Raven Dane is a UK based author of dark fantasy and steampunk novels and horror short stories. Her first books were the dark fantasy Legacy of the Dark Kind trilogy, Blood Tears, Blood Lament and Blood Alliance. These were followed by a High Fantasy spoof, The Unwise Woman of Fuggis Mire. Her steampunk novels so far are the award winning Cyrus Darian and the Technomicron and sequel Cyrus Darian and the Ghastly Horde. She has had many short stories published, including one in a celebration of forty years of the British Fantasy Society and in many international horror anthologies. Her story Constance Craving is featured in Billie Sue Mosiman’s anthology Frightmare, Women in Horror which is on the short list for a prestigious Stoker award for anthologies. In 2013, Telos Publishing brought out her collection of Victorian ghost stories, Absinthe and Arsenic and in 2015, the alternative history/ supernatural novel, On Death’s Dark Wings. The latest in the Cyrus Darian series is due out in 2017.
Raven is currently working on more short stories and a post-Apocalyptic steampunk novel.
Can you tell the readers a little bit about yourself?
Hi, I am a batty, ageing disgracefully woman who lives in a small market town in
The Chilterns, Buckinghamshire, known locally for her multi-colored hair, Goth clothes and too much pagan jewelry. I have a son, a menagerie of pets, horses and a tankful of tropical fish, all called Neville. The fish that is, nothing else is called Neville. I am half Southern Irish, half North Welsh, so a true child of the Celtic Twilight. I began my working life as a cub reporter with a local newspaper in Essex and went on to feature writing for magazines and PR jobs. I have also been a library assistant, a shop worker and a qualified horse trainer and riding instructor, specializing in film and stunt work. Enormous fun, teaching the stunt people to fall off and the actors to stay on their horses.
What do you like to do when you're not writing?
I used to be far more active, charging about the countryside on horseback but now have more sedate activities, reading, cinema, making truly awful art and craft items and taking part in local amateur dramatics. I love playing the annual Panto baddy…oh yes I do…. I am also a keen member of the British steampunk community, attending as many gatherings as I can…such splendid fun and lovely people.
Other than the horror genre, what else has been a major influence on your writing?
Early on it was fantasy and SF. I was an avid and precocious reader, working my way through all the adult SF and fantasy novels at our local library as a child. Later employed there as a library assistant, I read a wide range of genres that added to my influences. I have always soaked up film and TV, the darker the better, again from an early age. I remember being a five year old, sneaking downstairs with my brother to peer through a gap in the living room door to watch grown up TV, frightening ourselves with Quatermass and scary films. I also had an early empathy for the baddies…Frankenstein’s monster did not ask to be made, or the Werewolf to be bitten on an ill thought out stroll through moonlit woods. Nor did poor King Kong want to be hauled off his island in chains by horrible little humans.
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?
Gosh, such huge subject in a five minute interview! So many people shy away from horror as readers, perhaps put off by images of torture porn and slasher movies. Others love that subgenre in both books and film. Many do not realise horror fiction has so many aspects beyond the clichés and well-worn tropes. For example, someone may not enjoy splatter and gore novels but be an avid reader of creepy, atmospheric ghost stories. The range is huge, with so many cross overs into SF, fantasy, political and ecological thrillers and alternative history. I also feel readers are often content to remain in their comfort zone with their choice of horror books. I am certainly guilty of that and this could mean missing out on wonderful stories and exciting authors. This is why I enjoy reading the other contributions in anthologies I have stories in; they bring an awareness of other, very different visions in horror. For example Bizarro is a sub-genre that is totally unknown to me, but it led me to read Ricochet, a novella by Tim Dry which I thoroughly enjoyed. I think horror is a much misunderstood and too easily dismissed genre especially among the literati…their loss.
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 can already feel a strong growth in very dark, politically triggered satire and also dystopian horror happening. For example, I leapt at the opportunity to submit to a recent call for Trump-inspired horror anthology. I have never felt such an urgent need to vent my anger and fear, the story wrote itself. The negative energy being released by these bizarre, morally bleak times is feeding imagination all around the world and is the only form of protest for many people in repressive societies. It is empowering, important and much needed. This movement is already at work in art, film and TV as well as literature. I was delighted to see the direction that season four of the popular Marvel’s Agents of Shield is heading - to an alternative America, where Hydra is in control and the nation is under a repressive fascist regime. There is a resistance movement in the series, perhaps something to give hope in an increasingly dark, dangerous world. That you are not alone in being appalled by these changes. #resist
What are the books and films that helped to define you as an author?
Early days, anything written by Ray Bradbury, Alan Garner and Anne MacCaffrey. I would say Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes’ was the ultimate early influence and still is. I can still hear the skewed, backwards music of the carousel in my mind. I love dark carnivals, circus and theatre in my stories. As a teenager, I loved reading Edgar Allen Poe, Michael Moorcock and Mervyn Peake. I also was addicted to old black and white horror films and TV series like The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits and The Invaders. My early love of the work of Jules Verne, HG Wells and MR James all helped add inspiration to my later steampunk novels and Victorian ghost stories
What new and upcoming authors do you think we should take notice off?
I am useless at this at the moment! Increasing age and infirmity has turned me from a voracious reader devouring several novels a week to one struggling to get through anything. So frustrating! I don’t think the ‘scary as hell’ and incredible Adam Nevill counts as an upcoming author anymore, but his books blow me away at their brilliance and my need to sleep with the lights on. I must find time to discover new writers and I am open to suggestions. I am looking for quality writing and horror that is high on chills and scares and low on entrails and brain splatter.
How would you describe your writing style?
Hmm, difficult. Ray Bradbury made me fall in love with the beauty of the written English language but I am also aware from my journalism training never say in ten words what you can in one. How about lyrical but also spare and fast moving?
Are there any reviews of your work, positive or negative that have stayed with you?
I welcome all reviews, good, bad and indifferent but my favourite has to be a one star review of Blood Tears from an American reader. I cherish it for its inspired insanity and introduction of the word ‘flusterated’ and his/her desire to throw the book across the room.
As a newbie with only this, my first novel, a wonderful review of Blood Tears by Karen Stevens for the British Fantasy Society was truly life changing. I’ve chosen one section of the long, detailed review.
‘I thoroughly enjoyed Blood Tears; a fast paced and taut story, I was hooked from the first few pages. The characters, both vampire and human, are that rare breed: characters the reader can emphasize with and care about, and the story itself is beautifully written. Raven Dane clearly knows her subject very well, and she tells her story with a deft, sure touch which is a pleasure to read.
I can’t praise Blood Tears too much; over the years I’ve read dozens of novels about vampires and would rate this book among the top five.’
What aspects of writing to do you find the most difficult?
I love the actual writing, but like so many others, I find composing a synopsis is like pulling teeth. They are so important which makes the pressure to get it right almost unbearable. I would happily pay money I haven’t actually got to have someone write mine for me. The other is promotion, which is idiotic in my case as I have a past career in journalism and PR. Publishers play their part of course, but these days in an over-crowded and competitive market, no author can live in an ivory tower and expect to sell books. There is no easy answer to this, I cannot bear those who spam Facebook and Twitter trying to sell their books, usually just to other writers. Before the arrival of eBooks and self -publishing, I was doing well with Blood Tears just from word of mouth from online forums and attending events like Whitby Goth Festival and the Elf Fantasy Fair in Utrecht to do signings. Now, non-celebrity fiction authors can feel overwhelmed by an ever increasing tidal wave of books. No matter how hard you wave, no one can see you in the flood. Trouble is I am far too old to sleep with a footballer, tell all in a tabloid and end up a ‘celeb ‘in the Big Brother house with a huge book deal at the end.
Is there one subject you would never write about as an author?
Torture porn, especially involving children or animals.
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 spend a great deal of time and research getting names right. The criteria varies,
I did a lot of research for my alternative history novels and stories to get time appropriate names. One of the pivotal characters in Death’s Dark Wings is called Brandan, an Irish mercenary warrior, which means Prince of Ravens, the original title of the book. Sometimes I struggle to get the right name; others seem to be channeled directly from an alternative universe…Cyrus Darian just popped out of nowhere and was perfect. He is Persian, so he was named after a great Persian king and a real town in Iran.
Writing, is not a static process, how have you developed as a writer over the years?
I have become braver and more confident and able to take on writing challenges well out of my comfort zone. One of the main factors to this has been the demand for my short horror stories over the past three years. This was unexpected and exciting and pushed me from being a fantasy only author to a newbie horror writer. I could never have written short stories at the beginning of my career, it is a very different art form with a specialist set of skills I simply did not possess. Time, experience and more confidence has helped me make the transition. The next hurdle to overcome is to be able to write a whole horror novel. This could take another ten years though…I need to be able to learn how to develop suspense and growing terror over a longer time frame. I may never be able to. That’s OK, it will be an interesting challenge.
What tools do you feel are must-haves for writers?
Stamina, perseverance, talent, imagination, humility combined with passion, an ability to accept and learn from criticism and advice yet still have total belief in your worth and work. And a good PC or laptop that won’t crash and obliterate your work, with plenty of backups.
What is the best piece of advice you ever received with regards to your writing?
‘Finish the bloody thing!’ and ‘don’t be afraid to kill your babies’…from my non-fiction writer father, my harshest and best critic.
Getting your worked noticed is one of the hardest things for a writer to achieve, how have you tried to approach this subject?
With gritted teeth, dogged determination and a big smile. My strategy has always been getting out and about as much as possible to meet my existing readers and make new ones at events and conventions. I prefer comic cons, SF and fantasy events to mainly author gatherings like Edgelit. They can be good for making contacts but for exposure and sales, I’d rather go to events like SF Weekender and the huge Asylum Steampunk event in Lincoln. I am not shy in engaging with total strangers, chatting to them and making a friendly connection with them. On line social media, like Twitter and Facebook is a desert zone now. Too many voices clamouring to be noticed. Meeting new people face to face is my preferred method of getting my work noticed. I have a talking raven automaton in a cage on my table, which is a great ice breaker too!
The other thing I rely on is successful short story submissions; many are international like the anthologies edited by Dean M Drinkel and The Tales From the Lake series of anthologies from Crystal Lake, a wonderful, positive way to get work better known beyond these shores. The only PR where you also get paid.
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?
Mine certainly do! I have two favourites, both unredeemable bad boys and rivals for my attention. My insecure, reckless, drug-addled, Dark Kind blood drinker and male whore Jazriel and the all too human Cyrus Darian, alchemist, hedonist, liar, murderer, necromancer and thief.
I don’t actually have a least favourite character to be honest. I don’t think I could write a character that wasn’t enjoyable to work with, however repellent. I try never to have two dimensional characters in my work, even the most minor ones have a backstory which I may not use but gives them a solidity and purpose.
What piece of your own work are you most proud of?
You do love the tough questions! As you mentioned before, to many of us, our characters are like children, and so picking the work I am most proud of seems a betrayal to the others. I love them all. Blood Tears was my first published novel in 2006 and has never stopped selling. Cyrus Darian and The Technomicron won the VSS Steampunk Novel of the Year award in 2012 up against work by Jonathan Green and Gail Carriger. But I guess it has to be my collection of Victorian ghost stories Absinthe and Arsenic. I have no idea where the flow of inspiration came from but it felt like magic at the time and many readers love the book as much as I do...
And are there any that you would like to forget about?
Most definitely! My first ever novel, Starborn, was a space opera of vast length and even vaster pretention. It was utter pants. It was written on an old tripewriter, there was only one copy of the weighty MS and one day it vanished. To this day, I have no idea how such a large, weighty lump of A4 paper could disappear in such a small house with not even a dog to eat it, maybe I had a critic among the house ghosts. It had taken five years to write between commuting to and working in London and I was devastated. Its loss was the best thing that could have happened to my career. Once I recovered, I began working on the gothic dark fantasy Blood Tears and the rest as they (whoever they are) say is history.
For those who haven’t read any of your books, which of your books do you think best represents your work and why?
I would recommend Absinthe and Arsenic, my collection. It is easy to dip into, has varied stories and was written with much love and passion. It has had nothing but excellent reviews and recommendations too. It is a book I am proud of and happy with the content, a rare thing in a notoriously insecure profession.
Do you have a favorite line or passage from your work, and would you like to share it with us?
‘I remember it rained. The morning my wife washed away with cigarette butts, crisp packets, a few fallen leaves. Sluiced down a nearby drain with three teenagers and an elderly couple, their remains merging briefly in a swirl of grey sludge. At least she was not alone during her last moments above ground.’
From ‘Chalk Face’, a short story that appeared in Tales of the Lake 2, published by Crystal Lake.
Can you tell us about your last book, and can you tell us about what you are working on next?
My last book was the alternative history/supernatural novel, Death’s Dark Wings. It is set in the year before and during the Norman invasion of England and in an alternative world where Ireland, Wales, Cornwall and Brittany are still openly pagan. It combines old earth magic and mythical creatures of the time, with the events leading up to the invasion. It has a decidedly different ending to the actual 1066 conquest.
I am currently working on more short stories submissions and hoping for a return of my creative and physical energy to continue work on a novel in progress. Set in a brutal post-Apocalyptic world, centuries after a disaster hit in Victorian times, one caused by Cyrus Darian meddling with occult forces beyond his control. He is the man who broke the world.
If you could erase one horror cliché what would be your choice?
It has to be the well-worn cliché of idiotic ‘teenagers’ who always look about thirty, going into spooky woods in the dark and splitting up to make it easier for the monsters , aliens, zombies, chain-saw wielding maniacs to kill them, one by one. After the excellent take on this in the film, The Cabin in the Woods, no more of this cliché need to be made. Time to bring something new to the table.
What was the last great book you read, and what was the last book that disappointed you?
I loved Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrel. I was drawn to it after the excellent BBC series based on the book and loved her atmospheric, dark yet playful depiction of an alternative time in history where magic existed. Just wish I had written it! I am currently reading Neil Gaiman’s American Gods after many recommendations and struggling to be captivated by it. This could be totally down to me. My heart condition makes me get tired very easily and this effects my concentration. I will persevere though. An author of his stature deserves that.
What's the one question you wish you would get asked but never do? And what would be the answer?
‘So, Raven, what do you think of Guillermo Del Toro’s choice of Tom Hiddleston to play Cyrus Darian in the forthcoming film?’
An answering silence….as too overwhelmed by such an awesome prospect…
From deep within a dark dimension beyond all that is known by the world of men, the soul of a great raven broke free, tearing through the Veil between worlds. The brutal rent in the Veil gave out a scream of warning resonating through the minds of human and Sidhe alike. The eerie sound tainted all souls, though only a few could hear it, and even fewer understood its meaning.
The raven’s cold, jet eyes took in the world of the living beneath the steady beat of its great wings. Its time was near.
Death’s Dark Wings is a bold and visceral revisiting of the story of 1066, in a world where magic and technology clash.