10 questions: Oli Jacobs, author of Deep Down There

Another in my occasional series of short interviews with other writers. Today, it’s the turn of Oli Jacobs, author of the forthcoming Deep Down There. Here we go…

 

    1.        Who are you and what’s your book about?

It’s a question I often ask myself... as far as I’m aware, I’m Oli Jacobs and my book – Deep Down There – is about a strange hole that suddenly appears in a small cul-de-sac.

Oli Jacobs

Oli Jacobs

  2.        Why should folk read your book?

Because it’s the best gosh-darn horror book you’ll ever read. Plus, it combines elements of surburban tension, and creeping dread. And, of course, a massive hole.

 

    3.        What’s the appeal of your book?  

Finding out what’s down the hole. There’s a lot of build up with how the residents react to it, and efforts to “solve” the problem of it, but when things get weird that’s when the true horror kicks in. Not to mention when one eager resident wants to abseil 0down...

    4.        Sounds great! Where/when can I get hold of a copy? 

Deep Down There is currently available for pre-orders at https://unbound.com/books/deep-down-there/ Not only will you get the book, but you’ll get your name inside too!

Deep Down There provisional cover

Deep Down There provisional cover

    5.        Describe a typical writing day, or at least a typical day with some writing in it:

A fair few hours of procrastination, before a flurry of words in an hour or two period. It’s all in my head, it’s just getting to the fingers to tap out...

          

    6.        Pick one book about writing. What it is and why have you chosen it?

I don’t actually like reading books about writing, but I’ve heard Stephen King’s On Writing is quite the tome.

 

    7.        Pick three books that have influenced or inspired you as a writer:

The Stand – Stephen King, At The Mountains of Madness – HP Lovecraft, House of Leaves – Mark Z Danielewski

           

    8.        Pick three desert island books - works you couldn’t live without:

 Apart from the aforementioned three above... probably Leviathan – Ian Edginton, Songs of a Dead Dreamer – Thomas Ligotti, The Last Days of Jack Sparks – Jason Arnopp.

 

    9.        Any words of writing wisdom?

Always have a plan, and a good soundtrack to write to.

  

  10.        Let’s make a movie of your book. Give me the high-concept pitch:

A hole suddenly appears in a small community, unleashing not just their own inner demons, but something lurking in the very core of the Earth. Shady agencies, maddened neighbours, and whatever it is lurking... Deep Down There.

 

Social media contacts: Facebook - @OJBooks, Twitter - @Olijacobsauthor, Instagram - @olijba

 

Book URL: https://unbound.com/books/deep-down-there/


Previous publications: Kirk Sandblaster, Filmic Cuts, Bad Sandwich, The Children of Little Thwopping, Wrapped Up In Nothing, Strange Days in High Wycombe, Station 17... all can be found here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/l/B0086XR1JG


Huge thanks to Oli for playing along. Deep Down There is a project that I’ve supported on Unbound, so here’s hoping that you’ll do precisely the same and that the book’ll get into print soon!

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10 questions: Paul Holbrook, author of Domini Mortum

As noted in other posts in this series, these questionnaire-style interviews have come about as part of being interested in how others going through the same process - crowdfunding a novel - approach their writing. Today's guest is Paul Holbrook, author of Domini Mortum, so without any further ado (barring the now-statutory link to my own book East of England) here's Paul:

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1. Who are you and what’s your book about?

I’m Paul Holbrook, I write things that fall out of my very confused mind.

Domini Mortum is a supernatural murder mystery set in Late Victorian London. It tells the story of Samuel Weaver, an illustrator and writer for the Illustrated Police News, who helps the police with their investigations into a series of ‘orrible murders.

2. Why should folk read your book? 

It’s riveting, entertaining and just the right side of creepy. Imagine Ripper Street but with ghosts and evil cults, or Sherlock Holmes versus the devil. It will satisfy the desires of anyone who enjoys a ripping yarn!

3. What’s the appeal of your book?

The book will appeal to all those who love a twisty turny mystery, with generous dollops of grisly murder, lashings of spooky thrills, and more Victorian grime than you can shake a stick at. When I wrote the book, my first aim was to create a novelised version of one of these great Hammer/Amicus/Tigon movies, the type with Peter Cushing fighting the forces of evil, or Oliver Reed growling menacingly as he commits a murder, or even Ian Ogilvy looking dashing in his pre-Saint years. Anyone who is a fan of that great age of British horror movie will see a lot of what they love in the book.     

 4. Sounds great! Where/when can I get hold of a copy?

It is due to come out in the late summer, most likely September, and will then be available in all of the best book shops. There is even still time to get your name included in the book in the list of supporters. Imagine that, your very own name in a book!  

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5. Describe a typical writing day, or at least a typical day with some writing in it: 

A typical writing day for me always starts first thing in the morning, I like to treat it the same as a work day and be punctual and ready to go by about 8.30 or 9. I’ve found that this is the only way that I can get a satisfactory amount done in a day is if I throw myself into it early on.  Otherwise, a myriad of distractions seem to appear and before I know it the day is over and very little have been written.

I am very strict; all social media off, mobile phone in another room and forgotten about, and family know that it’s writing time and not to disturb the grouch.

I always set myself a target for the day, be it to complete a chapter, write two or three scenes, or just a word count (usually between 2 and 3 thousand words).

I write because I enjoy it though, although I have a strict structure to my day, the moment it begins to feel like work I am quite happy to just say ‘sod it’ for the day. There’s no point grinding out words that there’s no enthusiasm behind. That only makes bad words.

6. Pick one book about writing. What it is and why have you chosen it?  

For me there is only one book: On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King. It’s not just because it’s Stephen King who I read an awful lot of when I was in my teens and early twenties. This book is like my rulebook on how to write stuff that’s actually worthy of reading. It’s part autobiography, telling about his childhood and how he developed a love of writing, but then the second half is more like an instruction manual for writing great fiction.

I didn’t read it until I’d been writing for a few years, and it was a revelation to me. Part of this was because some of the things he recommended to do I was doing already (which made me feel quite smug) but then there were other parts that suddenly made the process of writing so much easier, especially when it came to the progression from first draft to second draft. I cannot recommend it enough.

7. Pick three books that have influenced or inspired you as a writer: 

Selected Tales – Edgar Allan Poe

A demonstration of how it is possible to delve into the recesses and dark places of the mind and create a new art form.  Poe is the perfect kind of crazy genius that I aspire to.

The Devil Rides Out – Dennis Wheatley

I discovered this book when I was very young, maybe eleven or twelve. (Bizarrely, I think my Nan had a copy.) I read it, was very confused and was not sure if I liked it that much, and put it back on the shelf and forgot about it. I found myself haunted though by images and scenes from the book though, sometimes in dreams sometimes in the sudden absence-like daydreams which I still suffer from today when suddenly filled with an idea for a story or a scene. I didn’t connect the two until I read the book when I was older, and also saw the fantastic movie adaptation, which remains one of my favourites.

That for me is something to aspire to – weaving images and pictures through words that stick with the reader and become part of their unconscious (some would call it hypnosis, I just call it clever writing)

Conversations with Spirits – EO Higgins

I never really began writing until around nine years ago, I always thought about it but never did anything. And then by chance I saw a tweet from Stephen Fry with a link to a new writing website called Jottify. It was basically a place where writers could upload their stuff for other writers to critique and enjoy, enthuse and encourage. In a fit of madness, I joined and began putting up some of my poetry. Then slowly I moved onto trying to write a short story or two.  I met a lot of great writers on the Jottify site (sadly it is no more) writers who became and still are very dear friends. The daddy of the site though was an EO Higgins, where my little stories were getting one hundred or one hundred and fifty views, his opus, Conversations with Spirits, published chapter by chapter had views in their thousands. I think by the time the Jottify site died it had had sixty-seven thousand views. It was picked up by Unbound and became one of their first published books.

I love everything about the book, the characters, the storyline, just the feel of the thing.  When I finally decided to have a go at a novel Conversations with Spirits was the benchmark I aspired to, and still is in whatever I write.

8. Pick three desert island books - works you couldn’t live without:  

Legend – David Gemmell

My dad bought me this book when I was fourteen and I immediately became lost in it. I think I may have read it twenty or thirty times now, it is part of me. It’s a fantasy novel about a huge invading army of barbarians and a small outnumbered group of men who defend the entrance to their country, literally until only a handful remain. Kind of like the Alamo but with axes and swords rather than guns. Gemmell wrote it while waiting to find out if he had cancer or not.  Luckily for him, he didn’t and he went on to write lots more books until his early death in 2006. I have all of them although none is more loved by me than his first.

It’s not the best-written book on my overladen shelf, but it is the one most dear to me.  The thought of not being able to pick it up and read it is not one I would like to dwell on.

Weaveworld – Clive Barker

Why this book hasn’t been given more attention since its publication I have no idea. It is a brilliantly told tale of fantasy mixed in with reality. A whole race of people being hunted to extinction are hidden by weaving them into a magical carpet. It sounds a bit bonkers, and it probably is but somehow it works.

I don’t know why it has never been made into a film or television series, although there is always the risk of ruining it by committing it to film. I also have a graphic novel version, which is very well done too.

Swan Song – Robert R McCammon

Another one that I have read countless times over and over. It’s basically an apocalypse story; the world has been destroyed by nuclear missiles and the survivors try to erm… survive.  But is is really well written. Each chapter is short, contains one major addition to the storyline and ends on a bit of a cliffhanger.  It was released at the same time as Stephen King’s The Stand which was unfortunate as King got all the plaudits. To me though, Swan Song is a much better book. Characterisation, plot twists, parallel narratives, it has it all.

9. Any words of writing wisdom? 

Only a couple. Be brave when your’e writing. The words are there, within that turnip of yours, and they will do no good until they come out. Be brave enough to commit them to reality, even if you then discard them as rubbish. The amount of brilliant ideas that I have lost over the years from not being brave enough or giving the time to write them down is tragic.

Be brutal, with your editing.  It can save you a lot of heartache when the time comes to show it to someone else. I have a thick skin, and can take criticism when given in the right way.  Sometimes though I have had advice from those who know better to really be brutal with cutting stuff that’s unwanted or unnecessary. It’s easy to become too involved and attached to your work, sometimes an outside view does really know best. Be willing to make those cuts.

10. Let’s make a movie of your book. Give me the high-concept pitch: 

OK (said in deep rumbly trailer guy voice)

In a world where violent murder happens every day, only one man, Samuel Weaver(Tom Hardy/Tom Holland – any of the Toms) is brave enough to search out the truth.

He must face an unearthly killer with supernatural powers, an evil cult led by a man who seems to be above the law, and the horror of his own brutal and shadowy past.

WATCH, as he meets the mysterious and drunken Edward Higgins (Benedict Cumberbatch/Johnny Depp/Robert Downey Jr)

SIGH, as he falls in love with the beautiful but doomed Alice (Emma Watson, or Emma Stone – any of the Emmas)

SCREAM IN TERROR, as he faces terrible demons, from the depths of hell, and from his own twisted mind.

Domini Mortum – Sometimes the darkest evil is within.

Social media contacts: 

Twitter @cpholbrook

Unbound URL:  www.unbound.co.uk/books/domini-mortum 

Previous publications:  

Memento Mori - a type of prequel to Domini Mortum.  Available on Amazon at https://www.amazon.co.uk/Memento-Mori-Paul-Holbrook/dp/1530722675/ref=sr_1_6?ie=UTF8&qid=1530440555&sr=8-6&keywords=Memento+mori

Big thanks to Paul for his time. As he says, the book is coming soon, so keep an eye out for it!

—-

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Horror movies - some questions answered

A former student (hi Kirsty!) emailed me a couple of days ago with a few questions to do with horror movies to help out with some coursework that she's doing for her course. Here's the questions and my replies, together with a few additions (trailers and the like).

Q: Do you think horror films are losing their scare factor? Explain.

A: Not if they’re done well. I think that we change as viewers over time and different things will scare us as opposed to when we’re younger. There’s still some great scary stuff out there, particularly the kinds of movies that tap into fears and phobias that are universal. Even if we don’t have a fear of something in particular, we can still understand and be impacted on by fears of loss of a loved one, of the dark, or spiders and of drowning, of being trapped in an enclosed space.

Sometimes we can be afraid of ourselves and our potential for harm to ourselves and to others as well. And yes sometimes the monster is just a monster, but at times when we’re alone and in the dark we become children again and we remember the things that kept us awake and under the covers, not daring to peek out, when we were little.

 That said, I’m no longer the core audience for mainstream American horror films. The Blumhouse kind of productions are tailored pretty expertly to a teen audience and to a PG-13 rating, but as I’ve not been a teenager for a long, long time, those kinds of preoccupations don’t really affect me.

If you want to blame people for this, blame George Lucas and Steven Spielberg for making Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. That movie engendered the PG-13 rating in the States as a halfway house between PG and R. Though here in the UK we only saw a cut PG version in cinemas, the PG-13 rating opened up a space for films that had a bit more meat than PG offerings, but that didn’t carry the potential stigma (and the need to have a grown-up with you) that an R rating would mean. With PG-13 you get a compromise between violence and child-friendliness, and over time film companies have realised that that’s where you can maximise your audience for everything except explicitly family-oriented films.

That’s why all the major franchises (and may other productions as well) tend to target PG-13: the Bourne, Hunger Games, James Bond, X-Men, Star Trek and other franchises do this pretty consistently. The trend also has been for sequels to R-rated (15 or even 18-rated in the UK) hits to aim lower, ratings-wise in order to expand the franchise’s potential audience. See the later Die Hard and Taken movies for examples of this. You might make more money, but you risk making compromised movies that don’t appeal so much to the original fans (see the later Die Hard and Taken movies for this as well).

Also, we have a generation of moviemakers who, to a greater or lesser extent, have focused much of their careers making watered-down versions of the horror properties and tropes they loved as children themselves. Tim Burton and Guillermo del Toro (his US movies especially), I’m looking at you. Sometimes great movies are produced; sometimes we end up with Dark Shadows.          

Q: Do you think the music score to horror films influences the effect the film has on the audience?

A: Absolutely. Jaws wouldn’t be Jaws without John Williams. The Omen wouldn’t be The Omen without Jerry Goldsmith. The Wicker Man gets much of its effect from its pastoral soundtrack.

John Carpenter works best with his minimalist repetitive synth scores. Heck, when the suits demanded he had a name composer in Ennio Morricone alongside for The Thing, to Morricone’s credit, he emulated what Carpenter and Alan Howarth would have done anyway.

Q: What are your favourite horror films? Do certain ones stand out more than others to you? Why?

A: As a child of the 1970s and one who grew up with the horror franchises of the 1980s through the video rental boom and onwards, I’ve got an affection for the first genre movies that I saw. Often, these are linked to when I first saw them. I was ushered out of a holiday camp showing of The Wicker Man when I was little (all was going fine until the first nude scene!). I cycled 15 miles to a friend’s house to watch The Omen taped off the telly after its first TV showing. I first saw Jaws as part of a cinema re-release double-bill with Jaws 2 (a film I still have a lot of patience with). I stayed up religiously every Friday night, as BBC1 showed a Hammer film pretty much every week.

I paid good money to see early Charlie Sheen horror The Wraith in a Cardiff fleapit. I’ve sat through cinema all-nighters (The Thing, The Fog, Carrie, The Exorcist, then Alien, Aliens, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and the original My Bloody Valentine). A running joke among friends of that era involves me campaigning for - and eventually renting - Frank Henenlotter’s Brain Damage.  

The ones I like best are the films that don’t mock the genre. There’s a seriousness about John Carpenter movies that I like – even relatively minor ones like Prince of Darkness. Damien: Omen II may be a load of old tosh, but no-one’s sneering. Any fool can (and many do) opt for comedy, pastiche or in-jokery, but not everyone can do it as well as Joe Dante, who always has a high regard for the source material and the genre.

Q: Do you think horror films are trying to out-do each other? Is this affecting the quality of the film being made?

A: There’s a certain gross-out tendency, though nowadays that tends to happen where the horror genre intersects with the art movie. The days of make-up effects competition are long gone, though in those days the rubber reality made you appreciate the artistry and imagination as well as get squeamish at the ickiness on display. I’ve not got any real interest in the likes of the Human Centipede films or A Serbian Movie or even in Gasper Noe’s latest censor-baiting extravaganza. The torture-porn subgenre that the weaker Saw sequels fell into and which the likes of Eli Roth too often descend to isn’t that interesting, especially when it’s a front for barely-concealed misogyny.  

Q: What is it about horror films that you like?

A: Escapism. Imagination. Fantasy. Playfulness. Challenge. Finding new ways to interpret the old tropes. I don’t mind a good jump-scare at all. I like the movie that nibbles at the back of your brain a couple of days after you’ve seen it. Also, I like the idea of the "safe scare". Horror gives us a playground. At the end of the day it's only a movie. There's enough real-world horribleness in the world; we don't have to indulge in it for leisure as well. So let's make some monsters up. And sometimes, ideas are more powerful if they're allegorical. We can put our own details on the devil. 

Zombies are fun. Plus, in a horror scenario, you can put your characters through situations they wouldn’t get in any other genre. There will be blood. But it washes off. 

Q: How do horror films from the 70's and 80's vary from today’s films?

A: Horror is pretty debased as a genre these days. Hotel Transylvania is as much a horror movie as anything Ben Wheatley might make. However, though there’s useful social commentary out there today, you don’t see it in horror movies as you did back in the day. Rosemary’s Baby is a movie about something. So too, in its own way, is The Omen. So’s Jaws. There are relationships between the texts and the contexts of their making. As British horror movies got stuck for too long in adaptations of classic novels and in Victorian pastiche through the Hammer days and well into the 1970s, that tradition didn’t really come through until after the UK film industry died.

Teen horror’s been around since the 1950s monster movies and it’s refreshing in some ways to see the same creatures and situations come around each decade, but with more ways to see more films than ever before, the originals are still there, and it’s those that I tend to go back to.

Q: Have people become so used to blood and gore in horror films that they don't get shocked?

A: No. But these days, the gory stuff is as often on television as it is in the movies. The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones offer splatter the equal of anything the movies have to offer, and often, with the ways that budgets now work, with technical expertise and competence the equal at least of what films can offer. Where TV benefits is that over a season or two you can establish relationships with characters in meaningful ways that you can’t quite so easily do over the 90 minutes of a slasher movie. Then that’s when you kill them. And then the audience cares, and is shocked, not because of the quality of the effects or the bloodletting on display, but because they’re emotionally invested in the characters. If you can do that – whether in a film or on the telly – then you truly control the audience.

There's still great horror filmmaking out there though. It Follows and The Babadook are fantastic movies from the last year or so. Good horror's out there; it's just a shame that it doesn't always get to play at every multiplex any more.