We welcome Deborah Sheldon back to DEMAIN with her horror novelette The Again-Walkers, published on June 24th (with a cover by Adrian Baldwin and available now for pre-sales). This is Deborah’s third title with DEMAIN, following her Short Sharp Shocks! Hand To Mouth and her Murder! Mystery! Mayhem! title Garland Cove. Dean and Deborah recently sat down and talked about all things Norse…
DEMAIN PUBLISHING: Hello again Deborah! Great to be working with you again. So, for those that don’t know your work can you tell us a little about yourself.
DEBORAH SHELDON: Hi. I was born a writer – I used to draw stories before I knew my letters – and I’ve never fallen out of love with the written word. Over 37 years, my career has segued from magazine articles to TV scripts to non-fiction books to medical writing to fiction to horror fiction to stage plays to poetry, and I love it all with every breath. I’ll die a writer too. You’ll no doubt find me slumped over my keyboard, a half-drunk glass of chardonnay on my desk and a half-written story on my computer monitor.
DP: Sounds a great way to go out to be honest. So, The Again-Walkers, why did you decide to write it?
DS: I’m married and our son is now in his early twenties. Throughout his childhood, he held a deep fascination with antiquity and old cultures. My husband is Danish on his mother’s side so, naturally, our young son was fascinated with all things Viking. In supporting his hobby, I discovered an interest of my own in the Viking lifestyle, gods and traditions. Contrary to popular tropes, the Vikings weren’t marauding horn-helmeted savages. Instead, they enjoyed a sophisticated culture which they shared – quite often non-savagely! – with other peoples and lands, to everyone’s benefit. I enjoyed the Viking superstitions and found myself drawn to their belief in revenants and particularly “again-walkers”, which are restless souls whose thirst for payback reanimates them as mindlessly vengeful creatures.
DP: That’s really cool, so did it take long to write?
DS: I’d wanted to write something about Viking revenants for some time, but the idea didn’t take root until I experienced one of the worst nightmares of my life. The nightmare woke me, sweating, in a sheer gasping panic. I had to get out of bed and turn on lights just to stop my heart from slamming around. (If I wake from a dream and start thinking about it, I often slip back into it when I fall asleep again.) How did I calm down? By telling myself that, wow, I’d just got a kick-arse ending to my again-walker story, and all I had to do was work backwards to find the plot. So, my nightmare actually forms the climax of my novelette. I started writing The Again-Walkers the next day. It probably took about three weeks to write, allowing for fallow days in between. The Again-Walkers was first released in my award-winning and multi-award-nominated collection Perfect Little Stitches and Other Stories (IFWG Australia, 2017), and I’m thrilled that DEMAIN Publishing has chosen to turn my novelette into a stand-alone title.
DP: I really enjoyed reading it and even more so now reading your explanation above. Can you tell us a little more about your writing process…
DS: It’s start stop, start stop, start stop. I researched ninth-century Danish mythology, superstition and culture to get myself grounded before writing, but still had to pause at every turn to check historical accuracy. For example, what was the fashion? What about jewellery? Hairstyles? How did villages look and function? What was the layout and décor of a typical house? How did people travel? What was the hierarchy of professions? Relations between the sexes? Between relatives? Opinions on marriage? Blood feuds? Political systems? Justice systems? And on and on. Even what people ate for dinner and how they cooked their meals had to be researched. The Again-Walkers was perhaps one of the most research-intensive stories I’ve ever written because it mattered to get the details right. Verisimilitude suspends disbelief in the reader. The only way to get verisimilitude is through extensive research. That said, I only included the very tip of the iceberg. If a writer gets too enamoured with research, the story risks becoming a Wikipedia info-dump.
DP: As somebody who writes period drama/historical stories I really loved your balance…you totally nailed it so well done. Right now I’m looking at several historical projects…if The Again-Walkers was going to be made into a movie, who would you want in it?
DS: Fun question! Anya Taylor-Joy has an otherworldly, ethereal, sensual, Nordic beauty about her. I think her acting style would make a wonderfully complex and nuanced Svana Norup (my main character).
DP: Great choice. Deborah, horror fiction has a long history, which era do you consider the most effective period in the whole history of the genre?
DS: That’s a tough one to answer because I believe every period has something to offer. Over my lifetime as a reader, I’ve delved through the centuries – basically, from ancient Greece onwards – and read a lot of amazing works. Currently, I’m re-investigating nineteenth-century horror fiction, including In a Glass Darkly by J. Sheridan Le Fanu. As a fan of horror films, I’m also working my way through Lon Chaney’s filmography – what an incredible actor! In short, every horror era is amazing in its own way. My advice for the novice aficionado is to cast a wide net and enjoy.
DP: That’s brilliant and you’re so right regarding Lon Chaney – I don’t think people realise what a great actor he actually was. What would you say horror meant to you?
DS: Honesty. The universe is chaos, bad things happen to good people, and everyone suffers and dies. Yeah, I guess I’m a bit of a nihilist although I try to consider myself a stoic. As both a writer and a reader, the horror genre helps to reassure me that life is messy and we’re all in this random meat-grinder together. It keeps my propensity for generalised anxiety in check.
DP: And finally Deborah, what draws readers to the horror genre? What do readers look for?
DS: I believe that readers are looking for truth, for a window into the genuine human experience. It’s reassuring to read a story where crazy things happen for no reason, especially when life is kicking you about. And it can feel cathartic to be scared or unsettled in a safe environment and come out the other side not just unscathed, but moved and entertained.
With that, thank you very much for your time Deborah. Best of luck with The Again-Walkers.
If you’d like to connect with Deborah direct:
Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B0035MWQ98
We welcome author Grant Longstaff to DEMAIN with his exciting new stand-alone title Between The Teeth Of Charon (cover by Adrian Baldwin) – released as an ebook on June 24th (but available now for pre-sales). In mid-April Dean and Grant sat down to talk about it…
DEMAIN PUBLISHING: Welcome Grant to DEMAIN, loved reading Between The Teeth Of Charon and can’t wait to unleash it (so to speak haha) – no better place to start than at the beginning: can you tell us all a little about yourself.
GRANT LONGSTAFF: Hi Dean and yes! I’m from Gateshead, a town in the north east of England. The poor relation of Newcastle. I’ve always loved stories. Books, TV, film, theatre, games even – sometimes you just want to lose yourself. Growing up in Gateshead, there was a need for it. I suppose it was inevitable I would eventually want to try and tell stories of my own. I’ve been writing for the last few years and I’ve had a handful of stories creep out into the world. Between the Teeth of Charon is the longest of those and my first solo release.
DP: Is it? Well, well done! Thoroughly deserved. What would you say was your first introduction to the horror genre?
GL: That came unexpectedly when I was around five or six years old. My mother entrusted me to my great grandparents whilst she went to work. My Granda, who we affectionately called ‘Nutty Granda’, had recorded a film for me to watch. He sticks me in a chair, pops in the VHS, presses play and leaves me to it. Turns out the film was the 1989 classic, Puppet Master. Rated 18. A film about murderous puppets. I had nightmares for weeks. Probably goes some way to explaining why my Granda was given his Nutty moniker.
DP: Oh my lord! That’s the one directed by Charles Band for Full Moon if memory serves. Great movie. I like your Granda already. Tell us about Between The Teeth Of Charon.
GL: Between the Teeth of Charon tells the story of Jack, a pensioner, who has recently lost his wife, Nora. Jack is asked by their friend, Ellen, to fulfil a promise Nora made a long time ago. Reluctantly, Jack agrees and, along with Ellen and her grand-daughter Dani, the three return to Hethpool Grange - a forgotten psychiatric hospital in Northumberland - to confront a dark and brutal past. A past Jack has tried for almost sixty years to forget. The abandoned hospital is fertile ground for horror, there have been many books and films with such a setting. I hope Between the Teeth of Charon adds something.
DP: I don’t see why it won’t. I really enjoyed the characters, the plot and the story as a whole so again well done. As you say there have been other books/films with a similar setting so could you write from ‘memory’ or did you have to do a lot of research?
GL: I spent a lot of time researching the history of mental health treatment before and during writing. I read testimonies from people who had endured years of abuse. People left broken by the institutions who were supposed to help them. Of course there were historical accounts from places like Bethlem/Bedlam, but not all the stories were dredged from the days of overcrowded lunatic asylums in the 1800s. Many were from people still alive today. We’re talking about relatively recent history. I also read up on lobotomy (also known as leucotomy). I have always found the concept chilling; a procedure that can reduce a person to just a shadow of themselves, carried out with a tool modelled on an ice pick. So many patients were needlessly lobotomised, the amount of harm this operation caused far outweighed the good. Alongside this I trawled through images and videos made by urban explorers to get a feel for the architecture and decay which Jack, Ellen and Dani might experience. Most of the research didn’t make the story, but it did inform how I envisaged the world of Hethpool Grange and the horrors which may have taken place there.
DP: And personally I think you really succeeded in dragging us into that world! Are any of the characters based on real people?
GL: No, the characters are fictional. But I will say that I know a lot of strong and driven women, both in my family and among friends. I hope their strength bled into Ellen, Nora and Dani. Jack on the other hand is much closer to me - guilty of being a bit of a passenger. I was not prepared for this therapy session...
DP: Haha that’s what happens my friend. I was wondering, did the novelette take a long time to write?
GL: It was written in two parts. I wrote a chunk, went away, and returned a few months later to finish it. I probably took three months or so to write each part. I’m a terribly slow writer. Believe it or not the idea for this story – or rather some iteration of it – has been kicking around for about 20 years. It looks a lot different now to how it did back then. Unrecognisable. When I was a teenager I envisaged writing a sprawling novel about a small town living in the shadow of an old hospital. Probably heavily influenced by the work of Mr King. A few years back it developed into story with multiple points of view. The town was exorcised, replaced by a group of disparate characters drawn to the hospital for one reason or another. I wrote 30,000 words before abandoning it. Over the years, the story kept shrinking, becoming smaller and more personal, until it became what it is today.
DP: And I think it’s much better for that (though I will admit I like the idea of a sprawling novel in the small town too…). Who influences Grant Longstaff?
GL: Where do I start? There are of course the big hitters. Stephen King. Shirley Jackson. Joe Hill. Richard Matheson. I’m also in awe of Paul Tremblay and Stephen Graham Jones. They have such an easy way with words, their stories seem to zip by effortlessly. I mean, I’m sure they have to work at it, but they make it look so bloody easy! There are so many others I could name or talk about. Check out any of the following: Michael Wehunt, Ray Cluley, Lynda E. Rucker, Nathan Ballingrud, Victor LaValle, Carrie Laben, Norman Partridge, Hailey Piper, Max Booth III, Eliza Clark, Ian Rogers and so many more I’m forgetting right now. When I grow up I’d love to be able to write as well as any one of them. I’m also regularly motivated by Dan Howarth, Kev Harrison and Paul Feeney. They keep me turning up at the keyboard and hold me accountable. Bastards.
DP: Some great names there and you should be proud that one or two of them are now your stable-mates! Let’s talk about ‘horror’ – what does that mean to you?
GL: Stephen King said it best when he said, “we make up horrors to help us cope with the real ones”. Horror gets a bad reputation, but it does what all other fiction does. It allows writers and readers to explore elements of real life through the safety of a lens. The universal themes are the same. It’s just that with horror things tend to get a little bloodier, a little weirder. The horror of real life is always closer than we think. At least in fiction we can understand the rules. There is solace in stakes and silver bullets when you compare it to the terrifying unpredictability of reality. Not sure where that came from. Yikes.
DP: And what a great place to finish…
Thanks Grant for your time, all the best with Between The Teeth Of Charon.
If you would like to connect with Grant direct:
Dean M. Drinkel