This week, as I'm fairly sure we've already mentioned, sees the publication of our new novels The Faceless and Greatshadow in the UK and North America.
So we kidnapped the favourite childhood cuddly toys of the men behind these two titles, Simon Bestwick and James Maxey, and held a blow torch close to them until the fur singed a *little* bit so that they gave into our demands to answer some questions for your reading pleasure. Harsh but, we think you'll agree, fair.
Here Mr Simon Bestwick, whose prompt replies saved 'Bobo' from being burnt to a crisp, tells us a bit about the thinking behind The Faceless.
1. What was the inspiration behind The Faceless?
The first inspiration was seeing a series of photographs of World War One servicemen who’d sustained facial wounds. They were very common during the ‘Great’ War, and a lot of modern reconstructive surgery techniques were first developed to treat these survivors. I also became interested in the psychological casualties of the war, and the different techniques used to treat them (some of which, such as those of Dr Lewis Yealland, almost as appalling as what the victims had already gone through.) It’s impossible not to be disturbed and affected by any study of this subject; those stories and images stayed with me. So I did what I usually do under those circumstances and worked them into a story.
2. What is it that draws you to supernatural fiction and horror?
A lot of what I do falls into that category almost by default, I think. Of all genres, it gives the writer the most freedom. You can write what is essentially a psychological novel, but incorporate elements of other genres, such as crime, science fiction, fantasy, magic realism, or anything else you please. This is important as genre works as a kind of toolbox, with different kinds equipping you better to explore different themes. Horror- I’d suggest- is what Ellen Datlow calls ‘a literature of unease’. That is, it’s a way of writing about the things that frighten and disturb us, which can take any form: fear of mental illness, fear of losing what we have (home, family, job), fear of tyranny and repression or fear of catastrophes such as nuclear war or climate change. You can write about these things as realistically as you like, but can then add the logic of nightmare or introduce the symbolic. Not everything I do is horror, but a lot of it is to do with finding the freest possible form to work in. Hidebound, formulaic horror is one of the most ugly, depressing and downright embarrassing forms of literature available- good horror, written by authors trying to use the huge toolbox the field offers to say something personal, is among the best.
3. How would you describe your novel?
It’s a ghost story and a sort of haunted house story; it’s a book about the destruction and suffering of the First World War and it tries, I hope, to show how the legacy of that conflict still affects us now. I don’t really know if it succeeds in that or not because I still feel too close to it to be objective. Aside from that, I hope it’s disturbing and unsettling, obviously; I also hope it’s a book that has some real substance as literature. Most of all, I hope it’s a book that people will feel compelled to keep reading, even if they want to stop!
4. Who would you list as your inspirations in the genre?
Ramsey Campbell is one of the first who springs to mind, both as an author and an editor- no writer in Britain has done more to demonstrate that horror can be both literature and entertainment. Joel Lane, and Nick Royle’s Darklands anthologies in general, for showing it’s a field that can be put to use in a lot of different ways. Ray Bradbury for his amazing, lyrical language; Richard Matheson for similar reasons. Stephen King because he’s truly an example of a great storyteller- I hate it when that term is used to describe near-illiterates like Dan Brown - real storytelling fuses narrative, language, description, character and ideas all together into one and makes it look effortless. King does that extraordinarily well. Poe for his incredibly dark vision and marvellous use of language (‘…and darkness and decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all’ is both beautiful and terrifying.), Lovecraft for his revolutionising of the genre via his atheism, and for showing just how important and subtle structuring could be. I don’t think Joolz Denby is thought of as a writer of horror fiction, or thinks of herself as one, but she’s another great, and powerfully empathic, storyteller- brilliant stories and poems such as ‘Shapeshifter’ or ‘The Disappearance’ definitely edge into horror territory, her fourth novel Borrowed Light makes powerful use of an implied supernatural theme, and her third novel, Billie Morgan, though not supernatural, is a compelling, dark and wrenching account of a murder and its consequences which I think everyone in the world should read. Arthur Machen, A.M. Burrage, M.R. James… I’ve probably missed someone important out, but I’ll stop now else we’ll be here all night.
5. What is your writing process?
I think every writing process breaks down into three things- planning, writing and revision. It’s all about finding the best balance! With The Faceless I planned out the whole book, but in quite broad strokes, and I waited till I’d finished the first draft before revising. The result was a first draft of 160,000 words and a lot of rewriting to get it into a readable form. I’m all in favour of taking as much time as necessary to get the damn thing right, but I made a lot more work for myself than was needed. I’m trying to juggle things round a bit better for the current projects. I’ve a lot of things I want to write, and only so much time to do it in!
6. What are you working on next?
At the moment, I’m alternating between a pair of novels; one is a supernatural horror novel that is shaping up to be the bleakest thing I’ve done yet, while the other is a bit of a departure- I can best describe it as Battlestar Galactica with airships and Spitfires instead of spaceships and with the Great Old Ones and a fanatical death-cult instead of killer robots. I’m trying to get enough of that written that I feel I’m on the right track before going back to the horror novel.
7. Have you ever had any encounters with the supernatural?
I’m afraid not, although as a boy I wanted to. The closest I came was when I was at college; I remember an experience with a ouija board that scared the living shit out of me. Looking back, though, I think a lot of it was group hysteria- that and one of our number later admitted she’d been moving the glass at least part of the time. Having said all that, and even though I’m an atheist, I wouldn’t go near one of them again… But if I want to see horror and things that once might have been human but no longer are, I can just pick up a paper and read about the present government.