Ginger Nuts of Horror
I’m Christopher Ritchie, a writer/editor/musician/designer based in Walton-on-Thames in Surrey. I’m 42. I started out with my first horror novel, ‘House of Pigs’, in 2013 following a very strange dream. It’s a tale of missing identities, forgotten memories, and nasty murderous beings. Immediately after that I wrote ‘The ordinary’, which furthers that mythology but on a grander scale, taking in sex trafficking, pornography, drugs, and of course nasty murderous beings. That won a silver award in the Horror category of the IndieFab book awards. After that I wrote ‘Stop The ‘Pocalypse! I Wanna Get Off!’ – a satirical horror/sci-fi that imagines a world 100 years after Donald Trump blew most of it up. I released that book in five episodes, in parts using Trump’s presidential progress to inform the plot. Now, I’ve gone back to straight horror with my new episodic series, ‘This Is Where We Go When We Die.’ It’s set around south London in the late 1800s and follows a private detective as he finds himself drawn into a seedy, sick world of prostitution, child abuse, and dirty, low-down occult nastiness. But it’s not all doom and gloom! Also, I’m perfect for this site because I have ginger hair. Perfect.
Could you tell the readers a little bit about yourself?
I’m a 42-year-old man with the positive mental attitude of a child; that is, I manage to largely ignore how terrible everything is in favour of an eternally optimistic outlook. Which is why I write horror books. I’m generally daydreaming, imagining ghastly scenarios and concocting plots and characters I can weave around them. I’ve been a journalist for 20 years or so, working on trade and consumer publications, and have worked as a celebrity interviewer and writer for a large chunk of that time. I have a lovely wife and two children who keep me rooted in reality, although really I’m far more at home in dreams and dark imaginings. I started writing stories as a young boy, but never went as far as publishing anything. In 2012 I was introduced to a publisher, who liked the three chapters I’d sent a friend months before, of what turned out to be my first novel, ‘House of Pigs’. Since then I’ve written five books and have lots more in the pipeline. I write children’s books under the name ‘Leonard McQuingQuong’. No, really.
What do you like to do when you're not writing?
I like to write and record music. My first two novels have soundtracks I composed and produced (available at Bandcamp). I’m working on another collection now. When I’m not doing that, I’m probably wrestling with my son or teaching my daughter naughty rhymes. I’m told that I’m a manchild, staying up late and playing on my PS4 or dancing around the kitchen like a loon. I’m a pretty nifty drummer, twang a guitar every now and then, and enjoy walking my dog twice a day – the ideal time to fertilise plots.
Other than the horror genre, what else has been a major influence on your writing?
I’m most inspired by characters – people I observe when out and about. The format of TV is very influential too – the drip-feeding of information, quick cuts from scene to scene to keep the reader turning the page… music, too, is very inspirational in terms of pacing, peaks and troughs, emotional resonance, and so on.
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 think the trouble with any genre is that by definition it is narrow and confining. Horror exists all around us; the news media broadcasts it 24 hours a day at various levels, but most people wouldn’t recognise that as the horror they read in books. It’s the same stuff, just with different set dressings. In my second novel, ‘The ordinary’, the superficial and supernatural horror elements sit atop the true villain of the piece: the human race. What we’ve done to ourselves is far worse than any vampire could ever do.
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 think it’s definitely going in that direction and will continue to do so. Horror is becoming less about phantasmagoria and more about individual experiences and reactions to what’s going on in the world. I’m far more scared of hooded crack-addled chavs in sink estates than I am of ghosts or zombies. Horror is becoming more allegorical, less overt; more about what people can be capable of.
What are the books and films that helped to define you as an author?
‘Twin Peaks’ and the other various works of David Lynch; he presents his subjects very matter-of-factly. There’s no pretentiousness to it. He leaves the viewer to make their own mind up. I read a lot of Stephen King as a teenager; again, he doesn’t get carried away with setting up scenes that are supposed to make you feel a certain way. He gives you space to interpret stuff. Show, don’t tell is the best thing I’ve learned from these people. Tim Burton’s films are wonderful as well. I love all the psychedelic stuff from the Sixties and Seventies too. In some ways those films, and shows like ‘The Prisoner’ and ‘The Avengers’, were much more daring – and imaginative – than what we get today.
What new and upcoming authors do you think we should take notice off?
Unfortunately, I have spent way too much time writing and hardly any reading. A colleague of mine, Derek E. Pearson, is an incredible writer. I’ve read his books because I’ve edited a few of them too. If you’re after something really epic, clever, horrifying, and utterly brilliant, check out his ‘Body Holiday’ trilogy. That man runs a fine line in grisly death!
How would you describe your writing style?
I deliberately try to write in the style of a TV show, and again, following the general rule of ‘show, don’t tell’. I visualise my characters as actors and put myself in their shoes. It’s important to me to strive for that level of authenticity. You want readers to assign certain attributes to them, so they have an image of that person and an idea of what they might sound like. The author’s job is to present enough detail to enable that level of interpretation. It’s not like, ‘Hey, this character looks like Jack Nicholson.’ In the grisly bits, I’ve been told it’s ‘treacly’, that is the pacing slows down and envelops you in the scene. You feel the nastiness, the thick atmosphere of dread and grim discovery.
Are there any reviews of your work, positive or negative that have stayed with you?
Yes – in particular one review of ‘House of Pigs’ which went against the grain of all the positive reviews alongside it. ‘Trying for random and disjointed for the sake of it,’ said the reviewer under the title ‘Terrible’. But naturally his or her single star is treasured. They all help.
What aspects of writing to do you find the most difficult?
If I’m finding it difficult, I scrap what I’m doing. I only ever write when I am inspired and motivated to do so, which means I often spend weeks and perhaps months not writing anything. Most writing sessions tend to yield a few thousand words. Of course it’s not an easy process; completing a novel cohesively is a tricky task for anyone, but when the plots all tie up and the characters stay true to themselves, you’ve won. My novels each took over two years to write. My children’s books are shorter and were much quicker to do. My episodic series format is good because it forces me to keep working on the next episode. I find it very motivating.
Is there one subject you would never write about as an author?
No – nothing is taboo. There’s stuff I can never imagine myself writing about, simply because it just doesn’t interest me. I doubt I will ever find myself getting enthusiastic about baking or needlework.
How important are names to you in your books? Do you choose the names based on liking the way it sounds or the meaning?
If I followed my heart, all my characters would have ridiculous names. What actually happens is I tend to mash other people’s names together. Work colleagues, friends, family… I’ve never struggled to come up with a name. I imagine them – their demeanour, their mannerisms, their image and voice, and tend to ‘hey presto!’ a name up just like that without any difficulty.
Writing is not a static process. How have you developed as a writer over the years?
With the episodic format, I’m finding it’s much easier to frame each one like a feature-length TV episode. They run to about 15,000 words each, which the reader would chomp through in maybe 90 minutes to two hours. All the time, I’m thinking ahead to the next episode, so planting seeds and opening up new avenues while closing others. Certainly my writing has become more considered – ‘House of Pigs’ was rather breathless with only short, sharp dips in the pacing. I’m giving more consideration now to telling the story in a way that will compel the reader to stick with it.
What tools do you feel are must-haves for writers?
Apart from a brain capable of imagination, plus something to physically ‘write’ on, I don’t see anything as an essential tool.
What is the best piece of advice you ever received with regards to your writing?
To keep going, but take your time. If you lose interest in it, scrap it. Forced writing comes across as just that.
Getting your work noticed is one of the hardest things for a writer to achieve. How have you tried to approach this subject?
It’s awkward when you’re always banging on about your books to people, so I tend not to. I’ve written articles, occasionally updated a blog, and attempted to connect with people who I think would be interested in what I’m doing. I’m with a small publisher who does a lot of work for a good number of authors. His time is spread thinly. So, if I want people to read my books I have to put the effort in too. I’m working on that.
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?
A favourite ‘child’ would have to be Marty Molloy in ‘Stop The ‘Pocalypse! I Wanna Get Off!’ He was a joy to write. He gets his words mixed up and describes things uniquely. I can’t relate to the second part of that question. It’s my job to keep all of my characters interesting and compelling, and I feel that I’ve largely succeeded there. No least favourites.
What piece of your own work are you most proud of?
Probably ‘The ordinary’, because it achieved what I hoped it would: painting a grim picture of humanity on the brink of self-destruction. It’s grown-up, pretty horrifying, and captured the world view I wanted it to have.
And are there any that you would like to forget about?
For those who haven’t read any of your books, which of your books do you think best represents your work and why?
Again, ‘The ordinary’. It’s a modern parable where the world’s media has spread so much fear that it makes the world sick. I think that’s where we are now. But it’s a pitch-black comedy in some respects too. For a good thriller, with some grisly deaths, guilty laughs and a really nifty line in ‘treacly’ horror, you can’t go wrong with this book.
Do you have a favorite line or passage from your work, and would you like to share it with us?
Two examples from ‘Stop The ‘Pocalypse’…
“They’d known it was coming, every one of them. They’d seen the writing on the wall for years. How could anyone not have foreseen this being the final outcome? Dangerous leaders of populations too inert and passive to stop them; dangerous individuals spreading hate and poison on the internet; religious slaughter in the name of gods who would never allow such; a rampant global media casting fear and distrust into all corners of the Earth; and ultimately, the creation of weapons of mass destruction reaching their full potential and fired upon their very creators.”
That’s the serious one. Now for something more amusing:
“He had me over a barrel. If I did anything except bring him the angel, he’d blow the biggest joint in the world. But if I did give her up, that would consign the whole human race to his rule of tyrannised testiclism. Stuck between a rock and a hard place, with Thump’s balls resting in my eye sockets.”
Can you tell us about your last book, and can you tell us about what you are working on next?
‘Stop The ‘Pocalypse! I Wanna Get Off!’ was my last book, which I started by a swimming pool in Cyprus just as Donald Trump began his Presidential campaign trail and finished when he took office. It’s about a man who, 100 years in the future, is given the chance to come back to our time and prevent Trump from destroying the planet. It’s a comedy with a lot of horror elements, but mainly asks the question: is humanity worth saving?
The new one is five episodes of ‘This Is Where We Go When We Die.’ I’ve just published episode 1. It follows private detective Norton Brand who witnesses a ritual murder but then sees the chap alive and well the next day. Investigating deeper, he’s drawn into the rather nasty underbelly of south London and ends up being taken to a realm which dredges up his past. Might sound a bit clichéd, but it’s more of a throwback to the old Penny Dreadful style in my typical ‘treacly’ manner. Grisly, unpleasant, nasty stuff. Oh yes.
Next up I plan to finish another children’s book and then perhaps complete my long-running novel project, ‘Nuclear Rock.’ I’ve got another comedy in the works too, plus a screenplay to crack on with.
If you could erase one horror cliché, what would be your choice?
I’m not that bothered about anything, but I think vampires and zombies are way overdone. Slasher flicks bore me too.
What was the last great book you read, and what was the last book that disappointed you?
The last ‘great’ book would be David Kimberley’s ‘Galahad Suns.’ Disclaimer – I edited the book! But that’s the only time I get to read these days. If I really want to read something, I offer to edit it. I honestly can’t recall a book I found disappointing. If I don’t like something, I just forget about it entirely and move on.
What's the one question you wish you would get asked but never do? And what would be the answer?
“Hey, Christopher, would you like us to make films out of your books and pay you handsomely?” Answer: yes. Please. Now.
A world where nothing is as it seems
House of Pigs is a 2013 INDIEFAB Book of the Year Award Finalist (Horror).
"This brain-twister of a novel, by horror author Christopher Ritchie, has won plenty of acclaim and deservedly so as he takes the reader on a frightening, disturbing journey that tests the imagination, pushing it beyond the limits of 'normal'.
When officer Joe Gullidge is sent on a routine police call, the situation rapidly descends into a sequence of horrifically unsettling events that eat into the very depths of his soul. As 'Gully' is dragged into a reluctant search for the truth, his conscious mind struggles to separate reality from the suggestion of a parallel world. Is Gully's journey a metaphor for the deeper reality of an inescapable past - or is the explanation more straightforward than it initially appears?
House of Pigs doesn't fall into the 'easy read' category given the complexity of its ideas and multiple layers of interpretation - but these are strengths not weaknesses. This is a grippingly surreal novel with an edgy narrative and visual touches reminiscent of Stephen King's The Shining."
SURREY LIFE magazine (UK) Sep 2015 (p. 109), Juliette Foster