This is my first author interview and I am honored to say that Stuart Keane has taken the time to answer my questions.
Stuart is an exceptional author. I have read his novellas and novel and several anthologies that his works are featured in. I have enjoyed everything that I have read. He is extremely talented and I would recommend that you all take a peak at his work and enjoy the reading.
A big thanks to Stuart for taking the time to answer my questions. I hope you all enjoy.
I give you Stuart Keane…
Let’s start with getting the formalities out of the way-
Tell me a little about yourself, age, location, family, etc.
Right, my name is Stuart (lol), I’m 33, I currently live in Ipswich but I was born and raised in Kent. I have the best family, many of whom have been very supportive in my writing career. Erm, I’m a Scorpio, I like to read, I don’t drive, I can type 98 words a minute…did I need to write anything else? : )
What is something you’d like to share that most people don’t know about you?
I’m allergic to apples. Weird one, yes. The effect of eating one of those little juicy sods is not the most amusing way to spend an afternoon.
2014 was a busy year for you and you accomplished many things. What books have you published and/or had your works featured in?
Wow, okay. First, The Customer is Always, Charlotte and All or Nothing (I believe you’ve read all of them). These are my books I released via Amazon and J Ellington Ashton Press. Then, Carnage: Extreme Horror in December, my first edited anthology featuring Kyle M. Scott, Jack Rollins and Angel Gelique. I’ve also featured in several anthologies including Dead Harvest, Rejected for Content: Splattergore, Floppy Shoes Apocalypse, Terror Train, Autumn Burning: Dreadtime Stories for the Wicked Soul, Inanna Rising, Journals of Horror: Found Fiction, Cellar Door III: Animals, Hell II: Citizens, and Indiana Horror Review 2014.
What has been your favorite story or novel to write and what inspired you to write it?
It’s a three way tie, I believe. Vermilion: A Travelers Tale and Fool Aboard were both very special because these were my very first attempts at a short story. I was shocked when both were accepted for submission (into Journals of Horror and Terror Train respectively). The third is Hodmedod, a short accepted into Dead Harvest, my very first paid submission. All of these are very special to me because I was very new to the writing game when I sat down to write them. I just wrote them for me, using a variety of techniques…luckily, people appreciated them as much as I did when writing them.
If I had to pick a novel, it would be All or Nothing. This was my first actual novel, and it was published through a publisher. I realised a dream the moment it was released and that will never go away. The day I got that email saying I was accepted will always rank highly. That’s when I realised my writing could actually make people take notice. The fact it includes a cover from Steve Crisp, a lifelong icon of mine, was the cherry on a perfect cake.
I have to say that All or Nothing has been my favorite of yours so far. There are many characters, all very different from each other. How did you come up with the differences in or the types of characters in this novel?
Okay, for anyone who hasn’t read All or Nothing yet, there may be some minor spoilers here. Be warned.
The first thing I knew about All or Nothing, apart from the diabolical plot, is that I wanted a variety of characters. The story would not work without them. Each character was experiencing a modified version of the same events, one that is unimaginable but also realistic and, to me, that makes a story unique. If a reader can imagine the events for themselves (most elements in the book could actually happen) then you are tapping into the consciousness of the reader and providing them an entertaining time. This story came of age in the era of reality TV and I had to make sure that each character (four sets of characters, four scenarios) advanced into different stages without mimicking or treading old ground. It was tough…a pen and pad sat nearby throughout the entire process.
Another thing – If the characters all do the same thing, act the same, speak the same, it isn’t really a story. So, I laid some ground rules. One, I wanted the women to be to be stronger than the men…and then have the men rise up near to the end. Two, I wanted one of the main characters to die early on to emphasize how unpredictable the story was. Three, I wanted to keep it based in reality and really drive home that, anywhere in the world, this could actually be happening. The fourth rule was simple – I wanted the readers to have fun. This was the hardest, because I was constantly checking the story to see if it flowed and wasn’t confusing. I’ve learnt a lot since then but, thankfully, it worked.
What has been your greatest accomplishment to date?
I have three, in no particular order.
1. Becoming a member of the HWA.
2. Signing a publishing contract with J Ellington Ashton Press.
3. Being offered an editorial position with Dark Chapter Press.
Have you had any disappointments that just really got to you? If so, would you care to share what it was and why?
Early on, bad reviews would get to me. Colour me naïve. I soon learned that reviews are part and parcel of the job – much like angry customers in any customer relations job. Having spoken to other authors, I soon came to learn that where reviews are a good source of feedback in the most part, sometimes you can let them swallow you. It’s a slippery path if you do. Now, I just smile when I see one, good or bad. After all, even the greats get bad reviews. If an author could please every person…well, that’s a formula for success.
Your publisher is J Ellington Aston Press, how did you come about getting them as a publisher?
I approached them in July. All or Nothing was nearing completion and they only needed the first three chapters. I thought I would test the waters and send it to them. Jim Goforth, a fellow author who has since become a good friend, pointed me in their direction. After a week or so, they said they liked what they read and asked me to send the whole thing. After that, it was accepted and I am now published through them. Since that date, I have become an Executive Assistant for the company too. It’s been a crazy ride in the past 12 months, but the people at JEA are a real grounded bunch when it comes to advice, feedback and tutoring. I have learnt a lot from them.
Who does the covers for your books and do you help in designing them?
For All or Nothing, it was Steve Crisp. Crisp provided Richard Laymon, my biggest writing idol of all time, with several fantastic covers in the 90s. He also provided covers for Stephen King and Bentley Little amongst others. I promised if I ever got published that I would approach Steve for a cover. I did, realised he lived ten minutes from my hometown and we connected straight away. A few months later, we were meeting in a pub discussing ideas for a cover, the cover you now see as All or Nothing. It was a weird experience, but a thoroughly enjoyable one.
Since then, I have had the fortune of finding Mark Kelly. Mark provides covers for a variety of British horror writers (Ian Woodhead and Matt Shaw to name two) and I was blown away by his ability. He did Charlotte, Carnage: Extreme Horror, Whispers – Volume 1 and Undead Legacy, not to mention a few others that are yet to be released. Mark knows exactly how to capture the cover you want…a rare talent. I don’t really help, Mark has his own process and letting him follow it is a hugely rewarding experience. I just give him the bare bones so to speak.
What author(s) inspired you the most to become a writer and at what age? What was it about them that inspired you? What would be your favorite book(s) by that author?
Richard Laymon started me on the dark path to horror writing. I was seven when I first read him. In due course, I would find Shaun Hutson, James Herbert, and Clive Barker – all excellent British authors. Of course, I adore Stephen King as well. Laymon’s way of writing really hooked me. The book was Flesh – I remember reading about a scene where the main character is considering entry to a restaurant, one we know to be harboring a ghastly secret, and I was like ‘no, don’t go in there.’ I was screaming it at the book, much to my mother’s surprise. It was the first time I was actually struck by a book in that way. The other authors would affect me in different ways (Slugs terrified me, The Rats had me checking the shadows for weeks, and The Hellbound Heart…wow). After reading Christine, I wouldn’t get in a red car for hell or high water (that annoyed my parents). I wouldn’t say I have a favourite by any of these authors because I constantly re-read them for inspiration anyway. However, it all comes back to that moment with Laymon…he started me on this path.
Horror has always been an important part of my life, good or bad, and I believe that is what made me become a horror writer. I like being scared, and I like scaring people. There’s something so primitive about it…
Are there any new authors that have become favorites of yours?
I’m glad you asked this question. Since I started writing, multiple writers have come across my radar…to keep it short, here are some of the authors I know read religiously. Trust me, they are phenomenal…I always encourage authors/readers to get in touch and discuss this with me though, there are so many.
Jack Rollins, Kyle M. Scott, Angel Gelique, Chantal Noordeloos, Matt Shaw, Ian Woodhead, Geoffrey West, Jasper Bark, Glenn Rolfe, Todd Kiesling, Mark Parker, Graham Reynolds, Jim Goforth, Essel Pratt, John R. Cowton, Catt Dahman. To name a few.
You write mostly horror/thriller books. What characteristic of that genre do you feel is most important when writing? Or the most fun for you to write?
I think respecting the genre you write in gets you a long way. Many of the writers above respect and admire their genre and it makes their work very enjoyable. Horror fans are passionate and dedicated…try to pull the wool over their eyes and they will call you on it. I try to deliver material that hasn’t been done before. Avoiding cliché, for me, is terribly important because horror is rife with it.
I think the best part of writing horror is that it can literally go anywhere. To explain this, I can get an entire story from, say, one word or a general idea. For example, Charlotte came about from having the name mentioned to me. It generated into an imaginary friend story soon after. My upcoming book, Cine, was written off the back of basing it in a cinema. That’s all…and it became one of my darkest stories yet. Aside from that though, you can create some absolutely terrifying situations and avoid cliché in doing so. Some genres are bound by their confines, but horror isn’t and doesn’t have to be one of them…and I like to utilise this.
Would you ever consider writing in a different genre? If so, what would it be and why?
I think the furthest I would go is thriller only. I mean mystery thrillers like Lee Child, Robert Crias et al. This genre still connects to horror in many ways but I feel I am more comfortable in this area. Sometimes, I will bring other genres into horror (several of my shorts have included romance, sci fi, and comedy). I think this question will be easier to answer in a few years’ time…never say never though.
When writing, how much research goes into your work? What has been the most interesting thing you have had to research? What has been the most fun thing in your research?
It depends on the book. Horror, in most terms, is very easy to conjure up if given the right focus. However, some stuff needs to be researched. For All or Nothing, I asked my wife to tie me to a chair so I could feel what it’s like be bound…to live that nightmare. It helps the writing and really helped me feel the pain of the person in the book. For Grin, another upcoming book, I had to research the Chelsea Smile, a particularly nasty wound inflicted to football fans and gangsters. The amount of medical research on this took a whole day, including speaking to plastic surgeons, medical advisors and nurses, however, it means the story is now accurate. For a short story, which is pending release, I had to research Vietnam and the horrific travesties that took place there (newborn babies wrapped in hand grenades – just one of the things I learned). And, something so obvious and mainstay in books, firearms and police procedures. I have manuals on these sitting right here should I need them. Accuracy, for me, is very important. Since I write in realistic horror, getting it right is key for me.
I actually enjoy research. Sometimes during writing, taking a break to read about something, to expand your knowledge, is a very welcome distraction. I hate wasting time when I’m not writing (thinking I could use the time to write) so research is fine because in a way, it’s helping my writing. Just one of the weird ways my brain works…
How do you come up with or what inspires you to come up with the ideas for your novels, novellas and short stories?
I’m a massive horror fan. As much as I love the genre, its rife with cliché and, for want of a better word, remakes and reimagining. I like to write material that’s original and different. Luckily, since I’ve been exposed to it for nearly 30 years, I can easily single out what I can write and where to focus. I see many authors in the same boat as me, honoring the genre, giving their passion and respect to it, and I smile when I see this. I’m glad I’m not the only one.
The ideas themselves? Inspiration has strange ways of striking. I’ll be sitting on a bus and an entire chapter will come to me, I’ll dream a story or a title will just come up from nowhere. My brain is always working on ideas, regardless of where I am. I always take a notepad with me. I find society is an inspiration too. After all, nothing is scarier than life itself…you just need to know where to look.
What are you currently working on and what else do you have planned for 2015?
Currently, I’m working on finishing Cine and Grin, my next two novellas. Then it’s onto Omertà and 89. I also plan to start my first zombie series in October. I’m writing several short stories a month at the moment, it’s a busy time.
I’m also compiling anthologies for both JEA and Dark Chapter Press. Currently I’m working on A-Z and Edge of Darkness, as well as Kids. Reading other peoples work, and discovering new talent is always a welcome break from the writing process, one that not only develops me, but is very rewarding.
On a more personal note –
Name a favorite and least favorite memory from your childhood and from your adult life.
Favourite memory – My first Christmas – remembering it, I was…four? I just remember the entire day being magical and filled with laughter. I keep this memory to remember how Christmas should be. I try to relive it every year with friends and family (although, I was four, its changed a bit since). The smell of turkey in the oven on waking up (my mother used to cook it slowly overnight, it tasted amazing), the excitement that keeps you awake the night before, listening for Santa on the roof, counting sheep (and failing) to doze off. All trivial things but all moments that remind me of a simpler time – childhood. My least favourite memory was my parent’s divorce…not much to say really. That changed my life.
I think getting married was the best moment of my adult life. I never got dating, it just wasn’t for me, and I always preferred to be in a relationship. When I met my wife, Leisyen, the moment I saw her I knew we’d be together forever. Sounds cheesy, and like a completely different genre, but hey, sometimes it does happen. I don’t think the worst thing has happened yet in my adult life…but we all know you can trip up at any time.
If you could change anything about your life, past or present, or both, what would it be, if anything?
Nothing. If I did, I wouldn’t be here now, doing what I am doing or with the people I’ve met along the way. Well, maybe.
What is the best thing a fan has said to you? The most funny thing? The worst thing?
Wow, cool question. John Cowton so eloquently quoted this on a review of Charlotte – ‘Stuart Keane has taken the baton from Shaun Hutson, in the race for British horror gold.’
Now, I don’t think this is true, but to think people are thinking this about my work is staggering. I truly admire Shaun Hutson, so to be compared to him is a massive compliment. This will sit with me until the day I die.
Michael Noe recently said this: ‘I’m telling you this dude haz mad skillz’. When I read compliments like this, it makes me realise I’m achieving something with my writing. Being the subject of conversation amongst my friends and readers is something I will probably never get used to, but it always brings a smile to my face.
Where can fans find and contact you on the web? Blogs, websites, etc.
I actively encourage my readers to add me on Facebook or Twitter. I like to interact with them, when possible. Links are below.