Today folks we have Paul Melhuish author of the SciFi Horror novel Terminus, and we have an enlightening chat about Polish food (absolutely yummy in my opinion), world building and swearing in alien languages.
Hi Paul how are things with you?
It snowed last night so now Britain is on red alert. Our road is passable so things are fine
Can you give us some background information on your good self?
I am a 41 year old Occupational Therapist working in Luton. I have two cats and I do a pretty good Dalek impression. I did do stand-up comedy for a year but it was so terrifying and involved lots of travelling all round the country so I gave it up.
In five words describe yourself?
Oh God (that’s not two of the 5 words, that’s just me trying to think of five words)
Right, here goes: Loud. Generous. Broke. Hairsprayophobic. Hairdrierophobic.
And in five words can you describe the person you aspire to be?
Quiet. Tight. Rich. Nonhairsprayophobic. Nonhairdrierophobic.
I see that your wife is Polish, you lucky git. I love Polish food. Fancy sending her round to show my wife how to cook Polish food?
She does a mean pierogi (that’s like big ravioli without sauce filled with cabbage and cheese). She actually trusts me to make the placki (pronounced platski) which is basically potato cakes and if she can teach me to do that she can definitely show your wife how to do it. I hope you and your wife aren’t on a diet. Polish food is not diet friendly.
Just how serious are you about your New Year’s Resolutions?
Not at all. In my blog I said that I’d only watch TV with the shrunk screen on the listings page for a year and my wife will only speak in polish to me for a year. So far neither of these has happened.
Why do you write?
I am constantly thinking up ideas in my mind and I have this need to make them concrete so I write them down as coherently as I can. I enjoy writing more than anything else in the world and I don’t see it as work. So, in a nut shell, I have to write my ideas down and I enjoy doing it.
And who would you say has been the biggest influence on your writing?
My writers group, the Northampton Science Fiction Writers Group. We’ve got experience published writers in the group (Ian Watson, Ian Whates, author of The Noise Within as well as Tim Taylor of Gray hart press) and experienced editors. Because they care about writing they don’t pull their punches when it comes to critiquing work. I’d say they’d been the biggest influence improving my writing.
If you had to be pigeonholed what genre would you say you write in?
I span the genres. In fact some members of my writers groups actually call me ‘the spanner’. Only kidding. I’d say horror and Sci-fi.
Who are your favourite authors and what is it about them that you love?
There are lots of them. Michael Moorcock springs to mind. Lots of his novels cross over from each other and characters pop up in different novels. For instance Glouger from Behold the Man poops up briefly in his Dancers at the End of Time trilogy. I also like Alistair Reynolds as he creates fantastic yet scientifically plausible worlds. I also love Magnus Mills. His book The Restraint of Beasts was shortlisted for the booker prize in 1998. He’s an absurdist writer and, in my opinion, a modern day Beckett or Pinter.
A lot of your work has been published by Greyhart Press, how did you come to work with these guys?
Hands up, guvnor. You’ve got me bang to rights there. Tim is a mate from the writers group. If you’re looking to recruit new authors for your publishing company where better to look than your own writers group? He’d been workshopping my stuff in the group for years so knew exactly which stories he wanted. I was really chuffed that he wanted my novel Terminus for Greyhart. He’s also published Andy West and Mark West (no relation). I really like Mark’s work because he’s old school horror, none of this Twilight stuff. Sorry I’m deviating. Onto to next question.
You published three short stories with them last year, set in the universe of Skyfire. Had you
planned to write the novel at this time?
Okay, apologies for correcting you but of the three short stories only one, Babel, is set in the Skyfire Universe. Necroforms and Fearworld are set in their own universes. With all these universes I can see how it’s easy to get lost, Jim.
So, Babel is a short story set in the universe of Skyfire, the universe shared with by the novel Terminus. I’d written Terminus first and Tim (Taylor of Grayhart) wanted a short story to introduce readers to the universe of Skyfire. I’d written it two years after finishing Terminus so it was ready to go, after editing.
How does Babel fit into the larger story?
Babel is the brothel planet that Simon Terminus and his crew visit early on in the novel.
Babel is set some time after. The planet Babel is a vast, scarlet planet abandoned by the original alien inhabitants, colonised by humans and turned into a brothel planet. When the masters of the various pleasure palaces – built into the temples of the original inhabitants -learn that the original inhabitants are returning, they panic. (Well, they’re going to be upset, aren’t they. How would you feel if you got in from work one day to find that your next door neighbour have come round and turned your living room into a knocking shop?). In their panic they seek help from the evil planetary system of Thanatos and there the trouble starts.
How much research did you have to do to write the novel?
Very little. I started writing it just after I’d returned from doing two weeks voluntary work in Calcutta, India and that had a definite influence on the novel. I’d been working in a street school. For instance, the city on Skyfire, Alpha Gropolis, is humid and poverty stricken. I definitely transposed some of the shocking things I’d seen in India to Alpha Gropolis.
Apart for the world building, which we will talk about later, what difficulties does writing a Sci Fi Horror novel through up?
Actually writing the novel was easy. Describing the city of Alpha Gropolis was pretty difficult. I had real trouble nailing the description of the multi-level city from what I saw in my mind’s eye onto the page.
When I took the first few chapters to the writers group, the scientifically minded members suggested changes that would make some aspects more credible. For instance, I’d given the space ship that Terminus and his crew travel to Thanatos One in a pair of wings. Ian Watson pointed out an aircraft would need wings but not a spaceship like the beaten up, functional craft like the 850. Also the propulsion system I’d simply called a pulse drive with no explanation as to how it worked. The group suggested this pulse drive should be a self-teleporting system so that’s what I went with.
Without going into too much detail I changed some of the monsters. The Virgins of the Abyss, for instance, were just going to be deformed old women but I thought that was a bit boring so changed them to children that turn into horrible, pale half-human snakes.
I’d planned the whole thing out in my mind years before so writing it was pretty straightforward.
During the planning stages did you ever think, “sod it I’m moving the story back to earth, it could happen on a cruise ship”?
Umm…interesting idea. A sea ship travelling to an island called Thanatos instead of a spaceship travelling to a planetary system.
To answer the question, No. I always wanted Terminus to be a horror space opera. Setting it on a cruise ship would actually be more problematic because with a spaceship you can make stuff up. With a cruise ship I’d need to know which was starboard and which was…er…the other one. See, I’m struggling with it even now.
So how exactly did you go about building the world of Thanatos One?
The very first seed for Thanatos One came when I was watching The Rocky Horror Picture Show, strangely enough. Frankenfurter, the bald guy played by Richard O’ Brian and the maid woman (see how culturally ignorant I am not knowing the names of the characters!) all come from a different planet, Transexual Transylvania. I’m sure they mention a sea so I started to imagine a planet populated by monsters from a hammer film. I wanted a circle of hooded baddies, a castle by the sea and a forest filled with odd creatures and, of course, a sexy vampire woman. Once I had these basic ideas’s I wanted to turn the whole thing up to eleven and make the monsters as weird a possible. So now the hooded circle are arachnid bipedal creatures and the weird creatures that populate the forest are skinless, six-legged killers called Plaguewraiths.
Were you ever concerned that Thanatos One would feel like another already developed fictional world, and how did you go about making your world unique?
The advertisement for Terminus reads something like ‘Aliens meets hammer’. I think sci-fi in the cinema has been stuck in an Aliens mindset since 1978. I didn’t want to write a story where a bunch of space marines goes to a planet and starts shooting at some half-seen alien entity. I think I kept the world unique by adding a spiritual dimension to it. For instance, there are occult themes in the story and the Thirteen practice their stomach-churning rites. The crew land in a dark creepy forest and I wrote the parts of the story set on Thanatos One as a horror in the old school style, owing more to Dennis Wheatley than Iain M. Banks. I think Thanatos One is original as I tried to do something different from what other writers do. The only fiction I can think of where the characters meet these occult off world nasties is Doctor Who.
Although I did read the blub of a Brian Aldiss book recently and one of this planets was called Thanatos. Whoops. (it’s Greek for death so it’s bound to be used more than once, I reckon)
Thantos One is populated with many weird and dangerous creatures, did you create these animals purely in your minds eye, or did you sketch them out?
I didn’t sketch them out. I do remembering holding my wife’s hairclip and imaging that it was a creature with large teeth when writing Terminus. As an Occupational Therapist I studied anatomy an physiology. I remember being in a lecture and they passed round the vertebra of a real human spine and I automatically thought ‘that looks weird, I’ll use that.’ Seeing pictures of limbs and torso’s without skin definitely inspired the Plaguewraiths as they have no skin, just muscles held to bone by sinew. I believe that if a creature could look weird, it should. Give a creature eight eyes instead of two. Twist the anatomy so that the hands are feet etc.
Inventing them in my mind is one thing, describing them really takes some thought but for Terminus I think I pulled it off.
Not only did you mix genres, create a new world to set the novel in, you also decided introduce a distinct language, you don’t believe in making things easy for yourself do you?
Easy? Easy is for vulleying goomah’s. I wanted the different races to have their own language so inventing different swearwords for the skyfireans seemed a must and I think it adds authenticity to the story.
How did you come up with the words?
Vulley and flooring I came up with as school because I wanted to use swear words in my story but would get done by miss if I’d used the eff word. Strentner (horrible) is polish but spelled incorrectly and pizzdeen (male virgin) and pizzdeena (female virgin) come from the polish word pizzda (meaning c**t) so a lot of the words are Polish but spelled as I hear them, not as they’d be written.
A lot of them are swear words, do you like to swear? What’s your favourite swear word?
I swear a lot but I don’t like to swear really because I’m a Christian. I spend a lot of time apologising to people for swearing. Arse is my favourite swear word and if someone’s in a mood I’ll say, ‘Look, that’s happened and now they’ve got the arsehole about it.’ The word poo always makes me laugh too. I’d use the eff word if it’s needed set in an earthbound story if it needed it. If some supernatural horror is revealed to a character in a story they’re hardly going to say, ‘Gosh, that’s a bit of a shock!’ They’d swear so it is necessary for authenticity.
Would you like some other words to add to the vocab? I use the word fudwump, to describe an absolutely effing ahole.
Yes please. I’m writing a sequel to Terminus and I haven’t got enough Skyfirean words.
How did you feel on the lead up to book’s publication? And how does it feel that it has now been released onto the world?
Once I’d finished it I thought that it would never see the light of day because literary agents and publishers wouldn’t touch sci-fi and I thought this was real shame because I was very proud of it. This was back in 2007. Then the e-publishing phenomenon arrived. I was elated when Tim wanted to publish it with greyhart. Now it’s out there I have people who I know and don’t know who’ve read it and really liked it. It’s quite strange because for so long it lived in my head. Now I have discussions with people about plot themes and that and it feels real.
On that note, how do you get your literary offspring noticed out there in the big bad world of publishing?
With excellent sites like yours, Jim as well as twitter and Facebook. They’re good for networking. It’s also useful to go to things like Fantasycon and speak to other writers and publishers. At present my world of publishing isn’t that big and its not bad. I’ve met some genuinely nice people who give encouragement and advice and Tim is brilliant to work for and really understands the writing process being a writer himself.
A lot of writers think that once the book the is loaded up on Amazon, the job is done, whereas some other authors appear to do nothing but spam social networking sites with links to their latest magnum opus, what’s your take on this?
Everything in moderation. The more I see an advert for a product the less I want to buy it because they’ve tried to repeatedly sell it to me and annoyed me in the process. (For instance I will never buy car insurance from confused.com due to the frequency of their irritating adverts) I think that some advertising opportunities are right for you and you should plug it then, not just spam it as much as you can. Honest, objective reviews are also good.
So what can we expect from you in the future?
I really don’t know. Hopefully Terminus will sell well on quality and reputation. I honestly don’t know.
And do you have any final words for the readers?
Ganntas and geemas, don’t be a bunch of goomas this cycle. Get yourself a copy of Terminus by Paul Melhuish from grayhart press and give it a scan. At 77pee that’s not much ching to spend out.
Terminus is locked and loaded into my ever growing review pile, so stay tuned folks, in the meantime why not treat yourself to a copy.
Sii Terminus is a space-gannta, a loser crewing deep-space freighters whose best friend is a bottle of snakki. Until one day he is chosen to command an unusual mission to ferry a diplomat to the obscure, dead world of Thanatos One. Except the planet is not as dead as it seems, and Terminus has not been chosen by accident…
Hammer Horror meets Aliens in this fast-paced tale of horror, love, and betrayal, where the fate of all humanity rests on the actions of an anti-hero with a hangover.
Terminus is Paul Melhuish’s debut novel, and won’t be his last tale set in the worlds of the Skyfire Saga.
You can purchase Terminus by clicking the links below