Name: Adrian Chamberlin
Age: Forty and three quarters
Where are you from: Born in Cardiff, Wales. Now lives in Wallingford, South Oxfordshire
A little about your self: Working as a stores co-ordinator for two warehouses in Wallingford; enjoys hot cross buns and alcohol (not at the same time, though!) and has heard of the concept of ‘spare time’ but swears it’s just a myth.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news?
I’m doing a public reading at the Wallingford Bunkfest’s Storytelling Fringe on Sunday, September 2nd, 5pm. Come and listen to me read dark and nasty tales!
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
It started at primary school, about the same time I learned how to read! I had a taste for fantastical fiction: space adventures, anything with dinosaurs and big scary monsters, knights and castles…guess I never grew out of those, because my favourite genres are history, thrillers and supernatural fiction.
The fun I had with writing stories stuck with me; the act of creating worlds and filling them with people and creatures of my own imagination is like a drug. Even now, if I don’t write for a few days (tied up with editing commitments or eBook formatting) I get twitchy and irritable. When I finish a piece – be it a short story, or novel chapter – I get a mental buzz. And that’s the key, I think; you really do write for yourself first, others second.
As to why I continue…well, I couldn’t stop if I wanted to. I didn’t write for the period 2002-2006 because I was hooked on eBay selling (a real thief of time!) and I’d just come out of a long term relationship. But I was never happy. Trouble is, the longer you leave something, the harder it is to return. The psychological barrier comes down and self-doubt sets in. It was purely chance that got me writing again; I saw a call for Christmas-themed stories in a local magazine and dusted off an old story for a whim. I had no expectations; it was set in a Cambridge College and dealt with cannibalism, murder, and Satanism during a Midwinter Feast, while the others were about more traditional Christmas themes!
It scored second prize, and removed all self-doubt. EBay selling was abandoned, and I threw myself into writing again. I’ve not stopped since.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
It was only when I was first published that I decided I could call myself a writer. That happened in 1998 with my first ever published work in Guy n Smith’s Graveyard Rendezvous. There’s lots of debate on what constitutes being a ‘writer’ or an ‘author’, with many schools of thought leaning to payment for your stories being the only way you can class yourself an author. I don’t get involved with that, and I’ve never really given it much thought. I write for myself first; if I consider it good enough, then I’ll seek a market for it.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
The Caretakers was originally begun in 1997, but the final product is a much different beast, and far better for it! I was living in Cambridge and wanted to write a supernatural thriller based in the city; Porterhouse Blue mixed with The Wicker Man and Hellraiser. Very few novels have Cambridge as a setting (regardless of genre) and I can’t think of any horror novels set exclusively within a Cambridge College. I wanted to be the first.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style?
I’ve probably developed my own voice now; I started off writing by imitating the styles of my favourite writers, but a lot has stayed. The Caretakers owes much not just to the writing styles of F Paul Wilson and Graham Masterton, but also their emphasis on characterisation and dialogue. Many reviewers have complemented me on my use of dialogue, but that’s just come over the years from the various work placements I’ve had over the years.
One weakness in my style is an over-reliance on interior monologue. That’s something I need to rein in a bit more!
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
The original title was Necessary Evil, which encapsulated the theme of the book perfectly, but has since become rather overused. When I found out that was the name of a small press – and that Shaun Hutson came out with the same title for his 2006 novel – also featuring a character called Franklin! – I knew then I had to find a new title.
The Caretakers refers to the secret society within All Souls College, but they don’t call themselves that; it’s the protagonist, Andy Hughes, who gives them that title near the end of the novel – for reasons I won’t give away here! It also refers to the relationships between the main characters, initially with Rob Benson and his dog Jasper. Again, read to find out…(shameless plug).
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
Jim McLeod asked me this question when he reviewed it on his blog. I hadn’t intended to convey any messages, just write a fast-paced thriller that would entertain. However, the morality is never clearly defined in the novel – the good guys aren’t your typical white hats, and the acts of evil committed by the secret society are born from a misguided belief they are safeguarding the future of humanity. What I tried to do was illustrate the internal agonies each side faced when they made their decisions and choices, and to show that good and evil aren’t quite as clearly defined as we like to think. The human factor makes it much harder to be judgemental.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic?
All the locations are real. I lived in Cambridge for ten years, so I know the city very well. All Souls College is largely based on Queens’ College, as that was one of the most helpful colleges when I asked for research materials! The Great Hall of All Souls owes much to the one in Queens’.
I also wanted to show the real Cambridge as well, the side tourists aren’t aware exists. Hence the Mill Road and Chesterton settings for Rob Benson and Phil Lotson respectively, and the references to Anglia Ruskin University, my old college on East Road.
Fiona: Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
The first draft of The Caretakers was filled with semi-autobiography which drowned the story. When I came to rewriting it I abandoned most of the me-me-ME! Side of it, but I kept a few choice pieces; Rob Benson has a lot of me in him! Andy Hughes is based on a real person, but one who is as much of a mystery as Andy himself. It’s easy to fall into the trap of making the story all about you and your own experiences in a first novel, as it takes time to build up your sense of objectivity. This is what happened to me: http://thehorrificallyhorrifyinghorrorblog.com/2012/07/07/taking-yourself-out-of-the-picture-a-tale-of-author-intrusion-by-me-me-me/
Fiona: What books have most influenced your life most?
Too many to choose from. Each book I read, be it fiction or non-fiction, has some impact on me, because I’m seeing the world told through someone else’s eyes. Perspective is a wonderful thing, and the more perspectives you have on this crazy, beautiful, terrifying thing we call existence the better you understand your place in it.
As a writer, Graham Masterton’s Ritual and Tengu, and F Paul Wilson’s The Keep and The Tomb have really influenced me. Peter Benchley’s Jaws was my first adult novel, and opened up a love of monsters which was encouraged by James Herbert’s The Rats and Guy N Smith’s Crabs series.
I don’t read much in the genre these days; I prefer historical fiction and contemporary thrillers. Gerald Seymour’s work marries literary perfection with page-turning excitement, and Robert Harris’s Fatherland and Archangel greatly inspired me; particular the theme of the past never being too far from the events that surround us now. I suppose the importance of history, and learning from it, is another message that is important to me, and one that gets into my work whether I intend it or not! “The further backward you look, the further forward you can see”, as Winston Churchill put it.
Or “It is the doom of men that they forget.” – Nicol Williamson as Merlin, in John Boorman’s Excalibur.
Fiona: If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
That’s a tough one. Each writer I’ve read and followed has had something to teach me, in regards to story construction, plot and character development, scene setting and dialogue…Guy N Smith was one of my first heroes, not just because of his entertaining novels but because he champions the cause of new writers. To hear he chose my story ‘Lovebite’ as the best story in his annual competition back in 1998 – and then tell me personally how good it was – was a massive boost to me. Without that, I don’t think I would have had the confidence to believe in my work enough to submit future material to publishers.
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
Nothing at the moment. I’ve just finished Stewart Binns’s Crusade, and I’m now debating which book in my ever-growing TBR pile to start on next. James Herbert’s Ash arrived this morning, so I’ll probably start on that, as (like his other fans) I’ve been waiting eagerly since 2010 for its release.
My TBR pile is getting silly, now. I occasionally use it to play Jenga, and the first book that falls is the one I start on next!
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
I highly recommend The Vetala Cycle, by G.R Yeates: a supernatural trilogy that uses World War One as its background. Think Pat Barker’s Regeneration trilogy with a unique representation of a supernatural threat that has never been done before. Literate, atmospheric, and profoundly disturbing, Yeates is a remarkable new talent in the British horror scene – and once again, ticks all the right boxes for me because of his successful blend of historical fiction and supernatural horror.
Another one to keep an eye on is Canadian writer Suzanne Robb, with whom I edited the apocalyptic anthology Read the End First, from Wicked East Press. She’s making her mark on the zombie subgenre, with two books out from Severed Press; her debut, Z-Boat, is a cracking read.
I’d also recommend the talented Tracie McBride from Melbourne, Australia; her debut collection Ghosts Can Bleed is the perfect example of dark speculative fiction, where horror crosses the SF/fantasy divide.
Fiona: What are your current projects?
I’ve got three projects on the go at the moment: my second novel Fairlight, a Lovecraftian thriller that explores the world of teenage self-harming and its ability to open gates to other dimensions, with a monster I guarantee you’ve never experienced before. I think Lovecraft would be proud.
I’m also co-writing Snareville III: The Ties That Bind, with D.M Youngquist. This is the concluding part of his zombie apocalypse trilogy, and most of the action takes place in the UK three years after Z-Day, where Blighty has succumbed to a new medievalism; the dramatic conclusion is an action-packed confrontation on the slopes of Glastonbury Tor.
Also, I’ve created a character called Shadrach, an English Civil War soldier for the novella ‘Besieged’, appearing in the Lovecraft-themed novella collection Dreaming in Darkness, with works from fellow Lovecraftians Aaron J French, John Prescott, and Fighting Fantasy legend and Pax Brittania creator Jonathan Green.
Because I did so much research on the period (and the First Crusade, as he has his origins in the Fall of Jerusalem in 1099) I knew this was a chance to create a series character. Think Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe or Uhtred, along with Guy N Smith’s Sabat, with a dash of Howard’s Solomon Kane – all set during the English Civil War. ‘Besieged’ is a stand alone story, of course, but establishes the character and sets the tone for the series; and marries my love of historical fiction and supernatural terror.
He’s a fighting man, a veteran of many battles and wars, with a mission: to destroy all artifacts and idols the followers of the Great Old Ones use to summon their dark gods to Earth – at great personal cost to himself.
Fiona: Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
My friends and business partners in Dark Continents Publishing: we got together after an online collaborative writing project from the DF Underground called Underground Rising, where we each took turns to write a scene in an imagined apocalypse where only horror writers survive! Great fun, and it introduced us to each other’s work. John Prescott began the anthology M is for Monster and after that DCP was born.
We’ve had many ups and downs in the last year of operation, but the co-operative spirit still remains true. We’re committed to helping each other – and supporting our writing. That means constructive criticism and shared promotion, to ensure what we release to the world is as commercially appealing and professionally produced as possible.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
Like everyone else in the field I have dreams of hitting the big time, but the publishing industry as a whole is in a state of flux, which makes it even harder in the speculative fiction genres: it’s always the midlist that suffers. Even some of the big names in the genres are holding down full-time jobs, so I’m realistic about my chances of making a living from it: very slim! Still, I see writing as a career in that I’m determined to improve my craft and storytelling abilities, and have many more ideas I want to put into viable writing projects.
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
I think I should have solicited blurbs from better-known writers to put on the cover of The Caretakers. Nothing like a celebrity endorsement to generate interest and get sales moving; but it’s fraught with risks, and I’m very suspicious of the glowing blurbs some writers have on their works. Still, it’s the done thing, so I might do that with Fairlight.
Fiona: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Just finding time to do it all justice! Writing is the easy part; selling it, – and then getting readers – that’s more difficult.
Fiona: Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
My favourite horror writers tend to be British; perhaps our outlook is more cynical and downbeat, and I do like grim endings! My top writer of all time, though, is the historical fictioneer Bernard Cornwell. He brings the past to life like no-one else, and his Arthurian trilogy The Warlord Chronicles remains, for me, the definitive retelling of the King Arthur story.
Next up is Jasper Fforde. The man’s a true original, and created his own mythos with the Thursday Next books, a series following the exploits of a literary detective who goes into the fictional worlds of novels to correct grammar, rebellious characters, and plot holes. Jaw-dropping imagination and clever humour. The man’s a genius.
Fiona: Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?
I’ve not needed to so far, although I would like to write more stories set overseas. Whenever I visit a foreign country the imagination goes into overdrive, but I don’t have enough time to do a story justice in the limited times I’m overseas!
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
The cover art for The Caretakers was done by a talented artist known as Jethro Lentle. We were so impressed with what he created we commissioned two more pieces from him: one for D.M Youngquist’s Snareville, and the other for Dave Jeffery’s Campfire Chillers. We’ve also had James Powell design the cover for Phobophobia, and look forward to working with these artists in the future.
Fiona: What was the hardest part of writing your book?
The hardest part was the thought of rewriting it, but when I sat down to actually do so it wasn’t as bad as I thought. Hard work, yes; but nowhere near as bad as I’d expected it to be.
Fiona: Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
I learned my limitations. The contrast between what I’d written several years ago and the final product is enormous; it goes to show how you constantly change and improve as a writer. It does mean that in a few years’ time I’ll look back at it and think: God, that bit’s rough; that character’s underdeveloped; the prose in this chapter is too flabby, etc – that’s the price you pay.
I’m also grateful I hadn’t written the book in the days of self-publishing to Kindle. If I’d thrown up the original draft to the digital market I’d have been torn to shreds.
Fiona: Do you have any advice for other writers?
Treat all advice with extreme caution – what works for one writer may not work for the other. Try to avoid all those “How to write a book” books – the conflicting advice I found in those did my head in and almost shattered any confidence I had in writing.
Just make sure that what you put out – be it a submission to a pro-paying market, or to a non-paying/exposure only publisher, or even if self-publishing – is the best it can possibly be. Take your time; there’s no rush.
Fiona: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
I don’t really have any messages I want to pass on, although I tend to explore issues and themes of what makes us human and how the human spirit can shine fully when it’s faced with ultimate darkness. But my priority is to ensure my readers enjoy the story and feel they’ve been taken out of themselves for a while, seen the world around them with different eyes and maybe take that new perspective with them.
But first and foremost: enjoyment. That’s what I took from my earliest forays into reading, and that sense of joy is something I want to give back.
Fiona: If you were not a writer what else would you like to have done ?
I’d probably be sucked into eBay selling still! The only downside with writing, editing, and publishing is that it leaves so little time for other things. One of my big passions was archery, but I haven’t had time to shoot for over eighteen months. Perhaps if I’d abandoned writing I’d have had more time and energy to devote to the sport – I reached Second Class status within my first year of shooting, and would love to have hit First Class and make my way up to Bowman. Sadly, not for a while yet!
Fiona: Do you have a blog/website? if so what is it?
My website is http://www.archivesofpain.com
I also blog on Emma Audsley’s http://thehorrificallyhorrifyinghorrorblog.com/