To save me from the ignominy of talking to myself, Stephen Jones kindly asked me questions. Here’s the opening of “The Coffin-Maker’s Daughter”, which is my A Book of Horrors story.
The door is a rich red wood, heavily carved with improving scenes from the trials of Job. An angel’s head, cast in brass, serves as the knocker and when I let it go to rest back in its groove, the eyes fly open, indignant, and watch me with suspicion. Behind me is the tangle of garden ? cataracts of flowering vines, lovers’ nooks, secluded reading benches ? that gives this house its affluent privacy.
The dead man’s daughter opens the door.
She is pink and peach and creamy. I want to lick at her skin and see if she tastes the way she looks.
‘Hepsibah Ballantyne! Slattern! Concentrate, this is business.’ My father slaps at me, much as he did in life. Nowadays his fists pass through me, causing nothing more than a sense of cold ebbing through my veins. I do not miss the bruises.
1. What are the good and bad things about being a genre writer in Australia?
The good things?
Our unique environment – a country that’s always trying to kill you whether by animal attack or weather conditions is highly conducive to writing dark fantasy and horror.
The bad things?
Our distance from everything (except New Zealand) makes us a bit insular at times (neither man nor woman can live by Middle Earth alone). This means that sometimes writers don’t look outside Oz for markets, and they don’t necessarily read international writers in the genre and so learn what other folk are doing. I think wide ranging and voracious reading tendencies are key to enriching your own writing. I constantly meet new writers who ask for advice but then tell me they don’t read other writers in or out of the genre and they want to do it all ‘their own way’ … which is great, but learn the road rules first! If you’ve just re-written your version of Salem’s Lot, what are the chances it’s going to get published?
Also, as a spec-fic writer you get no respect! *said in Dangerfield-esque voice* People at family events hear what you do and move away quite quickly – and that’s just my Dad. But hey, if one didn’t like the ghetto of horror writing, one wouldn’t write the nasty stuff, right?
2. What is more important — characterisation, plot or setting?
Ooooooh, I think I will have to go with characterisation. A truly engaging (not necessarily likeable) character will take the reader anywhere. If you have been seduced by a character, you’ll follow her/him to the ends of the earth even in a tale with a well-worn plot and flimsy Dr Who-in-the-80s sets made of cardboard and held together with the wool from Tom Baker’s scarf.
3. If you were to compare your work to anybody else’s, who would it be?
Do I have to? Aaaahhh, Angela Carter?
4. Horror or fantasy?
Can I have dark fantasy, please? I realise that’s like asking for a half-caf-decaf-espresso-latte-with-sugar-and-a-twist-of-lemon, but yes, I like it to be MY way or the highway! Oh, wait, this isn’t the World Domination Weekly magazine interview. *sits quietly in a corner, thinking about what I’ve done*
I didn’t really think of myself as a horror writer when I started out, just as someone who sometimes used the tropes in my work. But I suspect nowadays I am leaning more heavily on the side of horror – I break out in a rash when I see fat fantasy novels and think ‘Oh, to be used only for hand to hand combat’ … then again, while a lot of them have those well-worn plots and somewhat similar settings, some of them also have characters that are truly amazing and engaging.
With horror, I do prefer a light touch with the macabre – not because of any squeamishness, but because I prefer the scare my writing puts into people to feel more like the caress of a cobweb in a darkened room than the thunk of an axe blade into the back of your head. That kind of horror has its place, absolutely, but it just doesn’t flow from my pen.
5. Donuts or danishes?
Both, for I am greedy. A fresh and warm cinnamon donut followed by a blueberry Danish. And coffee. Lots of coffee.