My guest today is Steve Emmett – reviewer, writing coach and author of deeply scary horror novels. He is here today in celebration of the release of his novel Diavolino in paperback and to tease us a little, I hope, about his WIP.
Many thanks for joining me today, Steve. I know you’re a busy man!
Steve: Well, thanks for asking me to come. I don’t get out much these days and I look forward to invitations such as this. It does mean I may ramble a lot, so be warned. Oh, and I ought to say that I don’t do much by way of reviews these days, I’m just too wrapped up in my own writing and I’ve landed rather a lot of paid editing work!
Elin: Oh, grand news! So on to the questions. Diavolino was published firstly as an e-book and has done very well. Now it is out in paperback has your attitude to it changed? Does it feel more ‘real’ now you can hold a physical copy of the book in your hands?
Steve: Yes and no. You see, I am a total convert to e-books. I never thought I would be and I used to trot out all the standard tripe about how I liked the smell of paper, the feel of the pages and so on. I know damn well that back in time when the first scroll was invented, someone in robes, sandals and a white beard wagged a knobbly finger and said “I’ll never give up reading tablets. I like the feel of the stone.” Well, e-books for me just make sense and are so convenient. I no longer need a suitcase just to take my reading with me on holiday. BUT, and this is the thing, I know most people don’t feel this way and in order to reach the bigger audience an author needs his/her books to be available in print. And yes, I’ll give you this one; it makes me smile to see Diavolino on the bookshelf alongside my favourite authors. Having a print book also solves the problem of what to give as a meaningful present to people who have everything already. Now, what was the question? Ah, yes! Has my attitude to Diavolino changed? Sure it has. I can now, finally, look at all kinds of things that are not open to authors of only e-books. For example, not one of my local or regional papers will even consider looking at e-books, but now I’ll be banging on their doors. I might even make some physical appearances!
Elin: Have you always written horror or have you dabbled with other genres?
Steve: I’ve written non-fiction articles over the years. In my heyday in the property business I was the Italian correspondent for International Property Times, and a regular contributor to Boardroom Magazine. I even had some articles published in The South China Morning Post and The Independent. But I have never written any fiction before Diavolino – not since school essays; it is genuinely not only my debut novel but my debut work. So I suppose I ought to be a bit chuffed that it not only got published but has been so well-received. This review in Horror Fiction Review really made my day (you have to scroll down a bit).
Elin: We all bring our own experiences to our work. Have you ever experienced anything of a paranormal nature or do you think it’s all smoke and mirrors or mass hysteria?
Steve: I want to believe in the supernatural, just as I want to believe politicians really care about us. Perhaps the former is easier. Look, water divining is considered in some quarters to be magic, is it not? Give me two bent welding rods and I can find water for you – but I don’t think I’m any Paul Daniels. Once, when I was very young, maybe seven, a few of my aunts and my grandmother held an afternoon séance (my parents would have gone spare if they’d known I was there but nobody seemed to think about that then) with a home-made Ouija board – an upturned glass and some paper letters. My finger sat on the top of the glass with the others and nothing happened for ages. Suddenly, it started whizzing around the table erratically then shot up to the ceiling. My 21st century head tells me there has to be an explanation for it, but what? Years later, when I was in my twenties, we lived in a house that had been built in an old graveyard. The graves had long gone. Our dog took to sitting half-way down the staircase at three o’clock in the morning, staring at the front door and barking. He barked until one of us went and moved him. After a few weeks of this we started being woken in the night by the sound of the front door being banged shut – loudly – but when we checked, it was locked.
Now here’s the link you might enjoy! Just about the time I was really depressed with my work and I wanted to give it all up and try my hand at writing, I was on the look for ideas. We were visiting friends in Hebden Bridge and as we walked into town I spotted a bright orange notice in a grubby window. It was for a spiritualist evening a few days from then. I decided to go, thinking it might spark something I could write about. I’d never been to such a thing (the nearest being the childhood séance) and started to feel stupid as the day approached. I almost backed out. I can’t tell you how embarrassed I felt when I entered that stuffy room full of middle-aged ladies eating meat pies and mushy peas. All eyes turned on me. Anyhow, there was a large hall with four tables. At each table sat a medium. We could choose which we went to for a one-to-one reading. I remember feeling panicked at this arrangement; I had expected a mass scenario where I could remain inconspicuous and make notes. I trembled as I stood in the middle of the hall but I was drawn to a female medium sitting at the far end. I say drawn to her quite intentionally. She asked me if it was my first time and I explained that not only was it my first time but I was really an impostor, and I came to her as someone convinced it was all cobblers. She smiled, closed her eyes and said, “I can see a man. He’s in the forces. Andrew I think his name is. If he isn’t Andrew then there is an Andrew who is very important in your life.” Knock me down with a feather! My partner is called Andrew and he was in the US Army when he was young. I said nothing. “He’s leaving now,” she said, “and now there is an old lady.” I thought, here we go! “She says you know her.” I didn’t speak, nod my head nor, as far as I am aware, let my eyes give anything away, but this medium went on to describe my grandmother who died in 1975 in great detail. She told me things no person other than me knows. And then the killer: “She says you want to change your career and she doesn’t know why you’re hesitating. She says just do it, it will work.”
Elin: Terrific story Steve! Do you read much horror? If so do you prefer the kind of creepy unease that Stephen King does so well or the visceral disgust evoked by authors such as James Herbert?
Steve: Horror makes up 90% of my reading (and viewing). I prefer creepy unease, to be honest, but I can enjoy the disgusting. I recently read a James Herbert (who has been a huge success, and rightly) and found the writing style so dated that it was a disappointment – I guess it says something that I can’t remember which it was! I think Stephen King’s early works have survived the passage of time better. But my real horror hero is Clive Barker. Oddly, he and I have quite a lot in common if you look at our lives. I have also become a fan of John Ajvide Lindqvist whose works are available in English from Quercus Books; his Little Star is mind-blowing.
Elin: When you have been writing a scene, have you ever scared yourself so much that you decided to tone it down a bit?
Steve: Not tone it down, no, but put it away to be finished later! I wrote a short piece called Nocturne as an exercise when I was starting Diavolino. It was all about things outside the window in the middle of the night. I shuddered at one point and leapt up to secure the shutters (I was in Italy at the time) then jumped into bed and pulled the duvet up around my neck. Nocturne has never seen the light of day – in fact, I’m not sure I still have it.
Elin: You mentioned that you have a work in progress – any details you might care to share? Please?
Steve: I have to be mean about this as I don’t want to blow my chances when I submit it. See, superstition rules! What I will say is that it is set in Rome, both ancient and modern. It involves gods and vampires. It’s about love, lust, loyalty, power and betrayal. Writing it has been like giving birth: it’s a smouldering, brooding, creeping horror rather than a fast rollercoaster. So, a bit different from Diavolino. One of my readers said, “Erm, this is really, really disturbing.” And I said, “Whoot! What a compliment.” She now thinks I’m weird and I daren’t tell her I’m currently reading a book about Broadmoor!
Elin: Of all your characters, who have you enjoyed writing most – least – whose voice was the most troublesome to catch?
Steve: Most – Adam in my WIP, so I can’t tell you anymore about him just now, sorry! Least? Elspeth in Diavolino. I’m told that I did it well, but it was hard and I put that down to me being a gay man. I write men better! And as to the most troublesome voice…hmm…perhaps Alice, the child in Diavolino. It’s over twenty years since I had a small child around.
Elin: Could we please have an excerpt of something?
Instead of taking the direct route across the car park and up the steep flight of steps that led to the center of town, Annamaria followed the narrow footpath alongside the lake. It meandered between a pitiful woodland of umbrella pines, furnished with the occasional broken bench, and the shoreline. At one point the beach gave way to weathered cubes of rock on which had been constructed a perilous jetty, rotting bits of timber protruding out from the sides. She hauled herself onto the platform by means of a handrail that snagged her skin. She cursed the local council for not spending money where it was needed. Tourism. Fundamental to the area. God damn them!
From the edge of the jetty, she could see the sparse lights of Polvese winking at her from under their roof of leaves. The water lapping at the base of the pontoon churned up a stench of dying algae that marred the sweet scent of jasmine from the nearby bushes. She took the pack of Merit from her handbag and lit one, inhaling deeply. The match hurtled through the air like a comet, fizzing when it hit the water. She looked up into the night sky, perfectly clear, and without the interference of the big city lights it was still possible to see the stars here. So many of them, glowing like a scattering of dandruff on a velvet gown. Life seemed so insignificant. All the struggling, the fighting, the sheer effort, and for what? In the end it was always the same old story of Good versus Evil—and these days it seemed that evil was on the winning side. Or was it simply that the Devil bought better advertising than God? She ground the cigarette butt under her heel and resumed her walk along the pathway. A trash can overflowed onto the track, and an unseen drinks can clattered as she caught it with her toe, what was left of its contents leaving a dark trail in the dusty surface. Vermin scuttled into the vegetation, their scavenging interrupted. The track finally swung inland to make way for the old waterworks, and as she joined the pavement along the main lakeside road, she suddenly had the feeling that she wasn’t alone. She looked behind her but could see nothing. She certainly hadn’t seen or heard anyone on the lakeside path. On the other side of the road there was no sign of life, just the sealed up tunnels that the locals said once connected Poggio with the monastery over on the island. She shook her head and continued.
It was there again. A footfall, just a split second after hers. She stopped. It stopped. When she walked faster, the following sound came faster. But each time she turned, there was no one and nothing.
Before she reached the flight of steps that would take her into town and home she spotted the seasonal bar, no more than a brightly painted kiosk, already open for business. It represented refuge from what she considered totally irrational neurosis and she entered. Her mouth was stale, as much from fear as from the tobacco, so she ordered a decaf and a large glass of water. Perched on a stool at the bar, she noticed the place was once again under new management. This barman wasn’t Italian, Moroccan possibly. Nevertheless, in the corner, over the door to the toilets on a small shelf, was the ubiquitous television set. It was tuned to RAI news. A story was just finishing about the latest political scandal. Annamaria had long ago lost interest in politics; none of them was worth voting for.
“Promises, promises,” she muttered under her breath. When a story about the Northern League started, she reached for her purse. “If they get their way we’ll need passports to visit Bologna.”
“I’ve seen what nationalism can do. Nationalism and religious fanaticism,” said the barman. “I came here to get away from it.”
Poor sod, she thought, leaving a generous tip and steeling herself for the seventy-three steps to the top.
Many thanks, Steve, for answering the questions in such an entertaining way. Readers, if you would like to follow Steve, he can be found here:
Author Web: http://steve-emmett.com/
Coach/Editor Web: http://thewritingcouch.com/
Some of the places where you can buy Diavolino: