Interview: Five Minutes With Simon Bestwick
Could you tell the readers a little bit about yourself?
I’m a writer, born in the Seventies, and I live in the Manchester area. I have a lovely girlfriend, no kids that I know of, I like good music, films and TV of all kinds and single malt whisky (Scotch or Irish.) Oh, and I write weird stuff which some people like, enough to pay me for sometimes.
Do you prefer the term Horror, Weird Fiction or Dark Fiction?
I’m not that comfortable with any genre tag, but… Horror, in an ideal world. But the trouble with calling your work Horror is that you often have to explain to people, almost from first principles, what horror really is. Weird Fiction doesn’t have that baggage, but by definition excludes psychological horror; Dark Fiction casts a bit of a wider net, but can sound so vague as to be meaningless.
A lot of the best horror isn’t labelled as such- David Lynch’s films and many of M. John Harrison’s short stories spring to mind- and a lot of people associate the word with bad writing and pointless gore. (I’m not knocking gore when necessary- Martyrs, for example, is an extraordinary, though deeply unsettling film.) Ramsey Campbell’s one of the exceptions, and I know he’s read out examples of the better kind of horror fiction and been told by audience members that they hadn’t realised that was horror. Perceptions won’t change if writers don’t work to change them, but how much control the writers have over what’s labelled as what is a debatable point.
Who are some of your favourite authors?
Simon Louvish, Harlan Ellison, Trevanian, , Ramsey Campbell, Adam Nevill, Conrad Williams, Louis de Bernieres, Colin Cotterill, Paul Finch, Joolz Denby, Joe Lansdale, Edgar Allan Poe, Alan Garner, Chinua Achebe, Michael Moorcock, J.G. Ballard, M. John Harrison, Brian Aldiss, Joseph Conrad, John Steinbeck, Helen Dunmore, Margaret Atwood. I normally mention Cate Gardner, too, but I’m not sure I’m allowed to anymore as she’s now the lovely girlfriend I mentioned above. Dozens of others, too. I’ll be here all day if I don’t stop.
What are you reading now?
Ramsey Campbell’s The Kind Folk, alongside Mark Morris’ Toady.
Which book do you wish you had written?
Captain Corelli’s Mandolin- it’s hilariously funny, deeply sad, rich, wise and reminds me what writing can be. One day I want to write something that good- it might not be a horror novel, though. (Then again, my last book wasn’t exactly horror, and god alone knows what the current one is.)
How would you describe your writing style?
(Dons ridiculous glasses, beret and polo neck sweater on) Raw but poetic, harsh but beautiful, moving and funny, (removes above garb) but above all, writing you always want to read.
Describe a typical day spent writing. Do you have any unusual writing habits?
I’m currently I’m off work; when I’m at work, my start and finish times are all over the place, so there isn’t really such a thing as a typical day. Generally, I try to get myself downstairs and in front of the computer as early as I can; that way the first work I’ve done each day is writing and I’ve made a dent in the workload. In the past, I’d just aim to get a certain number of words written. But sometimes it’s better to spend time structuring and rewriting instead; the first draft of The Faceless was 160,000 words and it took longer to cut that down to than it did to write the sodding thing in the first place. As Danie Ware said recently, it’s not about how many words you write but how many words you keep. I’m trying with the current novel to have a first draft that’s much closer to the finished version, which means more rewriting and thinking over each chapter, so I’m still trying to work out how best to measure progress.
What piece of your own work are you most proud of?
I often feel like everything I’ve done up to the present has been practice, novice work, and now I know how to get it right. I’ve been especially happy with a lot of the short fiction I’ve written over the past year, and particularly a short story called ‘The Children Of Moloch,’ which appeared in the Gray Friar anthology Death Rattles. At the moment, I think The Faceless might be the piece of work I’m proudest of- but I hope the third novel is better still and the fourth will be better than both!
Can you tell us about your last book, and can you tell us about what you are working on next?
My last published novel was The Faceless, set in a Lancashire town called Kempforth during the winter, where the gaunt, spectral figures of the Spindly Men roam the misty streets, people have started vanishing and where there’s an abandoned hospital called Ash Fell with a terrible history. Solaris are about to release a mini-collection in ebook form called Let’s Drink To The Dead, which contains three stories all set in Kempforth in the 1980s and involving some of the characters from the novel. If you’ve read The Faceless, this should be a nice companion to it; if not, Let’s Drink To The Dead is free, so you can see if you think you’d like it or not!
I’ve just completed a novel called Hell’s Ditch, which has now gone out to publishers and is a bit of a blend of horror, science fiction and thriller. It’s also the first of a planned series of novels, which is new territory for me. The one I’m now working on is called Riders On The Storm, and is another mix of genres. It’s about the R.101 airship, the largest British aircraft ever built, and it’s still ongoing- that’s all I can say for now, but I hope it’ll be a good one. After that, I think I’ll be returning to horror for the next novel, but you never know what’s around the corner.
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