I am thrilled to be able to host debut novelist, Luke Walker, on my blog. I’ve been reading and enjoying his short stories for a few years now and was delighted to hear that his novel, The Red Girl, had been acquired by Musa Publishing. Luke was kind enough to submit himself to my curious nature and answer some questions. Read on. He’s quite a character.
Dooley: Do you believe in the supernatural? Why or why not?
Walker: Yes. It’s a big world. There’s plenty we can’t explain and there are definitely more mysteries we haven’t discovered yet. Saying that, I think a belief in the supernatural can be taken too far. When people start living their lives by their horoscopes or being genuinely worried if they walk under a ladder, then it’s getting a bit silly for my taste. We should accept we don’t know it all and if we can work some of it out, then great. If we don’t, then that’s fine with me. Our stories come from some of those mysteries, and horror stories – my stories – come from the fear inside those mysteries. I don’t want us to lose that fear, but the thing is, we’re naturally curious. We want answers so we make up stuff to explain the things we can’t explain. That’s no fun for a horror writer.
Dooley: What do you think is the greatest love story ever told?
Walker: Simple. My wife and me.
Dooley: What was the last movie you saw? The last book you read?
Walker: It’s rare I go the cinema. The last film I saw there was Puss In Boots. You heard me right. Before that, God knows what it was. The last dvds I watched were the original Hammer Dracula from 1958. Not seen it in years and my wife gave it to me at Christmas. A classic. I also saw A Lonely Place To Die recently which is about a few friends mountaineering in the Scottish Highlands. They find a young girl who’s been kidnapped and the question isn’t just how do they get her to safety when they’re in the middle of nowhere, it’s what happens when the kidnappers come looking for the kid. A great film.
My last couple of reads were Stephen King’s latest 11.22.63 which was one of the best books he’s written in a while, and Jennifer Hillier’s Creep. Crime thrillers aren’t usually my thing, but I ate Creep right up probably because when it comes to bad guys, there’s nothing scarier than a human bad guy.
Dooley: You write both novels and short stories. Do you have a preference?
Walker: I don’t have a preference, really. I have a different head on when I write a novel than I do with a short story. A short, to me, is all about getting in quick, having a peek what’s in there, and getting out quick before anything notices me. A book means time to poke around in all the dusty corners and open doors especially if I don’t know what’s behind the doors.
My first attempts at fiction were short stories. I still have a few of them although they’re not worth anyone’s time if I’m honest. I’m still fond of them if only because they remind me where I came from and how much I’ve developed over the last twenty years. My focus is more on novels than shorts these days. I’ll write the first draft of a book over six weeks to three months. Then I let it rest for about a month. During that month, I’ll work on a short story or two, recharge my batteries and let the book simmer.
Walker: Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Tim Lebbon, Charlie Brooker (OK, not a fiction writer, but his views and humour have been known to seep into my writing), and while I don’t think they’re an influence exactly, I’ve got a lot of time for Pat Barker, John Connolly, Susan Hill, Sarah Pinborough, Joe Hill and Simon Clark.
Dooley: What’s your worst writing habit?
Walker: I had a habit a couple of years ago of asking myself what the book was going to be about before I’d written a word. It culminated in a really stilted, forced book which I’ve since salvaged. My focus was all on the book’s theme rather than just telling the story and seeing if any theme came out of it. Luckily, it did in the second draft. Now I ask myself how I’m going to tell a story rather than stroking my beard and wondering what is it I want to say.
In my first drafts now, I occasionally go overboard with stage direction – describing every little movement a character makes. Who’s going to care if they’re so many feet away from another character? Thankfully, my wife tells me whenever I do this and I’m able to cut it in the second draft.
Dooley: Is there anything you don’t like about being a writer?
Walker: Not really. Rejection letters and emails are a pain in the arse, but they’re part of the job. I’d be shocked if any established writer had got where they are without receiving several no thanks, not for us. Forgetting about rejections for a moment, I get to tell stories. I get to put my characters in life and death situations and see how they survive (or don’t). I get to create something others can enjoy. What’s not to like?
Dooley: How do you intend to survive the zombie apocalypse?
Walker: Well, living in England means a distinct lack of firearms although saying that, guns probably wouldn’t help too much. If someone handed me a loaded gun, the only reason I’d have any idea what to do with it comes from watching films. If I turn it sideways, does it fire faster? Probably not, but it looks cool. Anyway, failing the whole gun issue, I’d get out of the city as fast as possible. Not being able to drive wouldn’t necessarily be a problem in this case. The roads would be blocked so going on foot might be a better idea. I live a couple of miles from a river and loads of fields so I’d head that way and follow the river to the sea. England’s history would come in handy, as well. I’m talking castles. Find one, raid the gift shop and hide out in the tallest tower.
Yes, I have given this some thought. Why do you ask?
Dooley: What do you love about England?
Walker: There are a few things. Sense of humour for one. I know it can appear snide and cynical to people who aren’t used to it, but I think there’s actually a lot of warmth in it. We only take the piss out of people if we’re at least interested in them and more so if we like them. God forbid the person we’re indifferent to. That’s when English coldness comes in. And it’s important to note I don’t think there is an exact humour to British people. I once heard Eddie Izzard ask an interviewer if British humour is Benny Hill or Monty Python. It’s both and somewhere inbetween. So that must mean British humour is a dirty old man chasing a woman in her underwear before a giant foot squashes him.
History is another thing. Yes, we had a massive Empire which came from killing people who couldn’t speak English just before we nicked their country (sorry about all that, everyone), but we’ve also got a few thousand years’ worth of battles and conspiracies and murders and invasions and more battles and fat kings and people with REALLY stupid haircuts. All of that in a tiny island which could fit happily in half of an American State has got to be worth something.
Dooley: What’s up next for Luke Walker?
Walker: I’m close to finishing the edits on my latest book and planning the followup. It’s another horror tale. Without giving away too much, it’s about three men lost in the woods all of whom are there for different reasons. And while they are the only living creatures there, that doesn’t mean they’re alone. They’re trapped between two warring groups of ghosts and the only way out is to the end of the woods. And the terrible thing that lives there.
The title at the moment is Belham (the followup has two possible titles at the moment) and it touches on the mid-fourteenth century, the English Civil War and snow. Lots and lots of snow.
Belham will be ready for submission by some point in February. Other than that, I’ve got a couple of short stories in mind so it’s all as busy as ever. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Dooley: Thanks for the interview and congratulations on your debut novel, Luke. Wishing you many sales! Here’s the blurb for The Red Girl:
It’s been ten years since Geri Paulson’s suicide tore her away from her five closest friends and destroyed their friendship. Now her friends’ questions about her death will be answered. They’ve returned to their hometown in a desperate attempt to find out the truth of why she killed herself. But something more than grief haunts them. Geri has returned. And she’s not alone.
Trapped in a nightmare version of their town, Geri’s friends must run, hide, and kill to uncover the truth behind the terrible secret she kept from them. If they succeed, then they might have a chance against the evil that destroyed Geri. They might be able to bury it before it buries them.
But if they fail, Geri’s hell will be their new home.
And Luke was also kind enough to provide an excerpt for your reading pleasure. This is how the story begins:
Inside Stu Brennan’s head, a voice screamed his name.
Stu’s hand jerked, his cup flew and smashed against the sink. The scream filled his head again.
His name. A shriek inside his head.
He slammed his hands against his ears and held his breath. For a few silent seconds, there was nothing but his own thoughts, desperate to reassure him with simple noises of comfort. Then his name came a third time, a horrific bellow just behind his eyes.
He knew who was calling his name.
No. No. I’m at work. This isn’t happening.
Right. He was at work; this was a Friday morning; the other shops and the rest of Dalry were all right outside and everything was where it should be so there was no way this was happening.
His legs refused to work properly and he had to move somewhere between a crawl and a shuffle for the short distance towards the toilet. Pulling himself up and using the edge of the sink as leverage, Stu staggered a couple of steps to the toilet door. He pushed it shut and dropped to the lavatory. Holding himself, Stu rocked. The swaying movement helped a little to calm him.
Music from below on the shop floor pounded in steady beats. Stu held onto the sound with as much focus as he could. Through his panic and confusion, he tried to picture Rich downstairs, Rich probably tapping on the counter to the rhythm of the music as he worked on the tills and readied the shop for opening.
It’s okay. Everything’s okay.
Of course everything was okay. Everything was hunky dory.
Rational thought spoke to him while he rocked. Sandra was in the cash office and the only reason she wouldn’t have heard the breaking cup was due to her door being shut. There was nothing to stop her from coming out to make a drink. How could he explain the mess?
Sorry, boss. I just heard my name shouted inside my head by someone who can’t be speaking to me and I needed a sit down.
Stu swallowed the bitter taste of vomit. He closed his eyes again. Images swam in front of him and his eyes flew open. The images remained.
He saw a house and his first thought was that the house was his. The thought was wrong.
He stood in front of his parents’ house. Their car sat on the long drive and that was normal. What wasn’t normal were the broken windows, the black stain of fire damage on the bricks and the spray paint covering the smashed in door.
Stu forced himself to back away and tripped on the uneven pavement. He landed heavily and his hands slapped down on dark stains. Wet stains.
Cold blood covered his fingers and palms. And still the horror arguing against this wanted to come from his silent mouth. He couldn’t do a thing but see it all here: his childhood home, a defaced wreck, while the moon shone and his breath rose in front of him and the rapid thud of running feet came from somewhere close.
Running towards him. Dozens of people, their shoes and boots thundering on the ground. Stu lunged upright, panic swallowing him.
The runners were coming from both ends of the road. The only way to go was forward, into the house.
Into the black of the house.
He spun, ran to the road and the ground left him. Stu dropped into blackness. Dozens of voices hammered at him from all sides, his name bellowed over and over again in the dark. Stu’s screams answered the voices and a barrage of nonsensical images hit him in flashes of silent light, all passing much too quickly for him to get a fix on them, all dropping with him as he fell into an immense void.
And with the images, with the blackness and with his own screams, a name flew at him from somewhere far below.
One speeding thought answered the name—
Oh god, she’s here. She’s come back—