On Saturday the 2nd of April 2016 the Spirits of Place symposium was held at Calderstones Mansion House here in the heart of South Liverpool.
The whole thing came about when I saw that the venue was for hire and I started thinking about what kind of event it would be great to see there. Something the likes of which people who live in London, or Brighton say, might be quite used to seeing advertised but which there never seem to be very many of up here in the North. Something which fused historical and archaeological topics with things like folklore and myth and literature. Something which spoke of the stories – public, personal, true and otherwise – embedded and encoded in the landscape. Tentatively I made some enquiries, things spiralled quickly, and within a month I found myself at the helm of an actual event that had speakers and tickets for sale and was definitely an actual real thing.
Lots of people have asked me if there will be another one, and do you know what? I think there probably will be. If you’d like to stay informed about that please subscribe here.
Spirits of Place is a one day, multidisciplinary symposium taking place on Saturday the 2nd of April, 2016 in Calderstones Mansion house, Calderstones Park, Liverpool.
It’s a kind of cross between a conference and a working – a day of talks, readings, interviews, and screenings taking their cue from the neolithic Calderstones and their surroundings and then spiralling out to include all manner of related stuff.
Archaeology, history, folklore, magick, psychogeography/landscape-punk, fiction, and all points between will be covered.
A full list of guests, talks, and (approximate) times is online at tiny.cc/spiritsofplace where tickets can be purchased for £15 (plus booking fee).
I hope you can join us there.
A couple of weeks back we posted our answers for The Creative Process Blog Tour, at the end of which we nominated C. E. Murphy and Ramsey Campbell to follow on with their own answers. Ramsey doesn’t have a Blog but I told him Facebook would be fine and he posted his own answers on his FB page a couple of days ago. Not being a FB user myself (I use Leah’s account to log in and post bits to our own FB page) it was only yesterday that I realised that only Ramsey’s FB friends would be able to read his responses. So, I emailed him earlier today and he’s very kindly given us permission to post his answers here. He’s not just Britain’s greatest living horror writer, he’s also a lovely chap.
I’m on the Creative Process Blog Tour, in which each participating writer answers the same four questions and passes the baton to two more (my two are John Llewellyn Probert and Thana Niveau). I was invited by Leah Moore and John Reppion (http://www.moorereppion.com/
What am I working on?
A new novel, Think Yourself Lucky. It was originally announced as Bad Thoughts, but the present title couldn’t be more appropriate. I always try not to repeat myself, which isn’t to say that I often succeed. This one does feel like a departure to some extent – comedy of paranoia, certainly, but untypically anarchic at its core. Indeed, I think those sections may have more energy than the chapters that are interleaved with them. I look forward to trying some of them out on audiences once the book is published. I may say I’ve borrowed a technique from a friend, the fine writer Steve Mosby, whose work is published as crime fiction but in quite a few cases is my kind of horror.
How does my work differ from others of its genre?
To be able to answer that with conviction I’d have to know more of the field than I can manage these days (though the indefatigable Steve Jones somehow seems to find the time to read everything that’s published in it). All I can say is that I find I can do whatever I want to with my writing – not just write what I choose to without eyeing the potential market but talk about whatever concerns me. Lovecraft declared that the weird tale – by which he meant much of what I mean by horror fiction – could only ever be a portrayal of a certain type of human mood. Certainly one of the pleasures of some of the greatest work in the field is the aesthetic experience of terror (which involves appreciating the structure of the piece and, in prose fiction, of the selection of language). I don’t see this as limited. There’s surely no more reason to criticise a piece for conveying only this experience than there is to object to a comedy for being nothing except funny (as might be said of Laurel and Hardy, surely the greatest exponents on film) or a tragedy for making its audience weep. Indeed, I wish more of the field still assailed me with dread: these days little besides the darker films of David Lynch achieve it. However, the field is capable of much more, and frequently succeeds – as satire or as comedy (however black), as social comment, as psychological enquiry, and perhaps best of all when it aspires to the awesome, the sense of something larger than can be directly shown. One reason I stay in the field is that I haven’t found its boundaries, and I suppose that’s to answer the question by saying that perhaps I don’t differ from it but try to embrace its best qualities, which are varied and considerable.
Why do I write what I do?
Because it engages my imagination. See the previous answer!
How does my writing process work?
I very rarely plot much in advance. Once I’ve begun to focus on developing an idea I gather any amount of material around it. This all goes in my notebook (one of them – I always have at least one for the imminent novel or the novel in progress, another for random ideas and also any short story I’m about to write). Many of the notes for a story often get abandoned as I form a clearer picture of it – of the characters and the situation, for instance. Sometimes a tale may move so far away from my early notes for it that I’ll use some of them elsewhere. For instance, the novel I was planning to write as The Black Pilgrimage travelled so far away from that notion that I dropped that title and renamed it The Kind Folk.
I’m here at my desk every morning I’m at home (Christmas and my birthday too), usually in time to see the dawn. Certainly I’ll be working on the first draft of a tale about six in the morning, when I’m generally most creative. One thing I’ve learned in fifty years as a writer is always to compose the first sentences before I sit down to write. I generally work until late morning on a first draft, sometimes later. If we go away the tale in progress goes with me.
I was also lucky to learn very early in my career – even before August Derleth sent me editorial advice – to enjoy rewriting. These days I do more of it than ever. Absolutely everything in a first draft has to justify itself to me to make the final version, which is pretty nearly always significantly shorter than the first one (anything up to twenty per cent shorter, I’d estimate). The first drafts of fiction are always longhand (with the solitary exception of “A Street Was Chosen”, written in the form of an experimental report, which I couldn’t write except on the computer) and the rewrites are at the keyboard.
Just as a final little bonus here, today I found out (via the always wonderful A Podcast to the Curious) that a reading of Ramsey’s Jamsian tale The Guide is free to listen to/download at darkfictionmagazine.co.uk
Don’t say we never give you anything!
Geoff Holder is a self described “Author, Scriptwriter, Proofreader, Curmudgeonly Old Git”. He’s the writer of Zombies from History, 101 Things to do with a Stone Circle, and Poltergeist Over Scotland among many, many others.
We met Geoff a couple of years back at the very fun and very interesting Manchester Monsters Convention and have been Twitter and email followers/correspondents ever since. Geoff very kindly nominated us to take part in The Creative Process Blog Tour in which an author answers four questions and then nominates two other authors to do the same.
What are we working on?
John: Lots of stuff. Some of it at the proofing stage (Black Shuck pages coming in from Steve Yeowell, The Problem of the Empty Slipper with Chris Doherty and Adam Cadwell for In the Company of Sherlock Holmes recently signed off), some still being pitched, some comics stuff fully scripted but not yet drawn.
Yesterday I sent off a page-by-page breakdown of a new Megazine series which we should hopefully start scripting in the next week or so.
Leah: I’m currently editing a big exciting project involving us, some two bit author nobody’s heard of called Alan Moore, and some of our favourite writers and artists. We hope to be able to announce properly next week maybe, so watch this space.
I’m also writing some articles for Lifetime magazine on parenting. We have three little boys, two year old twins and a four year old, so life is busy and loud at the moment. not ideal conditions to write in, but ideal fodder for these articles. We have a lot of pitches out there at minute, so we are playing the waiting game on them, and trying to get them in front of the right people. Its hard to keep pushing everything at all times, so we settle for nudging everything forward a bit on a loose ‘when we remember to’ rotation.
How does our work differ from others of its genre?
John: We work in lots of different genres. Comics is a medium, not a genre (as many people will point out quite wearily) and outside of our comics work we both write lots different stuff from Fortean articles to Mum-blogging.
Leah: I think our work is quite different because we love comics as a medium, but we are by no means super fans of most of the industry. Neither of us have ever really obsessed about any particular title or genre, so I think we draw on other sources to fuel our ideas. John is really into folklore and Forteana, which has a big influence, and when I get the time I love fat novels, especially sci-fi. We both like mysteries and crime shows on TV and big fantasy films, so we try and bring things from all of that to our comics, instead of referencing comics that have gone before. I hope the result is better for all of that.
Why do we write what we do?
Leah: I think we write for the love of seeing things real and in the flesh when they were once in our heads. The thrill of seeing your work in print, or on screen never leaves you, and the drug like buzz is certainly addictive.
I find the little articles I’ve done raise a lot of discussion and debate on Facebook and Twitter and I find that really satisfying, seeing people talking and chewing stuff over because of my writing.
I’d love to be one of those writers whose mind is overflowing with a waterfall of ideas and all they have to do is stick out a net, but i’ve always found it much harder than that, we have to put stories together quite carefully, and make sure they are good and strong enough to write. This means we are slow as anything, but we get there!
John: We just got back from a week-long family holiday and though it was lovely, it was really nice to get back to writing when we got home. It’s something you end up addicted to, I think.
There are things that crop up again and again – not themes so much as approaches or ways of looking at things. You have to be interested in in what you’re writing, even when it’s something that’s been assigned to you, and I think the ways in which you interest yourself, the angles to use to view topics from, are the things that give a writer a specific voice. It’d weird because there’s a Moore & Reppion voice which is neither of ours; it’s a composite entity we’ve created. We write what we do in comics because we’ve found a way of squishing our two brains into one hypothetical head.
How does our writing process work?
Leah: We work differently now to how we used to by necessity of children and limited free thinking space. We used to collaborate constantly walking and talking and thinking and writing, but now we have very little time so everything is done in frenetic bursts. It seems to still work, but its a slightly more stressful way of working. I think the story part of your brain is still working even when you are wiping up sick and shouting the kids to get off the table, I think you make connections all the time and eventually they work themselves into things. I hope so anyway, or we’ll have to get proper jobs.
John: Comics work used to be done via a lot of democratic discussion and back and forth revision but now we do it in more of a conveyor belt system where we hand things on to each other at different stages. I tend to work things out in my head a lot more thoroughly before I get to actually type anything nowadays – just because I can do that bit while I’m changing nappies, or pushing a pram, or whatever, as Leah says.
With some of our most recent work it’s been a case of me breaking things down into page by page plot points, then Leah roughing the pages out, then one of us typing up from the roughs, then the other going over the script. We’re still sharing the work out between us but we’re doing it in manageable stages.
Myself, Ramsey Campbell and Adam Nevill will be reading and chatting about all things horror-ish and Halloween-y.
I hope to see you there.