…And just when you thought we were down for the count, here we are again… another week is coming in swinging, and we are ready to dive head first into another room. How are you doing Roomies? Surviving? Starting to feel more at home in the Manor? I’m sure Alma wouldn’t mind making us a cup of tea–I’ll take mine black.
Chatting with this week’s author Mark Towse, we learned a lot about the way he writes, (as well as the ways he tortures himself to write,) as we prepare to listen to our newest episode ‘A Bad Harvest’.
GR: Oh Hi Mark! Welcome back! You are no stranger to the Grey Rooms. This is the second time you’ve blessed us with a terrifying tale this season. First with ‘Interminable Buzz’, and now ‘A Bad Harvest’. We even got a taste of your work last season- what got you into writing if you don’t mind me asking? And have you always written horror?
MT: For me, becoming a writer was something that festered at the back of my mind for a long time, and eventually, the stench became so putrid, I had to let it out.
Before I kicked off this writing journey, I took a small gap of around thirty-odd years. It was only in my forties that I felt the glut of creativity in my life, and toyed with the idea for some time, but a full-time job and a family didn’t leave me with much time. I decided to do something really brave, or silly depending on which way you look at it, leaving my full-time job for a part-time role to allow me to lift my head out the sand and breathe. My wife supported me every step of the way. At forty-five years of age, I decided to attempt my first piece of fiction since secondary school, and to tell you the truth, it was bloody awful. I persisted, though, and got better with each one.
Horror, for me, has always been a big part of my life. When I got my first library card, I went through the entire Stephen King and James Herbert collection at lightning speed. For me, horror has always been much less terrifying than real life.
GR: Oh 100% -Real life is absolutely terrifying. Especially adulthood.
Your stories always seem to have that touch of real world to them, but there is always something a little off that catches the reader. Is that your favorite kind of horror to write?
MT: I like horror to be as quirky and original as possible. That is difficult in such a saturated market, but I am happy with the direction I’ve taken so far. I am a sucker for an old school twist, and I love surprising readers with a change of direction.
GR: You’ve mastered it quite well, I know we’ve read quite a few great stories from you, all of them unexpected and they are all so different and unique. How do your story ideas normally come to you?
MT: Sometimes the Devil whispers them in my ear.
GR: I can believe that.
MT: I have no idea, to be honest. I do meet a lot of people at work (or at least, I used to) and tend to steal their idiosyncrasies for later use. Thoughts come to me at odd times, and it could be just something as simple as a location that sets me off, or even a smell or a strange noise.
I’ve written one hundred short stories to date, and while I found it easy, in the beginning, to pluck an idea out of thin air, it is certainly becoming more of a challenge. I have been known to pace around the room, muttering under my breath, willing an idea to pop into my head, but it never works out like that. If I get really desperate, I will force myself to sit down and write something before I allow myself more coffee.
GR: So what i’m hearing is that as part of your process, you like to torture yourself before breakfast. Good to know…. I have heard that the warden also likes to torture people before being fully caffinated. So you fit right in!
I kid- but that does sound like advice we try to give to a lot of writers just starting their journey’s. Is that what you’d tell them as well?
MT: Just write. Just go nuts! Have fun creating new worlds without any boundaries. Use it as therapy—a way to get rid of all that bile out of your mind. It’s wonderful!
I would recommend no research, no podcasts on how to write, nothing that has the potential to stifle your creativity. All that can come later. Writing is fun, so you have to keep it from being too mechanical. Keep it fresh. Use language that challenges. Don’t write for the reader, write for yourself—the rest all falls into place. Write about what you want to read.
Short stories are a fantastic place to start. Practicing is key. I’ve written a lot of shorts, and that’s allowed me to fine-tune the process of telling a good story quickly. Flash fiction and shorter pieces are all about trimming the fat and ensuring each word gives bang for the buck. I think this is why a lot of people spend time writing shorts before even attempting a novel-length piece. I would go so far as to say practicing with short stories is essential in terms of mastering story structure and commanding attention quickly.
Have fun (I think I already said that)!
GR: I’m always impressed with short stories that really make a punch. Even relating back to your previous answer, the works from Stephen King that were always my favorite when I was younger were his anthologies of short stories. A good writer can make shorts hit harder faster, which is one of the things I think you do really well. Especially with this episode. What has it been like hearing your stories produced like this as a podcast?
MT: So cool! I think aside from adding credibility to the story, it adds another level of dimension to events. It’s quite nerve-tingling, though. I always get anxious before listening to the show because I generally don’t write stories with podcasts in mind, and I’m always a little scared of how they’ll play out. The Grey Rooms does an excellent job, though, and I love the support of Michael Zenke in terms of transitioning the tales to more of a radio play format.
The entire team is exceptional, and it’s a pleasure to work with them. Creep, creep.
GR: Well we have had a blast bringing these stories to life. ‘A Bad Harvest’ may be my favorite of your stories that we’ve heard so far. What would you tell other authors who are interested in submitting a story to The Grey Rooms?
MT: Good question. I’m not too sure what the secret recipe is, but I must be doing something right. I guess it’s all about creating a world that is at once believable and fantastical. I wouldn’t worry about the format itself, just write a story that makes you say, “Hell, yeah!”
GR: Or ‘Oh…My… God..’ we are also looking for those kinds of stories.
So I know you’ve been working on quite a few new projects, but fill the listeners in- what are you working on now?
MT: After publishing my first collection, ‘Face The Music,’ I have continued to focus on short stories as they are the ones that make me sing. I’ve got another forty in the bank and ready to go that I am incredibly proud of. I’m also at a juncture where I feel I have enough experience and chops to push myself out of my comfort zone. I’ve just finished writing my first novella called ‘Nana’ – a terrifying journey that I can’t wait for people to experience. I’ll be sending that out soon and crossing my fingers as usual.
In terms of upcoming publications, I am incredibly proud to be featured in the forthcoming ‘Midnight in the Pentagram’ anthology from Silver Shamrock Publishing alongside the likes of Graham Masterton, Brian Keene, Chad Lutzke, Todd Keisling, etc.
Other anthologies/ journals due for release shortly including my work:
- Time We Left – Exaggerated Press
- A Monster Told Me Bedtime Stories – Soteira Press
- Love Letters to Poe
- Cosmic Horror Monthly
- Dance of Death Publishing
- Year of the Virus – Owl Hollow Press
- The Half That You See – Dark Ink Books
- + many more
GR: Well I can’t wait to dive into these! I also can’t wait to dive into your newest episode ‘A Bad Harvest.’