In cool mid-autumn, 2013, a few weeks shy of Halloween, two horror scribes – one English, the other from Northern Ireland – got together in a dusty corner of the world wide web and, over a virtual barrel of mead, had a bit of a chat about all things dark and spooky. Here is the troubling transcript…
Gary Fry: Hi there. I understand that we’ll soon be stable mates –that is, US horror imprint DarkFuse will, in November, publish a pair of novellas, one by you and the other by me. Let me tell a bit about mine. It’s called Lurker and is one of a sequence of long stories I’ve been writing over the last few years set on the north-east coast of England, where I live in Dracula’s Whitby. My model is Lovecraft’s great creature-features – suggestive, powerful, evoking cosmic disorder. I love this stuff and want to carve out a name for myself as a modern purveyor of such awe. But I like other horror, too, including gory stuff (such as my forthcoming DF zombie novel Severed), the creeping thriller (my novella Menace) and also the ghostly (a rerelease of my novel The House of Canted Steps). Now, I’ve read a synopsis of your novella Shattered and it sounds more like the latter to me – ghostly. Am I right about that…or not?
C S Kane: Haha, good question, Gary. I think it is a psychological horror with the threatening element of the supernatural world never far away from the mind of the protagonist Stacey Sheldon. I conceived the story by deciding it would be interesting to explore how a skeptic would cope if they started to see visions. The question as to whether or not the experiences are real or a figment of Stacey’s imagination drives the action throughout and is really the heartbeat of the tale. I am a huge fan of Poe and would definitely say that I like horror that creeps into the subconscious. You mention your love of Lovecraft and I was wondering if Lovecraft was your way into the world of horror or did you find yourself here through some other macabre means?
Gary Fry: I got into horror in the usual way for someone of my generation: movies and Stephen King. I was a really frightened child and avoided watching horror until my age was in double figures. I recall being terrified of a TV show called The Boy from Space as a boy, while all my schoolmates seemed blasé about it. I think that might be true of a lot of horror fans – they’re not the ones who generate fear; they’re the ones who suffer it! Anyway, once I’d got over my twitchiness with a few years under my belt, I started watching Poltergeist, The Shining, The Twilight Zone, etc…and frankly had a ball. I loved them all. Then, having started reading fiction in my teens, I turned to the most prevalent horrorists of all back then: Stephen King (as if it’s anything different now, eh?). And I devoured all his books inside of a few years. After that, it was further exploration of the literature: the classics, including Lovecraft, and modern masters like Michael McDowell, TED Klein, and – significantly in my case – Ramsey Campbell. Campbell was found to be my spiritual centre of gravity, a lapsed Catholic (like my own family) from the north of England who was truly exploring the darkest recesses of an uncertain psyche. It all became very serious then… So, after that brief tour of my baptism of fire, how about you – what were your first horror encounters?
C S Kane: Well, as soon I could understand my mum’s singing, I knew what horror was. I’m not being mean, by the way! My mum has a great voice but we come from a family of folk that sing murder ballads and tell terrifying ghost stories at bedtime. I suppose it is the Celtic blood. There is a strong oral tradition of passing on cautionary tales and hearing lyrics like: “She stuck the knife in the baby’s heart” at such a young age pretty much guaranteed that I had a healthy fear of strangers. I was daubed Morticia at quite a young age. Always very serious and mainly dressed in black. I remember vividly my Aunty let me – no, actually more like made me – watch A Nightmare on Elm Street when I was about eight. It scared the life out of me but I loved it at the same time. My dad let us watch Poltergeist and things like that at Halloween. In fact it was like a tradition to go and get the videos, tons of sweets and then gorge and scream at the creepy movies. I was lucky in school that I got to read Dracula, Frankenstein and other classics. There were always some worn copies from the King oeuvre knocking about the house. I think the kind of stories captured my imagination the most were shorter and novella length works. I think there can be such a strong impact with pieces that length. ‘The Black Cat’ by Poe freaked me out for quite a while as a youngster. I guess that the passion for the thrills that fear can bring has always been there, along with a dark imagination… Speaking of various sizes of works, do you have a preferred length to write? Do you find it easier to write a novella than a novel or vice versa?
Gary Fry: First, let me say that’s a fascinating background you have. It’s funny how horror can get to people in different ways. I mean, in my case, there was no horror in my life until late childhood (not media horror anyway), whereas in yours, there’s tons of it. Interesting stuff… Anyway, novels or novellas? Well, I kind of like both, but have to admit that I find novellas easier to write, largely because I can sustain that white-heat period of inspiration right the way through the first draft. Novels are trickier beasts, and require stubborn discipline to get you over those tricky spells when it all seems lifeless and vague. Also, in a novel, you have to hold so many things in your head at the same time – which character likes what, who has said what to which person, etc – that I find their composition irritating and cannot rest until I’ve nailed down all the elements. I often find myself avoiding thinking about a novel when I’m away from a notebook or laptop, because I may have a great idea I’ll probably forget before I get chance to jot it down. Short stories, however, are easy now. I’ve written over a hundred and feel as if I can tackle them without too much duress. It’s ironic, however, that I now feel as if the ideas that inform shorts are in fewer supply, and that my thoughts tend more naturally towards longer fiction. But that’s good, because it seems to be what’s more marketable, and to be honest, the novel is inherently more satisfying to achieve and offers you the capacity to truly grip someone – my literary raison d’etre – for a sustained period… Well, that’s me. How about you – longer or shorter tales? Not just for writing, but reading, too?
C S Kane: In terms of reading, there a special place in my heart for shorter stories. I think some of the best examples of great literature fall into this category – in particular, Orwell’s Animal Farm, Wells’ The Time Machine, Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and Joyce’s The Dead, among many more. These aren’t really horror examples but I have certainly found terrifying instances in each… Writing-wise, Shattered is my debut novella and I have to say I didn’t find it easy to write at all! It took me a while but I definitely think it was a story that I had to write. However, since I finished it, I have found loads of ideas bursting from the darkest recesses of my brain and find I can create longer pieces more readily. No matter what I am working on, whether novella or novel, I try to keep it concise. I think I’m a pared-down writer but aim to leave a lingering (and hopefully horrifying) impression at the same time. The way this works, in my mind, is to create memorable characters. They drive the story, the length, the structure, everything really. It is their story and not mine, after all… What is your central focus when writing? Some people plot extensively and stay really strict about it – do you?
Gary Fry: I am a plotter. I was drawn to that kind of fiction as a lad. I like a good story you could probably extract from the telling and even the characters and still make enjoyable. Which is not to say characters are not important for me. I like to develop a nice range of folk, whoever comes naturally to me. These tend to be thinking folk who like quiet and books; loners cast slightly adrift from mainstream life; and – alarmingly enough – truly monstrous men with extremely negative attitudes. My character Stephen Hobbs, the star of my forthcoming novel Severed, ticks all these boxes and is probably an exaggerated version of myself in many ways. I suppose we all write by instinct, and these people are who come easiest to me. In fact, more recently, I’ve solved a difficulty I’ve had in my writing over the years. For a long time, I wondered why I easily finished some tales and struggled with others. Was it something to do with the telling, the plot points, etc? No, it turns out that the stories that effectively write themselves are those starring characters with whom I empathise deeply and whom I understand from the inside-out. I think that’s worth taking a note of if you’re starting out as a writer – don’t only write about what you know, write about the people you know well, especially yourself and folk of similar sensibilities. These fictions tend to have more life, more verisimilitude. At least that’s my experience… OK, we’ve been talking a bit about literary matters for a while now; let’s shift the focus somewhat. Tell me, your three favourite books and why; your three favourite films and why; and your three favourite places in the world and why. Shoot!
C S Kane: All right, let me see. 1984 by George Orwell totally blew me away. I was about nineteen when I read it and it just made me view the world in a different way. I also found the latter part of the book utterly gripping and completely harrowing. My copy of Tales of Mystery and Imagination is well worn and well loved. Poe was just a master of suspense and I always get a shiver after delving into the different stories contained in that book. Finally, my favourite book is A Christmas Carol by Dickens. There are terrifying elements, supernatural forces and of course the chance of redemption. I have to read it every festive season… My three favourite films…hmm…that is a tricky one as I am movie mad! I would probably say Raiders of the Lost Ark because again there is that supernatural aspect, adventure and Indiana himself. Rear Window is great. I love James Stewart and obviously Alfred Hitchcock knew how to create some serious suspense. I also find his movies really and truly frightening. The third movie would have to be John Carpenter’s Halloween. It isn’t October without it and this was the first horror movie I ever watched. I also have to give honorable mention here to The Shawshank Redemption as I love it as much the others listed and just can’t leave it out… Finally, the three places are easy. New York was one of the destinations on my honeymoon and I loved it. It is just a really interesting, vibrant and creative place. Paris is probably my favourite city in the world. I love the history, the people, the architecture, the arts scene, the food… I could go on for a while here. Lastly, there is no place like home. Sounds cheesy but I like nothing better than chilling out at home with the family, reading, writing or watching something like Only Fools and Horses with a nice roast dinner cooking. You?
Gary Fry: Great choices. I love Vertigo, especially. Probably one of my favourites, too. As for other films, I also like 2001: A Space Odyssey, which is kind of weird, because I’m not really a science fiction fan. But Kubrick had a way of viewing the world – simultaneously beautiful and yet utterly haunted – that this film has a great impact on me. The same is true of The Shining, another favourite, perhaps for unsurprising reasons. I like so many others – Last King of Scotland, Room at the Top, Misery, Twelve Angry Men, Sunset Boulevard, to name just a bunch – that it seems crued to reduce it to just more, but since I asked the question, I guess I’ll go for Room at the Top, a real heartbreaker from olde England, with all its rigid class system in full force. Wonderful film (based on a John Braine novel, a woefully underappreciated writer)… And so, to books: that’s easier. My choices are:
- Money by Martin Amis: corrosive, hilarious, powerful, profound and troubling.Gary Fry: Great choices. I love Vertigo, especially. Probably one of my favourites, too. As for other films, I also like 2001: A Space Odyssey, which is kind of weird, because I’m not really a science fiction fan. But Kubrick had a way of viewing the world – simultaneously beautiful and yet utterly haunted – that this film has a great impact on me. The same is true of The Shining, another favourite, perhaps for unsurprising reasons. I like so many others – Last King of Scotland, Room at the Top, Misery, Twelve Angry Men, Sunset Boulevard, to name just a bunch – that it seems cruede to reduce it to just more, but since I asked the question, I guess I’ll go for Room at the Top, a real heartbreaker from olde England, with all its rigid class system in full force. Wonderful film (based on a John Braine novel, a woefully underappreciated writer)… And so, to books: that’s easier. My choices are:
- Misery by Stephen King: the perfect horror novel, terrifying and gripping.
- Midnight Sun by Ramsey Campbell: beautiful, resonant, poetic and frightening.
I envy anyone who’s yet to read any of those books, let alone the authors’ other peerless work. My unholy trinity of major literary influences… As for places, well, I love three: Seville in southern Spain, for being a brilliantly gaudy mess of a place, full of madness in the form of architecture (hell, have you seen its cathedral?) and idiotically high palm trees. Vienna for its majestic elegance and the fact that I recently visited the cramped flat in which Beethoven wrote his fifth symphony (da-da-da-daaa!). And finally, my home town of Whitby, North Yorkshire, for its constant influence on me as a writer, providing some great settings, and for its elegiac peacefulness, out here on the ancient coast. Wonderful… OK, we’ve talked quite a bit now, and I think it’s probably a good idea to finish with a simple question: how did you first come across DarkFuse and what led to the acceptance of your novella Shattered? Let me briefly recount my DF history. I’d heard of Delirium of course, but always felt it catered mainly for US writers and that a Brit would have little chance of submitting successfully. So for years I stuck to UK presses – PS Publishing, Spectral Press, etc – and had some success there. But now I was hungry for a wider readership, and the US is surely where that’s at. So, browsing around online one day, I chanced upon an outfit called DarkFuse and had to admit I’d never heard of them. But as I dug deeper, I saw similar admirable names – Ronald Malfi, Jeff Strand, Greg Gifune, et al – associated with them on a long-term basis. Then the penny dropped. And I was only slightly excited to realize that they were open to submissions. Now, it just so happened that I’d been in a writing frenzy around that time and had a completed draft of Lurker (then called The Undermined) ready to go. And so off it went, out across the mighty water. I was delighted when Dave Thomas got back to me a week or so later with an offer, including Book Club promotion, limited hardcover and ebook. I hadn’t expected any of that. And then, encouraged by my success, I submitted a novel I had ready called God’s Eye View (released recently by DF as Conjure House – they’re better at titles than I am!) and Greg Gifune got in touch about a month later (novels taking longer to review) and made me the same offer. More books followed, each of which was bought by the guys, and when the head honcho Shane Staley made me an offer of a nine-book deal (yes, nine) I snapped it up. This company, I feel, is really going places, and I for one want to be there alongside it as it climbs higher and higher… So, forgiving my initiative, now it’s your turn?
C S Kane: Wow, great choices too, Gary! I came across DarkFuse on Twitter. I had a look, like yourself, and saw these great names coming up and thought that this was obviously a team with a real passion for horror. Then I thought about my manuscript. You see, I had started to write Shattered years ago but I had never showed it to anyone, much less thought about sending it to a publisher. However, at the time I came across DarkFuse I was recovering from a serious illness and thanks to that I was out of work, so I bit the bullet and with nothing to lose I fired it at novella editor Dave Thomas. Thankfully, it was accepted and is about to be shared with a lot more people! It’s funny the way things turn out but I have to say I’m so glad I took that step. I totally agree with you about the company. The DarkFuse crew are sharp and, as I already mentioned, they have a real passion for what they do. You can’t ask for better than that.
Gary Fry: Totally agree! Anyway, I guess that’s us all talked out now. It’s been fun chatting. I look forward to reading your novella Shattered later this month.
C S Kane: And I look forward to Lurker, too. Great to chat!
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