Tag Archives: authors

Joshua Reynolds: Royal Occultist with a Warhammer

What can we say about Joshua Reynolds? Founder of the Royal Academy of Arts, noted 18th century portraitist knighted by George III in 1769… wait a minute. Who wrote these notes? Django!!! Bad dog. This is the wrong Reynolds, you daft animal. Uh, right. Today’s guest is the other guy, Joshua M Reynolds, who, well, he writes stuff. Good stuff.

one of our researchers, now on a warning
one of our researchers, now on a warning

Yes, it’s greydogtales, the only site still using lurchers for in-depth research and a labrador as a doorstop. It’s muddy here, and so our notebooks are covered in bloody great paw prints, but we’ll see what we can do.

Our guest writer is well known in at least two quite separate fan circles, and if they ever meet we may need more than longdogs to keep them in order. For Warhammer enthusiasts, Joshua Reynolds has written – and is still writing – a number of novels based on those heady days of utter carnage, betrayal and mad zealotry.

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friday night in any yorkshire town

If you’re not familiar with it, Warhammer is one of those things you do with a table-top when you’re not chopping up chicken carcasses. Scary lead and plastic figures creep into the madness that lies beyond the tomato ketchup, and there are even more rules for where you put the cake knife.

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On the other hand, you may prefer the spine-chilling, rather stylish adventures of Charles St Cyprian, the Royal Occultist, for Mr Reynold’s other main endeavour is chronicling the adventures of this renowned occult detective. Set mostly in the 1920s, the tales follow in the footsteps of William Hope Hodgson’s Carnacki, except that St Cyprian is a rather more droll and stylish fellow.

“Formed during the reign of Elizabeth I, the post of the Royal Occultist, or ‘the Queen’s Conjurer’ as it was known, was created for and first held by the diligent amateur, Dr. John Dee, in recognition for an unrecorded  service to the Crown. The title has passed through a succession of hands since, some good, some bad; the list is a long one, weaving in and out of the margins of British history and including such luminaries as the 1st Earl of Holderness and Thomas Carnacki.”

no, django, that's the wrong one again
no, django, that’s the wrong joshua reynolds again

Let’s see if we can get any of this right in our interview…

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the real author, honest

greydog: Welcome to greydogtales. Important stuff first – Josh or Joshua? Or Mr Reynolds, Sir, in our case?

josh: Josh is fine. Or Joshua. Or Your Most Squamous Majesty. Face-Eating Willy. Tupelo Jim Smalls. Clyde. I answer to most anything, really.

Except Tupelo Jim Smalls. Not any more. I got my reasons, and I’ll thank you not to ask.

greydog: We wouldn’t think of it. Right, we dragged you here mainly because two of your recent stories stirred our old brain cells. The first was The Fates of Dr Fell, an excellent twist on the old portmanteau idea of multiple stories, in the manner of the films Dead of Night and Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors (see our feature here: spawn of the ripper: the true story). Are you a horror film sort of guy?

josh: I am! The older, the better. Silver screams are the best screams. Keep your CGI, I want practical effects, goshdarnit. Gimme a guy in a grossly unrealistic gorilla suit, ambling awkwardly across a darkened Hollywood soundstage. That’s my jam.

That said, I have seen some newer stuff recently that I really enjoyed. From the Dark (2015) was a pretty swell vampire film which I encourage everyone to see, if they get the chance. It’s a good, old fashioned monster film with some nice sequences and plenty of mounting tension.

greydog: We can only agree. Films from the old days are still our favourites – but maybe we’ll try From the Dark now.

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The second story that caught our eye was your novella The Door of Eternal Night, which manages to weave Arthur Conan Doyle and his creations into the tapestry. Both stories are part of the highly enjoyable Royal Occultist series, which seems to grow and grow. Is there a grand plan mapped out for Charles St Cyprian and Ebe Gallowglass?

josh: Not as such. I know roughly how the series ends and when, but I’m in no hurry to get to it. There are still plenty of stories to be told before starting that particular grim fandango. Basically, I’m happy to write about St. Cyprian and Gallowglass haring about in their Crossley, shooting hobgoblins, as long as people are willing to read about it.

greydog: The Royal Occultist is the nearest thing we know of to our own Tales of Last Edwardian. They’re somewhat different, but both draw on the legacy of Thomas Carnacki, the Ghost Finder. How did you get involved with William Hope Hodgson’s work, and what made it appeal to you?

josh: I first came across Hodgson in an anthology called Grisly, Grim and Gruesome. The story was “The Horse of the Invisible”, which is still perhaps my favourite Hodgson story – Hodgson’s descriptions of the sounds the eponymous phantom makes still creep me out a bit, even today. Even then, I was drawn to the idea of someone investigating a haunting as if it were a mystery. I credit that story with sparking my love of not just Hodgson, but occult detective fiction as a whole, really.

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greydog: In Sam Gafford’s anthology, Carnacki: The New Adventures, you actually have Carnacki meeting a young St Cyprian. Is this the ‘official’ origin story for St Cyprian’s involvement, or have we missed one?

josh: It is and you haven’t! “Monmouth’s Giants” is chronologically the first St. Cyprian story. That said, there are also several Carnacki/St. Cyprian adventures available, set during the Great War, when St. Cyprian was serving as Carnacki’s apprentice. If you’re interested, you can find a full chronology here: the royal occultist

greydog: You grew up in South Carolina, yet the world of the Royal Occultist is very English. Did that come naturally from reading UK fiction, or did it require an awful lot of research? And spelling lessons, putting the ‘u’ back in color etc?

josh: A bit of both, really. I read a lot of period literature–Waugh, Wodehouse, Sayers, Allingham–and did plenty of research into English history, especially the inter-war period. Also, I live in England now, so there’s probably some sort of osmosis going on.

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greydog: You have an impressive back-catalogue. Part of that includes work set in the Warhammer universe, and we did vote Nagash in the last election. At least he’s honest. Did you find writing in an established world like that one limiting?

josh: Nah. Limits make things interesting. There are always stories to tell, if you look hard enough. And established franchises are prone to having all sorts of intriguing nooks and crannies to explore. Places where new canon overlaps with old, and blank spaces on the maps.

Also, Nagash 2016. Serve him in life AND in death.

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greydog: We’ve seen worse campaign banners. We’re interested in your authorial stance, which seems to be “I do a job”. A while ago someone asked how you got into a particular line, and you said: “I was scrounging around for submission opportunities and ran across X’s guidelines. I figured it was worth a shot, so I knocked out a novel pitch that day and submitted it.” You’re not into the ‘tortured artist having vapours in a Parisian attic’ routine, then?

josh: Ha! No. Writing is my profession, and I like to think I’m good at it. It’s what I do to make money, which I then use to pay my mortgage bill and buy groceries and such. To accomplish that, I have to treat it like a job…eight to ten hour days, invoices, taxes, the whole nine yards. As my old granny is known to say, ‘them vapours is not conducive to financial stability’.

greydog: A wise woman. Now, we always wonder what writers read. What sort of fiction do you use to relax? More in the fantasy and supernatural genres, or something quite different?

josh: If we’re talking about relaxing specifically (as opposed to inspiration), I like mysteries. Thrillers, procedurals, cozy, noir… I read ’em all. You give me a sewing circle or a washed-up actor or a cat solving crimes, and I’m a happy fellow. Too, I’m a mark for writers like Dorothy L. Sayers and Ernest Bramah. Real Golden Age of Detective Fiction stuff.

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greydog: Bramah is sadly rather overlooked these days. His blind detective Max Carrados is an interesting read, though his tales of Kai Lung the Chinese storyteller, are even better. And we know you have more stories on the way. Any major projects for 2016 that you can share here?

josh: Well, hopefully, Infernal Express, the long-delayed third novel in The Adventures of the Royal Occultist series, will be out sometime soon. Not to mention the equally delayed second volume of Eldritch Inquests, the occult detective anthology I co-edited with Miles Boothe for Emby Press.

Novel-wise, there’ll also be a few Warhammer-related projects, but if I talk about those, they take away my cheese club privileges.

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neferata

greydog: We’ll ask no more, then, but we’re coming in with our knuckle-dusters up for our last question. St Cyprian and Ebe Gallowglass versus Abigail Jessop and Henry Dodgson. Who’s going to win?

josh: Oh, that’s obvious. Us, when we rake in all that sweet, sweet box office money. I mean, we were planning to sell tickets, right?

greydog: We are now. Many thanks, Joshua M Reynolds (not an 18th century painter).

We do have an accidental publishing connection with Josh, although we didn’t know it until recently. His novella The Door of Eternal Night is part of the series The Science of Deduction from 18th Wall Productions, and our own contribution to the series, A Study in Grey, is due out this month.

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door of eternal night on amazon

You can get the ebook from the link above. Josh can also be found on his writing website, here:

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the royal occultist book two
the royal occultist book two

Next week on greydogtales: Lurchers and folk horror, but not at the same time. Subscribe, or follow on Facebook, and you’ll know which posts to avoid (we’re sure we should put that more positively, somehow).

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Cthulhu for Girls

or Where Next for Lovecraftian Fiction? In which my writing, H P Lovecraft, Ramsey Campbell, women and other strange phenomena crash into each other, and everyone goes home in tears. Or something like that. Never give a man his own website, he’ll only spoil things. Even worse, I’m on my own today. Editor-in-chief is at the gym; technical support crew and longdogs are otherwise engaged, and Twiglet, for some reason, is chewing a box of three-inch screws.

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r’lyeh, by john coulthart

I therefore head to the trenches without tactical support. Obviously I have no actual answer to the “where next” question. This really ought to be a drunken panel at a convention hosted by a cool Jamaican woman in an armoured exoskeleton with her own cattle-prod. That would be more fun. Much of my own work is Edwardian period occult, and owes more to William Hope Hodgson and J B Priestley than it does to H P Lovecraft. But I do have a few thoughts. Oh dear…

In the past few months since the Great Re-Emergence, I’ve been monitoring anthology calls fairly keenly. After all, I might have a story on an old gum wrapper which could be swiftly adapted to current needs. You know the drill. Cross out “Kevin the Plumber”, replace with “crazed scholar” and add more eldritch bits. There’s nothing worse than a shoggoth stuck in your Non-Euclidean u-bend.

During this time I’ve seen calls for LGBT Cthulhu, Inclusive Cthulhu, Turn HPL on His Head, Post-Lovecraft Weird, Historical Mythos and a number of others. Which is fine. And I’ve read many interviews with contemporary authors (even conducted a few), interviews which considered different aspects of writing in or beyond this area, such as:

  • representation of women as protagonists and significant antagonists in Lovecraftian works;
  • countering the bleed of racism from HPL’s personal views into his fiction;
  • the need to re-explore his basic tropes and themes in non-Mythosian ways;
  • the abandonment of Lovecraftian themes altogether as having served its time, or being restrictive as a framework for modern weird fiction.

I was pondering on this lot when I accidentally came across a couple of pieces which interested me. I’m not going to comment on them as such, but I do think that both are useful to the discussion.

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the house where all lovecraft’s female protagonists live – uh oh, it’s empty…

Sean Eaton writes a blog called The R’Lyeh Tribune, which is invariably worth a browse (see link at end). He recently interviewed Ross Smeltzer, author of The Mark of the Shadow Grove, a collection published in January 2016. I haven’t read the collection yet, but the interview dwells considerably on the influence of Lovecraft. In particular I noted Smeltzer’s comment:

“In each of the novellas in The Mark of the Shadow Grove I wanted to tell stories in the weird and Lovecraftian mold that also included compelling characters, particularly female characters. Their absence in so much classic horror fiction—and their virtual nonexistence in Lovecraft’s canon—speaks to the truncated perspective of many weird fiction writers. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to assume that Lovecraft ignored women in his fiction because his understanding of who could constitute a protagonist in a story was limited to bookish white men like himself.

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“I wanted to incorporate women into a Lovecraftian framework and to do so in a way that upset gendered representations of femininity. I strove for ambiguity. I don’t think I wholly succeeded, but it’s an artistic agenda I plan on pursuing further.”

The very same day (honestly, not one of my usual lies) I found a book down the back of a shelf, a book about which I’d completely forgotten. It was Douglas E Winter’s 1985 collection of interviews with horror authors, Faces of Fear. It contained an interview with Ramsey Campbell, in which the Great Man said:

“What appealed to me about Lovecraft was that sense of enormous cosmic awe… It certainly worked for me then – not so much now, I’m afraid, although I do still like Lovecraft; I find him fascinating for various reasons.”

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He then went on to add, concerning his own collection of Lovecraftian fiction, Cold Print (also 1985):

“I was attempting, very clumsily, to get at that sense of awe. But at the same time, it was also very much a means of not dealing with my own fears. It was actually a means of writing about quite different things, and probably rather comforting in some way, being able to achieve something that had nothing directly, personally, psychologically, to do with me… Only when I became impatient with the Lovecraftian structure… did I begin to get on to dealing with things that were a good deal more personal.

“Lovecraft is the most widely imitated American horror writer; M R James is the most imitated British writer; Hitchcock is the most imitated director. The reason is precisely that their technique is part of their surface – you can actually see their technique. It is in the foreground of their stories, to the extent that you can actually see it working and take it as a model.

“So Lovecraft was very much about the style being literally appropriate to the material, but I felt that there were other ways of doing it.”

Of course, Ramsey Campbell was speaking thirty years ago, and I can’t pretend to know what his views would be now, but I like what he says – excepting the suggestion that Cold Print is clumsy in any way. I still love that collection. The rest of his interview is well worth reading, by the way, as are those of the other contributors.

I wanted to present these two fragments for anyone who might have missed them, but naturally I have my own opinions. In fact, I have opinions like Twiglet has dandruff, impossible to eradicate and going all over the place.

I grew up steeped in Lovecraft, forty years ago, and given the weight of all those tentacles at the back of my mind, there is no way I can ignore HPL’s influence. So I did get tempted recently into writing a few Mythos stories. Having done so, I have no excuse for keeping silent, so what was my take?

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Of least importance, my first move was with the Sandra’s First Pony series. These stories are Mythos in their roots but very non-Lovecraftian in structure and tone. Enid Blyton and the Chalet School, with a touch of folk-horror and a lot of ill-judged humour. The main protagonists are a cheerful schoolgirl with a shotgun and a violent, slightly psychotic talking pony. Sandra and Mr Bubbles do at least challenge HPL’s short-sighted stereotypes, and if there’s any agenda it’s a feminist one, so I feel reasonably good about that.

But they are only for fun, and I’ve written two serious stories in the last few months. The first, Messages*, is a deeply Mythos tale in which the protagonists are a mother and her daughter, operating beyond normal constraints and barriers. They’re sane, they’re not stereotypical cold-hearted killers or anything like that, and the tale isn’t about sex. It’s about parenting, belief and responsibility. You may or may not enjoy it, but the point was to move forward in a way which might be Mythos but new as well.

The other one is With the Dark and the Storm, which is doing the rounds at the moment, a story seen from the point of view of a small Igbo village in British colonial Africa. I worried about this one, because you don’t counter racism by having old white Yorkshiremen writing about indigenous African beliefs. At the same time, I wanted to see if a good story could be told from a viewpoint other than that of Lovecraft, Edgar Wallace and other writers of the time. The structure itself is quite traditional, the angle not. If that works, or if I should even have tried it, we shall see.

an igbo ikenga
an igbo ikenga

And I can understand why writers such as Ted E Grau (see  a voice from the nameless dark ) and others, having contributed powerfully to the Mythos field, seek to move forward rather than dig the same fields over again and again. I sort of feel the same way myself, and yet I constantly get tempted to play among the roots.

So I thought that it might be a good idea to read Dreams from the Witch House – Female Voices of Lovecraftian Horror**, and that’s my current bedside book. This collection (edited by Lynne Jamneck) contains some cracking women writers of today, and maybe they might help me decide. Will something new still grow in this strange, slightly tainted soil?

I’ll leave that with you, while I go look up the price of ammunition for a Hopkins and Allen .32 in 1908. Boys, eh?

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Whilst we’re on – or off – Cthulhu’s dad, it seemed appropriate to mention a work-in-progress by writer and editor Sam Gafford, who has graced these airwaves a number of times. Normally we touch base with him over William Hope Hodgson, but Sam kindly sent us some artwork by Jason Eckhardt, and we wanted to show it off.

12527770_10154425740644769_943100493_nHe and Jason are in the process of producing a biographical graphic novel called Some Notes on a Non-Entity: The Life of H P Lovecraft. The title is from an essay by Lovecraft which formed part of Arkham House’s second HPL publication, Beyond the Walls of Sleep, 1943.

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This collection is mostly minor pieces, and Some Notes was later released by Arkham in a limited edition (500 copies) twenty years later in 1963. The essay’s most recent outing was in Collected Essays, Volume 5: Philosophy; Autobiography & Miscellany edited by S. T. Joshi (2006)

12874370_10154425744899769_1590465786_oIt’s hoped that the graphic novel will be out by the end of 2016. If you want to keep up with progress, you can wander over to the Facebook page, where more artwork and commentary are added as the great work continues.

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some notes on a non-entity facebook page

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*Messages, by me, will be available in Martian Migraine’s new anthology Cthulhusattva, coming 23 May 2016.

**Dreams from the Witch House will be available on Kindle from 12 April 2016 (we were fortunate to get a bundled special offer copy), and we may yet say more about that one.

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The full article for Lovecraft, Diversity, and the Occult: An Interview with Ross Smeltzer, can be found here:

the r’lyeh tribune

Out of space, rather than outer space.  Keep your wireless set on, because in a couple of days we have our super brilliant Easter special, an interview with actor Dan Starkey, the new audio Carnacki (and also, for Dr Who fans, Strax the Sontaran, of course)…

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Stranger Seas 3: Ray Cluley Surfaces for Air

Our seas are full of mysteries.” Yes, the award-winning author Ray Cluley joins us today for our series about the nautical weird. We talk about oceanic awe, merfolk, writing techniques, what the heck is ‘literary horror’ – and his own works, of course.

Ray writes on the darker side. His work has been published in Black Static, Interzone and Crimewave from TTA Press, Shadows & Tall Trees from Undertow Press, and Icarus from Lethe Press, as well as featuring in a variety of anthologies. He’s from the UK, younger than us and a fine writer. It’s all very depressing for old greydog, who will now have to work twice as hard.

Still, put on your swimming costumes and dive into the darkness with us. Oh no, it’s Stranger Seas 3

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ray cluley, with ocean

greydog: Welcome to greydogtales, Ray, and many thanks for coming.

ray: It’s a pleasure, thanks for inviting me.

greydog: We shamelessly hauled you into the Stranger Seas net because of your most excellent novella, Water for Drowning, so let’s begin with the aquatic side of your work. You told us in earlier correspondence that this is your favourite setting for horror, closely followed by the cold (which we might get to later). Putting it simply, what do you think is the appeal of stories set on, around or even under the sea?

ray: Yeah, I love the sea. It terrifies me. There’s so much of it, and we know so little about what’s in it, so it’s a great setting for making something monstrous plausible. I mean, if the blue whale, the biggest living thing on our planet (that we know of) can prove so difficult to find and track, what else might be out there evading our notice? And there’s such diversity of life in the sea. Have you seen the Blue Planet series? Such a wide range and variation of things, with new species discovered all the time. And truly weird things, like squids that turn themselves inside out, fish that naturally produce lights to help them hunt or survive other predators, transparent creatures that float around like their own x-ray. Our seas are full of mysteries, and creepy alien-like things.

Of course, the environment itself can kill you, so that makes it a pretty useful setting for horror, too. The threat of drowning, the destructive power of waves, the intense pressure of great depths. I remember a quote from Sebastian Junger’s The Perfect Storm, a chapter heading I think, that says of the fishing trade, “It’s not fish you’re buying, it’s men’s lives” (Sir Walter Scott said it, I believe) which really highlights how dangerous the sea can be, and danger is great for any story. With so many losing their lives at sea it’s also a superb setting for anything ghostly. All those lost vessels. All those lost souls.

Plus as well as the sea itself you’ve got ships, oil rigs, submarines, all of which are excellent story settings due to the isolation, the confinement, and the limited cast of characters.

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greydog: We don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that the mythology surrounding mermaids has a certain relevance to Water for Drowning. You also wrote the terrific I Have Heard the Mermaids Singing. Was mer-lore something which you needed to research at the time, or did it spring from a pre-existing interest in the area?

ray: I’ve always loved the idea of mermaids. The symbolism of them, their beauty, the idea that they can be used to depict a doomed love story or the dangers of sexual allure. And regarding stories, mythology, I’ve always been particularly drawn to the ones that mix and merge creatures together with the human. I find centaurs fascinating too, werewolves, satyrs, the lamia… Interestingly many of these are also often associated with sexual desire, as if such a thing should be considered animalistic, primal, base, and with this you also get that frisson of the taboo, emphasised by the idea of interspecies breeding. All good stuff for horror stories.

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mermaid, bech

greydog: We have a policy of not interbreeding with anything that has sharper teeth than us. Now, one of the things we worried about, when planning the Stranger Seas theme, was settling on a definition. Which we didn’t, so we just looked at everything wet and scary we could find. What, for you, is the quintessential nautical horror story?

ray: The first thing I thought of after reading that question was a film – Carpenters The Fog. Such a great film, and one I’ll watch whenever it happens to be on. And Jaws, of course, that’s a classic for all sorts of reasons. But my favourite nautical horror story to read is probably Lovecraft’sThe Shadow Over Innsmouth’. Not only are the Deep Ones themselves disturbing, but the idea of trading with them, making pacts, mating with them to produce strange hybrids? There’s a lot in that story about what it is to be human, and a lot of that is scarier than any Deep One. Plus there’s that lure of the sea, calling its children back to its depths… Wonderful stuff. We crawled out of the sea, once upon a time, to become what we are today. Anything that takes us back, devolves us to an earlier state, and puts us in an environment we might have crawled away from in the first place because it’s so damn deadly, gets my vote as quintessential nautical horror.

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the shadow over innsmouth, kakobrutus

greydog: Another aspect of Water for Drowning is the indeterminate truth about the nature of the core character (as opposed to the narrator). Do you prefer an approach where readers end a story with their own speculations as to what they’ve witnessed, rather than laying it on the line?

ray: I do prefer that, yeah. I believe reading should be an active process as far as possible, more than simply following words across a page with your eyes and imagining what they tell you. If you can involve the reader more with the actual act of story telling then I think they’ll take more from the experience. I know I do. I try to write stories that don’t rely too heavily on it, though, trying to strike a balance that allows a reader to either sit back and be told what happens or do some of the work themselves. If I can put that option there, I will. And if they take the ‘do some work themselves’ option, I like to offer a few possibilities as to what routes they might take in the process. The most obvious thing to offer is a ‘straight’ story and a more metaphorical one, but I like to put in a few ambiguities that allow for different interpretations. I blame my lit degree and my teaching days.

What I don’t like are stories where the writer seems to offer this but has in fact just been vague, as if they themselves don’t really know what they’re writing. Some readers like that, but I consider it too easy, too lazy in fact.

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a shark at work, yesterday

greydog: You won a British Fantasy Award for Shark! Shark! (another conveniently sea-linked story). Apart from the pleasure of the twists in the story, you play extensively, and very successfully, with the breaking of the Fourth Wall and shifts in how characters are observed. What made you abandon straight linear narrative and viewpoint for this one?

ray: I abandoned it just for fun, at first. I tend to plan my stories, or at least write a ‘plot-page’ for myself before writing, and as it’s for my eyes only it tends to use a colloquial style with notes for the technical stuff regarding where I want to put some symbolism or subtext, a play on words, that kind of thing. Then I’ll write it properly afterwards. With ‘Shark! Shark!’ I simply didn’t turn that colloquial style off or hide it, and when it came to writing it properly I merely made it more reader-friendly, more intentional. When I was studying and teaching literature I loved plays that broke the fourth wall, the Brechtian approach of drawing attention to the art itself, highlighting art as artifice. If you simply sit back and enjoy the show you might miss, or not give enough attention to, what is being said and/or how it’s being said. Besides, I was riffing on Jaws and a few other shark films and wanted to show the reader that I knew I was doing that. Beat them to the punch, in a way, before they could judge me for it. That, plus many of the people who read my work are either writers themselves or in the course of becoming one, so I thought it would be fun to highlight the writing process as a sort of shared experience or ‘in joke’.

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greydog: And it works very well. Onto the bleak and the cold. Within the Wind, Beneath the Snow is another novella of yours which has been well-received. Can you give our listeners a taste of what we might find there?

ray: It’s very different to Water For Drowning, which is a bit lewd and crude. Within the Wind, Beneath the Snow is more psychological, with a far less colloquial prose style. It’s about a woman called Gjerta Jørgensen who is in fact the first woman to join an elite dogsled team called Slædepatruljen Sirius. Their job is to patrol the frozen coastline of Greenland. It’s a tough job with all sorts of risks, most related to the extreme weather conditions, and the cold landscape made for a great setting due to its desolation and the solitude. Gjerta is a haunted woman, with half of the novella told in flashback to her life in Denmark, again with a backdrop of cold isolation. It’s all a big metaphor, landscape and weather combining in an extended example of pathetic fallacy to represent Gjerta’s state of mind, but there are monsters, too. The darkteeth. The man of traps.

It was well received but unfortunately you can’t get hold of it anymore, not at the moment, due to some issues with the publisher. However, I’m happy to say it has since found a new home and will be republished later this year…

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greydog: We’ll pretend to be hip and current now. Probably Monsters is your first collection of short stories, and it’s pretty damned good. We were interested to see it described as ‘literary horror’ in some reviews. As we have you trapped here, we wanted to get your view on this shorthand term, which is being used a lot nowadays. Do you think ‘literary horror’ has any real meaning – more long words, less hack and slash, or what?

ray: To me, ‘literary horror’ is a somewhat problematic term. It sounds defensive, for starters, as if you’re saying ‘it’s not really horror, it’s cleverer than that’. At the very least it’s loaded with the assumption that horror isn’t literary unless you tag that word on first. When it’s used like this it really bothers me, because it’s an unfair judgement of the genre.

However, it would be foolish to ignore the fact that, actually, there’s a hell of a lot of crap out there. I mean crap that shouldn’t be published due to the standard of writing, not crap because it’s horror. In this sense, ‘literary horror’ is sometimes a shorthand way of saying ‘this ain’t that’. In which case, it has its uses.

Oddly, some people seem to use the term as a substitute for realism. It’s literary because the writer spends a long time talking about ‘life stuff’. I don’t have time for that definition. It’s not literary because you spent ages telling me about this character’s divorce or devoted several pages to the minutiae of their daily life. That’s just fucking dull.

If I use the term it’s to describe work in the genre that has made effective use of the tools available to a writer, work that utilises various techniques to allow a story to do more than tell a sequence of events. I like stories that are ‘just’ stories – this happened, and then this happened, and then this happened, and it was all very exciting and scary – but I also like stories that do this while at the same time showing me that it means something, that it stands for something, that there’s a message beyond the thrill of events or well chosen words. These tend to be the stories that stand the test of time, stories that might be studied later, stories that are reprinted in, or even inspire, anthologies. This, to me, is ‘literary’ horror. Doesn’t mean it should wave its arms around and shout about it, though.

Short version: I’m wary of the term and its usage. It’s often used incorrectly and/or comes, sometimes, with a certain arrogance. And yet I’m always flattered if my own work is defined as such. I’m a contradiction (slash, hypocrite).

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sebastian cabrol – yes, we’ve used it before, but we love its squirminess so much…

greydog: You been published in a lot of magazines and anthologies. As a writer, do you find the short story a satisfying vehicle, or do you prefer the novella approach to give your ideas room to grow?

ray: I love the short story form and believe it’s home to most of the best horror. Partly due to the whole ‘unity of effect’ thing and the idea that horror or terror is best accomplished in a small dose. There are novels that manage it too, of course, but many will consist of peaks and troughs rather than maintaining an extended unity of effect. In fact, a novel’s appeal is in its ability to disregard a single effect to instead tackle all sorts of different things, all at once, which a short story doesn’t have the space to do. I like the discipline of a short story. I like how well it lends itself to ambiguity.

I do like novellas a great deal as a middle ground, though, and just lately I’ve found myself writing more of them. I have to be careful that I’m not simply overwriting a short story (or being too lazy to develop a novel) but otherwise I find the form quite wonderful for horror – it doesn’t overstay its welcome, yet it allows the kind of development denied of a shorter work.

If a short story is a shot of spirits or hard liquor, then a novel is a more leisurely pint. A novella seems to fit somewhere between the two without diluting either. Half a pint with a depth charge, maybe.

Or perhaps I just have an alcohol problem.

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greydog: Most of our stories are a bottle of pale ale  – or come from one, anyway. In our signpost role, we collect names and notes for others to follow. It’s not fair, of course, but who are you reading and enjoying at the moment?

ray: Right now I’m mostly reading non-fiction for research but fiction-wise there are a few good ones I read recently. The Convict and Other Stories by James Lee Burke was great. I love this guy, he’s a fantastic writer at both novel and short story length. The Loney by Michael Andrew Hurley was a very good debut, enjoyably slow paced, atmospheric and gothic. One of my favourites when it comes to recommendations, though, is Emily St John Mandel’s Station Eleven. It’s a wonderful post-apocalyptic novel, very engaging – I love it. I read it a while ago now but I still think about it, and it’s the first book that pops into my head whenever I’m asked to recommend something.

greydog: And finally, what are your immediate writing plans? More shorts, novellas or even novel length pieces?

ray: I’m working on a few things (as usual). A few short stories for people – one a sort of English folk horror, another a fantasy(ish) piece for a charity anthology, and something that’s a little more sci-fi. I’m working on a couple of novellas, too – one for me, home yet to be found, and one for a publisher who’s producing an interesting range from horror writer couples, so my partner is writing a companion piece for that one. And I’m still plugging away at the novel.

greydog: Ray, thanks again for joining us, and we hope that we’ll see you here on greydogtales later in the year with news of more dark offerings.

ray: Thank you very much for having me.

And you can also find more Cluley news here on his website:

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As Ray mentioned The Shadow over Innsmouth, and as we do obsess on audio here occasionally, we’ll take a moment to mention the version narrated by Richard Coyle, which we enjoyed. He gives the piece a very dark, worried feel. You can check it out on Amazon by clicking the link (and probably elsewhere, but we’re lazy).

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the shadow over innsmouth

Next week on greydogtales: A return to folk horror with writer/photographer David Senior, who has walked in the shadow of M R James and survived, plus a return to finned horror in Stranger Seas 4. Can things get any more exciting? Well, yes, obviously, but let’s not be mean, now…

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Scary Women: Clarissa Johal and Anita Stewart

Welcome, dear listeners. We’re back to horror, and going for something different today. Inevitably, we find ourselves covering quite a lot of fiction by dead white males, including the weird works of Hope Hodgson and Lovecraft. We can’t kick the period/pulp habit. But today we have two living, contemporary female authors with us – Anita Stewart and Clarissa Johal for our first Scary Women feature. Not only are they cool people to know, but they’ve notched up a lot of books between them, and they write horror that’s a bit different from our usual fare. Have a look…

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greydogtales is about the weird, and about the creative urge. We celebrate what others create, be they women, longdogs or even men, and encourage our listeners to get involved. Last autumn, during the October Frights blog-hop, we met a number of neat female authors who do not obsess about Cthulhu stealing their minds (generally) but who produce the sort of fiction they want to produce. From paranormal worries to full-blown horror, their stories are what they do.

Women are not defined by men (it’s true, you know), and writers in this field are certainly not defined by the opinions of a decrepit Yorkshireman who happens to produce weird fiction. We wanted to have some women speak about the genre in which they chose to write, and why. And, in the process, see if they thought that gender affected their writing. Simple as that.

So we’re very pleased to have Anita  and Clarissa with us, so we can get the low-down. Both of our guests have novels and anthologised stories available.

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Writing as A F Stewart, Anita writes horror, SF and fantasy, and is from Nova Scotia, Canada. She also versifies.

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Clarissa is from the United States, and writes tales of the paranormal (when she’s not on her trapeze).

greydog: Welcome, both of you. Let’s start with the overall view. The markets, and to some extent the fans, often like to label their favourite authors. Gothic, urban fantasy, dark fantasy, paranormal romance and so on. What do you call the genre(s) in which you write, regardless of other people’s labels?

clarissa: Paranormal without the romance, gothic horror without the gore. Simple as that. There may be some romantic tension, but if you’re looking for full-blown romance, look elsewhere. My characters keep their clothes on, and the bedroom door shut.

anita: As I write in a few genres, the labels tend to change depending on the story or book, but overall I generally use the labels dark fantasy or horror. I’ve also been known to sneak into the genres of paranormal, gothic, sci-fi, steampunk, poetry, and even non-fiction. I’m a bit fickle that way. And similar to Clarissa, I rarely write romance, or romantic scenes. My characters kill each other more often than kiss one another (although sometimes they do both).

greydog: So why these areas? By that we mean if fantasy and adventure, why weird fantasy and adventure? And if exploration of character, why use dark or scary fiction to go there?

anita: I never set out to write dark and scary fiction. I wanted to write epic fantasy, but I kept killing off my characters (often quite gruesomely), and exploring darker subjects in my writing. To me, the darker aspects of human nature were more compelling, delving into a character’s choices and questionable actions, and their consequences. Eventually I accepted it as inevitable, and declared myself a writer of all things dark and macabre.

clarissa: The genre chose me—flat out. I started out writing fantasy. Mid-way through a book I was working on, I was hit by two characters (Cronan and Lucas; my death spirit and guardian from Between) who didn’t fit. I kept setting them aside, but they’d come back, stronger than ever. I gave in, and began writing my first paranormal novel. It took me a year to complete, and it was accepted by a publisher three months later. I joke that I was pulled into the Otherworld with Between. I’m on my sixth book, and the ideas come to me faster than I can write them down.

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greydog: We started out with the same intentions, but also went dark and weird somewhere along the path. When you entered the field, were you affected by the market presence of other women already writing in the genre?

anita: Not really. As I said, I never made a conscious decision to write the scary stuff, I stumbled into it. Any market influence would have been by example of good writing, no matter what gender. For example, one of my one of my biggest writing influences is Ray Bradbury. Another is Agatha Christie. The only consideration I gave to gender was with my pen name, and using my initials instead of my full moniker. That decision was in part to be gender neutral, and not to be pre-judged—I’m a woman writing fantasy, so I must write romantic stuff (which is about as far from the truth as you can get).

clarissa: I have to say, I rage against being pigeon-holed as a paranormal romance author. Again, it’s very difficult to write paranormal without people assuming you write romance. I love men in all their forms, but shirtless men will never grace my book covers.

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greydog: We’ve heard it said that there is an area of paranormal and horror fiction which is dominated by male writers and readers, perhaps a bleaker, nastier section of the field. Do you think that’s the case?

anita: Possibly. I have found many female writers in the horror genre tend to lean more on the side of psychological horror as opposed to the gorier realm. (Though not all. I myself like to dabble with the blood and guts from time to time. In fact, I sometimes run a character body count on Twitter when I write a book.) That leaves the sub-genres of gore, slasher horror, and the so-called ‘torture porn’ open for the men to dominate. Though any discrepancy may simply be a matter of numbers, with horror in general still being dominated by the male writers.

As for the paranormal genre, that might be a matter of skewed perception. If you’re a woman and you say you write paranormal, I believe there’s still a tendency for people to automatically think ‘paranormal romance’, whether or not it’s true.

clarissa: There’s a definite sector of horror that’s hard core, and I do see the glut of that being written by men. However, there are women in that market too—and they can be just as twisted and evil, if not more so.

greydog: Let’s sneak down to character level. Do you feel more involved writing a female character, or does it make no difference what gender the character is?

clarissa: My characters tell me what to write, not vice versa. They come to me perfectly formed, and I usually dream their back stories. Because of that, I feel a connection to each and every one of them—male and female.

anita: I’m involved with every character, regardless of whether they are male or female. They all invade my head and talk to me, and tell me their stories. Although I do tend to find writing female characters easier (no doubt due to first-hand experience and all). I did deliberately put female characters front and centre with the Killers and Demons sequel, though. I figured why should the male villains have all the fun.

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greydog: They shouldn’t! But on that point, there’s been a lot of talk about how well males can write female characters. The cheap way of writing so-called ‘strong’ female characters is to make them as axe-happy as the men and swear more. That may be fun, but it’s not exactly the answer. What makes a female character ‘strong’ for you?

anita: Generally I write my characters from a human perspective, as opposed to specific gender roles. I don’t approach characters as strong or weak, but well-rounded, with virtues and flaws both, be they male or female. I did, however, have to tackle this gender issue with Althea, the main character from my book Gothic Cavalcade. Her character has a background that could be viewed as stereotypical (a woman with a troubled and traumatic past) and it’s one of the few stories I wrote with a romance. So I needed to tread carefully, as not to turn her into a wishy-washy girl looking for a man to save her, or a hardened cliché. I needed a strong character, someone who survived evil, but still maintained a fragility of spirit. So I opted to make her cautious, even shy, in nature, but hopeful and sensible. A character whose choices lead her back to confront her past and eventually realise she can destroy it. And as the story plays out, her new love interest becomes her emotional guidepost, but not her saviour.

Also, I don’t think “axe-happy” women should necessarily be dismissed as a short-cut to a strong character. There’s no reason why female characters can’t be as action oriented as male ones. A character I’m currently writing, Doyle, is seriously lethal. But she has much more to her personality including slightly misguided loyalty, a sense of obligation, doubts, misgivings, and a maternal side that precipitates a change of heart and a change of allegiance. I think if you want strong female characters, then write them as fully realized human beings. And if they want to swing axes, let them.

clarissa: I find those particular characters annoying. If brandishing a weapon and dropping the f-bomb makes you strong, anybody can do that, it’s not a skill—sorry. Strength comes from within. A strong character (in my opinion) approaches a tough situation with their smarts. That said, I’m a pretty damn good fencer.

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greydog: We’ll be careful what we say, then. Our fencing épées are rusting in mother’s loft (yes, we really did have some, but we were rubbish!).

And we suspect that we know the answer to the next question, from what you’ve both already said, but we’ll go there anyway. Do you feel that you write primarily for a female audience?

clarissa: I write stories for readers—I really don’t focus whether they’re male or female.

anita: In a word, no. I write for whoever likes dark fantasy and horror, with guaranteed dead bodies and little to no romance. I’m not picky, I’ll take any readers, female, male, alien, zombie…

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greydog: Are there other female writer(s) in the field, early or contemporary, whom you admire?

anita: I admire fantasy writer, Jennifer Roberson very much (and if you’re looking for strong female characters, Del from her Tiger and Del series is a perfect example), and Morgan Llywelyn, who writes terrific historical fantasy and fiction. A recent favourite of mine is writer J. A. Clement, author of the On Dark Shores series; she’s a brilliant writer. And I have to give a shout-out to some fellow horror authors, Clarissa Johal, Ash Krafton, Angela Yuriko Smith, and Nina D’Arcangela, to name just a few.

clarissa: My favourite authors are male—Brom, Neil Gaiman and Robert Holdstock. There are a handful of classical authors I enjoy too, but again, all male.

greydog: Rob Holdstock was a great loss – Mythago Wood, just to name one book, was a seminal work in the eighties. Despite that, I remember talking to him about writing TV scripts to pay the mortgage, which always seemed unfair. Nice guy and a fellow zoologist, curiously enough.

Finally, as we’ve got you here, where next for both of you? Tell us what we might be seeing in 2016.

clarissa: I’m working on a paranormal novel, Poppy. My readers really liked a side-character from Struck, and kept asking for her story. Usually, I don’t do sequels or spin-offs, but decided to give it a go. Unbeknownst to me, Poppy had a story to be told! Here’s a peek at the blurb:

A red-headed, pink-loving mortician who speaks to the dead.
A socially awkward funeral director.
Poppy and Dante from Struck are back.

Something is lingering around Skyview Funeral Home–and it’s stealing souls of the departed. With Dante in tow, Poppy is determined to put a stop to it. Will she be able to protect those who are trying to cross over? Or will her soul be next?

anita: I’m working on three novels, in various stages of completion, at the moment. I have two steampunk books, one horror tinged book titled The Duke’s Assassin, one more of an adventure novel, called Racing the Hellfire Club. I’m also working on the first book in a dark fantasy series, called The Prophecy of Seven. Hopefully at least one will be finished sometime next year.

greydog: Many thanks for your time, Anita and Clarissa, and lots of luck with these projects.

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We’ve put a couple of additional links to books up on the right-hand sidebar, but if you want to explore, Clarissa and Anita have author’s websites and Amazon pages as well, which can be found here:

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clarissa on amazon

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a f stewart on amazon

Next week on greydogtales – probably more lurchers, and weird stuff by someone who isn’t around to complain… uh, what we mean is ‘a classic author’. That sounds better, doesn’t it?

 

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