Thursday 1 April 2010

*** Interview with Sam Enthoven (author of Crawlers)

April is horror month at The Book Zone and when planning this I could think of no better way to kick off the whole thing than with an interview with Sam Enthoven. Sam is the author of some of the best YA horror books in the last few years, including The Black Tattoo and Crawlers and I am flattered that he took time out of his busy schedule to answer my questions with such incredible enthusiasm.

How did you get the idea for Crawlers? The Barbican is a great location for the story – how did you decide to set Crawlers there?

Hi! I'll start by answering both these questions at once if I may, as the two are very much related: I got the initial spark for Crawlers when I was walking around the Barbican one night.

For those who don't know it, The Barbican is an extraordinary building. At the time it was built (the 1960s) it was an extremely futuristic piece of architecture – the most modern-looking structure its designers could imagine. It's still a fantastic centre for the arts: theatre, music, cinema, all sorts. But now, isolated in time, instead of looking modern and futuristic the Barbican looks… weird!

The night I first started thinking about what would eventually become Crawlers, I was looking at the Barbican. I saw its bare concrete walls, its pulsating carpet, its flickering striplights, its lifts that don't necessarily take you to the floor you want to go to – and I realised (like Ben in the book) that the place reminded me of something: games. I started imagining what it would be like to be chased down those corridors by something unspeakably horrible. And that's how the process of writing Crawlers began.

If you're serious about your writing you don't wait for ideas to come to you: you make them come. Sometimes I do that by asking myself questions (particularly: 'What sort of book would I, personally, most love to read?') But also, like most writers, there's a part of my brain that's always on the lookout for something that might – when you take it out of context, or twist it a little – turn out to be the spark of a story. Incidentally, I think that's just a hugely entertaining way to live and walk around in the world. I love this job!

What do you see as the main influences on your writing?

The biggest influence on my writing is probably the desire for there to be more stories that I love in the world. I get intensely infuriated by mediocre, lame, unimaginative storytelling – particularly unnecessary remakes and disappointing sequels. Conversely, when I find something I love – be it a book, a film, a game, a comic, animation, theatre, whatever – there's almost nothing that makes me happier. The possibility that one of my stories might have that effect on someone else (the latter effect, obviously!) is an inspiring goal to strive for, it seems to me.

Who are your greatest literary influences? (this is a question from one of my blog readers)

It's crucial for a writer to read as much and as widely as possible, because that's how you learn the tools of your trade – from seeing how others do it. So while this is a fair question, I have to say that a straight answer would take too long: there's just too much to list here!

You could check my LibraryThing profile. There you can find five hundred of my very favourite books – books that I think are amazing, and that people who like my stuff might like, too. But that list changes all the time. ;D

What is it about the horror genre that interests you so much? What do you think it is that draws so many young people to horror books?

I'll answer both these questions at once, too – this time because I think the answer to both is the same. People of all ages are fascinated by horror, and I'm no different.

The roots of horror go deep. When our caveman ancestors sat around the fire late at night telling stories, you can bet those stories weren't about people talking out their problems over cups of tea. Those stories would have been scary: stories that made people shudder, and huddle a bit closer.

I love the physical reactions that a well-turned horror tale can provoke in the reader: the tingle, the hairs' prickle, the nervous thrill when you turn the light out afterwards. And horror is compulsive. As a horror fan you want the storyteller to push you to your limits, test how much you can take, but at the same time you don't want to be bludgeoned by too much 'shock and gore' because your sensitivity to fear and suspense is what gives the experience of a good story its edge, its savour. I can't think of any other type of storytelling that has that sort of effect on people. Can you?

What was your first introduction to horror in literature?

I'm a little embarrassed to admit this(-!) but at first, when I was the age I write for, I adopted a disapproving attitude to horror. Despite – perhaps because – of what I've said above, horror has always had a reputation for being dodgy, dubious, even dangerous. I fell in with that prejudice because it was what some of the adults around me were suggesting I should feel: it seemed like the 'grown up' position to take.

But then, to my enormous good fortune, an English teacher at my school started reading some classic ghost stories to my class as an end of term treat. I remember vividly the first time I heard Rats, by M R James. That was it: that was the moment. After the climactic scene of that story I knew that anything that made me shiver like that just couldn't possibly be wrong - HEE HEE HEE! I've been a horror fan ever since.

Do you have a favourite horror book or horror movie?

There are a few that I seem to keep coming back to. The novel Rosemary's Baby by Ira Levin is a low-key stone cold classic, as are several of his other books. I give Jack Finney's The Bodysnatchers a nod in the dedication of Crawlers because it's fabulous, period quirks and all. Filmwise the original Night of the Living Dead and The Abominable Dr Phibes are both firm favourites with me, albeit for very different reasons. For a more contemporary horror dose I'd recommend Ryuhei Kitamura's stunning film of Clive Barker's The Midnight Meat Train. And watch out for the novels of Joseph D'Lacey: you have been warned!

Have you seen Rabid? I know it's a bit cheesy these days, but hey - the front cover of Crawlers so reminds me of the delightful horrors you have in store for you, if you haven't already seen it (another question from one of my blog readers)

I have seen Rabid, and Shivers, and more: I love that early Cronenberg stuff! And I'm glad you like the cover of Crawlers. Rhys Willson, its designer, did a brilliant job. I adored that image as soon as I saw it but when, on a school visit, I first showed it to a roomful of potential young readers, and saw the way it reduced them to dead silence except for occasional whispers of 'Ew!' and 'Sick!', I knew we were definitely onto a winner.

What scares you?

Callousness. Lack of empathy. Small-mindedness. And just how horribly tempting and easy all those habits are to slip into, particularly as one gets older.

Some people think that horror writers must be a little weird to come up with their stories. Would you agree with them?

But everyone's weird. People are weird. I'm sorry if this comes as a surprise, but anyone reading this who thinks they aren't weird is kidding themselves: in fact they're probably weirder than most, because there's nothing more strange, more desperate, even harmful, than an obsessive desire to be normal.

Dark thoughts are an inescapable part of being a person. People repress those thoughts or make deals with them all the time: they have to, to get through the day. But those thoughts are still there, in everyone. Part of a writer's job (not just a horror writer – any writer) is to pick the darkest and juiciest of those thoughts and drag them out, squirming, into the open. Why? Because those thoughts make the spiciest ingredients for exciting stories!

I think that kind of awareness and feel for darkness actually makes horror writers less weird than most people. But I guess I would say that, wouldn't I? HEE HEE HEE HEE!

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?

When I read books for young people I don't get any pleasure out of it: it's research, and it's terribly difficult and special and important and – No, I'm sorry, what I've just said is nothing less than an absolute out and out lie. I love reading books for young people, and right now (says he, aware that he might sound biased!) I truly believe that we're living through a golden age in literature for young readers. There is some brilliant, radical, experimental, thrilling storytelling being published in this area right now.

My current favourites include Chris Wooding, Bali Rai, Anthony McGowan, Alexander Gordon Smith, Kevin Brooks, Graham Joyce and all seven of the awesome other authors on Trapped By Monsters, the joint blog I'm currently involved with. We're always recommending books we love, so TBM and (as I mentioned already) my LibraryThing profile are two places you might want to look if you're after pointers to further fine reading. As well as this excellent blog, of course. ;)

Can you recommend one book that you think every boy should read at some point?

I don't mean to be rude, but I think it would be wrong to pick one book and tell everyone to read it. Every reader is different. Also (unlike more visual story forms like films and games) every book means something different to every person who reads it – and that's just one of the amazing things about reading. Reading is the single best way for a person to attempt to understand the wider world around us, and what it is to be human. It's also, I believe, one of the greatest pleasures in life. But I also believe that everyone should be free to choose what they read for themselves: fiction, biography, history, criticism, science, journalism, car manuals, whatever. 'Each man skin his own skunk' as a friend of mine used to say.

I know Crawlers hasn’t even been released yet but can you give us any hints as to other writing projects you are working on?

Certainly. My next project is a novella about a heist on the Bank of England. I'm particularly pleased with the climactic ninja fight, in the Bank's most secret vault, between the central character and his mum, but the scene with the sucker pads and the laser booby-trap isn't bad either (hee hee hee!) I'm also currently working on another full-length novel, but I'm afraid the details of that are going to have to remain a secret for now. I can tell you that it's for the same age-group as my other books. It's set in contemporary London, it will be fast and (I hope) thrilling and it's got monsters in it. But I don't think any of those facts will come as much of a surprise somehow – or not to anyone who's familiar with what I do. ;D

Is there anything else you would like to say to the readers of this blog?

If you'd like to find out more about me and my work, take a look at my homepage:

Thanks, best wishes, and Happy Reading! –Sam, Feb 2010


I think you will agree when I say that this is one hell of an interview. I have been sitting on this for over a month, desperately wanting to publish it but also wanting it to be the opening salute for my horror month. Thanks again Sam for your time and words of wisdom. Crawlers is officially released today!


  1. Wow, what a fantastic interview! I read a review of Crawlers just a few days ago, and it sounds amazing, but much too scary for a wimp like me. I like Sam's point that everyone will respond to books differently, it's just so true. Thanks for such a great interview!

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