The Spooky Six Celebrates WIHM with Willow Croft and Lauren McMenemy!
I’ve lured Lauren McMenemy out for a (virtual) stroll in the wild desert frontier of New Mexico, where we chatted about all things middle aged…and dark fairy tales, of course!
(The Spooky Six interviews for the month of March will pay tribute to WIHM–Women In Horror Month!)
Lauren McMenemy (she/her) is a writer with various hats – journalist, copywriter, content marketer, fiction – and considers herself a storyteller at heart. She was that kid writing “books” and drawing “covers” for them, and it was only when she was encouraged to channel energies into a career that would actually earn a living that she moved away from books and into journalism. Does she regret that? Yes and no…
These days, aged 40-something, she’s back in the fiction world, writing gothic and folk horror. Her WIP is a novel set in the world of the Victorian occult, looking at an investigation into a spiritual guru. It’s the supernatural and the occult that really give her goosebumps, and she also has a developing fascination with folklore, the “old ways” and our fast-changing relationship with the natural world. All of this sneaks into her writing, whether consciously or unconsciously.
Lauren is also editor of Horror Tree’s Trembling With Fear weekly zine, and enjoys working with writers to help develop their craft – so much so, she’s now a certified coach, working as a coach/mentor to writers at all stages of their careers. She also works as an editor and proofreader in both the fiction and business worlds, and helps writers to brainstorm their marketing plans and personal brands.
Back in that Real World that requires money, Lauren has 25 years’ experience as a professional content creator across the media, agencies and in-house communications teams. She was the music editor for a daily newspaper in her native Australia (a good gig and the beach remain her happy places), and considered herself a has-been at 26 when she gave that up and moved to the UK – that is, until she caught her second wind, and rekindled her childhood love of creative writing. Lauren has been London-based for almost 17 years and works as an editor, proofreader, copywriter and marketer. She’s also a mental health advocate; her Substack, How to Be Self(ish), tracked her year of sabbatical and self-care, and she continues to write it (very) irregularly as a mental health companion.
You’ll find Lauren haunting south London, where she lives with her Doctor Who-obsessed husband (check out his podcast!) and their aged black house rabbit. You’ll also likely find her hosting Writers Hour sessions for the London Writers Salon a few times a week.
Willow Croft: “Hey, look at that derelict Victorian mansion . . . let’s go explore it!” What’s the most unusual setting you’ve read about in a horror/thriller book, or included in your own creative works?
Lauren McMenemy: Not sure if it’s unusual, per se, but my blood does sing when reading horror set in my home country, Australia. Maybe it’s because I’ve been away for almost 17 years (yikes!), and it’s been way too long since I visited (thanks, plague times), but it tickles me to see horror tropes done on the other side of the world. Now, I’m not talking about the outback slashers that were all the rage once upon a time – rather, I love something that takes an interesting premise and turns it on its head. For example, Sealed by Naomi Booth was just horrifying (in the best way), and Ghost Species by James Bradley jumps off from some of the things we’re seeing in the news today (resurrecting extinct species, the impact of the climate crisis) and into a sweeping dystopian near-future.
I tried to base my last novel – a folk horror meditating on what a woman is in her 40s if not a mother – in a desolate part of the Australian Outback, but I couldn’t quite make it work. I’m sure it will come to me when it’s ready.
Willow Croft: “It was a dark and stormy night . . .” What are your go-to comfort foods, drinks, or other ways to wind down after a long day (or night) of writing?
Lauren McMenemy: Absolutely a streaming binge. My other half and I are both big pop culture nerds, and you’ll often find us glued to the TV of an evening. Streaming has ruined me, though, and I can’t wait a whole week for the next episode anymore. It kills him that I want to wait until the whole season is ready before we start watching – I’m sure he cheats every now and then!
Apart from that, I’m trying to fully embrace my middle age: a cuppa and a book while I sit on the couch with the bunny. Journaling, trying to make sense of my strange brain. Pulling some tarot or oracle cards for guidance. I’d love to say I’m the sort of person who goes for a gentle stroll in the wilderness before bed, but I live in the middle of the working class suburbs of London – to be honest, going for a walk on my own in the dark would actually add to my stress!
Willow Croft: “Did you hear that noise?” Everyone, even us horror/suspense writers, have our night terrors. What is it that frightens you the most?
Lauren McMenemy: That thing just in the corner of your eye. You know the one – the shadow that darts across the room too fast for you to track; the squeak of a gate when no one is there and the air is still; the feeling that someone, something, is watching you. I am a massive nervous wreck!
But, more importantly, it’s death that frightens me the most. Especially death after a life with no purpose or legacy. It’s ruled my life for way too long; I’m trying to embrace life more and accept my fate. Memento mori.
Willow Croft: “I’m sure it was nothing. But I’ll just go outside and check, anyway. Alone. With no weapons.” Have you ever gotten writers’ block? If so, how do you combat it? Do you have certain rituals or practices that help get you into the writing (or creating) mindset?
Lauren McMenemy: Oh, gawd – all the damn time! I write for a living – not the lovely creative writing we see in these pages, but marketing copy and articles and suchlike. For a long time, that consumed my days and by the time I finished work, I just didn’t have the energy to write anymore. Even if I really wanted to, even if something was burning a hole in my brain, I just did not have the energy. And then I burned out during the pandemic, and took some time out to recharge and rethink what I was doing with myself. I needed rest. I’m still trying to crack that massive blockage facing me, but I’m getting there.
Some ways I tempt the muse: stream of conscious journaling; getting into a different space; using a different writing tool (pen and paper if I’ve been at the screen all day; I also covet writing gadgets and have both a Freewrite Traveler and a ReMarkable); seeing creative inspiration in other forms (film, theatre, exhibition); music, always music. Always music. Live music, preferably. I also lead writing sessions several times a week for the London Writers Salon’s Writers Hours, and that community can be a real creative shot in the arm.
Willow Croft: “Don’t go into the basement!” Are you an impulsive pantser or a plotter with outlines galore? What other writing/industry advice would you share with your fellow writers & creators?
Lauren McMenemy: I am trying to be more of a plotter. I was a true pantser for most of my writing life – whether it’s an article for work or a short story or even a darn novel – and I always got stuck towards the end. So, with the current work in progress, I’ve got an outline. Not one that’s too prescriptive, and I know it will change, but as I’m writing from real-life events I felt I needed to have a better handle on the storyline.
As for advice, I’ll leave that to two of my favourite quotes from writers.
“Think of it like a Mad Hatter’s tea party. No room at the literature table? Sit down anyway. Take the rabbit hole to the underworld. Conjure shrink-grow monsters, evil queens, the perfidy of time, and lonely, spiralling madness. Choose chaos as a ruling principle. Ask the hard questions. Say what you mean. Talk when you want to. Debate the intricacies of language. Hide the bodies of your friends in teapots. Cut off their heads. Reference Poe. And drink more of the beverage of your choice.”
And finally, this from writer and creative coach Sheryl Garratt and her newsletter, The Creative Companion:
“Don’t be Cinderella, waiting to be invited to the ball. Fairy godmothers are magical, but they’re also rare as unicorns. So make your own damn ball-dress, blag your way into the club and act as if you belong there. Until you do. Be shameless. Be brazen. Be pushy. Be impudent. What have you got to lose? Find your people, the ones who love what you do, then serve them, connect with them, build a community as well as an audience. And if you get the success you want, be graceful and grateful. Open doors for other creatives. Use your influence to draw attention to up-and-coming talent. Invest in their work. And enjoy the life and the work you’ve created. Shamelessly.”
Yes, I might have a thing for dark fairy tales.
Willow Croft: “Ring ring!” It’s the middle of the night and the phone mysteriously rings. Which notable writer, or person from history, would be on the other end of the line?
Lauren McMenemy: I actually have social anxiety, so mysterious phone calls from the blue freak me out – add that to the list of things that scare me! But here we go… Mary Shelley, because why wouldn’t you want to talk to the spooky Queen herself? Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, so I can hear more about their adventures with writing-by-Ouija board. I’d also love to be face-to-face with the woman I’m writing about at the moment. She was a spiritual guru in the late Victorian era, and I find her immensely fascinating. That call would have the added bonus of being book research – yay for more procrastination!
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“Bringer of Nightmares and Storms.” Horror writer Willow Croft is usually lurking deep in the shadows of her writer cave, surrounded by formerly feral (but still fierce!) cats for company. Visit her here: http://willowcroft.blog, or check out her other services here: https://kirsten-lee-barger.mailchimpsites.com/.