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Thou Shalt Not – The Ninth Commandment with Jasper Kent.

Moses and the 10 Commandments1) What inspired you to write about the ninth commandment?

To an extent the choice was made for me. By the time I came on board some of the juicier commandments – murder, adultery etc. – had already been bagsied. That said, I’m not sure I’d have picked them anyway. I’ve written plenty about murder, and with adultery one might be tempted to focus more upon the details of the act than on the retribution. I wanted to avoid the purely religious sins, like blasphemy and breaking the Sabbath, so bearing false witness seemed like a good option.

And there’s something particular about lying, in that we all know it’s wrong, and yet we do it all the time. Or is it just me?
2) I have to ask – what led you to go for the second-person perspective? It’s a risk in a story, but one that comes off brilliantly here.

I’m not sure I really planned it in advance; it just seemed to fall into place quite naturally. The first few sentences of the story don’t refer to the protagonist at all – they’re simply observations going through his mind. The first time I did refer to him, it just felt appropriate to use ‘you’ in the present tense. And that worked for the rest of the story.

Generally I’m a big fan of writing in the first person, but it’s a misconception to think that it is somehow more authentic. It’s the version of the story that the narrator wants you to hear, filtered to make sure that the reader’s perception coincides with theirs. Even if they’re not as unreliable as, say, Roger Ackroyd’s murderer, Dr Sheppard, they will spin every event so that they may be viewed in a better – or sometimes worse – light. But they have no duty of neutrality.

The second person – as I’ve used it here – is much more intimate. It reflects the internal dialogue that goes on in our minds, much like what’s portrayed in Pixar’s Inside Out (or, for older readers, in the TV sitcom Herman’s Head) except that in this case there’s only a single voice, rather than multiple, disputing opinions.

Additionally there is an ambiguity as to who the ‘you’ refers to. While clearly it primarily means the character in the story, the reader cannot help but feel the sense in which ‘you’ refers to themselves. Thus they become complicit in the story and the protagonist’s actions, even though they don’t approve of them – just as he doesn’t approve of them himself. If it works it results in a lingering – and entirely unfair – sense of guilt in the reader.

It is a risk, because the second person is uncomfortable to read – both for the reasons mentioned above, and also because it’s simply less familiar than the first or third person in the past tense. Thankfully a short story is a good place to take risks, and I think here it’s paid off. Whether I could make the same sort of thing work for an entire novel, I’m not so sure.
3) You’ve hit on something here about social media’s place in society – how do you feel about Twitter, Facebook etc?

I think that Facebook and Twitter are rather different from one another, but in both cases the problem is a lack of moderation. In normal conversation one instinctively tests the water in terms of what is acceptable by perhaps saying something very mild, to which one will immediately receive non-verbal feedback of both approval and opprobrium. In this way one learns what is acceptable – and discovers that this may vary with different groups of friends.

With social media it is very difficult to express disapproval. Even if there were a ‘dislike’ button it would be too aggressive an act to use it, just as it would be to actually post an objection. It may be just a British thing, but any disapproval stronger than a raised eyebrow or a stifled cough can be seen as more offensive than the original target of the objection.

Without the facility for subtle disapproval the disapprovers do nothing and the only feedback is positive, reinforcing the behaviour. It’s only when someone says something utterly outrageous that people will feel obliged to voice their disapproval, and by that point it’s too late to settle the issue amicably.

Friends on Facebook tend to be people you genuinely know or have some connection with, and so although Facebook itself is not good for feeding back disapproval, it is supplemented by our interaction with our friends in person. Thus, in my experience, Facebook doesn’t tend to get out of hand so much. Even so, on Facebook we can forget that in reality we have sub-groups of friends, and what we might in the real world only announce to a select few, we’ll say to everyone on Facebook.

On Twitter posts can be seen by anyone, and followers are more often than not complete strangers. So even the moderating influences that there are on Facebook have gone, leaving only the self-restraint of the tweeter, which can sometimes be lacking.

I’m on Twitter, but I don’t use it much. Because of this (and perhaps also because I’m male) I’ve avoided directly witnessing some of the more vile behaviour that I’ve read about in the news – the things that The Tangled Web is loosely based on. I’m not sure I really see the point of Twitter. There are some things that it’s very useful for: as a public noticeboard, giving information about traffic jams, bad weather, lost pets etc. But when it comes to what it’s mostly used for – expressing opinions – it just seems to me to be generating a whole lot of noise.
4) Do you think we’ll be seeing more stories employing social media as a means of storytelling?

I think the stories are already there, both in terms of social media as means and as a subject. As subject matter, I suspect they’ll become as widely used in fiction as mobile phones already are. They’re an aspect of modern life and therefore will appear in contemporary novels just for the sake of realism – plus they have many aspects that lend themselves well to being used as plot devices.
As a means of storytelling, that’s already happening, with Twitter being used for collective writing with each participant able to add only 140 characters at a time, which seems to me one of the more sensible uses of Twitter.

5) Are you – or have you – ever been religious? What’s your view on religion?

I’m an atheist. Richard Dawkins posits a scale of 1 to 7 for how religious or atheistic a person can be. He marked himself as 6.0. I think I’m somewhere around a 6.9.

My father is an atheist and my mother Church of England, and so although I was brought up with a fairly typical religious education for the time I was never in the position of not being aware that it wasn’t necessarily so. By my early teens I’d pretty much decided there was no God, and since then my opinions have only strengthened.

It can be something of a problem for a horror writer to be an atheist. While it’s one thing to write about monsters that don’t exist in reality, it’s harder to create a world which contains a god whom one believes cannot exist. I’ve spent a lot of time writing about vampires, which classically are very much tied to religion, being creatures which lack a soul. Thankfully it’s fairly easy to remove the religious aspects and simply make vampires a part of nature – monsters which could exist but in this universe happen not to. Indeed it’s one of the themes of Twelve that just because we are forced to abandon our disbelief in vampires doesn’t mean we should abandon all our disbeliefs, such as our scepticism about God.

The new series of novels I’m working on is about Satanism and witchcraft. Far more than with vampires, a world that allows for the existence of Satan must also allow the existence of God. Such a world is difficult to create, both because of the self-contradictions implied by an omnipotent, omniscient, supremely good deity and also because of dullness of any story that contains a creature that is both good and omnipotent – ‘They all lived happily ever after’ is inevitably the first line, rather than the last.

The solution has been utilized many times. Gods are more like the Olympians, powerful but not omnipotent, bound by rules just as we are and motivated by selfish, albeit unearthly desires. Even the authors of the Bible conceded as much. The God of the Old Testament in particular may have some supernatural powers, but is limited in His abilities and arbitrary as to whose side He is on. What other kind of God would have come up with, as His first commandment, ‘Thou shalt have no other gods before Me’?

Thou Shalt Not – The Eighth Commandment with Mark West

Moses and the 10 Commandments1) What was it that made you go for the eighth commandment for this collection?

When Alex emailed me, inviting me to join the collection, that was the one that suggested itself to me most strongly at the time.  I don’t think I’ve ever used religion (“thou shalt have no other gods”) as the basis of a story, I think I’d probably end up writing pornography for “thou shalt not commit adultery” and “thou shalt not kill” seemed too open ended.  I quite liked the idea of somebody being forced to steal something, so you have the idea that they’re in the place against their will and don’t really want to hurt the person they’re stealing from – I just enjoyed piling on the misery.

2) How did the idea for ‘The Goblin Glass’ develop?

I got the email from Alex while I was at work and the essence of the idea – a youth breaking into an old man’s house and finding something awful in there – came to me fairly quickly.  Since I realised that storyline had been pretty much done-to-death, I spent my commute that night (7th January) trying different angles and had the basic plot by the time I was home.  Since my heart attack last year – and my efforts to get fit – I walk between two and three miles every night, just me and my Walkman, which is the ideal time to think things through.  So, in early January this year, I spent the first evenings walk sorting the structure, the storyline and most of the ending.  The next nights walk gave me the start, motivation and idea of the mirror (yes, it took that long to figure it out) and I got the ending on the next walk.  This was one of those rare occasions where I actually experienced the process as Stephen King once wrote about it (he said “Stories are relics, part of an undiscovered pre-existing world. The writer’s job is to use the tools in his or her toolbox to get as much of each one out of the ground intact as possible.”)  With this, once I’d slotted all the pieces into place, I realised it made a whole – and re-reading through my notes, I’m surprised the mirror was such a late addition.

3) The story has great atmosphere throughout – how do you go about developing this as a writer?

Thank you.  In a lot of cases, especially when writing a horror/supernatural story, I often find that location is the key – moreso in the case of a tale like “The Goblin Glass”, which is very claustrophobic and only leaves the house very briefly.  Firstly, I make sure I have a plan of the house, even if it’s just in my head, so that I know where the characters are at any one time.  I need to understand what’s outside too, so that I can describe the environment completely.  Once you have that locked down, you can create any kind of atmosphere you want because you understand where everything is.  With this, I  had a character who was doing something he didn’t want to do, so he was wrestling with his moral sense whilst also becoming increasingly frayed by the house itself.  Little things, a knocking, a click, any kind of stray sound – we know what it feels like if we hear them in our own house, imagine it in a strange place where you know something strange is going on.  If you have the basic (the location) locked in your head, building the atmosphere layer-by-layer becomes much easier.

4) The story ends with a nod to Mary Carey – can you tell us a bit more about this?

When I realised that the mirror would be the Macguffin, I decided to do an homage (or, in layman’s terms, a cheat) to the wonderful Mary Carey who – as M. V. Carey – wrote the superb Three Investigators “Mystery Of The Haunted Mirror”.  I love that book, I love the spookiness of the mirror and so I lifted her description of the Chiavo glass (I used Chiavo too but wrote his bits) intact.  I’m not sure whether she’d have liked my story – it’s very different to hers – but I thought it was a nice touch and maybe some Three Investigator fan will read this and it’ll flash in their memory and get them to seek out her book again.  That would be excellent.

5) Are you – or have you – ever been religious? What’s your view on religion?

I used to be – I was raised CofE, got christened as a child and confirmed when I was a young teenager – but it faded as I went into my late teens and discovered existentialism and other philosophies.  With regards to my views on it, we suffered a dreadful family loss and I can see how religion gave people strength and fortitude, so it’s not something I would knock, it’s just not something I subscribe to.  On the whole, I think people should be free to believe whatever they want, so long as you don’t harm anyone else whilst following those beliefs.

Thou Shalt Not – with Pat Kelleher

Moses and the 10 Commandments1) How did you find it writing about the seventh commandment?

It was a challenge. Of all the commandments, it wouldn’t have been my first choice, but it was the only one left when I was approached! Obviously nobody else wanted to touch the 7th Commandment with a bargepole. So, to the rest of my fellow contributors I can only say, thanks guys, thanks a bunch! On the other hand, it certainly pushed my comfort zone, which is never a bad thing.

2) The story is one of a few that has an online angle in the collection – what led you to take that approach for the story?

It just seemed an interesting angle; to explore the moral relevancy of the Commandments in the face of today’s rapidly changing world. In the same way that media law is generally lagging behind the pace of change in the digital domain, the Commandments were written when social conditions were a lot different. How do they hold up under the pressure of a modern consumerist society built on the very idea of temptation, to the point where we have targeted ads specific to each of us – our very own digital devils looking over our shoulders? How can you not covet when you have Facebook, eBay and Amazon available 24/7, complete with push notifications? How do we cope, how do we resist – and what happens if we don’t? Most people have clicked a link that’s taken them somewhere they didn’t want to be.

And in the same way that people used to sit around the campfire and tell stories about things out there in the dark, today’s cyberspace is just as ineffable a darkness in its own way, a place that is generating its own share of horror stories and urban myths. We invite it into our home. What else might we have let in?

3) Fuxnet is probably the most full-on story in the collection in terms of disturbing content – did you ever have any moment where you thought ‘this is too much’?

Ha, I’m still having those doubts. I knew that I’d be treading a fine line, but felt the need to deal with the subject matter as honestly as possible. I did dial it back in places and in the end I think the story found its own level. However, I did consciously decide to leave as much as possible to the reader’s imagination. Every writer hopes to find that sweet spot where the horror resonates personally with the reader and, while their mileage may vary, I’d like to think that whatever the reader’s own personal level of Nope! is, it’s there waiting for them as Bob battles his demons.

4) It’s an interesting take on adultery here – do you feel as though that’s a term that has grown to a wider definition?

Jesus said “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5: 27-28), which already makes it about as broad a definition as you can get. While at its core, the concept of adultery seems pretty clear cut; its boundaries are more fluid and vary from couple to couple. There’s the actual act, resulting in the violation of a vow or promise of exclusivity, and then there’s the whole idea of emotional betrayal surrounding that and the two aren’t always mutually exclusive. For some, the idea of using pornography is committing virtual adultery. Then you have Clinton and his assertion that he ‘did not have sexual relations with that woman’. Or the millions of men caught with their metaphorical pants down in the Ashley Madison scam. So, while I don’t think the definition of adultery is growing wider, modern society is, however, offering us ever increasing ways to commit it.

5) Are you – or have you ever been – religious? What’s your view on religion?

I was raised a Catholic and went to St Winfred’s Primary School (yes, that St Winifred’s) and then a Catholic grammar school run by Christian Brothers. But my faith pretty much lapsed into non-existence during my teenage years. I’d say I was an atheist now. That said, my mother is a devout Catholic and her personal faith has managed to sustain her through some very difficult times, so I can’t gainsay it at that level. I think it’s probably just religious organisations I have problems with. Although I don’t know what my mother would say about me writing stories like this. No, actually I know exactly what she’d say – ‘I’ll say a prayer for you.’

Thou Shalt Not – The Sixth Commandment with Danuta Reah

Moses and the 10 Commandments1) What interested you in writing about the sixth commandment?

As a crime writer, I was naturally drawn to this commandment, and it’s also one of the most fundamental ones. Interestingly, it’s the one most hedged round with ‘but He didn’t really mean it’ get-out clauses.

2) Much of your writing to date has been in the crime/thriller field – how much did this influence the story you wrote?

I find that my short stories tend to be very different from my novels. My novels are dark, serious and suspenseful, my short stories – while also dark – more often take a humorous approach to a serious subject. My most successful so far, No Flies on Frank’ is about a man who becomes a serial killer by accident. I seem to drift towards crime in my fiction, though my short stories are more of an exploration of the psychology of crime. They range from a writer who realises her creation, a serial killer, has escaped from her mind and is out in the real world – that’s quite a scary one – to a young man with Down’s syndrome who carries out an ingenious revenge on someone who treats him badly.

3) How did you find it getting into the mind of a budding serial killer?

When I was writing my first crime novel, the first one that got published, I had to write quite a few scenes from the perspective of a particularly nasty serial killer (not that there’s likely to be a nice one, but you know what I mean). I thought it would be difficult, but it was surprisingly easy. My inner serial killer is unnervingly accessible, though there was something ultimately pitiable about the killer in Only Darkness, whereas this character in ‘Dummies’ Guide’ is deeply unpleasant at every level. I put myself into the mindset of someone who is completely self-centred to the point where he is not aware at all that other people have any rights or any space in the world.

4) The story has a real wry sense of humour about it – is this something you were angling for from the very start?

My first idea was to write the story about an incompetent would-be serial killer, someone the reader would laugh at but sympathise with, but as the character emerged, I realised he took himself too seriously to be a sympathetic character. I wanted to look at the concept of serial killer as hero that has been around a lot recently. It’s interesting to look at Hannibal Lecter – he’s a nasty piece of work in the first book, and a kind of dark super-hero by the third. Dexter is also a sympathetic serial killer. I think there is too much glamour attached to the whole concept in real life as well as in fiction. I wanted to make fun of this – this was my intention from the start.

5) Are you – or have you even been religious? What’s your view on religion on the whole?

I was brought up as a Roman Catholic, though I stopped believing in this faith, and to be honest, all religion, by the time I was about 13. It was actually tough when I first realised I didn’t accept any of it – it was so much part of my upbringing. I’m not religious at all. I am an atheist who believes the universe needs no deity and that people need no deity to be good, moral human beings. You only have to look to see that people both religious and secular carry out the most amazing acts of good and evil. It;’s very easy to make God in your own image (look at the American far right, look at ISIL) and claim religious support for the most heinous acts. I think it’s about time we outgrew religion, and at this time of increasing social splits between religious groups, I think we need faith schools like we need holes in the head. I am tolerant of religious belief, until a faith starts trying to impose its beliefs and practices on everyone.

Thou Shalt Not – The Fifth Commandment With Laura Mauro

Moses and the 10 Commandments1) What made you go for the fifth commandment in particular?

To tell you the truth, the idea for the story has been kicking about in my brain for a while now, but it never seemed the right time to tackle it. When the concept behind the anthology was put to me I realised how well this idea would fit – ‘honour thy father and thy mother’ is pretty much the core of the story.

2) The setting for the story is very vivid – is it based on a real place?

My husband is Italian, and his dad is from a very small town in the Caltanissetta province of Sicily. In some ways, those really small towns are like their own little worlds – that kind of old-school Mediterranean quaintness, wrought iron balconies and dusty roads all stretching steeply uphill, and nothing ever changes. I’ve wanted to set a story in one of those villages for a long time.

3) You’ve worked almost exclusively in short stories so far – is there a particular reason you prefer this form?

It’s partly an issue of confidence. I’m used to the short story format – I feel most comfortable telling a complete story in a few thousand words. I know I’m not outstaying my welcome, or dragging a story out beyond its natural lifespan. What I love about the short story format is the brutality of it. You’re not being taken by the hand and led through the dark, scary forest: you’re being dropped right in the deepest part of the woods and left there. That’s not to say I don’t love novellas and novels, because I do! One day I may even write one.

4) Where did the idea to include the ‘looking glass’ come from? It’s obviously a term loaded with meaning from classic stories…

I love the idea of the ‘Through The Looking-Glass’ world beyond the mirror. The idea that what we perceive to be a reflection is something inherently unlike our own world. I like the idea of the altered perspective – in the case of this story, a literal divide between worlds. Lewis Carrol, for me, is one of the instigators of weird fiction and I couldn’t help but slip a little titular homage in.

5) Are you – or have you ever been – religious? What’s your view on religion?

I’m a relaxed atheist. I don’t believe in god, but I’m honest enough to accept that nobody can ever really know for sure – not even the most hardline of religious people. I don’t consider that the same thing as being agnostic – as far as I’m concerned, there’s no god, no greater power, and I’m perfectly comfortable with this.

I have a dislike of organised religion. I’m uncomfortable with the idea that faith ought to be prescribed – belief in any higher power seems like an intensely personal thing, and I don’t like the idea of any one religion claiming that theirs is the only right way to believe. At the same time, though, I hate it when some atheists try to rob others of their faith. If a religious person is doing no harm, let them be. We all need to find some kind of comfort in this world.

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Thou Shalt Not – The Fourth Commandment with Stuart Young

Moses and the 10 CommandmentsDAY FOUR

1) What made you pick the fourth commandment for your story?

It’s always struck me that there’s something of a problem involved in no one being allowed to work on the Sabbath. I always pictured things like a woman about to give birth and the midwife telling her, “Sorry, I can’t deliver your baby until tomorrow. Just hold it in until then.”

There’s also the fact that the fourth commandment is so innocuous, especially when compared to the others. I mean, adultery’s pretty bad, and murder’s an obvious no-no but working on the Sabbath? What’s so bad about that? So there was the challenge of taking possibly the fluffiest and least sinful of the commandments and turning it into the most serious commandment of all, the one that dare not be broken.

2) There’s a strong religious influence within your story. Was this a deliberate choice to fit with the theme of the anthology?

That was just me being totally obvious and deciding that a story about one of the commandments pretty much had to have religion in it.

Plus, I just enjoy writing about religion. I like making up extra bits of religious lore to resolve the paradoxes and contradictions in religious thought. Not that I’m expecting anyone to take my explanations too seriously; I’m aiming for intelligent entertainment rather than an unveiling of some great Ultimate Truth. After all, if some of the greatest minds in history can’t figure this stuff out it’s pretty unlikely that I’ve managed to solve it while scribbling away at a short story. That said, if I have inadvertently uncovered the secret of existence I’ll quite happily take the credit for it, along with any money and groupies that are on offer. But frankly, I’m just hoping people enjoy the story.

3) The detail within Confessions is really impressive. Did you have to do any research before getting started?

Before we go any further I think I should make it clear that Confessions is the name of my story. Otherwise people might think that I give such detailed confessions to priests that I actually have to do research. People will be imagining me sitting in the confessional with an encyclopaedia on my lap saying, “Hang on, Father; I’m just looking up the correct term for performing erotic asphyxiation on a goat whilst injecting oneself with heroin.”

As for the story, yes, I did a fair amount of research. Although I’ve probably got most of it wrong. I perused several religious encyclopaedias and umpteen websites and tied myself into theological knots trying to understand them.
I also browsed the pocket edition of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Confusingly, the index had numbers corresponding to the relevant passages on specific aspects of Catholic doctrine, but the numbers beside the passages weren’t in numerical order, they jumped about all over the place. I just couldn’t figure out the system so it took me forever to look anything up. This went on for an entire week before I realised that I was looking at the numbers on the right-hand side of the passages when I should have been looking at the numbers on the left-hand side. That gives you some idea of the keen intellect and fine eye for detail I brought to my research.

4) Are you – or have you ever been – religious? What’s your view on religion?

I took the whole Church of England thing quite seriously for a while as a kid. Then I turned hardcore atheist before settling down into being an agnostic. This suits me because although I don’t particularly believe in religion I do find it pretty fascinating.

On a practical level religion has done some wonderful things: promoting love and tolerance, inspiring great works of art and literature, providing ethical frameworks by which people can live their lives. But it has also done some terrible things: wars, inciting bigotry and hate, spreading racism and misogyny, The Vicar of Dibley. And atheists have a similarly spotty record when it comes to their achievements and failings.

On a philosophical level it seems fairly absurd to believe that the universe was created by some form of guiding intelligence, be it God, Allah, the Tao or whatever. Because if there is some great creator He/She/It did a pretty slapdash job. Let’s face it, if a restaurant served you a meal that’s as messed up as the universe is you’d send it back to the kitchen. Either that or risk some pretty serious food poisoning.

Still, it also seems fairly absurd to believe that the universe suddenly appeared out of nothing purely by accident. One minute there’s nothingness and it is, obviously, doing absolutely nothing and then, boom, there’s the universe. So nothing + nothing = something. That’s the kind of arithmetic that used to get me into trouble with my maths teacher.

While I’m at it, I think it’s pretty arrogant for people to say that their religion is the one true religion. Especially as some of these people admit that God has never spoken to them directly, they’re just quoting holy books and praying in the hope that they’re not just addressing empty space.

Equally, I think it’s pretty arrogant for people to say that God definitely doesn’t exist just because they haven’t experienced direct spiritual contact with the Almighty. “Never mind about Moses and the burning bush, if God hasn’t spoken to me then God can’t possibly exist.” Come on, it’s not like God goes around friending people on Facebook. Although admittedly, Jesus’ feeding of the five thousand is the one time I would’ve been impressed by someone posting a photo of their dinner.

Ultimately though, no one can prove God exists and no one can prove that God doesn’t exist. All they can do is offer their best guess.

That’s the kind of stuff that my story’s about. An exploration into whether it is possible, or even desirable, to balance faith and disbelief; an examination of whether religion is genuinely a force for good; and an inquiry into what counts as an authentic spiritual experience.

But, you know, with jokes and some scary bits.

5) Tell us a bit about your writing outside of this anthology – where can we read more?

I’ve got a story coming out in The Eleventh Black Book of Horror. My collection, The Mask Behind the Face, was short-listed for a British Fantasy Award and the title story won a British Fantasy Award for Best Novella. My latest collection, Reflections in the Mind’s Eye, is available in paperback from Pendragon Press and as an ebook from Amazon. I’m currently working on some novellas that contain elements of Kabbalah and Tibetan Buddhism. Because I didn’t confuse myself enough trying to understand Catholicism.

Thou Shalt Not – The Third Commandment with Clare Littleford

Moses and the 10 CommandmentsDay Three:

1) How did you find it writing about the third commandment?

It was surprisingly difficult to get started – ‘taking the Lord’s name in vain’ is an odd concept in our modern, predominantly secular world. But it’s often been said that having restrictions can force a writer to look at things differently and come up with stories that they might not otherwise have found, and I think that’s true for me. I really enjoyed writing about a slightly weird world where attitudes are very different.

2) It’s a fascinating story, in particular that the world of the tale feels very well realised. Did you think about this before getting started?

Thanks! A few years ago I was writing a novel that had its climax in a run-down old farm on the edge of some salt marshes around the Wash, and I spent some time visiting the coast around there and walking around the sea walls. It was a hugely evocative setting, with a real feeling of being right on the edge of the world, at the mercy of creeping tides and isolated from the rest of the country. That novel was never finished, and I think because of that the setting has stayed with me as something I wanted to write about. When I started writing this story, the sense of isolation in that setting came back to me and I realised it lent itself very well to writing about the kind of closed-in, cut-off communities that the story needed.

3) There’s a real sense of many people ‘following the crowd’ in this story. Do you think that’s something that can happen with new religions?

I’m sure it can! People need to feel that they belong, and it’s very difficult to go against a crowd. That’s clear from political and historical situations too, of course. If people are looking for an answer they tend to see what they want to see, and ignore anything that doesn’t suit that view. It’s a very human reaction, and one that can be exploited by some people for their own ends.

4) Was the choice to have two younger protagonists in the story an intentional one?

Yes, I thought that a younger narrator was likely to be more sympathetic for the reader – an adult going along with the prevailing beliefs of a closed world like that would have been much harder to swallow. But also, younger protagonists are discovering themselves and starting to develop their own views about the world, and can start to question things and push against the norms of the world they’re in. I always find that fascinating to write about – the characters themselves are going through a process of change, and that’s great for storytelling.

5) Are you – or have you ever been – religious? What’s your view on religion?

I come from a very religious family. My parents, sister and brother are all ‘practising’ Christians to one degree or another. I became an atheist at fifteen, but when I was in my mid-twenties my father was ordained as an Anglican priest. So religion is something I’ve thought about a lot. I don’t believe in God, and I don’t like the way religion has been used to justify all sorts of actions throughout history – and mostly used as a cloak to hide other motives, like grabbing land or controlling trade or taking natural resources. It’s much easier to do those things if you can claim that it’s God’s work and the people you’re taking from are only savages anyway. Having said that, I’m actually quite proud of the things my parents have done for the community around the church where my Dad has been priest – they support all sorts of community initiatives and have made a real difference in a quite deprived area. On an individual level, religions tend to encourage people to be more caring and more tolerant and more community-spirited – the extremes of intolerance that we see in pretty much every religion are really a distortion of most religious values. Overall, though, I think the world would be a much better place if everyone accepted that death is the end, so we’d better make the most of our own time here and do what we can to support everyone else who’s here with us.

The Second Commandment with Amanda Bigler.

Moses and the 10 CommandmentsThe 10-day countdown to publication and we have 10 interviews for you with the authors in order of the commandments and the imitable Alex Davis asking the questions.

1) What inspired you to write about the second commandment?

I think the concept of idolatry, of placing someone or something over what is supposed to be (in the case of religion) above all is intriguing in that most people, at one point or another, are guilty of this. In my mind, the idea of idolatry can pertain to any facet of life (for example, placing technology over human interaction to the point of detriment). Idolatry, in my eyes, is not necessarily bound to religion, and involves a sense of obsession.

2) The online angle is an interesting one, and something that has emerged in a few of the stories. What made you take this approach?

I’ve been experimenting with using online jargon and form in some of the stories I’ve been writing. I think that if one is writing a contemporary story, it is almost inevitable that online conversations and/or texts will be present. I think in regards to the story and to the nature of the protagonist’s work/obsession, it was vital to include how he conducts himself online versus in his own journal.

3) Your lead character is pretty unlikeable – was that a deliberate choice?

I immediately wanted to make him an unlikeable character. Because we see him in his own home, with only his own thoughts, it would be difficult for him to be likeable. Perhaps if I wrote him from a third-person perspective his character would have changed, but I wanted the reader to get into his head. For the story, I did quite a bit of research into the mindset of people with similar psychopathies, and to have him be as I wanted, and to commit what he has committed, he most certainly would have to be unlikeable.

4) When we discussed this one initially you said horror was something of a departure for you – how does this compare to your other work?

It’s interesting, because I don’t write horror often. I’m intrigued by the concept of horror, and read quite a bit of horror, but for some reason the opportunity to write it hasn’t presented itself as much. I normally write stories with a bit of a twist, and currently am working on a collection of short stories for my PhD thesis. They all seem to involve delving into the emotional connection between reader and character, and so I think in this story, I enjoyed the departure from an empathetic connection with a protagonist!

5) Are you – or have you ever been – religious at all? What’s your view on religion?

I was raised Presbyterian, and two of my good friends are Catholic. I, however, do not consider myself a religious person at all. My parents gave me the choice when I was 12 whether I wanted to continue going to church. I researched different religions (Buddhism, Judaism, etc.) but for me, I place my moral decisions and beliefs within the goodness of humanity, and don’t necessarily need a religious figure to live my life accordingly (although the Bible studies have come in handy when understanding religious symbolism in text). However, I believe that religion is wonderful for those who feel it helps them live life to the fullest without bigotry or anger. My overall thoughts are that I don’t want to be judged for my lack of religious belief(s), and so I will not judge others for their beliefs.

Thou Shalt Not – The First Commandment with Jeff Gardner

 

Moses and the 10 Commandments

The 10-day countdown to publication and we have 10 interviews for you with the authors in order of the commandments and the imitable Alex Davis asking the questions.

  • What was it that drew you to write about the first commandment?

I’m fascinated by the power a deity can potentially wield. Imagine being a god who can do practically anything; it’s the ultimate premise for a story. The idea that a god might be jealous of other gods amuses me. In some religions gods act like petty versions of ourselves – thus clearly made in our image.

  • Was the use of the name ‘Dionysus’ as one of the Greek pantheon deliberate here?

Yes it was. I love ‘The Bacchae’ by Euripides (and have played Dionysus on stage). Dionysus is the easily the most attractive of the Greek gods. If you’re going to follow a god then at least make it the one who promises wine and pleasure! Actually, Dionysus is a nasty piece of work wreaking revenge on those who refuse to follow him. I’ve been to a lot of rock and heavy metal concerts – Metallica, Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, Alice Cooper – and I remember being mesmerised during a Killing Joke gig, wondering how far the fans would go to appease their idols. If Dionysus came back today he’d be a rock/rap star or run a drug cartel.

  • Do you believe that musicians and rock stars could build up this kind of ‘cult of personality’ one day?

Rock music is all about rebellion: an attempt to defy your parents and challenge the establishment. It goes hand-in-hand with sex, drugs and alcohol, which are things that some religions fear or misunderstand. Rock stars have always had groupies, adoring fans and even small cults of obsessive fans, but are they really being brainwashed? Or are they gullible individuals unable to take responsibility for their own actions? I love rock music and know how easy it is to be swept up in a concert. We need idols to look up to and to follow, but possibly need to be careful who these idols are. In the end (in our real world) rock stars are not gods at all, but very ordinary people (see Ozzy Osbourne). We certainly live in a world where celebrities have a god-like status – however talented they may or may not be. It seems human beings really want gods to look up to.

  • The style here is very poetic – is this typical of your work on the whole?

It’s probably typical of many of my short stories. My novels, such as ‘Treading On Dreams’, which are set in the real world, also contain dream-like or poetic elements – often dark too. My fantasy novel, ‘Pica’ (due out in March 2016), also has a realistic setting but contains magical elements which push the imaginative boundaries, challenging our perceptions of reality.

  • Are you – or have you ever – been religious? And what’s your view on religion on the whole?

I was brought up in a liberal Christian home. My parents never forced any of their beliefs on me, but always encouraged me to explore faith and questions of morality. Whilst I resent labels (mainly because we are all human beings who have no right to judge each other) but if I’m forced to choose one, I would call myself agnostic. I don’t follow any particular creed and can say in all honesty that I don’t have all the answers – and I’m convinced that nobody else does either. We’re all exploring and discovering personal and shared truths as we go along our merry ways. It’s fun to chat and discuss these things – as long as we remain open-minded and unprejudiced.

Sarah Pinborough chats with our Jo Zebedee…

downloadI met Sarah Pinborough in September at Titancon in Belfast 2015. I’d managed to  tweet the wrong panel link for her the previous night and was worried what this successful, highly-regarded, author would think of me.

I needn’t have worried. Sarah greeted me with a laugh, and kept me laughing all weekend. Generous in her support of a ‘newby’, energetic in every panel, and fun throughout many (vapour-fuelled) anecdotes, by the end of the weekend I’d had more craic than I’d ever expected to.

Now, I’m getting to share some of that craic, through an interview with Sarah. I have promised sex will be mentioned. If that doesn’t keep you reading, I give up

JO – You write an immense amount of material, across many genres – fantasy, horror, young adult, TV, TV tie-in, crime. Does this make it harder as an author or give you more freedom to create?

SP – It would be more accurate to say that I have written across many genres during my career. I don’t do all of those at once, and I don’t do TV tie-in stuff any more. I think when you write across a variety of genres and mash them up a bit, it probably makes it harder to build a brand than if you stick to just one. I don’t really consider YA a genre either especially as most YA novels are read by adults. YA may have younger main characters but can be in any genre. Scripts are a different medium and are great for honing your dialogue etc and are a nice breather from books – but most TV stuff never makes it to screen so it can be more frustrating in that regard than books. You spend a lot of time being paid for outlines and maybe a first episode script, but that’s no guarantee of anything getting made. There are far fewer TV slots than publishing opportunities. What I like about TV work is the collaborative process – it also gets you out of the house.

Jo – If you had to pick one of the genres that feels most like your ‘home’, which would it be?

SP – I would probably say crime/supernatural cross-over.

Jo – You’ve used a pen-name – Sarah Silverwood (which I love!). What lay behind the decision to use one, and did it deliver what you hoped?

 SP – It wasn’t my decision to use a second name for the Silverwood books – it was my editor’s call. Gollancz had bought the Dog-Faced Gods trilogy from me under my own name and that was a very dark crime/supernatural thriller story. My editor didn’t want young people who might read The Nowhere Chronicles to then accidentally pick up The Dog-Faced Gods. The reasoning at the time was good, but it was a mistake. New readers to me don’t know I wrote those books so never seek them out, and so – as much as I think that trilogy is amongst my favourite of my stories – they sank without a trace!

 Jo – You’ve been writing for a long time, and for a good part of that time you were also working as a teacher. At what point did you decide you could go full time as a writer? Was there a tipping point, and if so, what was it?

SP – I didn’t actually decide to go full-time, I decided to take a year or six months off, to write something new and different to my horror novels (the idea that would turn out to be A Matter of Blood, the first of The Dog-Faced Gods books). I’d saved a little bit of money, and then the Torchwood people asked me to write a book for them which added to the fund and gave me a few months breathing space to focus as I really wanted to concentrate on it. As it turned out, I ended up having lunch with Jo Fletcher and she bought the trilogy on pitch. And that was that. I’ve been lucky to be full-time since then.

 Jo – You attend a LOT of conventions, in many roles – what is it you like about conventions? And what do they bring to the genre?

SP – I tend to do quite a lot of conventions because of crossing genres – so I go to Harrogate Crime and a few others for the crime element, and then Fantasycon etc for the weird;-). I aim to do fewer next year, although I’m lucky enough to be guest of honour at three so I’ll definitely be at those. I like them because I get to catch up with friends and meet new people – and they’re great for networking. I think they give people – especially newer writers – an opportunity to meet like-minded people and learn and get fired up about work.

Jo – Any favourite convention anecdotes to share?

SP – What happens at cons stays at cons;-). Although the late, great Graham Joyce leaping to my defence at the WFC San Diego banquet when a man started screaming at me during the awards that I was smoking (I wasn’t – it was an ecig) is up there in the top five.

Jo – In your blog, you are tremendously honest and emotionally brave. How does this carry over to your writing?

SP – Well, the blog posts are a different thing because they tend to be more ethereal. I think all writers try and be as honest as possible in their work, whatever the book is about. You have to be honest to create believable characters. Some books, like The Language of Dying or The Death house probably have more emotional resonance than others, but I think I try to be honest in all of them. For me, books are about writing an engaging story that grips people. Everything else is subconscious.

 Jo – Your upbringing was unusual, with a lot of moving around and then attending boarding school for a number of years. Have those experiences affected your writing? (I’m thinking of the stark setting of The Death House, for instance.)

 SP – I’ve used places I lived in as a kid in various short stories, and yes, the setting of The Death House was drawn from boarding school – especially the schools of the 80s where there was no internet and once a week phone calls and letters. I think perhaps it carries over more than I realise in my writing of young friendships, but some of that also comes from my time as a teacher.

Jo – Which of your books would you consider the most personal to you, and why?

SP – Most personal to me, probably The Language of Dying because it was drawn from real experiences, but it’s not my favourite of my books. It’s hard to call the favourite story. I like most of them for one reason or another.

Jo – ‘Features sex regularly’ is part of your Twitter tagline. Genre, in particular, isn’t noted for sex scenes – where do you think the line (if there is a line) sits?

SP – Actually the quote is ‘Sex features heavily’ and it came from a Sun newspaper review of my fairy tale Poison. I put it up there because it made me laugh and I can be quite rude on Twitter. I don’t actually write a lot of sex scenes (those three books aside) and favour the cut-away unless it’s saying something about the characters – as it was in the Fairy Tales. I can’t remember the last time I read a book with an explicit sex scene in it. The line is wherever you feel comfortable I guess! And as with all things, it all comes down to how good the writing is as to whether it works or not.

Jo – Speaking of Twitter – you’re known as a great fun user of social media. Is this something you think a modern writer needs: the ability to translate to their readers via that sort of medium?

SP – I’ve made a lot of great friends and connections on Twitter, but mainly that happened a few years ago when Twitter was far more interactive. I think having a Twitter account is always a good thing – especially for newer writers – but I think some publishers make a big noise about writers having accounts to distract from a lack of proper marketing budget. The Girl on the Train wasn’t a hit because of the author’s Twitter account – it was a hit because of a great marketing campaign that allowed the book to reach a lot of people who then talked about it.

Jo – Finally, I know you have some fantastic books coming up (I have Thirteen Minutes on my read-the-day-it’s-released list). Can you give us a run down of what’s coming up, what you’re excited about, and what we really don’t want to miss?

SP – I have 13 Minutes (a YA psychological thriller) coming out from Gollancz in February, and then in Spring 2017 my first HarperFiction novel ‘Behind Her Eyes’ comes out. It’s a psychological thriller with an edge of weird. It’ll be published in the US (there was an auction which was weird and exciting) and we’ve sold it to several territories across the world too, so I’m hoping this will be my breakout book. Fingers crossed… as they always are in this business..;-)

 Jo – And a big thanks for your time.

www.sarahpinborough.com

www.jozebedee.com