Selene – Welcome to The Horror Tree, and thank you for agreeing to an interview. First off, tell us a bit about yourself.
May – My name is May J. Panayi and I’m 56. I have been a writer since I was a kid. Okay not anything earth shattering; just a poem in the local paper at age five, then a newsletter to the neighbourhood age ten. I hobby wrote poems and short stories throughout my teens and early twenties, then various magazine submissions, and a lot of activity in the underground fanzine scene of the eighties; contributing to others as well as producing my own. I started writing books around 2000, and currently have fourteen titles published. I moved onto just writing fiction novels with the occasional short story collection. I became a full-time self-employed writer in 2014. It’s been an interesting journey so far and one I hope will long continue. I write across a variety of genres; my friends call me the eclectic indie. My Sun series, in which there are two novels so far, a third coming this year to complete the trilogy, is my most popular style. It is travel romance/mystery; bit hard to categorise. My horror is next most popular though a bit graphic for some. I also have written a collection of dark horror short stories. My website details my books, as well as trailers, interviews and more.
Selene – You write in just about every genre, from romance to non-fiction (including travel, pets, and cooking), to horror and fantasy. What’s your favourite genre to write, and why?
May – I enjoy realism, and things that are going on now, or nearly now. I enjoyed writing Escape to Europe, about a world that in many ways seems to be running parallel to our own. When I have finished the Sun series, I have a drama romance that grapples with the problems of Dementia. I am looking forward to that.
Selene – More specifically, what about writing horror draws you?
May – I like to explore the darkest parts of the human psyche, that is what really fascinates me most. In Tales from The Library of a Twisted Mind, my collection of horror shorts, I tend to get into those issues pretty quickly. Malbed Mews is a slow build into the madness of others when in a crazy situation. For horror, I am inspired by Stephen King, Dean Koontz and James Herbert, and have spent many happy hours curled up with their works. Like Herbert, I did not ignore sex when it came to Malbed Mews; it is firmly tied in to the darker side of the human psyche in many ways, and I feel, has as much of a place in horror as the violence, shock and gore.
Selene – You mostly self-publish, but have published with some magazines and more “traditional” places. What do you like about each means of publishing?
May – Well I like the flexibility of self publishing, but the money is better with ‘traditional’ publishing. I do not miss the rejection slips from legacy publishing houses. I do like the Indie community. Sadly, the market is becoming rather saturated and it is getting harder to get noticed in the Indie world. Promotion is a bit of a pain, I am a writer and have had to learn promotion techniques from scratch. I do not love the piracy which is rife. Overall, I cannot complain.
Selene – Speaking of self-publishing, most of your titles are available on Kindle Unlimited. I have a KU membership and love it! I think it’s a good way for independent authors to reach readers, too. What do you think of the platform?
May – I like the idea of KU, but Amazon have significantly reduced the amount per page read, paid to authors, so it is a very low paying return at this point. I have considered leaving that part of the self publishing platform, but hesistate to do so, because so many readers love it. Personally, as a reader, I do not use it; I prefer to buy paperbacks, or buy Kindles to fill up my reader and get back to when I am travelling.
Selene – Your true “horror” novel is Malbed Mews. Let’s talk about that one. In particular, it has a huge cast of characters. How do you develop your characters?
May – I started off with a floor plan of the flats and wrote the occupants names and who they were in their own apartments. That helped me keep track until I got to know them better. The characters kind of grew on their own as I wrote them. Some I knew before I started; bad neighbours I have endured in real life, in the past. That was cathartic! Others just grew as I wrote. Guy and Vicky, in particular, developed alongside the storyline. Vicky especially, did not go where I originally intended.
Selene – Your book Escape to Europe examines the lives of people dealing with the realities of the refugee crisis in Europe, along with Brexit and other current hot-button political topics. Not to get into too much of a political debate, but what do you think of politics in stories? Do they belong, or is it better to fictionalize ideas so the story will remain more “timeless?”
May – I think there has always been a place for politics in fiction. From George Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm, to J.G. Ballard’s High Rise and many of his other works, I think the politics of our current culture help make a good What If? setting for culturally based fiction and horror. When I first wrote Escape to Europe it was 2016, and I published it under the title The Difficult Journey. It was rebranded as Escape to Europe in 2018. I made the media sections lean to the right, in a sort of Devils Advocate fashion, as I feel our media lean towards a more politically correct left. I wanted to explore the notion of society taking a darker turn, after the fashion of J.G. Ballard. I have been accused by some readers of having those opinions myself, but I tried to make the book sit on the fence politically. At the end of the day, it is about people; their hopes and dreams, hate and love, naivety and realism. My favourite characters by the way, were Amena and Adnan; with their courage and spirit, they were the ones I was rooting for as I wrote it. I mean, I knew how it was going to turn out, and I knew there were some sad and dark scenes coming, not just for them; but I always liked and felt for them as characters.
Selene – I wrote a story about a school shooting, which was published a day after (yet another) school shooting in the US. Similarly, your Escape to Europe character John Whitehead shoots a number of victims in a mosque, much like the Christchurch shooter earlier this year. How do you feel, when life imitates art (so to speak)? Or is it a matter of art simply reflecting the horrific realities of other mosque shootings like the one in 2017 in Quebec City?
May – When I first wrote Escape to Europe, no one was shooting up mosques, but there were terror attacks and bombings of both sides (for want of a better term). It felt prophetic when these things started happening in real life. It makes me sad. It is not a world I want to see in reality; I would prefer it remaining in the confines of horror fiction. Ballard wrote High Rise about how disconnected High Rise living would make us as a society, and how we would degenerate into a wilder, more animalistic species because of it. Luckily, he was wrong and that did not happen. I hoped I would be wrong too, but some of it is happening. Thankfully not all of it.
Selene – On to a lighter topic (sorry!). You’re also a photographer, and shoot many of the photos on your book covers. What are some of your favourite photographic subjects?
May – I love photographing architecture and graveyards. My partner is all about the wildlife photography and filming, but I prefer things that keep still, while I decide on a context to best frame their beauty. I like landscapes too.
Selene – Speaking of photography, you also keep a travel blog. I enjoyed reading about so many beautiful, exotic places (that I’ll likely never get to see in person!). What is the most interesting place you’ve been, and how do your travels inspire your writing?
May – I wrote a non fiction book, Travel the World in Words, and the Sun series was inspired by the settings I travelled to in Greece and Cyprus. Some of my travels popped up in Escape to Europe. They say write about what you know; so whenever I travel, I am adding to my reference section for future writing. The book I referred to that incorporates the Dementia topic, is actually set on the Isle of Wight. I cannot pick one most interesting or favourite place I have been. Las Vegas was the craziest and most colourful. The Gambia was the most exotic. The Cypriot mountain villages have some of the most interesting culture, not to mention some of the best views, but I really like Spain too, especially the Canaries. Madeira was fascinating.
Selene – You’ve just started a web magazine for book reviews, called Best Books and More. Tell us about that.
May – The magazine and its associated Facebook group by the same name, has both authors and readers subscribed to it, in probably equal numbers. The idea is to present books to readers so they can make some new choices about what to read next. Often scrolling through a site, reading the occasional blurb is just not enough. Hearing about what other people have been reading and enjoying, is a better way to find that next great read.
Selene – You occasionally interview authors, as well. What question would you ask, if you were interviewing yourself, that interviewers don’t ask you?
May – What is your biggest handicap as a writer, other than writers block? I suffer from a collection of health complaints in the real world, and often, overcoming these to sit at my computer and write, can be a real problem. Sometimes they are a brick wall between me and my writing. A wall which sometimes I can push past and other times I cannot. You mentioned my travel blog (thank you for reading by the way), but I also have another blog called Diary of A Writer. Sometimes I might interview other authors on there, but more often than not, I get into the dark and gritty realism of my life as a writer with health issues. Sometimes I depress myself, other times I feel almost normal- whatever that is!
Selene – Also on the topic of author interviewers, what authors are your favourites to read, and which author (whether they’re still with us or not) would you most love to interview?
May – I would have loved to interview Terry Pratchett before he got ill, maybe even after. I recently discovered Jodi Picoult, and her writing is so good it almost makes me want to give up in despair. I mentioned other favourite authors earlier on. My favourite horror Indie authors are Michael Kelly, whose book Waters of Life is amazing, and Iain Rob Wright whose book The Housemates was something else. That is just skimming the surface though. I could talk about books all day.
Selene – How do you deal with criticism and bad reviews?
May – These days I just ignore them. When I wrote Malbed Mews, the death of a troll scene was especially cathartic- not that I had one particular troll in mind, but generally speaking. Of course, I still read my reviews, but I do not really care much about bad reviews anymore. I try and look for constructive criticism, but let us face it, most of the one-star comments are just trolls who usually could not even spell constructive criticism. Most cannot even capitalise I, when talking about themselves, so not a lot of hope for input there.
Selene – What advice would you give an author who is just starting out?
May – Try and aim for 80,000 words as a minimum for your book, and 120,000 as a maximum. In the old days of sending your manuscript round to a publisher, they would not consider a book unless it fit into those confines. 40,000 words qualified as a novella. 120k was the absolute limit for a new author, though obviously established authors like Stephen King could get away with more. Honestly, I think it demeans all serious authors when someone publishes a “book” that is a mere 20 to 40 pages long. That is not even the length of a standard dissertation. It gives indies a bad name collectively, when people do this. That and bad editing, that is my other bugbear. On a more positive note; stick at it. Indie authors are the freshest reading out there right now, and I would say go for it.
Selene – Thank you again for agreeing to be interviewed. What’s next for you, and do you have anything else you want to talk about here?
May – What is next? I am currently working on In Search of Small Treasures, the final in the Sun trilogy, and then moving on to Paradise in the Pumpkin Patch, which is a romance but deals with Dementia too. I would like to rewrite Malbed Mews as a screenplay and send it around. I have another idea for a novella collection Four Adults Only, which is a collection of four novellas all of which have a different kind of adult theme; sex, drugs, violent uprising and the occult. I only hesitate because they appeal to very different audiences, so I am still cogitating on that one. Thanks for interviewing me, great set of questions; really thought-provoking.
For more about May, visit her website:
Stacey – Hi, it’s great to have you here! Tell us a little about yourself and where you’re from?
Margarita – I live in Cardiff, Wales, home to castles, mountains, rugby, Doctor Who and Torchwood, with my partner and three little mad dogs and I work for a well-known TV broadcasting company. I love living in Cardiff because, for all its modernisation, there are still remnants of an old Victorian city. I love writing and will always partly base my stories in Cardiff because it has such character. When I can, I go out to the coast and take photographs, we have a lovely castle in the city centre and a fairy tale one just on the outskirts, so when I feel I can’t write anything, I take a ramble to those locations and it clears my head.
I have a TV production background. I used to be a professional photographer and decided to move into the TV world. I started off working on our local news programmes and then moved on to Arts, Factual, Drama, back to Factual, back to Drama (Torchwood, Dr Who and a few regional shows). Now I work for the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and we produce some of the music for well-known TV shows, Doctor Who for example! I’ve learnt so much from working there about Marketing and Promotions. It’s been an absolute blessing.
I am Gothic; I love the fashion, the architecture and the music. The club in my novel is real. While writing Judgement of Souls 3, I got all of my club material and clientele ideas from there; I wouldn’t have finished that section without it.
Stacey – When did you start writing?
Margarita – It was at a very early age to be honest. I remember writing a bit of fanfic when I was still in junior school. (I won’t say which artist it was about). And it was inevitable that someday I would end up writing a novel. My English school teacher always limited me to no more than ten pages – it was hell for someone who could write and write and… well you get my meaning!
I was a reporter for the school magazine and later became its Editor. When I left school, I wrote short stories for women’s magazines and it paid my way through college. I later took a course in scriptwriting and came third in a BBC writing competition. (Long before I actually joined the BBC).
Stacey – What genres do you write in and what drew you to them?
Margarita – I started with Paranormal Romance/Gothic Horror. But I have written Christmas stories, an erotic comedy, a rock star romance short story and a creepy story about being in a coma. I have always felt a little frustration when it came to some Gothic Horror stories; the female characters are always weak and in need of rescue. I wrote a story that I wanted to read. One where I didn’t feel the need to eye roll and shout at the female to sort the problem out herself!
Stories come to you. They are not always the genre that you have been writing about. It’s nice to have some variety or you get labelled into a category and it’s hard to get out of that. But I do love the paranormal because you can write whatever fantasy or situation you want. It doesn’t have to mirror too much reality.
My first full length novel, Judgement of Souls 3: Kiss at Dawn is the first story written for the trilogy. But I wanted to do things a little different; so I began by writing the ending to the trilogy in the hopes that it would tease your curiosity into knowing how they all got there. My research included a visit to one of the main synagogues in London to talk about the Hebrew Bible that I use ‘loosely’ in the trilogy and it’s worked out really well.
Judgement of Souls 2: Call of the Righteous, concentrated on a 300-year history of my vampires and their search but also introduced The Righteous, a secret organisation started by the Church to find, and kill, all supernatural and paranormal beings. It also involved over 300 years of mortal history including the French Revolution – did you know that it was a vampire who started it? I have also visited most of the locations that I use in the novels so I have first-hand knowledge of the locations I place my characters in. It’s been extremely fascinating.
The first part Judgement of Souls: Origin; was probably the hardest part to write. It involved a lot of Crusader battle history, uniforms, locations, even dialect, but I’m no stranger to research.
The series has been optioned twice by US Producers and I’m looking for funding to get these books on the big screen and it’s just a matter of time – I’m keeping everything crossed.
I’ve written a few short stories too that I am very proud of… they have been such fun to write. Ordinary Wins is having some great reviews on Amazon. It’s about how an ordinary woman who won the heart of a famous drummer in a rock band… check it out.
I co-wrote a naughty little piece of erotic comedy called The Decoys with my best friend. We had the most fun. It’s about two Welsh girls who decide to spend their redundancy money and go on holiday to the South of France hoping that it was just like the films they love to watch from the 50s and 60s. Turns out it’s not. That is until they meet Matt and Dani who have just robbed a yacht of a very sought-after necklace and need a place to hide. They also need to get the necklace out of the country and these two girls seem like the perfect ‘decoys’.
And my latest is called Trancers. Travis has been planning this holiday for months. He intends to drive from one end of the USA to the other. Until a 16-wheeler interrupts his journey. Lucky for him there’s a hotel sign just up the road that he can stop at and assess the damage to his rental car – at least he thought it was a hotel. Have you ever wondered where people go when they’re in a coma? Travis is about to find out.
Stacey – What do you enjoy most about writing?
Margarita – I enjoy the escape and the adventure. It’s like meeting new friends and taking an amazing journey with them all. You can’t wait to get back to them, have conversations with them and a lot of laughs along the way. I enjoy the interaction with other authors or with the reader. And I always like the reviews because it’s extremely rewarding to an indie.
Stacey – What scares you?
Margarita – I suppose it’s sitting at my desk some day and getting absolutely no inspiration for new stories. Or that my work will be criticized. Or that my publisher will reject my latest story. Perhaps it’s also that I won’t have enough time to finish the ideas I’ve got written down or that I don’t get to the end of my current work. It’s the thought of time passing too quickly with no written results.
Stacey – Where do you get your inspiration?
Margarita – It comes from all directions if you stop and listen to what’s going on around you.
Sometimes it’s a piece of music and the way that maybe just one line makes you think. I wrote a story called The Trancers and I got the inspiration for that story from a song called Hotel California. It’s been in my head for years and I never managed to get anything down on paper. And then one day I woke up and started to write, and by the end of the day I had a pretty good plan as to where this story had to go, which direction it had to take. Other times it could be a conversation I may have overheard or even something on TV. For Judgement of Souls 3, I attended the club that I wrote about so got a lot of inspiration from there too. I keep a notepad and pen next to my bed because I have been known to get ideas or even new dialogue for current characters in the middle of the night.
Stacey – Which authors have influenced your writing along the way?
Margarita – It might sound bizarre, but I tend not to read other work while I write. You see, even subconsciously, you may get an idea and spend all night writing it and then n the early hours wake up remembering where you’d read it from and have to start all over again. But I have always been a fan of Anne Rice and Stephen King. Anne Rice writes beautifully, you can feel each and every emotion, even breath the same air as those characters and I could only wish to write half as well. Stephen King can scare the life out of you on every page. His attention to scary detail is something to be enjoyed while you read each page with great trepidation hoping you don’t have those words enter your head while asleep!
Stacey – What’s your writing process like?
Margarita – I tend to always know how that story will start, where I want to be by the middle and have an ending. I know where my characters will be from start to finish. The rest is written with catch lines on each page. For example, my character has to meet this person page three. My character has to have done this by the time we reach another page. And so on. I usually have about 30 pages with just a sentence on each page and fill it all in as I go. And I tend to read and re-read everything I’ve written and edit heavily as I go. And I may also leave writing for a few days, or weeks if I have to and then return to it with a fresh mind, especially if I don’t like the direction I’m taking.
Stacey – What was the first story you had published?
Margarita – Other than the short stories I had published while at collage in the 80s and 90s, Judgement of Souls 3: Kiss at Dawn, (which was published in 2011) was my first real full length novel. This story took so long to write. It started off being so different to what it is today and it wasn’t intended as a trilogy, it just turned out that way. I realised once I had almost finished it that my characters had a back story and it needed to be told or none of it would make any sense.
The novel though began life being called Gothic Dreams and my lead character Rachel was not to be trusted. She was in fact the Max character who is now the villain in the published novel. But halfway through writing it I realized that she wasn’t like that at all, so I started again. New characters were introduced and new situations, Max was introduced.
I’ve read so much vampire literature that I wanted a story to be totally different – this is not your ordinary vampire story. It’s not all about blood sucking beings. It’s revenge, its romance, it’s a treasure hunt for one of the most important vampire artefacts and the winner will get the ultimate prize. I have written characters with a real history and also a common goal, mortal and immortal coming together and you live with them in their 300-year journey. It has a different perspective to any vampire story that I have ever read. It’s blood, sex and rock ‘n roll.
Stacey – Do you have a favourite character from your own works?
Margarita – My lead in the Judgement of Souls trilogy is Rachel and I have a certain attachment to her – how could I not? I have spent ten years writing with her and I’m happy she got the ending she deserved. But I haven’t really finished with her. I intend to write a ten-episode TV feature with her and Daniel.
Stacey – Has there ever been a book you couldn’t finish? Why or why not?
Margarita – Not that I can recall. It’s like watching a film. You have to get to the end because even though the story may start off slow, it could pick up and be amazing on the last quarter. I also leave reviews, because it’s those pointers that help indie authors. Readers may not think it’s worth doing, but it is.
Stacey – What’s the last Horror movie/tv show you watched?
Margarita – The Haunting of Hill House. It had so many possibilities to be so much better and I was so disappointed in the end. I’m more a supernatural/paranormal watcher than a slasher type watcher and the trailers for Hill House appealed to me, shame that the trailers ended up being better than the actual series. I hear that there’s now a series 2 being planned?
Stacey – If you could go back in time who would you go back in time to see?
Margarita – I’m torn between Mary Shelley and Bram Stoker. I’d really like to know what really inspired them to write the stories that are classics with us now. Get a more in-depth knowledge of their thoughts and nightmares that inspired the characters. I’d certainly like to know why Bram Stoker had Dracula kill Mina’s best friend Lucy knowing what she meant to Mina. To me it’s the only flaw in that story, I know that Dracula was heartbroken when Mina left to join Jonathan but I want to know why he would choose to do it. And I’d really like to have been around when Mary Shelley woke up after her nightmare to recall her story to Percy Shelley and Lord Byron.
Stacey – What’s the best piece of advice you could give someone who is just getting started on their author journey?
Margarita – Don’t give up. If you have a story that is dying to be told, then work hard to tell it. But make sure you are doing your best work and you get an editor that can help you make the most of your manuscript. Don’t pay anyone to publish your work. The point is that they pay you.
Don’t give up even though you may get rejection letters. I had so many over the years I could paper a room! One publisher didn’t even bother writing a rejection letter, she simply scribbled, ‘No thanks’ on the bottom of the covering letter I wrote her! If everyone thought like that there’d be no books, no films. Keep writing, even if its dribble! Then read, re-read and edit. Try and write a little each day if you’re unable to spend too much time writing. One hundred words a day is seven hundred a week, twenty-eight hundred a month and one hundred words a day is so simple!
And, carry a Dictaphone or a notebook and pen!
Stacey – Do you have an excerpt you’d like to share?
Margarita – Max motioned to Stoner to bring her towards a locked door. Opening it, Stoner pushed her in. She tripped and fell to the floor. The walls of her new cell trembled as the door crashed behind her. Then a six-inch by eight-inch hatch in the top part of the door opened and Max looked in.
Rachel looked up at the hatch. “Do you think shutting me in here is going to prove anything Max? I’ll stay in here until tomorrow night then I’ll get out and come after you. What’s this going to prove?”
From the shadows behind her, came a rustling noise and quickly stood , preparing to be attacked, her fangs starting to protrude in defence, but as the shadow came closer, it spoke…
It was Daniel.
Max smiled as he looked on. “What time do you think it is then?” He mimicked looking at his watch. “I can tell from your eyes that you haven’t fed yet. Isn’t it about time that you did?”
“Max, please!” pleaded Rachel, she ran to the hatch in the door. “Don’t let this happen!”
“Don’t let what happen?” asked Daniel.
“You didn’t think I was going to leave you in there all alone did you?” Max beamed.
Rachel took a deep breath. “I’ll resist it, I know I can.”
“Resist what?” said Daniel. “What’s going on, what aren’t you telling me?”
“That very soon,” said Max in a flash of excitement, “she’ll need to feed, her whole body will feel like it’s on fire, and she won’t be able to resist throwing you up against a wall and draining every drop of blood in your body.” He looked at Rachel through the slot in the door, his hard, determined expression tinged with a feeling of triumph as he saw the pleading look in her eyes. “She won’t be able to help it, in the end she’ll turn.” He looked away and then added under his breath, “then we’ll see just how much you love your mortal.” Then he closed the opening in the door, the sound of it echoing in the small, now darkened room.
Thank you so much for your time! If you would like to find out more about Margarita or her work, check out the links below.
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