Monday 7 March 2016

Stuart Young & Me, interviewer/interviewee

I like Stuart Young a lot.  We've known one another for years (we go way back to the very late 90s and the days of print zines in the small press), we share a deep and abiding love of Robert B Parker's Spenser novels and we have a laugh when we see each other.
At the Rainfall Books launch, Princess Louise Holborn, London, 5th December 2003
In 2014, both of us had books published through Chris Teague's Pendragon Press - "Reflections In The Mind's Eye" for him, "Drive" for me.  To help with promotion, we had a chat and decided to interview each other, posting them to our own blogs.  I did mine (of course I did), the books were delayed, "Drive" came out, Stu's came out much later, he didn't finish his interview, time moved on.

In December 2015, we were talking about them again because he'd finally got round to answering his questions (which I was keen to see, because he's a genuinely funny bloke) but we had another problem, in that he couldn't access his own blog.  So instead, rather than him host me and me host him, I'm going to publish both of them.  Consider us sitting around a table in a pub somewhere, laughing and messing about and talking about genre.

Stuart Young, interviewed by me

MW:   So let’s talk about “Reflections in the Mind’s Eye”, your new collection from Pendragon Press.  How many stories, what’s the central theme, what span of your writing career do they cover?

SY:  There a four short stories and one novelette. They all fall under the heading of SF, be it SF-horror, SF-crime, or even cosmic horror; and they all deal with different aspects of human consciousness and how it perceives reality. Some of the stories are pretty dark while some of them feature a little more humour in among the heartache and despair. (Although that’s just to lull the reader into a false sense of security and make the dark stuff even more painful.) The stories come from various stages of the last ten years or so of my writing career.

MW:  How did you con Lavie Tidhar and John Llewellyn Probert into the cover blurbs?

SY:  I persuaded John and Lavie and also Gary McMahon to provide cover quotes by the nefarious ploy of writing stories that were so entertaining, insightful and compelling that they had no choice but to say nice things about them. Look, will you stop laughing? I’m being serious.

MW:  Do you feel more comfortable in the short story format, as opposed to the novella length you so successfully deployed with “The Mask Behind The Face”?

SY:  It depends on the story. Sometimes the plot points and emotional beats can be sketched in fairly lightly, the depth and substance deriving from the way the different story elements all tie together, whereas other times I need to go into a bit more detail and spell things out.

One of the nice things about “The Mask Behind the Face” was that I’d been reading up on story structure so I was able to figure out how to fit in the maximum amount of plot yet still leave room for all the character stuff. T.E.D. Klein (yes, I’m namedropping) said that he was impressed with how much I fitted into the story. And various other people (who aren’t famous enough for me to mention their names) praised both the plot and the characterisation. It was having that extra bit of room to work with that allowed me to flesh out the story the way I did.

MW:  How did it feel to win the BFS award and what effect did it have on your writing?

SY:  It felt great at the time but then I had to face the sobering reality that no one I was submitting stories to gave a crap. The general attitude seemed to be “You’ve had your moment in the sun, now sod off and let someone else take a turn.” Fortunately we Youngs are a hardy breed, more than capable of coping with life’s little misfortunes. And so after a mere six months of uncontrollable wailing and gnashing of teeth I returned to writing and even called off the hitman contracts on the editors who had rejected my stories.

The lack of post-award success does feel a little confusing though. While I’m not claiming to knock every story out of the park I’ve had several works published that I think are just as good as “Mask”, if not better, yet they received absolutely zero attention and I can’t figure out why.

MW:  You’re known primarily as a horror/dark fantasy writer, though I’ve seen sci-fi stuff too but in real-life, you’re very funny.  Have you ever considered writing a comedic novel?

SY:  I did start writing a humorous fantasy novel featuring Jarly and Grarg, the characters I used in a comic strip drawn by David Bezzina. Jarly’s an inept wizard and Grarg’s his pet dragon. I got about a quarter of the way through then got sidetracked by other projects. Maybe one day I’ll dig out my notes and see if I’ve got time to finish it.

MW:  What do you prefer to read - horror, sci-fi etc, or something completely different?

SY:  Depends what mood I’m in. Although for the last couple of years I’ve been reading mainly horror because pretty much everyone I know who writes in the genre seems to have been reading it non-stop ever since they graduated from Janet and John books, whereas I didn’t really start reading horror until I was 20 and even then my reading in the genre has been pretty sporadic. Consequently, I have a bit of an inferiority complex about my lack of knowledge and have been trying to catch up. Of course since I’ve been focusing on horror I’ve fallen way behind on science fiction, although this year I have managed to read some JG Ballard, Alastair Reynolds, Peter Watts and Karen Lord. As for fantasy, I think I’m being cutting edge if I read Robert E Howard.

I read a fair bit of crime fiction, mainly hardboiled stuff. And I read comics, with stories across a variety of genres.

A quick list of some of my favourite authors would include John Connolly, Joe R Lansdale, Michael Marshall Smith, Douglas Adams, Greg Egan, Robert B Parker, PG Wodehouse, Michael Moorcock, Alan Moore, Garth Ennis, Grant Morrison, Mark Waid, Warren Ellis and Neil Gaiman.

MW:  So what can we expect from you in the future, what’s waiting to come out and what are you working on now?

SY:  Thou Shalt Not, an anthology featuring my short story “Confessions” (as well as your story “The Goblin Glass”) is available from Tickety Boo Press. My novelette “The Carnivore of Monsters” is appearing in the anthology Marked to Die which should be out from Snuggly Books in April. I’m finishing up a collection of novellas and novelettes for Gray Friar Press; the working title for the book is Scars Across the Soul. The current line-up consists of a haunted house story, a zombie apocalypse, a ghost story and something which is a cross between Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Night of the Eagle (but with Tibetan Buddhism in place of witchcraft).

MW:  Excellent.  So when are we hitting the second hand bookshops on Charing Cross Road again?

SY:  Next time you come to London.
At FantasyCon in Brighton, 29th September 2012, with Gavin Williams

Me, interviewed by Stuart Young

photo by Carrie Buchanan
SY:  Is it true that you called your novella "Drive" in a blatant attempt to cash in on the hit film? And so you can impress young women by pretending to be Ryan Gosling?

MW:  No to both, as it happens.  I originally wrote the novella back in 2008, Chris took it later that year and it’s been part of the Pendragon pipeline since then.  When the novella and film came out, I was convinced we needed to change the title but Chris liked the original one and so we stuck with it - and as it happens, the title is perfect for my story.  I’m not sure that my chances with the ladies would be improved if I looked like Ryan Gosling - if I’m perfectly honest - because neither of us would look like you.

SY:  So what’s the book about?

MW:  It’s about two people who’ve only just met one another - David and Nat.  He’s away from home on a training course, they’re at a party and he offers to drive her home.  On the way they come into contact with three thugs driving an Audi who are out to have a good time, at everyone else’s expense.  The novella follows their evening, as things go steadily from bad to worse.

The initial idea came to me as I was driving to Luton airport very early one morning to go on a work trip to Paris.  It was 3am and the roads were deserted and I felt so isolated and alone, plus the environment of the M1 when nobody else is on it is very alien, that I knew I could write about it.

SY:  You produced the cover artwork for the book yourself. This shows your versatility and creativity and the fact that you’re too cheap to pay a real artist to do the job. But how did you get into producing cover artwork?

The Rainfall Writers, Holborn, December 2003
from left - Joseph Freeman, John B. Ford, Mark Samuels, me.
Stuart shows his true height in front of us...
MW:  Thanks, I think.

This all goes back to my first collection, “Strange Tales”, which was published by Rainfall Books in 2003 (yours was launched at the same time).  I had an idea for the cover, I’d just got photo-software for our PC and I asked John if I could have a go.  He liked it and I was really chuffed, then I did my own cover for “Conjure” too.  With “In The Rain With Dead”, I knew what I wanted to see and did a mock-up for Chris at Pendragon and he liked it and that seemed to set the template really.  Along the way, I started to get asked by other people to design covers and, on the whole, I find it quite enjoyable.  My main drawback is that I can’t draw, so everything has to be done with photographs which can sometimes cause a bit of a problem (I refer you to your blog on the subject).

SY:  Late last year you had another book out from Pendragon Press called “The Lost Film novellas”, a two-hander with Stephen Bacon in which you each contribute a novella about lost films. What terrible thing did Stephen do to deserve having to put up with you as a co-contributor?

MW:  I’m not entirely sure.  We’d corresponded for a while and got on well, then met at FantasyCon in 2010 and talked about doing a collaboration.  We emailed back and forth with ideas and both of us, at some point, mentioned lost films and it went from there.  What we decided to do was write two stand-alone novellas that would have links to the other and both of them turned out very differently indeed - mine is a crime-horror-mystery and Steve’s is almost gothic and superbly written.

SY:  The lost film is a very popular idea within horror fiction. What do you think is the appeal of this particular trope?

MW:  I think it’s the intrigue, to be honest.  Growing up in the 70s and 80s, like you, there were plenty of films that I wanted to see which never came anywhere near my local cinema or on the TV.  The Internet, through various avenues, has rectified a lot of that but there are still legends of films that have never been seen, that never should be seen, that were - indeed - dangerous.  I liked that idea and when I got the concept for “The Lost Film”, I embraced it wholeheartedly.

I decided to have the film-maker in the story, Roger Sinclair, working in the mid-70s, because I liked that period of Brit exploitation films and I thought it suited him just right.  Doing the research was great fun too - reading a lot of crime novels, watching old documentaries on YouTube, looking at old pictures on Flickr - and gave me enough material to stretch over into my Anatomy of Death story “The Glamour Girl Murders”.

The film in the story is called “Terafly” and drives the people who watch it insane because of what it contains, which isn’t always the same for everyone. I had great fun writing it.

SY:  You’re known for your horror fiction but "Drive" is a crime story and the protagonist of “The Lost Film” is a private eye. Does this herald a new direction for your writing?

MW:  I don’t think so, no.  “Drive” is a crime story in the sense that it has baddies in it, but I was all for calling it a novella of urban terror, though Chris wasn’t so keen on that.  I haven’t always written horror but that’s the area that most of my writing over the past fifteen or so years has felt most comfortable in, though I’ve always tried to stretch the definitions.  I don’t write blood-and-guts horror any more, I tend towards the bleaker end of the spectrum now, but sometimes the supernatural element is little more than a sigh.  But I like that.

With “The Lost Film”, it just made sense to use a character I created over twenty-five years or more ago, a private detective called Gabriel Bird.  As you know, I enjoy crime fiction - we like a lot of the same books and you’re always suggesting new writers for me to try - and it felt good to be writing it.  I have to confess that I used Robert B Parker for the model of the private eye stuff and “Angel Heart” for when things start to take a darker turn.

SY:  So what's to come in the future, writing-wise, for you?

MW:  Like you, I have a story in the Tickety Boo Press anthology "Thou Shalt Not" - mine was called "The Goblin Glass" and is a nasty little chiller.  My story "The Sealed Window" is in "The Hyde Hotel" anthology from Black Shuck Books and I have another Mike Decker story, "This Is The Colour Of Blood" in the latest Dean Drinkel anthology called "Chromatics".  Next up is another novella, called "Polly", from Stormblade Productions and I'm about to start writing a novella for Hersham Horror Books.

SY:  Show off!  So is there anything else you want to say before I tell you to get lost?

MW:  Not really, no but thanks for asking.

Stuart hangs on my every word as I explain where "The Mill" came from at the "We Fade To Grey" launch.
Editor - and fellow contributor - Gary McMahon takes notes next to Stu, whilst a longhaired Simon Bestwick wonders when I'm going to stop talking. John Travis, far left, looks distracted.
20th September 2008, FantasyCon Nottingham
End note - we still haven't made it back to any more Charing Cross Road bookshops!  Maybe this year...

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