Scenes of Mild Peril by David Court Genre: Horror / Sci-fi / Satire , Short Stories
Across thirty disquieting stories, we'll encounter such tales as, "Sovereign's Last Hurrah", featuring a team of retired super-powered villains embarking on one last caper with their legendary super-hero rival.
"A Comedian Walks into a Bar", in which a hungry and ambitious amateur learns that the fabled secret of comedy may come at too high a cost. "83", where the interview for a dream job becomes a nightmare, and "In Vino Veritas, In Vino Mors", where a dying wine collector takes part in a very special tasting session, courtesy of a very special visitor.
You'll encounter possessed little fingers, magic swords, sanity-defying factories, stranded astronauts, lovecraftian librarians, virulent plagues, and pork scratchings ... all with a twist in the tale, courtesy of the equally twisted mind of David Court.
At first, she thought it to be a trick of the light, but then realised that the shadow itself had form and weight. A child’s hand emerged, but as it moved into the light she could see each of the fat stubby fingers was a single, thin, red tendril folded over itself. The fingers extended to their full length and grasped at the air. The thing emerged in much the same manner, spreading and unfolding itself to its full size.
Hannah was frozen in fear and could do nothing but watch as the whole thing now stood in front of the door, perched on top of impossibly thin limbs. The horror was bright red, thick indents across its surface marking muscle—a thin thing which for all intents and purposes looked like a child’s drawing of a stick man, albeit one with the face of an infant. It swayed where it stood, as though it were acclimatising to its form. Eyes on a face of raw muscle and sinew darted around the room as the child’s mouth opened and closed noiselessly.
It blinked in the light for a few moments before it noticed her—two baby blue eyes narrowed; they stared at her as the mouth opened again.
David Court is a short story author and novelist, whose works have appeared in over a dozen venues including Tales to Terrify, Strangely Funny, Fears Accomplice and The Voices Within. Whilst primarily a horror writer, he also writes science fiction, poetry and satire.
His writing style has been described as "Darkly cynical" and "Quirky and highly readable" and David can't bring himself to disagree with either of those statements.
Growing up in the UK in the eighties, David's earliest influences were the books of Stephen King and Clive Barker, and the films of John Carpenter and George Romero. The first wave of Video Nasties may also have had a profound effect on his psyche.
As well as being a proud VIP writer for Stitched Smile Publications, David works as a Software Developer and lives in Coventry with his wife, three cats and an ever-growing beard. David's wife once asked him if he'd write about how great she was. David replied that he would, because he specialized in short fiction. Despite that, they are still married.
What is something unique/quirky about you?
I used to be a keen cosplayer, and got into it through my life of the UK Comic Character Judge Dredd. I’ve spent many a convention patrolling up and down the halls, and on the basis of that got involved in the Leicester Square Premiere of Dredd (2012) in London and got to meet Karl Urban and the writer Alex Garland in an exclusive preview of the movie in a hotel in Soho, London. I haven’t done it much for a couple of years – I tell others that it’s because I’m concentrating on my writing, but in reality I’ve put on a bit of weight and a leather one-piece outfit is not very forgiving. Not such a big fan of the Stallone Dredd film from the mid-nineties – we don’t talk about that movie in these parts.
Tell us something really interesting that's happened to you!
If we peer way back through the mists of time, back to around 2004/2005, I hadn’t really gotten involved with writing at that stage, but I was clearly frustrated on the creative front. I used to be a regular poster on an internet message board known at b3ta, and one bored night decided to make a little animated version of the entirety of Star Wars: A New Hope to fit into a tiny animated gif less than 250k in size. Like you do. That went down well, so I did The Empire Strikes Back as well. Following that, Return of the Jedi. Each of these took me weeks to make – and were all painstakingly done frame by frame – but went viral and earned me a little notoriety on the internet.
One day, out of the blue, Lucasfilm got in touch to tell me that they were a big fan of my work – They sent me a goodie bag filled with loads of unusual and rare Star Wars stuff, and I got on their Christmas Card List. That’s quite interesting, isn’t it? I sometimes get asked if I’ll do any more, but I actually have a life now. And I can barely bring myself to watch Star Wars Episodes 1 to 3, so I’d really struggle to animate them. That said, I have done the same with Alien, Aliens, the first three Indiana Jones movies and Jaws – they’re all lurking on the internet for those that care to look.
What are some of your pet peeves?
This is where I should be really profound and say “War”, “man’s inhumanity to man” or “bigotry”, but I’m way too petty for that. In reality, it’s people who refuse to move their bags from seats in busy trains, people who spend way too long trying to figure out how to use cash points and people who like chocolate limes.
Where were you born/grew up at?
I’m a born and bred Coventry lad. Coventry is pretty much in the dead-centre of the UK, and occupies a status of a certain limbo. Northerners insist that we’re Southerners, and Southerners insist that we’re Northerners. It doesn’t help that we have such a neutral accent that only Coventrians can spot other Coventrians I had a brief detour to the neighboring city of Leicester in my University days, but ended up gravitating back to Coventry again.
If you knew you'd die tomorrow, how would you spend your last day?
Is it awful that my gut answer was “Desperately trying to get hold of Kathleen Kennedy or JJ Abrams so they could tell me what happens in Star Wars Episode 9?” Of course I’d spend the time with my wife and cats and we’d eat some excellent food and drink some overly expensive wine. I might finally be allowed to watch my choice of movie without argument, but my ultimate aim would be to be blind-drunk and semi-comatose when the Grim Reaper appeared.
Who is your hero and why?
Now sadly no longer with us, but the great comedian (and I’d argue prophet) Bill Hicks. His stuff was as thought-provoking as it was hilarious, and he elevated stand-up comedy into somewhat of an art form. I’d love to hear what his take on the current state of the world was, as I also would with the now sadly deceased writer Douglas Adams (who is my bona-fide writing hero).
What kind of world ruler would you be?
Benevolent, but short tempered prone to pettiness. Truth be told, I’d probably be bored of it within the first few hours. Is there an ermine cape and sceptre involved? If there is, count me in. I’ll employ a Grima Wormtongue style-lackey to do all the heavy lifting, though.
What are you passionate about these days?
Despite my better wishes, I’m getting more and more passionate – certainly angrier, anyway – about the current state of politics. I’ve always felt very strongly about the books, movies and music I like, but politics feels so important right now. I’m by no means any form of activist, but I find myself getting increasingly annoyed at the way the world is progressing – or rather, regressing.
It’s becoming increasingly more difficult as a horror writer to come up with situations scarier than the ones we’re already living in. And Sci-fi writers trying to come up scary dystopian futures? We’re there, now. Through Star Trek Gene Roddenberry hinted at a peaceful future of enlightenment and compassion, but we’re going in precisely the opposite direction of superstition and distrust.
Favourite foods and music?
I’m a keen cook - I do a Jambalaya and Lasagne to die for - but I’m really fond of a decent curry, which, being stuck in the Midlands, there’s no shortage of. Music wise, my tastes are pretty eclectic - film soundtracks when I’m writing, various bits of electronica and industrial stuff the rest of the time, but I’ll listen to anything. I don’t believe in guilty pleasures in music - if you like it, why feel guilty? I used to be a complete musical snob but think I’ve grown out of that. Life’s too short – if you like it, don’t feel guilty.
What makes you laugh or cry?
Comedy-wise, I’m a real fan of dark humour, so League of Gentlemen and Rick & Morty are right up my street. Classic British Comedy is also my weakness. Crying? I seem to blub at the drop of a hat but the two things guaranteed to get me bawling like an infant are (a) The very end of Silent Running and (b) the bit where John William’s music swells and the bikes take off into the air in E.T. Both reduce me to an absolute sobbing wreck. I can’t look at a watering can or hear Joan Baez without sniffling now.
What do you do to unwind and relax?
I’m a huge fan of movies, so a lot of my time – when I’m not writing or reading – is spent watching films. As a huge geek, I’m also a huge fan of board-games. The sort of games that take about eight hours to play and involve way too many dice. I’m also – as my stomach and beard will attest to – way too fond of craft beer.
Describe yourself in 5 words or less!
Kind. Sarcastic. Shy. Excitable. Happy. Innumerate.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
For as long as I can remember, I’ve enjoyed telling stories. Once upon a time that used to be through table-top roleplaying – I’d invent worlds and situations for my group to play in. I started writing a few pieces of short fiction based around some of those characters, but they were pretty much only for my viewing only.
A while back, I got involved with a (sadly now defunct) online fiction forum. One of those places where you submit your stories, and readers and other authors get the chance to comment and provide a critique of your work. I submitted a short horror story I’d written (solely for fun, never intended for publication) and it went down really well. So I wrote another story, and another – and became somewhat addicted to the reaction.
As writers, all we really ever crave is the adulation of our audiences, regardless of how we package it. Buoyed by the positive responses to my stories, it gave me the courage to submit one of them (that first one, The Shadow Cast by the World, which became the lead story in my first collection) to a publisher, and it was accepted.
I guess it was then I thought “Yeah, I’m a writer now”. That feeling rarely lasts though – I go meandering through phases veering from over-confidence to horrible impostor syndrome. But yeah, I guess I’m a writer now
Do you have a favorite movie?
This is a tricky one and my answer tends to vary to questions such as this, but I always end up gravitating back to Aliens. I’ve always said that it’s about as close to cinematic perfection as you can get – the plot, the pacing, the acting, the SFX. And it also does the rare thing of being an excellent sequel to an equally excellent film. It’s a film I come back to again and again, and it’s one of those films that if it’s ever on television, I have to watch the whole thing again. Even though I own them all on Blu-ray and can watch them any time I like
Depending on my biorhythmic cycle for any particular day, feel free to replace this answer with The Thing, The Princess Bride, The Empire Strikes Back or Children of Men. And many, many more.
Which of your novels can you imagine made into a movie?
If Hollywood is reading, “Any of them. Any of them would make a perfect movie, and my rates are relatively cheap. Call me.” Honestly though, the one I’m working on at the moment – It’s called “The High Room”, and it’s a deviation from my standard stuff – literary fiction, as opposed to my typical genre stuff. It’s a semi-autobiographical coming of age story set in the Midlands, UK during the eighties and is some seriously heavy stuff. It’d make a great gritty drama, but wouldn’t be easy viewing. I wrote it to provide some catharsis following my mum dying, and it evolved into something I hadn’t expected. It’d be the sort of drama that would end with a voiceover going “If you’ve been affected by any of the issues in this film…”
As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?
I don’t need a spirit animal, I’ve got three actual ones who decide to bother me every time I commit myself to writing. Three cats (Lilith, Aslan and Twist) who only find my lap appealing when I’m sat at my computer about to dedicate myself to a serious writing session. Spirit animals would probably be considerably less fuss – certainly less miaowy and scratchy. And they don’t need litter trays emptying.
How did you come up with name of this book?
I’m a huge fan of anthology movies (Creepshow, Trick ‘r Treat, Dead of Night, for example) and I approached “Scenes” to try and recreate some of that magic. From then on, I wanted to find a title that was something to do with films. The BBFC (British Board of Film Classification) have to put warnings on the back cover of each DVD and Blu-ray, and “Contains Scenes of Mild Peril” cropped up on one particular movie I was watching – I think it was something like “March of the Penguins” or something similarly innocuous. Once I’d seen that, I couldn’t call the book anything else. It’s just such a comical, vague and odd warning.
What can we expect from you in the future?
I have a new collection in the works –An Untruth of Summoners – which is all the short stories I’ve been working on since the newest book was finished. Like Scenes of Mild Peril, it’s a selection of stories that have appeared in anthologies from other publishers and some brand new stuff. Again, it’s a selection of science fiction, horror and some poetry for good measure. I’m hoping that that will see light sometime next year.
As well as that, I have a full length sci-fi novel called Recreant that I’m putting the finishing touches to – it’s a satirical space opera that I’ve had lurking in my head for twenty years – and a novella called The High Room which is a semi-autobiographical work about growing up in the middle of England during the nineteen-eighties.
Can you tell us a little bit about the stories in Scenes of Mild Peril?
They’re a selection of pieces from other publisher’s anthologies, and some brand new stuff written exclusively for this collection. They’re a real snapshot of where my writing is at the moment, and I think it’s by far my strongest work to date.
I’ve tried for an eclectic mix, and hopefully there’s something in there for everybody. My first love will always be horror but I’ve even tried to keep those varied – there are some scary pieces, and some downright funny ones. There’s some science fiction, some satire – and a smattering of poetry dotted throughout. I wanted it to feel like one of those anthology movies where not everything might be to your taste, but even if it isn’t, there’ll be something you love coming along in a bit.
Where did you come up with the names in the story?
Sometimes the character influences the names, but at other times I’ve got a bit of a trick – I’ll take a character trait, and look for a name which has that as a meaning. So, if a character is a natural leader, I might (for example) called them Conn, or Ethan – both of which mean “Leader”. This probably isn’t that much of a trick, as I’ve heard that a lot of fellow writers do the same.
What’s weird at times it almost feels like a character will name themselves. A name will suit them, and it’ll never shift.
There’s one name that crops up in a few of my stories, but it’s almost like an Easter egg to be found. And no, I won’t spoil it – you need to read the book
What did you enjoy most about writing this book?
I’m a fan of a lot of genres, and I’ve been lucky enough to be invited to a fairly varied selection of anthologies. The varying categories of stories mean that I’ve been able to write what I’ve wanted to write, not tied down to any particular theme. Stitched Smile Publications are primarily a horror and dark fiction publisher – certainly some of the stories in Scenes of Mild Peril fit into that category, but not all, so it’s an interesting fit.
What also helped in that in the past I’ve always been in a bit of a rush to get my new book out – in the case of Scenes of Mild Peril I’ve taken my time, and it definitely shows in the finished article. I’ve got some excellent beta readers, a couple of wonderful editors and a talented cover artist, and the finished thing feels like a really excellent collaborative effort. It feels like a really powerful body of work when you’re holding it in your hands. It feels substantial, and I couldn’t be prouder of it.
How did you come up with the title of your first novel?
My first ever collection was The Shadow Cast by the World back in 2013, and that was named after the story that started it all off. I think the 2013 me thought it both suitable portentous and pretentious enough to be the name for a book. It still works though; the story itself is about things that lurk in the shadows, and the theme of the book is similar.
Who designed your book covers?
I’ve got an art qualification, yet am also a frustrated creative who rarely gets the opportunity to exercise his artistic chops so used to do them myself. I know my way around Photoshop and have basic ideas about composition, and such.
But now I’m working with a publisher (shout out to the lovely folk at Stitched Smile Publications) they got me in touch with one of their own artists, a guy called Mason Buchanan who makes great art under the pseudonym of SISU (https://sisuart.bigcartel.com). It was a really interesting collaborative process, going through ideas with the publisher and the artist. I was trying to go for the look of one of those old EC Horror comics and have the cover image incorporate a couple of key elements from some of the stories, and SISU did an absolutely wonderful job. I couldn’t have been happier with the end result.
If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
Something pointed out by the beta readers of Scenes of Mild Peril, which I’m trying hard to rectify; I don’t have enough female protagonists. I do have them, but not nearly enough. And there’s no real logic or reason for it – so yeah, if I was hitting Scenes of Mild Peril from scratch again, I’d make a few more characters female.
Did you learn anything during the writing of your recent book?
My first two collections (The Shadow Cast by the World and Forever and Ever, Armageddon) were self-published, but Scenes of Mild Peril is published by Stitched Smile, so the experience has been very different.
Self-publishing makes it easy to get your stuff out there quickly, but I can only speak for myself in that the quality isn’t as great. I’m a Software Developer for a living, and we programmers are our own worst bug-finders. Working with editors is a relatively new experience, but it’s been an utter revelation. Speaking for myself, I thought the final manuscript I’d handed over was perfect in every way – it takes an editor to let you know that that isn’t so.
So yeah, a valuable lesson was learned in that I can’t overstate the importance of editors enough.
Which of the stories from Scenes of Mild Peril would work well on film, who would you like to play the lead?
My wife and I have had similar fantasy casting conversations before (typically over a glass or two of Sauvignon Blanc). There’s a story in there called Sovereign’s Last Hurrah, which is a vaguely comedic and somewhat poignant story about aged heroes and villains all living in a home for retired super-humans. It’d work well on film because everybody loves superheroes (Hollywood? Call me). It’s a tale of retirement, resentment and redemption and it’s the one that I found myself subconsciously casting as I was writing it. The protagonist (a Riddler-type supervillain who wasn’t terribly good at it) would have been played by the excellent British character actor Toby Jones, but the lead character – Sovereign, a barely-disguised Superman-a-like – was crying out to have one of the actual Superman actors playing him. The sadly missed Christopher Reeve, if he was still with us, but failing that – Brandon Routh or Henry Cavill. They’d see the irony and funny side
That, and “Let it Cry”, a story set in Ireland during the Black Plague – it’d make a great short movie, and the lead character is basically the underrated actor Emmett J. Scanlan – although I didn’t realise that until I’d finished writing it.
Anything specific you want to tell your readers?
There are a few Easter eggs hidden throughout my stories, and a collection of them is the best way to spot them. It’s a bit of a running joke with my readers who’ve spotted them already, and I’ll probably keep doing them – as well as adding some new ones – until the day I decide to stop writing.
Which is your favourite story in the book and why?
That’s a tough question, as it’s a bit like being asked to name your favourite child. It’s something you can do about other peoples kids, just not your own. That said, there are stories in Scenes of Mild Peril that mean more to me than others, for a variety of reasons.
I’ve a soft spot for “A comedian walks into a bar” (my tale of an amateur trying to learn the secret of comedy) because it’s one of the few stories of mine that gave me nightmares. “Let it Cry” and “83” struck a nerve because I was lucky enough to hear both of them excellently narrated on the Tales to Terrify podcast.
Regarding my audience, the one really interesting thing about my beta reader’s experience of the book is that they’ve all had their own favourites. Different stories have meant different things to different people, and there’s nothing better for a writer to hear.
If you could spend time with a character from any of the stories in your book whom would it be? And what would you do during that day?
One of my stories – In Vino Veritas, In Vino Mors – is about a dying wine collector relating tales of his life to a very special guest. He’s certainly lived a lifetimes worth, and I really enjoyed writing about him relating the exuberant tales of his youth. He’s frail and dying, but comes alive when reminiscing about his well-spent past. I’d spend the day doing exactly what happens in Albarossa’s story - drinking exotic wines and spirits with him, whilst simply chatting. Our day would end very differently to how Albarossa’s ends in the story, though.
Convince us why you feel your book is a must read.
Out of all of the works I’ve ever created, I think Scenes of Mild Peril is the closest to what I wanted it to be. It’s very representative of the kinds of stories I like to read, and that appears to be resonating with my readers as well. I’ve put everything I have into those stories, and it’s an excellent way to get a snapshot of all of my best current works.
There’s something in there for everybody. If horror or science fiction is your bag, there’s something to suit. If you like humour or satire, there’s something for you too. The shorter stories are snappy enough to read on the bus or whilst trying to placate an angry llama, and there’s more than enough to sink your teeth into in the longer tales. There’s even some passable attempts at poetry ;)
Most importantly though, there’s something in all of them to get you thinking, hopefully long after you’ve closed the book. And there’s a money-back guarantee* if you don’t laugh at least four times (* - That may be a lie).
If your book had a candle, what scent would it be?
Cinnamon. Everybody likes the smell of cinnamon, right?
What did you edit out of this book?
Like a few of my stories, “Sovereign’s Last Hurrah” has featured in an anthology from another publisher. It originally had a different ending to the one it has now. We writers can be a precious lot, and I remember being quite annoyed when the editor told me to rewrite the original ending because he didn’t like it.
After I’d got through the “How dare he? Doesn’t he know I’m a writer?” stage, it dawned on me that he was absolutely correct. The ending it has now – prompted by that wise editor – is infinitely better than the one it originally had.
So, in the first draft of “Scenes”, I had the alternative (original) ending as a curio of sorts, just so the reader could see them both. That “special edition” existed through quite a few drafts until, eventually, we decided to get rid of it. It broke up the pacing, wasn’t really necessary, and no reader wants a multiple-choice ending for the story. The one it has now is the correct and better ending.
A few other stories didn’t make the cut; one was very similar to another in the same book so had to go, and one – a horror erotica piece - just felt like it didn’t belong. Thematically, it felt out of place. Luckily, there’s enough content in the book that I didn’t feel that leaving the odd story out would really change anything – and there’s something inherently neat about having a straight thirty stories in it.
What are your top 10 favorite books/authors?
Like my list of top ten movies or tunes, this is a list in constant flux. Trying to name my top ten would be like trying to herd cats or knit with fog, but I can have a flying guess at what my present top ten are – but in fifteen minutes it may have changed completely. One thing that won’t change is that I’m a huge comic fan and consider them as valid as any other form of literature (which you’ll probably identify from reading Scenes of Mild Peril), so that’ll be reflected in this list. So there won’t be as many as ten, and they’re not in any particular order, but here we go;
Saga of the Swamp Thing by Alan Moore – It’d be way too easy to put Moore’s Watchmen here, but I think Swamp Thing is a way more crucial piece of work. It elevated comic writing to a new level, as well as giving a level of depth I hadn’t seen before to what is essentially a horror story. Without this, you wouldn’t have Sandman or the like – It changed the landscape of comics.
The Borderlands Series of Horror Anthologies (Various authors; edited by Thomas F. Monteleone) – If I’ve ever been inspired by anything in my own writing, it’s the stories in Borderlands. It’s contemporary, chilling and smart horror, every single story from which has stuck with me for years. If Scenes of Mild Peril were a building, the Borderland Series would be its foundation. Some of the best short stories you will ever read lurk within those covers. Adam Faraizl who played the young Eddie Kapsbrak in the original TV adaption of “It” was at a horror convention and asked if anybody remembered these books. Only a few hands shot up, including those of my wife and I. There was a brief moment of kinship between us all.
Raymond E. Feist; the guy was my proper introduction to fantasy literature. I’d read the Hobbit but as a kid found Lord of the Rings a dull, laborious slog. I grew to appreciate it as I grew older, but Feist’s Magician series opened my eyes to properly written approachable fantasy with likeable characters. Scenes of Mild Peril has a fantasy story in it, but it’s a bit of a piss-take of all the long-winded dullest fantasy staples.
Clive Barker; I grew up on a diet of eighties schlock-horror about carnivorous rats and toxic slugs, and Barker was a breath of fresh air. His stuff felt sexy, subversive and dangerous. A touch of the cosmic horror of Lovecraft, with a healthy dollop of nihilism to top it all off. His work is still as fresh now as it was then.
Ray Bradbury; The absolute master of the short story, able to convey concepts and plots in a few dozen pages what other authors would struggle to fit in a novel. I learned of his existence through “The Martian Chronicles” being shown on British television, and my teen brain was blown away by it.
I grew up on the Mr. Men books and, even with the cynical eyes of my jaded adulthood, I find them lovely stripped back pieces of storytelling. They should be mandatory reading for all kids, like Roald Dahl.
Pretty much anything by Grant Morrison; He made the Justice League of America relevant again, he introduced metaphysical aspects to previously mundane and simple comic concepts – he made comics clever again. We3, The Invisibles, his run on Batman – all as awesome as they were bizarre and off-kilter. Slightly self-indulgent, pretentious at times and not to everybody’s taste, but I’m somewhat of a fan.
What book do you think everyone should read?
Despite the fact I’ll claim to not have a favourite book, I always give the same answer to this. There’s a book called Bad Wisdom written by Bill Drummond and Mark Manning, and published back in 1996. It’s part-travelogue, part drug-fueled fantasy – all about an epic journey to take a status of Elvis Presley to the North Pole, all related in two very, very different accounts from the two authors. I don’t know how easy it is to get a copy of it these days – my own copy is so well-thumbed it’s only holding together through luck – but I recommend you find it.
It’s a reading experience like nothing you’ll ever have – a travelogue, like all the best ones, where the destination is less important than the journey. And bloody hell, what a journey.
How long have you been writing?
I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember, but the first time I remember ever enjoying writing something which was liked was back at secondary school. We were assigned to write a story with the title “The summer I met…” where the tale had to be about an encounter with a fictional character. We were told it had to be at least six pages long but my story – a veritable saga in which I had adventures with Gizmo the Mogwai from Gremlins - took up most of a notepad, easily ten times the required length. The teacher loved it, and I remember that experience fondly; having created something from scratch that somebody else really enjoyed. That’s all I’m doing still, to a fashion.
What kind of research do you do before you begin writing a book?
The golden answer is; it depends. If I’m writing out of my comfort zone, I like to do a bit of research to avoid any glaring errors. In Scenes of Mild Peril, I close with a story called Let it Cry. My wife is Irish, and on our last holiday to her spiritual homeland of Dublin, we went on a Ghost Bus Tour (“Who you gonna call? Ghost Bus Tours!”). One of the grisly stories of the evening realty struck a chord, and I put pen to paper – or rather index-finger to keyboard – as soon as I arrived back in England. It was going to be a horror tale, but a historical piece. There wouldn’t be anything supernatural in it, as the real events were horrific enough, but because it was a historical piece I wanted it to feel real. I wanted the atmosphere to be just right. I didn’t want anybody to read it and suddenly be dragged out of the story by a glaring anomaly or anachronism.
So, I did substantial research; I studied the geography of the region I’d be writing about, and researched the names of the characters and their jobs to make sure they were in common use during that historical period. And I feel the story works all the better for it.
For my science fiction stuff too, I’ll end up trapped in Wikipedia for hours. It’s too easy to get bogged down in too much research though, and there’s a careful balance between your story reading like a story and remaining entertaining and not a list of regurgitated facts.
Do you see writing as a career?
I’m lucky enough to hold down a fulltime job and it’s that which supports my finances so I can spend time writing. If I could leave my job to write full-time as a career, I’d do it in an absolute heartbeat.
Realistically though, I know how difficult that is. There are so many writers out there and so many books being released, that being able to earn enough to make a living from transcribing made-up nonsense requires a combination of both skill, timing and luck.
But everyone can dream, right?
What do you think about the current publishing market?
There’s a lot of us about, aren’t there? Self-publishing has made it easy for the writer to get him stuff out there and seen, but it’s made it much more difficult for a writer to get his head over the parapets to be seen. And – I speak from personal experience of this, being equally guilty of it in the past – the quality varies dramatically in the stuff that’s out there. With traditional publishing, everything at least had a cursory glance by an editor or two, but without that, there’s some utter dross floating around on the market. Not all of it mind, but enough of it to muddy the waters, as it were.
There used to be a stigma to self-publishing in that it was viewed as vanity publishing, and I think we’ve gone a little way to shift that, but barely enough.
Where do you write?
I have a spare bedroom which tends to be used to store all the crap in the house that gets laughably referred to as the “study”. I have my laptop in there, a selection of books for my research, and – the moment I step into the room – three cats for company.
Do you prefer to write in silence or with noise? Why?
Music is really important to me, and I don’t enjoy sitting in silence. As long as it’s not too distracting, I have to listen to music when I write. It’ll tend to be stuff light in lyrics, classical music or film soundtracks. If I sit in silence, I’ll stare at my monitor without managing anything productive for hours.
I’ll even admit to having Spotify playlists built up based on what I’m writing – fast, up-tempo stuff for action scenes, slow classical pieces when I’m trying to write atmosphere, stuff like that. So, I consider music as much as a tool as my dictionary to assist my individual writing process.
Is there anything you would change about your writing?
I am an absolutely terrible editor of my own stuff. I will literally not spot some errors even if I pored over the manuscript a dozen times with an electron microscope. Some of the errors I make are honestly embarrassing. Thankfully, I’ve got a great editor who is very, very patient. I’m way too keen on a tendency of “Yeah, that’s finished” and throwing it out there, without giving it the loving final touches and tweaking the work needs.
Do you write one book at a time or do you have several going at a time?
I can’t work on multiple drafts of different stories at a time – my brain simply doesn’t work like that – but I have a few “finished” books that need a damn good edit hanging around. Subconsciously I think it’s because editing is my least favourite part of writing, so I’m more likely to hit another new story than edit what I’ve already done. It’s sometimes begrudgingly that I return to them
Pen or typewriter or computer?
Computer, without a doubt. As a software developer, I work with computers all day long, and therefore like so many, seem to have lost the ability to actually write with a pen. I envy those writers who have notepads full of story scribblings and notes – it actually hurts my wrist to write anything other than cursory notes.
I can see the appeal of a typewriter though – the big problem with a computer is that you’re only a click away from the internet and so called “Research” and send you down a rabbit hole which you end stuck in for hours. (Honestly, my search history probably has me on a load of lists – the government probably think I’m a serial killer with a penchant for astrophysics).
Perhaps George R.R. Martin has the right idea with the best of both worlds – he writes his stuff on WordStar 4.0 on an old DOS machine incapable of accessing the internet.
What made you want to become an author and do you feel it was the right decision?
I think it was an organic process – I didn’t decide one day “That’s it; I’m going to be an author!” I’d written a few stories for fun, got brave enough to send them out into the wild, and they were liked. And so – craving the adulation of my peers - I wrote some more, and then eventually there were enough for a whole book. So I think I gradually morphed into an author over time, but I couldn’t pinpoint with any accuracy exactly when that was.
Whether I think that transformation was the right decision, depends; on the days when I get some great reviews, an acceptance letter or notice a lovely peak in sales, yes. When I’m sitting there at the keyboard incapable of forming words or the rejection arrives in my inbox, no. But the fact I’m still doing it all this time later, indicates that I’m in for the long haul. The positives – the audience I’ve gathered and the genuine friends I’ve made – way outweigh the negatives.
What the most challenging and rewarding aspects of being a writer?
For me, the most challenging aspect is finding the time. I have to fit writing around my full-time job which can be a struggle at times, because I’ve set myself the challenge of writing at least a thousand words per day - and that challenge seems impossible on certain days!
The most rewarding aspect has to be when complete strangers get in touch to say they’ve enjoyed your stuff – lots of people don’t realise how critical reviews are to the writer. It’s the reader feedback that keeps me going, and it’s that that makes it all worthwhile.
A day in the life of the author?
I work full-time in the software industry, so my weekday schedule varies wildly from my weekend one. I try to write every single day – writing is like a muscle and, as such, you need to keep exercising it. Even if you’re writing rubbish or just character notes or writing results of research, it’s something. It’s when you stop doing something for a while that you find excuses to continue to procrastinate. If muscles aren’t used, they atrophy. So, in a weekday, I’ll grab evenings to get a couple of hundred words down. On weekends, I’ll either vanish off to my study or pop into the city centre to write in our local library.
Any Advice you would give new authors?
After I’d gotten a few short stories out there, I decided to ignore the carefully given advice of pretty much every writer out there, and decided to write a full length novel. Not a short, not a novella – a novel. This would be my magnum opus. One hundred and ten thousand words (and one year later), I had Version Control, part body-horror/part superhero novel.
Agents would be literally fighting each other in the streets for the rights for my book, and Publishers would bestow me with lots of offers with a heap of zeros on the end.
And do you know what? Looking back on it, some five years later?
Version Control is rubbish. The pacing is awful, the characters are shallow stereotypes (and there are way too many of them). The story is a huge universe-shaking thing that I didn’t have the writing skill to convey adequately, and it all adds up to several hundred pages of utter bilge. It’s virtually unsalvageable. The ending is quite good, though. Even though it leads neatly into a sequel that will never be written.
If I’d paid attention to pretty much any bit of advice from any author, I wouldn’t have fallen into that trap. Learn your craft and get good at it – no, get awesome at it – before unleashing yourself on such a big project. Get really good at building walls before you try to build a house. You may have the perfect house in mind, but you’re not good enough yet.
Also, write, write, write and read, read, read! It may seem obvious, but – as with anything – the more you write, the better you’ll get. Even over the space of a few years, I can see how my writing has improved when I look back at some of my earlier attempts. Reading stuff by other people is critical too – mainly so you don’t stagnate, but also because you’ll learn to recognise various techniques and can adapt them into your own writing.
Describe your writing style.
I don’t think I’m a particularly sophisticated writer, to be fair. Somebody once told me that my stories read like I’m sitting across a table reading them to you, and I’m perfectly happy with that. They read like I speak. I’m a storyteller at heart and I won’t let long-windedness or an over-abundance of adjectives get in the way of that – I just want to entertain you, not force you to vanish off to a thesaurus every five minutes. John Wagner, the creator of Judge Dredd, once said I was “highly readable” and I’m pretty damn happy with that verdict coming from a talent as incredible as his.
Do your characters ever hijack the story or do you feel like you have the reigns?
That’s an interesting question, and up until recently, I’d have insisted that I had full control of my characters. However, in my science fiction novel Recreant, I’d created an unusual protagonist. At one point he’s the unlikely heart of the story, despite being a jaded and cynical old man of pensionable age. He – High Conciliator Yolqun – was supposed to die and make way for the younger protagonists, but true to his character he stubbornly refused to budge. He was such fun to write, that he ended up keeping himself alive just via the gift of the gab. When he finally did meet his maker, I was genuinely sad to see him go.
What makes a good story?
There are a couple of things I like to adhere to in my own works; a strong start – without that you’re going to lose the audience, and you want to grab their attention from the first moment. Make sure to let the story dictate its own pacing – a story is as long or as short as it needs to be, and you don’t want to bore the audience. And then, hopefully, an end as high a quality as the stories start. I’m a sucker for a twist ending, so if I can have my reader coming out of the story still thinking about it, I’ve achieved my aim.
What are you currently reading?
Interestingly, I’m not reading any fiction at the moment. There’s an excellent restaurant critic known as Jay Rayner (who also writes fiction but I haven’t read of it, I’m ashamed to say). I’m reading a book of his – My Dining Hell; Twenty ways to have a lousy night out - which is a collection of his most scathing dining reviews. He has such an incredible way with words, and is utterly hilarious (“They’re advertised as coming with truffle and foie-gras salt, which is like getting a gold-plated, diamond-encrusted case for your smartphone because you’ve run out of things to spend money on.”). There’s something very guilty-pleasure about reading bad reviews of other peoples stuff, isn’t there? I think we a species secretly love it. You can’t feel too bad for the recipients of the bad reviews here because they’re charging a king’s ransom for either terrible food or service. It’s laugh-out-loud funny in parts, and you almost feel sorry for him.
What is your writing process? For instance do you do an outline first? Do you do the chapters first?
It depends on the story. For my shorter works of fiction, it’s enough to have an outline in my head. I’ll work out the “beats” the story has to hit; i.e. the set-pieces in in it, and that’ll be enough to work with. That doesn’t always work because sometimes I hit snags as I’m writing – how could this character get here? Why would this character do this? – But it mostly works.
For my longer stories and novels, I’ll write the whole thing as a synopsis. Each chapter might only be described in a sentence or so, but that’s my route planned out. It may happen that the route deviates wildly, and that one chapter suddenly becomes four, but it gives me just enough structure to work with.
Overall, it’s an organic process. I’ll know by the nature of the story the way I have approach it – that’s only come from experience of getting it wrong so many times in the past!
What is your writing Kryptonite?
Once upon a time I would have said writing sex scenes, but as an experiment to confront that I wrote an erotic horror piece which was pretty much nothing but sex scenes, so that conquered that particular demon. The one thing I’ve tried to – and struggle to write – is extreme horror. I quite enjoy reading it – and I’m friends with some damn fine writers of that particular sub-genre – but I can’t seem to write it myself.
Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?
Maybe selfishly – or perhaps all authors are like that, really - I write primarily for myself. I write the kinds of stories that I would like to read. Because writing is a hobby rather than a career at the moment – albeit a hobby that takes up most of my non-work time – I’m lucky enough to not have to write for a specific market or for a specific audience to keep my family fed. I try to be original anyway – it’s the only way to stand out.
If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
I’m in my forties, and my biggest regret is not doing this earlier. My first bit of advice would be “Don’t marry at twenty. That’s way too young” but my writing advice would be “Just get on with it. You’re holding back because you’re scared of what other people will think of your writing, but until you release it, you’ll never know. And that positive reaction from your readers will be what spurs you on to take this seriously.”
What’s the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?
I’m lucky in that I have a wife, and therefore understand everything that there is to know about women *ducks*. Honestly though, I’ve been accused in the past of not having enough female characters – this isn’t a conscious effort on my part, just something that happens. I’ll admit though that I don’t really write the female characters I do have really any differently to the male ones – and my wife is sure to correct me when I get something hopelessly wrong anyway!
Where do you get your ideas?
A combination of fine wines and exotic cheeses.
Is there anything specific you’d like to tell your readers?
Aye. The one piece of advice I can’t impress enough – You readers probably don’t realise quite how important you are to the continued existence of Indie writers and publishers. Your comments, sharing and reviews are probably what’s keeping them from giving it all up. You’re a wonderful bunch, and the help you give us is absolutely invaluable. I’ve been on the verge of giving this up a few times – writing is a mostly thankless task – but one review or email can make all the difference to keep me inspired.
If you like someone’s stuff, tell them. Pop them an email, or a nice review. It makes a genuinely huge difference.
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