Friday, 17 June 2011

Writers talk about writing: James Everington

(Once you've finished reading what James has got to say, check out the whole series of interviews here.)
James Everington is a self-published writer of dark, surreal horror stories. After keeping his writing to himself for many years, he's still got that surprised, slightly stunned look of a newbie who's found that a few people, at least, seem to like what he's doing. You can find his blog here.

We're in a lift, I'm someone important (come on, pretend), you've got thirty seconds (tall building, slow lift) to tell me about your latest book.

The Other Room (UK link) is my debut collection of short horror fiction, containing twelve stories of the uncanny and the surreal. I enjoy the unexplained, the psychological, and the ambiguous in my weird fiction, and that is the kind of story I try and write.

My main literary influences are writers like Ramsey Campbell, Shirley Jackson, and Robert Aickman. Non-literary influences on some of the stories include anonymous hotel rooms, the credit crunch, Radiohead, and the scientific thought-experiment Schrodinger’s Cat.

Uh-oh. Not sure lifts are meant to stop suddenly between floors like this. Guess we've got a bit more time. Ignore the flickering lights and creaking sounds above us. Would you like to tell me about other books or stories that you have available?

There's not much yet to be honest; there's a few stories of mine scattered around small-press magazines, and then another called
Feed The Enemy that's published as an ebook by Books To Go Now. I didn't really plan for that one to get published as it did, but it's been a useful learning experience for when I came to put The Other Room out.

Feed The Enemy is slightly different from a lot of my stories, as it's about terrorism, or more accurately the psychological effects that constant distortion of the terrorist threat by certain sections of the press and government might have on some one.

Please stop repeatedly pressing the emergency button. The comment about building a ladder of bones to reach the ceiling hatch and get out of here was just blue-skies thinking. So, what are you working on now?

Two things really. One is the sequel to The Other Room, which will be a second collection of short, dark stories. They're mostly already written, although some need a nip and tuck, and a few major surgery. I held a few stories back from The Other Room to have them ready for number two - I don't want to be like one of those bands whose second album is so obviously rushed and cobbled together.

But before that, I'm probably going to put out a novella which I'm not sure would work in either collection. It's still horror but a bit more commercial Stephen King-y horror. It's basically something I wrote over fifteen years ago when I was about seventeen I guess. It's very badly written, basically. But the plot seemed to me quite sound. So the idea is to keep the youthful freshness and storyline, but make the writing more focused and tight. If I can make it work I think it could be really good... It's called The Shelter; you heard it here first kids.

Your short stories in The Other Room are unsettling and disturbing. What scares you most in fiction?

I'm not a big fan of the gore, gore, overt violence and more gore school of horror writing - not out of any moral squeamishness, just because I don't think it works very well artistically. I'm more of a creeping dread man myself.

I like the kind of horror writing which starts with a nagging sense that something is wrong, and that off-key feeing is built upon the author. And I like it when this wrongness is not necessarily just a monster or psycho running amok (although monsters are cool), but represents something wrong in the character's psyche or how the reader thinks the world is. Basically I like a good mixture of creepiness, blood, and pretentiousness...

I'm also of the opinion that, with some obvious exceptions, horror works best at short story length than as a novel.

'Horror' is such a broad genre: Aickman at one end, Shaun Hutson at the other, and sparkly vampires in between. Where do you think the genre is going over the next few years?

It is broad, and I think this causes problems - most people seem to assume horror is just Shaun Hutson (or more likely his cinematic equivalents) and the sparkly vampires. Robert Aickman & Co. don't seem to get much of a look in, sadly.

As to where it's all going, I've no idea. My selfish hope is that the literate, surreal, creepy end of the horror spectrum becomes ascendant, and I could kid myself that there's signs of this actually happening (Ligotti seems to be getting more notice; eBooks providing a natural home for short horror stories) but I'm probably wrong. The sparkly vampires are probably winning.

Your stories seem very rooted in place, whether named or not. Is that important to you?

It's interesting you ask that, because I've never thought that depicting location was one of my strong points as a writer. At least not in the objective, realistic depiction of an actual place, like Joyce's Dublin or whatnot.

I guess what I try and do is focus the description of the character's surroundings so that everything reflects their fears or misgivings - like Poe said, everything in a short story needs to work together, and I try hard at that. It's like that cliché about buying a new car, and suddenly seeing that model of car everywhere - your mind filters reality to fit your preconceptions, and that's how I think place and weather and other trappings should operate in a good short story. They show you how the central character is filtering their reality. And hopefully that's why my characters and their fates seem very rooted in their location, even if it is nameless.

In your own writing, what do you think you do well, and what do you wish you could do better?

I wish I had more variety and range to be honest - I've tried to write in different genres and at novel length but it never seems to work out. All I seem able to do is write short stories which are either fairly dark or very dark. I suppose I should be content with that - you can only piss with the dick god gave you after all.

Print publishing is a doomed but still predatory dinosaur rotting from the feet up. Ebook publishing is the vomiting out of the world's slushpiles onto the market. In the ongoing war of words and hyperbole, where's the happy medium to be found? Where do you think the publishing business is heading over the next few years, and what are you doing to be ready for it?

I doubt anyone knows the answer to this! And as long as good books keep getting written and can find at least some kind of audience it probably doesn't matter. I think there's several key things that people don't know yet which will determine how the publishing business changes:

  • will eReaders and eBooks achieve the same kind of market penetration as digital music formats or will print books still remain a prominent feature of the market?
  • will people with eReaders use them to read the same kind of books as they have been doing so, or will they change what they read and buy more small-press and self-published works?
  • is the torrent of self-published books being released due to the fact that every wannabe writer is self-publishing all their rejected manuscripts from the last twenty years at the same point in time, or will the volumes grow and grow? And if the latter, how will readers sort through the dross?

What book do you most wish that you had written?

I'm not sure wishing to have written a whole book someone else did is particularly healthy, but the first paragraph of Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House is as close to perfection as you can get.

I also wish I'd written the line "He turned round slowly, like a fridge door opening" from one of the Dirk Gently books by Douglas Adams. I find it hard to think of a better placed comma in all of literature.

Do you do much promotion for your books? What do you think is the most effective thing you've done?

I do the usual for a self-published author: I
blog, I tweet, I annoy people on various forums and message boards.

I think the one thing that helps unknown authors like me get going is a recommendation or good review from someone who isn't also a self-published writer. The biggest spikes I've had in sales have been when I've been reviewed somewhere like
Red Adept, which are seen as objective, 'real' reviews.

If you could give an aspiring writer one piece of advice, what would it be?

Ignore pieces of advice from other writers who are just hoping to sound insightful/amusing/feisty in an interview. There are exceptions to almost all the rules commonly trotted out, and what will make you exciting and original as writer is finding out which rules your writing is an exception to.

If you could tell an aspiring writer to ignore one commonly given piece of advice, what would it be?

The whole "show don't tell" thing. It's like seduction, you shouldn't show everything. The trick is to work out what to show and what to tell, and when in the story to do so.

Are you 'out' as a writer of fiction with work colleagues/family, and if so, what reaction did you get?

Yep. Given the amount of time I spent alone in my bedroom with the door shut writing as a kid, I think my mother was pleased when she realised what I'd been doing.

My dad just looked nonplussed and announced he'd been writing some stories too.

Gibbons or tigers? (NB this question is to help me in compiling my List of People Who Are Wrong).

Well, tigers have a beer named after them, and gibbons a funky dance, so that's a point apiece there. But as I writer I have to side with gibbons, because gibbon is obviously a better word than tiger. You only have to say it out loud to realise that: "gibbon."


  1. Great interview! I'm going to go buy that collection now.

  2. Thanks Chris - am sure you'll enjoy it. I did.

  3. Thanks Chris - glad you liked my rambling on.

  4. Terrific interview - the line about show don't tell is brilliant!

  5. Smashing - some good insights there. Thanks!

  6. Yep, Iain and James. Great stuff. Loved the rule exception one too. Balance in everything. That's the key. Top stuff, lads.

  7. Hahah, great interview James.

    "your mind filters reality to fit your preconceptions, and that's how I think place and weather and other trappings should operate in a good short story" Yeah, I couldn't agree more. I'll try... I'm forcing it... No, I agree so much there's no more to give.