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:
DEMAIN welcomes author E.C. Hanson and his dark novella (and slasher inspired) Wicked Blood. The book (with a cover by Adrian Baldwin) will be published at the end of March but is currently available for pre-sales. Prior to publication, Dean sat down with E.C. Hanson and talked all things wicked…
February 25th sees the publication of Paul Woodward’s novel Odyssey Of The Black Turtle (cover by Adrian Baldwin). Paul has been previously published by DEMAIN with his poetry collection From Long Ago. Towards the end of 2021, Dean and Paul sat down and talked about it…
DEMAIN PUBLISHING: Hello Paul, welcome back to DEMAIN. We’re really happy to publish your new novel, so a general question first: what was your first introduction o the weird fiction genre?
PAUL WOODWARD: Hello. If we are going to describe weird fiction as odd, unexplained, otherworldly, and I’d like to say a bit mysterious it would have to be Enid Blyton. As a pre-teenager I read the Adventures of the Wishing-Chair, and The Faraway Tree Adventures. At school you got badges for reading achievements and after so many badges you could pick a book from the headmistress’s office. Everybody else went for the Famous Five and whatnot, but they were the ones I got. I still remember them as mind blowing.
DP: Have to agree especially with The Magic Faraway Tree. I’ve always wanted to make a film set in that universe – I believe (though could be wrong now) that Russell Brand bought the rights so heyho but yeah, loved those books. Odyssey Of The Black Turtle then…
PW: Yes, it is a re-imaging of Homer’s epic in a futuristic setting. Some of the episodes are recognisable, and some are new, but the driving momentum is that of a journey, and a return. As a deliberate response to the patriarchy in the classical tale the main characters are mostly women. And automata once driven by the gods are now godlike in themselves.
DP: I loved the premise (and love Homer obviously) – did you have to do a lot of research?
PW: Quite a bit of research was involved. Not least renewing my understanding of Homer. And remaining careful to keep my story loosely associated with it. There was no intention to make a blow for blow re-interpretation. Also I spent some time researching life in the first century Palestine for the biblical episode. And for subsequent novels I have spent time researching Black Holes and Event Horizons, Pilgrims on the Mayflower. Research is conducted on both internet and printed books and magazines.
DP: Looking forward to reading them then. What books / authors do you read and do they have an influence on you as a creator?
PW: I have a wide reading field. Most books I read influence me in some way or another, often in obvious ways like how to write, and also how not to write. I generally have half a dozen or so books on the go which I read in turns.
AI Narratives, a History of Imaginative Thinking about Intelligent Machines (this is for research and quite fascinating anyway, very historical and not just literary)
Ravenna, Capital of empire, Crucible of Europe (this is filling in a gap of my knowledge of the later Roman Empire)
The Lure of the Beach, a global history (what it says on the tin, a history of beach holidays since the year dot and I expect will give background flavour to my writing)
Written in Bone, hidden stories in what we leave behind (Forensic anthropology and includes graphic details of murder in a non-sensationalist way)
The Age of Islands, in search of new and disappearing Islands
Drawing Down The Moon, Magic in the Ancient Greco-Roman World. (This is taking a long time to read but it is very thorough)
Next I have a cultural history of the representations of mermaids to read which is research for the 4th novel and doesn’t have a title yet.
There is no fiction in the list at the moment but I have recently read the new Alan Garner, the new Jeff Vandermeer, and The Mermaid of Black Conch. All of which were very good.
DP: Some great titles there, will definitely check some of them out and from what I’ve seen the new Alan Garner novel is picking up some great reviews. I love that Odyssey Of The Black Turtle can be classified as ‘weird fiction’. What does that term mean to you?
PW: I could delve into the dictionary and contemplate how accurate the definition of weird is. Dictionaries give a variety of meanings, odd, supernatural, strange, all of those sort of words. But when I think of weird fiction and start naming names I get Alan Garner (I think this may be because I’ve recently read his new book and has made me think of his previous books too). But I also come up with Samuel Becket. The Malone Trilogy, and the plays Waiting for Godot, Endgame, Happy Days. You have people sitting in dustbins, or buried to their neck in sand, for the duration. How odd can you get? Perhaps Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland? And then I think Robert Holdstock, the Mythago Wood sequence. And Franz Kafka. Man turns into a fly. How do you get your head round that one, especially if you now find you have compound eyes? Thomas Mann, Dr Faustus. An old fashioned pact with the devil. The old ones are the best as they say. The Magical Realism of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and other South American luminaries. If I sit here long enough I’m sure I could list more and more. And it can become something of a loop activity. Because when you look at it weird fiction per se is crossed over from other genres. Or no genre at all, as such. Are there unifying tropes in ‘weird’ fiction? I don’t think so anyway.
DP: I think you’re right and I personally feel that sometimes writing weird fiction is looked down upon. I’ve attended a couple of ‘weird fiction’ panels at conventions and have found they’ve not been well attended and that those who have attended are only doing so to ‘have a go’ at the panel – very weird. Anyway, is there is a ‘weird’ film you’re looking forward to seeing?
PW: I want to re-watch Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo. I’m not sure if anyone else would think it weird, but from memory the episode of carrying a huge paddle steamer overland through the jungle I found impressively odd.
DP: It definitely is that! And with the great (acting wise anyway) Klaus Kinski. There have been numerous reports that the weird fiction genre is dead, would you agree?
PW: If it was dead, it wouldn’t be for long. There is always the propensity for something strange. Especially when you least expect it. (I can just hear the theme tune from The X-Files ear worming me). What I am saying is, if anything can come back from the dead, it’ll be in weird fiction.
DP: True, true. Creatively is there anything you’d like to do that you haven’t done yet? If so – what is it?
PW: Is there anything I’d like to do that I haven’t done yet? Well I’ve already written the best poems I’m ever going to write and they’ve been collected in From Long Ago. When I’m writing I’ve always got one eye ahead to the next thing I’m going to write, or the next one after that. So in that sense something I haven’t done yet is what you would call a moveable feast. There’s always something I haven’t done yet. I have always got ideas chuntering around even if I haven’t written an outline down.
DP: Is writing for you a long term or short term career?
PW: Writing for me is definitely long term. I started with writing poems and had some success as a stand-up performance poet, reading to audiences both large and small, but now concentrate on novels. I have been a writer for longer than I can remember and have every intention of continuing.
DP: Finally Paul, is there something your readers might be surprised to find out about you?
PW: They might be surprised to discover that I enjoy sucking dark chocolate, even peppermint chocolate.
And on that note – thank you very much Paul, best of luck with Odyssey Of The Black Turtle.
In August 2021, Dean worked on a short film called “Musketeer”. The lead actor was Kevin R. McNally (Pirates Of The Caribbean, Valkyrie, Supernatural, Downtown Abbey, Designated Survivor, Doctor Who and many many others). During the shoot Dean and Kevin got chatting; Kevin mentioned he’d written a book and was looking for a publisher, Dean (loving the kismet of the situation and thinking that Kevin was a top bloke and somebody he’d really love to work with again) said he’d take a look and the rest, as they are going to say, is history. DEMAIN is therefore very very honoured to announce that the end of January 2022 will see publication of Kevin R. McNally’s science-fiction novel, Sons Of Sol. The cover is by Adrian Baldwin. The book will be available initially on Amazon but Kevin will also have copies available at the various conventions etc that he attends around the world (and more on that in due course). At the end of 2021, Dean and Kevin sat down for a quick chat about Sons of Sol and generally about Kevin and his writing…
DEMAIN PUBLISHING: Hello Kevin! Great to speak to you again. Happy Christmas and Happy New Year. Let’s get down to it then. What was your first introduction to the sci-fi genre?
KEVIN R. MCNALLY: Hello Dean. I guess it was watching ‘50’s sci-fi films on TV when I was a boy, films by George Pal and the like. I also discovered the books of Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov at that time.
DP: I’ve personally always had a fondness for sci-fi though I haven’t written much in the genre (that may change in 2022) but I really loved Clarke’s short stories and novels. I haven’t read Asimov too much but want to put that right. From what I know, I can definitely see some links/nods to both authors in Sons Of Sol which to me is a bleedin’ good thing. In writing Sons Of Sol, did you have to do much research?
KRM: I researched all the science because I wanted it to be accurate even if a little far fetched.
DP: Personally I think the science and the theories behind the science works, so well done. Okay, so perhaps an elephant in the room – you’re well known as an actor, that’s your day job (so to speak), why did you write a novel?
KRM: I had wanted to write a sci-fi book for many years but it was only when I realised that it should be comic in a style that the idea really came together.
DP: Yeah, for me, I really like that blend. As I’ve said to you previously I can seriously see this as a film and (sorry I tend to do this, so forgive me) I found it very ‘in feeling’ with Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element (1997). That’s a good thing by the way haha. Yes the plots are different but if I saw in the trades that Luc was going to make Sons Of Sol into a film I’d be jumping for joy and first in the queue (well maybe not first as I’m sure you’d be there before me, but you get my drift hopefully – okay, I’ll stop). The characters then in Sons Of Sol are they based on real people?
KRM: The two leads are roughly based on two of my favourite comic characters. One from literature and
the other a famous performer but I’ll leave you to work that out.
DP: In the time I’ve known you (and from what I’d seen previously) you’re a very in demand actor and always flying here there and everywhere. How did you find time to write Sons Of Sol and with that in mind, what was your writing process like?
KRM: I was in LA when I started it and not very busy. I would get up, drink coffee and write for five hours a day. Guess I had my first draft in about a month but then the honing took much longer.
DP: That’s pretty damn cool and well done. I am yet to write a full blown novel but am going to put some time aside this year to remedy that so am always on the look out for other authors’ routines. Okay, so you mentioned Clarke / Asimov – who do you think are the best sci-fi writers?
KRM: When I started to think about this I decided to real as much great sci-fi as I could as I could and I found the Gollancz series SF Masterworks and read nearly all of them.
DP: Oh that’s a great series isn’t it – so many amazing writers (and books) there to choose from. It’s just popped into my mind but my dad was a massive fan of the western writer, Louis L’Amour. I remember once looking through his vast collection one time I was visiting and my eyes were drawn to a spine which said: The Haunted Mesa. Westerns didn’t really do it for me but I decided to give it a go to find that it was a sci-fi novel! Quite a good one too. Do you have a favourite ‘under-appreciated’ sci-fi novel?
KRM: Yes, I love Flowers for Algernon [by Daniel Keyes].
DP: I hadn’t heard of that […does internet check…] – oh that looks brilliant, will check it out asap. As we know, sci-fi is a broad church, but what does ‘sci-fi’ mean to you?
KRM: The best sci-fi is often an allegory for the world we live in now. The Number One sci-fi book on many lists is The Forever War by Joe Haldeman. The idea of soldiers travelling across the galaxy to fight an alien war and returning home to a future world they don't recognise due to time dilation becomes very poignant when you discover that Haldeman was a Vietnam veteran.
DP: Definitely, definitely. Science fiction has a long history. Which era do you consider the most effective period in whole history of the genre?
KRM: I’m old fashioned. It’s the Golden Era from the late forties to the sixties for me.
DP: Agreed! Okay, so for somebody who has worked in sci-fi on tv (thought you were very good in the recent Dr Who by the way) and now in written form – is it more popular on tv than in books etc?
KRM: I think it’s equally popular in both media.
DP: As I said before, I think Sons Of Sol would make a cracking film, if it was going to be made, who would you want in it?
KRM: Darn, I should have written more old blokes into it!
DP: I like the way Sons Of Sol finishes, hinting perhaps there could be others…
KRM: Sure, if people like it and it finds a market there are two sequels planned.
DP: Because of being and your standing as an actor, did you ever consider writing Sons Of Sol under a pseudonym?
KRM: I actually did for TV as I thought I would be taken more seriously but for novels I’d like people to know its me.
DP: And I’m glad you did. So last one Kevin, do you interact a lot with your fans? Any funny stories to tell?
KRM: I like to interact with my fans. I attend a lot of conventions and enjoy them very much. Even when, as once happened, they thought my assistant was the celebrity and asked me how much she was charging for an autograph!
Haha love that.
Kevin, thanks a million for your time. Really enjoyed our chat, a great way to end 2021 and begin 2022. I wish you all the best with Sons Of Sol.
Kevin R. McNally can be contacted direct:
It is an absolute pleasure to welcome author (and genuinely nice guy) Terry Grimwood back to DEMAIN with his novel AXE. The book is published 17th December (initially as an ebook and the paperback/hardback coming early 2022) with a cover by Adrian Baldwin. Prior to publication Dean and Terry sat down and talked about it –grab yourself a cup of your favourite beverage folks, it’s a good one !
DEMAIN PUBLISHING: Hey Terry, welcome back, loved your previous DEMAIN title, JOE, which had some amazing reviews (well done !). Let’s start at the beginning [always a great place to start], tell us a little about yourself and why you became a writer.
TERRY GRIMWOOD: Hi Dean, happy to be here. I’m a Suffolk boy, and proud of it, although, nowadays, my wife Debra and I split our time between Hertfordshire and a lakeside lodge where we plan to retire. I’m an electrician by trade and spent a lot of my earlier working life on building sites – like Steve Turner in my novel AXE. As to why I became a writer, I suppose some of it has to do with spending a childhood way out in the sticks, often with only my imagination for company. The games I played as a kid, often had complex stories to them, inspired by the war films and TV science fiction I loved. At some stage I sat down and wrote stories of my own, mainly to entertain myself with the kinds of tales I liked to watch or read. I think I had some instinct for how stories should be structured and that the characters were important. I remember watching the first ever episode of Thunderbirds back in the 1960s and thinking, even as a child, that exciting as it was, the story was flat because of the lack of interplay between characters (not that I would have understood it in those terms).
DP: So you’d say your background had some influence on you as a writer?
TG: My own experience of working life has certainly influenced my characters. I must admit to being tired of dramas about successful architects and doctors, or, at the very least, someone who works in an office. I have noticed that any office that features in my stories tends to be a dreary place full of dissatisfied people. Skilled tradespeople are just as interesting and complex as those who wear suits to work!
Religion, as in Western evangelical Christianity, was a big part of my late youth and early twenties. Although I can no longer call myself a devout believer, I have never lost my belief in God. It has an enormous influence on my writing. From the agony suffered by anyone who was gay within a church in the 1980s (JOE), to the questioning of the nature of good, evil, God and the Devil, in the novellas such as Soul Masque and Skin For Skin, it forms the weft and weave of my novels, short stories and plays and probably always will.
Star Trek. I watched the first ever episode to be broadcast on the BBC back in 1969 and it was love at first sight. It was also my introduction to real science fiction as opposed to the pale imitation that had graced both the big and small screen up until then. Okay there were some good films out there, but they were few and far between. Rodenberry’s masterpiece made me write. Simple as that.
Books are, of course, a huge source of inspiration. I started with westerns and war comics. Then I was introduced to science fiction and I never looked back. I began reading when I was about 12 or 13 and have seldom been without a book on the go ever since. The first science fiction novel I read was Slan by A E van Vogt. I’ve never re-read it because I want it to stay as it is in my memory. Most of the authors I read when I was young were golden age writers such as Heinlein, Asimov, Simak and so forth (all still alive and working at that time), as well as the next wave; Silverberg, Sheckley, Shaw etc.
I’m sure a psychologist could find a thousand other influences but they are the ones that spring to mind.
DP: That’s brilliant. I’ve recently written a tv pilot script with an actor based on his life and he cites the original Star Trek has a major influence on who he is today. I’m more of a Next Gen fan but I definitely get your point. When I was a kid growing up I used to love the old Commando comic-books, I’d love to write one of those…anyway…what would have been your first introduction to the horror genre?
TG: I was always aware that there were certain scary films and tv programmes out there that I wasn’t allowed to watch as a child – understandable as I was of a nervous disposition! However, my first real encounter with the genre were the Pan Books of Horror edited by the wonderfully named Herbert van Thal. Lots of kids carried them about in their blazer pockets when I was at school, hidden because they were not approved reading for our tender young minds. I can’t say I was drawn into horror by those books, gruesome fun that they were, but it added another edge to my weird fiction tastes.
As an older and braver teenager, I loved sitting up late on Friday nights to watch a Hammer or Vincent Price film. But still, I wasn’t tempted. The Exorcist, which I managed to sneak in and see on its release, aged 17, and which unnerved me deeply, made me see that horror could be intelligent, modern and relevant, but still I wasn’t in love. Then along came Stephen King. I bought The Stand purely on the basis of its cover and sheer size. I hadn’t heard of King and knew nothing about his writing. Halfway through that book (the summer of 1982 it was), I knew what I wanted to write.
DP: When I was at school I remember everybody reading James Herbert’s books because they always appeared a little bit naughty haha – The Fog in particular. Teenagers hey?! So: AXE – really loved this. Can you tell us a little bit about it and did you find it hard to write?
TG: AXE took over twenty years to write! It was born on a late-night car journey during a difficult time in my life. A question popped into my mind, the sort of random nonsense the male brain likes to wrestle with. What if there was a guitar that drank souls like the sword Stormbringer in Michael Moorcock’s Elric of Melnibone books? I started the first draft one rainy afternoon in 1987, while working as a maintenance electrician. I was between tasks with time on my hands, so I grabbed my notebook and a pen and away I went.
That draft was too awful for words. I simply did not know how to put the story together and was trying too hard to write like my new horror idol. I gave up, had a second attempt which was marginally better, then put it aside believing that it was a no-go. But it would not go away. Over the years I made a number of attempts to write the thing, picked it up, and put it down, until, suddenly, there it was in my head.
I’m very fond of AXE. It was the first novel I completed, and I grew to love Steve and Lydia and the rest of its cast, even the bad guys! Not Lydia’s husband though. I never liked him. Many of the settings are real. Orwell Street, the location of the Jack’s Axe, was home to a lot of fascinating, downbeat shops I liked to explore when I was young. Joe-Jack, the proprietor, is based on a character I met during the 1975 Reading Rock Festival. Lydia’s flat is where some friends of mine once lived. The pub in which Lydia first encounters Steve is pretty much as described. And, finally, Steve’s bedsitter is the one I lived in back in 1981 to 1982 (rent £7.50/week!). There is a lot of me in Steve Turner, his trade for a start, his love of rock music and, of course, his determination, nay obsession, with his art. It’s a need not a hobby. It’s a desire to do something outside the mundane and ordinary.
DP: I could tell that a lot of time/effort/thought had gone into AXE – so well done. It’s a great achievement and I’m always a little jealous of those who write novels (I’ve been sketching one out for years but have never found the time to actually finish it and get it out there – perhaps in 2022). Did you find the writing of AXE research heavy?
TG: I can play the harmonica but can only strum a few open and barre chords on a guitar, so I had many conversations with my cousin Ivan Emeny, who is a guitar genius, teacher and performer and a storehouse of technical knowledge. Other than that, I didn’t have to do much in the way of research for this novel.
However, I have written a number of stories and a couple of, as yet, unpublished, novels set in the past, that did involve research. I mostly use books for this and often end up enjoying whatever I read on the subject. I have learned a lot about POW camps, the Blitz, unmarried mothers in the 1950s, stretcher bearers, castrati, the General Strike, pacifists and much, much more! Sometimes researching one thing turns up something else. For example, I discovered the catastrophic 1917 Silvertown TNT processing plant explosion in London, while reading up on women working in armament factories during the First World War. That event ended up in the novel I was researching.
For Deadside Revolution and my short story Albert and the Engine of Albion, I walked the routes through London taken by characters in the stories. That was great fun!
DP: I bet it was. The last few years (outside of the pandemic anyway) a lot of my stories are based in Paris and like you, I’ve had a lot of fun writing about the streets I’ve walked and the pubs I’ve drunk in…ah, happy days. What would you say is your biggest success to date?
TG: Depends what is meant by success. I’ve won no awards, so can’t use that as a criterion. Financial and sales success has to be the text books I co-authored for Pearson Educational. I’m proud of those books. They were a departure for me and a different style and way of writing. All writers should branch out of their comfort zones and try something completely different.
Critical success? My novel Bloody War is highly regarded and the novella JOE has garnered a lot of praise. Another novella, Skin For Skin has, I believe, gone down well. A post First World War drama called The Bayonet, which was the first full-length play I wrote and then directed for the amateur stage, was also a success in terms of audience numbers, review and audience reaction. That was in 1994. I’ve never been able to get that play back on stage since, despite interest from various quarters. One day those characters will take flesh and live again.
I did once get a story in People’s Friend, which has a wide readership, so maybe that could be seen as a success as well. I’d love to stick that story in the middle of a collection; horror, sf and then, suddenly, a love story!
DP: That’s brilliant! And love the idea of your The Bayonet – perhaps we should talk about shooting it as a movie – could be fun. So, books/authors – who are your favourites and do they also have an influence on you/your writing?
TG: As I’ve already mentioned, Stephen King is the big one, and there are times when I think to myself, how would he handle that scene? Clive Barker has given me permission to create some grotesque monsters and bizarre creatures. Carole Johnstone is a recent influence. I admire her work greatly. I’m writing more science fiction of late and I think Robert Silverberg and Philip K Dick are an influence in the type of sf stories I produce.
DP: Some great names there. Horror as we know is a very broad church, what does horror mean to Terry Grimwood?
TG: It gave me my first serious publication, a short story called John in a long-ago issue of Peeping Tom magazine. More significantly, it provided a way for me to make sense of the dark things that were happening in my life at the end of the 1990s and beginning of the 2000s. It was Des Lewis in one of his real time reviews of my first collection of short stories (The Exaggerated Man) who noticed themes of being trapped and fighting to break free. I created physical, killable monsters out of the emotional monsters that had closed in on my family. When my first wife died suddenly, I wrote two stories that helped me come to terms with the reality and meaning of death. They were Coffin Road which is about an old man and his grandson fighting to claim a burial place for their daughter/mother during a cataclysmic bird flu pandemic, and What Death Is For, set on a Bradbury-esque Mars which is the location of the afterlife.
DP: [I loved The Exaggerated Man by the way!] What do you think readers look for in the horror genre?
TG: It varies. There are those who like the tried-and-trusted, blood-and-guts format, which has splatterpunk at its extreme end, while others prefer subtle menace, the glimpsed and the featherlight touch (my preference). Many people like both of course. Above all, I think it has to be rooted in the everyday. It has to be a shadow cast over a landscape the reader recognises and, perhaps, inhabits, peopled by those they know and love, or despise. As in all fiction, of course, character is everything.
Horror stories have been around as long as stories have been told. Look at the ancient myths, they are full of supernatural beings and monsters. Even the Bible has its share of horrific tales; Debora, who nailed an enemy general’s head to the ground, Jonah, swallowed alive, massacres and genocides. A lot of it probably comes from fear of the night. Early human communities huddled in a cave, peering fearfully into the darkness where unseen predators waited for the unwary to step outside. These stories became fables then myths and fairy tales (which are pretty gruesome in their original form) and were one way to explain what was out there and how the world worked.
DP: You’re so right! So in a round-about-way [I’m thinking here now of the Book of Revelations/Four Horseman haha] , would you say the genre is affected by world events (not just the pandemic) and do you ever put such events in your work?
TG: I think that all fiction is coloured by what is going on in the world at the time it is written. You only have to look at television and film to see that. Hollywood can be pretty heavy-handed about it as well. In the 1950s, scientists were the bad guys, meddling with nature with horrific results. Then in the 1960s and 70s it was the military who were the root of all evil and often depicted quite cynically on-screen (Dr Strangelove and MASH for example). Since the 1980s that same military have become almost sacred and no one dares to say a bad word about them.
The dystopian future is a well-worn trope used by both horror and science fiction authors to ponder on the consequences of certain political or social trends in the contemporary world. Oddly this hasn’t changed that much. The root of dystopian stories is still control exerted over the masses by some authoritarian organisation. It has evolved and developed over the decades but at heart, it is the same thing.
The apocalypse, however, has changed. Back in that quaint, old-time twentieth century, post-apocalyptic invariably meant post-nuclear holocaust, because that was the predominant threat to the world at the time. Now it is zombies (yaaaaawn*) or an environmental or bio-chemical disaster that overwhelms over us. The pandemic has always been lurking in the background but I’m sure it will be far more prevalent in many of the post-apocalypse stories currently in progress. As for whether I put world events in my work? They can colour it, but I don’t think it’s ever overt.
* Sorry about the yawn, zombie fans. It’s not my favourite trope, although my novel Deadside Revolution is a flipped-on-its head zombie story, so I’m being a hypocrite!
DP: I’m interested then on your thoughts that apparently the horror genre is dead, would you agree?
TG: No. But it is changing. Some of the films I mentioned in my previous answer give an idea of where I think it is going. There are more intelligent horror films out there. We’ve had Sommerland, The Babadook, The Witch and Let The Right One In for example and hopefully they are the template for the oncoming wave of horror films and tv series. It was extremely imaginative in style and story as well. I enjoyed the Netflix series The Haunting and Brand New Cherry Flavour as well as a recent film adaptation of Sheridan le Fanu’s Carmilla. I loved Midnight Mass to bits. But, please God, no more groups of obnoxious twenty somethings on a road trip, getting picked off one-by-one! And no more zombies or handsome, angst-ridden vampires, I’m begging you.
There are some excellent, intelligent horror novels and short stories in print as well at the moment. The current crop of writers is superb. Forget literary authors who dabble in the genre and are suddenly interviewed by the BBC as experts. Their horror is seldom that interesting. Hunt out today’s real horror authors and you will be amazed at how good their work is (I refrain from naming names because I will inevitably leave out a hundred excellent authors and that would be unfair).
In the end, public taste is cyclical, so I have no fears for horror (pardon the pun).
DP: You’re pardoned. I loved quite a lot of Midnight Mass (I’m a massive Henry Thomas fan) and I thought that the mix of religion of horror was very well done but on reflection I was a little disappointed [that might be too strong a word] that it was ‘vampires again’ – maybe I’m being a bit over critical as I did like it and importantly I’m happy it got made. Oh well. What scares Terry Grimwood
TG: Large spiders and premature burial. Atoner was my arachnophobia story and Coffin Dream my premature internment nightmare. Sadly, writing about them hasn’t cured me of either! The latter problem has grown worse lately. Probably just a phase. I’ll grow out of it. On the other hand, living by a lake has helped with the eight-legged problem. In summer the place is home to a Woolworth’s pick-n-mix of arachnids, and their webs are everywhere. I’ve got used to their presence and even managed to pick up some moderate-sized beasties, so maybe I’m getting aversion therapy for free by living there.
The burial issue is an odd one. I’m having trouble accepting that death means that I no longer reside in my body and I fear that I will be aware when they nail me into a box and lower me into the ground. Bizarre, I know, but our fears are rooted in something. I haven’t yet figured that one out.
DP: Interesting. I kinda don’t like spiders but I’m not too bad with them now (though the big ones better stay out of my way) but the premature burial phobia is very intriguing. I saw some photos of a very ornate Catholic mausoleum in Italy recently and I thought that would be a great place to be buried and I’d make sure it had a lock on the inside (and the key obviously) in case I did ‘wake up’. As I’m sure you know, in the ‘olden days’ they used to put bells in the coffins with the deceased…perhaps we should start doing that again. Okay, moving on – creatively is there something you’d like to do that you haven’t quite managed (yet, obviously!)?
TG: Write a screenplay about the R101 airship. It’s an epic tale of government incompetence, hubris, and the doomed maiden voyage of a giant airship (which was only 50 feet shorter than the Titanic!) in October 1930. There are characters aplenty including, Christopher Thompson, the dashing Minister for Air (do we have a Minister for Air these days?), who was a real Boy’s Own hero during the First World War. It would be called To Ride The Storm, the title of one of two definitive accounts of the tragedy. The trouble is, I simply don’t know where to start. I have ideas, an opening scene and some sort of structure, but I lack the confidence to put pen to paper. Anyone out there who can help?
DP: I was going to make a joke about lots of Ministers being full of hot air in this government but you never know who’s reading haha. That sounds a really cool idea and perhaps we should talk…do you interact a lot with your readers and/or writers who have influenced you? Any funny stories?
TG: Social media has made it easy to interact with fellow writers and readers. This is a great thing. My first interaction with other writers in the genre was when Des Lewis set up a monthly meet-up in a pub in Colchester back in the late 1990s. I’d never met him before although I’d read his work in Peeping Tom. Finding other writers was a wonderful experience because no one I knew up until then were authors and didn’t really get it. From there it was conventions and meet-ups in London which I love. So yes, there is a lot of dialogue out there and it is important because writing is a lonely business and we all need encouragement and reassurance.
Funny stories? Well, a few years ago I put my name down for a reading one Saturday at a British Fantasy Society Convention (FantasyCon). Only three or four people turned up, all but one of them was a friend of mine who were there to offer support. The other person sat through my reading and when I thanked him, said; “That’s okay, I had actually come in here to hear someone else read and got the time wrong”.
DP: Oh my Lord!!!!!! Hopefully he enjoyed it though (I’m sure he did). Okay Terry, last one – what is something your readers might be surprised to find out about you?
TG: I was given a lift home from a dinner party by ex-Dr Who assistant and Blue Peter presenter, Peter Purves and his good lady wife one Saturday night in 2005. I couldn’t drive myself because I was over the limit so he kindly offered to do the honours. I’m sure he tells everyone he once drove Terry Grimwood home.
DP: Terry you made my spill my tea – that’s a great little story. Thank you.
And thank you for your time Terry, I really enjoyed that. The best of luck with AXE!
Here’s a list of where to find Terry’s work:
And more about him can be found at:
https://exaggeratedpress.weebly.com/reviews.html (for his occasional reviews of independent press books)
Beats! Ballads! Blank Verse! Book 7 is Existential Jibber Jabber by Marc Shapiro. Marc has previously had published by DEMAIN a Short Sharp Shocks! Let Me Take You Down. It’s always a pleasure to work with Marc. His BBB! Is out on the 15th October (though currently available for pre-sales) and has a cover by Adrian Baldwin. Prior to publication Dean and Marc sat down and jabbered…
DEMAIN PUBLISHING: Great to see you again Marc, hope life is treating you okay at this still very odd time. So let’s get down to it. For those that don’t yet know you – do you come from a literary background?
MARC SHAPIRO: Hi Dean. No. No. Blue collar, working class all the way. My parents read the newspapers and paperback novels but nothing real high end.
DP: So did you read poetry as a child?
MS: I was into horror and science fiction growing up but I did cross paths with Edgar Allan Poe on occasion. College opened the poetry world up to me. I took a class in English literature and got into the classic poets. I also joined a creative writing group whose instructor was big on the beats so I got a crash course in Ginsberg, Kerouac, Burroughs and Ferlinghetti. Latter Bukowski came along and I was hooked.
DP: And what attracted you to poetry in particular?
MS: The freedom of it all. The spontaneity of it all. The notion of making your points and getting out. If there were rules when I began writing poetry it was that there didn’t seem to be a whole lot of rules and that appealed to me.
DP: I get that. Do you find writing poetry easy?
MS: Easy or difficult, it depends on the poem. I’ve written poems in five minutes and I’ve written poems that have taken days to get them where I wanted them. If its an idea that hits me emotionally then it can take a while. Two examples are from this collection Existential Jibber Jabber. ‘Dances With Dangerous Women’ is autobiographical in nature and took a bit of work. ‘Time/Lost’ is 90 percent autobiographical and 10 percent artistic license. In a creative sense I sweated bullets on both of them because they hit close to home.
DP: Two great poems there. With that last question in mind (and your answer obviously), does writing poetry energize or exhaust you?
MS: It’s usually both at certain points in the process. Poems are quick and to the point. There’s a lot of sweat equity that goes into getting it right. Mentally getting poetry where you want it is a lot of hard work. When it’s done to your satisfaction, it feels like a job well done.
DP: Definitely. When you write do you have to do much research?
MS: My poetry tends to be of the moment, of the now. If its something observational, research is a matter of jogging my memory. I don’t think I’ve ever had to consult a reference book when writing a poem.
DP: Nice – so how exactly do you begin writing a poem…
MS: The same way I do when I write fiction. A hook. You’ve got to snag a reader with line one so they will be interested enough to read the rest. The same goes at the conclusion of a poem. You don’t want to be overwrought to the point of burying your reader. Just make your point and get out. Words to live by.
DP: Makes sense. And how do your poems develop? Do you have a writing method? Do you show them to anyone as you draft?
MS: You’ve got to love the nuts and bolts questions. My poems develop quite organically. An idea, a thought, a line and we’re off to the races. The closest thing I have to an actual writing method is that I tend to write the first draft of a poem in longhand. Then I take a look, add lines, take away lines and trim it all to its bare essence. Nobody sees my work until I’m satisfied with it or until it’s been published. Acceptance trumps opinion every time. For the longest period the only people who have seen any of my final drafts are my wife and a used bookstore owner friend of mine. In both cases anything they have to say is valid. My advice to writers of any persuasion is to not show your work to family members or long standing friends. There’s too much pressure on them to be nice and to not tell you what they really think.
DP: Thanks. I’m quite interested in the ‘nuts and bolts’ of writing and what makes writers tick…okay, so, poetry – does it have a purpose do you think ?
MS: It has a purpose to those who write it, those who read it and finally those who get something out of it. That may sound a bit abstract but the reality is that poetry can mean anything to anybody and that’s part of the allure.
DP: Great answer! Let’s talk about your favourite poets.
MS: Poe, Ginsberg, Bukowski, Di Prima, Kerouac, Burroughs are my go to poets when I’m in need of a creative shot for what ales me. Two poets known more for their music than their words are Patti Smith and Tom Waits. Maya Angelou and Amanda Gorman are powerful entries to my list. I’m sure there are countless others but these are the ones that come to mind.
DP: Some great names there – as I’ve said elsewhere I’m a great admirer of Rimbaud who I know influenced Patti Smith and I totally love Tom Waits. You reading any poetry right now?
MS: As in reading any of my poetry in a performance setting? I’ve done exactly one reading in my lifetime. 15 minutes at a book signing in Los Angeles for an anthology called ‘Duffus’. I think I passed muster. Nobody threw anything. Would I do it again? Sure. Make me an offer I can’t refuse.
DP: We’ll see what we can come up with then. I’ve always wanted to go to Rimbaud’s home town – you ever gone on a poetry pilgrimage?
MS: Never. But there’s a first time for everything.
DP: There is! Are you a regular reader of poetry…I don’t read enough for sure…
MS: I read poetry regularly but there never seems to be enough time in the day for the good stuff.
DP: So true. Where you first get published?
MS: The East Los Angeles Community College Literary Magazine. You could get a copy for 5 cents back in the day. The poem was called Treasure Diver.
DP: Hahah love it! I guess from what you said earlier you love meeting your readers?
MS: Absolutely. I’m a whore when it comes to getting out there. Anytime. Anyplace. Will answer any questions. Feel free to contact my publisher and he will pass your messages along to me.
DP: What is your best experience as a writer…
MS: Four weeks on the New York Times Bestseller List. Four weeks on the Los Angeles Times Bestseller List. Having one of my short stories appear along side a Charles Bukowski story in the anthology Sleeping With Snakes. Hooking up with DEMAIN PUBLISHING and getting my first poetry collection out there.
DP: Thanks for the shout-out and well done. Couple more to go: do you think poetry can change the world?
MS: Poetry is like any other creative form. It can inspire, educate, entertain and encourage people to go out there and do better than you. Change yourself and the world will most certainly follow.
DP: True so can every poem mean something or can they just be enjoyed for the language and the word?
MS: All of that. I’ve read poems that made me want to get out there and storm the battlements. I’ve read poems that made me want to say “Hey cool.”
DP: And finally Marc…any advice to give aspiring poets?
MS: Write. Read. Send your stuff out to magazines. Repeat. Trying to make a living as a poet is a hard hustle. But if writing poetry is your passion and you’d do it for free if you had another way to pay the bills…then poetry is your life. Jump on in.
Great advice indeed!
Thanks so much for your time Marc and all the best with your Beats! Ballads! Blank Verse! entry – Existential Jibber Jabber
It’s that time of the year, Halloween, again. And we welcome back to DEMAIN, Martin Richmond. This time around he’s created a poetry collection called Halloween’s Best Cellar (available now for pre-sales; cover by Adrian Baldwin) which will be published on Friday 15th October. As the lockdown restrictions were lifted, Dean and Martin sat down and talked about it…
DEMAIN PUBLISHING: Hello Martin! Hope you’re just fine and dandy. Okay, a little departure from your last Short Sharp Shocks! Beasties…but for those that don’t know you (yet, anyway!) do you come from a literary background?
MARTIN RICHMOND: Hi! Great to be here. I have no literary background unless you count the couple of years I spent as restaurant critic for the Speakeasy magazine, a local council publication, and the time I spent as chairman of the ‘Falkirk Writers' Circle’.
DP: And what poets did you like as a child?
MR: My 'go to' poet as a child was always A.A. Milne, 'When we were very young' and 'Now we are Six' were always a comfort zone that I'd fall back on and read to my own children as well. Something I would recommend to all parents reading a bedtime story. The rhyming couplets stay in the memory.
DP: They do. I’ve not actually read much Milne so will put that right asap. How did you get started as a poet and why poetry?
MR: As a teenager I would create poetry fairly constantly, but always with a leaning towards the fantastic, horror or science fiction. Creating a collection that lead to most of my publications.
DP: I’ve said in other interviews I did go through a three or so year period where I wrote nothing but poetry. Interesting that I’d never been interested in it before or since. Very odd. Anyway, do you find writing poetry easy?
MR: With writing poetry I needed a theme or a specific subject matter to kick start the creative juices flowing. But once started, I have to finish it even if it leads to many, many re-writes until the tale is told.
DP: So it energises you?
MR: I feel quite energised with poetry and completing one is always greatly satisfying.
DP: Oh I bet. Perhaps I need to pick up the pen and find the muse again. Do you have to do much in the way of research?
MR: I do very little research writing poetry as I lean toward the fantastic and anything goes when it spills out so no research is ever needed.
DP: Makes sense. So how do you start a poem (asking for a friend obviously haha)?
MR: Kickstarting a new poem is probably the hardest part of the creation, knowing where to start can be a trial and error session until I get that hook to get it moving.
DP: And how do you develop it? Do you show your work (at any stage) to friends/family?
MR: Developing the poem once started can be very quick as I'm eager to get it down on paper before it escapes me. Scribbling on a notepad is far more creative than on a keyboard. The computer can wait. My daughter Aimi gets to see all my work and tells me what she thinks as she tends to live in the same literary world as I do and tells me honestly if it works - or not.
DP: That’s cool and I’m like you, there’s a lot I do on paper first and then when I think it’s ready I stick it on the computer. I do love it when I have something finished in ‘hard copy’ first as it feels that something has been accomplished and is ‘real’. Do you think poetry has a purpose by the way?
MR: Poetry can be very therapeutic. Some people tend to dismiss poetry as boring and don't consider the fact that most popular songs of any style are basically poetry set to music. That earworm you can't get rid of rattling incessantly round your head is a poem and it can get you through your day doing the most mundane of things with smile inside your head or on your lips.
DP: I like that. I definitely think there are some amazing poems out there. I tend to lean towards French poets myself (particularly Rimbaud) and it’s a shame if any poet/poem is immediately dismissed as boring…so who are your favourite poets?
MR: A.A. Milne is still a favourite poet, although the poems far outweigh the adventures of her little bear Pooh. I can guarantee at your lowest ebb, reading Milne's, 'Forgiven', or 'Waiting at the window' or 'The Four Friends' will put you into a far better place. But, a 'grown up' poem I always call to mind is 'Etiquette' by W S Gilbert of Gilbert and Sullivan, the opera writing duo. It tells of a time when social etiquette was always of prime importance, even when stranded on a desert island.
DP: Oh wow, I don’t think I know that poem, so will have a read. Do you read poetry regularly (I know I certainly don’t read enough!)?
MR: I refer back to poetry only occasionally, particularly if I need inspiration, probably because I can bring to mind most of the main ones that continuously hurtle round my inner universe, ready to dip into.
DP: Poetry is hard to get published, tell us about your experience…
MR: My first collection was The Trapdoor to Halloween, published in the USA in the Nineties. It is the inspiration for my book Halloween's Best Cellar, the only trick or treat book you'll need at Halloween and before the next Halloween.
DP: I love it! Do you ever get out there with your poems and do readings / meet your readers? I certainly don’t do enough of that and of course it’s been damned difficult these last couple of years but perhaps in 2022…
MR: When publicising my first book of poetry I was invited to give readings to several local groups and it was such great fun getting instant feedback from an audience immersed in your worlds and words. I once read a piece out that ended with, 'the show must', and paused for the next, obvious line to be spoken by another character, only to have the audience all say in chorus, 'go on!' A great feeling they were so wrapped up in it that they wanted to be part of it.
DP: That’s brilliant! Is that your best poetry experience?
MR: No.I once gave a copy of my book, The Trapdoor to Halloween to the great Scottish comedian, Billy Connolly, before his appearance at a gig in a local theatre and he commented on it in very glowing terms on stage, something I didn't expect, but love the man all the more for it.
DP: Wow – that’s amazing! Well done! Okay: can poetry save the world?
MR: Poetry saves the world in its own special way, giving hope and courage to pursue goals and achieve things that might make a difference.
DP: That’s a great answer, thank you. What do you think about social media (or the internet as a whole when it comes to poetry)?
MR: The juggernaut of the internet allows poetic words to travel much farther than was ever previously possible so it is a force for good in this instance, allowing the sharing of thoughts and deeds instantly, everywhere.
DP: So true. Are you a member of any local poetry writing groups…
MR: I used to share my work with a local writers’ group, The Falkirk Writers' Circle, where everyone was a poet and all genuinely wanted to hear what you had to say. Such an important stage in my writing life that I would urge others to join too and develop their own work.
DP: I will thanks! Okay, last two now Martin. Should every poem mean something or can they just be ‘enjoyed’?
MR: Poems don't always need to have a meaning or important message they can just be an enjoyable plunge into a word pool to make you laugh, cry or to just provide a small escape from a difficult world.
DP: And finally – do you have any advice for an aspiring poet?
MR: If someone should also wish to try their hand at writing poetry I would recommend reading as many poems as possible from different poets, to decide the style of poetry they feel most in tune with, then scribble some words down (on paper, not a computer) and read them out loud to yourself. Hearing them aloud tells you if they sound as good as you imagine they do on paper, then share them with a willing friend or relation to get feedback. If it's negative, accept it and keep trying, never give up, otherwise the world could be robbed of the next A A Milne if you do!
Thanks for your time Martin – very much appreciated. All the best with your Beats! Ballads! Blank Verse! Halloween’s Best Cellar…
American author Bruce Harris joins DEMAIN with his Murder! Mystery! Mayhem! ‘Death In The Dugout’ (book 7 in the series; cover by Adrian Baldwin). The book is released on 21st August but is currently available for pre-sales. Prior to publication Dean and Bruce sat down and chatted.
DEMAIN PUBLISHING: Welcome Bruce! Loved your M!M!M! – for those that don’t know you, can you tell us a little bit about yourself.
BRUCE HARRIS: Hey! Happy to be here. I live in New Jersey in the United States. After a 30-year career at UPS, I retired in 2018. I’ve been a baseball fan all of my life and like many others, dreamed of becoming a professional baseball player. I played the game through high school, but my anaemic .220 batting average coupled with a weak throwing arm did not bode well for a major league career. Since 2014, I’ve been a member of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR). My wife is a psychologist. She still works. We have two grown, adult children.
DP: Nice. I spent some time in the States and whilst (US) football is my first love, I have soft spot for baseball…so what was your first introduction to the crime/thriller genre?
BH: In addition to baseball, I have always been fascinated with Sherlock Holmes. I was never much of a reader as a child, but way back in 1965, I read the short story, The Adventure of the Speckled Band and was hooked on Holmes. I still have the paperback I read so many decades ago. Sherlock Holmes became (and still is) an obsession. I devoured all 60 of the Holmes stories and became interested in the minutiae. It has been a lifelong love affair.
DP: That’s cool – as a kid I was really into Sherlock Holmes too but every now again I’ll grab a novel from the shelf and have a re-read. Great stuff. Your M!M!M! then…
BH: I followed the old adage, “write what you know.” I know baseball. I thought it would be fun to write a baseball murder mystery, and it was! Nine players on a team, nine suspects! Of course, there are other characters, but basically nine people could have murdered the team manager. Each had opportunity and a motive. The murder takes place in the dugout before the start of a game. A beat newspaper writer and a coach team up to solve the mystery. I’m hoping readers find it a worthy whodunnit.
DP: I’m sure they will. With your expertise in the subject I’m assuming this time around you didn’t have to do much research…
BH: No, not in this case. I’ve researched for other writings, but there was no need for me to research anything for this book.
DP: I’m also guessing you didn’t find it particularly difficult to write?
BH: All writing is difficult. This was no exception. The story went through a number of versions before it was finished to my satisfaction. A professional editor helped me delete a lot of extraneous material and the final version is the better for it.
DP: Cool, cool – what is Bruce Harris’ biggest success to date?
BH: I’ve written and published two books about Sherlock Holmes: Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson: ABout Type (2006) and Anticipations in D. Martin Dakin’s ‘A Sherlock Holmes Commentary’ (2021). Both are research driven, “scholarly” works. I’m thrilled to be a part of Demain Publishing.
DP: And we’re thrilled to have you! Tell us about the kind of books / authors you read…
BH: There are many. In addition to Arthur Conan Doyle, there is Mickey Spillane, David Goodis, Cornell Woolrich, Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, and of course, Ellery Queen. I’m also a big fan of the old pulp crime/mystery magazines.
DP: Some great names there for sure! What does crime / mystery (or thriller) mean to you?
BH: In my opinion, there is a distinct difference between crime and mystery. I enjoy reading crime and noir fiction, but find it challenging to write. Mystery means “whodunnit.” I love a classic, locked-room whodunnit. One of the things I enjoy is thinking about what appears to be an impossible murder, and figuring out how to make it possible and believable. Thriller is its own genre.
DP: Great answer. What do you think draws readers to the mystery genre? What do readers look for?
BH: I think readers look for a fair mystery. Are enough clues planted so that the reader could solve the mystery along with the detective? I tried to make Death in the Dugout fair. I hope a careful reader could figure out who the murderer is.
DP: Creatively Bruce is there anything you’d like to do that you haven’t done yet?
BH: I’d like to write a full-fledged mystery novel, somewhere in the 60,000 – 80,000-word range. It takes a lot of planning and discipline.
DP: My Lord it does doesn’t it? So writing is a long term career for you?
BH: Writing is not a career. It’s a hobby. I enjoy the challenges, and try to write something each day. I don’t feel right if a day goes by and I didn’t write.
DP: And I guess during the lockdown you were able to write every day!
BH: I was fortunate. The lockdown didn’t impact me too much. I was retired, so work was not an issue. I find it stimulating to write in coffee shops, so that wasn’t possible. I belong to a local writing group. The lockdown forced us to meet via Zoom. It was an adjustment. I’m happy to say we have begun meeting in person again. The change involved my wife. She worked from home. I had to tune out her work-related conversations and phone calls and concentrate on my writing.
DP: Finally Bruce, what is something your readers might be surprised to find out about you?
BH: I have a Ph.D. in Social Psychology.
Thank you Bruce for your time, all the best with Death In The Dugout.
If you would like to connect with Bruce direct: https://www.facebook.com/bruce.harris.5015
Murder! Mystery! Mayhem! Book 6 is Garland Cove by Deborah Sheldon. Deborah and DEMAIN have previously worked together on a Short Sharp Shocks! (Hand To Mouth). The book is published on 21st August (but is currently available for pre-sales) with a cover by Adrian Baldwin. Prior to publication, Dean and Deborah had a good old natter.
DEMAIN PUBLISHING: Welcome back Deborah – it’s great to be working with you again. Okay, so for those that don’t (yet!) know you can you tell us a little about yourself and how (or why) you became a writer.
DEBORAH SHELDON: Hi, it’s great to be back. I’m an award-winning author from Melbourne, Australia. I write short stories, novellas and novels across the darker spectrum of horror, crime and noir. My award-nominated titles include the novels Body Farm Z, Contrition and Devil Dragon; the novella Thylacines; and the collection Figments and Fragments: Dark Stories. My collection Perfect Little Stitches and Other Stories won the Australian Shadows ‘Best Collected Work’ Award, was shortlisted for an Aurealis Award and longlisted for a Bram Stoker. As editor of the 2019 edition of Midnight Echo, I won the Australian Shadows ‘Best Edited Work’ Award. My short fiction has appeared in many well-respected magazines such as Aurealis, Midnight Echo, Island, Pulp Modern, Andromeda Spaceways, and Dimension6. My fiction has been shortlisted for Australian Shadows Awards and Aurealis Awards, and included in various ‘best of’ anthologies. In 2020, Demain Publishing released my novelette Hand To Mouth. As a child, I loved superhero comics. I created my own comics for fun and pleasure. At first, I thought I wanted to be an illustrator until I realised that I enjoyed writing the stories much more than drawing the pictures. I’ve been a professional writer since 1986. Earlier credits include TV scripts, feature articles, and award-winning medical writing.
DP: Very cool. With regards to the crime/thriller genre what was your first introduction…
DS: Enid Blyton’s Five Find-Outers and Dog series. However, the real heartstopper was Raymond Chandler. In the early noughties I discovered Chandler’s masterful creation, Philip Marlowe, and gobbled up the novels and most of the short stories. (I’ve kept three stories in reserve to read on my deathbed. At the time, I jokingly swore that I didn’t want to live in a world that didn’t have any more Marlowe stories and, to my surprise, I’ve so far kept that promise. Those final three stories await.) As everyone knows, Chandler is a tremendously talented author who writes ‘low-brow’ characters in a ‘high-brow’ way. His use of slang, ear for dialogue and attention to the specifics of locale influenced me greatly. I’m probably misquoting him, but in one interview, he said that a good story only needed action and dialogue; anything more (such as internal monologues or authorial asides) revealed the writer to be a hack. While I don’t subscribe wholeheartedly to that philosophy, I certainly keep it in mind when I’m writing.
DP: Brilliant. I’ve read a couple of the Marlowe stories and love Robert Altman’s film The Long Goodbye (1973) but think I need to add some more to my (ever growing) TBR pile. Tell us a bit more about Garland Cove.
DS: The germ of Garland Cove came from a news story in an Australian newspaper: an armed robbery was thwarted when somebody noticed the assailant’s gun was a replica. I’d been wanting to write a story with a cast of shady characters who are secretly at odds with one another, and this news snippet was my catalyst. Shane Croft is the protagonist of Garland Cove. He’s a small-time crim forced into working for corrupt detectives. Meanwhile, the detectives realise they are under scrutiny, and tell Shane to arrange a bank robbery where the robber has a replica gun. The detectives will save the day, become national heroes, and therefore derail the corruption investigation. Naturally, since every player is lying, shenanigans ensue.
DP: They definitely do! Did you have to do much research for Garland Cove?
DS: I worked in television back in the 1990s. On the show Australia’s Most Wanted, I was researcher, scriptwriter and script editor of the crime re-enactments. This first-hand experience helped me to write Garland Cove with a degree of confidence. I researched the nitty-gritties as I went along and filled in the gaps. I only ever do enough preliminary research to get started. Trying to do all the research before writing the first draft is, to me, a form of procrastination. How much preliminary research do you need? Well, how long is a piece of string? It’s too easy to lose yourself for weeks, months or even years down a rabbit hole. That’s why I research as I go.
DP: Nice! So I suspect then that you didn’t find Garland Cove particularly difficult to write?
DS: No. Once I had worked out the temperaments, ambitions and needs of the characters, the story flowed with reasonable ease. It was first published in The One That Got Away (Dark Prints Press, 2012), and I’m grateful to Demain Publishing for giving it another chance.
I loved writing Garland Cove so much that, in 2013, I expanded the novelette into a novel, which I titled Garland Cove Heist. While I received plenty of positive and encouraging feedback from Australian publishers, none were prepared to take the risk of signing the manuscript because I was not a ‘name’ author. Such is life. Garland Cove Heist is my ‘bottom drawer’ novel. But doesn’t every author have at least one to feel sad about?
DP: At least one! And a couple of screenplays! Anyway, let’s not get too morose. What books/authors do you read and do you think they influence you as a writer?
DS: I have eclectic tastes. Generally, I avoid bestseller lists. I like to wait until history decides if a novel is worthwhile. That’s why my bookshelves are filled mainly with novels from the early-nineteenth to late-twentieth centuries. However, short stories are a different matter. I read English-language anthologies all the time – mainly those published in Australia, New Zealand, USA, UK, Canada and South Africa – and I enjoy translated works too. My go-to genres are horror, crime, noir, classic and literary, but I read across a wide range. I don’t think you can aspire to be a good writer unless you’re well-read. To put it another way: if you only explore one genre, you’ll only be a one-dimensional writer. Everything I read influences me. Each story that I enjoy prompts me to try a different technique, approach or style. And each story I dislike reminds me of what not to do.
DP: I’m with you – though I class myself as a ‘horror’ writer I actually don’t read many horror stories anymore (other than those I read for DEMAIN obviously) and my tastes are getting broader and broader…creatively is there anything you’d like to do that you haven’t yet?
DS: I have a background in scriptwriting. The subject comprised part of my writing-oriented Bachelor of Arts. I was employed by Grundy Television for a few years, and worked with Crawfords Australia (another TV production company) on a couple of projects. I developed a documentary but not to the point of signing on that final and much-coveted dotted line. I have one script in particular I’d love to bring to the screen. However, Australia’s film and TV industry is woefully underfunded, and while ‘reality TV’ rules the roost, I doubt I could find a single producer willing to look at my work. That said, I console myself by remembering how the world keeps turning. What’s hot today will be cold tomorrow; what’s passé now will soon be in vogue. Perhaps the marketplace will be receptive if I just wait long enough. And if not…well, that’s life in the big city, right? No use crying about it.
DP: Definitely not. You’re so right about the world keeping turning – The Queen’s Gambit (2020) was in development for over thirty years I believe! Is writing a long term or short term career for Deborah Sheldon?
DS: Writing has been the through-line of my life. I’ve been a professional writer for 35 years.
I sold my first piece when I was 18 years old – a non-fiction article about steroid abuse in bodybuilding that I wrote during my first semester of university, 1986. For a few years, I contributed feature articles to Australian and international magazines, then worked as a section editor for a small London newspaper when I lived there for a while. Back in Melbourne, I worked at the aforementioned Grundy Television, focused on medical writing (winning a couple of awards), released two non-fiction titles with Reed Books and Random House, and had an original screenplay optioned by Crawfords Australia, amongst many other projects. I made a good living as a writer back in the nineties and early noughties. I turned my focus towards fiction in late 2007 and just kept on going.
DP: And finally Deborah, can you tell us something your readers might be surprised to find out about you?
DS: While I write hardcore crime, noir and horror, I’m a private and sensitive person who is easily moved to tears. Writing fiction helps me exorcise my anxieties.
Thank you so much for your time Deborah, it was great to speak to you again. Best of luck with your M!M!M!
If you would like to connect with Deborah direct:
Amazon Author Page https://www.amazon.com/~/e/B0035MWQ98
Dean M. Drinkel