Growing up, Ken Preston never wanted a proper job, and now he sits in his converted cellar, telling lies for a living, whilst being distracted by his two cats, Lily and Luther.
He is the author of a wide range of genre novels, both self-published and traditionally published, from zombie/cowboy mash-up Population:DEAD! to his YA pirate adventure, The Devil and Edward Teach, and contemporary horror serial, Joe Coffin.
He also writes a series of romantic thrillers, but don't tell anyone.
Pop over to his website to check out more books and for news on the latest releases, or just to say "Hi!", and find out how you could be getting free short stories delivered to your inbox every month.
Could you tell the readers a little bit about yourself?
I was born into a very poor family in a tough part of town in the north of England. We were so poor my mother used to send me out shoplifting, so that we could eat. In an attempt to escape my dreadful life I joined the army, and by the time I was twenty I had joined the SBS, (similar to the SAS, but tougher). After an extended tour of Afghanistan, I left the SBS and became an ultra-marathoner, and got lost in the Sahara whilst competing in the Marathon des Sables. I survived forty days in the wilderness with nothing to eat, and only my urine to drink. After that experience I decided it was safer to stay home and write fiction for a living.
What do you like to do when you're not writing?
Tell lies about myself in interviews.
What’s your favourite food?
My friend, Faith, makes the most amazing Rocky Road. I’ll ask her to send you some.
Who would be on the soundtrack to your life story?
Tom Waits, Iggy Pop, the Electric Light Orchestra, and Eels. Oh, and Elvis.
Do you prefer the term Horror, Weird Fiction or Dark Fiction?
I don’t like terms, or labels, in fiction or in real life. But I suppose they are necessary sometimes, so I would go with Horror, Weird Fiction, or Dark Fiction. If you really need to pin me down, and make me choose one, I guess it would be one of those three.
Who are some of your favourite authors?
Harry Crews (the ending to The Gypsy’s Curse shocked the hell out of me), Stephen King (of course), PG Wodehouse (laugh out loud funny), Lawrence Block (the master of the PI novel), David Mitchell (Cloud Atlas was infuriating and entertaining in equal measure), Chuck Wendig (foul mouthed and brilliant), and I could go on. I have a fairly wide taste in reading, and a huge pile of books waiting to be read. Then there are all the books loaded onto my Kindle.
What is your all-time favourite horror novel, and film?
I have always been a passionate reader, from a very young age. My first experience of a horror novel was The Rats, by James Herbert. I picked it up in a bookshop one summer holiday, when I was about twelve years old. I was far too young to be reading such a graphic, violent novel, but I was hooked, and quickly devoured the rest of Herbert’s books, which at that time consisted only of The Fog, The Survivor and Fluke.
But then I discovered The Shining, by Stephen King, and I realised how terrifying a book could actually be. For that reason, and the fact that, even then, I realized that The Shining was more than just a scary book about a haunted hotel, Stephen King’s third novel is my all-time favourite.
Film? Jaws. Back in 1975, it was not only the ultimate feel-good movie of the summer (don’t laugh, I’m serious here) but it was also the perfect scary movie, both for audiences who loved horror movies, and those who didn’t.
If you could erase one horror cliché what would be your choice?
For me, clichés in horror are exactly the same as in any other genre of storytelling. Clichés are when the author forces a character to do something false for the sake of the story, like the girl on her own deciding to investigate the dark, spooky house with only a sputtering candle and a big dose of stupidity as her companions.
Which fictional character would be your perfect neighbour, and who would be your nightmare neighbour?
My perfect neighbour would be Dexter Morgan. He’s nice and polite, and he keeps to himself, and really, what’s not to like about him?
My nightmare neighbour would be Leatherface from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Noisy, smelly, and that family of his. Ugh.
What do you think of the current state of the genre?
Right now, horror, and fiction in general, is receiving an invigorating shot of adrenaline in the arm, with the advent of epublishing. After decades of being hamstrung by the big publishing houses with their lockdown on distribution, authors are now free to write and publish what they want. Similarly, readers have a much more varied choice of reading material, instant availability of reasonably priced books, and are able to read them on many different devices which are synchronised with each other to the last page read. All of this is amazing, and could start a new wave of popularity in reading.
But, it has to be remembered, books are competing with video streaming, computer games, web browsing, etc. There is nothing wrong with any of these things (I indulge in all of them) but I am passionate about reading, and would hate to see books replaced by any of the above.
It is our responsibility as authors to write the best books we can, and then get them out there to be read.
What was the last great book you read, and what was the last book that disappointed you?
The Shining, for me, still stands up as a great novel, period, never mind horror. I recently bought the sequel, Dr Sleep, and I decided to read The Shining again before I started it. It stood the test of time, it’s still a great novel. But this leads me neatly on to the last book that disappointed me: Dr Sleep.
No surprise there, though.
How would you describe your writing style?
Painfully slow and awkward. Oh, wait. You didn’t mean my actual process of writing, did you? Okay, fast paced, action packed, fun. Just like my life.
Are there any reviews of your work, positive or negative that have stayed with you?
Oh yes, there was this one guy who emailed me to tell me how much he hated my book, Caxton Tempest at the End of the World. It was as though I had personally offended him with this novel, as though I had written it with the sole purpose of kicking him in the teeth.
I tried ignoring him, but this seemed to rile him even more, and he took to cyber-stalking me, by impersonating his ex-wife, and trying to weasel out details of my latest WIP. This is all true.
That’s kind of stayed with me over the years.
Eric, if you’re reading this, my final ever communication with you still stands: Get a life.
What aspects of writing to do you find the most difficult?
Sitting down in front of my computer and placing my fingers on the keyboard.
Is there one subject you would never write about as an author? What is it?
That is a very interesting question, and I’m not sure I have an answer for you. As an artist (and we are all artists) I believe that there is nothing out of bounds for inspection and investigation through the medium of fiction. The problem most authors (and artists in general no matter what the discipline, I suspect) have is that of seeking approval. I certainly had that problem for many years, and it wasn’t until I shook off the shackles of not being honest in my work that I truly started to stretch myself.
The fear of causing offence can be a great impediment to writing honestly, and writing at your best.
If you could kill off any character from any other book who would you chose and how would they die?
Is this a character in a book that I didn’t write? There are lots of them. All those protagonists from books that I didn’t hate enough that I stopped reading, but didn’t enjoy enough that, when I got to the end, I wished I had.
What do you think makes a good story?
For me it is primarily a strong identification and empathy with the main protagonists. I need to care about what happens to them to be invested in the story.
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 very important to me. I mostly choose a name on how it sounds, but I like to investigate the meaning a little, too. In my latest novel, Joe Coffin is a professional killer, so the name obviously has meaning. But I also just like the way it sounds. Choosing names for my characters can be one of the most difficult parts of the writing process. I really cannot start writing a character until I have got their name down.
How do you think you’ve evolved creatively?
I have lost the need to write for others. I have lost that nagging, insistent need for approval. I write for myself, now, and I don’t worry what others might think.
What tools do you feel are must-haves for writers?
Something to write with, and something to write on.
What is the best piece of advice you ever received from another author?
Lawrence Block, when asked ‘How do you write a book?’ replied, ‘One word at a time.’ That has been the best advice ever.
How do you market your work? What avenues have you found to work best for your genre?
Oh man, I’m the wrong person to ask this question, as I do not do marketing.
Who is your favourite character from your book and why?
In my latest novel, Joe Coffin, I have a character who does some very bad things. One of my beta readers told me that she hated him, and another one described him as ‘absolutely loathsome’. I already kind of liked him, but these comments just made me love him even more.
Joe Coffin is pretty cool, too, as is his reporter friend, Emma Wylde.
How about the least favourite character? What makes them less appealing to you?
I kind of love all my characters, really. They are my babies, how could I not love them?
Fame, fortune, or respect?
All of them, please. But if I had to choose, then it would be respect. I try not to live my life to please others, but I do try and live it ethically. I strongly believe in giving back to society. I have worked in a soup kitchen, giving out drinks and food to the homeless, worked for a charity for free, been a ‘reading buddy’ at my local school, and currently I am a platelet donor. I don’t say any of this to brag, and I certainly feel I could do a lot more, I simply want to emphasise the importance I attach to living a life of giving.
What piece of your own work are you most proud of?
Joe Coffin, as this is the book that stretched me the furthest as a writer.
And are there any that you would like to forget about?
No. Oh sure, I’ve got several novels that I will never publish, and many stories that will never see the light of day, but they were all part of the learning process, and for that I still hold them dear.
For those who haven’t read any of your books, what book of yours do you think best represents your work and why?
I write in two distinct genres at the moment, horror and romance (damn, there I go with the labels again!) and the one that most strongly represents that division in my work is my novella, Population:DEAD! It’s a love story, and it’s a horror novel. Oh, and it’s a western, too.
But, if you don’t like your horror, then I would say Twenty Seconds to Freefall for the romance. If horror is your thing, as I expect it is as you are reading this, then Joe Coffin.
Can you tell us about your last book, and can you tell us about what you are working on next?
Joe Coffin, Season One, is my latest offering. In the summer of 2013 I was forced, through ill health, to take time away from writing, and any kind of work in general. I wound up watching a lot of American TV on Netflix, and ploughed through Breaking Bad and Dexter, amongst others. When I was able to write again, I decided to go with the episodic nature of storytelling, and so Joe Coffin is written in Episodes rather than books.
Joe Coffin is a member of the criminal gang the Slaughterhouse Mob, and is fresh out of jail at the start of Episode One. On his first day of freedom he goes looking for the people who massacred his family while he was inside. Unfortunately, as we quickly find out, Joe Coffin is in a lot deeper than he realizes, and his wife is not quite as dead as he believes.
What’s next? Joe Coffin, Season Two, of course.
What's the one question you wish you would get asked but never do? And what would be the answer?
‘Would you like the £20,000,000 in cash or cheque?’
‘JUST GIVE IT TO ME NOW!’
Joe Coffin is fresh out of jail, but going straight is the last thing on his mind. The sickos who murdered his wife and child are still out there, and he’s going to get revenge.
The problem is, Joe Coffin is in much deeper than he realises, and his wife might not be as dead as he believes.
Violent, gory, profane and explicit, Joe Coffin is for mature readers only.