Tom Fletcher’s 2010 debut horror novel The Leaping thrust the author into the spotlight with its unique style and riveting ability to capture the reader’s attention. His followup novel, The Thing on the Shore likewise gave the supernatural literary circle some food-for-thought with its strong thematic tones and skilled penmanship.
Last month saw the release of his third horror novel, the chilling The Ravenglass Eye, and this spooky reader wasn’t disappointed. And lucky for myself, and readers of Spooky Reads, Tom kindly agreed to drop by for a Q&A session, so thanks to Tom for his time in answering a couple of key questions relating to horror, writing, politics, books, video games, and of course, Pot Noodles. Let the interview begin.
You’ve three books published now. Can the collective of horror readers out there expect at least another three horror novels from the Fletcher stable?
Well – the short answer is yes! The longer answer is that I’ve just finished writing the first draft of my fourth novel, which is a horror, but my next project will be quite different – i.e., less overtly horror – and it will keep me busy for a few years. I do have ideas for at least two more horror novels to come after that, and I fully intend to write them, but it’ll be a while before I do so.
In the long-term, I want to write a lot of different kinds of books, but I imagine they will each have at least a streak of horror running through them. I hope so, anyway. I think novels need a touch of genuine darkness, of genuine threat, to be effective. Whatever genre they’re in.
Your first book, The Leaping dealt with Werewolves; then The Thing on the Shore focussed upon a more malevolent, omnipotent, lurking supernatural horror threat, and The Ravenglass Eye almost dual in its focus upon both the small, tangible horrors as well as greater, legendary style thing. Do you prefer writing of the more classifiable terror, or that which is less definable, more boundless, and surreal?
In terms of my horror fiction, I’m gravitating towards the surreal. I loved writing about werewolves in The Leaping, but even towards the end of that book there are hints of a less straightforward threat – there’s something more abstract, or even abject, going on. I don’t really want to write horror novels in which the key horror or darkness is localised in one or more actual characters, because then the narrative inevitably leads to a conflict of some sort, and a neat success-or-failure resolution, and that – to me – is too reassuring.
If the horror threat is just a werewolf, or vampire, or sea-serpent, or whatever, then it can be destroyed or incapacitated or avoided. Personally, I think that for horror fiction to be effective, it has to point to the darkness gathering all around – a state of affairs that cannot simply be defeated. It has to be about the mundane, the everyday, the banal, the real. Ideally, it should recast the reader and the reader’s life as ‘other’ instead of making the reader afraid of an invented, external ‘other’.
With The Ravenglass Eye you’ve got the thread of small community, its charms (though, granted few as distilled in your book) and detractions. Given that a common theme throughout your books is of small communes (even The Leaping following the move from city to farmhouse), is there anything in particular that draws such an area to your attention?
Just personal experience I think. I spent my formative years in West Cumbria, which is very rural, with the occasional tiny village or small town. And all of my novels are set in places I know in that part of the country. I’ve always felt that if I’m going to set a novel in this world, it has to be set in a place I’m familiar with. I don’t think that’s true of all writers – I don’t mean to suggest that writers should only set their fiction in places they know – it’s just what my inclination has been.
Having said all that, I am drawn, thematically, to the strange, bleak blend of beautiful countryside and economic deprivation that is West Cumbria. I do find it deeply inspiring. But that might just be a consequence of growing up there, and loving it. Maybe everybody feels inspired by the places they know and love. I don’t know.
The nod toward cloying, corruptive corporate greed in The Thing on the Shore and The Leaping are fantastic representations of those troubling issues going on in the world around us now. Do you actively bring opinion of political/economic areas into you work, or let it happen organically?
Thank you. All fiction is political, whether the writer intends for it to be or not. In my case, these are themes I actively work with, yes. I’d rather do it deliberately than subconsciously. I don’t put politics or economics in on purpose, but I welcome them once they’ve shown themselves. I’d rather write books that engage with our world than books that don’t.
I think it’s important to be conscious of your own politics anyway, but especially if you’re a writer – if you’re writing ‘about’ this world, or creating another, or writing anything with human (or human proxy) characters, then you have to at least know what you think, know what you believe in, know what you hope for. You have to be interested in politics and history. You don’t have to be a political mastermind, you don’t have to be a social scientist or a qualified economist, but you have to be interested and aware. You have to keep up. And you have to have opinions.
I’ve heard writers say that fiction is just entertainment, and that they only write to entertain, that their books are not political. I’m all for entertainment – I want to be entertained, I want my books to be entertaining – but the decision to write pure entertainment is itself a political decision. If a book doesn’t cause the reader to question or think about their political and social environment, then it’s an endorsement – unintentional maybe, but an endorsement all the same – of the current status quo.
The political content or element of a novel doesn’t have to be overt, it doesn’t have to be laboured, it doesn’t have to be deliberately inserted by the writer. I’d say it should be none of those things. To answer your question, I think it should be allowed to manifest organically, and work its way into the setting or a character’s history or the prose style or the narrative voice. A writer has to recognise that the personal is political, and vice-versa.
I actually think politics and fiction are inseparable, for that reason. But really, I don’t know why anybody would be a writer if they weren’t interested in politics. Where would the passion come from? Good writing needs real passion. And I don’t mean that all novels should be about politicians or the history of this one particular sink estate or anything like that. I don’t want novels to be illustrative or allegorical or propagandist. But they should feel real. They should feel important. They should feel urgent. They should be urgent. Even if they just ask questions.
At the climax of The Leaping there was a feeling of a mythos in the making, and whilst TTOTS saw continuation in some manner it took a very different turn; will you ever return to the pack from your debut?
I’d like to, yes. I haven’t yet, but I’d like to. The three published novels, and the fourth, which I’ve just finished the first draft of, share a world, and the same mythos underpins them all, although they’re all quite different. But I don’t want to force any connections. I want them all to work as standalones. If I do come back to werewolves, and that particular pack, then it will be in another standalone.
There’s actually a character from The Leaping hidden away in The Ravenglass Eye, but they’re not named, and I don’t mind if people recognise them or not. I just thought that the pack might take an interest in the events chronicled in that book, and make sure that one of their number was present to bear witness…
There’s a definite sense of the apocalyptic in Raven. Just 2012 Mayan undercurrents, or more active reflection of the doom and gloom which seem to linger in the popular press and news?
I know very little about the 2012 prophecies. I don’t even know enough to be sceptical. So yeah, the apocalyptic feeling is very much drawn from life. And also from my interest in apocalyptic fiction, I suppose!
Which horror authors motivated you into writing, and have influenced your work the most?
I was inspired to write by fantasy authors – I always read more fantasy and sci-fi than horror. I’d say Tolkien first, and then Raymond E. Feist, Robin Hobb, and Mervyn Peake were the writers that really inspired me to try and write my own stuff. Pratchett, too. Later, there was Ian McDonald and Iain Banks, with and without the M. Then later still there was Muriel Spark, Bret Easton Ellis, Angela Carter, Don DeLillo and John Ajvide Lindqvist. Maybe Lindqvist is the only out-and-out horror author there, but I think there’s horror in the work of all of them.
As for influence – I don’t know, that’s hard. Everything I’ve ever read influences me, but current conscious influences are probably Spark, Ellis and Lindqvist. I love the way those writers in particular focus on the everyday, the mundane, and show just how strange and uncanny it really is. They’re also all great prose stylists, which I think is very important. But their prose style is subtle and, again, everyday. They use completely believable and authentic voices, and their writing is basic and direct, yet poetic.
I want to re-read Gormenghast, by Mervyn Peake. I remember being overwhelmed by Peake’s pitch-perfect blend of gothic horror and fantasy in that book. That kind of fantasy was completely new to me when I read it, and I want to revisit it, look again at how it works, because my next project will be a fantasy. Also, as with the other authors I mention above, Peake’s use of language is beautiful.
There is a sense of video-game culture in your books that really is given a diligent and gorgeous coverage. From the Mario Kart sessions in The Leaping to the quite touching Animal Crossing introspective in TTOTS. Do you think that videogames are a suitable medium for storytelling, and can you think of any games which are as successful as books in telling a tale?
I do think that videogames are a suitable medium for storytelling, but I’m not sure that storytelling is the best use of the medium. The word ‘videogames’ is used to describe a lot of vastly different interactive experiences, ranging from those that are entirely linear narratives through to those that have very little in the way of story or narrative at all.
And I think there’s a lot of fascinating stuff happening in games towards the latter end of that spectrum – that’s where the differences between videogames and other media become more apparent. That’s where you find the videogames that do things no novel or film can do, and that’s where – I believe – the power of the medium will show itself. I’m also a great believer in games as a social activity – they’re great for encouraging interaction and engagement between people, which is important.
But you asked me about games that I think tell stories well. One that has stayed with me for a long time is Shadow of the Colossus; that’s a game that delivers a simple but powerful story incredibly well. The story simultaneously justifies the actions that the game demands of you, and forces you to question them – it’s a very neat critique of videogame convention. In addition, it looks beautiful – the setting is an emotionally resonant, desolate landscape of forests and gigantic ruins – and the gameplay is lovely.
I apologise, but I can’t let you escape the de facto Spooky Reads question: what’s your favourite flavour Pot Noodle?
Chicken and Noodle, definitely. It brings back many fond memories of camping in Eskdale when I was little.
And before you go, would you be able to let us in on any information relating to your next book?
The fourth book is called The Dead Fool, probably, and it’s about a man who does a small cash-in-hand job that results in him being haunted by the ghost of England’s last court jester – the malevolent Tom Fool. That’s a very brief summary, because I don’t want to give too much away, but it gives you an idea!
I’d like to thank you very much for taking the time to answer these questions for Spooky Reads, and wish you the best with your future work!