How long have you been writing and how did you get started?
Although I’ve never earned a living professionally as a writer, I have been a writer for around 47 years. Phew. I began writing poetry and satirical pieces, the latter for a small press alternative magazine called Outside which I edited with two friends. I printed the ’zine on an old, hand-cranked Rex Rotary duplicating machine. It lasted two issues, as it was difficult to sell on the streets of Birmingham in 1966! And as a genre editor I’ve been at it almost as long – I began my fiction review fanzine Shadow in 1968.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing, and does it come in useful for your stories?
When I’m not writing I’m usually rambling – not always in the inebriated sort of way! I’m a member of Birmingham Ramblers and we have a pretty busy programme of walks, so I tend to go on as many of them as I can, as well as occasionally lead walks for the group. I’m also on the committee, dealing with publications and publicity. The walking segues into the tasting of beer too, so along with CAMRA friends and others, there are often other walks which take in interesting pieces of industrial archaeology in between a few real ale pubs – or maybe that should be the other way around! I’m not sure if my walking experiences are useful for my stories. They tend not to be set in the English countryside. As for characters, well I think some traits may come from the walking fraternity, though I don’t consciously adapt them for my fiction.
What is at the root of your current book/story?
My most recent story, ‘The Mutant’s Cry’, has its roots in the ’50s and the burgeoning horror film and monster magazine genre. It’s an urban horror tale with, I hope, an unsettling conclusion.
Ebooks or Traditional?
I prefer real books to the electronic option. I don’t think this will ever change in a big way for me, although I confess to owning a couple of Kindle titles on my tablet. And I have published Kindle books.
What was the first (genre) story you read and what kind of impact did it make on you?
The first genre story I read was, I think, by Captain W. E. Johns, he of the Biggles books. However, the book I read was science fiction, Return to Mars. I remember the hardback having several colour plates illustrating the plot. It must have had an impact, though I wasn’t able to fully appreciate it at the time (1956?) but my dad must have seen my interest and later bought me Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids and Frederic Brown’s Nightmares and Geezenstacks. Then I was really hooked.
What are you currently reading?
I’m currently reading Different Every Time, a biography of Robert Wyatt. He has been on my music radar since 1970 when I first heard the band Soft Machine. His ‘Moon in June’ will forever resonate. I’ve also been enjoying Adrian Cole’s Nick Nightmare Investigates.
Who are some of your favourite authors and what is it about their work that appeals?
Favourite authors? Well, they change over time I guess. But Bradbury for his poetic, visionary science fiction; Leiber for cosmic urban horror; Machen for cosmic pagan horror; M. R. James for continuing to unsettle.
What/when was the first piece of fiction you wrote? And what happened to it? (Be honest now!)
The first piece of fiction I penned was called ‘Between Two Planets’. It was a science fiction tale about a space Scout and I sent it off to Purnell & Sons in around 1968. If I remember right, I submitted to Boy’s Own Paper, a monthly paper for teenagers that lasted for a nearly a century and had been taken over by Purnell. However, they accepted it for The Scout’s Pathfinder Annual 1970 (published Christmas 1969). I received nine guineas for the story, which was half a week’s wage! For some reason I gave my only copy of the book away and years later replaced it with a purchase from Abebooks (sans dustjacket, sadly) which, in today’s prices, wiped out my fee!
Oxford commas – discuss!
The Oxford comma is mostly redundant I think these days, except in a case where clarity forces its use to avoid misunderstandings in a list. I don’t use it often myself, unless I feel the sentence reads better with it. It was dealt with in the chapter on the comma in Lynne Truss’s extremely funny Eats, Shoots and Leaves. And she is pretty relaxed about it too, though in relation to those for and against the Oxford comma, she says wickedly ‘…never get between these people when drink has been taken.’
What are you up to next?
My latest publication is The Alchemy Press published Dead Water and Other Weird Tales. I’m delighted about it. It is my second collection (Clinically Dead & Other Tales of the Supernatural appeared some seven years ago). For this new one I’ve put together a selection of eighteen tales, including a couple of unpublished yarns. Unlike the previous collection, which was all horror, Dead Water is a mix of horror, science fiction and dark fantasy.
From my own small press, Shadow Publishing, I have just issued Horror on the High Seas, an anthology of classic sea stories. When I’ve been hired to edit anthologies in the past, it’s been almost exclusively working with contemporary writers and new stories (if you exclude the reprint anthologies from, say, Fantasy Tales magazine). So this one is really my first stab at putting together classic horror tales in what I hope is a compelling read. And later this year, Allen Ashley is editing Creeping Crawlers for me, a brand new horror anthology with the theme of creeping, slithering and crawling things!
I’m also involved in a major editing project, but have to remain tight-lipped about it until the loose ends have been tied up!
Photo (c) Peter Coleborn 2011, 2015