Simon Kurt Unsworth is the author of the recent release The Devil’s Detective as well as the short story collections Quiet Houses and Lost Places. He’s been shortlisted for the World Fantasy Award and longlisted for the Edge Hill Short Story Collection prize. His work can be found hiding (waiting to jump out and scare the proverbial out of you) in a variety of anthologies such as At Ease with the Dead, Shades of Darkness, Exotic Gothic 3, Postscripts, Gaslight Arcanum, Gaslight Grotesque, and Weirder Shadows Over Innsmouth. Determined to outdo us all, he has not merely a to-be-read pile but a to-be-read house.
What inspired your story “Little Traveller”?
The truthful answer to this is, I’m not completely sure! I’d seen one of those short news article pieces about travelling the seas around Somalia and the private security the shipping companies use and another about the militia’s in Somalia, and how all its members tended to be young and male, often orphaned and using drugs, how the militia became a kind of replacement family (albeit a fucked-up one) and the two things kind of gelled in my head. The rest of it, I’m glad to say, kind of fell from my fingers as I typed – it was one of those stories that came out pretty much fully formed, with little conscious plotting or intervention on my part.
What’s the first horror story you can remember making a big impact on you?
I think ‘The Mezzotint’ by M R James – I saw it being performed as an illustrated monologue on TV when I was about 7 or so, and I loved it. Around the same time (far too young!) I read King’s Carrie, and although I didn’t understand most of it I loved that too. Both of the stories spoke to some part of me which replied enthusiastically and hasn’t stopped gabbling since. Not too long after that, I read ‘Salem’s Lot and that was it, I was gone and I’ve never come back.
Name your three favourite horror writers.
Stephen King, M R James and Junji Ito – with a sympathetic ‘almost made the cut’ nod to TED Klein.
Is your writing generally firmly in the horror arena or do you do occasional jaunts into other areas of speculative fiction?
Dunno. My short stories are mostly horror but occasionally they turn into something else (or at least, I think they do) and my novel The Devil’s Detective is either a horror wearing a thriller’s clothes or a thriller wearing a horror’s clothes. Ultimately, I don’t think it matters – I write to explore the things that bother me and to test the edges of the world as I understand it, and to see how to make sense of it. I set out sometimes to frighten or horrify or excite my reader and I happen to write in the horror field, but good stories are good stories and one day I might set out to make them swoon or smile or laugh and that’ll be okay too. For now, though, it’s darkness and misery and fragility and lost hopes…
What’s in your to-be-read pile at the moment?
Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! What isn’t? My TBR pile is actually a TBR house! I live surrounded by books I’ve not read, that I want to reread, that I’ve not even found yet but which catch my eye… Having said that, I’m about to go on holiday, and the books I’m taking with me are Kim Newman’s An English Ghost Story, Warren Fahey’s Fragment and rereads of some Lovecraft and Crichton’s The Lost World as I recently reread Jurassic Park and loved it all over again.
The 2nd Spectral Book of Horror Stories can be pre-ordered here.