Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Ten Years.

My involvement in the Independent Press started over a game of pool. It was 1995, and I had dreams of being a writer. I'd penned a few short stories, but had no idea where to get them published. The subject of writing came up. My fellow player was a man called Tommy Sutton, a keen writer himself. He told me to call by his house a little later on. When I did, he handed me a shopping bag full of magazines (including an early issue of Peeping Tom, dating back to 1992, which I rather wish I'd kept). It also contained a copy of what was, at the time, the small press writers almanac; Zene. All of a sudden, I had a possible outlet for my writing.
A few weeks later, I had my first couple of acceptances. Finally, a magazine dropped through my letterbox. It was the third issue of a magazine called R.Q.C, edited by a chap called Gavin Wilson. I'll never forget the date; February the 28th, 1996, and nothing has quite matched the excitement of seeing my work in print for the first time. It even had a full-page illustration, which I was really excited about. At last, I was a writer.
Ten years, it's hard to believe. One thing's for sure, a lot has changed in that time. I'll discuss this in greater detail, but for now, a good way to look back is by reprinting an interview that came out five years ago.
Another writer making an early appearance in that issue was John B. Ford, and a couple of years later he was hosting a website caled Terror tales on-line. A collection of my stories, Evil Eye, was due for release and it was a great way to mark five years as a writer. TT On-line no longer exists, so I'll reproduce the interview here. As you'll see, we looked ahead to this moment in time, and I'm pleased to say, we are still here.

David Price interviewed by John B. Ford; Terror Tales on-line, 2001;

JBF: Well your first book, The Evil Eye, is about to be published, and it seems a very long time ago since we appeared in RQC magazine together at the start of our careers. We both arrived on the small press scene back in early 1996, and in those days everything was absolutely buzzing. How do you think the current UK market compares with that period, and is there more or less of an oppertunity for new authors to make a name for themselves?

DP: Looking back, it seemed that for every magazine that folded, three would spring up to take it's place. These days, every magazine that folds leaves a gap in the market. There are plenty of webzines, and they look good; but they are ephemeral, and tend to go off-line before you get a chance to read all the stories. Every week a link comes up inviting you to check out this or that webzine; but there are so many you rarely get a chance to check out more that the odd story here and there. In short, up and coming writers have as much chance of getting published, but probably less chance of getting established.

JBF: Over the years we've attended many Terror Scribes gatherings together and always had one hell of a good time, drinking venues dry and making new friends along the way. How important do you think it is for new authors to go out and meet like-minded people, and what do you think is the art of becoming the perfect terror scribe?

DP: Meeting up with fellow small press writers and becoming firm friends with people I'd never have known otherwise, has been one of my greatest pleasures. I remember the first one I attended; it was a wet Saturday afternoon in November, back in 1997; I'd never met any of you, so when you talked about putting this 'do' together, I decided to travel up. You were the first person I approached at the station. I was then introduced to Paul Finch, Derek M. Fox, Pete Attaway, Ritchie Bennett, Kim Padgett Clarke, Rob Gill, Paul Bradshaw, and Gary Greenwood. Then we went to the pub where the time passed just too damn quickly. When I got on the train back to Cardiff, I remember thinking,'what a great bunch, I hope that's not the last I see of them'. Thankfully, it wasn't. Important? I think so, as it gives small press writers a chance to chat about their writing. I don't know about you, but where I live there is absolutely no one who shares my interest. (Note; Tommy Sutton had long since moved house by the time if this interview - Dave) The art of becoming a perfect terror scribe? Just get your butts over to a venue and join us for a drink.

JBF: You've a wide variety of styles and subjects at your disposal. One thing I've always meant to ask you about is your influences, and favourite authors. Which writers were responsible for David Price picking up the pen himself, and which books have you enjoyed reading over the years?

DP: In the early years, Alistair Maclean and Jack Higgins, who wrote great adventure stories. Then, of course, there were the Pan and Fontana books of horror, which led me to horror fiction, and I started reading Edgar Allan Poe. Unfortunately, horror gained a bad name due to a proliferation of artless slasher-shockers, and I cooled to it a little. Then someone gave me a copy of James Herbert's 'The Magic Cottage'. It's considered one of his weaker books but I loved it, and I've been a fan ever since.

Other good writers are Clive Cussler and Wilbur Smith. H.G. Wells 'The Time Machine' is a real classic; the wonderful prose really drags you into the adventure. But as to horror, I tend to favour period pieces; the writing is more attractive and the times darker. Horror at sea works well because it's an alien environment with no escape. That is why Hope Hodgson's stories are still gripping today. But if this preference for period horror stems from anything, it is from watching Hammer and Universal horror films. Back in the 70's and 80's, BBC 2 used to screen horror film double bills on a Saturday night, and in the days before I was old enough to go down the pub (and in the late 70's, you couldn't go in if you were under 18) I used to really look forward to them. There were some modern horror flicks, but I always preferred the period ones.

Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories also gripped me from an early age.

Anyway, some more great books; 'The Sound of Thunder' by Wilbur Smith, 'HMS Ulysses' by Alistair Maclean, 'Strangers' by Dean Koontz, 'The Eagle has Landed' by Jack Higgins, 'Shrine' by James Herbert, 'By The Rivers of Babylon' by Nelson DeMille. I'm also a keen reader of the marvellous Dick Francis.

JBF: In the past couple of years we've been swept off our feet by the rapid expansion of the Internet and all the webzines that are devoted to horror fiction. I know from one of your editorials in 'Tales of the Grotesque & Arabesque' that you were vehemently opposed to new technology. Have your views changed at all since that time?

DP: Ah yes, that creative plague known as the Internet! I have changed my views; but I still hate the way it has decimated the market. When I started 'Tales of the Grotesque & Arabesque' back in '97, webzines were virtually unheard of. But in the last year or so we've all hooked up, and the Net is a good medium. I still say that you can't beat a good magazine, and I took a pride in designing my own; even if it was a pretty basic affair. But the Net is providing a market for fiction, so I have to grudgingly approve of it in that respect. But magazines have always been the medium, right back to the days of Edgar Allan Poe, and if it hadn't been for publicactions like 'The Strand', we'd never have heard of Sherlock Holmes. However, the last time I made a statement like that - on the 'Masters of Terror' website - I kicked off quite a debate. At the end of the day, we all have out own opinions and we can only go round and round in circles debating the matter. But I have to say that I really enjoy keeping in touch with the other terror scribes on a regular basis. The message boards are a great invention.

JBF: The American small press seems much more healthy than our own, with numerous magazines and small book publishers for authors to aim their work at. What do you think has gone wong in the UK? Do you think it is because printing prices are so much cheaper in the US, or maybe the Americans are just so much more enthusiastic than potential UK publishers?

DP: The American market can certainly boast a larger base of subscribers. In Britain - with the exception of publications like 'The Third Alternative' and 'Interzone' - a magazine can hope to shift, at best, around 300 copies. American editors can think in terms of thousands. As to why the UK small press is dying on its feet, who knows? Maybe prospective editors are seeing all these print magazines dying and thinking, why bother? It may not be terminal, but writers coming onto the scene have fewer markets to aim at than we did five years ago. Sadly, I'd have to conclude that the small press hey-day has gone.

JBF: As I've said, you write in quite a variety of styles very successfully, your fiction stretching from Victorian influence to a much more cutting edge, modern horror. Where do you get your ideas for such a wide variety of stories, and how much time do you spend outlining your work beforehand?

DP: Blimey John, that's quite a question; it tends to vary from story to story. The best I can do is give you a few examples. For instance, I am interested in history, and quite a few ideas have come from the history books. SplatterJack ('Hallowzine, 1996 & Enigmatic Tales, 1998), was set during the Napoleonic wars. The supernatural tale was fiction, but the conspiracy taking place in the background was real enough. I wrote 'The Transportee (Terror Tales, 1998) after flipping through a history book of Australia. A full chapter was given over to the penal colonies, and this gave me all the background I needed to tell a story about a transported criminal.

A few stories had to be planned and researched; one called 'Guardians of the Future (Zest, 1997) was set in the 1890's, and required a good working knowledge of London at the time, so I bought a book called 'Jack the Ripper - The Final Solution' , by Stephen Knight. It had maps, all the period descriptions I needed, and it was a subject that interested me. Better still, it was to inspire one of my more successful stories (Amphytrion, but more about that later), so I certainly got my monies worth out of that purchase.

Another example; I was in town one hot summers day, and I called into a Cardiff pub called 'The Old Orleans. I sat at a table with a cold lager, somebody was smoking a cigar, bluesy jazz music was playing in the background. I was mellowed, and thought it would make a great opening for a story. It led to 'Deathbed Confessor'. I didn't have a story when I started writing, but halfway through I had a great idea for a set piece. Suddenly, the plot came to me. The story was published in the American magazine 'Not One Of Us' in '98, giving me my first American credit. I was really glad I called into the pub that day.

I could go on quite a bit, but I'll just give you one more example; the title story of my collection, 'Evil Eye'. During the miners strike, a mate suggested I do a little spying down the Cardiff Docks with him; that is, note the names of the firms that were collecting imported coal. It sounded like a lark, but it was two hours of boredom. Later that night we went to a pub, prevented several barrels of lager from going sour, then drunkenly vowed to set fire to some of the lorries. We didn't, of course - even drunk we had more sense than that!- but I could still imagine the consequences, and ... well, you'll just have to read the story.

I hasten to add that this was back in 1984, and I've mellowed a lot since then!

As for setting out a story, I always write it out in long hand forst. Then I type it up, and spend a couple of weeks (sometimes months!) revising it. Most editors take a story from a disk, and I found that if I didn't clean up the spelling, punctuation and typos, They sure as hell wouldn't. It may be laborious, but it's worth it in the long run.

JBF: Since 2001 brings you to the grand old age of 40, perhaps it's time to take stock. What has been the highlight of your writing career so far, and do you think you'll still be active in the horror genre in five years time?

DP: The last five years have been pretty good. 'Tales of the Grotesque & Arabesque' was the highlight. It was never going to be one of the big boys, , but I was pleased with the reaction to it. It's been great meeting up with the terror scribes, and I hope to be around for some time.

What will I be doing in five years time? Dreading my 45th birthday (Er ... no, as it happens - Dave, 5 years on) enjoying meeting terror scribes old and new (I got that right) ,and still trying to write a decent story. It would be nice to think I'll be an established author by then, but I wouldn't bet a months wages on it. (Just as well :-(

JBF: Finally can you name your own favourite stories from 'The Evil Eye', telling us a little about them and why you've chosen them?

DP: Of the stories, 'Amphytrion' and 'The Tower of Wisdom' got very positive reactions I've mentioned before that I got the idea for Amphytrion from a book about Jack the Ripper. In 'The Final Solution', one of the suspects is an English painter called Walter sickert. One of his paintings (called, of course 'Amphytrion') depicted an old legend; that of the God Jupiter (aka Zeus) coming to earth in the guise of a mortal man and leaving his seed in a woman. It gave me an idea; what if the descendants of that woman were still walking the earth today?

'The Tower of wisdom' is set in a post-apocalyptic future where everyone has to live in an artificially created environment. It was written after I had read A.J.P. Taylor's excellent account of the first world war. Reading about the political arrogance that prolonged that terrible campaign, I could still get incensed about it - even after eighty years. Although the story is set in the future, it was the events of World war 1 that inspired it.

Other stories? Hopefully, people will drop by on my notice board and let me know what they think; good, bad or indifferent. Either way, this collection is a great way to mark five years of writing for the small press. There'll be good times ahead, and I'm looking forward to more get-togethers, more drinking sessions, and more conventions; hopefully, I'll make next years WorldCon in Chicago. It would be nice to get acquainted with more of our American counterparts. (I did make that convention in Chicago, and more recently, New York; and yes, those americans really know how to party!)

Anyway, I shall now conclude this interview in the only way I know how; with a bit of humour.

The other week a group of terror scribes went line-dancing, but it was a complete disaster; they kept tripping over the pegs;-)

(Oh well, there goes my street cred!)

All the best, John, and here's to the next Alcohol haze.