First of all..... why werewolves? What makes them so special in your eyes?
I suppose we’re on the crest of a vampire phenomenon at the moment, but I’ve always loved the brutal animality of werewolves. Let’s face it, in a straight-up, one-on-one fight between a vamp and a lyco, there really is only going to be one winner isn’t there? Having a teenage protagonist who also happens to be a werewolf allows me to explore the analogy between shapeshifting and the child-teenager-adult change. And werewolf transformation scenes are SUCH great fun to write!
What sort of research have you carried out when writing the Changeling series? Did you discover any really interesting facts during your research that you would like to share with us?
I did a lot of looking into the ancient werewolf and vampire legends. I needed to know which aspects of the legends I wanted to keep, and which parts I would make up to suit the world I was going to be imagining. The internet is great for that sort of thing. You can quickly build up a large information dump of the useless, the quirky, the helpful, and the downright scary. Sifting through it all is another matter…
I was amazed at how some of the beliefs in these supernatural creatures were still in existence today. At school visits I often tell the true story about a family in Romania who, because they believed their neighbour was a vampire, carried out the most bizarre ritual at his grave. This was as recent as five or six years ago!
Do you visit the locations that you write about?
I have visited most of the places that the books have been set in so far (London, Amsterdam, Iceland). I’ve never been to Canada which is the setting for most of book three, Changeling: Blood Wolf, but as it was a remote rural woodland setting, I figured I could get away with making most of that up.
Book Four is set in the Netherworld, and I’ve been visiting that every time I’ve sat at my desk in the last six months.
What do you see as the main influences on your writing?
I think I get influences from lots of different sources. I don’t particularly have a favourite sort of book, and I enjoy switching between genres and authors. But I think the fantasy adventure and sci-fi stuff I read as a teenager have had a big influence on the Changeling books.
What is it about the horror genre that interests you so much?
Imperilment. Good fiction relies on placing your protagonist in dire situations. The bigger the peril, the more impact that it will have on the character, whether in a positive or negative way. Horror allows you to place your characters in the direst of situations, and for me it is those characters’ reactions to those situations that makes horror so much fun to write (and hopefully to read).
What was your first introduction to horror in literature?
I was about twelve years old and I was at a loss for something to read, having just finished a book. I wandered into my older sisters’ room and found a copy of Carrie by Stephen King on the bedside table. I read it and it scared the living wits out of me (I had to sleep with the light on that night).
Do you have a favourite horror book or horror movie?
I think that my favourite horror book is Falling Angel by William Hjortsberg. I read it on holiday as a teenager and fell in love with the dark, gothic feel that it had, despite the fact that it is set in the deep south of America. It was one of those books that I came across quite by accident, and it has a great twist at the end.
Do you remember the first horror movie you ever saw?
It was one of the Hammer Horror vampire movies. They were really corny, and I think I’d laugh at it now. But at the time I was terrified.
Who/what in your opinion is the ultimate horror movie monster?
Alien. It’s my favourite horror movie. As I’ve said, I used to read quite a bit of sci-fi when I was younger. When I saw Alien, I was blown away. You get three monsters for the price of one. *SPOILER ALERT* Firstly, you get the crab-like monster that attaches itself to the astronaut’s face, and plants something in his stomach. Next is the thing that bursts out of his stomach in one of the great movie scenes, and this grows into a thing with more teeth than you can shake a stick at. It has acid for blood, for heaven’s sake! Of course, the monster sets about killing the entire crew. Hey, there’s nowhere to run in space. Classic stuff.
What scares you?
Now I’m an adult, proper scary stuff like income tax.
I’m still capable of scaring myself witless if I’m in the house alone with a good book or film.
Some people think that horror writers must be a little weird to come up with their stories. Would you agree with them?
I think writers as a whole have to be a bit weird to do what they do. But yeah, I think it helps if you have a taste for the macabre if you want to write stuff that makes other people reluctant to turn the light out at night.
What do you think it is that draws so many young people to horror books?
I think that most people, but particularly younger people, like being scared. Hey, there’s a reason that rollercoasters are so popular with teenagers. The cool monsters help too.
What would you say to people who think that horror stories are not suitable for young people?
I would have to choose my words carefully. There is no such thing as a ‘type’ of book that is unsuitable for young people (just as there is, with a couple of obvious exceptions, no subject matter that is unsuitable). I think it’s the way that the ‘genre’ is handled. Clearly, a stomach-churning gore-fest book like Jack Ketchum’s cannibal stuff is not suitable for younger readers, but would anyone seriously think that it could be bad for someone to read Stoker or Shelley (Dracula and Frankenstein)?
There are some pretty violent moments in your books. How do you gauge the right level of violence?
They always start out, in the earlier drafts of the books, more violent than they end up. If I only listened to the majority of young boys that I meet during events, I’d end up with something like the Ketchum books I referred to in the last answer. But I think it’s better to hold back the violence a bit, and I tend to get a feel for when I’ve gone too far. Besides, if there is too much gore, the readers get inured to it, and it loses any impact that you hoped it to have.
Do you have time to read any of the many books for children that are published these days? If so, are there any other books or authors that you would recommend fans of your books to read?
To be honest, I don’t read much YA fiction. That’s not to say I don’t read any, and recently I enjoyed Meteorite Strike by A.G. Taylor as well as Sebastian Faulks’s Revolver. I’m also re-reading His Dark Materials by Phillip Pullman at the moment.
I recently had a Graphic Novel themed month on my blog. Do you read graphic novels and if so do you have any favourites?
I love Graphic Novels. I’m a big fan of The Walking Dead series, and I also like The Punisher books. Oh, and Batman. Everyone loves Batman, right?
I know Blood Wolf has only recently been released but can you give us any hints as to what you have planned for Trey next? How many more books are planned in the series?
I’m writing book four at the moment, which will be called Changeling: Demon Games. It’s a slightly different format from the other books because it is set exclusively in the Netherworld. It’s great fun, but a difficult book to write. I plan for there to be five books in total.
Is there anything else you would like to say to the readers of this blog?
Just that there’s a book for everyone out there. Whatever floats your boat, there are people writing to suit your tastes.I’m really glad that it’s seen as cool to read again. Maybe that makes me cool by association? Hmm, maybe not…
Another great interview on The Book Zone from another great horror writer. Thank you Steve for taking the time to answer your questions - I hope we can do something again in the future. If you want to read more about Steve and his books then you can find his website here.