It Dances in the Shadows Part 2: An Interview with Adam Nevill
Back in May we had a major feature on the fiction of Adam Nevill, in which we discussed all his novels and short stories. If you missed the article you can catch up with it here:
At the time of the previous feature, we also promised you a new interview with an author whom is one of the most outstanding writers of supernatural fiction in the world today. Now that Adam has survived the mud and rain of the Download Festival, we are absolutely thrilled to welcome him to Ink Heist for a conversation with regular contributor Tony Jones. Make sure you read until the end for some information on his next novel The Reddening which will be released around Halloween. We cannot wait to read it!
INK HEIST: Ink Heist may well have a number of readers who have never read your fiction, what would you personally consider to be the best entry point to your fiction for a newbie?
ADAM: I’d always say The Ritual, and it has naturally become so. Even before the film, this was the book of mine that readers seemed to hear about from other readers, read about online, or mysteriously gravitate towards. Back in 2008 I deliberately wrote the book in a filmic style and hoped to make it instantly interesting to younger male readers, a demographic with a dwindling interest in reading. Ultimately, it seemed to appeal to people of all ages. I’m very chuffed with that.
Or, I’d recommend Some Will Not Sleep: Selected Horrors to see if a reader cares for the grotesque imagination at work in my stories! I think that collection reflects many of my preoccupations.
INK HEIST: If you could go back in time and change/redo an ending of any of your eight novels which would it be and why? I’m sure I read an alternative ending to Apartment 16, are there any others lurking on your laptop?
ADAM: Not The Ritual, which is the ending that seems to disappoint most readers. But it’s a difficult question to answer. With the exception of the first three books and my new book, most of my novels have been written to deadlines; I completed books within a set period. In hindsight I’ve thought of alternative endings for some of the books, particularly Last Days, but such a musing is irrelevant as the published books were the books I was writing at those times; it was those endings that compelled me then.
I think I would have preferred to keep the original ending to Apartment 16 though; it wasn’t wildly different, but less was revealed. I think my editor didn’t think it was dramatic enough.
INK HEIST: Of all your supernatural entities you’ve created which are you most proud of? The Blood Friends from Last Days must be my favourites….
ADAM: The Blood Friends like you too, Tony. They also want to meet you, but want it to be a surprise when they finally introduce themselves …
But I genuinely like them all equally. They’re all critical masses that formed inside my imagination; some of the most satisfying things I’ve done are creating those dreadful creatures.
INK HEIST: You’ve never written any sequels. Would you ever revisit territory covered in any of your existing novels, if so, which one and why? Perhaps the near-apocalypse of the Lost Girl has some potential….
ADAM: All of the books have vague connections, firmer links in some stories. But I have so many new stories burning to come out that I don’t stop to consider a sequel or series. I’m not against the idea, but finding the time and capacity is problematic when so many new stories and ideas keep forming.
My new book The Reddening suggested a sequel as I was writing it. Who knows?
INK HEIST: Your first novel Banquet of the Damned and your eighth novel Under a Watchful Eye were published thirteen years apart, if you could pick up on a couple of things on how your writing has evolved or changed what would it be?
ADAM: I’m certainly more focused on pace, I think. Even if the books are sometimes longer – No One Gets Out Alive. Films have increasingly functioned as inspirations too, more so than fiction, which wasn’t the case at the start.
But generally, I’m still never afraid to experiment and take risks. I also apply the same rigid standards of quality control through my inner editor and reader, which is why I am not prolific. Some things never change.
INK HEIST: I know you’re a huge heavy metal fan and that played a big feature in the second half of The Ritual, and if I remember correctly Banquet of the Damned also, is this an area for further exploration in the future? But surely not even you could write something bleaker than David Peake’s CorpsePaint which I know you were reading recently…..
ADAM: I think in terms of bleakness, the core ideas of what an afterlife involves, in Under a Watchful Eye and Apartment 16, are as bleak as anything I’ve read. For me, an ultimate bleakness has a spiritual element. Cosmic entropy is terrifying, almost unbearable to imagine, but a spiritual entropy that resembles dementia and has continued for years, even centuries or far longer, makes my chest go tight because it’s possible that it may never end. I think it’s why I return to that idea – The Exorcist and The Omen both had huge impacts on my young mind when I first read the books and saw the films, and I didn’t have a religious upbringing – it was the idea of infernal damnation that struck me hard. The idea of living people serving a presence that might being about such a terrible eventually is also something that fascinates me – I think Hereditary really rang that bell too for me. This particular kind of horror transcends all others, to my taste, when horror creates an authentic sense of a spiritual damnation, or a damnation of consciousness: the eternal torment of consciousness after death, even if that consciousness appears to be stuck in a repetitive dream.
But back to music; in my original outline for Last Days, Kyle was a music journalist intent on writing a biography about a famous, reclusive rock star. So, my fourth novel was very nearly a heavy metal concept horror novel – going much further than Banquet‘ and The Ritual. I did fear I was in danger of repeating myself, though, so tried something completely new – guerrilla filmmaking and a counter culture cult as a way to tell that kind of investigative story. Creative outsiders have nearly always formed the focus, though, whether they are musicians or not. But I do return to music in my new novel: The Reddening. Folk music. And I also enjoyed the bleakness and relentlessness of the Peake novel.
INK HEIST: Do you listen to heavy metal whilst you write?
ADAM: Yes, almost always, with some folk and classical, and film scores/soundtracks.
INK HEIST: Which contemporary horror writers would you consider to be in the same ballpark as yourself? Ronald Malfi might be one (I’m thinking of the amazing Bone White by Ronald….)
ADAM: Ballpark I’ll interpret as peers or writers of the same horror generation. I don’t think I’m qualified, nor would it be appropriate, to make other comparisons. It’s also not for me to decide.
But you identify a problem: there are so many writers. I read recently that book production has increased by 4000% since 2010. I’d guess it has in horror too. I cannot keep up. About half of what I read each year is in the field of horror, though these are not necessarily all new titles. Despite the bewildering rate and range of publication, trad’ and indie, I do believe we’ve enjoyed a golden period since around 2008. Horror may be moving underground again, but underground now isn’t what underground was a decade ago – the underground in horror today probably reaches more readers online than traditionally published books do. Horror, mercifully, has been liberated from the handful of shelves in high street book shops, featuring very few surprises on what they stock. It’s also been freed from an industry that blows hot for horror every 15 years and remains wary to hostile towards it between these rare revivals. I think horror needed the indie scene more than any other genre. Our place in the publishing industry and book-trade was not satisfactory.
But this has brought its own problems – volume and discovery.
When I was first published, the newer writers I read had been going for a while in the small presses, were mostly British writers. Some had an echo of the new weird, all had literary styles – Joel Lane, Conrad Williams, Reggie Oliver, and Mark Samuels are good examples whose work I was immediately drawn to and who are still, sadly minus Joel, producing terrific work. Tim Lebbon, Mark Morris and Michael Marshall had been around for even longer, as had Sarah Pinborough. With the exception of Banquet’, all of my books broke out later than this early-noughties period.
Novelists who began to be published in the same period as my own books (excluding the zombie genre) are writers like Tom Fletcher, Neil Spring, Frank Tallis, Sarah Lots, Gary McMahon, Christopher Ransom, Joe Hill. And our approaches are all very different, though Frank Tallis and I are not so far removed aesthetically. We all developed separately and didn’t come out of the same underground short story, small press scene (though I did straddle the one I mentioned earlier, as did Gary McMahon, and I think PS published my first novel and Joe Hill’s first book in the same timeframe).
There is now another generation of writers of the dark stuff like Catriona Ward and Andrew Michael Hurley. And I’ve also felt a strong affinity with some of the North American writers like Laird Barron, John Langan, Nathan Ballingrud, Gemma Files, and many others, who all seem to have the bulk of their single-author publications appearing at the same time as mine. Collectively, we’ve all done our bit to keep the black flag flying.
So, with an aesthetic affinity, or parallel publication schedules within horror, these are some of the writers I’ve felt a kinship with. I must read Ronald Malfi – he’s on my list and I feel a tad embarrassed to have not yet read that novel. But if you could see the pile of unread books beside me.
INK HEIST: The film version of The Ritual was an obvious a high-point of the last couple of years, if you could choose a second of your novels to be filmed which do you think has the most potential?
ADAM: No One Gets Out Alive, or Last Days.
I’ve read that you put a huge amount of research into the background of your stories, this really shines through in the Lost Girl which has an incredibly vivid environmental catastrophe bubbling in the background, did the amount of research for this amount of novel top the rest?
ADAM: Hard to say. I’ve done a heap for every book. But maybe Lost Girl and Lasts Days would get equal first place. I always do more specific, deeper research into subjects that I’m already interested in, to inform novels.
INK HEIST: Stephen King has been reinventing himself for getting on for fifty years, you’ve been writing supernatural fiction for fifteen, how long can you keep working within the same genre? The environmental apocalyptic horror of the Lost Girl was a stunning departure, do you have any further plans to mix up the genres?
ADAM: Thanks very much for appreciating Lost Girl so much, Tony. And I could easily fill a life’s work purely within the horror field, and may do. Sometimes I may step out with one foot, as with Lost Girl. But don’t have any imminent plans to do that again just yet. I think, what I prefer to do, is write horror while drawing in disparate influences from other kinds of fiction and non-fiction. As a result, I never run dry of inspiration or the desire to create something new. There is no end to what we can do with horror.
INK HEIST: Connected to that, do other genres interest you, thrillers for example, there were convincing thriller elements in Under a Watchful Eye…
ADAM: Thrillers, yes. Or, at least, some of them when they straddle horror – Thomas Harris and John Connelly being good examples. I feel the same with literary fiction – I read a lot of it and the darker end I probably enjoy more than most fiction written specifically as horror, or as much as the real literary quality in horror that you find in writers like Ramsey Campbell.
The Reddening, just like Under a Watchful Eye, in terms of the way the story is told, has strong thriller overtones too.
I really enjoy military history, in fiction and non-fiction, particularly WW2, but haven’t had a story form in that area, not even a short story. I don’t know why.
True Crime is the non-fiction genre I have crossed-with most, I think – Last Days, No One Gets Out Alive and Lost Girl. And I may do go back in again.
INK HEIST: The locations and settings of your novels are often integral to the plot, from windswept St Andrews in Banquet of the Damned to the remote Swedish forest of The Ritual. How much work and thought do you put into the setting?
ADAM: Location and the atmospheres certain places generate are integral to my stories, but also to my creative process. Stories have even grown out of environments. I have to steep myself in certain environments, soak up these atmospheres to catch them. I’m not a static writer; I spend so much of my time outdoors and visiting places that attract me. I take hundreds of photos too as an ongoing record I can refer back to.
INK HEIST: You’ve published two volumes of short stories which span your entire career, are many of these ‘written to order’ for other publications or ideas which you tinkered with over a long period of time?
ADAM: Some were written to a theme set by the publisher or editor, but that is far less confining than you might imagine. Some were just written speculatively when I felt a need to write a story. Some I tinkered with for years, others came out in one gush and needed little amendment. It really has varied.
INK HEIST: At any stage did you think any of the short stories you were working on had potential to be full novels?
ADAM: Yes, ‘Yellow Teeth’ being a good example – it grew into Under a Watchful Eye. And the seed for The Ritual was ‘The Original Occupant’. ‘The Ancestors’ part prompted House of Small Shadows, as did ‘Where Angels Come In’. ‘The Angels of London’ was a kind of accessory to Apartment 16, when I felt I still had something to say about that particular idea, as was ‘Florrie’.
INK HEIST: You have published two full collections of short stories Some Will Not Sleep (2016) and Hasty for the Dark (2017) and released a mini-collection of three free stories Before You Wake (2017). How did you decide to choose which to include as freebies? Do you regard these as good representations of your short fiction?
ADAM: I didn’t put too much thought into it, but hoped the selections would catch the eyes of those who liked the style and ideas. I may have chosen the ones with the shortest possible route to the uncanny, maybe the most accessible.
There is also Before You Sleep from 2016, my first free collection.
INK HEIST: From your social media postings it’s obvious you’re a prolific reader, could you give us a few recent recommendations you have read from within the genre?
ADAM: From the fringes of horror, I recently enjoyed Gary Budden’s Hollow Shores; it reminded me of Joel Lane’s Birmingham weird stories about subculture and peculiarities emerging from a particular region. Reggie Oliver’s last three collections from Tartarus are all superb; fans of Robert Aickman and M R James will devour them. Ramsey Campbell’s recent trilogy is terrific Lovecraftian horror. Nathan Ballingrud’s Wounds is a must read. I’ve really enjoyed the lush and lyrical Gothic novels from Catriona Ward, both Rawblood and Little Eve. I highly recommend The Little Stranger and Affinity by Sarah Waters too – epic, superbly written stories on the fringe of supernatural and psychological horror. Gemma Files Experimental film is terrific too. I find I buy every Brian Hodge book these days too and Stephen J. Clark has been a real find.
INK HEIST: Could you tell us a little bit about novel nine?
ADAM: That would be a pleasure. I’m calling it a story of folk and prehistoric horrors. In some ways, it reminds me most of Banquet for the Damned, my first book, and it’s taken almost as long to finish. The setting is rural, coastal Devon, and it has an affinity with films like The Wicker Man, Straw Dogs, Blood on Satan’s Claw. There are some really weird and ghastly parts too, so it’s very much a horror novel, but I also wanted to integrate this material into a modern thriller plot. It builds and then unloads.
It’ll be published in four formats this Halloween and there’ll be a free ebook for folks signed up to my newsletter too. The newsletter signup can be found on my homepage.
And thank you for having me, Tony, and to any eyes that have reached this far!
INK HEIST: Thank you for your fascinating answers Adam and for taking the time to answer so thoroughly. We can’t wait to read The Reddening!
Interview conducted by Tony Jones