You’ve probably seen my posts about Stephen Cross’s The Fall Series, but not much about the author himself. Well, he’s been kind enough to do a little interview where he talks inspiration, writing tips, and what make his zombies so scary. It’s the perfect way to celebrate Halloween.
1. When did you first start writing?
I remember in primary school (about aged 10) we were tasked to write a story about being trapped on a desert island. Mine ended up being 104 pages long and had orcs and elves in it (I had just finished reading The Lord of the Rings). I’m sure it was a load of nonsense! I would write a page or two each evening, and then the teacher would read them out to the class the next day. I seem to remember he stopped that practice though, once the elves and orcs appeared…
2. Have you always been interested in the horror genre? If so, what draws you in?
In my early teen years I progressed through Isaac Asimov and Arthur C Clarke to Stephen King, and read everything of his I could get my hands on. The first novel of his I read was Salem’s Lot, the next was The Stand. The Stand changed my world! It was my first introduction to apocalyptic fiction and I have been obsessed with that genre ever since. How do people survive? What ingenious and terrible things – in equal measure – will happen? How do people learn to live together again without the forced civility of society? You can probably see the attraction for an author.
And what about horror in the wider frame? Horror sets out to terrify us – but the best horror doesn’t just make us jump, it makes us think in dark and terrifying ways. The mind is where our true horror lives. All these nasty things that we write and read about – the vampires, the zombies, the demons – they aren’t just terrifying creatures, but archetypes that represent our most primal fears. A mainline into our archaic unease of the beast outside the cave, but if we go even deeper still – what about the beast inside the cave, the demons that live in our own souls?
Our society and civilization does its best to shield us from the darkness. A good horror story reminds us that the modern world is really only a thin veneer of safety, beneath which our darkest nightmares still reside… I think people like to be reminded of this
3. Do you write outside the horror genre?
I have written in the science fiction and magical reality genre. But even those have had a horror tilt to them, with some dark character hiding in the shadows… I would like to write a good spy novel, something in the vein of John Le Carre, but I don’t think I’m clever enough to pull it off!
4. Favorite zombie movies or shows?
Walking Dead of course 🙂 I also love 28 Days Later and The Girl with all the Gifts.
5. Do you have zombie apocalypse survival plans in real life?
Haha… I think, being in the UK and given how population dense we are, and how terrible our weather is, the best plan would be to hunker down for a few months in the house until the initial panic settled down. Nail up the windows, live in the attic. Playing dead 🙂
6. Your books take place in the UK. Is that where you’re based?
Yes, originally from Ireland, but live in England now. Up north.
7. Favorite book you’ve written?
Always the one I’m writing 🙂 I’ve loved every book I’ve written, but I could spend forever fine tuning, so there has to be a cut off. Once I reach that point it stops being my favorite and I turn my attention to the next novel.
8. Favorite books to read in your personal time?
I usually have two books going at once. There’s one for the evenings and downtimes – this is my fun read and I have no preferred genre; sci-fi, horror, crime thrillers, spy and political thrillers. Anything really! Then the second will be my finding-out-about-stuff read. This is for during the day; travelling on the train, a break at work. It could be scientific, self-improvement, spiritual, historical. A book that will hopefully teach me something.
My reading list is a few miles long – There’s not enough time in the world to read everything I want to!
9. What does a typical day of writing look like?
I wake up early, I get the train into the city. Once there, I get my latte, grab a seat and write in a mad flurry for about 30 mins. This will get me between 1000-1500 words depending on what flow I get into. I’ll then go to work, and if it’s not a gym day, I will go back to the cafe at lunch time and put in another 30min sprint.
I rarely get time in the evenings or weekends to write; spending time with my family takes precedence then.
So I will usually get in 1,000-3,000 words a day, five days a week. I’m always thinking about the current novel though. Building plot, the next character development, etc. By the time I sit down to write, I should know exactly what’s going to happen.
10. Do you write on a schedule or write when inspiration strikes?
On schedule. It has to be. Two reasons – 1. I have so little time in my life that without rigidly imposing a schedule I would never find the time to write. 2 – Habit. There has to be habit. So even when I feel like the last thing I want to do is write, I sit down and write, as my whole physiology is expecting it. Inspiration turns up usually a few minutes into my writing. Good books on this topic, if you are interested, are The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, the War of Art by Steven Pressfield, and On Writing by Stephen King. Habit and structure are VITAL aspects of my writing.
11. Any writing vices? Coffee, tea, chocolate, whisky, etc?
A large latte :)
12. You have many varied characters/character groups. Are they based off people in your real life?
I would say my characters are an amalgamation of people that I know, have known, and even people I know from fiction, either film or literature. I usually start off with an idea of who a character is, and how they will develop. Invariably, however, the character starts to take a life of their own as they get drawn into the story – they start making their own decisions, going to places I don’t want them to, and generally making a mockery of any plotting I’ve done!
13. Is there any specific character you root for or see yourself in?
As I mentioned, the characters change and develop and usually end up very different from how I originally envisaged them. So a character who was meant to have a particular story arc and development, may end up taking an entirely different path. Example – Sergeant Crowe from The Fall series was only meant to be a minor character without about a page of screen time. His nihilistic toughness kept him going though, and he ended up being one of my favourite characters.
14. Favorite things to do outside of writing?
Lifting weights, surfing, snowboarding, and spending time with my family.
15. Hardest part about writing?
Making myself sit down to write is the first hurdle – hence why habit is so important! And then, the few minutes whilst I set up my laptop, open up the file, etc. is time enough for a million thoughts of failure to rush through my head. I need to get writing as quickly as possible, and trust that flow will arrive.
16. Advice for new or inspiring authors?
I would still class myself as an aspiring author! So I guess any advice would be what I tell myself each day – Just sit down and write. The rest of the stuff will become clear as time goes on and the pages build up. Just keep it simple – sit down and write.
17. Any upcoming works or plans?
I am 60,000 words into a new horror thriller, the working title is Dark Island. I hopefully will have the first draft finished within a month if I keep to schedule. And no zombies in this one 🙂