Putting a Label On It

Here’s the rub; for a long time I’ve struggled to label my own work in the confines of one particular genre. This is okay for 90% of the time, but it does prove more troublesome when you need to submit your work. It would be easy to strip my stories or novels down to a root genre, but that’s not always the case. Many are dark, but they also have heart. I mix Horror with Thriller. Magical Realism with Absurdism. I sprinkle Grindhouse with Literary. Science Fiction with Folklore. Underbelly with Noir. In truth, it’s always the story that drives the genre, not the genre driving the story. That should be the case for most writers, and I’ve always admired authors who are able to uproot, and yet retain, at the core, the same writing style their fans love. Neil Gaiman is a prime example, shifting between comic books, to children’s fiction, from Dark fantasy to Horror. There are others; Anne Rice, Stephen King, Emma Donoghue, Margaret Atwood, William Peter Blatty, and Joyce Carol Oates, each establishing themselves as trailblazers in one particular genre, but skilled and brave enough to move venture over the fence from time to time.

It’s the same in the movie industry. There are directors who stretch themselves and cross easily into other genres without losing their signature; Kubrick, Spielberg, Scorsese, Coppola, and Luc Besson to name a few. Whereas say, John Carpenter, Tobe Hopper, George A Romero, stick true to their particular field of excellence. You know if Wes Craven attaches his name to a movie you’re not going to watch it with your five year old, just as it’s safe to assume a Richard Curtis movie isn’t going to end in bloodshed. For many people, genres are safety blankets. They allow the mood to be set, and expectations established. If I settle down to watch a period drama, in all likelihood I know it’s going to be a slower burn than most. The genre dictates the pace. Conversely, if I watch a high octane Action Thriller with Vin Diesel, I don’t worry about the narrative but I do expect to have my eyes peeled back and my heart rate go up a few beats. There are some directors who become their own genre too. They become adjectives too. You know you’re watching a Tarantino movie, mostly due to the dialogue and violence, but mainly because he doesn’t know when to end the damn thing. David Lynch and Hitchcock have their own style too, as does Tim Burton and Wes Anderson. You wouldn’t need to see the titles to know you’re watching either of their movies. And even if you get it wrong, you may find yourself saying, “This is a little Lynchian.” So genres are good in that respect. They allow the viewer, or the reader, a “heads up” on what to expect. But where this falls apart for me is pitching my work to publishers.

The process of getting your story or novel into the hands of a publisher is a long and protracted one. There are many hurdles and loops you need to jump through. The first is to find the right publisher. Sometimes it’s easier if you find a book or writer you like, and then seek out who published them. Sometimes said publishers don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts so you need to find an agent, and if you think landing a book with a publisher is hard, it’s a whole new world of pain trying to get an agent. So sometimes you just end up trawling the internet to find anyone who accepts your particular genre, so long as you know what genre you’re writing in. Fortunately, most indie publishers accept a wide range of genres, from Western, to Speculative, to Thriller to Horror. So even if you blend genres, like I do, there’s a good chance you’ll get over the first hurdle. The difficulty comes with marketing. A lot of manuscripts are rejected based on the fact the agent, or the publisher, would struggle to market it. For many years I used to hear that Horror was a hard sell, which for a person who loves writing it was a real kick in the balls. I asked a bestselling author once why that was the case, especially when Stephen King writes Horror and he’s not done too bad out of it, and the reply I got was, “Stephen King writes Stephen King novels.” By that they meant people didn’t buy Stephen King books because they were Horror, they bought them because they were written by Stephen King. From this I could only conclude the following: It was great being Stephen King, and that if you write well, and in a style that appeals to many readers, it doesn’t matter what genre you chose, you will just do well.

There’s no great mystery to this. If you write literary fiction that is hard to read with a page count of over a thousand, you’re narrowing your market and reducing your chances of landing an agent, but in years to come it may be studied by students the world over and end up being a classic. If you write “mom porn” about smartly dressed men with smouldering good looks who like a little slap and tickle, you’re going to reach a higher demographic and sell lots of books, but equally be pulled apart by critics and writers. Agents need to make money. They know the industry. They know what the current trends are and what the Big Five are looking for. You may have a great book, but if it doesn’t fit with their portfolio, or they don’t see it selling in the millions, you may find it gets rejected. There are a lot of agents that specialise in certain genres and nurture writers. I know a few writer friends that have landed agents like these and have done well. But these agents have small portfolios and are very selective about taking on new clients.  And again, you need to know your genre and whether it fits with them.

So here’s the rub; for a long time I’ve struggled with genre. For a long time I’ve struggled landing my work anywhere for this reason. But what I am seeing is a change in the marketplace. Horror is becoming a more sought after genre and a healthy commodity to agents and publishers. This is good news because I would say at the heart of all my work there is darkness. I’m also finding a style that is more reader-friendly than my earlier works, yet still retaining some that Wallworkian signature. So though I may cross genre at times, I’m confident that I won’t be defined by it, because great writing will always win out.

If you want to see this genre crossing, then check out BAD PEOPLE, which is still only $1.24c/99p on Amazon.

Bad People

Interview: MENACING HEDGE magazine

Amanda Gowin, writer and fiction editor at the arts journal, Menacing Hedge, me recently about coping during lockdown, horror movies, books and BAD PEOPLE. I used to be fiction editor there back in the day so it was both warming and an honour to grace its corridors once again. Thanks to Amanda, Kelly and Gio for allowing me the opportunity.

https://www.menacinghedge.com/spring-summer2020/interview-gowin-wallwork.php

Interview and Review: Kendall Reviews

J.A. Sullivan over at Kendall Reviews interviewed me recently about Bad People and the sequel Labyrinth of the Dolls, so if you want to know more about what inspired me to write a horror crime novel, or anything about the new novel (no spoilers, promise), then go check it.

{Book Review/Interview} (In the frenzy of creation, time holds no consequence) Bad People: Craig Wallwork

SCREAM!

New issue of SCREAM magazine arrived! Seeing Sadie Hartmann’s very kind review of my book Bad People went straight to my head and caused a nose bleed! Beware, if you read the book, the same thing may happen to you. Due to COVID, this edition won’t be in the shops, but you can buy direct from SCREAM. Great article too on FRIGHT NIGHT by Jerry Smith. Really digging his knowledge of the horror classics.

LABYRINTH OF THE DOLLS Cover Reveal!

Well, here it is. The new cover for the follow up to Bad People, which is due this summer. What do you think?

Blurb:

It’s been one year since the horrific murders of Stormer Hill, and the events of that time continue to resonate with Detective Constable Tom Nolan. In an attempt to find the second killer, known only as the Ragman, Nolan joins West Yorkshire’s Murder Investigation Team.

Partnered with Jennifer Morrison, a straight-talking detective with her eye on promotion, the two officers are assigned to track down a new killer whose victims are all found dressed like human dolls. As the investigation progresses, Nolan becomes an intricate piece in the killer’s grand vision that puts his life in danger. But with the body count rising daily, and the pressure to find who the media are labelling the Doll Maker increasing, Nolan discovers more than just series of grisly murders… Within the human dolls, the answers he has sought for nearly a year may finally be found.

Giveaway!

The very cool Sadie Hartmann (Mother Horror) is running a giveaway of my novel Bad People (signed) on her Instagram page. It’s free and easy to enter. Plus it’s open to any country. So get over to https://www.instagram.com/mother.horror/ and enter! Winner announced this coming Monday.

Bad People Reading (Prologue)

As you probably read in my previous post, this weekend marks the birthday of Sadie Hartmann. To celebrate, she called on some very cool authors to read aloud extracts from their books. I was called to read from my novel, Bad People. The result of which you can find below. This is the prologue, and I must forewarn anyone who doesn’t have a stomach for violence or horror to not watch the video. For all you cool kids, jump straight in. If after watching the video you think Bad People is something you’d like to read, then you can find it on Amazon for as little as 99p/99c. Happy viewing, and thanks again for your support and interest.

Mother Horror Weekend Spectacular

This weekend marks the birthday of Sadie Hartmann, a.k.a. Mother Horror. What Sadie doesn’t know about great horror fiction isn’t worth knowing. She writes reviews for Scream Magazine and Cemetery Dance, and is the co-founder of Night Worms along with Ashley Sawyers, a website dedicated to pageant the very best in new horror book releases.

To mark Sadie’s birthday, she has asked authors of some of her favourite books to do a reading. Check out the list below, because the line up is pretty damn impressive.

The readings will be uploaded to the Night Worms YouTube channel from this evening, so head over there now and subscribe so you don’t miss out. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC5-ipZaC9A5cyZ4h1WW-29g

And yes, somehow I mooched my way in too. So you can see/hear me read the opening chapter to BAD PEOPLE. If you do read my contribution, let me know your thoughts as I don’t do many.

SQUELLAND by Jay Slayton Joslin – a book review

Joslin’s second book is not what you think it is. The front cover offers something akin to the face of Jason Vooheers as a child, something burnt and disfigured, then you have the subtitle, which states that SEQUELLAND is a story of dreams and screams, all of which leaves you fully prepared to be immersed into a dark menagerie of men adorned with a glove fashioned into long knifes and hockey masks. And sure, you get all that and more, but cleverly disguised within this homage to the horror genre sequel, cackles a very personal journey for the author, one that beneath all the anecdotal mishaps, mistakes, regrets, triumphs, gore and lore, you’ll find something more interesting than the history of our most beloved horror franchises.

Joslin’s story is interwoven within the fabric of the interviews he’s conducted. It’s a very candid, self-effacing portrait of a man trying to find his place in the literary world. By interviewing the directors and writers involved in sequels to movies like Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Cube, Friday the 13th, Nightmare of Elm Street, there’s a feeling Joslin wishes to understand more about his own creative self in the process. It’s akin to seeking a higher level consciousness through meditation; only here Joslin isn’t sat on a mountain for hours, but crawling through the rotting carcasses of a thousand corpses to reach the fringe of Hell, where amidst the blood and the gore, he’ll find salvation, or at least have enough inspiration to bash out a short story, or novel. This isn’t a criticism of him or the book. In truth, I found his doubts were my doubts, his insecurities my insecurities. For that reason, it was very relatable, and I applaud him for being so honest. The hope is now that having gone through the process it allows him a moment of reflection; to understand that sometimes, those who have done the things we can only dream of doing, did it not for the money, or the acclaim, but for the love of the genre.

I wouldn’t claim to be an Aficionado of horror. I, like most kids who grew up in the 1970/80s, have a nostalgic fondness for the cult hits mentioned in the book. I have spoken at length in articles and interviews of my exposure to the horror genre as a child, and of this I am certain; without the experience I wouldn’t be writing today. So to read about the genesis of the sequel from the inside was a revelation. There was a peculiarity to a couple of the interviews. Kat Shea seemed like the interview was an inconvenience, and the brevity of Mary Lambert’s contribution left me with wondering if the time she allocated to answer the question was while having her morning ablution. But others, mainly Adam Marcus, makes up for any shortcomings. If I had any criticism to offer, it would be that a few of the interviews were written in the same way a person speaks. So there was a lot of parlance that caused sentences to fragment. This is a personal thing and not a reflection on the author’s experience. Joslin’s did a good job to extract a balanced interview filled with enough insight you felt satisfied. If you’re into your horror this is a worthy addition to your collection. Whereas most books concentrate on the Tobe Hoopers, the Wes Cravens and the John Carpenters of the world, this is a considerate, and respectful look at those often forgotten; the brave souls who were willing to take the hand of the Devil when he extended it, and walked into Hell to rip it up

4.5 stars.

How COVID19 Turned Out to be the Best Thing that Ever Happened to Me!

If you’ve started reading this it means you’re either appalled by the title of this blog and want to know what kind of cruel and cold hearted bastard I am, or you too share similar feelings. Let’s begin by placating those in the first camp. At the time of writing this, COVID19 has taken a little over 100k lives globally. Businesses have suffered and thousands of people have lost their jobs. Children’s education has been compromised, and families have not been able to see each for over two months. This cruel and cold hearted bastard you seek, it’s not me. It’s the virus. And, in case there’s any loss in translation, I too am appalled and saddened by what it’s done to the world. However…

Confession first; since as far back as I remember, I have suffered with anxiety. As a child, it manifested mostly as fear; a fear of people, of socialising, of having friends, of not having friends, of being dependent on others, of shadows, or strangers, ghosts, large animals, of not getting a joke, of being beaten for not getting the joke, of being beaten for nothing, of experiencing pain in any guise, of knowing I would die, of knowing that I had so much life to live before I die, of girls, of being considered ugly by girls, of being weak, of trying too hard to be accepted, of not being clever, of knowing there were killers out there, of knowing there were no angels to protect me, of having no money, of maybe one day having too much money and not doing the right thing with it, of not liking things my friends liked, for liking the things no one else liked, but most of all, the biggest fear I had was living in a world where I could not be myself. Save for my fear of girls, which has been diluted due to marriage, nothing much as changed over the years.

I awake most days feeling scared, anxious, fearful. I struggle with social gatherings, especially in the workplace. People don’t really see it. I hide it well is. Most of us do. My defence mechanism, the shield I hide behind, is humour. As a child I adopted the position in the group as the clown. As an adult, I still lean toward being funny, cracking jokes, hiding behind the smile. The truth of it is, only one person as seen me for who I truly am, the person beyond the greasepaint and the amour. My wife is that angel I thought never existed, the one I searched for as a child. She has seen me stripped of all hilarity and feigned cheerfulness. She knows I am not the person she met that night in a club in 1996, and yet she still wants to hold my hand when I’m scared, and listen to me when I’m fretting. She allows me to be quiet, to be alone. She understands. But these moments of being myself are short-lived, for the next day I return back to work and continue being the person I need to be. COVID19 changed that.

It may be strange for people to understand, or grasp my reasons for saying this, but I have never felt so free as I have in isolation. In my home I am around those I truly feel comfortable with; my wife and two beautiful children. They accept every part of me, warts and all. In the two months of our lockdown period, I have enjoyed not having to interact with “other people”, of not having to expend energy being “sociable”. To a person who suffers with anxiety, life is mostly an act, of being a version of yourself that functions around others without them knowing how you truly feel. We get good at it. Sometimes it feels like there should be an award ceremony held each year where an academy board awards us the equivalent of an Oscar. If anyone is reading this with the power to make this happen, don’t. If the genesis for such an occasion is to celebrate the achievements of those struggling in social situations, putting them in a room among other people and getting them to stand on a stage and speak is probably the cruelest thing you could do. But yes, we are the Benedict Cumberbatches. We are the Meryl Streeps. And when the day is done, we go home and shed our skins and become once again the people we truly are.

In a rare moment of wild abandon late last year, I agreed to go to the city with my friends to catch up. It was a little after midnight, our tongues loosened by alcohol, and my friend pulled me to one side and asked why I’m so scared of doing anything. At the time, I couldn’t really articulate the answer he sought. I probably said something lame like, it’s none of your business, and that I’m fine and why don’t we have another drink before ringing an Uber. But now, on reflection, I realise I’m not scared to do something, it’s that I just don’t want to do anything. I am a much happier version of myself when I’m at home. My heart rate is less agitated. My stomach is free of butterflies. For my own health and wellbeing, I am complete when among my family. In truth, COVID19 allowed me to relax. It gave me a moment to coast and appreciate my children practicing dance routines, watching them learn, seeing them grow, (for more about this, see the letter I wrote to my children). I have walked with my angel and watched scary movies with her. I have wrote many words, and lost myself in the pages of books. For the longest duration in my whole life, during lockdown I have been the person I always wanted to be.

But now it’s coming to an end. I will soon return back to work, socialising and engaging in conversation. But my hope is that for all the shit it’s called, and the deaths and the heartaches and damage to the world economy, COVID19 taught me how to be who I want to be. It allowed me time to get to know myself and feel comfortable in my skin. And whether it takes me a week, or ten years, I know I’ll learn from these days and remember when I was myself.