Scott – From reading your bio, I know that Naomi isn’t your name, but our readers may not. What’s the story there?
Naomi – I learned my love of reading and writing from some very strong women and take my pseudonym from them. I was adopted and my adoptive mother’s maiden name was Frances Rourke. My grandmother’s maiden name was Katherine Brett. Sadly, neither of these women are alive anymore. My grandmother, a feisty Liverpudlian, read to me for hours every day.
My mother, Frances, read fiction. She had a sewing room where all her books lived in shelves across three walls. I went in there and picked book after book — mysteries, horror, The Godfather. So now we have Brett and Rourke, where did Naomi come from?
In 1999, I had the thrill of meeting my birth mother, Sylvia Gullikson Brackebush. She told me that if she had been able to keep me, she would have named me Naomi. This was another brave and strong woman, although she would be the first to say she wasn’t. I honor these women with my choice of a name: Naomi Brett Rourke. It’s a mouthful.
Just call me Naomi.
Scott – Naomi, it is! Your background isn’t only literary. It’s theatrical. You’ve directed several full-stage productions, many of them classics. How did you end up in theatre?
Naomi – I have always been a little theatrical. The first play I was in was the Christmas play when I was in kindergarten, I think. I was the Christmas Angel.
I decided I wanted to be an actress very early and I acted, sang, and danced whenever I could in school. I wanted to major in Theatre Arts in college but my father told me to go into computer programming. I went into the bookstore and picked up the textbook – Linux or DAS or some such thing – opened it, read a couple of lines, and said, “nope.” I closed it, put it back, and signed up for Theatre and English. Dad wasn’t happy but he eventually got used to it.
I acted on stage for years, for television, and film – nothing big. I directed plays in my community and for the local mall and senior centers. It was rewarding, and I finally decided I wanted to teach. I double-majored in English and Theatre Arts so I was a perfect pick for a school with a Drama program. I directed a straight play in the fall and a musical in the spring, with a night of scenes – three or four productions a year for ten years and I did almost everything on my own. I loved working with the kids but when I developed pneumonia three times in one year, it was time to quit. After I got better I was amazed at the amount of time I had, so I started writing. As they say, there is a time for every season…. It’s my season for writing, which I will probably do until I keel over.
Scott – Pneumonia three times in one year? No thanks! But with a decade of teaching, you probably have more than a few takeaways to share. What’s the one thing all of us could do to learn about writing or the stage?
Naomi – Writing? Oh, so much. I have to laugh at the writing of high schoolers right now. They have been on social media practically since they’ve been born and I see things creeping into their writing like “I’m going 2 the store” or “I’m @ the mall now.” It drives me crazy. Also, I wish people could learn the difference between “their,” “there,” and “they’re.” Although, I’m a nice one to complain – I skip personal pronouns all the time. I say, “driving there now” rather than, “I’m driving there now.” Maybe it’s a California thing.
I love teaching English because it keeps me on my toes for my own writing. I’m constantly telling my students about imagery, subject/verb agreement, and “show don’t tell” and everything else, and it stays in my mind when I sit down to write. I still need a good editor though. I think everyone does. At least I’ve managed to identify my most common mistakes so I can avoid them. Most of the time, anyway.
Stage? One quote from Alexander Pope: “Act well your part; there all the honor lies.” I believe this on stage and off.
Scott – Duly noted. I understand that, on top of everything else you do, you’ve got a huge family. Children, step-children, grandchildren, three cats and a dog. And a tortoise — which I’m sure takes up the lion’s share your time. How do you find time to write among all the other things you do?
Naomi – Well, they are all adults so only one daughter and one grandchild are in our house right now. They are moving in September, though, so my husband and I will be empty nesters…again. It happened once before and some of them came back! We love our children and will always make room for them if they need a place. I think, I hope, most parents would.
That said, when my daughter started working at home, she took over my office. With all the people in the house, there’s usually a television or music playing somewhere. It can be challenging to find a place to write. Sometimes, I just have to put on my headphones and bear it. Natural noise works well – wind, rain, crashing waves, frogs…all the things I don’t hear much in my corner of the city. I find little moments to write: waiting for the grandson to get out of dance class, lunch times, and odd moments when no one’s around. Summer vacations are the best time for writing.
Scott – Writing on summer vacation? That’s what reading is for. And you’ve got to read! Every writer does. What authors and stories really draw you in?
Naomi – I love mysteries, thrillers, crime, and horror, so most of what I read comes from authors like Stephen King, Dean Koontz (his novel Intensity is the most frightening book I have ever read,) Michael Crichton, and the like. Philippa Gregory’s historical fiction is compelling and perfect beach reads. Tony Hillerman’s Native American novels are fun reads. I just read a story by Rebecca Roanhorse, a Native American author, and I’m looking forward to reading more of her work. When I was younger I was a big fan of Mary Stewart and Phyllis Whitney. I think Stewart’s Merlin Trilogy is still one of the best things I’ve ever read. When I finished reading Crichton’s Timeline, I went right back to the beginning and read it again immediately. If I like a book I’ll read it again and again.
I read mostly fiction but Stacy Schiff is wonderful with nonfiction and I’ve read her The Witches and Cleopatra. And, of course, I’m always reading weird stuff like true crime to propel my writing. I recently found out that Jack the Ripper’s last victim was pregnant so that sparked a storyline for me.
Scott – That last bit there, about Jack the Ripper and sparking a storyline. That’s not something that happens to every reader. In fact, many readers never even think about becoming writers. What prompted you to take up the craft?
Naomi – I wanted to become a writer when I was young and my father always said I would be a wonderful writer. I wrote horrible poetry. In college, a poetry professor said my writing was “schizophrenic.” I was crushed and stopped writing after that.
The next time I wrote fiction was after I had a stroke at 37 years old. I lost a lot of my vocabulary. Years after the stroke, I was trying to improve my vocabulary to what it had been before and I wrote a humorous nonfiction story. My husband read it and suggested I send it out for publication. I scoffed but did anyway. No one bought it, but the fire was lit. On a whim, I wrote a horror short story and sent it off and it was purchased almost immediately by a London horror magazine. I continued writing from there on out.
By the way, that initial nonfiction short story? That sold and has been reprinted twice.
Scott – Congrats! That kind of success is definitely a huge motivator. How does your love of theatre play into your writing?
Naomi – Theatre is a big part of my writing because of all the character work that goes into making a good character onstage. I was already well-versed in character study and motivation and those skills make it onto my pages. Character arcs and the three-act structure help. Having a good imagination when you read plays helps.
One of the things I mourn is the lack of imagination in our high school students. It’s as if the video games and the internet have taken all their natural imagination away; everything is provided for them. I hear students say that they don’t like to read and don’t like to read plays. It takes imagination for both. Although, give me students and Shakespeare and I’ll make believers out of them!
Scott – You mentioned character arcs and three-act structures, which means it’s time to ask: Start to finish, what does your writing process look like?
Naomi – It varies. Once I had a very complex dream and I woke up, told my husband, and wrote it down. It came on the page almost exactly as I dreamed it. I knew when Tim was crying at the end that it was good. If I’m writing for a client, of course, I’ll take the events that they want and craft a story around that, but mostly I write when I’ve got an idea for a story that won’t go away, and I’m not too picky about genre. I mix genres all the time.
I can’t watch TV or listen to music with lyrics when I write. If it’s too loud in the house, I get testy. Normally I write when it’s quiet. I need that to listen to the “voices in my head.”
Scott – It sounds like you have a set of preferences when you settle in to write. No TV or lyrical music. You mentioned earlier that natural sounds – waves, forests, etc. – work for you. But what about habits? What are a few key habits any writer should strongly consider?
Naomi – Write every day and have a schedule for your writing. I’m trying to do this – not succeeding every day – but I’m trying. I’m so new to writing that I have a hard time telling anyone what to do but I will say to take as many workshops and go to as many conferences as you can. Take every speck of information and use what works for you.
I took a workshop from Jack Ketchum called “Writing from the Wound.” It was enlightening, and I’m so sad he’s gone. Loren Rhodes told me at a conference, “If you’re uncomfortable with your writing, it must be good.” I think a lot of people are afraid of going all the way. I’m afraid sometimes and I’m trying to push through. We’re all afraid of what people will think, what people will say. We’ve got to be true to ourselves and speak our truth, however that may ache.
Lastly, Steven King wrote a nonfiction book called On Writing and he’s got much better suggestions than I could ever have. In her book Bird By Bird, Anne Lamott has, too.
Scott – Good advice, and great books on writing to boot. What’s the one thing you wish someone would’ve told you when you were first starting out?
Naomi – Never to pay attention to someone who denigrates your work and believe in yourself. However, take constructive criticism and learn from others. Ask for help if you need it. Get a mentor. Join a writing society and participate in a writing group in the same genre in which you are interested. Writers are the most giving of people and are more than willing to share their knowledge with you. Take the rejections and keep on writing.
Scott – You mentioned earlier that murder mystery and horror are your favorite genres, but your published work veers more toward the supernatural side of speculative fiction. One of your more recent stories, “Coyote” was published in a Western anthology. Do you have a preferred genre, or do you just go where the story takes you?
Naomi – “Coyote” was in a Weird Western anthology so that counts as speculative, right? To me, “Coyote” is a supernatural horror story first, and a Western after. I love writing about Native Americans and have three stories so far (two are published, one is trying to find his forever home) and I’m planning a collection in the future, but again, most of my Native American stories are speculative and supernatural.
I write whatever comes into my little head and sometimes that’s a wonderful thing and sometimes it’s a really dark place. The Jack the Ripper piece I’m working on now—dark and scary. My horror is more “Twilight Zone” horror. I don’t really go in for body horror or splatterpunk or that type of horror. I like a calmer, gentler type of horror, if that exists.
Scott – Let’s talk about the publishing industry for a moment. You describe yourself as an up-and-coming author. Give us the roadmap that took you from beginner / amateur author to where you are today.
Reading, reading, reading.
I originally wanted to be Edgar Allan Poe so I tried to write like Poe. It failed. No one is Poe except Poe. But I wouldn’t have recognized that fact unless I had read so many of his, and other authors’, works, to have been able to see the difference. I always wanted to be traditionally published and I have been so, but now I am meeting so many self-published authors, I’m rethinking that. I have two short story collections that I’m planning of self-publishing, but I’m still pursuing traditional for my novels.
Scott – From your Twitter account (@NaomiBRourke), I saw that you recently attended the LA Creative Writing Conference. Any big takeaways there?
Naomi – I attended GenreLA through GLAWS (Greater Los Angeles Writer’s Society) and I found wonderful things about characters, traditional vs. self-publishing, and more. I always take away great information from any conference. I go to as many conferences as I can afford every year. In the next couple of years, I hope to attend MileHighCON and the Ghost Town Writers Workshop in Colorado. I don’t know what it is but Colorado has more writers’ workshops that any other town I’ve seen. Maybe it’s the altitude.
My husband and I went to Comic-Con for years before I noticed that they had writing workshops available. I spent the next couple of years going to back-to-back workshops while my husband attended the big movie premiers. I saw him at breakfast and dinner.
Scott – Would you say that it’s worth it, these days, to attend conferences in the first place?
Naomi – Conferences are great.
You get to meet your peers, hobnob with your friends, and introduce yourself to new readers. Panels and classes are informative. I had the honor of hearing panels and attending workshops with the late, great Jack Ketchum, George R.R. Martin, R.L. Stine, Jonathan Maberry, and so many others. I love conferences and conventions whether I work them or sell at them. As a matter of fact, I’m writing this in my down time at FOGcon in Walnut Creek, California, where I’m selling in the Dealer’s Room.
Scott – What’s next for you on your writing career path?
Naomi – I’m trying to finish my first novel. The first draft will be finished early this year. It’s a mystery and I have plans to make it a series. That’s taking up most of my writing time right now.
I’m thinking of self-publishing two collections of short stories, but I’m pretty technologically impaired so I’d have to hire someone to help me or ask tons of favors from friends. I don’t think we’d be friends afterword, though. I’m sure even my webmaster scratches her head at some of the questions I ask, and my children think I’m still in the Stone Age where computers are concerned.
I also have another novel halfway written. It’s a supernatural horror story and it’s been a lot of fun to write. The two collections will be one of twisted fairy tales and one of Native American speculative/supernatural stories. I have a finished screenplay but its future is uncertain. I don’t know that much about writing for film and the learning curve would be tremendous. I might keep that for a time and decide what to do with it later. And, of course, I’m still writing short stories and anything else that catches my interest.
Scott – What’s one excerpt from your work that you feel most defines you as an author?
Naomi – “Cocheta. Real pretty name,” she chatted, trying to get a smile out of the girl. “Cocheta. What does that mean, anyhow?”
The girl raised her head and smiled mirthlessly, her eyes glittering. Hetty felt suddenly that the girl was old, older than her years, older than her grandfather and the hills and valleys surrounding the town. She shivered. She’s just a little girl.
“Your name,” she stammered. “What’s it mean, darlin’?”
“The Unknown,” the girl replied.
I love the unknown.
Scott – Okay, last thing. Where can people go to follow you and find out more about your work?
Naomi – I’m glad you asked. I can be found at www.naomibrettrourke.com. I’m on Twitter at @NaomiBRourke, Instagram at naomibrettrourke, and people can reach me at [email protected]. I’m also on Facebook at @naomibrettrourke.
I’m going to be at USC for the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books on April 21st and 22nd. I will be at the Greater Los Angeles Writers Society (GLAWS) booth on Saturday from 4-6 pm. On Sunday, you can find me at the Mystery Writers of America/Sisters in Crime booth from 3-4 pm. I’ll probably be at the Horror Writers Association booth at some time too. I’ll be at WorldCon in August, only on Thursday, and San Diego Comic-Con, but I’ll be dressed at General Leia.
If you see me, come up and say hi!
Scott – Thank you for your time, Naomi!
Scott – Author. Filmmaker. Photographer. You’re a man of many hats. Tell us a little about how you got started doing what you do.
Andy – Well, my wife says I have too many tabs open in my brain. I think that’s a pretty accurate assessment. I’ve always been a big believer that if you really want to do something you should just get out there and give it a go. When I was at Uni I wanted to direct, so I started my own theatre company and wrote and directed for them. I was really green, making it up as I went along, but I learned a huge amount and absolutely loved every minute of it. I was lucky; I had a great team of actors and crew around me. We got good reviews and things snowballed from there. We toured around the UK for a couple of awesome years. My plays were dialogue heavy, soundtrack driven, Hitchcock inspired, black comedies. By the end of our third tour, I realised that I was trying to cram my feature ideas into a theatrical format. It seemed like a natural progression to try and make the move to film.
I adapted one of my scripts into a screenplay and began sending it out to agents, in the hope that someone would pick it up. I was hugely lucky and someone did.
I spent the next few years writing for TV and film. That was a fantastic, but also frustrating time. When you write for TV and film you develop a lot of ideas that’ll never see the light of day. A lot of projects fall through. Producers can’t raise the money. Companies come and go. A lot of the time, what you write remains on the page and doesn’t get made. I found that more and more frustrating, to the point where I cracked and decided to do a full project myself. That was the Louise Paxton mystery.
The reception we received for the Louise Paxton series of videos was amazing. I still get fan mails about it now. When I set out to do Louise Paxton it was to prove that I could direct for the screen and to show that the ideas I wanted to explore would work and scare an audience. In some ways, it was a proof of concept for my feature The Possession of David O’Reilly [DOR] (UK title: The Torment).
Shooting the Louise Paxton mystery helped to get a producer on board for DOR and to raise the funds to shoot the feature.
About a year after I finished DOR, I got married and moved out here to Australia. That presented me with a whole new set of opportunities. I’ve been storing up ideas for books for years and now I’ve got more time to explore them.
Scott – I see what your wife means about having too many tabs open. That sounds like a challenge that never goes away. What do you do when you’re not shooting movies and writing novels?
Andy – Mainly I’m planning what movies I want to shoot and what stories I want to write next. I keep a big list of all the ideas I have for projects. It’s spread across several sheets of A4, stuck to the wall of my garage. It’s got everything from flash fiction through to features and documentaries. At the moment, there are twenty-six projects on the board. Each time I complete one, I cross it off the list. Normally, I’ve added two or three more during the course of writing any given story.
I don’t really take a great deal of time out from my work. I genuinely love what I do, and so there’s always something I want to be doing. When I do take a break, I run and am training in Taekwondo. I also play and shoot videogames.
Scott – I think most writers are like that. It’s hard to turn away from what you find fun. But there’s a lot of effort involved, too. Which brings us to horror. It’s your genre of choice. What got you into it, and what kept you engaged with it?
Andy – I’ve loved horror for as long as I can remember. I was the kind of kid who stayed up late on school nights reading ghost stories with a torch, under the covers so my parents wouldn’t know I was still awake. I’ve always enjoyed the creeping chill of a good ghost story. I love suspense. I love the build-up, and the exhilaration of a good scare.
When I was a kid holidaying in the UK, we spent a lot of time indoors watching it rain. That never worried me. Each county used to have these true ghost story books: Haunted Norfolk or Ghosts of Suffolk, that sort of thing. Wherever we went, I collected those books. I read them cover to cover and then cover to cover again. In those books, I first found my love of the paranormal. That’s a love that’s been with me, and it’s been a huge influence on my writing ever since.
In my opinion, horror is the most exciting genre to write in. There are so many different facets to the genre and so many avenues to explore with your writing. It’s a genre that actively promotes breaking the rules. Horror fans embrace innovation and invention. It’s a fantastically exciting genre to work in and an amazing community to be a part of.
Scott – You mentioned Hitchcock earlier. Who are your idols in the horror genre?
Andy – My idols are a mix of writers and directors. Hitchcock would have to be in there as having had the greatest influence on my career. He really was a master of his craft. There hasn’t been anyone who has matched him since. Watching his movies as a teenager had an incredible effect on me. I was lucky enough to watch Psycho without knowing what was going to happen. I wanted to learn how to direct because of his movies.
I vividly remember the first time I read Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House. I love how it explores the nature of fear and horror. It’s a beautifully written, multi-layered ghost story. She’s a fantastic writer.
John Carpenter is definitely one of my idols. He’s directed many of my all-time favourite horror movies; The Thing, Halloween, The Fog, They Live, In the Mouth of Madness. That’s an incredible career. I love the fact that he’s written, directed and scored many of his movies. That shows how complete his vision is when he’s directing.
I could talk for hours about the directors and writers I admire. Sam Raimi, Stephen King, Stanley Kubrick, David Cronenberg, David Lynch, MR James, HP Lovecraft — it’s a long list! As well as someone who writes and directs horror I’m a huge horror fan.
Scott – Stephen King often mentions that there are three types of horror: The Gross-Out, the Unnatural Horror, and Terror. Do you agree with that estimation and, if so, which type of horror actually tingles your spine?
Andy – For me, the best horror is in touch with reality, there’s a sense it could really happen. I love stories that linger, that creep into our minds when we reach to turn the light out at night. I’m a big fan of the paranormal in horror. I grew up enthralled by Arthur C Clarke’s Mysterious World. Although I’m a healthy sceptic nowadays, stories that retain plausibility will always scare me more.
Scott – I noticed on a recent blog post that you were captivated a ghost story about the haunting of 50 Berkeley Square. I’m going to guess that this is where the plausibility factor comes into play. What fascinates you (then and now) about a haunted house in Central London?
Andy – I first read about 50 Berkeley Square in a book called something like The 100 Scariest True Ghost Stories. I was 11, on school summer holidays. I’d borrowed the book from our local library. I read the whole thing in an afternoon. Now, I love ghost stories (did then, still do now) and it’s one thing to read about glimpsed ghostly figures and noises in the night, but when you stumble across ‘The Most Haunted House in London’ well, that was incredibly powerful. It’s the ultimate ghost story! I guess, when I was reading about all these ghosts, you wonder about the hierarchy, the systems behind the stories. What makes one place more haunted than the next? Why that location specifically? What incredible power lurks in the most haunted house in the world?
I still love the story of 50 Berkeley Square. It’s got everything that makes Victorian ghost stories great. It’s got a ‘thing’: a terrifying dark shape, possibly a demon; that can drive you to insanity just by witnessing it. It’s got people dying of fright. It’s got drunken sailors (the toughest of the tough) stumbling into the domain of ‘the thing’ and not living to regret it.
I’ve actually been to the site of 50 Berkeley Square, although I haven’t been inside the building, yet. Of course, the whole story is likely just a myth, but what if it isn’t?
Scott – You’ve also mentioned a particular interest in Spring Heeled Jack. Both Jack and 50 Berkeley Square are Victorian-era legends and supernatural horrors. Does that specific time period play a major role in your modern work?
Andy – Yeah, I love the Victorian era. There’s a huge sense of possibility about the period. The Victorians were great innovators and inventors; they genuinely believed they were on the cusp of the future. It was an era of science. And yet, coupled with that, you got the rise of spiritualism and a deep belief in the supernatural.
So, you’ve got a period of time that sees the invention of the telephone and, alongside that, you’ve got people who believe that this new invention will allow them to talk to the dead. Even Tesla and Edison both worked on ‘spirit phones’ to communicate with ghosts. So you have a period, very different from now, where science and the supernatural often went hand in hand. It’s an era where stories like Spring Heeled Jack and 50 Berkeley Square were both headline stories in the top newspapers. There was a sense that, while science was propelling us forward, the strange things that lurked in the darkness beyond the reach of the city’s gas lamps were very real. To a young ghost hunter (and even a considerably older writer) that’s incredibly exciting.
While I haven’t written a piece that’s directly set in the Victorian era, that sense of the supernatural being close at hand is definitely apparent throughout my writing.
Scott – So, Victorian-era spooky. Ghost stories. Other horror writers, filmmakers, and genre masters. What other sources are major sources of inspiration?
Andy – Train rides, long walks, and an uncanny knack for being able to see the worst possible case scenario in any given situation.
Scott – That’s a ton of names and titles to run with. Say that I’m new to horror and known little about the genre. What’s a good place to start?
Andy – I’d lend you one of my copies of The Haunting of Hill House, and get ready for you to come back the next day and raid the rest of my library.
Scott – That sounds like the process most creatives follow. They start out as fans, as part of an audience, and then start telling their own stories. On the subject of writing: Start to finish, what does your writing process look like?
Andy – Where I start in a story varies from project to project. Most ideas begin as a seed, often a scene, sometimes a few lines of dialogue, which could fall at any point in the story. Sometimes that’s a conflict, sometimes it’s a scene I think would be funny, maybe suspenseful. I’ll jot that down in my phone or often just carry it around in my head. That can go on for a few weeks while the idea fills out. More scenes might come, more conversation, a better sense of a greater plot. When I feel I’ve got an idea that works, I’ll sit down at my laptop or my plotting board, and commit it to paper.
My plotting board is central to my writing. Giving it a name makes it sound a bit more impressive than it actually is. The plotting board is a long piece of board (about 130cm / 52in long.) On the board, I stick a series of sheets of A4 paper. Then I start at a point in the story (not necessarily the beginning) and I work the plot through until I have an A to Z (a full outline of the plot from beginning to end). This is one of my favourite parts of the writing process. Working the plot out for me is like watching a good trailer for a movie. It’s all the most exciting moments in a short space of time. It’s the bones, but with that bit of dialogue that I really like, or that suspenseful scene I know is going to work well — the twist reveal, the moment the characters first see the monster, the action, the laughs — all slowly coming together as I work the board.
I very rarely start to write until I’ve got an outline I’m happy with, that I know works. Now, one of the reasons for this is that if you’ve got a great idea but you’ve no idea where that idea is going to take you, then you’ve no idea how to pace that story. I’m speaking broadly here. A lot of what I write will have a reveal sequence within it: a key moment of plotting that will reveal a twist or a sharp turn in the plot. I know some writers like to write by the seat of their pants, but I prefer to do that for dialogue and description rather than plot. That’s not to say that I don’t change things as I write. I’ll often return to the plotting board as I’m working through a project but I don’t tend to start until I know where I’m going.
Once I’ve got an outline, I’ll hit the laptop. I’ll often work from the morning until the evening writing. I don’t have set hours or a specific amount of time I’ll write for. I’m not very scientific about it. I just write until the story is completed. The amount of time that takes depends on the project. My novel Remains, which is due out this October, took me 18 months to write. Hope and Walker took two weeks. I can produce a feature script in about three months, but prose generally takes longer.
I’m not a writer who rushes through a first draft and then goes back to work that draft into shape. I can’t continue to another scene unless I’m happy with how the proceeding scene has worked out. That’s the same for film and books. So, I’ll write a scene, and if I’m not happy with it I’ll write it again. I’ll do that again and again (depending on the scene) until I’m happy with what I’ve got and can move on. I’ll keep all those revisions in the draft (beneath the main body of the text) in case there’s something in there I might want later on. My last novella was around 24,000 words long. To write it, I wrote over 50,000 words. That extra 26,000 is drafting within the draft. By the time I get to the end of my first draft, I’m where some writers are by their fourth. When I worked with my last agent, we used to put DRAFT 4 on the front of my feature scripts even though they were my first draft. There’s a weird idea in the industry that if you haven’t redrafted your work several times it can’t be any good.
Scott – So plotting, rather than pantsing. Got it. Do you apply that process regardless of project, or do you treat film scripts different than, say, novel drafts?
Andy – The process for my writing is the same for feature scripts and novels. The only time it changes is when I write flash fiction. For flash fiction, I’ll walk around with the idea in my head for a few days before hitting the laptop and hammering the idea out in a single session of writing.
Scott – I read in one of your bios that regardless of the piece or the length of the narrative, you strive to write character-driven horror. What does that mean to you?
Andy – Horror sometimes gets a bad name for using characters that are a bit 2D — characters with cookie cutter traits who just feel like they’re there to serve a plot point. I remember, when I first wrote The Possession of David O’Reilly. I wrote it in part as a reaction to a lot of the movies I was watching at the time which were populated with unlikeable characters that you couldn’t wait to get an axe in the head. It seemed to all be about the gore or the clever plot twist and not about the characters. Horror was becoming a cold and calculated experience. I wanted to change that. I wanted my viewers and readers to relate to the characters (I think horror’s a lot scarier if you do). I want people who watch my movies and read my books to care about what happens to the characters in my stories. The characters always come first for me.
Scott – In some respects, it sounds like you isolated a trend in horror – that the genre was becoming cold and calculating – and used your work to push back against it. You’ve also mentioned that there was some luck involved in getting your work picked up. That being said: What are the greatest challenges you find yourself up against in the industry markets today?
Andy – Things have changed a lot since I started out as a writer, and generally for the better. Nowadays, it’s easier than ever to get your work to an audience. The challenge then becomes getting your work seen in the crowd, and it’s a very crowded marketplace. That said, I’m all for the meritocracy of an audience deciding what they like the most, rather than an out of touch agent or producer who, years later, admits they turned down JK Rowling.
I’ve always hated how elements of the industry were old boy’s clubs, places where it was more important what family you were from than the quality of what you write. Film has always been rife with that. If greater access leads to less nepotism then I’m all for that.
Scott – For someone looking to break into the world of horror, what advice would you give them?
Andy – Get out there and give it a go. One of the greatest hurdles to overcome is getting started. Don’t for a moment think that you can’t do it. You can. You definitely can. I made Louise Paxton for less than £500, and it raised the funding for my feature The Possession of David O’Reilly. How many people do you think told me it wouldn’t work, that it wasn’t worth it? I think I proved those people wrong. You can too.
Do you have an idea for horror novel? All you need is a laptop and time. What’s stopping you giving that a go? Send me your novel when it’s done. I’ll read it. In fact, I look forward to reading it. If you want it badly enough, and you’re prepared to put in the hard work, because there’s a lot of that, one day you’ll get to where you want to be.
Scott – In the meantime (between reading all the novels that are about to land in your inbox), you were recently featured in a PC Gamer article as a screenarcher — essentially a video game photographer. Tell us a little about that.
Andy – Being a screenarcher is a hobby I’ve had for a couple of years now. It started when I first began writing and modding for Skyrim. I began taking promotional shots of my characters for when I released them. I discovered that I really enjoyed doing character portraits. I set about trying to achieve the most photo-real portraits I could within the Creation (Skyrim) engine. Over time, that grew to become a love of shooting game characters and worlds. Now, I find I can’t play a game if I can’t shoot it.
Over the past couple of years, I’ve shot a lot of games. Skyrim is still my all-time favourite. I think I’ve produced my best work within it. Recently, I shot Hellblade, Assassin’s Creed Origins, Ghost Recon Wildlands. My favourite game from last year, as both a game to shoot and to play, would have to be The Last of Us. What an incredible game that is! If I could pick any game to adapt as a movie, that would be it.
The PC Gamer article showcased my best shots from 2017. As a gamer, it’s a bit of a dream come true to be featured on PC Gamer. Yeah, that was pretty cool.
I have a Flickr page where I upload my video game shots: www.flickr.com/andrewcull. I try to update it whenever I’m shooting something new.
Scott – What’s one excerpt from your work that you feel most defines you as an author?
Andy – That’s a really tough question! Here’s a couple that I like:
“Way I look at it, you get to a point in your life when you turn a corner and realise that’s about all you’re gonna get. If you can face down that knowledge and not crack open a bottle, well, you’re a better person than I am. If I make it to eighty I intend to start smoking again.” – Ellie Ray, Knock and You Will See Me.
“Being scared’s good,” Grandpa Walker had told me once. “Stops us from doing stupid things.” It hadn’t stopped me. ― Em Walker, Hope and Walker
From Knock and You Will See Me:
Death is silence. It’s not the crying and the grieving. It’s not the condolences or the pastor’s patronising words. It’s not the pain, like a heart attack, that seizes you in the dark when you close your eyes. No, it’s the never-ending, fucking silence of it. It’s never hearing their voice again. Not a word.
Not a sound.
Not ever again.
Scott – Where can people go to follow you and find out more about your work?
Andy – I blog most days of the week on my Facebook page: www.facebook.com/officialandrewcull
That’s where I post first about what I’m writing or shooting.
I’m also on Twitter @andrewcull.
Follow me on my Flickr if you like my videogame photography: www.flickr.com/andrewcull
Thanks very much for having me on the Horror Tree!