Friday, October 31, 2014
I wanted to bring you an extra-special treat for Halloween, so I am delighted to welcome a very special guest onto this week's vlog: the incredible A. G. SMITH. I'm a massive fan of his horror-fantasy and ghost stories and I wanted to share his chilling work with you...
As a confirmed wuss (Bob will tell you I even have trouble watching Scooby Doo because the ghosts and monsters scare me), I have to say that A.G. Smith's work terrifies me, but the quality of his writing, together with the horrifically chilling mental images he conjures in your mind are too good to miss. This week, I went to hear him read the full story that the excerpt below is taken from and it was soooo scary!
Watch the vlog if you daaaaaaare and then read on below for a brilliant interview with the man himself - including his recipe for a truly terrifying tale...
Have your nerves recovered? Read my interview with the amazing A. G. SMITH...
What do you love about writing horror and fantasy stories?
I remember watching some archive interviews with horror legends like Boris Karloff, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, and it struck me that whenever they were asked about their work in horror films, all of them were very dismissive of that term, preferring to call their films fantasy movies. That has always stayed in my mind whenever I work on a new horror story. My aim is never to upset the reader. I don't think I am the kind of writer who could write extremely gory or horrible passages. I much prefer restraint and I think that suggestion is far more powerful and frightening. I am keen to ensure that the stories have a fantastical element to them, but leave you with just enough plausibility to make you think this might actually happen to you. The same is true in my Harvester of the Now trilogy. I love fantasy fiction, but I was very keen to ensure that my stories had one foot firmly placed in reality. I think that helps the reader to identify with the main characters. I also wanted to create a hero who was deeply flawed and just as capable of running off in a panic than he was of standing his ground to fight. It just felt more realistic. We all hope we'll be heroes when the time comes, but none of us know how we'll react until we are tested by something unexpected.
Which authors have inspired you?
Authors who inspired me to start writing include my childhood hero, Robin Jarvis. I grew up reading his Deptford Mice books, and I have kept reading his novels throughout my life. I'm so pleased that he is still writing and I encourage as many people as I can to read his books. His latest trilogy is the brilliant Dancing Jax. One of the best and most original fantasy novels to have emerged for years. He has such a grasp of language and he creates living nightmares that you can see climbing out of the pages as you read. Just incredible.
As a horror fan I love the work of M.R James, truly the master of the ghost story. Robert Aickman, whose 'strange stories' are so brilliantly unsettling and H.P Lovecraft who blurred the lines between science fiction and horror so intelligently. Conversely, I also love the travel writing of Mark Wallington. I think Mark is the most hilarious and original voice in non-fiction, his books are laugh-out-loud funny and I never miss a new one.
On a far more personal note, authors who inspire me not only because they are brilliant writers but also because they are so encouraging to new writers like myself include the fabulous Miranda Dickinson - a fantastic writer and a true champion of the work of others. Miranda's kindness and encouragement means the world to me and many others. Also, the wonderful Ian Thornton, whose The Great and Calamitous Tale of Johan Thoms is easily the best book I've read so far in 2014. Incredible writing, which is more than worthy of numerous awards for literature. Ian is also a true gentleman who continues to selflessly help other new writers like myself.
Hats off to you all!
What are the ingredients of a really scary story?
First, take a tablespoon of scene-setting. Not too much, just brief descriptions of the main players and the location. I tend to do this by having a principal character who bookends every single one of my horror stories. He is the Librarian at Weeping Bank Library. He is never named but it is assumed that he is a gentleman approaching retirement who has spent his lifetime collecting these eerie tales. He sets the scene, and also provides a sense of comfort and humour to lull the reader in before the scares really begin. At the end he will usually return and give you a 'possible' explanation for what has happened.
Then, add a sprinkling of unease. Just the occasional word or phrase that will let your reader know that there is something happening on the periphery, but make it clear that it will soon draw closer.
Next, I bring it to the boil with the first true scare (if I'm reading the story to an audience, this will be the point where we take a half-time break.) The moment has to be truly terrifying, almost to the point where you want to close the book and look away.
Then I will just let it simmer for a few more pages, allowing time for the main characters to calm down and seek shelter or reassurance from other characters in the story before finally bringing the whole thing up to temperature again with a final terrifying sequence that has to stay with the reader long after they close the book.
Serve with a glass of port to calm the nerves!
Have you ever spooked yourself writing your stories?
I certainly have. If I'm not frightened or worried about my characters then the story just isn't working. In the case of The Hay Man (the story I’m reading in the vlog), there are two key scenes that trouble me. The first is a very brief diary entry where you realise that the 'thing' has been standing in the wardrobe of the main character (Larissa) and silently watching her sleeping at night. The second moment is the ending, which always leaves me cold and sad when I read it to an audience. I can't possibly spoil it here though...
Tell us about what you're working on now.
I have just finished editing a new ghost story, which I will premiere for my family on Christmas Eve and that will become the story I take out to read to audiences next autumn. I am editing the second volume of my Harvester of the Now trilogy and also working on a brand new novel, called Maris Reever, which crosses over between horror and fantasy and takes the reader on a dark and dangerous journey in the company of characters they are not going to feel all that comfortable with. After Christmas I shall begin work on a new Tale from Weeping Bank Library and this one will see the Librarian take more of a central role in events, something which I have never allowed to happen before.
Thanks to A. G. Smith for a brilliantly spooky story and cracking interview! You can find out more about his work at his website, and follow him @harvesterOTnow on Twitter.