How and when did you get interested in writing?
There’s no interesting answer to this. Like a lot of people, I’ve written obsessively since I could write (and read obsessively since I could read). It’s just what I do!
Where did you get the inspiration for your story?
Years ago, I’d read about Robert Ledru, a celebrated Parisian police detective in the late nineteenth century. Ledru was investigating a case at the Normandy port of Le Havre, when a man was found murdered on the beach. After careful examination of the evidence, Ledru came to the conclusion that he himself was the murderer, having shot the man whilst sleepwalking the night before. Obviously, this is a terrific story, and I wanted to do something with it, but it was hard to know what, since life had written it first. When I was contacted about this book, I was in the midst of another project that drew heavily on Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. I thought about doing a ghost story set in the midst of the French Revolution. And then I thought about Robert Ledru, and the story of a man who suspects he has committed a murder in his sleep. It came to me that this was the perfect story of a man coming to the realization of his own private guilt, through the most chilling means possible. And what if it were taking place in the midst of the ‘Reign of Terror’, in streets haunted by the ghosts of those betrayed by their own revolution and sentenced to death? The two pieces clicked into place, and it was magical.
What was your biggest challenge in writing your story?
I’d never written a ghost story before, or anything that could generously be termed scary (at least, not on purpose!). I’ve never intentionally tried to unsettle a reader, as the best horror writers can do. So that aspect was challenging. Usually I like writing dialogue, but for this story to work, I wanted it to be saturated in atmosphere. I tried to focus on creating a Paris not necessarily true to history, but that reflected the mind of a troubled man living within it. The lovely thing about of this was that while I was working on drawing out the dark, unnerving corners of Jacques’ world – death, blood, the roar of the crowds, the constant fear of betrayal, dark streets, candlelight, silent guilt – I realized I was drawing out the main strands of the plot at the same time. At this point, the story wrote itself. I still don’t know how scary readers may find it, but it turned out to be about a lot of things that scare me.
Do you have a favorite author, and if so, why?
No, because I have about thirty! (I’m an English PhD, so I’ve had far too many excuses to read amazing books over the years.) I grew up on J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Ray Bradbury, Orson Scott Card, Anthony Horowitz, and Douglas Adams. When I went to university, I added Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, Peter S. Beagle, Neil Gaiman, Richard Adams, T.H. White, Rosemary Sutcliff, Dodie Smith, Charles Dickens, Elizabeth Gaskell, and many others. When I was writing this, I immersed myself in A Tale of Two Cities, as I said, and also Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, which is just an astonishingly powerful, incandescent journey through a guilt-ridden psyche. I steal from the best.
Grave Warnings is out now.
Interview © 2017 Pencil Tip Publishing