AN INTERVIEW WITH PAUL EDWARDS
Hello folks today we have an interview with Paul Edwards. I recently reviewed Paul’s debut collection Black Mirrors, and I was very impressed it. So much so I asked if Paul would like to do an interview. Thankfully he did.
Hi Paul, how are things with you?
Pretty good. Currently struggling with a novel, so these questions come as a welcome break!
Can you please give the readers a little bit of background information on yourself?
I’m thirty-six and live in the market town of Frome in Somerset. I’m married to Mandy, and have two daughters, Lily (10) and Poppy (6), and work full-time as a Police Community Support Officer.
Why horror, what is it about the genre that holds your appeal?
When I was young, my parents bought me the Fighting Fantasy Gamebook House of Hell and that made a huge impression on me. It had evil worshippers with goat’s head masks, rooms with names such as ‘Eblis’, ‘Diabolus’ and ‘Asmodeus’, Hell Demons… Needless to say I loved it, and couldn’t put the thing down…
I remember writing my own stories at primary school, creating books with bits of string and card for the front and back covers. Even then I was writing horror – I vividly recall dreaming up my own version of The Amityville Horror… So I guess the genre sunk its claws into me at an early age, and I’ve never fallen out of love with it.
And what is it about the genre that you dislike?
Lack of originality and ideas. I’ve written my fair share of vampire/werewolf/zombie stories in the past, but I’m making a concerted effort now to steer clear of these tropes. When things become over-familiar, they cease to be frightening. Besides, it’s a challenge coming up with something new.
Are there any genres that you haven’t written in that you would like to?
Not at this stage. I’m more than happy to write horror, and I think this is where I’ll stay. I’m just a huge fan.
Who would you say has been the biggest influence on you and your writing?
Like so many others, I read loads of Stephen King when I was young: Pet Sematary, ’Salem’s Lot, Carrie, Misery, It. Later I discovered the cosmic horrors of Lovecraft, and fell in love with the baroque atmosphere of his tales. When I started taking writing seriously, I was drawn to the small press where magazines such as Peeping Tom, Kimota, The Third Alternative andNasty Piece of Work influenced and inspired me to start submitting stories of my own.
If you could give any book to someone who doesn’t read horror, in an attempt to change their mind, what book would you choose, and why?
Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend. I think most of us can empathise with and relate to the central character of Robert Neville; the fear of being alone haunts every single one of us.
The horror community is a fickle one, have you had any negative encounters with the community?
No – although I haven’t had too many encounters with the community, to be honest! I’ve just started networking, so I’m relatively new to this game despite the fact that I’ve been writing for years. I’ve been to FantasyCon twice, and everyone there seemed really approachable, friendly and supportive.
You are a member of Terror Scribes, can you tell the readers what Terror Scribes is?
I’m very much a new recruit, as I’ve only attended one Terror Scribes gathering – in Bristol, to coincide with the launch of Black Mirrors. Basically, it’s a group of like-minded individuals (writer and publisher types) who get together, chat, give readings, have a few beers and enjoy a good curry.
What benefits do you think being in a group like this gives to an author?
For me, it was refreshing to meet people with the same interests and enthusiasm for writing that I have. And it’s great to stay in touch, to exchange and share ideas and also to critique each other’s work. Getting people you trust and respect to read your stuff is very important; constructive criticism and feedback will only make you a better writer.
How much friendly rivalry is there between you all?
I haven’t encountered much in the way of ‘friendly rivalry’, but have to admit to feeling a pang of envy whenever writers announce the publication of a new book; it spurs me to write more, to get something finished and in the position to be able to submit again!
Can you remember what first motivated you to start writing, and has your motivation changed over the years?
I’ve always had the urge and the need to express myself through writing. Over the years the urge has grown and writing has become an extremely important part of my life; it’s come to the point where I couldn’t imagine myself not writing.
And how would you describe your writing style?
One word that’s regularly used whenever people critique my stories is ‘atmospheric!’
And what aspects of your writing do you think are the strongest and what do you think are the weakest aspects of your writing?
I’m fortunate in that I’m never short on ideas. Sometimes I have too many, and that in itself can be problematic as I get distracted from whatever it is that I’m working on. Most of my stories are very short, and in order to improve I know I need to learn to expand and develop my ideas, characters and themes, which is why I’ve decided to try my hand at a novel.
Let’s talk a bit about the mechanics of your writing. How do you go about the writing process? Are you a plotter or do you go with the flow?
I always write long hand first, so I carry a notebook everywhere I go. Once I’ve struck on an idea, I like to get it down without plotting it out too much; I usually have the beginning and end in mind, and then I like to surprise myself as I go along.
Do you have any rituals that you go through when you write?
Nope. Just a place where I can be on my own, a notebook and pen, and off I go!
How do you edit, do you edit as you write, or do you edit after each draft is finished?
I tend to get a rough draft down first, then I edit. Editing is a very long and drawn out process for me, and I’m known to agonise over single words, so it can (unfortunately) take me months to complete and hone a single short story…
Let’s talk about Black Mirrors. Was this collection specifically written, or is it a round up of your work to date?
It was specifically written. Black Mirror, Mirror Black was inspired by the Arcade Fire track Black Mirror; after I wrote it, I liked it enough to try my hand at more ‘mirror-themed’ stories. The one exception is The Sea and the Statues, which was written when I was 19 during a creative writing class at university.
I’ve always wondered, do you as an author have to wait to republish your short stories in your own collection if they have appeared somewhere else?
I had full rights for each story in Black Mirrors (full rights had reverted back to me for the tales that had previously appeared elsewhere) except Bleeders, which had been accepted for an anthology due out at roughly the same time. I thought I might have had to pull that one from the collection as the editor wanted full rights for a year, but fortunately she was very accommodating and in the end waivered the rights so I could include it in both the anthology, and Black Mirrors.
So what’s the obsession with mirrors about?
I guess I find the concept of your own reflection taking on a life of its own very powerful, and very creepy! I also wanted to write psychological horror stories about obsession and self-loathing, and the mirror felt like the perfect device in which to explore these themes.
The title story Black Mirrors, Mirror Black, follows on the tradition of making clowns, fairs and circuses terrifying. Why do you think this fear is so deep rooted into our minds?
Going to a carnival or fair is like stepping into some other world, one that (usually) exists at night, populated by strange, eccentric characters adhering to their own clandestine rules and rituals. I agree with you that there’s definitely something very disturbing about clowns: the white faces, the painted on smiles, the over-the-top laughter. It makes me wonder what darkness lurks under that garish veneer…
Are you as afraid of these things as I am?
To be honest, I love carnivals/fairs! They fill me with a sense of wonder, as well as appealing to my love of all things dark, creepy and strange. I’m odd in that I love scary places; just last week I explored an abandoned hospital, basking in its wonderfully eerie atmosphere…
In this collection you haven’t shied away from sensitive subjects, as a writer do you think that there is no subject that is out of bounds if handled correctly?
Yes, but as you say, it has to be handled correctly. For example, the violence and abuse in author Jack Ketchum’s The Lost and The Girl Next Door is horrendous, but the characters that turn a blind eye to these acts are shown up to be just as culpable as the perpetrators. Ketchum clearly has something to say; he doesn’t write violence for violence’s sake, and has certainly inspired some of the Black Mirrors stories, including Mute, Irrecoverable, and Speak No Evil.
Bleeders is an emotional tale that deals with the subject of self harm. The story itself felt to me like a story that was written from the heart. If you don’t mind me asking is this a story that has a personal meaning to you?
Yes, in that I can relate to the character Carey’s brush with the dark side. I think that sometimes, particularly when we’re young and unsure of ourselves, we can get a little lost; in the story, Carey becomes consumed by her own self-loathing. Self-harmers are usually trying to assert some kind of control in their lives; it’s a way to feel more connected and alive. I guess there are echoes of my own insecurities in Carey; yet, despite how uneasy it made me feel, Bleeder was a surprisingly easy story to write.
Do you have a favourite story in the collection?
I think my three favourites are Bleeder, Black Mirror, Mirror Black and Bequeathed. Black Mirror, Mirror Black was initially split into two stories, but thanks to Anne Stickel (editor of the magazine Black Petals), she pulled the two together and it worked much better. Bequeathed actually details my beat that I patrol, but of course the place names have been changed. Bleeder was written quickly and relatively trouble-free (for me), and I think stands as a good example of my work so far.
The book is published by Rainfall Books, how did you two come to work together?
I met writer and Rainfall publisher John B. Ford at FantasyCon in 2010; after the event, we kept in touch and I asked if he’d mind looking at my Black Mirrors manuscript with a view to providing an introduction. To my delight, he liked the book enough not only to provide an introduction, but to publish it too.
In your relationship with them, has anything surprised you? And was it anything that you believe is commonly misunderstood by new authors?
I was surprised by how dedicated the publishers are to putting out professional, good-looking books for little or no monetary gain. I’m hugely grateful for how they handled my work, and I’m very proud to be part of Rainfall. As a new author, I was surprised by how much input I had in the design, which I really appreciated. I always thought that once you had a book accepted, the design aspects were out of your hands so it was fantastic to be part of that process too.
You have just announced a new collection from Screaming Dreams, Now That I have Lost You. Does this collection also a theme?
Yes; it’s a collection of relationship-themed horror stories. The nineteen stories in Now That I’ve Lost You were written before the Black Mirrors tales; nearly all of them had been previously published, mainly in the small press in the late 90s/early 00s. I feel like I’ve moved on since then, but as a collection I’m very happy with it. There are some stories in there that I’m particularly proud of, such as Painting Blind Circles, The Art of Driving and Death’s Door (a tale which I see as a close relation to Bleeder).
One of the stories in it A Place the Night Can’t Touch, was made into a short film by students at The Surrey Institute of Art and Design. What is the story about?
I’m a big fan of George A. Romero’s dead films, so A Place the Night Can’t Touch was very much written in homage. I certainly had Bub from Day of the Dead in mind when I created the character ‘Marvin’. It tells the tale of a girl living in a farmhouse with the zombie she has trained. My brother Dan and some of his friends at The Surrey Institute of Art and Design made a film based on the story, and they did a great job; an improvement on the story, I felt.
And is there any way the readers can watch the film?
When is the book due to be published?
No publication date has been set, but keep an eye out here: http://www.screamingdreams.com/
Can you tell us about any future projects?
I’m continuing to struggle with a novel; it still needs lots of work, but I’m hoping to finish it sometime in 2013… I’m also setting down stories for another (third and themed) collection, a mixture of old and new tales.
Thanks for popping over for a chat, do you have any final words for the readers?