1. Was horror writing always your calling or did you start outside the genre?
My reading habits began with an ‘anything and everything’ approach, and my writing started off the same way. I started out by forcing myself to join a local evening class, on the grounds that I couldn’t harbour a secret dream of writing for much longer without actually trying to do any. After I took some toddler steps, I realised the ideas that got my fingers itching to get to the keyboard tended to be dark fantasy and horror, and so I began to read more and write more and read more . . . it went from there. Having said that, right back in those early classes, some people’s work resulted in everyone giving a nod and a smile, or even a laugh. Mine tended to draw an ‘ooh’ or a little hiss of breath, so maybe it was there from the start!
2. What is the first Horror book you remember reading?
Now you’re asking! I remember borrowing my brother’s Stephen King books when I was younger, so it was probably one of those. Or it might have been James Herbert’s Rats. Going back even further though, I adored fairy tales when I was a kid, and in some ways I think they’re the earliest horror stories – abandoned children, attempts to murder princesses, wicked witches in the wood, wolves . . . yes, it could have been all of those. And I loved Hans Christian Andersen, mainly because his stories made me cry. Even then, I found the loss and loneliness in The Little Mermaid much more terrible than Hansel and Gretel being left to die in the forest.
3. What is your favourite Horror novel?
Another tough question! I always hate having to pick just one, so I’ll probably cheat. I love Stephen King’s The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, and only realised quite recently that it’s probably because it’s King’s take on a fairy tale, Little Red Riding Hood. It’s beautifully put together and balanced and has all those terrors of the mysterious and quite possibly magical wood. Some more recent brilliant reads include Sarah Pinborough’s The Death House, Tim Lebbon’s The Silence and The Girl with all the Gifts by M. R. Carey. I also love just about anything by Joe Hill and John Ajvide Lindqvist. Trespassing more into dark fantasy, I also enjoy Neil Gaiman’s work.
4. What is your favourite Horror film?
I’m not a great fan of the slasher style horror film, though I do watch them. I prefer things a bit quieter and more psychological. My favourite film, Pan’s Labyrinth, wouldn’t really class as horror at all, though it certainly has horrific moments. I like a film that can genuinely surprise me, so I enjoyed Skeleton Key, which also has a terrific atmosphere and a great sense of place with its southern Louisiana setting. I liked The Cell, too, though again, it’s also cross-genre – weirdery with horrific aspects!
Ha! No. Not since I saw Jaws when I was a little kid, anyway. And scary things in books seem to lodge in my brain and haunt me afterwards rather than make me stop reading – I’m far more likely to read on into the early hours to find out how it turns out. I do get ridiculously creeped out by some films, though. I’m a sucker for the creeping-around-the-house ones, where you just know something’s going to appear in the bathroom mirror. It’s such a cliché, but it gets me anyway. Event Horizon terrified me when I saw it in the cinema; some teenage lads behind me laughed their socks off when I jumped so hard I spilled my popcorn. The Ring was seriously scary, as was The Grudge, though people laugh at me when I admit that too. The thing is, people expect horror writers to be immune to that stuff – like they’re the big bad wolf or something. We’re really more like the little kid hiding under the bed . . .
6. What made you write the follow up to A Cold Season now?
Although A Cold Season had quite an open ending, I never actually intended to write a sequel. I only really began to think about it because people started asking what happened next, and it got me wondering! I suppose that’s why it’s taken a few years – I didn’t have that story ready, and I didn’t want to write the book for the sake of it. I knew I had to have an idea that felt like a whole to me, that justified a new novel, that would hopefully be an exciting read while wrapping things up the way the characters deserved. And then the idea struck and things began accruing around it, until I felt I was ready to write.
7. What were your thoughts and feelings the first time you returned to the world you created in A Cold Season?
It’s always a slightly odd feeling, going back. As a writer you’re always moving on and working on the next thing, which kind of drives out the ones you’ve just left behind. Even when a book is published, you tend to be immersed in the one that’ll be coming out a year after it. So it had that slightly unreal feeling – on the other hand that’s kind of nice, because it gave me the chance to see the characters afresh and rediscover things I’d forgotten writing. I always somehow knew, though, that A Cold Silence would be Ben’s turn to tell his story, so it takes place a good few years afterward. His mother’s actions in A Cold Season are in some ways dictated by her childhood, and so I wanted to explore how events in the first book would affect the way Ben turned out when he was older.
8. What are you reading currently?
I’ve just rattled through Finders Keepers by Stephen King, as I loved its predecessor, Mr Mercedes. Black Static magazine is also on the bedside table – it’s a showcase for new horror short fiction, and the latest issue is terrific. I’m also reading some non-fiction, Houdini and Conan Doyle, by Christopher Sandford. It explores a fascinating relationship – the stage magician and escape artist who went around debunking the idea of magic and indeed spiritualism, and the man who believed in fairies and séances while creating that most rational of detectives, Sherlock Holmes.
9. What is your biggest fear?
Going right back to those early fairy tales, that would still be loss of those I love. I must have been quite wise back when I was five! It probably sounds naff to some people, too, but I’m terrified of the day I have to say goodbye to my dog. I know, I know: but I love him, and as someone once said to me – a random walker, talking of his own lost dog with tears in his eyes – they don’t live long enough. And I’m scared of dementia, of loss of the self; particularly of being aware of the loss of the self, which is surely even worse.
Course, slugs kind of freak me out too . . .
10. Can you recommend one book which is so scary it has to be read in the sun?
The deep, dark forest in Adam Nevill’s The Ritual remained in some corner of my mind long after I’d finished the book – that could certainly do with a few rays of sunshine! It’s about a group of friends getting lost in a Scandinavian wilderness – plenty of primal horror, and incredibly tense. If I can mention another, Song of Kali by Dan Simmons would be a good one. It’s set in the heat of Calcutta, though it picks the reader up and drops them in an incredibly dark place, so a spot of sun and a G n’ T to hand might be a rather good idea.