Rich Hawkins is a name that should by now, be a familiar one to many horror readers. With numerous short stories published in various anthologies, including Grindhouse and Tales For The Toilet, both from Crowded Quarantine Publications, Signals From The Void through Rainstorm Press and Black Chaos: Tales Of The Zombie from Exter Press, he quickly moved on to longer works with his debut novel - and BFS award nominated, but more on that later - The Last Plague, published with Crowded Quarantine Press. With a novella through April Moon Books, Black Star, Black Sun, further cementing his growing reputation as a proficient writer of bleak, cosmic horror, he is now set to release the sequel to The Last Plague, cunningly titled, The Last Outpost.
So, Rich..just by way of introduction to those who don't know you, tell us a little bit about yourself.
I live in Salisbury, England, with my wife, baby daughter and pet dog. I’ve been writing ‘seriously’ for about four years or so. I love horror in all its forms and my favourite film of all time is John Carpenter’s THE THING. I don’t really have any hobbies, as most of my free time is spent writing, but I enjoy reading and watching films, and I’m a big fan of zombies and anything to do with cosmic horror. I also have a beard.
And how did you get started in writing? And writing horror specifically?
I wrote a few short stories when I was at school long, long ago, but they never really went anywhere and I was more interested in computer games, playing football and ‘reading’ Maxim and Loaded magazines. But the interest in writing and horror was always there, although it wasn’t until my mid-twenties when my then-girlfriend (who’s now my wife, the poor woman) encouraged me to start the novel I kept saying I’d write. So I did. And it was pretty much crap. A horror/supernatural thriller called ‘Ghost of You’. I sent it off to various literary agents, but none of them were interested, unsurprisingly. So I wrote another novel called ‘Tinkerman’, another supernatural thriller thingy, and then sent that around to various agents, but again, it was turned away. So by then I was getting pretty fed up with it all, so when I joined Facebook and discovered some small/independent publishers, I started submitting to anthologies and eventually I was accepted into one.
And it’s pretty much gone on from there, though I’ve stepped away from writing short stories to concentrate on longer works.
Why horror? I just love it – the emotions it invokes and all the directions it can take. It’s such a malleable genre. Zombies, vampires, werewolves, aliens, ghosts, beasts from the deep oceans, and human monsters. Anything with teeth or without. It speaks to me like no other genre can. It’s hard to explain, without sounding a bit ‘out there’.
I think horror is everywhere, if you look hard enough.
Now, before we talk about The Last Outpost, let's discuss The Last Plague; specifically, the fact that it has been nominated for a BFS award in the best novel category, alongside such writers as Adam Nevill, Alison Littlewood and M. R. Carey. How did you feel when the nominations were announced, and what do you think your chances are?
I thought there was a mistake when the nominations were first made public, to be honest. In the few days leading up to the announcement, I hadn’t given the BFS awards much thought because I was sure there was no way of being on the shortlist, so when I logged on to Facebook on the morning of the nominations and saw my name come up, I was pretty stunned and my first thought was that they’d got the names mixed up or something. It was, and still is, pretty surreal, but I’m enjoying it. But even now I still feel that I don’t ‘belong’ on the shortlist.
To be honest, I haven’t got a chance against the other writers; they’re all big names who’ve written fantastic novels, whereas I’m pretty much a nobody.
Let's get to why we're here: your forthcoming second novel, and sequel to The Last Plague, The Last Outpost. Tell us a bit about this book, avoiding 'spoilers' of course.
The Last Outpost is set several months after the first novel. The infected have won and the country – and the world – is in ruins. The government, army, and emergency services are gone. The infrastructure of the country has been destroyed. The main protagonist is a man named Royce, who is wandering the countryside, scavenging from the ruins while trying to avoid the swarms of infected. He’s directionless and without hope, until he encounters other survivors, and together they attempt to escape Britain and reach a survivors’ colony in Europe.
I believe you're working on a third book in the series. Had you always planned it as a trilogy, or was this something that came to you over time?
Yes, more or less. When I finished writing The Last Plague, I was only vaguely considering making a trilogy, because for all I knew it would never get published. But once the first book was accepted and then released to some good reviews, I decided to go for it.
Now, the book itself seems, on the face of it, to be a more stripped down affair than the first. It has fewer characters and is much shorter than its predecessor. Often it's the other way around for a series. Was this a deliberate choice?
I didn’t want to make the sequel too similar to the first book, so I knew I had to frame the story a bit differently. The Last Plague is quite large in scope with multiple characters, so I was really drawn to showing the aftermath of the plague and how it’s devastated the world through the eyes of only a few characters. I really wanted to show the struggles of the survivors and how they’ve been traumatised by the deaths of everyone they ever knew and loved. Especially when the country is teeming with infected, some of whom seem to be changing and evolving into deadlier forms…
Now, I'm not saying it's a 'step back'. Having read both books, I've found TLO to be a much stronger book, more confident and assured, and also more bleak - if such a thing is possible - than the first. For me, you get much more impact of the apocalyptic events by restricting it to one or two characters. There's also a fair bit of bitter emotion going on. Do you feel yourself that your confidence in writing has grown between works? Is there much of a difference in your approach to writing now, or is it still much the same?
Yes, definitely - focusing on Royce for most of the story allowed me to really get inside his head and showing the effect that the apocalypse has had on him. It allowed me to construct his voice with more detail and make him seem real, and I hope it comes out that way on the page.
I’m a bit more confident than I was when I wrote the first book. But not much, to be fair, as I have pretty low self-confidence anyway, but I think many writers are like that, and it’s just something we have to put up with.
My methods have changed a little, but not in any great way. I plot a bit, then make it up as I go along, then plot some more and try to construct scenes before I write them down. I mix it up and hope it works, basically.
I also found that the 'voice' of each character was distinct. This was a minor issue for me in the first novel, in that everyone sounded much the same. Here, you've come on leaps and bounds with it. Was this a conscious move on your part, or has it simply developed naturally, as part of the process?
A bit of both, to be fair. A few reviewers mentioned issues with the characters in The Last Plague, and I felt they had a point, so I tried my hardest to make each voice unique in some way. It probably helped in that there are fewer characters in the second novel. Hopefully I’ve improved in that area since my earlier efforts.
And how do you approach writing? Do you have a routine? Do you plan or just wing it?
Once I’ve decided on a story, I write down ideas for it in a notebook and jot down some character names, plot events and any interesting points I can think of. Next I’ll think of a first chapter to get me started and have a vague idea of what will happen. Then I just go from there and see what happens. It’s worked, so far. And I hope it continues to work.
Since The Last Plague, you seem to have concentrated solely on longer works. Do you find you don't have time for short stories, or is the fire for them no longer there?
The urge to write short stories has definitely dwindled over the last year or so, mainly because I’m concentrating mostly on novels and novellas. It’d be cool to start writing them again, but at the moment I prefer to focus on longer works. Maybe once I’ve got several novels behind me, I’ll return to short stories and start submitting to Black Static, which I’ve been meaning to do for the last few years…
You seem to have a specific penchant for a type of bleak, apocalyptic cosmic horror. Is this a reflection of your interests and influences? Who are the writers and books that informed your love of horror?
Totally. I’m obsessed with apocalyptic stories, whether it’s books or films. Can’t get enough of them. Anything with the end of the world in, I’m there.
Stephen King was a big influence when I got back into reading horror fiction in my mid-twenties. He still is, to be fair, but I haven’t read many of his more recent works. Salem’s Lot is one of my favourite novels, while The Stand influenced my love of apocalyptic viral horror. From there I discovered HP Lovecraft and was blown away by his stories - Cthulhu was awesome and terrifying until he went all mainstream. Well, he’s still awesome. Dean Koontz’s PHANTOMS helped inspire me too. Loved that book, although I’m not a big fan of his other work. And I can’t forget to mention David Moody’s HATER trilogy, which are some of the greatest apocalyptic novels of all time.
And as to the current state of the horror genre? What do you think of the stories that are currently being produced, and who are your favourite writers?
I think the horror genre is in a very healthy state at the moment. There is a lot of talent out there, and some great stories being written. In my opinion, the small/independent presses are publishing fantastic stuff from some great writers – many of whom should be better known, if there was any justice. I’m proud to know such talented people.
My favourite writers are David Moody, Adam Nevill, HP Lovecraft, Wayne Simmons, Tim Curran, Adam Baker, James Herbert, Adam Millard, and Conrad Williams. If I could ever be half as good as any of them, I’ll die a happy man.
Speaking of the current scene, I believe there's some sort of rivalry going on between you and another writer. Are you able to talk about this, or is all just a bit of a publicity stunt? What's the scoop?
Less of a ‘feud’, and more of a ‘insanely jealous vendetta’ by Kit. But he’s a good guy, aside from the whole release-date-stealing malarkey. I’ve heard he’s been named Bletchley’s ‘Best Smelling Author’ three years in a row now. Impressive.
Publicity stunt? Are we that obvious? Maybe. Probably…
Okay, let's leave that one where it is. What does the future hold for Rich Hawkins? What are you currently working on and where do you envisage taking your writing?
I’m currently working on THE LAST SOLDIER, which will round off the trilogy. Hoping to finish the first draft by the end of September. After that, I have no idea what I’ll be writing. I’ve got a few ideas, so I’ll let them gestate for a while and see what happens.
I wouldn’t mind trying my hand at some crime fiction in the future…maybe after I’ve run out of ideas for horror. A mixture of crime and horror would be pretty cool.
Well, thanks very much for talking to us Rich. Good luck in the BFS awards, and I'm sure that The Last Outpost will also do very well. I wouldn't be surprised to see that one up for an award next year too; it's certainly worthy. Any last thoughts for those that are reading?
Cheers for having me around, it’s been a pleasure! And thanks to everyone who’s bought my books and supported my writing in the last few years – you’re all awesome.
Keep reading horror!
Thanks for reading this interview, and if you are interested in any of Rich's works, you can find his Amazon author page here.
Our review of The Last Outpost can be found here
PAUL M. FEENEY
Ginger Nuts of Horror: The Heart and Soul of Horror Interviews