ILL AT EASE :- AN INTERVIEW WITH MARK WEST, STEPHEN BACON, AND NEIL WILLIAMS
Today folks we have an interview with the three authors responsible from the rather damn fine book Ill At Ease, Mark West, Stephen Bacon and Neil Williams
GNOH – Hello guys how are we all today?
Mark – Doing well thanks, how’re you?
Steve – Hi, Jim.
Neil – I’m fine, thanks Jim
GNOH – Could you tell us a little bit about yourselves?
Mark – My name’s Mark West, I’m 42 and I write horror stories. I’m married, with a wonderful little boy who always asks me what I’m writing and is now turning his hand to writing stories himself – he’s six, his latest effort involved a fish called Little Jonney. I liked it. I’ve been writing fiction since I was eight, discovered the small press in 1998 and have published about 60 stories worldwide since then. I’ve also been lucky enough to have two novels published – “In The Rain With The Dead” from Pendragon Press in 2005 and “Conjure” from Rainfall Books in 2009 – and a collection – “Strange Tales” – from Rainfall Books in 2003.
Steve – I’m Stephen Bacon and I’m 40 years old. I live in South Yorkshire with my wife and two sons. I started submitting fiction in 2006, and since then I’ve had about 30 short stories published in various areas of the small press.
Neil – My name is Neil Williams, I’m 45 and live in Cheshire with my wife and daughter. Although I’ve been writing since my teens, I only submitted my first story last year. This is my third published story.
GNOH – So how did the three of you get together?
Mark – Steve & I had known one another, via the Internet, for a while but had never met. We then joined, quite independently, Conrad Williams’ FictionFactory writing group and got talking and discovered that both of us needed a “kick up the arse” (for my part, because I was still getting over a writers block). By chance, I saw a note from a very small publisher in the US, who was looking for 2-writer novella collections with the only guideline being that the tales should share a theme. Since Steve & I got on well, I emailed him with a suggestion and thankfully, he really got behind the idea. We discussed themes and he wrote “lost film” and that was it. We later met at FantasyCon in Nottingham in September 2010 and got on famously, so that sealed the deal. I really re-discovered my writing mojo and wrote “The Lost Film Novella” quite quickly (and took a break of six weeks, to put together a pitch for Abaddon) and Steve wrote “Lantern Rock”.
Then, in another chance of fate, Chris Teague at Pendragon Press emailed me because he was going off to WHC in Austin, to tell me that he’d got the Northampton SF Writers group anthology to read (I have a story in there). I suggested another story for him and sent over “The Lost Film” and he read it on the flight and accepted it for publication when he got home. I told him it was linked up with Steve’s, who sent him “Lantern Rock” and there we have it.
Neil is another e-chum, though hopefully we’ll get to meet up in person soon. He was also a member of FictionFactory and we became Facebook friends and just as Steve & I were talking about this project, Neil put out a status update that he was looking for a push with his writing. Noticing a fellow sufferer, I ran the idea past Steve and invited Neil on board.
Neil – I’d just had a story rejected and was at a bit of a loose end. Fiction Factory had finished and I found myself floundering without it. I mentioned this to Mark and he invited me along.
GNOH – So which one of you is Larry, which one is Moe and who is Curly?
Mark – According to Neil’s publicity pic, I’m Curly!
Steve – I think I’m more Oliver Hardy that one of the Stooges.
Neil – Actually we’re The Three Musketeers.
GNOH – I’ve had the pleasure of reading Ill At Ease, and it is one hell of a damn fine read. Who first came up with the idea? Was the concept of finding horror in the mundane things in life something that was decided at the onset?
Mark – first of all, thanks for taking the time to read it and thanks for the lovely review, it’s a real treat to work hard on something and then have people like it. I think the idea was probably mine, in the first instance, but it was always something that Steve & I were going to do together. I’d noticed – and who hasn’t? – the trend for ebooks and the benefits and problems inherent with them. The benefits are clear, I think, the problems much more widespread – go anywhere on the Net and you’ll find ebooks for sale with poor cover art, dreadful fonts and the worst synopsis’ going. In fact, some of the ones I researched, you’d imagine you were paying by the spelling mistake, rather than anything else. I put out a test sampler, to see how easy it was, then approached Steve with the idea of doing a two-hander and seeing what happened. We then recruited Neil, as I mentioned before and that really bolstered us up.
I know that this might sound odd, but the concept only actually occurred to us once we’d finished the stories off. I wanted to work with Steve & Neil because they’re good blokes, but they’re also great writers and I suppose that we see things from a slightly similar angle – we’re all about the same age, we’re all fathers to young children, we grew up reading and watching the same stuff and we have a liking for using realism in our fiction.
Steve – The three tales are all thoroughly British. I hope that works in their favour. It was interesting to see what the other two had written. I think we were all quite surprised by the shared themes.
Neil – I came onto the project late. Mark and Steve had already written their stories. They didn’t steer me in any particular direction, but I did make an effort to write something that would sit comfortably alongside their work. There was, to my knowledge, a concept or central theme for the three stories. Though I do think they share common themes.
GNOH – How did you all decide on what you were going to write, were these stories you already had or did you write them specially for this collection?
Mark – in my case, “Come See My House In The Pretty Town” was pretty much there, so no, it wasn’t. I did a quick revision and that was it.
Steve – As I mention in the afterword, my story was altered from its initial state. I think the central image – the father who waits, trancelike, in his crumbling home, for his son to return – drove the rest of the story. It was just a matter of assembling the plot around that image.
Neil – My story was written specifically for this collection. It was only after I’d agreed to contribute that I realised I had nothing that I felt fitted in. So I gave myself a weekend to come up with a suitable story. I wrote the scene in the supermarket first and worked it out from there. The idea of a car seat being at the centre of it all didn’t come until later. It was never intended to be quite as grim as it finally turned out to be.
GNOH – Could you tell us what the stories are about?
Mark – “Come See My House In The Pretty Town” is about old friendships and betrayals. David and Simon used to be at college together but as the tale wears on, it appears that David and Simon’s wife Kim might have been a little closer than would be advisable. It takes place in a small town in the West Country, has a funfair central to the plot and features some very scary clowns.
Steve – ‘Waiting For Josh’ is about dark secrets from the past, and redemption, and memories. The narrator returns to his home town to see his childhood friend before he dies. He feels almost embarrassed by his background – he’s now a hotshot journalist living in London. But the cold fingers of his past reach out to grasp him. He’s tasked with putting right a very dark deed.
Neil – I think that the less you know about this story the better. In “Closer Than You Think” I really wanted to bring an element of horror into the most mundane, the most innocent of situations and objects. It’s about relationships, chiefly between father and daughter; regret, fear and even resentment. And that tragedy is never just some far off possibility.
GNOH – How much input did you have with each other’s stories? Did you all just accept what the others had written, or did you have power of veto over each others stories?
Mark – when we started, I put together a little manifesto which laid out how I thought things should run. Essentially, it said that all three of us were equal partners, that we each had the power of veto and that we were going to do as professional a job as we possibly could. Thankfully, we all embraced this and put our stories up for critiquing with no hesitation whatsoever. We then ran it by two proof-readers – thanks to Val Walmsley and Sheri Jenkins-White – and made a couple of last minute minor adjustments and we were done. This extended to the afterwords as well – I didn’t insist we write them, but I thought it’d be a nice touch and Steve & Neil went for it.
Neil – Mark and Steve’s stories were pretty well polished by the time I came on board so needed little or no input from me. I really wasn’t sure how they were going to react to my story and I consciously avoided telling them what it was about until I was ready to submit the finished manuscript. I’m relieved to say they really liked it. After that things started to happen very quickly, within a couple of weeks of me finishing the story we were submitting copies for review.
GNOH – Rock, Paper Scissors, or enie meanie, to decide on the running order?
Mark – alphabetical order. It made the most sense and works as well as any other way would.
Neil – Yes, it’s purely alphabetical. But I think the order works well. I think my story is closer to Steve’s in general tone, so I think us bookending Mark’s central story works the best.
GNOH – You’ve got some great cover blubs, truthful as well, how did you decide on who you’d approach?
Mark – Conrad Williams seemed like a natural choice, based on the fact that we’d all met through his writing group and he was very gracious. I critique Gary McMahon’s work and we’re friends (and he blurbed “The Lost Film” for me too), so I asked him and sent him a copy and that was it. Once again, we really struck it lucky.
GNOH – How well has it been received? I can safely say it will be getting a glowing review from yours truly.
Mark – well so far, touch wood, the response has been overwhelmingly positive. All three stories have gone down well, people have picked up on our “concept-after-the-fact” and it’s been very nice and reassuring (when you’re in the middle of stuff, you have no idea how people will react). The artwork, courtesy of Neil, has also gone down a storm. I think it’s helped that we’ve been professional – we have a website, a Facebook group, a trailer – we’ve done it all ourselves and pushed each other and that shines through.
Neil – So far the response has exceeded all my expectations.
GNOH – So come on guys, the others need never know, who was the most difficult of the other authors to work with?
Mark – (laughs) they both have numerous faults and it’d take far too long to start listing them here
Steve – I think Mark is trying to tell you I was the laziest! For a start, the only thing I know how to do on a computer is open Word and start typing. Both Mark and Neil sorted out the artwork and the trailers and the promo stuff. My sole contribution was the story. I’m useless at this technology lark!
Neil – Actually the biggest liability was probably me. I’m a complete novice. So if anyone was likely to screw up, it was going to be me.
GNOH – In one sentence describe what you love about the other two authors writing?
Mark – both of them write solid, honest, realistic stories that touch us where we are today, with familial relationships and friendships, making the horror – when it comes – all that much more powerful.
Steve – We’d all critiqued each others’ work in Conrad’s writing group so I had no reservations about working with both Mark and Neil. Mark’s fiction is emotive and resonant and he writes some of the most realistic dialogue I’ve read. I initially got to know him through my admiration of his work. And he’s a generous and enthusiastic bloke to collaborate with.
Neil came to the project with a little less experience, but made up for it with his writing ability. He’s got a canny knack of writing unsettling tales, subtle and quiet. He deserves to be well known in the horror genre, and I honestly believe it won’t be long before he is.
Neil – I wouldn’t be here were it not for their generosity of spirit. I feel immensely fortunate to be involved in such a project. I’m sure Steve would agree that Mark’s really the driving force behind the whole operation. I don’t know where he gets the energy from.
GNOH Will you three be working together again?
Mark – oh, absolutely. Once I realised how smoothly things were going, I mooted the idea of doing it again – and Steve & I are already working together, of course, on the forthcoming Lost Films project. When the book was published and we saw the reaction, I think my second email to them was “we’ve really got to do this again now!”. I had a great time working with them, I really did and this is probably my favourite collaborative experience to date.
Steve – Mark’s a dream to work with. His enthusiasm knows no bounds. He definitely inspires me to try better in my writing. Neil has been such a breeze to work with, if the opportunity arose again (as it has been suggested) I wouldn’t hesitate for a second.
Neil – Mark and Steve have been great company so I’d certainly be up for it. It’s done me the world of good.
GNOH – What projects are you all working on by yourselves?
Mark – I have a revision to do of “The Lost Film” novella and I’m also in draft on “What Gets Left Behind”, which’ll be published by Spectral Press (as chapbook number seven) in September 2012. In addition, I’m working on notes for a new novel and I have a couple of cover art and book trailer assignments to catch up on.
Steve – I’m going through a revision of my own Lost Film novella at the moment. I’m also looking for a publisher for my debut collection. For the past few months I’ve been writing original stories to be included in that, and I hope to have more news about it in the future.
Neil – I’ve got my story “Pestfurlong Hill” in the upcoming anthology from Whitlock Publishing called “Our Haunted World”. I’m also doing final edits to a novella “The Derelict”, set on board a schooner in the late 1800s.
GNOH – Cheers guys thanks for popping over for a chat.
Mark – No problem, Jim, thanks for having us!
Steve – Cheers, Jim. All the best.
Neil – It’s been a pleasure.
Folks you can purchase Ill At Ease by clicking the link below, and why not check out some of there other stuff as well