Ginger Nuts of Horror
Anthony Watson has placed short stories in various indie press publications including State of Horror: Louisiana, Sanitarium magazine, Far Horizons and Morpheus Tales. He has also seen publication of his war/horror novella Winter Storm in a six author collection Darker Battlefields from The Exaggerated Press, and Stitches for Smiles in a new horror magazine Worlds of Strangeness as well as a story in The Beauty of Death Volume 2. Forthcoming is an appearance in The Black Room Manuscripts Vol 3.
His weird western novella The Company of the Dead made up a double-header with Benedict J Jones’ Mulligan’s Idol in Volume 1 of Dark Frontiers. Work has begun on Volume 2.
January 2018 saw publication of his novel, Witnesses, by Crowded Quarantine Publications.
As well as writing, and – until recently - being one half of Dark Minds Press, he runs a horror review blog “Dark Musings” (found at: http://anthony-watson.blogspot.co.uk/).
Could you tell the readers a little bit about yourself?
I live in a very beautiful part of Northumberland with my wife Judith and our two dogs. I work in Newcastle in the pathology labs of one of the hospitals there – which sounds a lot more interesting than it actually is.
I’ve been a fan of horror since I first discovered it as a callow youth and after a brief dalliance with writing back in the nineties which produced two and a half unpublished novels, I started again about ten years ago, joining a forum where writers could post up and critique stories. It was there I first encountered Benedict J Jones, a very fine writer who has become a very good friend and the dark and mysterious entity known as Ross Warren with whom I went on to set up Dark Minds Press.
What do you like to do when you're not writing?
Reading. I’m a chain reader and can’t remember the last day I didn’t spend some time reading. Other than that, taking the dogs for walks in the beautiful countryside around us. We’re in a beautiful part of the country with both beach and countryside to choose from.
Other than the horror genre, what else has been a major influence on your writing?
The bulk of my reading is horror but other genres I enjoy are crime and westerns. I’ve yet to try my hand at a crime story but have dabbled in weird westerns with a couple of novellas finished and one nearing completion.
I never really connected with history at school – the path I took was the science one – but I love it now and it’s fair to say that the majority of my output is horror set in the past. I’m slightly obsessed with World War One and it features in many of my short stories as well as the novel and two novellas but I’ve also written stories set in British Empire India, the Congo Free State of the 1850s, Russia in the sixteenth century and 1800’s Missouri and three weird western novellas. I think I find it easier to couch horror in the past, the suspension of disbelief which is often required is harder in a contemporary setting – for me at least.
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?
I’m not sure the connotations are that heavy, there does seem to be a lot of snobbery around horror though, and it’s easily dismissed (by those who don’t read it) as trashy or without literary merit.
Which, of course, is bollocks.
With regards breaking those assumptions - I’m not entirely sure they need to be. Horror is a broad church with a multitude of sub-genres within but I’m not sure there’s a need to try and convince those who choose not to read it of its merits. Of course I’d love to see authors whose work I admire being able to make a living from their writing, and to garner success after success but there’s another part of me that likes the fact that the horror genre is, on the whole, in a good place at the moment with some excellent writing being produced by small, independent presses run by real enthusiasts. I’d take small scale and passionate over corporate and indifferent any day.
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?
I’ve joked on my blog that the sub-genre of post-apocalyptic fiction is in danger of becoming reclassified as “contemporary horror” and that may still be the case…
The best horror fiction holds up a mirror to society but when society is quite as horrible as it is right now I’m not entirely sure what we’ll see in there. Fear of “the other” seems to be a common theme in today’s world so maybe that will be the trope which develops in the years ahead.
Or, I don’t know - more zombies.
What are the books and films that helped to define you as an author?
I guess I was fortunate in that at the time I started reading horror, Stephen King had not long started writing it and I’ve been a Constant Reader since Carrie hit the shelves. The double whammy of The Shining and then Salem’s Lot changed my world completely – I re-read both fairly recently and was just as blown away by them again.
The book which probably affected me most profoundly was The Survivor by James Herbert. Until I read that, I hadn’t been properly scared by a book but whoa, that one literally kept me awake at night. I re-read that too, a couple of years ago and found it just as powerful. Some of the set-pieces in it had stayed with me for the best part of forty years and exposing myself to them again brought back all those emotions which had kept me awake when I first read them.
With regards film, the double bill of horror that was shown on BBC2 on, I believe, Saturday nights came at just the right time in the development of my horror appreciation. It was usually a combination of old and new films and I will forever be thankful to it for my first viewing of Night of the Demon which remains one of my favourite films ever.
I saw both An American Werewolf in London and The Thing on their original theatrical releases within a year of each other, both of which confirmed that monster movies were still incredibly cool. Probably as a direct result of those two classics, a lot of what I write is old-school with monsters aplenty.
And then there’s The Exorcist. But I don’t talk about The Exorcist…
What new and upcoming authors do you think we should take notice of?
Rich Hawkins writes some incredible stuff and should really be reaping the benefits of his undoubted talent. Real horror but real emotion too.
The aforementioned Benedict J Jones – whose clipped and tight prose lends itself wonderfully to the crime, western and horror stories he writes.
Laura Mauro seems on the brink of greatness and I’m confident she’ll get there very soon. Intelligent, thoughtful and emotional writing.
A writer new to me who I think will be destined for great things is Liam Ronan whose debut Novella Creeping Stick blew me away with its imagery and imagination.
James Everington is a writer I admire greatly and I’m looking forward to what Phil Sloman will produce in the years to come.
On the other side of the Atlantic, Philip Fracassi is writing stories which are never short of brilliant – something I can say for Ted E Grau too.
How would you describe your writing style?
Before I start any piece of writing I’m full to the brim with literary intent. All the best authors have a distinctive style, that’s what marks them out and that’s what I’m going to achieve.
Except then the plot kinda takes over and my pulpy heart takes control with the narrative dragging sketchily drawn characters behind it in its wake.
If I’m being kind – cinematic. I like to set my stories in dramatic, or interesting places. Landscapes and weather usually play a big role in most of what I write. Possibly because I believe flowery descriptions of mountains, sunsets and snow = literary genius.
Are there any reviews of your work, positive or negative that have stayed with you?
It’s not a massive pool to choose from but I was chuffed that my story in Forever Hungry was chosen as one reviewer’s favourite out of twenty eight and a review of my novella Winter Storm by DLS reviews was very complimentary and a massive boost to my confidence.
What aspects of writing to do you find the most difficult?
Exposition. If you don’t know what that is, let me explain…
Seriously. I always hit a brick wall when I have to drop in some exposition. I think it’s because these moments are crucial, this is where you’re telling the reader what your story is all about, asking them to take that leap with you and invest – or not – in what you’re trying to say.
And doing so using believable dialogue that doesn’t sound forced or contrived…
I once wrote an extra 2000 words in a story to delay having to write that scene.
Is there one subject you would never write about as an author?
There are. Which isn’t a censorship issue rather than my lacking the skill – and confidence – to write them in such a way that wouldn’t seem exploitative. Fiction, particularly horror fiction, should be able to confront any issue but there are some subjects where great care is needed.
How important are names to you in your books? Do you choose the names based on liking the way it sounds or the meaning?
Names are second on the “difficult” list after exposition. They are important though and I spend a ridiculous amount of time working them out. Most of the names I come up with are little in-jokes, often lifted from real people linked, however tenuously, to the subject matter of the story.
I have a story whose characters are all named after the cast and crew of King Kong and a novella where the names are variations on the characters in All Quiet on the Western Front translated into English.
It’s quite sad really.
Writing, is not a static process, how have you developed as a writer over the years?
I think I have become pulpier, concentrating on plot above other aspects. Despite the self-deprecation which comes easily to me I know I am a better writer now than when I first started (just reading some of my earlier stuff is ample proof of that).
I’ve also found that I tend more towards longer pieces now, I’ve bashed out five novellas in the last three years and am 22,000 words into what is going to end up as a novel.
I think now I’ve also taken the pressure off myself. I’m not going to make a career from writing so I can indulge myself and write the kinds of story I would like to read myself. I have written themed stories specifically for submissions but on the whole I write what’s in my head.
I’ve also realised that I have to write – just to get all this stuff out of my head. It’s a different kind of “have to” to someone who does write to earn money and I’m very aware of how lucky I am to be in my situation.
I write because I want to, and enjoy doing so and will continue even if I never have another story published. (I’d obviously prefer it if this remains a hypothetical scenario).
What tools do you feel are must-haves for writers?
A good imagination.
An enquiring mind.
That said, I love my chainsaw too.
What is the best piece of advice you ever received with regards to your writing?
Not specifically about my own writing, but: Don’t wait for the muse. Write even when you think you haven’t got anything to say. It works.
Getting your worked noticed is one of the hardest things for a writer to achieve, how have you tried to approach this subject?
The whole idea of self-promotion is one which makes me deeply uncomfortable. (And yes, I’m aware if the irony of me saying that in an online interview about myself). Getting yourself noticed is probably easier now than in days past with access to the internet and social media but the fact of its availability means that there’s a huge amount of competition and standing out from the crowd is becoming increasingly difficult.
I started my review blog at a time when the ideas for stories weren’t coming as thick and fast as they are now as a means to keep on writing but also by way of support and appreciation of the writers whose work I admire. Whilst I’m still little more than a seagull chasing the wake of the mighty Ginger Nuts of Horror trawler, the blog has given me a certain amount of recognition in the horror community (and brought me into contact with some very talented people) – which is lovely but the reviews were always meant to be secondary to my own writing.
Quality always finds a way but I guess a lot is down to luck – having a reader connect with something you’ve written and then actively seeking out other pieces.
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 western novellas which are being published in the Dark Frontiers series which I created with Benedict J Jones feature the same protagonists, ex Confederate artilleryman Nate Lee and his companion Wolf, a Cherokee Indian. They’re probably my favourites to write and I always really enjoy myself spending time in their company and writing them into trouble.
I don’t have a least favourite as such but the character I found most difficult to write was Dilly Chambers, one of the cast of characters in my novel Witnesses. The difficulty arose from my having a Y chromosome in place of an X – and trying to write a realistic female character without coming across as superficial or stereotypical.
What piece of your own work are you most proud of?
It has to be the novel. It’s a highly competitive market in which to get a short story published and to manage that with a novel is even harder – so massive thanks to Adam and Zoe at Crowded Quarantine for taking a chance on Witnesses.
It’s an ambitious novel, with seven main characters in four different time periods and countries but with a central narrative connecting them all. There were times I thought I’d bitten off more than I could chew but I persevered and managed to produce something I truly am proud of.
I’m excited – and a little anxious – to see what people make of it.
And are there any that you would like to forget about?
Honestly, no. I’m not a perfectionist by any means but I never have – and still wouldn’t - persist with something I knew wasn’t going to work or which I realised was just plain awful.
For those who haven’t read any of your books, which of your books do you think best represents your work and why?
Probably my novella Winter Storm which features most of my “trademarks”. It’s set in the past and features not just one but two world wars along with a proper monster – and lots of snow.
It can be found in the Darker Battlefields anthology which has a massive added bonus of containing five other brilliant novellas.
Do you have a favorite line or passage from your work, and would you like to share it with us?
From Witnesses, and presented entirely without context:
“You’re called Colin! What kind of name is that for the Devil’s envoy?”
Can you tell us about your last book, and can you tell us about what you are working on next?
Just published is my novel Witnesses which is my take on the end of the world. Its inspiration is the Book of Revelations and the prophecies around Armageddon contained within. Just for fun I thought I’d try writing the story in a variety of narrative voices and set it in four different locations across the world in four different time periods.
The plan was to take the reader on a journey of discovery, uncovering the mysteries of the story alongside the protagonists – but having an edge over them by being involved in all of the stories rather than just one.
Currently I’m working on edits to another novella set in World War One which will hopefully be published next year in a follow up collection to Darker Battlefields. My new work in progress is another novel which is set both in the Russia of Ivan the Terrible and the Second World War onboard a ship in an Arctic convoy. It began life as a novella but when the “prologue” ended up 22,000 words long I realised it would work better as a novel…
Also, I’m working with Ben Jones again on a series of stories which combine both our passions for horror and the Second World War. We’ve created a special operations group – DAMOCLES – whose role is to combat the occult machinations of the Nazis. We’ve plotted out the operations which we’ll send the team on and which will span the course of the war and are busy writing the stories now.
If you could erase one horror cliché what would be your choice?
I’m actually fond of clichés – if handled correctly they can bring a pleasing flush of recognition and a sense of familiarity. I get annoyed when I see open submissions stating “no zombies, vampires or werewolves” as they are some of my favourite things and I love seeing original takes on the respective mythologies.
If we’re talking film, I’d love to see a blanket ban on jump scares. It’s a cheap trick and takes little to no skill on behalf of the film-maker – usually it’s the accompanying noise that makes you jump rather than the visuals. They’re just annoying. There’s a vast difference between getting a fright and being frightened.
What was the last great book you read, and what was the last book that disappointed you?
My chain-reading tendencies bring many brilliant pieces of writing before my eyes. A sign of greatness, in my opinion, is still thinking about a book long after you’ve read it and that’s certainly the case with Adam Nevill’s Last Days. It’s a seriously scary piece of writing, one that made me actually put the book down and stop reading because it was so intense. To evoke such strong emotions by words on a page is an indication of great skill and it’s something Adam achieves in all of his writing.
I’ve struggled through a fair few less than brilliant books too but I think real disappointment comes from having high expectations only to have them dashed by the final product. Such was the case with The Scarlet Gospels, a book I found to be truly dreadful – but not in a good way. Clive Barker remains a literary hero of mine but this was atrocious.
What's the one question you wish you would get asked but never do? And what would be the answer?
Q: Would it be okay if, rather than going out to work, you stayed at home but we paid you the same?
The End Times are upon us…
In the small village of East Lee in north-east England, Dave Charlton is studying for his PhD, an academic work that will probably be read by only a handful of people. His research is of limited interest – certainly nothing that will change the world.
The world is changing though, and as his perception of reality mysteriously begins to alter - bringing new abilities to see what others cannot, a stranger arrives with revelations which will transform the course of his life for ever – and the lives of everyone else on the planet.
Dave finds himself a key player in a story as old as time itself, forced into a situation where the decisions he makes really are the most important in the world. He has become part of the endless cycle of conflict between the forces of good and evil, the struggle which will culminate in the final battle: Armageddon.
Moving between the present day, the battlefields of World War One Belgium, 1940s Virginia and Malaysia in the 1970s, WITNESSES is an epic tale of destiny and apocalyptic horror.