First of all. Tell us more about The Museum For Forgetting. It is a collection of short stories with a central theme of memory and fallibility? Are the narratives linked in any sort of way beyond theme (such as reoccurring settings/characters)?
The Museum For Forgetting is a collection of 11 tales – some previously published, some written for the collection. I guess memory is a common theme that I come back to often and therefore it seemed like a natural choice for a second collection of stories. The stories are not related as such and characters don’t recur. It’s more a thematic link. I use SF&F and horror in these eleven tales and they range from flash fiction to novelette length. It’s a range of what I’ve been writing over the last few years.
You have had other books published in the past (including Seven Deadly Swords and another short story collection called A Tiding of Magpies) are these at all linked to The Museum For Forgetting in their themes, settings, or characters?
Seven Deadly Swords is a standalone novel but it does have a related theme. The sins of the past often catch up with the people who populate my stories. When I released A Tiding of Magpies back in 2016 I was guided by the editor and publisher to provide more stories that didn’t fit my initial conception of the magpies theme so when I had the chance to republish it last year with Grimbold Books I revisited and saw that some stories would fit Museum better and was able to juggle a couple of stories. So the Magpies available now is a little different to the 2016 version and a couple of stories from the 2016 version have ended up in Museum. I’m sure if there were ever a short story completist fan it’ll drive them mad. 😉
Some of your writing has been described as ‘Weird Fiction’. Would you like to give a brief introduction to that as a defined genre to those who may not be familiar with the term?
I’ve become more comfortable over time to being hard to categorise, and, dare I say it, a bit niche and obscure. I think the attempts to categorise my work as weird fiction or (as some have tried) magic realism reflect that I don’t follow strict genre boundaries. In the past, it might have perhaps been called Slipstream or if I were writing in the ’90s and early 2000s, New Weird. Generally though it’s because I’m an eclectic reader. Some of my work has even been categorised as ‘literary horror.’ I don’t often reach for a tentacle and I don’t consciously write transgressive fiction nor do I try to subvert the standard horror monster tropes so maybe weird is a label that just doesn’t fit?
Would you say that you have evolved as a writer between your different projects?
I have learned how to write a story every time I write a story. I hope that I’m writing better now than when I started around 2013 (late starter) and I’ve certainly tried a lot of different methods of production (having written my last novel longhand but using Scrivener to write the current one.) I’d say I’m less likely to jump straight into writing something without a plan than I used to be – trying to introduce more intentionality into the process and I’ve also slowed down a lot.
What is next for you? Do you have anything on the pipelines?
I’m currently writing a game tie-in novel for Red Scar in their Devil’s Run world. Devil’s Run is a little bit Mad Max, a little bit Car Wars and a little bit Z Nation (to my mind) but quirky and its own thing. The basic premise of the game is that it’s set some decades after a nuclear war and the west coast of the former United States has devolved into warring factions of road warriors. There are factions based on the Hell’s Angels and on former navy units but also some real oddball factions e.g. based on the Vikings or 1960’s Britain. Oh, and there is the Revenant virus that sees shambling hordes of undead in bombed-out cities. I’m having a lot of fun with it.
If someone were to read you for the first time, what book (or story) would you suggest they begin with?
People can start where they like, my stuff is standalone. I’d like lots of people to get The Museum for Forgetting right now obviously but it doesn’t really matter where you start. I would say that Seven Deadly Swords isn’t much like the shorts, Sick City Syndrome, my first novel is – although that’s now out of print. One day I’ll revise and release it as a freebie…
What was the first thing you ever had published, and how long did it take you to achieve publication?
I came to writing in a roundabout way. I did a science degree and on that degree, I did Science Journalism. I then had a ‘plan’ to get into working for science magazines and I did an MA in Publishing. For various reasons my plan failed and I ended up working in telecoms. I was still interested in publishing and a very keen reader and regularly attended the Edinburgh Book Festival as well as lit fests so when Bristol Lit Fest started up I volunteered to help out. I ended up on the committee and got to attend a whole load of events for free, including some writing workshops. I also got to meet authors and discovered they were just normal people (shocking eh?). At around the same time, a friend got a publishing deal. I started to think that maybe I could give writing a go but did nothing about it. I then did some work for a Bristol publisher and was at another writing workshop when I said to the woman running the workshop – “I’d like to write someday.” And she asked what was stopping me from writing now. It’s odd but it felt like I’d been given permission and I went away and wrote a short story. Then another. Then my fourth was taken for publication by sympathetic editors who were willing to work with me to make it publishable (it was a bit rough when I submitted it) The process of being edited showed me a whole bunch of beginner mistakes I’d been making and I went from there. That fourth story is Artifice Perdu in Airship Shape and Bristol Fashion and is the first story I was paid for. It took me a few months to go from not writing to being published which obviously is highly unusual – but I had written and edited for RPGs for decades before that. Since then lots of people who’ve known me for years have said they always knew I’d be a writer!
What book are you currently reading?
I am currently reading Storyland: A New Mythology of Britain by Amy Jeffs which retells the early myths of our storied isle along with fab woodcut art. I’d highly recommend it.
And finally, would you like to give a shout out for three books which you feel more people should read, and tell us why?
Wow that’s a really hard question – do I choose three books by friends, but only three would mean I’d be leaving people out… I’ll mention three short story collections that have impressed me recently and that might not be on everyone’s radar.
Jagannath by Swedish writer Karin Tidbeck is not as widely known as I thought it’d be. It was published almost a decade ago now and is one of the strongest single author short story collections I can think of – her work is just amazingly good and I wish I could be as good!
Hollow Shores by Gary Budden has an amazing sense of place, suffused with the liminal edgelands that make up parts of the British coast and it’s an impressive collection.
I’m pretty sure that Edited By, by Ellen Datlow is on the radar of those that know but this is a great retrospective collection of some of the best tales she’s edited and it’s a fantastic multi-author collection and it deserves a wide audience.