Monday 15 February 2021

The Screaming Dead, by Peter Mark May & Richard Farren Barber

As their new novel, The Screaming Dead, is launched, I hand over the blog to a guest post with a difference from my old partners-in-crime Richard Farren Barber and Peter Mark May.

In the afterlife, the loudest sound is the screaming of the dead.

Death isn’t always the end or the answer. Sam thought his suicide would be the end of his suffering, but he was wrong, as he wakes up in a never-ending graveyard. He soon realises he has an opportunity to be reunited with his departed twin brother, Paul. Yet they must cross through the many planes of the afterlife to find each other. They will need to escape the hordes of the dead, survive forests where burning corpses are nailed to trees, and navigate the feuds and machinations of the people who promise to help them along the way.

Can Sam and Paul find each other in hell, or will the afterlife claim another two souls?

This discussion between Richard Farren Barber and Peter Mark May was recorded on Thursday 11th February 2021 in a Covid-secure manner and without their knowledge.

RFB: You still have the negatives? I assume the deal is we hand them over to Mark once he’s posted a glowing review of The Screaming Dead on his blog, and not a moment earlier?

PMM: They’re in the safe, only accessible with both our retina scans.

RFB: Pete, if Mark asks, what first attracted you to the prospect of working with handsome, charming, witty, stellar author Richard Farren Barber?

PMM: Stevie King kept snubbing my emails. 

RFB: I’ve warned you not to call him Stevie, he doesn’t like that! And I bet he drank that beer in the fridge. Anyway, I’m glad he turned you down. You came up with the initial idea for the novel, and I loved the outline you sent to me. How did you feel about sharing your idea? And how do you cope when your co-writer takes the story off into a different direction to the way you may initially have intended?

Thanks to the pandemic, the last opportunity we had to get together was in Bedford,
on November 30th 2019.  We've chatted online since but it's not the same as meeting
up, scouring secondhand bookshops and having a pizza together.  I miss these two...
PMM: As the owner of Hersham Horror Books, I’m used to sharing good ideas for others to write and run with. With you taking the story off in different directions, it was a challenge in a good way. Trying to steer it the long way back to my ideas, sometimes going in a fresh direction, or simply reinventing large part of the plot, was a great writing challenge.  How did you find the process of writing alternative chapters of approximately 1000 words? Did you write ahead only to be foiled by my next off-kilter chapter and dramatic story direction changes?

RFB: Yes I did! (I can laugh now, but at the time I cursed you. It seemed almost intentional!) But I learned from my mistakes. I would often finish writing a scene and send the file back to you, but by then I was in the zone and I’d carry on writing into the next scene for my set of characters… only to get the document back and discover you’d thrown me a curveball. A few times I could re-use what I’d written, but sometimes I had to stop and rethink where we were going after I got your response. I suppose that is what comes of writing together for the first time. What would you say are the attractions and challenges with collaborative writing when compared to writing alone?

PMM: Doing half the work to write a full book appealed. The challenges were, waiting for the next chapter and finding out either my ideas or the plot you had in mind had to alter or be thrown out the window totally. I enjoyed the dire cliff-hangers I left you with at the end of most of my chapters. Thinking, ‘how is he going to get out of this’ like some old black and white Flash Gordon serial, but you batted them back well. Did any stump you at all?

RFB: Hopefully not, but maybe we’ll get an irate email from a very Cock-a-Doodie reader telling us we cheated because he didn’t get out of the car. (To be fair, and hopefully not giving away too much of a spoiler given that it’s clear from the blurb that if the character in front of you isn’t dead, they will be soon…. We sorted that particular issue by making sure no one gets out of any car alive!)

At Edge-Lit 6, Derby, July 2017 with my collection.
I wrote a report about the Con here.
PMM: What was your favourite chapter to write, any chill you?

RFB: I loved the scenes in the graveyard when the horde churns around and around as a new arrival enters the afterlife. But the one which affected me the most was one you came up with of the dead forest and… well, let’s not give too much away about what happens in there! How about you, do you have any particular favourite scenes from the book? 

PMM: The sky-train of death (no spoilers) was a vivid image I had in my head when writing certain chapters. The chains, death shadow, blood and cow-catcher all unnerved me. That and a certain scene with the baby.

RFB: Oh yes, that scene!

PMM: The story is all about death and the afterlife. Did it stir up personal views, or beliefs in what happens after we die? Did they influence the plot at all?

RFB: Hmm, good question! I don’t recall any particularly strong responses to the storyline in terms of life-after death. I do remember that for me one of the strongest emotions came from the idea of the brothers being separated and that filial urge to get back together. But I do think one of the strengths of horror fiction is the ability to pose the big questions: What is the point of life? Is there anything after this world? I don’t have any answers, but I’m fascinated by exploring the possibilities.

PMM: How does it feel to have something you have writing, turned into audio? 

RFB: It’s a very weird experience! I suppose in some ways it is not dissimilar to producing a script and then handing it over to a team to manage. During the writing process I have a clear idea of what the characters sound like, and so it’s fascinating for someone else to pick that up and give their own interpretation.

We’d better stop now, before someone finds us. Can you send Mark a couple of the images…. Just to keep him focussed! And remind him The Screaming Dead is available in paperback, eBook, and Audiobook.
* * *

Richard Farren Barber
was born in Nottingham in July 1970. After studying in London he returned to the East Midlands. He lives with his wife and son and works as a manager for a local university.
He has over 80 short stories in publications including: Alt-Dead, Alt-Zombie, DarkFuse, ePocalypse – Tales from the End, Fever Dreams, Horror D’Oeuvres, Murky Depths, Midnight Echo, Midnight Street, Morpheus Tales,  Night Terrors II, Siblings, The House of Horror, Trembles, When Red Snow Melts, and broadcast on Tales to Terrify, Pseudopod, and The Wicked Library.
Richard has six novellas published: The Power of Nothing, The Sleeping Dead, Odette, Perfect Darkness, Perfect Silence, Closer Still (which I wrote about here), and All Hell.  His debut novel The Living and the Lost was published in 2019.

Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.
His website can be found here

Peter Mark May is the author of nine horror novels and one novella Demon, Kumiho, Inheritance (written as P. M. May), Dark Waters (novella), Hedge End, AZ: Anno Zombie, Something More Than Night, Forky’s House, The End of All Flesh Book 1: The Flood in 2019 and The End of All Flesh: Book 2: The Red Death in 2020. 

He’s had short stories published in genre Canadian & US magazines and UK & US horror anthologies such as Creature Feature, Watch, the British Fantasy Society’s 40th Anniversary anthology Full Fathom Forty, Alt-Zombie, Fogbound From 5, Nightfalls, Demons & Devilry, Miseria’s Chorale, The Bestiarum Vocabulum, Phobophobias, Kneeling in the Silver Light, Demonology and Tales From the Lake Volume 5.

He also writes historical crime under the name Alexander Arrowsmith, his first two a series of novels - The Athens Atrocities and The Medousa Murders - published in 2019.

He also runs Hersham Horror Books and has published 30 books so far. 

His website can be found here

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