Book 59 in the Short Sharp Shocks! series, is Yvonne Lang with her The Doll’s House & Prison Break. The book is published on the 27th November but is now available for pre-sales. The cover is by Adrian Baldwin. Recently Dean and Yvonne sat down and talked about it.
DEMAIN PUBLISHING: Welcome to DEMAIN Yvonne, it’s great to have you here. Let’s start at the beginning [often the best place to start!]: could you tell us a little about yourself and how / why you became a writer.
YVONNE LANG: Hi. Of course. I have always loved reading, all the women in my family love reading so it was just normal to read that much to me growing up. So naturally I took an interest in creating my own stories as well as reading other peoples. I love the idea that something I have made up can have an impact on someone I will never meet – a message that sticks with someone, someone too scared to turn the light out at night as they read a scary part or someone crying over a character I have conceived. I worked as a librarian for close to 15 years, then switched to working in children’s publishing so have always been surrounded by books and people who love them. I find a real escape in writing and it comes quite easily to me – well the ideas and the first draft, editing is more of a chore! I was first published at 13 (it was a ghost story!) and have managed to get a steady stream of bits and bats published ever since. I still get a huge thrill at finding out that I am shortlisted in a competition or have been selected for publication by an editor. It is a great sense of validation that the words I am churning out are of interest to someone other than myself and my nana!
DP: We really enjoyed your stories! What was your first introduction to the horror genre?
YL: I think that credit has to go to my grandparents. They loved speaking about ghosts and had a bookshelf of local hauntings and ghost sightings throughout the country and specifically in Yorkshire. I found it fascinating that so many people believed in this and there was so much science still can’t explain, so I suppose it was non-fiction that first got me into it. Growing up I loved the ‘Goosebumps’ series and then the ‘Point Horror’ series which I got hooked on. As an adult I went off it a little as I don’t like violent, realistic horror – murder, abduction, women trapped in basements. It was not for me and I personally cannot fathom the enjoyment of sitting through a film such as Saw. My partner still laughs that he has to check the certificates on films, if they are an 18 he has to check the reason – and if it’s torture – I won’t watch it! Then I just got pickier. If it is horror with a paranormal or fantasy element, I really enjoy it. Subtle hauntings or characters trying to explain the unexplained really kept me reading. I was writing a thriller that had nothing to do with horror when my local library ran a ghost-writing course and I thought, why not? The first story I ever had published was a ghost story that was published in Blush magazine, but I hadn’t written many ghost stories lately and felt I should brush up on them. I bought the book of the writer running the course, Badlands by Alyson Faye and she told me about Demain Publishing so I owe a lot to her and that course!
DP: Oh great! Yes, DEMAIN have published a couple of books my Alyson already – she’s been a great friend…so, your Short Sharp Shocks!?
YL: I had been reading a lot of classic Victorian ghost stories and noticed how many of them featured dolls and doll houses. It really piqued my interest to create one myself, where you are not sure if the doll’s house if the saviour or the villain, and what to do if a toy seems to be either causing or fixing problems. It really intrigued me and I had great fun writing it. For my second story I tried to think very basically about what was scary – to me it was being trapped with something dangerous, or even something unknown. There is no escape from a holding cell, and if it is shared then you could be at risk even in a normal situation, with the outside world typically being unsympathetic if you have found yourself locked in one. I wanted to play around with someone who not only wasn’t a criminal locked in a cell, but was a victim – trapped in there with something supernatural and totally unpredictable.
DP: Ha, it was definitely unpredictable…what books / authors do you read?
YL: I adore Michael Connelly; I think he is an absolute genius. I always say Lee Child is a bit of a one trick pony, but it is a damn fantastic trick and I am a huge fan. The fact that Conan-Doyle is still so famous and well-read even today shows how wonderful his work was, it is still being used to inspire film and TV series as well as spin off series such as Andrew Lane’s Young Sherlock. There have been odd books that I have chosen due to recommendations or just picked them up from the library shelf that have really stuck with me, some well-known ones such as The Woman In The Window and lesser known ones such as Defending Jacob. I love it when a book surprises me and that is what I aim to do with my readers – surprise them but not by withholding anything vital so they feel they have been conned. To have some light reading you would struggle to beat Jill Mansell and Milly Johnson – always hilarious, always great characters and carefully woven plots. Great authors. I tend to write a slightly different genre though, darker, less police procedural. I take my inspiration for these from non-fiction books and TV programmes related to the paranormal.
DP: And what does horror mean to Yvonne Lang?
YL: Something that has you on the edge of your seat, that preys on your suspension of disbelief to make you uneasy even whilst tucked up in your own bed. Something scary, whether paranormal, fantasy or just showing the terror of real life, something that people read for the fun of the fear factor.
DP: Great definition and totally agree. Is there a new horror writer (or director) that interests you?
YL: Sorry to be non-specific but all of the new authors deserve to be read. If they are good enough to be published there will be something about the story worth reading, even if the it does not grip you throughout or part disappoints, the characters could be sympathetic, a great twist ending, wonderfully descriptive language. I read the blurb of a book and if it appeals, I try it, I often do not even know the names of some of the authors I have read. The joys of working in a library, always surrounded by so many fantastic books.
DP: I’m envious! So, there have been numerous reports of late that the horror genre is dead, would you agree?
YL: Definitely not, horror has a huge online following. Films and books of the genre are successful and there are so many online communities and physical publications dedicated to the genre it would be impossible to argue it is not still popular and enjoyed by a large audience. Halloween seems to be getting more widely celebrated each year also, with horror themed things being appreciated more than usual.
DP: Yes, that’s so true about Halloween – weird to me but hey ho, horses for courses so to speak and I suppose right now we all need something to celebrate…what are you afraid of and have you ever written about your fears?
YL: Mostly all things medical, it is an ordeal for everyone within a 5 mile radius if I need an injection especially. I feel very sorry for any member of the medical profession who has to deal with me, I turn into the most uncooperative and quite frankly crazy person they will have had to deal with that week, if not their careers. It is a total personality switch where I sort of become detached from reality. I have had all sorts of panic attacks and even blackouts, I cannot even watch medical programmes that people watch for pleasure so it would be a rubbish story from me as I could provide no details to make it remotely believable. I think even writing it would probably cause my mind to turn to mush and it would most likely turn into incoherent ramblings instead of a well-crafted and enjoyable piece of fiction!
DP: I know what you mean about injections – not my cup of tea at all. 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?
YL: I have written two novels and my first is currently with a publisher – if it gets published then that will be a major creative goal achieved. Then I can set a new goal of having a best seller or reaching number one in a particular chart.
DP: That’s amazing to hear so writing for you is a long or short term career?
YL: I would love it to be long term, that is the dream. At the moment I have a term time only job so it does give me a reasonable amount of time to write whilst also giving me a reliable steady income, which freelance work cannot guarantee. The balance is OK but I would love to be a full-time writer in the future.
DP: Well, I’m sure you’ll get there! The lockdown then…how did you handle the first one and are you ready for #2?
YL: I went through stages, almost like grief. At first I was terrified, then saw it as an opportunity to make the most of uninterrupted time to write, then I got unbelievably sad (my partner and I do not live together so were separated for months), then bored, then angry. It was quite an emotional journey. It has certainly dragged on and I think it is fair to say as a country we are fed up that we still have to live like this. It would be a lot more bearable if we had an end date, but of course no-one knows. With libraries shut and my job in limbo I could not afford to keep myself in books, I had borrowed a large stack just before lockdown hit but they didn’t last long. I got really into jigsaws (my mum is a fanatic so I had a huge stash I could borrow and work my way through) and found them really relaxing. They needed some concentration but not too much when my brain was a bit foggy with anxiety. They provided a nice distraction and a break from screens – everything was being done online, via zoom or watching TV and I kept getting such eye strain I really worried. I live very near the canal and usually walk along it weekly; I began to do this daily and it really helped me to be out of the house, near nature and getting some exercise. I also planned, plotted, wrote and redrafted and entire novel from scratch. My debut novel is currently with a local publisher with them reading the manuscript and my initial plan was to get feedback on that before starting a second one, but there will never be a time when I have this much time again so I knuckled down and wrote a ghost story in the style of Susan Hill that I am very proud of. I’m just trying to decide what to do with it next, it is nice to have something to show for my time in lockdown though. I prefer to write by hand as I can write as fast as I can think but can’t type accurately as fast as the words come to me. Typing it up is also a way of redrafting and editing as I go, so I tended to start the morning with a walk, do some writing/typing, watch a bit of TV, then jigsaw until stupid o’clock in the morning. I swear chunks of time just went missing whilst I was jigsawing! It got to be my normal routine freakishly quickly. It was my new normal, and if the book is as good as I think then at least I can say I achieved something with this terrible time.
Well done you! Great speaking to you Yvonne, the best of luck with your Short Sharp Shocks!