I think stories about hiking in the wilderness, spelunking, mountain climbing, and the like are plenty scary even without any supernatural elements! The horrifying predicament Nick faces in “Wolves and Witches and Bears” feels like it could really happen. What inspired the story and how did it evolve from there?
It really began with a holiday in Croatia. Travel is often inspiring to me, because it makes me more aware of the unique atmosphere and properties of a particular setting. We stayed in a beautiful place, and I remember being out on a trip and seeing bullet holes in some of the buildings, and finding it incongruous to think of a war happening in a place that was so sunny and peaceful. One of our trips was actually over the border into Slovenia, to a national park that had signs around the place warning of bears. It was an exciting thought that they were out there in the forest, creatures more often found in stories than in the wild. Those things came together in the wilderness setting for “Wolves and Witches and Bears.” I’m not even sure I knew what was going to happen to my hikers when I started writing, though; the setting took over more than I’d expected.
One can read this ending as ambiguous, as something magical or hallucinatory, empowering or tragic. Ella herself is somewhat ambiguous, a character some readers may sympathize but others might pity. It’s pretty clear how we should react to Nick, but how do you feel about Ella, and how much did that influence her fate?
As a character, Ella is definitely a mixture. She’s kind of bullied, but she’s also complicit in allowing Nick to dictate their relationship. I found her frustrating as much as sympathetic, but she expresses what happens to a lot of people at various times in their lives — they drift along, accepting their lot, getting into a rut. The story really develops around how she moves on from that, though, in a way, what happens to the characters in the landscape also reflects what’s going on in her relationship with Nick. As to whether it’s a happy ending — I think that one’s definitely for the reader to decide!
This story conveys a strong sense of dread for the reader; we know what will probably happen to Nick, and maybe we kind of want it to. This is a powerful feature of horror fiction, and one of your strengths as a writer. Is it easier to sustain dread in short stories versus novels, or is it more satisfying to draw the anticipation out for a longer period of time?
That’s a really tricky question to answer. I love writing short stories because they are so intense and concentrated, and because they are short, it’s easier to experiment. The creative blast from writing shorts can really get the flow going and new ideas coming. And yes, it probably is easier to sustain the dread, whereas with novels, you ride out the ups and downs over a longer journey with the characters. For me as a writer, the battles are harder fought with a novel. It’s much more difficult to get through to the other side, but there’s a correspondingly greater sense of achievement when I get there. Novels tend to have more surprises in store for me as a writer, too. I’m not a thorough planner, so it’s always exciting when a new turn in the plot hits me out of the blue, as it will then hopefully do the same thing for the reader. That isn’t as likely to happen with a short story.
You recently announced a new three-book deal with Jo Fletcher Books. Congratulations! The first book, A Cold Silence, is a sequel to your first novel, A Cold Season. Can you tell us a little about it? Is it difficult returning to that story and its characters?
Thank you! It’s been a lot of fun to write, although I hadn’t thought of doing a sequel when I wrote A Cold Season. It took me some time to return to it, because I didn’t feel ready — I wanted to wait until I had an idea that could carry a book in its own right, while providing a suitable ending for the characters. A Cold Silence is set some years later — I always somehow felt it would be Ben’s turn to tell his story. In book one, Cass refers back to her odd childhood and the way it informed events, and of course, her son had odd experiences of his own, so I wanted to pick up on how that had shaped Ben as an adult. It opens with him breaking a promise to his mother and returning to Darnshaw — of course, this being the world of A Cold Season, one step into the mire soon leads to another. He discovers that an old friend of his was playing a computer game called Acheron, which promises the player their heart’s desire in return for signing away their soul. His friend had actually begun to believe that it was real, not just a marketing ploy, with unfortunate consequences. He and a group of friends set out to right its wrongs, but at the risk of their own corruption. It’s about whether he can find a way to save them all, and whether the price might just be too high to pay.
What other work do you have out now or forthcoming?
I seem to have a string of firsts underway at the moment. I’ve written a novella called “One Nameless Thing” for a book called Whispers in the Dark: A Cthulhu Anthology. It’s the first time I’ve written at that length, and the first time I’ve written anything around the Cthulhu mythos. I’ve also had a story published in an anthology called The Mammoth Book of Sherlock Holmes Abroad. The brief terrified me when I first saw it — I wasn’t that familiar with the Holmes oeuvre, it needed to be set overseas and in the past — but I like setting myself a challenge. I absolutely loved researching and writing it. I’ve also written a novel in the Zombie Apocalypse world created by Stephen Jones, called Zombie Apocalypse! Acapulcalypse Now. It’s about zombies overrunning a Mexican holiday resort built in the form of a Mayan pyramid, and it was an absolute blast to work on. I had so much fun writing it, it felt like it shouldn’t strictly be allowed! It’s out in September, shortly after A Cold Silence. And it’s only just struck me now that all of those things are set overseas, though the next thing I’ll be working on will, I think, involve a return to my beloved Yorkshire.
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