Ginger Nuts of Horror
Hello there. Hope you don’t mind me putting my feet up and making myself at home. I’ve not broken in. Jim McLeod gave me a key, so I am supposed to be here at GNOH Mansions. Call me the house-sitter (or the guest blogger). Stick the kettle on and I’ll introduce myself – or preferably, crack open something a bit stronger – and we’ll have a wee blether.
Okay, now we’re sitting comfortably – no, I’ll just drink straight out of the can, saves on washing up – I’ll say hello properly. My names Andy Kirby – or, if we’re being formal, A.J. Kirby – and I’m a horror and dark fiction author from Leeds, UK. I’m also a shameless publicist, so when Jim offered me the chance to guest on his excellent blog, I jumped at the opportunity.
But never fear, I’m not just here to give a sales pitch. That would be boring. No, when Jim invited me to write on this platform, he asked me to write about something I felt passionate about. And so I made a few suggestions. Things off the top of my head, from waaaay out in left-field, stuff about writing, and about horror, and a few things which can be loosely connected to my most recent release, the dark fiction creature-feature, Paint this town Red.
Today, I thought I’d talk, variously, about strange animals in outlandish locations – think
the wallabies in the Peak District and, I believe, on an island in the middle of Loch Lomond, or the lynx which is apparently stalking Halifax, or the Beast of Bodmin Moor – and also about how the rumour mill has changed dramatically with the rise of the internet. I also thought I’d share a few words about writing and publicity, and how to get your name out there as an author (especially as a small-press or self-published author) and finally, I thought I’d have a little bit of a moan about how writing has turned me fat, and what the hell I’m going to do about this terrifying realisation… And my challenge, such as it is, is to weave all of that into something coherent, whilst keeping up with you as we share a couple of drinks. So here goes.
Paint this town Red is my take on The Hound of the Baskervilles, or Jaws, I suppose. I wanted to write a fast-paced dark thriller which was packed with action and suspense. It’s perhaps my most out-there supernatural novel to date, which might be something of a risk, but I took a lot of care and attention in making the characters and settings as real as possible, and I think the existence of my big cat which haunts the small town in which the story is set, is plausible.
The novel is inspired by what I imagine are very common small-town rumours which I experienced in my small town – I’ll leave it unnamed, to preserve the air of mystery - when I was growing up. When I was about fifteen or sixteen, there was talk of a large feline – perhaps a lynx – which was stalking the nearby hills, picking off livestock. There were plenty of sightings, most of which were discredited, but some couldn’t simply be explained away by Mrs. Goggins’ black moggie being on the prowl.
One night, bunch of mates and I engineered a large and rather over-complicated lie which meant that each of our parents believed we were staying at one of the others’ houses. Instead we decided to go camping up in the hills surrounding the town. We got our hands on a few cans of underage liquor, stolen from unsuspecting dads and the like, and we packed up our sleeping bags and our tents and we set out to find the Black Panther, as it was becoming commonly known.
One of my mates in particular had done quite a lot of research into the panther and, as darkness crept in and we failed to get our fire going, he told us all he knew about the panther. The thing which really got the hairs on the back of my neck standing on end was what he said about how the panther breathed. He claimed you could hear it, a rasping, throaty sound, before it came for you.
Anyway, we passed the evening telling stories and jokes and drinking up our pilfered booze, and in the end we turned in for the night. I woke up freezing cold in the wee small hours, already alert. And it was then that I heard the exact same breathing which my mate had described hours earlier, coming from outside the tent. I’d love to have said that I ran out, camera in hand, and got the snap which scooped the local paper. But I didn’t. I closed my eyes and pretended to be asleep, and prayed that if it was really the panther, it would go for one of my mates first instead of me.
The next morning, nobody else claimed to have heard the panther, and indeed, one of my mates was being mocked for snoring, so the rasping, throaty sound could have been him. Or then again, maybe it wasn’t. Maybe we really did have a close encounter with the black panther. Maybe we came this close.
I wanted to recreate the peculiar atmosphere which surrounded our town when these rumours were floating about. That weird sense of being hunted and of wanting to hunt it at the same time. That weird sense of belief and disbelief at the same time. And I also wanted to explore what would happen to such rumours in the internet age, when anybody can post a picture of a large footprint on Facebook, or Twitter, and can suddenly make a myth real, by word of mouth.
I like the way the animals become branded, how we give them names, how we pore over grainy mobile phone video imagery, squinting our eyes, trying to pick out what might, or might not be a big cat. And I like the fact that their presence, although liminal, is plausible. Exotic animals being turned loose in the British countryside isn’t as far-fetched as it seems. The big cats may have escaped private collections in stately homes. We’ve all heard the ones about the snakes (or crocs) in the sewer system or about tarantulas hitching rides inside hands of bananas, for example. We all know about the Beast of Bodmin Moor or about the Cat Beast of Calderdale. Urban Myths still capture our imagination even now, and there’s something very exciting about random animals escaping through our gridded, plotted, satellite navigated world, living on the edge. There’s a real sense of freedom about it, away from the constraints of the modern world. And I imagine everyone but farmers would agree…
In a way, authors who write for small, independent publishing houses or those who self-publish need to create their own myths about themselves. To create a narrative, something which gets a reader hooked. Because make no mistake about it, there’s a lot of competition out there. In order to be a success writers of this standing – me included – must set ourselves apart. Make ourselves a little more exciting than we actually are. Because in this way, we can set the word-of-mouth internet washing-line telegraph going and therefore gain new readers.
I admit it. I’ve found this self-perpetuating myth-making rather difficult in the past. Most of us do. Writing is a very introverted pursuit. But in the end of the day, if you want to be read, then you have to make sacrifices, reveal a little more of yourself than maybe you’d want to. Never has this been more true for me than last week, when I was invited to attend an event run by the British Fantasy Society at the Mug House pub, near London Bridge. I didn’t know anyone there, and, being a nervous type, I spent the first half-hour hiding away in a corner, trying manfully to avoid the eyes of everyone else in the room. But then two, three other attendees approached my table and asked whether I wouldn’t mind very much if they left a postcard promoting their books on my table. And, as I was a couple of pints to the good by this time, I started to think maybe I could do the same.
And so, steeling myself, and slipping a confident mask into place, I went out amongst the masses like a cat on the prowl, depositing postcards here, an anecdote there, and a web-link over by the bar. And everyone I approached was absolutely fine with me doing my promotion-thing. They said pretty much everyone does the same. And that, I suppose, was my most important take-away from the night (to use a crappy marketing term). Be brave. Bite that bullet. Don’t linger in the corner hoping someone will miraculously approach you and ask about your book. Tell them.
And keep telling them. For this new book, I’m trying a few new approaches to publicity. I’ve got the wind in my sails after the BFS evening, and, now the hangover’s calmed down and I’ve had my feet up on the coffee table here at GNOH Mansions, I’m ready to come out fighting for myself and my book. I’ve joined forums, I’ve begged for reviews, I’ve bitten the bullet and called up the local papers. And, happily, most people I’ve approached have been only too happy to help.
There’s only one problem. Suddenly people want high-res jpegs of yours truly. Or snaps of me holding a copy of the book, or pretending to hunt the Cat Beast of Calderdale with a pen (which is mightier than the sword). And suddenly I’ve realised what damage all those ‘networking’ nights and days snacking over the keyboard have done to my body. Suddenly, the Paint this town Red tee-shirts I ordered to wear at all times further to the release of the book won’t quite stretch over my bulk. Suddenly I’ve had to hammer in a new notch on my belt. And suddenly, I don’t really want my photo taken at all. Suddenly all I want to do is slink away into the liminal edges of the worldwide web and keep my head down all over again. I’ve stuck my head above the parapet, and suddenly I’ve noticed just how chubby my cheeks are.
So, if you don’t mind, I’ll now take my feet from the coffee table, and I’ll excuse myself. I’m off to the Yorkshire moors for a run. Who knows? I might come face to face with an Urban Myth made real. And the next thing I hear might be that the rasping, throaty sound, the Black Panther come back for me at the last, in revenge for my selling his story.
If you don’t hear from me again, send out the search parties.
A.J Kirby is the author of five novels; the creature-feature fiction Paint this town Red (Wild Wolf Publishing, 2012), the dark, techno thriller Perfect World (TWB Press, March 2011); Bully, a supernatural horror novel of revenge from beyond the grave (published by Wild Wolf Publishing in September 2009); the crime-thriller, The Magpie Trap, which has been published by Youwriteon.com and Legend Press through their UK Arts Council initiative (April 2009), and When Elephants walk through the Gorbals, which won third prize in the Luke Bitmead Memorial Bursary run by Legend Press in 2008 and has now been accepted for publication by Whiskey Creek Press. His published fiction also includes two volumes of collected short stories, Mix Tape, which was published by New Generation Publishing in 2009, and The Art of Ventriloquism, a crime fiction anthology which is due to be published by Solstice Publishing in 2012. He has also written the novella Call of the Sea, which was published from November 2009 in serial form, The Black Book, released in September 2011 by TWB Press as a limited edition novelette, and Bed Peace (White House Publications, 2011).
Andy’s prize-winning short stories have featured in a wide number of publications, including anthologies (Legend Press's Eight Rooms, and Ten Journeys, Nemonymous 8: Cone Zero & Nemonymous 9: Cern Zoo from Megazanthus Press, Radgepacket 4 from Byker Books, the Dog Horn Publishing anthology, Dark Hoard 2010, the ‘Where are we going?’ anthology from Eibonvale Press, and Graveside Tales' Fried: Fast Food Slow Deaths) print journals (Sein und Werden, Jupiter 24, Skrev Press, and Champagne Shivers) and webzines (Blank Pages, New Voices in Fiction, A Fly in Amber, Pumpkin, The Second Hand, Pages of Stories magazine, US Short Story Library, and Underground).
Award recognition has come from Huddersfield Literature Festival, Ilkley Literature Festival, Mere Literary Festival, the H.E Bates Short Story Competition, and in writing competitions run by Cinnamon Press and People in Action. He received an honourable mention in the worldwide Best Horror of the Year 2008/9, judged by the esteemed editor, Ellen Datlow and in 2011, he was the winner of the Big Issue in the North’s genre fiction award, been shortlisted for the Paperbooks ‘Tale of Two Halves’ competition and awarded runner-up in the Dog Horn Publishing Fiction Prize.
Andy lives in Leeds, UK with his girlfriend Heidi and his incredibly noisy, but lucky cat, Eric. He started writing after losing out in a game show hosted by Les Dennis.
To find out more, visit Andy's website: www.andykirbythewriter.20m.com.
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