Today's Five Minutes with author is Ray Cluley. It used to be that he was a teacher who said he was a writer, but now it’s actually true. His fiction has been published in various venues including Interzone and Black Static from TTA Press, Shadows & Tall Trees from Undertow Books, and Not One of Us. His stories have also appeared in various anthologies, including a reprint in Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year 3, and a translation into French for Ténèbres 2011. His academic articles can be found in the English & Media Centre publication emagazine, a couple of which have been republished in the BFS Journal.
Could you tell the readers a little bit about yourself?
Sure. My name’s Ray Cluley and I enjoy making stuff up (though I’ll be honest for the interview, promise). I teach A Level English with a bit of Creative Writing on the side, but at all other times I tend to be either reading or writing ‘genre’ fiction.
Do you prefer the term Horror, Weird Fiction or Dark Fiction?
I like all of them because they each seem to suggest something slightly different, but like a lot of people I’m not really a big fan of genre labels due to all the crossover. I tend to use ‘genre fiction’ just to cover all of it. When I’m giving a quick answer to folk who ask what I write, though, I tend to simply say horror. It’s just a shame that many might then (mistakenly) assume blood and guts.
Who are some of your favourite authors?
God, there are loads! Favourites as in got me started, it’s the usual list of names such as King, Lovecraft, Poe, Stevenson, Stoker. Those who nurtured me after were Gaiman, Herbert, Straub. Most recently, my faves would be Hill, Joyce, Lindqvist. But where I really became excited by the genre was with all the anthologies and collections, starting with a Stephen Jones Best New Horror a fair few years ago and going from there. I love the short story form, with too many favourites to mention really. They probably know who they are because I’ve become one of those annoying people/stalkers who emails to say ‘I just read [insert title of an amazing story] and it was [insert phrase of praise], thank you for a great read.’
What are you reading now?
I tend to read several things at once. My main read is Some Kind of Fairy Tale by Graham Joyce (excellent!) but by the time you read this I may have finished as I’m getting through huge chunks of it at each sitting. A guilty pleasure is Derek Landy’s Death Bringer. I started reading the Skulduggery Pleasant books to help with a Creative Writing class of 10-14 year-olds and have been hooked ever since.
Next to these on the bedside table is a small stack of collections and anthologies because I’m a short story addict. Rumours of the Marvellous, by Peter Atkins (because I love Kitty Donnelly), Born with Teeth, by Conrad Williams (because I enjoyed his recent reading at FantasyCon), Remember Why You Fear Me, by Robert Shearman (because it’s Robert Shearman) and Best New Horror 23 from Stephen Jones et al. And every time I look at my ‘to read’ pile (Thana Niveau, Nina Allan, Lisa Hannett) I get excited about what’s next. (I’ve just noticed I’m currently reading men, and that the top of my to read is women, but that’s just a weird fluke.)
I also read quite a lot of non-fiction, mainly as research of whatever I’m writing but it’s very much an enjoyable part of the process and rarely a chore. I don’t want to talk about a particular text, though, just to keep my ongoing projects under wraps (and to make me seem more mysterious – people like mysterious, right?)
Which book do you wish you had written?
The first book I ever thought that about was Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby when I was at uni. I was completely blown away by the economy of it, by all he manages to accomplish in such a short novel. Since then I’ve thought it a few times. With Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, and with Niffenegger’s The Time Traveller’s Wife, and Graham Joyce’s The Silent Land. Most of all, though, the book I wish I’d written is my own novel, which keeps getting put on hold in favour of ‘just one more’ short story.
How would you describe your writing style?
I think that might be one of things others can tell you better than me. If there’s a Cluley voice, I don’t quite know what it is, other than mine. I try to adapt for each story. Thinking about it, I suppose I try to have a little fun with what I’m writing; even when the content is dark, I tend to avoid being too bleak.
Describe a typical day spent writing. Do you have any unusual writing habits?
I wish a ‘day’ spent writing was more frequent - usually I get a few hours of an evening. Even going part time this year in order to focus on my writing, there always seems to be a few hours more I should have spent in front of the laptop screen. Typically, I’ll look at my list of ongoing projects (there are currently a dozen short stories, a novella, and a novel) and see which one I ‘feel’ the most. Sounds a bit new age (search your feelings, man) but I tend to write better when I haven’t just plonked my bum in the seat to write something (though I can do that if a deadline is looming). Once I know what I’m in the mood for (and sometimes I don’t need that list, I just can’t wait to get home and get writing) I’ll write until I’m fried. On average, each sitting tends to be about 1500 words, but I’ll often do a couple of sittings. Habit wise, I’ll tend to play music to suit the project, but usually something without words (or words I can’t understand, as with Sigur Rós) with a never-ending cup of coffee by my side, and often in pyjamas – too much information?
What piece of your own work are you most proud of?
This will sound cheesy (or arrogant), but I’m proud of each story. Most proud…? Well, ‘Beachcombing’ seemed to touch a few people (and was the easiest to write, coming almost entirely in one sitting) so I’ll always have a place in my heart for that one. It’s also the only one of mine to be translated (French, for Ténèbres 2011) which was a thrill. At FantasyCon recently, quite a few people I’ve never spoken to but have admired told me they liked ‘Shark! Shark!’ so I’m pretty happy with that story, especially as it was so much fun to write. And I’m pretty chuffed with ‘Within the Wind, Beneath the Snow’ which I worked hard on. Like, really hard. I hope people like it. Simon Marshall-Jones of Spectral Press has got that one.
Can you tell us about your last book, and can you tell us about what you are working on next?
Last book? Well, I’ve a collection that’s out there somewhere, waiting to get published, called Probably Monsters but I don’t think that counts. Not yet, anyway. My most recent story was ‘All Change’ in Black Static (thank you for your kind words about that piece), and I’ve another story appearing soon in there called ‘The Death Drive of Rita nee Carina’. I tend to mention the new stuff on my blog at www.probablymonsters.wordpress.com As for what’s next, now where did I put that list…