Ginger Nuts of Horror
Em Dehaney is a mother of two, a writer of fantasy and a drinker of tea. Born in Gravesend, England, her writing is inspired by the dark and decadent history of her home town. She is made of tea, cake, blood and magic. By night she is The Black Nun, editor and whip-cracker at Burdizzo Books. By day you can always find her at http://www.emdehaney.com/ or lurking about on Facebook posting pictures of witches. https://www.facebook.com/emdehaney/
Her poem ‘Here We Come A-Wassailing’ features in the Burdizzo Books 12Days Christmas anthology and will soon be released as an illustrated novelette. Her short story ‘The Mermaid’s Purse’ can be found in the Fossil Lake anthology Sharkasaurus. All available on her Amazon page.
Could you tell the readers a little bit about yourself?
You know that opening scene in the film Goodfellas? “As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster”? Well, substitute ‘gangster’ for ‘writer’, and substitute a kid running away from an exploding car with a kid sitting in the corner scribbling in a notebook, and you’re there.
What do you like to do when you're not writing?
Spending money I don’t have on kitsch print dresses, drinking copious amounts of alcohol and making mix-cds (not playlists, I like kicking it old school).
Other than the horror genre, what else has been a major influence on your writing?
I read and write all sorts. My first novel is urban historical fantasy, I have a YA novel in the planning, I write poetry, horror, sci-fi, whatever takes my fancy. I think genre shouldn’t be a boundary, you should just write what you love. I love to read fantasy, historical fiction, horror, so called “literary fiction”, whatever that means. I also love factual books and true crime. I always have about three or four books on the go at any one time. At the moment I’m reading a book about Hurricane Katrina, a historical fiction about The Great Fire of London, Anno Dracula by Kim Newman and Something Wicked This Way Comes by the genius that is Ray Bradbury. I am also a huge music lover and am a sucker for a rock biography.
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?
It is ironic that the horror community is, for the most part, the kindest, most generous, friendly and funniest bunch of lovelies you could hope to meet, and yet somehow ‘horror writer’ brings these negative connotations. Some people seem unable to separate the art from the artist. You write books about murdering people, therefore you must want to murder people. Horror books and films aren’t for everyone but that’s fine. I can’t stand chick-lit or rom-coms.
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?
Post-apocalyptic horror is where it’s at for me. Natural disasters, man-made disasters, war, famine, potential nuclear destruction. I read Cormac McCarthy’s The Road this summer. I read it in one sitting, and it is one of the scariest books I’ve ever read. Not badged as a ‘horror’ novel, but horror nonetheless.
We have two post-apocalyptic tales in our latest anthology Sparks: ‘I’m Your Electric Man’ by Dani Brown and ‘Final Charge’ by Peter Germany. I’ve just written ‘A Story of Monsters, a post-apocalypse campfire tale and am currently working on a zombie story set in post-Katrina New Orleans.
What are the books and films that helped to define you as an author?
It always has to be Stephen King, for so many reasons. His books had a massive impact on me as a youngster, Carrie and Misery in particular. The originality in both form and content. And he introduced me to Bradbury and Lovecraft. Ok, so he has written a couple of stinkers in his time, but even his worst is better than most writers could dream of being. He gets classed as ‘just’ a horror writer, when really he writes epics of the modern condition, the failed American dream, hopes and fears for the future, dreams of the past and the loss of innocence. They just sometimes happen to have vampires or ghosts or possessed cars in them. His ‘On Writing’ should be mandatory for anyone even thinking of picking up a pen.
Another massive influence on my writing is the early Poppy Z. Brite novels. I remember getting New Orleans vampire tale Lost Souls when I was about 12 and devouring it in a day. The descriptions are so rich and colourful they almost hurt your eyes. You can taste the chartreuse, inhale the clove cigarette smoke. Brite’s follow up novel Drawing Blood just blew me away. It’s the story of a computer hacker falling in love with the only surviving son of a comic book artist who murdered his family then himself. It is a Deep South hallucinogenic horror, with plenty of sex and tech thrown in (all very dated now I’m sure, I haven’t read it in an while). The use of drugs as a portal to other worlds is something I have used in my own fiction.
What new and upcoming authors do you think we should take notice off?
My partner in crime at Burdizzo Books Matthew Cash has got a new book coming out soon called Fur, which is awesome (and I’m not just saying that). Jonathan Butcher is another one to watch. There was a real buzz around his recent release What Good Girls Do, a real thought provoking book, if hard to read at times. Burdizzo are working with him on a future release and it is hugely exciting.
How would you describe your writing style?
I tend to bring humour into a lot of my writing, as I’m generally a bit of a piss-taker. I’m quite proud to say that top fantasy publishing house Gollancz rejected my novel because it was too funny and there isn’t ‘a market for funny fantasy books’. I’m sure Terry Pratchett disagree, were he still around.
Are there any reviews of your work, positive or negative that have stayed with you?
I have dealt with a lot of rejections of my debut novel, from various publishers and agents, and the funny thing is, they were all positive. I’ve yet to be totally slated. I’m sure my time will come. You can’t consider yourself a success unless someone really hates what you do.
What aspects of writing to do you find the most difficult?
Finding time. I am a mum of two with a job and a house to keep running. I’ve heard some writers who say “You make time. You don’t do the housework, you don’t watch TV, you don’t do anything else, you just write.” Those people don’t have a two year old. I manage to cram the writing in when I can, but I very rarely get a quiet hour or two now to really get into the zone, like I did when my son had just been born. I wrote my first novel, about 80’000 words, in 8 months while on maternity leave. I have been writing my second novel for about a year and I’m barely past 25k.
Is there one subject you would never write about as an author?
I personally am not a fan of extreme sexual violence in my books, but that’s not to criticize those who do write about this kind of thing.
It all depends on the context and how it is written. There are lots of subjects that are considered taboo, but we still need to confront them through fiction. The difference is if these things are written about as titillation or to drive the story and the themes of the book forward. Extreme misogyny, violence, homophobia, rape, child abuse or racism purely for the sake of being shocking is not for me.
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 have various methods of choosing names for my characters. Sometimes they come to me, fully formed characters with their names. Other times it is as result of historic research. And other than that, I just like to collect unusual names that I come across in my life (I deal with a lot of different names from all around the world in my day job as a background screening analyst).
Writing, is not a static process, how have you developed as a writer over the years?
I’ve found editing for Burdizzo has made me much more aware of my own writing. I think critiquing others, either through editing or through critiquing sites like Scribophile is a great way to learn. That and reading a lot in a wide range of genre. And writing a lot. There is no substitute for practice.
What tools do you feel are must-haves for writers?
An imagination. Other than that, it doesn’t really matter. Pencil? Fountain pen? Scrivener? The blood of your enemies? Who cares as long as you write.
What is the best piece of advice you ever received with regards to your writing?
Two pieces of advice, both from successful published authors. The first was “You are not an aspiring writer. If you write, you are writer.”
The second was, when I said my writing was never good enough and how I would read books and feel I could never write anything as good as that. “When you read a novel, it is the end of a very long process that starts with a shitty first draft just like yours, so don’t give up.” Never give up has become my writing motto.
Getting your worked noticed is one of the hardest things for a writer to achieve, how have you tried to approach this subject?
I use social media to promote myself and my work, mainly Instagram, Twitter, Facebook. I also blog, I record podcasts and I answer questions for Gingernuts of Horror! For all the criticism that social media gets, I have made the best connections, both personal and professional, through it. It is the new way to network, when we can’t get out to all the conventions and book fairs, it keeps you a part of the community. I have made links with artists who are now working with us at Burdizzo, other writers, put those writers in touch with screenwriters and actresses, and I have made some lifelong friends.
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?
My favourite child is literally a child: Mikey from my Sharkasurus story ‘The Mermaid’s Purse’. He is a kid who is abused and neglected by his horrible mother, but takes his bloody revenge with the help of his pet shark. I have an emotional attachment to him and I would like pick his story up again, later on in life.
My least favourite characters always end up getting killed off in horrible ways (head smashed in with a bass guitar, dick pulled off and insides eaten by harpies, shredded by a shark) so I still enjoy writing them.
What piece of your own work are you most proud of?
My first ever publication was my Christmas poem ‘Here We Come A-Wassailing’. I’m proud because it was my first piece in print and a stranger liked it enough to put it in their book (because that was what Matthew Cash at Burdizzo Books was back then). I’m double proud of it now as we have enlisted the services of Polish artist Krzysztof Wronksi and are turning it into an illustrated mini-graphic novel type thing.
And are there any that you would like to forget about?
A lot of terrible poetry I wrote whilst at University!
For those who haven’t read any of your books, which of your books do you think best represents your work and why?
Well, I’ve only written one book so far, which has yet to be published.
Do you have a favorite line or passage from your work, and would you like to share it with us?
This, from the current novel I am working on, The Lady of The Dead.
‘The Lady of The Dead comes for you. First, she will eat the stars.’
Ethel yanked Tommy’s arm, pulling him in close enough to feel her breath on his face. It smelled of rotten flowers. A voice came from deep within her, harsh and mocking. It was both infinite and intimate, a legion of voices in unison whispering in his ear.
‘Then she will eat your heart.’
Can you tell us about your last book, and can you tell us about what you are working on next?
My first novel, The Golden Virginian, is a tale of tea and cake, weed and water, magic and murder, full of riverside town history mixed in with urban fantasy. I am currently working on the sequel, The Lady of The Dead. It features the real life 1661 murder of a Transylvanian prince, Mexican folklore and Romany gypsies.
If you could erase one horror cliché what would be your choice?
‘What’s that noise?’
‘Why don’t you go and investigate on your own?’
‘Ok, you stay here and get murdered. I’ll go off and get murdered.’
What was the last great book you read, and what was the last book that disappointed you?
I really wanted to like Kraken by China Mieville. I mean, what’s not to like right? Giant squid gods, paranormal Police departments, a parallel supernatural London, talking tattoos, It’s right up my street. Yet, for some reason I failed to finish it. I’m more disappointed with myself than the book.
I’ve already mentioned The Road by Cormac McCarthy. I really enjoyed Paul Kane’s Sherlock Holmes and The Servants of Hell. I also loved M.R. Carey’s The Girl With All The Gifts.
What's the one question you wish you would get asked but never do? And what would be the answer?
‘Hi, I’m from – insert name of famous publishing house here – please can we give you a million pound book deal, within which you will retain full creative control over your creations?’
Me: ‘Where do I sign?’
Yes, I am very proud of being a indie and producing our own books outside of the traditional publishing world, but I would still love the validation and the exposure that comes with a book deal. I know it isn’t always a fairy tale ending, but deep down we all secretly want to be able to make a (good) living out of our writing.