“Reaper’s Rose” presents an intriguing, haunting take on premonitions of death and disaster. What inspired it, and how did the story develop from there?
There was genuinely a wonderful, evocative scent that haunted me in my teens. I’ve no idea if it was a perfume I smelt once on a passing stranger or something I conjured from my own imagination, but I could evoke it at will, and once I had, it would tantalize me for days. I really did travel into Moorgate on the train every day with my friends for school, and I was once taken to an air show by my Aunty Anne (who fed me far too many boiled eggs). I’ve known for years that there was a story somewhere to be built around this “ghost” scent, convinced that its elusive occurrence ought to herald something significant. It was just a matter of being patient and waiting for the right story to crystalize . . .
Aside from some descriptions of violent deaths, it seems much of the effectiveness of this story lies in what isn’t on the page—letting the reader’s imagination fill in the horror and its implications. How do you strike that delicate balance?
Good question. I’ve always believed that the disciplines required to write a short story differ from those demanded by a novel, where you have the luxury of pages or even chapters in which to develop characters and setting. In the shorter form, you have to achieve a similar effect within a few deft sentences. I cut my teeth writing shorts before moving up to the longer form, and believe this has benefited my writing greatly. It taught me the importance of being economic with words; of providing sufficient detail to engage the reader and provide them with a framework, trusting their own imagination to fill in the rest. I do my best to achieve that balance every time; whether or not I succeed is a judgement I’ll leave up to the reader.
So many memories are linked to smell. What’s your favorite scent, and what does it remind you of?
To be honest, most of my strong associations tend to be with music—which has always played a big part in my life—and specific songs and groups. When it comes to smells, the memories tend to be more generic and are invariably food related (another passion)—fresh-brewed coffee, vinegar on fish and chips (okay, perhaps you have to be British to appreciate that one), freshly baked bread . . . Except, of course, for a certain mysterious scent that haunted my teens, and was worn by the most beautiful woman in the world; assuming, of course, it ever existed outside of my head . . .
Do you have any particular rituals or habits that are either essential to writing or fuel your creativity?
No, I genuinely don’t. A boring answer, I realise, but an honest one. I tend to do a lot of thinking when walking the dog early in the morning, but I don’t stick rigidly to a regime when it comes to writing (perhaps I should). One thing I never do is force the words in order to meet a self-imposed word count or time table. If a particular scene proves problematic, rather than fighting through it, I’ll move on to a later scene which I know the narrative will catch up with soon, or turn to some editing, all the while letting my subconscious wrestle the obstinate scene into submission. I’m fortunate in that I edit anthologies and run a publishing imprint in addition to writing, so there are always plenty of other priorities to occupy my mind while the back-brain does the dirty work.
What are you working on now? What else we can expect to see from you soon?
In May, I’ve a new short story collection, Dark Travellings, coming out through Fox Spirit here in the UK—this gathers many of my darker stories, as the name implies. I also have short stories imminent in Galaxy’s Edge and the science journal Nature. On the novel front, I’m currently working on Angels Rising, the sequel to my novel Pelquin’s Comet which came out last year (and which, to my considerable surprise, topped various Amazon UK sales charts, including science fiction books). This is a space opera romp that several reviewers have felt is reminiscent of Firefly. I’m also in the midst of three co-written novels set in the Human Legion universe of my friend, Tim C. Taylor, the second of which is due out shortly. 2016 marks the 10th anniversary of my independent publisher NewCon Press, and I’m working on all manner of titles to commemorate the fact, including several anthologies. I’ve already accepted original stories for these from the likes of Nancy Kress, Ramsey Campbell, Peter F. Hamilton, and Adam Roberts, so they promise to be a lot of fun. Oh, and there’s a commissioned novella I’m supposed to be writing . . . 2016 promises to be a busy year, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
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