Q1. Hi there and welcome to this short little interview. Let’s start with a bit about you? Where you’re from? And what you do? Author biog and picture.
I’m 42 years young and live on the edge of the New Forest with my wife and nearly teenage son. My day job is as a tax fraud investigator, which is a surprise to many who know me as an absolute softie, and as an author I cover various genres of fiction and non-fiction, including horror, sci-fi and fantasy, crime, comedy, and even sports reporting. Away from work and writing I am a big fan of sports and music. I love going to gigs and matches, play rhythm and bass guitar, and am a long distance runner – this picture is me before running the 2015 London Marathon, and I can assure you I did not look this chipper at the end!
Q2. Do you remember the first record/tape/cd that you bought? Why this one? Does it bring back memories I’d love to know?
You’d expect something really silly and childish, wouldn’t you? Not a bit of it – I must have been 6 going on 36, because it was ‘Under Your Thumb’ by Godley and Creme. Obviously, I liked a spooky ghost story even then – that was probably around the time I started writing them.
Q3. Is there a song that could be the theme tune of your life or your personality? Is there a song that is the theme tune for any of your characters lives?
I’ve had one or two encounters with the Black Dog in my lifetime, and I often have to take special care to keep him at bay. One song that always helps is ‘Mr E’s Beautiful Blues’ by The Eels, itself a rare moment of lightness written by someone who has known some dark times.
The same song is one of a couple used by the characters to try and find optimism in my out of print (but hopefully to be re-released) zombie novel The Dead Shall Feed. The other is ‘Buck Rogers’ by Feeder; ironically neither of these are very well regarded by their composers.
My novella Midlife Crisis is directly named after the Faith No More song, although the Talking Heads’ ‘Once in a Lifetime’ may be a better analogy for what the main character, Clayton, goes through. However my choice for this one is Sophie B. Hawkins’ ‘Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover’; reflecting Clayton’s feelings of being trapped and wishing for more excitement elsewhere. Reader, he will get that, but he might not like it …
I have a story in the new issue of Far Horizons Magazine (which can be downloaded for free at https://farhorizonsmagazine.wordpress.com/) which is inspired by the REM song ‘(Don’t Go Back to) Rockville’, albeit with the reasons for staying away being creepier than Mike Mills’ love life.
REM also get a mention in my new novella Escaping Firgo, but since it is about the main character being trapped somewhere he can’t get away from, I think I’ll nominate The Animals as the soundtrack to this one: ‘We Gotta Get Out of This Place’.
Q4. In your books do your main characters have favourite songs or musicians?
Yeah, we tend to let our own tastes filter through, don’t we? Therefore my books seem to be set in a parallel world; an Indie, Post-Grunge Utopia where Simon Cowell or Stock Aitken and Waterman were never born, and Pixies and Husker Du are household names!
I took this too far in the first draft of my debut novel, loading it with direct quotes of song lyrics, which I’ve since learned is a major legal no-no and a lawsuit waiting to happen. That’s toned down in the rewritten version but, in an early hint of the darkness to come, one of the characters has a shave while staring bug-eyed and snarling this harrowing Pixies song at his reflection – ‘Gouge Away’.
Q5. If you’re romantically involved, or have been in the past Do you have an “Our Song” one that takes you back to a certain moment? Do any of your characters have a song?
Ha! And with that question, you’ve completely derailed my Alt-Rock Crusade from the one before! Because it’s time for me to throw in a bit of Shania. My wife and I played ‘You’re Still the One’ at our wedding, which I realise now was a little inappropriate; that’s a song for long established couples and as newlyweds, ‘From this Moment’ would have been a better pick.
However, since we’re in our 15th year of marriage, our song is now more fitting, and here it is:
Q6. When did you decide to write your first novel? Tell me a bit about the inspiration, process and of course the book. (Feel free to add synopsis, cover, links etc)
It was way back in 2004 when a friend of mine was working for Southampton TV, a now defunct cable TV channel, and was looking to commission a series of low-budget ten minute horror shockers to run late at night. In one sitting I wrote a screenplay titled BITE! and called the two main characters Jay and Alex, his name and mine, not least because I was hoping to star in it too.
The TV station had pretty much run out of money already by then though; they went out of business soon after and the film was never made. But by then I had already asked myself: what happens next? Why? Who else does this involve?, and the scene for a full length novel was set.
It had the working title ‘Bitten’ until I read and loved the Kelley Armstrong book of the same name, at which point I renamed it The Dead Shall Feed, adapted from the chorus of the theme song I’d written to accompany the screenplay:
It’s just a bite, and you just might / Think all sins can be forgiven / But they’re turning nature upside down / And the dead shall feed on the living
At one point the working title was in fact ‘Bite! – And the Dead Shall Feed’, until I realised it had exactly the same cadence as the Cillit Bang advert.
I didn’t work quickly in those days. The first draft was finished in March 2009, and it was published by Panic Press two years later. Unfortunately that company went bust shortly afterwards, and it’s been out of print ever since. I’m confident it will be published again; the rewrite has been the hardest thing I’ve ever done, because I’m a very different person now from the one that wrote the first draft, but I’m sure it will be well worth it in the end.
Q7. How do you write? Do you plan or take it as it comes? Have a favourite place or time for writing?
I only work a three day week at present, so have Mondays and Tuesdays to myself to write uninterrupted within office hours, and really treat it as an occupation. I haven’t always followed the plan, but my main 2018 New Year’s Resolution is to be more disciplined there, and hopefully I can stick to it. Other than that it’s on an ad hoc basis, but my laptop is almost always on, and the word counts should pile up.
In terms of plotter or pantser, I’m kind of a hybrid; a ‘plontser’ if you will, in that I always have an idea of what I want to get out of a scene or chapter, but how I do so is decided in the moment. Usually I have a single, one line prompt to cover one or two thousand words of prose.
Q8. Do you write to music or prefer silence. Do you think that music can inspire a scene or feeling within your writing and your characters story?
I am pretty passionate about music, but rarely play anything specific while I write – my focus would inevitably shift towards it rather than the task in hand. That said, I find complete silence a little dismaying too, so usually I will have one of the TV music channels on at a low, background volume.
A lot of what I write is directly inspired by certain songs, but even in those cases I don’t need to listen to the song during the writing – maybe just once before the start.
Q9. What song would you like played at your funeral and why? (Sorry it’s a bit of a morbid question!)
During my visits from the Black Dog, I’ve viewed my own mortality from a purely selfish point of view: it’s only relatively recently that I’ve accepted that there will be people who love me, who will miss me, who will be upset by my passing. That now has become the hardest thing to bear; I don’t want to make anybody sad, least of all those who really care about me.
So I hope that my passing, when it comes, will be a comical one, such as would feature on Horrible Histories, or at the back of the Fortean Times, or in the Darwin Awards, and then instead of being sad that I’ve gone, people will laugh at the manner of my departure. Anyone who knows me well and has seen how clumsy I am will agree that this is well possible.
Failing that, the song of my choosing is ‘See a Little Light’ by Bob Mould. In actuality it’s about someone being in denial about the end of a relationship, but the main title line, and the fact that it’s a beautiful, uplifting song, could bring comfort to the bereaved.
Q10. What are your Top 3 Songs of all Time? The ones you can’t live without?
Oh, the big guns now! I must have about a hundred songs in my Top 3, and even those fluctuate on a regular basis. It won’t be easy to pin these down.
I know you’re a massive Strictly Come Dancing fan, so I’ll start with my dream Strictly song, the one I’ve fantasised to dancing to and absolutely nailing; being a supposed no-hoper who suddenly pulls four 10s. I think there’s a lot of good moves that could be put to the intro and the solo – it’s the second Pixies song given here, a much poppier one from the same album – ‘Here Comes Your Man’.
I’m going to keep my dancing pants on for the next one, and revisit the absolute zenith of the mid 90s, the golden age of clubbing. I remember finding myself at the front of the stage on a vast, but little known nightclub in Southampton, dancing to this, and seeing a sea of hands and joyous faces filling the dancefloor and reflecting my moves back at me. I still dance to this in the exact same way, only now it’s in the living room, behind closed curtains: ‘Set You Free’ by N-Trance.
And finally I’m going to acknowledge my Welsh side with the last pick. I’m a quarter Welsh (chwarter Cymraeg dw i) on my Dad’s side, and that has influenced my writing considerably. Two of my books are set there: the tragic true-life tales of coalmining disasters in Aberfan and Senghenydd, and the much cheerier, family friendly crime caper Richard Pritchard and the Distinctly Unsavoury Occurrence.
The specific song I’m choosing recalls the Black Dog, I’m afraid, but in doing so it shows how something so beautiful can be created out of the depression. It’s ‘From Despair to Where’ by the Manic Street Preachers.
Q11. Would you like to read aloud your favourite passage from one of your books? Or if you submit it here then I will read it.
Q12. What are you currently working on?
I’m once again attempting the rewrite of my debut novel, years – literally, years – after being asked for it, and having recently got a Master of Arts in Creative Writing, I’m also preparing a pitch for a PhD project. It’s in the supposedly less academic or literary field of football writing, but one which I feel is underrated and has scope for genuinely inspirational and insightful writing.
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