Your story “Waiting for the Light” takes place in an interesting setting, a bridge between concourses, which spans a freeway. While the fast food joint at the concourse your protagonist, Finn, works at, is far from unusual, the addition of this mysterious bridge lends an evocative metaphor to the story. What inspired you to set the story around this bridge? Is this a real place you’ve encountered?
It was indeed based on a real place, though I can’t remember exactly where it was or where I’d been. I just remember having been on a weekend away, somewhere rural and beautiful that I’d hoped might inspire a short story, but I never got the story “tingle” until I was on the way home one dark night and walked across that bridge. Like the one in the story, it was unlit and quiet and seemed divorced from everything around it; suddenly my story senses were awake.
In the story, Finn discovers a woman who appears to be haunting the bridge, but he doesn’t have much interaction with her apart from observing her every night. What was your thought process in deciding that Finn would merely look to the woman and not engage her?
Finn’s at a stage in his life where he’s accepted he’s in something of a dead end. He hasn’t reached a point where he’s ready to reconnect and start heading somewhere new, and so he remains cut off from those around him, the ghost included. He senses that in himself and it’s echoed in the ghost, who has been trapped in death partway through her own journey. It’s something he’s not ready to engage with; also, on a simpler level, he’s afraid to speak to her or to see her face.
A common element in ghost stories is an explanation of how the ghost died. What sets “Waiting for the Light” apart is that, while you shed some light on the death of the woman, you keep her life and afterlife vague. What is it, do you think, about knowing how someone died that makes ghost stories so interesting, and why did you choose to deviate from this trope?
I suppose my reasoning is that, so often in life, there are no explanations. We encounter people every day and have no idea of their background or where they’re headed or why. Things can’t always be wrapped up with a neat little bow, and it’s that disconnect that I found more interesting in Finn’s situation—he’s in a job where he serves people every day and has no connection with them, either. He’s cut off from the land and from life, and he’s in a place that, for others, is merely a break in their journey, a hiatus before their actual lives resume. Quite often, where the fate of the ghost is explained, it’s because the whole purpose of their existence as a spirit is to tell someone what happened to them. In this story they’re not so much reaching out to tell their story but have become trapped in that hiatus, in the nowhere.
Your writing seems to be focused on horror, any particular reason why? What influenced you to pursue horror fiction?
When I first started writing, I had no idea that this was the path I’d be going down. I didn’t even read huge amounts of horror when I was younger, just the occasional borrowed Stephen King. I simply loved books and read anything that came within reach. As I progressed, though, I found myself drawn to ideas that circle those things in life that we can’t explain and may never understand. I suppose a large part of it is about fear, too—of things like loss, and death, and about trying to come to terms with those fears. I’m also fascinated with stories and storytelling, and so I love the folkloric and mythical—the things that imbue our very landscape with story.
While this is the first time your fiction will appear in Nightmare Magazine, you’ve written several short stories throughout your career. You’ve also written two novels: A Cold Season and Path of Needles. Can you tell us a bit about the difference between writing short stories and novels? Do you have a different approach to each?
The main difference is that I find novels more daunting! I don’t tend to plan in great detail—I tend to have a good idea of the beginning and of the ending, but there’s plenty of scope for worrying myself silly over the middle. And of course with a larger project it’s much longer before I have the whole shape of the thing in place. On the other hand, I feel lost when I’m between novels. There’s something about going on such a long journey with the characters and delving deeper than a short story allows. Short stories are a lot of fun, though, and allow me to jump around genres and ideas and worlds and generally let off some creative steam! I tend to write them when I’m between novel drafts, though, so that I don’t wrench my head out of one world and into another partway through.
Your first novel, A Cold Season, is set to be released in the United States this September. Can you tell us what it’s about, what inspired it, and what it was like getting your first novel published?
It was amazing getting my first book published—an absolute dream! I still look back on that time and think of it as completely surreal.
A Cold Season is about a young mother, Cass, who is building a new life for herself and her young son, Ben, after the loss of her soldier husband. She’s returning to the village where she lived as a child, but soon finds that something is very wrong in Darnshaw—and then she is stranded there by a heavy snowstorm. As the village’s secrets surface, the forgotten promises from her own past threaten to engulf her—and she must learn that sometimes, there are more important things at stake than life.
I started writing the book when I was commuting to a small Saddleworth village in a really bad winter. It was a struggle to get across the moors sometimes, and I started wondering what it would be like to really be trapped there. It’s a beautiful landscape—lonely and bleak, but beautiful—and it definitely made its presence felt in the story, rather than being a backdrop.
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