The Horror Tree Presents… An Interview With Andy Graham
Liz – Welcome, Andy! Tell us about the part of the world you live in.
Andy – I live in Prague, the heart of Europe. It’s a beautiful city with all the benefits of a capital city without the chaos and cost that you get in larger cities like London, Paris or New York. The city centre really is a centre – you can walk all the big tourist spots in a couple of days. Cheap/free ice-skating rinks are set up in the centre each winter, you can live well relatively cheaply, it’s great for the kids, has loads of green space, enough castles and spires to inspire any number of gothic-tinged novels, and a number of beer gardens. It also has a Museum of Torture Instruments. I’m still debating whether I really want to go there for a ‘work day out’. Undoubtedly, it will prove a mine of inspiration, it may also give me nightmares – the things people do to each other is way worse than what any monster or divine creature can do.
Liz – It sounds like an amazing place. Plenty to inspire!
You grew up on the ‘fringes’ of Europe – can you tell us where, and did you have a favourite place?
Andy – I grew up in the UK – the fringes of Europe, geographically speaking. I was born in England but grew up in South Wales, where my family moved when I was around six. As a result, my sense of nationality is a bit blurred. Despite the UK being officially one country, the four constituent areas of the UK still have a strong sense of individuality.
The move from England to Wales also resulted in a blurred accent. That was mainly because the Welsh took the p**s out of me when I was a kid for being and sounding English. When I then lived in London (via Italy), the English took the p**s out of me for sounding Welsh. The story of my life, it seems, as the Czechs take the p**s out of me now when I try and speak their goulash of a language. (In my defence, Czech has fourteen cases and four genders. The way I speak it, the language is even more ‘gender fluid’.)
I didn’t have a favourite place as such, but I’ve always been a ‘home-bird’. I like my space and my routine. That’s been one of the big adjustments as a parent, having to share those things with the kids.
Liz – Sounds like you would have quite an interesting accent. What inspired you to do the One Book Interviews?
Andy – It’s healthy for a website to have regular, new content. It keeps things active and fresh. The problem was, I wasn’t sure what to do for mine. The obvious choices for an author are short stories, blogs or interviews. I don’t have time to produce a new short story a week purely for my website, and I find writing regular content for blogs tricky. I don’t want to be a digital echo, i.e. purely regurgitating and repackaging information that already exists on any number of other websites. A similar issue applies to author interviews – there are plenty of interviews out there that are a variation on where/why/what do you write? Many of those interviews do that very well, so I see no need to add to that.
One day I was playing around with the famous LOTR quote: ‘One ring to rule them all.’ I changed it to ‘one book to rule them all’ for an idea I was toying with. The One Book Interview was born soon after. It’s turning out really well. It gives me content for my site which is fresh and relevant to what I do, and it’s really interesting to read about what writers read, to discover the words behind the words.
Liz – What a great idea!
You’re a member of the British Blues Awards Hall of Fame – can you tell us about it, and how you came to be a member?
Andy – I’ve played music all my life. I toured Europe and beyond for a long time, playing bass in a blues/soul/funk/Americana band. As part of that band, I was lucky enough to win the bass player of the year category three years in a row (2010, 2011, 2012). Anyone who wins their category three times is ‘retired’ and put into the Hall of Fame. It needs to be said that that award belongs as much to the other members of that band (Ian and Nik) as to me – blues bass playing on its own is not always the most exciting thing to listen to!
I’m also very grateful to anyone who voted for me and anyone else in that competition. Music can be a hard way to make a living (just like writing) and support from the public for any kind of creative arts is essential for its survival, these days more than ever.
Liz – It’s a wonderful achievement to win once, let alone three times. How long have you played bass guitar for, and what inspired you to chose it?
Andy – In the county of West Glamorgan (where I grew up) there was a fantastic school music scene in the 80s. You could borrow instruments from school and there were all kinds of ensembles to play with – orchestras, wind bands, brass bands, big bands, groups etc. There was also a thriving local pop/rock music scene. When I was around thirteen-years old, someone came into the music class and asked if anyone would be interested in playing cello. I said yes. The next day they said they didn’t have any cellos left so I’d have to play double bass. Fine, I thought. Same thing, really. They aren’t the same thing. They’re very different, but a shortage of cellos pushed me onto double bass. Double bass has the same tuning as bass guitar. Before long, I was pestering my parents for a bass guitar and I got one for my 15th birthday. So, I didn’t choose bass guitar as such, the choice was sort of made for me. But I haven’t looked back. (Though I’ll grudgingly admit that sometimes I wish I’d been a drummer.)
Liz – Does your creativity extend to other instruments?
Andy – I’d love to have a decent double bass, but they cost too much for it to be possible at the moment. (We also don’t have enough space for it in the flat!) I played trombone for a while and have dabbled in piano, but bass guitar is my thing.
Liz – You’ve stated you have ‘too many interests’ – what are they?
Andy – Music. Reading. Writing. Pain science and its role in osteopathy and sports massage. Exercise. I’ve tried all sorts of things – swimming (I do a mean ‘splash and flounder’), sprinting (more like ‘slowing’ in my case), boxing, kick-boxing, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and football (I think the kindest thing said about my football skills was “He runs a lot.”). These days I mainly just go to the gym. It helps keep me sane and I can fit it around my family and work commitments more easily than the other things. There’s also less of an injury risk. A big chunk of my non-work time is taken up with my kids. I want to spend time with them while they still want to spend time with me (and vice versa).
Liz – Ahhh… a fellow ‘splash and flounderer’! It’s a skill-set in its own right!
Your day job is working as an osteopath – how did you come to work in this field?
Andy – As with many osteopaths, I was converted by another osteopath. I hobbled into a clinic with a back injury and walked out almost pain free. I was already doing some work as a massage therapist at that time and thought that this was a great skill.
At that time, I’d been working as an EFL teacher off and on for over ten years and I wanted a change. The band wasn’t too busy a lot at that point, so I thought I had nothing to lose. I took out a loan, enrolled into an osteopathic college and went from there.
Typically, the busier the osteo course got, the busier the band became. To the point that my prep for my finals was a two-week tour of Europe with me trying to study in the back of the van while the rest of the band mocked me. Mercilessly.
Liz – Wow! That’s certainly an intense way to go about it. You’ve also worked as a sports massage teacher in the UK – which did you prefer?
Andy – I still teach sports massage. It works well for me to do clinic work in Prague and teach in the UK. It keeps things varied and interesting. It also means I get to go back to the UK, keep in touch with friends and the manual therapy profession over there.
I like the challenge of teaching groups of people, often with different experience and knowledge levels. It’s a nice change from the one-on-one clinic sessions or the solitary writing sessions. It also gives me ideas that I can use in my writing. For instance, I taught in Edinburgh last year and there’s an area in the city called Sighthill which became Blind Mount in one of my short stories, and a ruined version of Edinburgh castle also cropped up in the same story.
Liz – What inspired you to write “The Lords of Misrule’ series?
Andy – A few years ago I finally decided that if I really wanted to write, I needed to stop thinking about it and actually do it. So, I sat down and wrote two short stories. One was about a world where twins were banned because it made it harder for the government to track their citizens. The other was about some soldiers who find a monster under a mountain. That story sprang from a sentence I said to my young son one day: “Where’s your ray-gun gone, Ray?” I remember being quite worried about never having any more ideas ever again, so I decided to turn the short stories into a novel. It took a little bit of hammering and sculpting, but those two short stories became Franklin – a brother in search of himself, now book two of The Lords of Misrule.
That book combined some of the various interests of mine – deadlifts, pain science, BJJ (I don’t roll anymore but I try and stay in touch with the sport), urban myths in massage etc. It’s interesting re-reading the book now, I can see where ‘my head was’ with regard to a lot of these things.
Once I had finished Franklin, a few people asked for more of the back story, particularly relating to Bethina Laudanum, the president, who is central to the overall arc of the whole series. So, I wrote a prequel, Aijlan – The Silk Revolution, which became book one, Franklin became book two, and book three is called Rose – A Mother’s Unreason. Much as I like books one and two, book three is where I really feel I began to get to grips with what I’m doing.
All the Lords of Misrule books are morally ambiguous and draw on the current political machinations in the EU/US. I think this is both its strength and weakness. Some people love the realism, others get turned off by it. Some people really enjoy the breadth and depth of characters, others get confused by this. I like the series, the story of Franklin in particular. I realise that it has some issues and I made some newbie mistakes, but I believe the overall story is a good one.
Liz – I think it’s safe to say you won’t run out of inspiration/ideas anytime soon! Are there more to come?
Andy – I’m a third of the way through the rough draft of book four of The Lords of Misrule. I’m struggling with it, to be honest. Partly because ‘real’ work, kids and life in general seem to be eating into my writing time, and because An Angel Fallen grew from a short story to a novella that then needed promoting once it was launched.
I also have a collection of short stories set in the world of The Lords of Misrule. They should be ready to be published in a few months. Once that’s done and book four is written, I’ll probably put TLOM to bed and move on.
Liz – I can certainly understand the time-constraints of life on an author’s writing. Makes it all the more rewarding when you complete a project, though! You have a collection of five short stories, titled “I Died Yesterday” – were these written specifically with this project in mind?
Andy – No, the reverse! I wrote them because I had several ideas that didn’t fit into The Lords of Misrule. Often, I find that I get an idea and it sits in my mind like a mental splinter until I write it down.
I also like writing short stories. Novels can take months just to get a draft down, whereas a short story can be done in a fraction of the time. I find it good to keep things moving.
Liz – Can you tell us about your short story anthology “Glimpse – A New World” and what inspired it?
Andy – That book is a compilation of short stories by various authors. My contribution was ‘Switch’, a story partly inspired by some of the vague promises of efficacy that I’ve heard from some manual therapy practitioners. It also deals with the issue of trust when you go into a hospital for an operation; once you’re put under a general anaesthetic, you really are at the mercy of the doctors and nurses, and just like other people, not all doctors and nurses are good.
Switch provides a little back story to The Lords of Misrule – something which is not vital to the plot of the main books but adds colour to it. I’m going to take another look at Switch soon and add it to the collection of short stories I have coming out. They all serve the same purpose – they add detail to the main novels without distracting from the main plot.
Liz – Do you find suffering from insomnia helps or hinders your writing and inspiration?
Andy – A bit of both. I always seem to write well when I haven’t been sleeping well. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s a little like those authors who write while drunk or on drugs – the ‘higher centres’ of the brain are suppressed. Maybe it’s because insomnia makes me grumpy (grumpier?) and I just want to get words on the page. It seems to help, but I don’t recommend insomnia to anyone and would happily trade a little inspiration for a little real sleep!
Liz – As a fellow insomniac I completely understand! Your new release, An Angel Fallen, is a Supernatural Horror novella. What was the inspiration behind it?
Andy – A post on FB. Two teenagers had killed a dog. They cut off its nose and ears, split it up the middle, and crucified it. Then they took a selfie and posted it online. The whole thing was vile. While I was trying to get my head around why people would do such a thing, and what should be done to people like this, I found myself wondering what the dog would do if it could get its own back. At some point the dog became an angel. And then the angel became a fallen angel.
Why angel? Not entirely sure, to be honest. My wife has a couple of stone angels by our bed (little ones, not people sized, that would be a little too creepy) and I’d been toying with the idea of writing something with a supernatural twist. They are the only reasons I can think of for why the dog suddenly became an angel. As for the biblical plagues? That idea crept up on me as I started writing. Again, as with many of these things, I’m not 100% sure where that idea came from.
Liz – The cover for An Angel Fallen is quite powerful – who came up with the imagery/design?
Andy – The image was my idea, I found it by trawling through a lot of the online image databases. The design was done by a lady I found on Fiverr.
I’d used a statue of an angel for my short story collection I Died Yesterday. I liked the idea of having that theme continue with this novella, and given the title it seemed obvious. I toyed with a few other ideas, but kept coming back to this one. I sent the image and text to the cover designer and she worked her magic. I think it has turned out really well. My only concern is whether I’m going to run out of statues of angels to use on future books!
Liz – How do you find the time to write while juggling work and a young family?
Andy – By not seeing my friends as much as I’d like and by not sleeping as much as I need! It’s tricky at times, but there’s a natural ebb and flow to my day job which usually gives me sometime each day to do at least a little writing. A lot of it is just trying to make time to write. It’s a cliché, but if it’s important you have to make time for it.
Liz – So true. The sacrifice is worth it. Do you have a specific process you like to follow when you sit down to write?
Andy – I waste time on the Internet. Huff and puff for a while. Make and drink more coffee that I should (maybe there’s a link to my insomnia there?). Type and delete the word ‘the’ over and over, and slowly get into the groove. The more disciplined and regular I am with my writing, the easier it is. The longer I am away from the page, the harder it is to pick up again. This has been part of the issue this year – it has been very bitty.
Liz – Who are your favourite authors, and why?
Andy – Top three are currently:
Stephen King – because Stephen King.
Neil Gaiman – I love the way he tells a story. It’s dark but not over the top. He has a great attention to detail without smothering the reader with information. And his sentence structure is a thing of beauty.
Joe Abercombie (Lord Grimdark) – Say one thing for Lord Grimdark, say he writes great action scenes. Reckon I like the ambiguity of his characters. The humour. The grim realism. And I like the way he has a burst of short, choppy, grammatically incorrect sentences interspersed with longer sentences which connect and flow and carry you through the text with minimal punctuation.
Liz – What’s next on the horizon for you?
Andy – I want to finish book four of The Lords of Misrule, and publish the short stories set in that world this year. Then (or maybe before, still not sure) I’d like to write the follow up to An Angel Fallen. The working title is A Demon Risen. It will probably feature a character from An Angel Fallen and one from Sunflower (a story in my I Died Yesterday collection). I like the idea of a world of interconnecting stories. In the meantime, I want some sleep. J
Liz – Well it doesn’t sound like you’ll get any for a little while yet! Thank you so much for your time, Andy!
If you would like to find out more about Andy and his work, check out the below links:
An Angel Fallen Book Links
Andy Graham Website: http://andygrahamauthor.com/