Name: Simon Bestwick
Where are you from?
A little about your self `ie your education, family life etc
I grew up in Timperley, South Manchester. Or Cheshire, depending on who you ask. (Greater Manchester overlaps into Lancashire and Cheshire.) I have a sister, who lives in New Zealand with her family. My Mum and Dad have been happily married for over forty years, and are a hell of an example. I was single for a very long time, but finally met someone – another writer, which helps! – and we’re getting married in May.
I went to an all-boys private school till I was eighteen. I got a good education, but at the price of seven years of pretty hellish bullying, which has left its mark whether I like or not. I did an Acting Foundation Course for a year after leaving school which did me a lot of good, then studied Media and Performance at Salford University. After I graduated I started writing short stories, and here I am. (That’s the short version of the last twenty or so years, anyway.)
Fiona: Tell us your latest news?
Well, there are a couple of recent bits of news I’m not allowed to mention until contracts are signed and sealed, but recent developments include getting an agent – Tom Witcomb at Blake Friedmann – and having a story selected by Ellen Datlow for her upcoming anthology Nightmares..
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
Before I could actually write! I started trying to tell stories almost as soon as I could talk, and I vaguely remember trying to write a book when I was about four, I think – a science fiction story about astronauts and aliens. Illustrated, too. Luckily, it no longer exists…
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
Boxing Day, 1996. I’d written stuff before that, but I spent the back end of ’96 – after I’d graduated – trying to write stories. I was working in a fairly crappy office job to pay the bills, and… well, if you’re a student you can talk about being a writer even if you aren’t writing very much, but once you’re out in the real world, if you want to be a writer you need to show some evidence. Otherwise you’re just a dreamer. I’d attempted a couple of stories that just didn’t work and were embarrassingly bad, and tried to begin a couple of novels that had died before I reached page five. So I was completely miserable – but on Boxing Day I sat down and wrote a snippet from a book I’d vaguely planned. And it worked. Probably I wasn’t thinking about how I wanted to impress people and be hailed as a genius – I just wanted to tell the story properly, honestly. And I wrote something and actually felt happy with it; I knew I’d written something decent. And after that I wrote a story every week, and sent them out to the little fanzines that were everywhere at the time. And stuff got accepted, and I got published. And that was the beginning.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
My first book was a story collection; I’d had a number of ghost stories accepted by All Hallows magazine, and its editors also ran a publishers, Ash-Tree Press. They expressed an interest in doing a collection, so I sent them some more ghost stories and the result was A Hazy Shade Of Winter.
My first novel – Tide Of Souls – was a bit different. The main inspiration there was a four grand advance and a six month deadline.
I had an opportunity to pitch something to Abaddon Books, and I thought I could do something individual and distinctive with the zombie theme. My second pitch got commissioned. When you’re being paid professional rates to write something, in a certain amount of time – for an actual publisher who’ll be putting books on the shelves at Waterstones, it focuses you. You have to work out what’s stopping the book being as good as it can be and fix it. I learned more about writing a novel in the six months it took me to write Tide Of Souls than from the dozen or so abandoned books cluttering up my bottom drawer.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style?
I like stuff that’s lyrical and poetic, but that tells a story – Ray Bradbury and Richard Matheson both spring to mind. It tends to be shaped by the content of the story as much as anything else; it’s a bit different from book to book.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
Each one’s been different. Tide Of Souls just popped into my head. The Faceless was a long hard slog – that novel was originally titled Ghosts Of War, but the publisher wanted it changed. I must have come up with twenty-odd titles before I finally settled on The Faceless. Hell’s Ditch comes from the name of one of the places in it – Hobsdyke. (‘Dyke’ being another word for ‘ditch’ and ‘Hob’ being a colloquial term in some parts of the UK for the devil.) With Black Mountain, the title came first – I liked it so much I had to use it, so the hard part was working out what sort of story I’d tell.
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
Usually, but it emerges from the material. That is, I start with the story, the characters and so on, and eventually I realise what’s it’s actually about!
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic?
The more weird and fantastical stuff you throw in, the more realistic the rest of it has to be.
Fiona: Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
I often model characters on people I’ve known or passed in the street (or sometimes actors or other public figures) and real life experiences often turn up in my work, chopped and changed about and disguised.
Fiona: What books have most influenced your life most?
I wouldn’t know where to start answering that question!
Fiona: If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
Shakespeare. He wrote for the widest possible audience, highbrow and low, trying to entertain while creating art about the big questions we all have to try and figure out.
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
Skein And Bone by V.H. Leslie. It’s a really good short story collection.
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
New to me in the last year or so are Nnedi Okorafor, Usman Tanveer Malik, Ray Cluley, Laura Mauro and Priya Sharma. All of whom are magnificent writers and highly recommended.
Fiona: What are your current projects?
Apart from The Devil’s Highway, I’ve got an existing novel I’m trying to rewrite into a publishable form, I’m trying to write a screenplay in between other commitments, and I’m trying to write some more short stories this year.
Fiona: Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
The writing community. Horror writers, at least, are a friendly, gregarious and supportive bunch! Going to conventions is great fun and usually a huge boost to my confidence and desire to write.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
More of a vocation. I’ll do it whether it pays or not. But it’s what I do best and gives me my greatest satisfaction in life, so I’d rather be doing that than anything else, rather than expending energy on other stuff just to pay the bills.
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
In terms of publication, the latest book is Hell’s Ditch, and – no. I think I got it as good as I could. I’ll probably wish I had by the time I finish The Devil’s Highway, though!
Fiona: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
As to why – I wanted exciting things, like adventure and space travel and time travel, seeing ghosts and fighting monsters, being a hero. The usual stuff. That wasn’t really on offer in Timperley, so I had to make shit up.
Fiona: Can you share a little of your current work with us?
Fiona: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Learning to let go! There’s a quote by David Rudkin that I love: “I’m in the business, not of being right, but of getting things right.” That sums it up exactly. And it helps me work – when you’re writing the first draft you’re trying to get the raw material in place. I tend to plan what I’m doing in advance, and that can help you get more stuff right first time. But it helps a lot to know that whatever you do, you can always go back and rewrite, always fix stuff. Trouble is, you can always find new stuff to fix, one more step you can take. Another quote, this time by Anton Chekhov: “Art is never finished; only abandoned.” It’s very true!
Fiona: Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
OH GOD NEVER ASK ME TO PICK A FAVOURITE ANYTHING! Seriously, I’m terrible at it. You’ll end up with a top five if you’re lucky. I’ll give you a few:
Ray Bradbury, because of his amazing prose, the brilliant ideas and the wide-eyed wonder with which he viewed the world.
Richard Matheson, for his imagination and ability to tell a story in economical prose.
Ramsey Campbell, because he’s genuinely disturbing and because he’s shown how good horror can really be.
Joolz Denby, because she finds poetry, grace, beauty and the magical in the everyday, for her passionate love of nature, her anger at injustice, her compassion for her characters, her direct but lyrical style.
Joel Lane, who was a outstanding prose stylist and could do more in a two thousand word short story than some people could in a whole novel. Psychological depth, social comment, sly humour and beautiful use of language. Also, he was a dear friend.
Fiona: Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?
If you mean travelling to do readings and signings, not so much so far. Most of those are either done locally, or at conventions.
If you mean for research – well I’m not that well-travelled, which is why a lot of the same settings have come up in my books. I’m trying to set stories in unfamiliar territory, but for now that tends to mean research rather than trips abroad!
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
It varies depending on which book you mean. I’ve never tried self-publishing, so it’s been a variety of editors and artists. For my novels: Mark Harrison, Luke Preece, Neil Williams, Emma Barnes and Ben Baldwin. For the story collections: Paul Lowe and Gary Fry.
Fiona: What was the hardest part of writing your book?
As I said above, the difficult part is knowing when to stop and letting it go off to the publishers. There’s always the fear I’ve stopped too soon.
Fiona: Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
The one thing I’ve learned from every book is that there’s still stuff I don’t know about how to write a book! Hopefully that means I’m getting better.
Fiona: Do you have any advice for other writers?
Write as much as you can, read as much you can and live as much as you can. Send your work out. Keep sending your work out. And never, never give up.
Fiona: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Thank you for reading my words – my books, my stories, interviews like this. (And thank you for interviewing me!) Especially if you’ve enjoyed it and written or emailed to say so, or told others, or written a review on Amazon or Goodreads or wherever. It means so much when people do that.
Fiona: If you were not a writer what else would you like to have done?
I honestly can’t imagine doing anything that wasn’t creative in some way. Maybe an actor, or a director, but to be honest I think it’s all part of the same thing. I couldn’t not be doing something like that.
Amazon Authors Page UK http://www.amazon.co.uk/Simon-Bestwick/e/B00355JO22/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1454696016&sr=1-2-ent