16 October 2015

Interview with Steve Lockley

Today we talk to the multi-talented Steve Lockley – author and editor in a range of genres, ghostwriter and collaborator extraordinaire.  His debut solo collection Always a Dancer and Other Stories has recently been published by Fox Spirit Books.

Tell us a little about yourself and what you like to write.

Hah start with the easy one!

Derbyshire born but have now been living for more than half my life in Swansea – from the furthest point from the sea to just a few miles from it. After spending far too long working in financial services in one form or another, I took the plunge 5 or 6 years ago to try my hand at writing full time.
I like to be able to write whatever comes into my head. Some of those ideas may clearly be ghost stories, some may be horror or a thriller but it may not be clear which. I’ve written a few SF stories but I’ll be honest and admit that you won’t find very much science in them.

I’m now as much an editor for other people as I am a writer myself but it’s still so much better than having a proper job.

How long have you been writing and how did you get started?

I’m one of those who started writing as a child and never really stopped. For a long time I had this yearning ambition to be a song writer, or more accurately a lyricist. I wanted to be Bernie Taupin, not Elton John. I had one very minor sniff of success after years of trying but then decided to try something else. I flirted with poetry for a while and even managed to get a few published in small press magazines but soon realised that I wasn’t really any good at it. There  are more than enough mediocre poets out there for me to add to the list.

Somewhere along the line I stumbled across Nik Morton’s excellent SF ‘zine Auguries and thought ‘I could do that’. I tried my hand at a writing a short story on a borrowed manual typewriter and sent it off without really having any idea of the right way to lay out a manuscript – this was long before the days of the internet remember – and waited. Eventually the manuscript came back in the stamped addressed envelope I had included with my submission, covered in red comments. I assumed that this was a rejection, shoved it back into the envelope, and forgot about it for the rest of the day. It was only when I read the covering letter that evening that I realised that Nik actually wanted to use the story if I was prepared to make the changes he was suggesting. Somehow I managed to feel the deflation of rejection and the elation of acceptance in the same day, from the same story. I learned a lot from Nik’s notes and I will remain forever grateful to him for taking the time to encourage a new writer.

Which authors have been an influence to you?

Ray Bradbury, John Wyndham, Ramsey Campbell, M R James, Arthur Conan Doyle, Lord Dunsany, the list could go on forever. I suspect that I owe as much to libraries and librarians as I do to any individual author. My mum used to take me to the local library almost every week and by the time I was nine or ten I had read or at least tried most of the SF and Fantasy novels in the children’s section. Thankfully one of the librarians showed an interest and took me into the adult section. It was only then that I realised that the same authors; Heinlein, Bradbury, Asimov, Wyndham and the like had books published for adults as well as for younger readers

It was also thanks to that librarian that I made a terrible discovery. I discovered that John Wyndham had died recently (this would have been 1969) and that once I had read all of his books on the shelves that would be it. No more. Until that moment I hadn’t made the connection between the name on a book jacket and a real person.

After thirty years of publishing short fiction, Always a Dancer is your debut solo short story collection – how did you choose which stories to include and are there are any stories you regret not being able to include?

This is the problem with being a Jack of all trades. It was always intended that this would be a collection of my solo stories rather than those I had written with Paul Lewis or Steve Savile (and there’s probably a collections worth of stories in each of those partnerships), it became clear that the majority of what I thought of as my best stories fell into the horror/supernatural genres. Selecting the pieces that sat together proved to be reasonably easy.

There are a number of other tales that would not have sat as comfortably with this selection though and while I’d love to see them aired again they would not have worked in this book. I probably have enough stories to put together a crime and mystery collection of a similar length to this one if my historical whodunits and Sherlock Holmes stories were included. Maybe I’ll get someone interested in that one day.

What’s the appeal of short fiction for you?

Fear. When I started writing I thought about trying my hand at a novel but was afraid that I could spend a year working on something for it to never find a home. In the same time I could write 20 short stories and even if only one of those reached publication I would have achieved something. I don’t think I’ve ever really got out of that mentality but for the last couple of years I’ve pushed myself to trying longer stuff. Once I get past 50,000 words though I start to get a nosebleed.
There are also some ideas which are only big enough for a short story. It may be that if I held on to them long enough they might work their way into part of a novel but I always find that ideas come out best if you work with them while they are fresh and I’m excited about them.

You’ve written across multiple genres including horror, fantasy, crime, SF and media tie-ins.  Is there a genre that you feel particularly drawn to?  And if so, why?  

I’ve always thought of myself as a writer of supernatural fiction even though I’ve been drawn to different genres. Often it’s the case that an idea for a story drops into my head and I want to find a way of telling it.

The media tie-in stuff I’ve done has been for shows I’ve loved. I was thrilled to get the opportunity to write a novel based on the TV series The Ghost Whisperer. The novel is called The Empty Desk and is due out from Harper Collins later this month. If I had to make a call I’d say that I’m most at home with the supernatural stuff.

Having edited anthologies – did the experience change how you approached short fiction writing?

It’s amazing how much you can learn by reading stories that clearly don’t work. Sometimes you can see what the problem is and you can help put it right but at others you can see that it would be much better told in a completely different way. It certainly helped me see some of the problems in my own work.

Having edited things like the Cold Cuts series of anthologies I’ve been able to pick up editing work for a number of self published novelists. I never dreamt when I set off on this long strange trip that I’d end up editing Paranormal Romance!

You’ve accomplished a great deal in your writing career – with multiple novels, collaborative works and shorts – which of your previous works are you most proud of?

Thank you, though I have to admit that I don’t see it as accomplishing a great deal, it’s more a case of sticking around long enough to get the chance to do things. Asking me which I’m most proud of is like asking me which of my children is my favourite!

I have a soft spot for The Ragchild, largely because it was the first novel to have my name on it but I’m thrilled with the new collection. There are a number of stories in there that I think represent leaps forward in what I felt capable of doing but I don’t think I could even pick just one of them out for special mention. It wouldn’t be fair.

You’ve collaborated with Steven Savile, Paul Lewis and Mike O’Driscoll – what’s the appeal of a writing a collaborated work?  And how is the collaborative process different with each of your co-authors?  

I learned a lot working with Mike though all we have to show for it is the first draft of a YA novel that may never see the light of day. We have very different styles and the only way we could make it work was by one of us writing in the real world and the other in the ‘other world’. We also worked together in putting on a horror convention called ‘Welcome to my Nightmare’ when Swansea hosted the Year of Literature.

Writing with Paul has been much easier in that our styles are closer. Paul likes to have much of the story mapped put before we write the first few words. Sometimes that can be a little constricting but we get there ion the end. Neither of us was confident about tackling a novel until we came up with the basic idea for our novel, The Ragchild, and getting that accepted by Razorblade Press gave us much more confidence in what we were doing. It also opened up the doors to quite a few things including contributions to a couple of Doctor Who anthologies.

Steve is a joy to work with. Most of the time all we need is a general idea of where we need to be going then he winds me up and lets me go. I usually run with the first draft then hand it on to him complete with typos. Eventually he turns my very rough stuff into something shiny. I’d like to think that we end up with something that is still different from anything either of us would do on our own

You’ve also been working on a collaborative novella with Tim Lebbon, how’s that going and do you have plans to collaborate with anyone else in the future?

Ah, you really have been doing your research! Tim and I have had this idea for a novella that every now and then we bat backwards and forwards. It keeps stalling as we get caught up with other stuff and find it hard to find the time. I’m sure that we’ll get back to it before too long.

There are the embryos of a few other collaborations with the likes of Sam Stone, Gary McMahon and Colin Parsons sitting in Dropbox which may also be completed at some point. As you can imagine, they are all very different.

Rumour has it you also do some ghost writing – how did you get into that and are there any differences in your writing process for ghost work?   

When I decided to take the plunge to become a full time writer I wanted to make sure that I gave myself the best chance of being able to earn a living. I was introduced to an agency in the US and they gave me a couple of projects to work on just when I needed it. It can be soul destroying but the money made sure that I could keep going.

The major difference, particularly on the jobs I’ve done through the agency is the amount of preparation needed up front. They ask for a very detailed outline which needs to be stuck to pretty rigidly. It takes away some of the element of surprise for me.

I‘d guess that I’ve ghosted 10 or 11 novels now and I’ve learned a lot by doing it. It’s certainly made me a faster writer. A lot of the lessons I learned I’ve also been able to apply to the editorial work.

Room 101 time: what one genre cliché would you get rid of?

Six friends go on a road trip and take a wrong turn/get lost/break down in the middle of nowhere…

What are you up to next?

As I’ve already said, The Empty Desk is due out later this month. I’m really happy with that and can’t wait to see what other people think about it. There are a couple of other short stories appearing in the next few months. One of them has been waiting for several years to see the light of day.

The Ragchild has been out of print for far too long so I’m working on revising that at the moment to get it back out there. At the moment I’m tempted to re-release it myself and see how it goes.

I’ve just signed a contract to write a Steampunk novel for Telos but I don’t want to give too much away about that until all the ideas have solidified in my mind. I’ll spill the beans on this in my newsletter once I’m confident enough to talk about it.  There are a couple of other things bubbling under which I’m hoping to finalise in the next few weeks

I’m also going to be editing a series of Paranormal Romance novellas to be released month by month next year. I’m still looking to fill a couple of slots and would be more than happy to hear from authors already writing this kind of material

I’ll be at Bristol Horror Con tomorrow and Fantasycon next weekend. I haven’t been to Fantasycon for a couple of years but I’m looking forward to catching up with old friends that I have neglected for far too long. With a little luck I should also make it to Sledge-Lit in Derby.  I love going to these kinds of events but living in Swansea means that I have to travel an hour just to get out of Wales let alone get to wherever the event is. If anyone tells me they’d like me to be somewhere though I’ll do my best to get there.

If people want to keep track of what I’m up to they can sign up for my newsletter http://eepurl.com/bwGayz

Steve Lockley, thank you for joining us!

Always a Dancer and Other Stories is “a collection of tall tales…that ranges from the whimsical to the horrifying, from wistful to chilling. There are dark tales of old rites and all manner of men and beasts to encounter. Featuring some established favourites and some never before released stories collected together for the first time”, available in paperback and ebook editions from your local Amazon.
You can find Steve Lockley on twitter as @Ragchild

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