“I’ve been a fan of horror films since I was a kid. My parents let me watch the 70s Invasion of the Body Snatchers when I was very small and that was it, basically. I’ll always be a fan of the classics, like Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Halloween, Friday 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Evil Dead and, yes, Hellraiser – though to me it only seems like five minutes since it was released.”
This explains prolific author Paul Kane’s passion for horror, whose resumé includes works of both fact and fiction. His most recent trilogy was the post-apocalyptic Robin Hood saga Arrowhead, which forms part of Abaddon’s Afterblight Chronicles shared-world series. Next month Paul will be releasing his short story collection The Butterfly Man and Other Stories at FantasyCon.
Throughout his career Paul Kane has remained dedicated to horror, and not just in fiction. In 2006 he released The Hellraiser Films and Their Legacy, an examination of the Clive Barker story Hellbound Hearts, the subsequent films, and recurring themes throughout the series. Later in 2008, after spending several years researching, Paul, in conjunction with his wife Marie O’Reagan, released Voices in the Dark where he presented interviews with some of the most prominent figures in horror including Rob Zombie, Neil Gaiman, and Joe Hill (writer of Horns, and Locke and Key).
I first met Paul after attending his workshop on Heroes and Villains at the last year’s Alt.Fiction writer’s convention in Derby. Despite writing as intensively as he does, Paul remains friendly and approachable, and a constant presence at conventions.
After reading The Butterfly Man and Other Stories (reviewed here), I managed to catch Paul whilst he was preparing for FantasyCon to discusss his latest collection of stories.
Onemetal:At what point did you realise you could write full-time – how did it feel?
Paul:That would be not long after I graduated from university back in 1996. I’d done a module on ‘Professional Writing’ as part of my courses, taught by a guy called Pete Wall – who not only gave us loads of insider tips, but also encouraged us to send reviews and articles off to major magazines and newspapers for feedback. In fact it was part of the grading for the course that we do that, so I ended up talking to people at The Mirror, Dark Side, SFX… That kicked me off wanting to do genre journalism when I left and I soon built up the amount of places I worked for every month, which gave me a decent enough wage. I was also reviewing films for my local newspaper, so I got to see all the latest releases at press screenings. Those were the days! It felt good to be working for myself – and not to be on the dole, getting hassled – and it felt great to see my writing in print in news-stand magazines. Making a living with my fiction came along later, but I’ve always kept my hand in with the genre journalism and write non-fiction books now, too. The latest is a collection of interviews with horror writers, directors and actors called Voices in the Dark, which I put together with my lovely wife Marie, who also works in the field.
Onemetal:As a writer, what is the enduring appeal of horror?
Paul:I think it goes back to those stories round the campfire to scare people. But it’s a safe kind of scare, usually. One that you can sort of control as both a writer and reader. The appeal for myself as an author and fan, I suppose, is that anything’s possible within the genre – it has many sub-genres and can absorb other genres quite easily. It’s that inability to pin down exactly what it is that makes horror so special, and means that it’ll be around for a long, long time to come in my opinion.
Onemetal:When writing, do you have any techniques to enter the right frame of mind?
Paul:I need to be in a quiet place, essentially. I can’t work when it’s too noisy; I’m very envious of people who can write on trains or planes, because of the amount of travelling I’ve had to do the past few years for work. I could have doubled my output! Other than that, I can’t work in a morning without a cup of tea – then large amounts throughout the day – so I’d recommend that to keep your mind well lubricated. But as for getting into a ‘writing zone’, I think that happens when you get going anyway and lose yourself in whatever you’re doing. Of course, it’s a lot harder if things aren’t going well with your story and you have to keep stopping to figure things out, because it removes you from the story world. But that’s all part and parcel of being a writer, I suppose. You just have to try and work through it.
Onemetal:For you, how does writing short stories differ from writing novels?
Paul:They’re quicker to write… But in all seriousness, I used to think that short stories were a stepping stone to writing longer pieces and books – and I do think that can be the case, because you gain more confidence the more you write. In actual fact they’re completely different animals. There are some fantastic short story writers out there who can’t write novels to save their lives. And the same the other way around: I’ve approached some famous novelists for short stories for anthologies, never thinking anything of it, and they’d mail back to say they’d never been any good at the short form. It’s a strange one, definitely. I’m very glad I’ve always felt comfortable writing both, because I get different things from each. They require different disciplines. For example in the short story things need to be tighter, you can’t waste your words. When writing a novel you need a lot of stamina and determination just to finish it. I love the reaction you can get from a story like ‘Strobe’, or ‘Guilty Pleasures’ or some of the new tales from The Butterfly Man, such as ‘Nine Tenths’, ‘It’s All Over’ or ‘Speaking in Tongues’ – short, sharp brushes with the dark or surreal. At the same time I like the fact that readers can get to know my characters really well in novels like The Gemini Factor or the Arrowhead trilogy. I’ve been told they come alive for them and become like friends sometimes, which is one of the biggest compliments for any fiction writer.
Onemetal:What do you do when a short story exceeds the word limit? Do you chop it down or use the idea for a novel?
Paul:I tend to have a fair idea about what kind of story will fit what word-length before I begin it. I think that just comes with practise, knowing how much or how little you can stretch an idea. I jot ideas down all the time then go back and separate them out into the short-shorts, longer shorts, novelettes… right up to novels, so that when I’m commissioned for something I can flip through and see what interests me in that particular format. If an idea I had for a short story looks like it has the potential to be longer, then it can always be expanded after the fact. That’s happened to me recently with a story called ‘Disexistence’ – to be published in Midnight Street in September. Nicholas Royle took a look at that one for me and advised me to expand it, maybe even to novel-length. Who knows, it might end up being both a short and a novel!
Onemetal:Despite the number of stories in The Butterfly Man and Other Stories, all of the characters remained distinctly unique. How did you go about creating distinguishable characters?
Paul:Thanks so much for that, it’s really appreciated. I think a lot of the time it’s the story that dictates what the characters need to be like. For the award-winning ‘A Chaos Demon is for Life’, for example, I knew I wanted to tell it from the perspective of a young boy who was given this demon for Christmas, because he was into monsters but he also wanted a pet. The rest of his family came out of what kind of boy Mark was, in a sort of ‘cause and effect’ way. For something like ‘One for the Road’ I just thought it would be interesting if the Four Horsemen met up in an out of the way little pub up in the Peak District or somewhere. It’s the end of the world that night, so what would they talk about? Sometimes it’s also the dialogue that creates the characters. I wanted to work against people’s preconceptions of who the Horsemen are, so we have a really cool Samuel L. Jackson-style Death who arrives in a sports car and an overweight figure who can’t stop eating for Famine… that kind of thing. Characters also end up being mish-mashes of yourself, people you know, and characters from books, movies and TV shows, so hopefully there’s enough material there to draw on that you shouldn’t need to rely on stereotypes. That’s just lazy writing.
Onemetal:You have mentioned before that ‘The Butterfly Man’ was your personal favourite, why is that?
Paul:It’s all about the power of the short story again, really. The fact you can tell something powerful in five or six thousand words. That actually fitted with this idea of a man who only lives for one day, and was a way for me to comment on the brevity of life. I really like the fact that you can connect with Daren, even if you only know him for a short time, because that’s what the people around him are experiencing too. I think… well, I hope there’s an emotional core to that story. Certainly, and I hope they don’t mind me saying this, when I told Marie and my daughter, Jen, the plot of it, they were both on the verge of tears. It’s also one of the reasons why I don’t think I’ll ever be able to read this one out in front of an audience, because I start to think about the meaning of it. I really like ‘The Butterfly Man’, it’s amongst my favourite stories that I’ve written, but I guess we’ll see what people make of it when the collection comes out.
Onemetal:There were instances in The Butterfly Man and Other Stories that left me genuinely chilled – such as the conclusion to ‘Windchimes’ – but have you ever held back from writing such a conclusion?
Paul:I think the ending of ‘Windchimes’ is so chilling because it’s altogether too real a possibility. That’s at the heart of horror writing for me, if something’s possible, and the scenario in ‘Windchimes’ definitely is. I can’t say I ever have held back with anything, no. I expect at some point I might get told by a publisher or editor to change something, but it hasn’t happened yet thankfully. I’m not a writer who relies on gore and scares to carry the stories, though, so I think that makes a difference. That’s not to say I won’t go there if I think the story will benefit from it, just that I won’t use those kinds of techniques just for the sake of it… There’s no gore at all in ‘Windchimes’, but a lot of people who read it – it was first published in a Read by Dawn anthology – have said it really unnerved them. That was the intention, so I feel like I’ve succeeded there, at least.
Onemetal:How did you approach writing sequels to stories that already have such a strong impression with people
Paul:It’s quite daunting because those are very well known and much-loved stories. I take the view that I’m doing my own thing with the mythologies, like I did with Robin Hood. But hopefully something respectful at the same time, because I love those stories as well. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have written the sequels in the first place. ‘Masques’ was for a book of Poe reinterpretations published by HorrorBound called Return of the Raven, so it was also one of the stipulations of the anthology. The Dickens sequel was for Festive Fear, published by my old friend Stephen Clark at Tasmaniac – who published The Lazarus Condition a few years back. Given the subject of Christmas I just thought, what else can I do? Scrooge is just so associated with the period, I had to have a go, if only to see what I could do with it. I was quite happy with the results and I think Steve was, too. In terms of sequels to my own work, I seem to be doing more and more of late – which probably means I’ve been around the block a few times now. I’ve just done a novella called ‘Halflife’ which is a sequel to my werewolf story ‘Nightlife’ written back in the 90s. That picks up the story of Neil and his pack of friends as they approach middle age; in the original they were fresh out of university and hungry for blood. It allowed me to make quite a few observations about getting older, something I’m experiencing myself as I approach forty in a couple of years’ time. That one’s just been published with three other novellas in a collection called Pain Cages by Books of the Dead Press which also has a fantastic introduction by Stephen Volk, who created Afterlife. I’m also in the middle of writing a sequel to ‘Dead Time’, which is the story that got turned into an episode of the NBC/Lionsgate TV series Fear Itself. That’s been an interesting experience as well: there’s a lot of pressure on me for that to be good, because of how the last one worked out. I think I’m managing to add to it, expanding on the universe that I came up with in the first one. We’ll see. I’ve done novel sequels as well, of course, with the Arrowhead books, so I seem to be getting an old hand at it.
Onemetal:‘The Greatest Mystery’ is of course your homage to Sherlock Holmes, but with an overt supernatural element – what reaction has there been to this uncharacteristic element of a Holmes adventure?
Paul:‘The Greatest Mystery’ was written originally for Gaslight Arcanum, the third in a series of anthologies mixing Holmes with supernatural and horror elements. I just missed out on getting into the second volume, with my attempt to also do a prequel story to RED: basically Holmes chasing the shape-shifter creature from my novella. I bit off more than I could chew, though – if you’ll pardon the pun – and also suffered from quite a bit of performance anxiety with that one, because I’m such a fan of Sherlock Holmes in all its many forms. This time I just went for it, and was delighted with the results. I had the idea after re-watching some of the old Jeremy Brett adaptations on DVD – Brett’s my favourite Holmes of all time – and spotting a few throwaway lines here and there that got me thinking about who Holmes’ real nemesis is. Everything just stemmed from there. The only people who have read it so far are the aforementioned Steve Volk, who asked to see it when he found out we were in the anthology together, and the two editors of Gaslight Arcanum: Charles Prepolec and J.R. Campbell. They all gave it the thumbs up, which I was quite relieved about – especially as Charles is a noted Holmes expert. I hope people enjoy it when they read it. Writing a Holmes tale has certainly fulfilled one of my lifelong dreams anyway.
Onemetal:It seems ‘Life-O-Matic’ and ‘Cold Call’ are biting commentary against modern culture, is this something you personally feel strongly about?
Paul:There’s definitely a commentary about modern life and culture in both tales; I couldn’t write those particular stories without doing that. With ‘Life-O-Matic’ it’s the constant advertising of products everywhere, to the point where we now have entire channels devoted to selling you crap you don’t need. With ‘Cold Call’ it’s the kind of sellers that ring up pestering you on the phone. That was inspired by my parents getting calls from people like that, and seeing news reports about a lot of older people being scared by cold calls; when automated calls are dropped and no-one answers if you pick up. I don’t think we’re in a very good place at the moment with things like that, but again both were devices to tell a story I wanted to tell rather than any kind of rant.
Onemetal:You are an avid fan of horror films – most notably the Hellraiser movies – what is your opinion of horror movies currently being released?
Paul:I think there’s good and there’s bad, but then it’s always been like that, hasn’t it? The advent of cheap film-making has allowed more people to make horror movies than ever before, but for every Paranormal Activity there are dozens that are just awful straight to DVD turkeys. I have to say I was pretty impressed with the new Clive Barker adaptations Midnight Meat Train, Book of Blood and Dread – and that’s not just because we visited the set of the last two and saw the effort that went into them. In actual fact quite the opposite – they had to work harder to erase those memories and draw us into the movies. But they definitely succeeded. I was also incredibly impressed with The Rite, which Marie and I saw at the cinema. I thought Hopkins was amazing, and the whole movie was like an Exorcist for a new generation. I’m looking forward to upcoming releases such as Bag of Bones, The Thing prequel – which might be awful, but the trailer does look hopeful – and The Woman in Black.
Onemetal:Despite Clive Barker’s unimpressed opinion, what are your thoughts on the latest Hellraiser movie?
Paul:I haven’t seen it yet, so I can’t really comment. I’ll be interested to watch it at least, as I’m always interested in seeing and reading any Hellraiser-related material, which you’d probably expect. I’m probably more excited by the new stories coming out through BOOM! with the comics series. I’m loving the way they’ve brought Kirsty back and the whole Harrowers thing from the early 90s comics.
Onemetal:When not writing, what do you do to relax?
Paul:Spend time with my lovely wife and kids. I take weekends off now, which was something I very rarely did when I was single, but I think you just need that downtime. We watch Blu-Rays, catch up on shows from the week that we might have missed, and generally have a laugh. I also love to read, though I don’t get as much time to do that as I’d like these days. I’ve just finished MM Smith’s The Servants, which is a stunning book. I’m glad I waited a little while to read that as not only does the setting of Brighton have more resonance – having been involved in a couple of conventions there, World Horror and more recently co-chairing FantasyCon 2011 with Marie – but I could also hear Mike’s voice, telling the story. FCon’s one of the reasons why there hasn’t been much time to relax of late. We’ve been working on that since the summer and are at time of writing about four weeks out. It’s going to be one of the biggest in a while, with guests like Gwyneth Jones, Brian Aldiss, John Ajvide Lindqvist, Christopher Paolini, Joe Abercrombie and Sarah Pinborough as MC, book launches, panels, film screenings, masterclasses, readings… not to mention the banquet and handing out of the British Fantasy Awards. It’s been a lot of planning and hard work, but hopefully worth it. We’re just hoping all the attending members have a good time.
Onemetal:What plans do you have for the future?
Paul:To survive the rise of the apes… sorry, we’ve just seen the movie, which was excellent, by the way. For the immediate future, we’re launching my latest anthology at FantasyCon on 1st October at 5pm. I’m very happy to be launching alongside Ramsey Campbell with his own PS books, as he’s a legend and also such a lovely bloke. But people can pre-order The Butterfly Man and Other Stories on the site, signed or unsigned. Post FCon, there are a couple of Waterstone’s signings and events, and we’re travelling to San Diego for the World Fantasy Convention this year, which we’re really looking forward to because friends Jo Fletcher and Neil Gaiman are guesting. Then Marie and I are guests ourselves at this year’s Thought Bubble comic convention in November in Leeds, so come up and say hi if you’re there. On the book front, I’ve just finished a novel that’s a bit of a departure for me – that’s just gone off to the publisher so I’m waiting nervously for feedback on it. I’m due to start another novel very soon, and that takes place in a mythology that’s already had filmic interest, so fingers crossed. Speaking of which, I’m also adapting two bestselling authors’ novels into full length screenplays. That’s off the back of my short scripts that got produced, The Opportunity which screened at Cannes, and The Weeping Woman – directed by the award-winning Mark Steensland and starring Fright Night’s Stephen Geoffreys. That one’s creating a bit of a buzz at the moment on the circuit, and has just screened at Fantasia International Film Festival. I have a novel due out next year which I can’t announce just yet, plus Marie and I have just finished putting together our first book for Robinson, The Mammoth Book of Body Horror. Expect to see promotion and publicity for that in the coming months. It’s going to be a belter. Oh, and I have ‘Disexistence’ due out soon in Midnight Street, and shorts in an anthology about Phobias – mine’s about fear of books – and Morrigan Books’ Scenes from the Second Storey. There’s loads more, but it’s ‘in the pipeline’ stuff that I’d be shot for mentioning.