Author and Scriptwriter

'Among the most important writers of contemporary British horror.' -Ramsey Campbell

Monday, 8 February 2016

The Lowdown with... Rhys Hughes

Rhys Hughes was born in 1966. Tartarus Press published his first collection, Worming the Harpy, in 1995, and since that time he has published more than thirty other books. His fiction is generally fantastical and his output mainly consists of short stories, though he has published several novels. His work is frequently compared to that of Boris Vian, Flann O'Brien and R.A. Lafferty (whom he has never read), but he persists in citing his major influences as Italo Calvino and Donald Barthelme. His three most recent books are the collections Bone Idle in the Charnel House (Hippocampus Press), Orpheus on the Underground (Tartarus Press) and Mirrors in the Deluge (Elsewhen Press). His next book will be another collection Brutal Pantomimes (Egaeus Press) but he has also been commissioned to write a novel that is a sequel to Georges Bataille's notorious Story of the Eye. He regards author biographies, written in the third person by the authors themselves, as absurd but accepts them as part of the process. He is a disorganized fellow at the best of times. At the worst of times he is still disorganized. That's consistency, which is a form of organization. Obsessed with paradoxes, he incorporates them into his fiction as entertainingly as he can.

1. Tell us three things about yourself.

I play the drums in a Latin music club on Sunday evenings. That’s one thing about myself I am more than happy to mention. It’s not just Latin music actually, there’s lots of African input too. I am slowly improving my technique. I learned to play the darbuka and I’m trying to adapt the rhythms to the congas, with mixed results. The dancing is good fun too, very uplifting. A second thing about myself I could mention is my love of climbing, though this year I have done very little. Mountain peaks have a profound appeal for me. A third thing is that I speak Esperanto. One of the least useful languages in the world, but I was determined to learn, for idealistic reasons. It’s an easy language.

When I was younger I seemed to have many hobbies and enough time to do all of them. Somehow the hobbies slipped away from me one by one and the days started racing past faster and faster and when I think about what I actually do in a typical day now it seems absurdly little. I get up early. I drink coffee. I work. I might visit a friend or go running on the beach. Then night has come and it’s bedtime.

2. What was the first thing you had published?

A chess problem in The Independent newspaper back in the summer of 1988. I am not sure if that really counts. I subsequently wrote several chess problems for that newspaper and then started writing ‘brainteaser’ puzzles for The Sunday Times. Payment was something like £70 for a puzzle, which back then wasn’t too bad. I also remember having a poem published in The Independent and being paid in champagne instead of money, I don’t know why. I’d wanted to publish my fiction since I started writing it but I didn’t know how the business operated. I didn’t know any writers or even anyone who wanted to be a writer. I didn’t know how to submit to fiction magazines or publishers. 

The writing world was a closed world back then with no obvious way of entering it. This was long before the internet, or at least before the internet became familiar to the general populace, and the modern ability to easily connect with writers, editors and publishers would have seemed little short of miraculous to me. I had worked in isolation since I began writing fiction when I was 14 and I fully expected it to continue that way. The puzzles I did for the newspapers were a dead end, but I did smuggle some fantasy scenarios into the ‘brainteasers’. Eventually I discovered the small press by chance. I wandered into Forbidden Planet one day, picked up a copy of Interzone, flicked through it and at the back I saw adverts for lots of magazines soliciting fiction. At the time I didn’t realise they were amateur efforts rather than real magazines. 

I mention all this because although the writing world is tough at the moment for new writers in the sense that so many paying publications are closing down, it wasn’t so great in the past either. The disadvantages of the pre-internet days were massive. The support networks weren’t really there, or rather they were often hidden and inaccessible to a new writer. If you didn’t live in a city, if you weren’t part of a scene, it was all too easy to be cut off from the writing world altogether. A lot of potential talent was surely lost because of this. My first published story, by the way, was called ‘An Ideal Vocation’ and was very short.

3. Which piece of writing are you proudest of? 

Probably my novel The Percolated Stars, which was the second novel I wrote but the first to be published. It really expresses everything that I wanted it to express, and in the way I wanted it expressed, and there’s an extra quality to it that I can’t easily define. I wrote it as the opposite of a bildungsroman. I wanted the protagonist to learn absolutely nothing from his experiences, in fact for the very concept of ‘experience’ to bend to him. In a sense the main character and the universe face each other in a staring match and the universe blinks first. 

I was also able to hurl into this book my love for corny pulp props, miniature solar systems, mad inventors, bathyspheres, ornithopters, etc, and I made it a political and philosophical satire. It became a cult book, but the problem is that the publisher who issued it was incompetent, the sort of publisher who doesn’t pay authors, doesn’t promote the book, is an amateur at layout and design. The ebook version is the one to buy at the moment, but with luck the novel is going to be reissued next year as a hardback by a respected publisher in the USA.

4. …and which makes you cringe?

Some of my early efforts to write erotic fiction and poetry are the pieces I least enjoy reading. I tried for a lyrical style full of extended metaphors that are so far removed from the urgency and clarity of true eroticism that they are not just absurd but embarrassing. There are passages in those stories that make me do that odd wincing thing where you sort of twist and contract into yourself and one of your legs goes up in the air and you make a Frank Spencer face. I really ought to rewrite them one day. Most were never published, thank goodness.

I feel the same about some of my non-sexual love stories. There is nothing worse than reading your own words in a book and realising that you are an agent of weepy boo-hoo, a facilitator of soppy buffoonery, and not the tragic lightning-illuminated romantic you thought you were. Less Goethe and more mawkish twerp. The fact that some readers will define you as ‘sweet’ as a result makes it worse. I’ve learned that to write a love story without wincing later, I must adopt a tone that suggests no personal involvement but one that is magic realist rather than detached. The torrid can be safely distancing too, if handled correctly.

5. What’s a normal writing day like?

I prefer working in the morning to working late at night. Sometimes I will burn the midnight oil, especially if I have a pressing deadline, but usually I get up early, brew coffee and then start writing. Having said this, I have been known to write at any time in any place with whatever materials I happen to have near at hand. When I lived in Spain, I hiked across the Alpujarras hills into the Sierra Nevada mountains and although I slept out in the open and had almost no facilities at all, I still managed to write a novella. I have written in hotel rooms, on trains, airplanes and the decks of boats. One thing I haven’t done, however, is write at night standing on a pavement, under a streetlight, as the penniless writer in Knut Hamsun’s novel Hunger is forced by necessity to do. 

My rate of production has slowed down, as I knew it had to. It may pick up again next year. My most productive year was 2010 in which I wrote 240,000 words of fiction. I doubt I’ll ever equal that total again, but who knows? It’s not just a question of quantity but of completing planned projects. I tend to get a lot of ideas for stories all the time and these ideas won’t leave me alone unless I embody them into stories. Then fresh ideas come. So I am prolific not for its own sake but to get onto the page what is insistently shaking the shoulders of my mind, for if we have a mind’s eye I don’t see why we can’t have mind’s shoulders too. The ideas keep shaking those shoulders and thus I am compelled to write. The fact I have slowed down is a good sign, in my view.

6. Which piece of writing should someone who’s never read you before pick up first?

I am going to say The Truth Spinner or Tallest Stories, both of which are absolutely typical of what I do and yet perhaps more accessible than some of my other books. Both are linked story cycles that resulted from a clash of order and chaos. They formed organically, without any initial schema, and the end result in both instances surprised me. Those are print books but if you like ebooks I would recommend The Million Word Storybook, which came out a few months ago and is surely the longest single author collection ever produced. It consists of exactly 365 stories, one every day for an entire year, and it also comes in two editions, male and female, that differ in their contents by 10% of total material. The differences between the two editions are random, to stress the fact that the differences between men and women are really quite minor. This collection incorporates one third of my output so far and spans my entire career as a published writer, which happens to be quarter of a century.

7. What are you working on now?

I always work on many things at the same time. It’s very rare that I will focus on just one work. Next year I plan to resume work on a novel that has been in hiatus for over a decade and also to engage again with three or four novellas that have been gestating for a long time. I’ll concentrate on longer work in 2016. But at this very moment I’m finishing a brace of short stories, one of which is the final story for a tribute book to authors I admire, which should be due out next year. I’m also planning a series of linked tales about the dog Cerberus and his reminiscences of some of the souls that passed him on their way to the underworld. I hope to collect the finished tales into a book that will be called Down Cerberus! But we shall see if this happens. There’s never enough time.

Friday, 5 February 2016

Things Of The Week

This week brought good news that I already had, but made it official. As you all know, I signed with Blake Friedmann back in December, but hadn't actually been added to the client list on the website. That has now been rectified, and includes my best 'windswept and interesting' author photo, which came as a great relief as I thought they were about to come to their senses and realise they'd been grossly mistaken.

Another cracking review of Angels Of The Silences, courtesy of the brilliant Jim McLeod! Big thanks to Jim, and to everyone else who's helped spread the word about Angels. It means a lot to see this little book get a second chance.

The week also brought my author copy of Angels too, which now sits on my 'ego shelf' along the original Pendragon Press edition with its Neil Williams cover.

And it brought the news that my short story 'Hushabye', which first appeared in Ellen Datlow's Inferno, will be reprinted in Ellen's new anthology Nightmares: A New Decade of Modern Horror, out from Tachyon Press on October 31st.

And Hell's Ditch will be out in paperback at the beginning of March! I'll be at Waterstones Liverpool One on March 11th to sign copies and otherwise generally disport myself - more details to follow in due course.

So, all told, a really good week!

This excellent and thought-provoking article by Nina Allan wasn't a thing last week, but it was the week before, and I think it's worth sharing. I'll blog more about this in due course, hopefully.

Have a grand week, all of you! Thanks for your continued support.

The Lowdown with... Dave Sivers

Dave Sivers grew up in London and his early writing career included freelance journalism and some TV and stage material.

His first published novel was A Sorcerer Slain, the first in the Lowmar Dashiel crime fantasy series. His first contemporary crime novel, The Scars Beneath the Soul, was published in May 2013, and the sequel, Dead in Deep Water, followed in July 2014. His latest novel is Evil Unseen.

Dave lives with his wife in Buckinghamshire. 

1. Tell us three things about yourself.
Right. First of all, I write crime fiction, which includes my Archer and Baines series about two detectives based in Buckinghamshire’s Aylesbury Vale, where I happen to live. Second, I have written quite a bit of other stuff, including a
Nativity musical for which I wrote 12 original songs. Thirdly, I thought I’d share something not many people know about me, but I’m gradually running out of those as I share them in interviews like this. Here goes, though: Peter Green, formerly of Fleetwood Mac, once invited me to jam with him. You’ll have to ply me with wine to get the details.

2. What was the first thing you had published?
I spent most of my working life as a civil servant, and the first thing I had published was a letter to The Economist about civil service pay. It made me a minor celebrity in my little corner of Whitehall for at least a couple of hours.

3. Which piece of writing are you proudest of?
That’s difficult, so naturally I’m going to cheat. I’m very proud of The Scars Beneath the Soul, my first Archer and Baines novel, because it really took my writing career to a new level and I’ve had so much lovely feedback on my two main protagonists. I’m also pretty proud of A Sorcerer Slain, a hybrid private eye/sword and sorcery novel that I still think was pretty original, and is loved by those who get it. But funnily enough, one of the proudest moments of my life was writing and directing ‘Mary! A Nativity Musical’. Only about 200 people saw it in my local church, and Judith Sheridan (who co-wrote the music with me) and I have yet to get together to see what else we can do with it. But seeing something like that brought to life by singers, actors and musicians and giving people pleasure was an amazing thrill.

4. …and which makes you cringe?
Oh, easy. In my late teens I decided to write an epic fantasy trilogy. Suffice it to say I was in the very early stages of learning my craft. Thank God I never finished it or sent it anywhere. My parents stumbled on the manuscript years later and I was appalled at how diabolically dreadful it was. But I dare say Van Gogh painted some dire stuff in his early years. Don’t you think?

5. What’s a normal writing day like?
There’s really no such thing. I gave up the day job a few years ago, but still have a part-time role with no set pattern, and I have an allotment that always needs something doing and is a weather-orientated job. Most weeks have some ducking and diving involved. I try to do about an hour every day before breakfast and I also try to work a solid 3-5 hours into at least one day in my week. The rest is shoehorning writing into spaces where I can find them. Fortunately, I am happy writing at any time of day.

6. Which piece of writing should someone who’s never read you before pick up first?
The Scars Beneath the Soul kicks off the Archer and Baines series and is still my best-selling book,with a decent number of good reviews under its belt. People like the books not just for the mysteries, but also for the story arcs of the two protagonists.

7. What are you working on now?
I have the third Archer and Baines novel out with beta readers at the moment and have made a start on book four, which I’m very excited about. [EDIT: IN FACT THE NEW ARCHER AND BAINES NOVEL, EVIL UNSEEN, IS OUT NOW! AND YOU CAN BUY IT HERE.]

Monday, 1 February 2016

The Lowdown with... Gemma Files

Former film critic, teacher and screenwriter turned award-winning horror author Gemma Files is probably best known for her Weird Western Hexslinger Series (A Book of Tongues, A Rope of Thorns and A Tree of Bones, all from ChiZine Publications), but has also published two collections of short fiction (Kissing Carrion and The Worm in Every Heart), two chapbooks of speculative poetry and a story-cycle (We Will All Go Down Together: Stories of the Five-Family Coven). Her latest book is Experimental Film.

Tell us three things about yourself.
I sing in a choir—the Toronto Echo Women's Choir, which does mainly world and folk selections with a smattering of religious music, which means that over the last five years I've been able to perform on arrangements of stuff by Hildegard von Bingen, Sweet Honey in the Rock and Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares. We once sang an entire number in Middle English, which was fun. My husband, my son and I are just about to travel to Australia and Tasmania to visit my Dad, who my son hasn't seen since he was six or so; my son has Autism Spectrum Disorder and it's his first airplane trip ever, so it'll definitely be interesting. Finally, I am officially old enough that I saw the original Star Wars trilogy both in the theatre and completely unspoiled—A New Hope when I was nine, The Empire Strikes Back when I was eleven and Return of the Jedi when I was thirteen. Here's a link to ten hours of the Imperial March; you're welcome.

What was the first thing you had published?

The first thing in my bibliography is “Mouthful of Pins,” which I sold to Don Hutchison's Northern Frights 2 in 1994. I still consider that my first professional sale. Actually, however, I sold a poem called “Earthquake” to Cricket magazine for $25.00 and a copy of the book Bunnicula back in 1980, again when I was eleven. Its final stanzas read: Your lungs are crushed by gasping breath/You do not see the ending cleft/You hurtle to an unknown death.

Which piece of writing are you proudest of?

I would have to say my most recent novel, published in November of 2015 by ChiZine Publications. It's called Experimental Film.

…and which makes you cringe?

You know, there are a lot of stories I published at the very beginning of my career that need a bit of pruning and repackaging, but I don't feel bad about them, per se. I feel like they were what they needed to be at the time.

What’s a normal writing day like?

A good writing day begins with two cups of coffee, seeing my son off to school, then planting my bum somewhere for about five to six hours and hammering out 500 to 1,000 words without too many Internet breaks in between, usually while listening to music on my phone. My process involves taking a lot of notes, especially during the non-writing portions of the day—while in transit, while doing chores, etc.—so I often start out by going through those, transcribing what I find there, then trying to organize them into the text of whatever I'm working on right now. The notes themselves vary wildly; sometimes they're mainly prompts, but sometimes they're full chunks of dialogue or description which barely even need to be polished. And sometimes I totally forget I jotted them down in the first place, so that's always exciting.

Which piece of writing should someone who’s never read you before pick up first?

A lot of people tell me they were first introduced to my work either through “The Emperor's Old Bones,” which won the 1999 International Horror Guild Best Short Fiction award, or “each thing I show you is a piece of my death,” which I co-wrote with my husband, Stephen J. Barringer. Both are, conveniently enough, available on the Internet! Just Google the titles and go to town.

What are you working on now?

At the moment I'm working on two short stories and a novella, but also on what I hope will become my next novel. The latter is about female friendship and poison, not necessarily in that order.