Ginger Nuts of Horror
To help promote the new charity anthology Sparks an electric themed anthology to raise money for Resources for Autism, Burdizzo Publishing. Ginger Nuts of Horror is bringing you a series of interview with the authors involved in the anthology. Today it is Mark Cassell's turn to feature in the spotlight.
Mark Cassell lives in a rural part of the UK where he often dreams of dystopian futures, peculiar creatures, and flitting shadows. Primarily a horror writer, his steampunk, dark fantasy, and SF stories have featured in many reputable anthologies and zines.
His best-selling debut novel THE SHADOW FABRIC (2014) started what has now become an expanding mythos of demons, devices, and deceit. Other published work includes SINISTER STITCHES (2015), CHAOS HALO 1.0 (2016), HELL CAT OF THE HOLT (2017), and most recently IN THE COMPANY OF FALSE GODS (2017).
To snatch up Mark's free stories, go to www.markcassell.com or visit the website www.theshadowfabric.co.uk.
Could you tell the readers a little bit about yourself?
Every school report said something along the lines of, “If Mark would spend more time on his work rather than entertaining his class mates, he would accomplish so much.” And that, my friends, sums me up a quarter of a century later.
What do you like to do when you're not writing?
Throwing weights around in the gym, sleeping, and… um… yeah, sleeping.
Other than the horror genre, what else has been a major influence on your writing?
Steampunk and sci-fi. However, even when I write in both those genres, I will still sprinkle some horror into the mix. Just to make it glisten, you know?
The term horror, especially when applied to fiction always carries such heavy connotations. What’s your feeling on the term “horror” and what do you think we can do to break past these assumptions?
There are varying levels of horror. My novella, Hell Cat of the Holt, begins with a car crash, which in itself is horrific, right? The story then follows a lady who’s lost her cat. Again, this is horror to anyone whose pet goes missing. The horror levels then escalate. Big time.
So, for the horror genre, how about having a child go missing? That’s pretty damn horrific. Okay, so let’s drop it down a few notches: what about your winning lottery ticket, and discovering you’ve lost it? Imagine your frantic search around the house. And through the rush of blood in your ears, you realise that far-away humming sound is the washing machine on the final spin…
A story does not need gratuitous gore to be labelled horror, it doesn’t need a gun and a headshot, nor does it require frayed rope digging into a character’s wrists as an unseen captor lurks in the shadows. Every story needs emotion, and us as horror writers have chosen our genre. So we make certain our readers feel precisely that.
We will never break the taboo when it comes to horror, and quite frankly, it is that which makes me proud to stand among the ranks of horror entertainers.
A lot of good horror movements have arisen as a direct result of the socio/political climate, considering the current state of the world where do you see horror going in the next few years?
Every time I turn on the news, there’s horror. I don’t know whether the world is getting worse, or the media slaps it across our faces so much it seems that way.
Regardless of whether the shelves in Waterstones are tagged with Horror, or those books are hidden in the Science Fiction and Fantasy section, our beloved genre is here to stay.
What are the books and films that helped to define you as an author?
The book that I can say was the catalyst is James Herbert’s Magic Cottage. As for a film, it would have to be Clive Barker’s Hellraiser, whose written work inspired me as much as Herbert’s. Another author who massively influenced me was Shaun Hutson. I can add here – and I’m still jumping around with excitement – that I’ll soon share pages in an anthology with him and several other of my literary heroes from the 80s and 90s. In fact, I’ve managed to nab a movie role in which Mr. Hutson is the script consultant, but that’s a whole other story.
What new and upcoming authors do you think we should take notice of?
This list could be endless. But I’m going to choose a guy whose work I’ve recently been getting into: Duncan Ralston. I’ve not long finished reading his Salvage. Such a brilliant, haunting story.
How would you describe your writing style?
Creepy, scary, and intelligent. This last is how I’ve been labelled, so please don’t think I’m riding the arrogance wagon. My work can be complex, like one big puzzle, and is perhaps why that particular word was used when referring to my work.
Are there any reviews of your work, positive or negative that have stayed with you?
Yeah, my debut novel, The Shadow Fabric, received a three-star review which simply said, “Not read yet.” However, I guess it evens out all the others which are four and five-stars (yay!), but I find it incredible someone would think it’s okay to write such a thing as a review and to give it a star rating.
What aspects of writing do you find the most difficult?
When that procrastination demon leaps on my shoulders and refuses to let go.
Is there one subject you would never write about as an author?
Only one? I have several: child abuse, animal abuse, gore for the sake of gore. Oh, and weak females who trip over while fleeing from a bloke with an axe.
How important are names to you in your books? Do you choose the names based on liking the way it sounds or the meaning?"
I hate choosing names for my characters. I have no idea why, but I find this the second most difficult aspect in writing. Typically, I snatch up a name and go with it, then later in the story as the character’s trait shines through, I’ll rename them to suit.
Writing is not a static process, how have you developed as a writer over the years?
My first stuff was shit, I read so many how-to books I went cross-eyed, and then my stuff started to get published. However, I am still learning. And that is something I believe every writer, at whichever stage in their career, must remember it’s so important to keep learning, keep developing the gameplay.
What tools do you feel are must-haves for writers?
Dedication to a project. It’s way too easy to get excited by a shiny new idea and lose momentum with your current project. So, if dedication was a tool that could be kept on the desk, then I’d constantly polish the damn thing.
What is the best piece of advice you ever received with regards to your writing?
“Re-write that, it’s shit.” This is something we all need to recognise, because every one of us is capable of writing complete shite, no matter how many years we’ve been in the game.
Getting your work noticed is one of the hardest things for a writer to achieve, how have you tried to approach this subject?
Be sure to entertain with not only your words, but as a human. And be nice. Don’t be a dick.
To many writers, the characters they write become like children, who is your favourite child, and who is your least favourite to write for and why?
The main character in The Shadow Fabric, who’s also the guy from several short stories in the expanding mythos, is Leo and has always been a favourite of mine. He’s a confused character, yet strong, fun, and down to earth even when the crazy shit is going down.
My least favourite? As a writer, if we have a least favourite character, then we should sculpt them into one who strives to be the favourite. Each and every character cannot be weak, no matter how incidental.
And are there any that you would like to forget about?
Again, if I want to forget about any of my characters, then I’m not writing them well. Think about it, the readers will forget about them… and that is not good wordsmithing. At all.
Does this all make me sound like I’m hard on myself? Perhaps I am. That’s got me thinking now…
For those who haven’t read any of your books, which of your books do you think best represents your work and why?
Each of my books are standalone stories, however, my supernatural work is all in the Shadow Fabric mythos. The one which perhaps represents that mythos as a whole, would be Hell Cat of the Holt because it explores demons, ghosts, and a black cat legend. Plus, it has a healthy balance of horror on a human level, as well as an other-worldly level.
Do you have a favourite line or passage from your work, and would you like to share it with us?
From Hell Cat of the Holt:
More to myself than to him, I said: “Where are their heads?” Again, bile rose in my throat. Somehow, I managed to swallow it down, the bitterness snatching me from my daze. In the space of twenty-four hours – had it been that long? – I had seen the Black Cat for myself, a ghost, and now this Frankenstein horror.
The woven skin and bone, of jean material and T-shirt and shirts, was like a patchwork quilt. But it was the stitches, they … they somehow twitched as though with a life of their own. I remembered how Leo had mentioned the darkness was sentient, a veil between worlds, he’d said. Those stitches were indeed a part of the Shadow Fabric. If I’d ever needed proof, then here it was.
On the floor below this nightmare, a heap of crimson muck had soaked into the carpet. What I assumed had been the thumps we’d heard were fleshy sacks of muscle and offal that quivered amid barbed vines – similar to the one I’d stepped over in Pippa’s garden. The vines snaked and twitched, flexing upwards as though trying to reach for the appendages above.
“Leo …” I whispered.
Can you tell us about your last book, and can you tell us about what you are working on next?
I’ve just released In the Company of False Gods, a Lovecraftian steampunk horror. Its tagline: “He had no idea his creation would take him to the threshold between worlds.” It jumped to #4 on Amazon’s fantasy and steampunk charts.
I am currently juggling three projects: a larger piece in the Shadow Fabric mythos puzzle, another story in my steampunk world, and also a random short story.
If you could erase one horror cliché what would be your choice?
The hooded man on a book cover. Seriously, lose the hood, dammit. It’s like chiseled abs on an erotic romance cover.
What was the last great book you read, and what was the last book that disappointed you?
I’ve just finished Lydian Faust’s Forest Underground, and gave it a five-star review. Seriously, for a debut, that is one fine book. The one that disappointed me was, sadly, James Herbert’s Shrine. I just could not get into it and actually gave up halfway through.
What's the one question you wish you would get asked but never do? And what would be the answer?
Generous Person: “No catch, would you like a million pounds?”
Mark Cassell: “Too right, I would. Yes please.”