put it away, to give myself a break. To come back another day and look at it through fresh eyes. But all that effort is worth it when someone likes your work enough to publish it. I get a big kick out of that.
DP: I'm with you there! Paul, what was it like working with another writer – can you explain that particular process?
PE: Working with Frank was great. He initially approached me with the idea of writing a joint collection. It was pretty daunting at first, having to write six new stories in a relatively short space of time. And I had to be strict with myself, fitting it around family life and the day job by setting writing goals and objectives for myself each day. We only read each other’s stories after we’d finished them, so there was no conferring! I’m a big admirer of Frank’s fiction, so it was an absolute honour and a pleasure to have collaborated with him.
DP: Oh I bet. Perhaps ‘Night Voices’ might be the first in a series of joint collections – we’ll have to give that some serious thought ha ha! What would you say was your biggest creative success to date?
PE: I would say my novella Where the Wounded Trees Wait, which was published by DEMAIN in ‘The Darkest Battlefield’ - an anthology of supernatural World War 1 novellas that I was massively proud and honoured to have been a part of. I approached that story in a different way too, as I actually spent time researching by visiting Mametz and other battlefields of the Somme, in order to try and get a sense of the place and history. It turned into a very humbling and moving experience all round. I was really proud of how that story turned out.
DP: And rightly so, having also visited those battlefields your story brought back a lot of memories. Who do you read and are they an influence?
PE: As a horror fanatic, I do tend to read mainly horror fiction. Some of my favourite authors include Ramsey Campbell, Joel Lane, Jack Ketchum, Poppy Z. Brite, Gary A. Braunbeck, Stephen King, Thomas Ligotti, Clark Ashton Smith and Robert Bloch, to name but a few. My favourite writers inspire me to pick up my pen and write straight after I’ve finished reading them. I’m particularly drawn to cosmic horror – I love the original ‘Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos’ anthology edited by August Derleth; it’s a book I’ve returned to again and again. One of the stories, Return of the Lloigor by Colin Wilson, inspired a novel that I’ve started, which mixes cosmic horror with my own experiences as a Police Community Support Officer!
DP: Oh, I’d love to read that! What is Paul Edwards frightened of?
PE: I guess I’m afraid of losing my mind…of losing my identity. Of losing touch with reality in general. These are things that truly scare and unsettle me. Also, the thought of losing my family; the people that are closest to me. I’m pretty sure these fears get worked into my stories all the time. I think, as a horror writer, it is vital to draw on your own fears for inspiration. To make the horror real, I guess.
DP: Dead right. Thinking about your creativity, is there something you haven’t yet done?
PE: 1) I’ve always wanted to finish a novel, so completing the first draft of one this year felt like a big achievement. I wrote it longhand in my car during lunch-breaks at work. There’s still tonnes of work left to do on it, though…fingers crossed I’ll see it published someday… 2) I’ve always wanted to write my own Choose Your Own Adventure book, as I was a HUGE fan of CYOA, Fighting Fantasy, etc. in the 80s. I still have most of my old gamebooks, which I nostalgically return to from time to time. My favourite gamebook is House of Hell by Steve Jackson, which definitely helped to nurture my love of all things horror. I have actually started writing my own CYOA book, and have plotted and planned most of it out already. It’s set in Northern France, with a fair bit of local mythology and folklore involved.
DP: Oh my lord! House Of Hell! I remember that…and doing your own, Northern France – seems a winner to me already – we might have to talk about that in the future ha ha. So, we’re apparently coming to the end of the Lockdown – how was it for you?
PE: I’ve handled lockdown pretty well. I’ve loved spending more time with my family. I’ve been keeping in touch with friends and extended family members through Zoom, and even managed to run a ‘Call of Cthulhu’ RPG campaign with my dad and brothers via video conference, which was a lot of fun and not something I would have done under normal circumstances! I’ve also found a lot more time to write, and as a result I’m close to finishing another collection, which I hope to submit somewhere in the not too distant future…
That’s brilliant – thanks a lot for your time Paul, it was great connecting with you again. Truly the best of luck with Night Voices!
If you’d like to connect with Paul direct:
Website Address: https://pauledwardshorror.blogspot.com/