Claire – Hi Stephanie! Let’s get right into it. Why don’t you tell us about yourself and what you’re currently working on.
Stephanie – Hi Claire. At the moment I’m working on some folk horror stories for my second short story collection. I live in Somerset, England, and there’s a rich history here of centuries of belief in folklore, witchcraft and magic. I’m basing the stories around some of these tales and legends, but with a modern twist. I’m from the suburbs of London originally but I’ve always loved ancient history and strange folk tales of the countryside.
Claire – Tell us about your background in writing. When did you start and why? What did you first write before you found your niche? Or have you always written offbeat, dark fantasy, and creepy stories?
Stephanie – I wrote stories when I was a kid and I was a big reader then, mostly sci-fi and classic ghost stories. I never gave up the reading but only took up story writing seriously again four years ago and started submitting them to competitions and to publishers calling for stories for horror collections. I had some success when publishers like Grinning Skull and Almond Press accepted my work, then I had a novella called ‘The Tale of Storm Raven’ published by Dark Alley Press. I’ve worked as a magazine editor/feature writer myself in the past, although I’m a hospital administrator at the moment. Mysteries, ghosts and creepy stuff has always been my fave genre to read and write.
Claire – You mention on your website you are a competition winning author. What competition did you win? What story did you submit, and why?
Stephanie – It was back in March 2014, a story called ‘Tiny Claws’ with Dark Tales Press. The story is re-published now in my book ‘The Obsidian Path’ and is about a Russian lady who knits scary dolls that come to life. I was a runner up too with Almond Press in 2014, and my story ‘Dreg Town’ was included in their ‘Broken Worlds’ anthology.
Claire – I wrote an article about the differences between dark fantasy and horror. We also had a debate about it on a panel at a speculative fiction convention. What’s your opinion on the differences? Why do you classify your writing as dark fiction/fantasy rather than horror?
Stephanie – I think of horror as more the obvious splatter-gore stuff and I think a lot of readers do too. Dark fiction/fantasy can include that of course but I tend to think of it as more subtle, also maybe involving more psychological stuff where the reader wonders sometimes if there really is a monster outside of the character’s head. I like the creepyness of classic ghost stories like M. R. James, where there is no graphic bloodshed, but the story still chills the reader, more dark than horrifying.
Claire – What do you enjoy most about writing? Why do you like to tell stories?
Stephanie – I love scaring myself with my imagination and just have to write the images down. I’m one of those daft people who look out of the kitchen window at night and imagine some elemental terror climbing over the hedge to scratch at the back door. It’s that ‘what if it really did’ wonderment I think I’ve not lost since childhood. Of course, I know it’s not really likely but I’ll lock the back door anyway! If I feel I’ve done a good job of the story, I like to think other people might get something out of it too when they read it, even if it’s just to lose themselves for a while.
Claire – Your books sound so interesting! Tell me about Death Wears A Top Hat. Have you always been interested in Victorian England? Do you think growing up in London influenced your interests?
Stephanie – I think London influenced me a lot. I’d go into town on the train or bus to see bands play in some of the seedy clubs in my teens and early twenties. I studied graphics at college in the Elephant and Castle area later and got involved in the modern Pagan scene that was really vibrant back then in the late 80s/90s. The book shop in ‘Death Wears A Top Hat’ is loosely based around a real 100-year-old occult bookshop a friend used to own, famous witch Gerald Gardner having been a past patron and holding coven meetings there in the basement. A short walk away is the famous Red Lion Square where Pagan conferences were held in Conway Hall (mentioned in the book) and I went to several of those to listen to various talks. London has such an incredible history and many old buildings still stand firm among the modern, with their cobbled streets and Victorian shopfronts. You can almost see the shady Jack The Ripper type characters from times past, still haunting street corners and alleyways. My book is a paranormal thriller, essentially, telling the story of a psychic, Alison Graves, who is drawn into a serial killer investigation and many of her scenes happen in these places I’ve known, with characters loosely based on some people there I’ve known.
Claire – I’ve been looking over your website and see you’ve played drums in a band. Have you always had an interest in music, and if so, has that influenced your writing?
Stephanie – I wasn’t a very good drummer, but I was into the punk scene in London back in the day, and went to some of the more underground bohemian ‘goth’ clubs too – ‘The Tale of Storm Raven’ is based in that scene/era.
Claire – Tell me about your interest in UFO’s and the occult. How do you weave them into your writing? Are they the main aspects of your writing or subtle undertones?
Stephanie – The weird stuff of life fascinates me and I think it adds richness to the stories I write. UFOs and the occult are things I’ve spent years researching into. Now I live near Wiltshire I’ve visited the infamous Starr Hill and have certainly seen some odd things I can’t explain, first-hand. I add a dollop of imagination of course to the stories but some include personally based experiences, and things other people have shared with me or I’ve read about.
Claire – You describe your stories as unsettling stories with a contemporary twist. Tell me about that. How do you weave contemporary elements into your story? What influences you?
Stephanie – I do often use modern urban settings and current topics, along with the ghosts and weirdness. I did a lot of research for ‘Death Wears’ into police procedures to ensure I got the details right when DI McKentee was working on the killer’s case, and also of course did a lot of research for the transgender character, Alison, to ensure she was authentic and her experiences believable. Although her gender re-assignment was only touched on as part of the story, and paralleled her psychic unfolding in a way, I wanted her to feel real and do justice to people experiencing this in their own lives today.
Claire – I read your short stories Butt Clouds and The Rain. I found Butt Clouds amusing, but also tense and thrilling. The Rain, if I’m not mistaken, seems to weave elements of science fiction. Tell me about the stories. Are they examples of your writing style?
Stephanie – Glad you enjoyed those stories, Claire. ‘Butt Clouds’ was a bit of a diversion for me into humour, although I’ve since written a ghost story about a murdered woman who comes back to get her revenge and ruin her murderer’s raid on a bank, which is dryly funny, I guess. ‘The Rain’ is more my general style – that was published originally by Grinning Skull Press in their anthology of alien monster stories. Although I’m not so hot on sci-fi I have read classics like Ray Bradbury and topics such as the possibility of parallel dimensions and alien contact fascinates me.
Claire – Tell me about The Obsidian Path and the stories within the collection. Was it hard to choose which stories to add?
Stephanie – I think I chose my personal favourites there, but I’ve enough now for another collection. I like to do short stories as they are quite gratifying, they are a quick option while a novel is more of a long haul, a different creature entirely to write.
Claire – Tell me about the protagonists in your stories.
Stephanie – I’ve tended to use a lot of different protagonists. ‘Storm Raven’ was written from the first-person viewpoint of Nick, a male character. I often write as a male character, but I think, male or female, my main characters are generally likable but with human failures. No one is too shiny. Detective Sue McKentee in ‘Death Wears A Top Hat’ has some very human failings, lack of self-confidence and can alienate people with her hard-faced attitude. But at the same time, she is loyal and kind hearted. She and Alison become firm friends after a shaky start. I don’t like crying girls, always the victim, so I write my leading ladies as resourceful and intelligent, independent thinkers who kick butt.
Claire – Who and/or what influences you as a writer? What do you like to read?
Stephanie – I read a lot of new horror/dark fiction writers, often self-published or published by indie small press, like myself. There’s a lot of talent out there but it’s not always easy to get your voice heard without a great promo money-machine behind you, sadly. I like to read other authors recommendations on forums.
Claire – Writing takes time and patience. Do you set aside time to write? What do you do when you’re not writing?
Stephanie – I have to pay the bills so still work part-time at my local hospital. But weekends plus those extra 2 days in the week are my writing time, although I don’t set a particular regime to sit down at it. That doesn’t seem to work for me. I have to have the muse with me. But I do keep a notebook to hand to scribble ideas down, even when I’m just having tea in front of the telly. I also paint and draw (I did my own cover for ‘The Obsidian Path’), grow veg and keep pet rescue ferrets.
Claire – Is writing, for you, a gift or a curse? How has it shaped your life?
Stephanie – I think it’s both. A gift in that people say they enjoyed reading this or that, so I feel writing it down was worthwhile if it gives someone else enjoyment. But a curse if struggling to get a storyline right, pace and structure, all that stuff, but I just can’t seem to get it. I belong to a writers’ group and they are excellent as a fresh pair of eyes when I’m stuck. So far, I’ve not made big money at it so its’ not really changed my life in that way, but it has certainly given me a creative outlet to focus on.
Claire – Is there anything you find particularly challenging as a writer?
Stephanie – I’m still not good at tenses. I’m not a technically scholarly writer.
Claire – Who is your favourite author and why?
Stephanie – Lots. Obviously, Stephen King and Neil Gaiman feature heavily though.
Claire – And finally, what are you working on at the moment?
Stephanie – I’m toying with a second paranormal crime thriller where Detective McKentee and Alison team up to solve another case. I’ve also sketched out a dystopian future novel based on the characters in one of my published short stories, ‘Dreg Town.’ Plus, the collection of folk horror stories of course, although I’m not sure yet whether to publish that myself or approach an indie publisher who has already taken my work. I need to finish the stories first and then have a think.
Claire – You can find out more about Stephanie by visiting the links below: