Tag Archives: nautical horror

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

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.


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.

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.

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.

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’.


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…


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).

sebastian cabrol
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.


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:

probably monsters website


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).


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…

Share this article with friends - or enemies...

Whale-road, Widow-maker

A bit of personal history today.

I grew up by the North Sea. It’s a cruel one, known for its cold, treacherous waters and its storm tides. It watches you, from Thule and the narrow fjords in the north, all the way down to those low English coastlines being dragged back into the deeps with every tide.

“The northern Ocean, it seemed to the Romans, stood at a forbidding remove from everything that made life bearable: sunshine, wine, olive oil. Its slate-grey waters, icy and teeming with monsters, marked the boundaries of the world itself”. (writer Tom Holland)


The North Sea strand reeks of fishing-boats and longships, storm-tossed kelp and bladderwrack. It is littered with the dead and the abandoned. And it defines you as a child, gives you a mythology from which to start a long journey into fantasy literature, horror and anything basically weird. It’s a repository of the strange, from the Danes driving their ships into Yorkshire rivermouths to the far-off threat of finfolk from the Orkneys and Shetlands.

My great-grandfather was master of a Hull packet, taking passenger and mail ships up the Humber or out to the Belgian and Dutch ports. I still have his captain’s chair. His wife smuggled tobacco in pouches sewn inside her crinoline dress. They say that the custom-officers would smile and help her off the ship before they checked elsewhere for contraband.

whitby, marny

My father was a lighthouse keeper, mostly at Flamborough or Longstone Rock. The two lighthouses couldn’t be more different. The first is on the headland, easily accessible by road. He could do a shift and drive home – when you could see the road.

flamborough light with the fog closing in, by our editor-in-chief, sarah

The second is in the North Sea on one of the Outer Farne Islands. At Longstone the waves could overwhelm the living quarters and drive the keepers into the upper tower, hoping their supplies would hold out. The regime there was a month on, a month off – thirty days stuck on Longstone Rock with one other man for company. As he loved the sea, it didn’t bother my father at all.

longstone, copyright by hold-steady, deviantart

It was a good start to life for me. That coast is famous for its fishing cobles, clinker-built like longships from oak and larch, high-bowed to deal with the rough seas and flat-bottomed so they can be dragged up the landings in the coves. Small ships going a-viking with every high tide.

The coble-men traditionally wore ganseys (probably a corruption of the word guernsey), garments made with tightly-spun wool and closely knitted to turn water. Weatherproof, though not waterproof. It used to be said that each village had its own pattern so that if there were an accident at sea, the bodies could be sent back to the correct village. Thus there was a Staithes pattern, a Flamborough pattern and a Filey one. If the face was gone, no longer recognisable, then the gansey was witness as to who exactly had passed.

staithes, copyright by chris harland

There was always that question when my father went away to the Farnes or the fishermen went out. Would they come back? The sound of the rescue helicopter was part of my childhood soundtrack, and because I was an impressionable pup, my favourite piece of verse was from Rudyard Kipling:

The Harp Song of the Dane Women

What is a woman that you forsake her,
And the hearth-fire and the home-acre,
To go with the old grey Widow-maker?

She has no house to lay a guest in —
But one chill bed for all to rest in,
That the pale suns and the stray bergs nest in.

She has no strong white arms to fold you,
But the ten-times-fingering weed to hold you —
Out on the rocks where the tide has rolled you.

The old grey Widow-maker. The North Sea. Also called the Whale-road, where leviathans as slatey-dark as the sea surged up to blow and peer at the thin sunlight.


For a different feel of the power in these words, try this performance by Sedayne, from Peter Bellamy‘s setting of the poem to music.

(Bellamy produced two albums, Oak Ash and Thorn and Merlyn’s Isle of Gramarye, based on Kipling’s verse from Puck of Pook’s Hill, a very evocative tale of early England, and Rewards and Fairies. Bellamy was a founder member of the Young Tradition folk group, but sadly committed suidice in 1991.)

And even if the sword-point and the waves missed you, you never knew about the finfolk. Remember them? We’re not talking pretty, long-haired mermaids here, or selkies. I don’t remember a single mermaid story from my youth, only suggestions of much darker things. Cold and fey, the finfolk dwell in their city of Finfolkaheem. Their boats are driven by sorcery, and they are a gloomy people, given to collecting silver and long grudges.

Sunken Finfolkaheem is their winter city, for when when the storms rage, and in these days it’s all that’s left to them. Once upon a time they rose from there in the summer and dwelled on the island of Eynhallow, but no more – it it said to have been taken from them in the end by Christians. As the Orcadian rhyme goes:

Eynhallow fair, Eynhallow free
Eynhallow sits in the middle o’ the sea
A roaring roost on every side,
Eynhallow sits in the middle o’ the tide.

eynhallow sound

The finfolk don’t have massive fish tails to encumber them. They are masters of sea or land, able to live on both with ease, and sail better than any human. I say masters, because the finmen are dominant and cruel. Only the Gospel and the mark of the True Cross are certain to stop them. Humans are taken as slaves – finwifes are used for drudgery or to entrap further mortals. If a finwife can find no normal man to marry, she is forced into the service of a finman and degenerates into a hag, gnarled and ugly.

arch, by sarah

But back to home. There were stories all around in those days. The North York Moors behind us, and the sea before us. Flamborough Head is cut by a huge earthwork known as Dane’s Dyke, though it’s far earlier than the Danes, and God knows how so few people go over the cliffs. I’ve been there on days where it was impossible to see where the land stopped and a sheer drop began, mornings when the sea fret was so thick that you were lucky if your hands were visible. Caves have been eaten into the chalk of the headland, wondrous dripping caves in which your imagination can get quite lost.

thornwick, by sarah

Out on the headland is an old chalk-pit, though some call it a well. It was here where a young woman called Jenny Gallows killed herself, throwing herself into its depths. It is said that if you run around it a certain number of times, her ghost will come to taunt and haunt you.

The most famous story surrounding Jenny tells of a farmer who rode around the well nine times on his horse. On the last round, the girl’s spirit appeared and chased him mercilessly to the village, biting a piece out of the horse’s flank and leaving a white patch that didn’t fade until the animal died. In other versions, eight circuits raises Jenny, but nine circuits brings the fey themselves to speak with you.

We even found a song about her by folk-singer David Swann:

Below the chalk headland, the tides have eroded the sweep of the coastline down to the Humber, and many villages lie under the sea now. Many, not just the odd one. Believe it or not, the following had all gone by the time Thomas Sheppard wrote his book The Lost Towns of the Yorkshire Coast, published in 1912:

Wilsthorpe, Auburn, Hartburn, Hyde, Withow, Cleton, Northorpe, Hornsea Burton, Hornsea Beck, Southorpe, Great Colden, Colden Parva, Old Aldborough, Ringborough, Monkwell, Monkwike, Sand-le-Mere, Waxhole, Owthorne by Sisterkirk, Newsome, Old Withernsea, Out Newton, Dimlington, Turmarr, Northorp, Hoton, Old Kilnsea, Ravenspurn, Ravenser Odd.

We still go to Auburn now and then, where a farm or two remains. We run the dogs on the sands, and stare out, wondering if anything lies down there under the lead-coloured waves.

searching for auburn, by sarah

Flamborough Head and the village where I grew up lie within the Wold Newton Triangle. With its drowned villages, haunts, barrows, Ley Lines and the Gypsey Race river, which rises from dry earth to prophesy doom, the area has everything – and it points towards the North Sea.

A grand place to be a child.


Sigurd Towrie‘s site Orkneyjar has some more wonderful legends and tales from the north for those who want to know more:


We are the Lords of Trivia here, so for those of you wanting a book for the evening, it would be unfair not to point out that Whale Road is also the title of the first in a set of historical Viking novels by Robert Low. But we haven’t read it. So it’s up to you.


There are too many editions of Puck of Pook’s Hill to recommend a particular one, but if you are interested in English lore, it’s a fascinating read.


More Stranger Seas and lighthouses later in the month. On and around Valentines Day, we join up with sundry other writers for Anita Stewart’s Bad Love event on Facebook. Which means that we’d better write something quick.  So we’ll see you on the fourteenth…



Share this article with friends - or enemies...

Nautical Horror Ahoy! It’s Stranger Seas At Last

Not strange seas, not strangest seas, but Stranger Seas. Yes, our Nautical Weird Theme leaves port, sailing cheerfully towards the Iceberg of Exhaustion over the next five or six weeks. What’s on board this wondrous vessel? Let us give you a taste, before we get short of really bad sea-based similes and metaphors, like a sailor who’s run out of tar for his jolly jacks:

  • Brand new interviews with authors such as Steve Vernon, Ray Cluley, Matt Willis and Cameron Trost.
  • Classic supernatural fiction set on and under the briny – ghost ships and things which come through the porthole.
  • Dagon and his denizens of the Deep, for the H P Lovecraft folk, plus graphic Phoenician-0n-Phoenician action as they complain about their god being nicked.
  • Lurchers for Beginners all at sea (or pretty damned wet, anyway).
  • Sea-faring fantasy novels.
  • Sea monsters! We have to have them. And sea-peoples. Not everyone with a tail is a monster.
  • Writer on the BorderlandWilliam Hope Hodgson, the master of the maritime, returns.
  • And maybe even aquatic superhero comics – Prince Namor and Aquaman dry out together in a seedy Arizona clinic?

If we get desperate, we’ll add pictures of fish who look stupid. We have no pride, as you learned long ago. If you are oceanophobic, there will be non-wet articles in between these, by the way.


More launch-time adventures at the end of the week, but for now we go straight to Steve Vernon, Nova Scotian and author of, amongst other things, the Sea Tales series of strange  stories. Here’s the man himself to tell you all about it…


greydog: Welcome to greydogtales, Steve, and thanks for joining us. Let’s start with what brought us together, our nautical horror theme, Stranger Seas. We saw you as an ideal guest for this theme – despite your wide range, you’ve returned to maritime myth and horror many times. Is this because of your personal roots in Nova Scotia, or did something else draw you in this direction?

steve: About forty years ago I came to Nova Scotia to visit my mother. I fell in love with the ocean and I have stayed here ever since. I’ve hitchhiked right across this country and stood in the Pacific Ocean, but my heart has always belonged here in Nova Scotia – here by the strong deep water of the Atlantic Ocean.

greydog: Do you sail, scuba or anything like that?

steve: Nope. I am a land-lubber. All of my sailing and deep-sea adventures take place in the imagination.

greydog: That is the safest, and driest, way. Tell us a little about the mythic side of our theme, and your 2006 book Haunted Harbours: Ghost Stories from Nova Scotia. These are traditional ghostly legends which you collected, and in some cases re-told, is that right?


steve: I’ve been writing short fiction for about thirty-five years. In 2004 I attended the VERY first “Pitch the Publisher” event at Halifax’s annual Word On The Street festival. Pitch the Publisher is a little bit like Dragon’s Den or Shark Tank in that a group of want-to-be authors stand up and pitch a novel submission to a trio of local publishers. That first year over thirty books were pitched and Haunted Harbours: Ghost Stories From Nova Scotia was the ONLY book to actually be published. Each of the stories in the book are tales that I have taken from Nova Scotia folklore. I painstakingly tracked them down in the archives and in the pages of old newspapers and I wrote them with a strong storyteller voice.

greydog: And because we are grey-dog-tales, after all, what was the Black Dog of Antigonish Harbour?

steve: The Black Dog of Antigonish Harbour is also known as Old Shug or Old Shuck. He is a legend that spans all the way back to the highlands of Scotland. The Black Dog is said to be able to foretell death. When you see the Black Dog you know without a trace of doubt that there is going to be a death in your family. The Black Dog is basically a tone-deaf banshee in dog tags.


greydog: We’ll add him to our list of spectral hounds. A couple of years later you wrote Maritime Monsters, for younger children, and then a Young Adult book Sinking Deeper. What interested you in writing for younger audiences?

steve: For many years I have worked as a Writer in the School, thanks to a local program backed by our local Writers Federation. As a Writer in the School I go to schools all over the Maritimes and I teach the kids about storytelling and the art of writing. I got tired of younger kids asking me if I had written anything for them to read – so I decided to write Maritime Monsters – a children’s picture book with fifteen individual short stories and fifteen wicked-cool kid-friendly illustrations. After that, as you say, came the young adult novel Sinking Deeper: My Questionable (sometimes heroic) Decision to Invent a Sea Monster.


greydog: But you moved on to create maritime myths of your own with your Sea Tales series, far darker and more adult in nature. Some of these are quite brutal, not always in the sense of gore but in facing aspects of life and death without a comfy get-out clause. Was this an intentional move for the series?

steve: You have to realize that when I started writing back in the mid-80’s I wrote an awful lot of short horror stories for such magazines as Cemetery Dance, The Horror Show, Flesh & Blood, as well as horror anthologies such as Karl Edward Wagner’s Year’s Best Horror and the Hot Blood series – so I have been writing dark adult horror stories for a lot more years than I wrote for children. So Sea Tales wasn’t REALLY all that out of the ordinary for me.


greydog: One Sea Tales story stands out both for its emotive nature and its viewpoint – I Know Why the Waters of the Sea Taste of Salt. A young kamikaze pilot of mixed-Chinese/Japanese descent flies into the hell of the Battle of Okinawa in 1945. It’s a striking, sympathetic and very original tale which we would recommend. Where on earth did this come from?

steve: My imagination is a gigantic stew pot that I have been chopping up bits of meat and vegetables for every year that I have walked upon this earth. A story like I Know Why… is just a bit of strange meat that I stirred up out of the deepest end of the stew pot. I’d say that the roots of the story lie in an early fascination of mine with World War II in general and the Pacific island campaigns in specific. There was also a touch of an article that I read a very long time ago in a Fine Woodworking magazine that dealt with the carving of netsuke. A writer is like a crazy quilt maker – somebody who gathers up scraps of rags and creates beautiful blankets from these scraps and rags.


greydog: Will you be continuing with Sea Tales, or is that a ‘chapter’ in your career that’s largely done with?

steve: Oh I have no doubt that like the tide I will continue to return to the sea. In fact the latest novel I just completed is entitled Kelpie Dreams, involving a mermaid, a kelpie, a Sea Hag and a two hundred year old ghost. I don’t think I am ever going to get over my fascination with the ocean. You have to remember, after all, that our blood is basically nothing more than sea water.


greydog: Let’s escape the briny. As we said earlier you have a wide range, and you’re quite prolific. We get the feeling that you admire the pulp writers of old who could turn out a story in almost any genre, an age of slamming the typewriter keyboard as long as the bourbon held out. Is that true?

steve: Well, aside from the bourbon part you have got it dead right. Unfortunately bourbon always gives me heartburn as well as making me kind of cranky. I am more of a dark beer kind of a fellow – and I never drink anything stronger than good black coffee while I am writing. But there is nothing that I like better than sitting in my writing cave banging out a good old fashioned story.


greydog: We were interested in the Tatterdemon trilogy, all three of which are now available to buy in a single volume (see sidebar on right). Is this series inspired by actual legend, given that in the books the roots of Tatterdemon go back to the 17th century, or did you conjure this one up out of the air?

steve: Tatterdemon has to be one of my favorite novels – and definitely my best selling independent novel. I wrote the novel thinking about Stephen King’s Salems Lot. I have always loved using small towns as a setting for my horror novels. I grew up in a small town, way up in the Northern Ontario attic, about twenty miles north of Sudbury. I have always been fascinated by the isolation you can find in certain small towns. The scarecrows of Tatterdemon are definitely my own invention – although I sewed it strands of voodoo and the paranormal all through it.


greydog: Is there any aspect of horror that you’d like to write but haven’t got round to, any secret authorial dream that you’ve still to fulfil?

steve: I have got the makings of a Nova Scotia zombie novel that has been kicking around my workspace for an awfully time now. One of these days I am going to have to sit down and write it out.

greydog: Sounds fun. Finally, we like to keep in touch with anyone who appears on greydogtales to see what happens next, so what can we expect to see from you in 2016?

steve: As I mentioned, I have just completed a novel that I am intending will be the first in a series of at least three books, entitled Kelpie Dreams. It is a kind of a paranormal action-packed shoot-em-up-supernatural romance novel written for folks who truly hate reading romance. I have submitted that book to the Kindle Scout publishing program and over the month of February I will be actively campaigning and seeking out Kindle Scout nominations to hopefully get that book selected by Kindle Scout. I really feel that if I can get Kelpie Dreams picked up by Kindle Scout and get the weight of the mighty Amazon promotional team behind it that I will raise my indie author profile in a way that helps a lot more people find out what a truly mind-warping experience a Steve Vernon novel can actually be.


greydog: Many thanks again, Steve Vernon.

As it would be churlish to have Steve here and not support his Kindle Scout campaign, here’s the link where you can back him:

kelpie dreams kindle scout bid

You can find out lots more about his writing at his site here:

steve vernon – yours in storytelling


As we’re heading back into William Hope Hodgson territory later on, this would also be a good time to remind listeners of Sam Gafford‘s great site on Hodgson. We say this because greydogtales is a compendium of weird things but an authority on none. Sam is the most dedicated scholar and collector of Hodgsoniana we’ve ever encountered, and there’s loads of interesting stuff there. Go browse.

whhwilliam hope hodgson

And don’t forget that the new Carnacki audio from Big Finish should now be available. Six of Hodgson’s original stories, lovingly and faithfully rendered for your ears in a high quality production:

carnacki on audio


That’s it for today, we fear. Back to hauling longdogs and writing for a living. More greydogtales on Friday, if we remember where we put the fishing spears…


Share this article with friends - or enemies...