JAMES COOPER is the author of the short story collections You Are The Fly and The Beautiful Red. His novella Terra Damnata was published by PS Publishing in 2011 and was shortlisted for a British Fantasy Award. His novella Strange Fruit has just been released by PS Publishing, and his novel Dark Father will be published by DarkFuse in June 2014 and. Forthcoming is Country Dark, which will be published next year as part of the TTA Novella Series, and the short story collection Human Pieces from PS Publishing. You can visit his website at: jamescooperfiction.co.uk
Could you tell the readers a little bit about yourself?
I sold my first story in 2004 to ‘Night Terrors’ magazine and have since published two short story collections, ‘You are the Fly’ and ‘The Beautiful Red’, two novellas, ‘Terra Damnata’ and ‘Strange Fruit’, and two novels, ‘The Midway’ and ‘Dark Father’. I value my privacy and time with my family above all else, and often find the world of Facebook and Twitter and other social media an incessant and unnecessary diversion. I spend far too much time, reading, writing and teaching.
Do you prefer the term Horror, Weird Fiction or Dark Fiction?
I’m perfectly happy with ‘Horror’; it’s the term I grew up with during the boom years of the 80s. As Douglas Winter suggested, though, horror is an emotion, not a genre; it’s also a noun, so seems inappropriate to use when describing a type of fiction, unlike the other two terms, which are possibly more suitable adjectives. Still, ‘Horror’ it was back in the 80s and, I suspect, ‘Horror’ it will always be…
Who are some of your favourite authors?
Stephen King – At his best, captures the heart of small-town America.
Peter Straub – A more cerebral writer, disciplined and controlled.
Clive Barker – A visionary…
Joyce Carol Oates – Extraordinarily gifted and more prolific, it seems than King. Who the hell can keep up?
Martin Amis - A master of the language whose novels, though occasionally flawed, remain utterly unique.
Salman Rushdie – An astonishing writer, each sentence more radiant than the last.
Dan Chaon – Possesses an enviable ability to locate the truth in every tale he tells.
Nina Allan – The best of the new breed of writers. Her tales are as fragile and luminous as glass…
What is your all-time favourite horror novel, and film?
Horror Novel: ‘The Shining’. For most people it’s about a haunted hotel; for me it’s about a family tragedy, and the terrifying deterioration of a father’s relationship with his son.
Best Film: Psycho. I watched it when I was very young and it scared the life out of me. It still does. Anthony Perkins’ jittery performance as Norman Bates is mesmerising.
If you could erase one horror cliché what would be your choice?
Bloody zombies. Jesus…
Which fictional character would be you perfect neighbour, and who would be your nightmare neighbour?
Perfect neighbour: Norman Bates’ mother. No noise; no smoky barbecues; no anything, actually. Perfect.
Nightmare neighbour: Annie Wilkes. Mad as a bag of spanners.
What do you think of the current state of the genre?
The major publishing houses still aren’t able to appreciate how marketable horror fiction could be; their idea of horror seems to be the paranormal romances that line the shelves and the endlessly commissioned vampire and zombie novels. Isn’t anyone else as tired of this shit as I am? The good stuff is where it’s always been: in the small press, where independent publishers like PS Publishing, ChiZine and Gray Friar Press continue to wage the war against mediocrity and horror cliché. This is where you’re most likely to discover Nina Allan, Conrad Williams and Joel Lane (up until his awful, untimely passing). In the small press, horror fiction is as vibrant as it ever has been…
What was the last great book you read, and what was the last book that disappointed you?
Great book: ‘Double Feature’ by Owen King. As good a debut novel as I’ve ever read…
Disappointment: His dad’s ‘Doctor Sleep’. My god, what a wasted opportunity…
How would you describe your writing style?
Spare, lean, pared-down prose that I’ve been told is fairly distinctive.
Are there any reviews of your work, positive or negative that have stayed with you?
Bad: ‘Publisher’s Weekly’ absolutely slaughtered my last collection, ‘The Beautiful Red’. They just didn’t get it. Accused it of failing to live up to its billing as a collection of horror stories…
Good: ‘Booklist’ absolutely raved about my last collection, ‘The Beautiful Red’. They totally got it. They thought it was the best thing since sliced bread…
This contrast always makes me smile. It sums up the nature of horror fiction pretty well, I think. What one person finds tame, another will be hypnotically drawn to, not quite understanding the glamour of the stuff they’re engaged with. Such is life, I guess…
What’s your favourite food?
Indian. So much variety.
Who would be on the soundtrack to your life story?
Dylan. Nick Drake. The Smiths/Morrissey. The Sundays. Plenty of others, but these are the artists that I often return to.
What’s the most important lesson you have learned about writing?
Read. Everything you can get your hands on. Breadth of reading is essential, especially outside the genre. And for God’s sake, read your own work. Don’t wait for somebody else to highlight your mistakes.
What aspects of writing to do you find the most difficult?
The discipline; sustaining the constant need, no matter how good the last session, to do it all over again.
How do you think you’ve evolved creatively?
Hard to say. I’m a weird bugger, and my stories reflect that. I think the evolution has been largely productive and the tales continue their clamour to be told.
What tools do you feel are must-haves for writers?
Knowledge of the craft; a broad background in reading; a love of language; a realisation that writing is bloody hard work; central to it all, so that your stories are unique and not derivative: a bold imagination.
What is the best piece of advice you ever received from another author?
Keep writing ‘The End’. Don’t wait for the muse to strike; don’t think it’ll all happen for you overnight; don’t think you’re going to be Stephen King; treat it like any other job. Just write, every day, and develop your own voice. Sound advice, all of it.
Who is your favourite character from your books and why?
I love Ellie from ‘Strange Fruit’. She’s strong, independent, tenacious. She refuses to let life knock her off her feet, no matter how grim her circumstances. She will always keep scrapping away…
How about your least favourite character? What makes them less appealing to you?
I’ve written about a few abusive fathers in my short stories. They’re particularly ugly characters to write about. I find them utterly incapable of redemption. Usually, I let ‘em have what for towards the end…but not always.
Fame, fortune, or respect?
Yeah, I know I should say respect, right? But fortune would be good…
What piece of your own work are you most proud of?
My novella ‘Strange Fruit’, published by PS Publishing, and my novel ‘Dark Father’, due from DarkFuse in June this year. Most writers know when a decent tale is taking shape; the stories almost write themselves…
And are there any that you would like to forget about?
‘The Midway’. I wrote it in my twenties. It’s a beast of a book (over 170,000 words), but I wish it had remained in the trunk. I’m a much better writer now, much more in control. ‘The Midway’ was a little like a running jump off a very high cliff, just to see how deep the water was. Turns out it was pretty deep…
For those who haven’t read any of you books, what book of yours do you think best represents your work and why?
‘Strange Fruit’. It’s a great place to start. It’s a coming-of-age tale that tackles many of the themes I explore regularly in my fiction: loneliness, childhood, family, betrayal, violence, abuse. The whole caboodle, really.
Can you tell us about your last book, and can you tell us about what you are working on next?
The last book I finished was a short novel entitled ‘The Fade’. It’s about a boy suffering from Cotard’s syndrome who finds a unique way to escape his difficult life… I’m currently finishing off a novella entitled ‘End of Creation’ – it’s not a post-apocalyptic story, don’t worry – and then I intend to start a new novel, which, as yet, is untitled. I can’t say too much about it yet, though; it’s too early. Maybe another time…
What's the one question you wish you would get asked but never do?
What stops you from stopping writing?
Ellie doesn’t understand children. She doesn’t understand what they want or what makes them happy. She doesn’t understand why they’re so mean.
Adults are no better. Her mother spends her days consoling sad, lonely men, mysteriously easing their grief; men like Funeral Lou, lost in his own sorrow, tenderly embalming the dead.
Only Joseph offers Ellie a ray of hope, pointing to a brighter path through the darkness, his carved tiger a symbol of beauty in a morally ambiguous world. A world full of conflicted souls like Gregory, the man Ellie meets in the park, with the colourful, unusual fruit . . .
Strange Fruit is a haunting tale of a young girl’s coming-of age; a dazzling narrative of heartache and hope.
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