We welcome back author Christopher Stanley (The Forest Is Hungry) to DEMAIN with his exciting new mini-collection Unbecoming Me And Other Interruption which is published as an ebook on the 18th September (but is now available for pre-sales). Cover, of course, by the brilliant Adrian Baldwin. As Lockdown was eased, Dean and Christopher sat down and talked about it.
DEMAIN PUBLISHING: Great to see you again Christopher! It’s a pleasure to work with you again, so, first things first can you tell us what was your first introduction to the horror genre?
CHRISTOPHER STANLEY: And great to be here! I think my first introduction to horror was a collection of short stories I came across in my school library when I was 10 or 11 years old. I can barely remember anything about it now, other than a vague recollection of the cover, and that it contained a mix of ghost and monster stories. I felt differently about that book to the other things I was reading at the time. The stories were dangerous, unpredictable, and exciting. I’m sure that’s what sparked my interest. And that’s why libraries are so important – they’re a chance to browse and discover new things.
DP: Ah, I know what you mean, when I was a kid I picked up a ghost annual (or something) by Daniel Farson so totally know where you’re coming from. So, your new Short Sharp Shocks!?
CS: My latest contribution to the Short Sharp Shocks series starts in much the same way as my previous one—with a father running to save his daughter. That’s also where the plot similarities end. I tried to write my first SSS book, The Forest is Hungry, with the sensibilities of a thriller. It was supposed to be a page turner. The new book is different. It’s a collection of three short horror stories: Devil’s Reach, Hell’s Teeth and Unbecoming Me; all of which I’ve written with more focus on character. In Devil’s Reach, I channelled my inner-Ramsey Campbell by taking normal situations and playing with them to create a sense of creeping unease. Hell’s Teeth was supposed to be a flash fiction story, based on the premise of re-transacting with a classic fantasy figure. Subsequent drafts grew longer as the young girl at the heart of the story, having tasted victory, decided she wanted more. The title story, Unbecoming Me, is a coming-of-age tale with a couple of significant twists. Growing up is so damned hard at the best of times, and the narrator in Unbecoming Me was in for a shock (or two) as he tried to juggle university with his lifelong search for requited love.
DP: We really loved the stories and the Ramsey Campbell ‘comparison’ is spot on. Personally I think Hell’s Teeth would make a cracking short film. In writing this collection, did you have to do much research?
CS: I cheated with a couple of these stories. I often find myself researching locations when I’m writing—making special trips, scrutinising photos I’ve found online, and talking to people who know the areas better than I do. In this collection, Devil’s Reach is set on a ferry crossing I’ve made many times, while Unbecoming Me takes place at The University of Birmingham, where I read Economics (more years ago than I’d care to admit). The school in Hell’s Teeth isn’t based on an actual school—it’s a composite of schools I attended when I was growing up.
DP: And did you find the collection particularly difficult to write?
CS: Yeah, the stories in this collection were tricky, to say the least. Trying to make the characters authentic, while moving the plot forward at a sensible pace, growing the tension, and not neglecting the horror, is the literary equivalent of spinning plates. A lot of plates. Once you start setting scenes, hinting at subplots, and weaving in backstory, there are many things that can go wrong. I guess that’s the craft. That’s what we try to do.
DP: Indeed we do. What would you say is your biggest success creatively to date?
CS: Every Christmas, I reflect on the previous year and consider what I’ve achieved with my writing that I hadn’t done previously. Being relatively new to the writing scene, and having so far managed to avoid any kind of overnight success, it’s easy enough to plot a steady upward trajectory in my writing achievements—getting published, winning competitions, selling stories, being asked to write a blurb etc. It’s satisfying. Last year’s highlight was The Forest is Hungry--my first standalone publication. This year, I reached another career milestone with the publication of my flash horror collection, The Lamppost Huggers and Other Wretched Tales. That was an incredible experience. I’m really proud of the result, too, with cover art by Kealan Patrick Burke and an introduction by Sunday Times bestselling author Christina Dalcher. So yes, I guess that’s my biggest success to date.
DP: Thoroughly deserved! What books / authors does Christopher Stanley read and are they an influence?
CS: Over the past few years, I’ve read and loved a lot of books by a lot of different authors. Amongst the highlights have been a handful of Ellen Datlow anthologies, including two Best Horror of the Year anthologies, and her recent ghost story anthology, Echoes. I know Datlow’s tastes are a little literary for some, but each of the anthologies I read contained many more hits than misses. More importantly, for someone returning to horror after a prolonged absence, they introduced me to some incredible writers—Nathan Ballingrud, Gemma Files, Paul Tremblay, Robert Shearman, Carole Johnston, John Langan, Alison Littlewood, Rio Youers and Bracken MacLeod, to name a few.
DP: Some cracking names there for sure. Um, okay, so what is Christopher Stanley scared of?
CS: As a father, I spend at least twenty-four hours a day worrying about my kids—their health, safety and wellbeing, and the amount of time they spend playing computer games. I think that’s why children show up in so many of my stories. The father in Unbecoming Me, like the father in The Forest is Hungry, is motivated by a desire to save his child. There’s no point at which he’ll stop or give up—these cease to be options once you become a parent.
DP: And finally, what is something your readers might be surprised to find out about you?
CS: By some strange quirk of fate (let’s call it ‘marriage’), my father-in-law is Vincent Price. Not the Vincent Price, but I can pretend.
Oh, that’s just brilliant.
Well, Christopher the best of luck with your new Short Sharp Shocks!
If you would like to connect with Christopher direct: