Horror Takes Many Shapes and Forms…Tony Jones Interviews Andrew Cull
I have been a fan of Andrew Cull ever since I read his novella debut Knock and You Will See Me which was also featured in his anthology Bones, both of which have been received positively by the horror community. His debut novel Remains has been in the works for a while and I was delighted to be one of the early readers and it is one of my favourite novels of 2019 thus far. As Remains is about to be released in the UK in August and September in the USA we caught up with Andy for a chat…
INK HEIST: Congratulations for Remains Andy, which I’m pretty sure will rank amongst one of the very best horror novels of 2019 and undoubtedly in my top ten of the year, it’s vaguely based on a ‘true’ story can you tell us a little bit about it?
ANDY: That’s fantastic to hear! I’m really glad you enjoyed Remains. Thank you very much for talking to me today.
A lot of the stories I write are inspired by reported cases of the paranormal. I’ve been fascinated by all areas of the supernatural since I was a kid. Although they are quite different, Remains definitely has some roots in a case that took place in San Francisco in the early ‘70s. A few years ago, when I was working in film, a family friend relayed a story to me about a haunting he’d investigated in the winter of 1974. The case involved a series of seances conducted using a Ouija board. The messages that were received during those sessions stayed with him long after that winter.
INK HEIST: Remains is one of the bleakest novels I have read in a long time (hey, I like dark books!) did any of your beta readers or editor advise you to lighten it up a bit?
ANDY: You’re right, Remains is an extremely dark story. That said, no one who’s read the novel has suggested that I make any changes to the main plot. I think that, although it’s bleak, the plot feels true to the story I wanted to tell. When I was writing the end, I had doubts and worried that people would hate how the story wraps up. I also felt there wasn’t any other way the story could go.
INK HEIST: Grief cuts through Remains like a knife, did writing this book bring your mood down? How long did you spend on it?
ANDY: It was a tough story to write at times. I tried to be as true to Lucy’s grief as I could be. In Remains, Lucy has been driven to madness by her grief. I think that’s something anyone who’s lost someone can understand. Not long after the first draft was completed, my father passed away. I think that played into later drafts of the novel.
The first draft of Remains took 18 months to write. That’s quite a long period for me. Knock and You Will See Me by comparison, took 3 months. I’ll go to my office each day, but I don’t necessarily write every day. I spend a lot of time planning and plotting my stories. I don’t believe in word counts or forcing it either. I’ll persist, but if I’m not making progress for several hours, I’d rather read, work on plotting another story, or watch a movie. It all comes in time. I very much believe, that in order to write you have to live too.
INK HEIST: Considering the setting for Remains, a non-descript family home, I’m guessing you’re a fan of haunted house novels, which are your favourites?
ANDY: I definitely am! Reading Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House as a young teenager was a pivotal moment for a horror fan like me. I burned through the novel in a day. That’s very fast for me. I try to read it again in the run up to Halloween every few years. The way I perceive the story’s changed as I’ve gotten older. I feel like it’s a book that’s grown with me. It’s my go-to book if people ask for a starting point as a horror reader.
‘Salem’s Lot is another favourite. I love how Stephen King gives the Marston House a character of its own, a dark figure looming over ‘Salem’s Lot. I love how it can be seen from numerous windows in the town. You might be inside your house, you might think you’re safe, but it’s always there, always watching.
INK HEIST: I found Remains also impossible to put down, stylistically it also a short novel with very short chapters. Do you have any thoughts you could share on why you presented the story that way?
ANDY: When it comes to the length of a book, I feel that the story itself defines that. Knock and You Will See Me was originally intended as a flash fiction piece, and almost 100 pages later, look how that turned out! I feel similarly about chapter length. There’s a rhythm to each story. When the pace picks up, the words come faster, the chapters get shorter. I guess there’s also the filmmaker in me who’d use quicker cuts when things start to get hairy. That said, in Remains I tried to do those sequences as much in one long take as I could. As a reader I prefer shorter chapters, but overall, the defining factor in chapter length is the story itself.
INK HEIST: The development of atmosphere, mood and tension was outstanding and ranks alongside the best the genre has to offer, Adam Nevill and Ronald Malfi for example, and some of the scare scenes were outstanding. For anyone who has not read your fiction, sum up what you do in a couple of sentences?
ANDY: I guess, I try to write character driven, cinematic horror that scares me. I read and watch a lot of horror but not a lot of horror scares me. It’s easy to repulse me, but not to frighten me. I try to write stories that I’d like to pick up and read.
INK HEIST: Over the last few years you’ve released some terrific short stories, a novella and now your debut novel. Have you been building up towards the first novel? Do you intend to continue flitting between the three formats on stick with longer fiction?
If I can keep up the pace of writing, I’d love to release a collection one year and a novel the next. I’m currently working on a second collection of stories.
I keep a list of the project ideas I’m chewing over. It’s got ideas from flash fiction, through to feature length movies, and everything in between on it. I add new ideas as they come to me and scratch off the ones I’ve written. At last count there were 29 story ideas on that list. I probably won’t write them all, but I’ve definitely got a few years’ worth of projects ready to go.
Ink HEIST: Remains and your novella Knock and You Will See Me are similar in that both contain outstandingly creepy and atmospheric contact with the ‘other side’ what attracts you to this type of supernatural happenings?
ANDY: I guess those are the stories that frighten me the most. The more plausible ones. Growing up, I read a lot about Maurice Grosse and Harry Price, and their investigations into the paranormal. As a kid, I read those stories as fact and I found them to both terrifying and completely fascinating. The Enfield Poltergeist case, for example, or Harry Price and Borley Rectory. Now, I’m a great deal more sceptical than I was back in the late ‘80s as a young teenager, but it’s still plausible to me that there could be some form of afterlife. That after we die, something, some energy goes on. In fact, given the opportunity, I’d love to spend time properly, scientifically, investigating the paranormal.
INK HEIST: You’ve been involved in the wider horror industry for many years and in 2010 you wrote and directed the film The Possession of David O’Reilly have there been other opportunities to return to the screen and follow this up?
ANDY: There have. At present though, I don’t have any plans to make another feature. Although Remains took 18 months to write, David O’Reilly took nine years to bring to the cinema. That’s just too long to spend on a project. I’m writing my next collection at the moment, and know it’ll be in readers’ hands next year. As a writer, that’s really exciting.
INK HEIST: Could you tell us a little bit about your video game photography?
ANDY: I discovered virtual photography a few years ago. It was relatively new back then. I’d seen the work of some incredible virtual photographers, people like Midhras, Jim2Point0 and K-Putt, and their shots inspired me to have a go myself. I was immediately hooked. Virtual photography has allowed me to combine two things that I love: photography, and the incredible artwork that goes into modern video games. Each time a game comes out that I want to play, I immediately head to see if there’s an artbook to accompany the game. I’ve got an ever-growing collection of concept art books. I’m a big fan of artists like Raphael Lacoste, Jorge Jacinto, Kristian Llana, Jie Ma, to name a few.
My current workload means I don’t get as much time to shoot as I used to, but if anyone would like to check out my shots, I post them to my Twitter and to my Flickr account: https://www.flickr.com/photos/andrewcull/
INK HEIST: For a spell you also worked for television, what sort of projects were you involved in? I read you were a fan of found footage horror which might have inspired the YouTube based Louise Paxton Mystery/Hoax which is a series of short films, which all have thousands of hits on YouTube, could you tell us a little bit more about that? In the age of social media, what do you think of it ten years down the line?
ANDY: I’m a big fan of found footage horror. It ties into my love of plausible horror stories. When we made the Louise Paxton Mystery, YouTube was pretty new. It was 2007 and I’d been pitching reality horror ideas to producers for a few years. Those pitches hadn’t amounted to a great deal and so I decided to take one of my ideas in my own hands and do it myself. I wanted to prove it would work. That vlog became the Louise Paxton Mystery, the first reality horror on YouTube.
I look back at the Louise Paxton videos and I’m proud of what we achieved. It was a very different time for social media. Facebook and Twitter were in their infancy. I think I made Louise a MySpace page as part of her background. Things didn’t really go viral in the way they do now. The fact that people are still watching Louise’s videos, and that I still get email about them, 10 years after they were first uploaded is fantastic, and something I’m really grateful for.
INK HEIST: Considering you’ve been around the horror world for a number of years it took you a while to get around to releasing fiction, what took you so long?
ANDY: You’re absolutely right. In retrospect, I wish I’d started sooner! I’m the happiest I’ve been as a writer for a long time. Shortly before I directed the Louise Paxton videos, I had a meeting with the London Film Council about a project. They liked the idea but commented that it’d make a better novel than a film. At the time, I wouldn’t listen, I’m pig-headed, and was so focused on working in film that I didn’t consider that they could be right. They were. I enjoyed my time in film, but I’m enjoying my time writing fiction more.
INK HEIST: What’s your favourite novel of 2019 thus far?
ANDY: When I’m writing, I don’t get a lot of time to read. So, now that Remains is finished, I’m enjoying making some good headway on my TBR stack. My favourite of 2019 so far would be The Night Parade by Ronald Malfi. I’m a big fan of his work, and I’m enjoying working my way through his back catalogue. Bone White was my favourite novel of 2018. The Floating Staircase is up next.
INK HEIST: Which authors have influenced your writing the most?
ANDY: That’s a tough question. Because of my background in film, I’d say that my favourite filmmakers have had as great an influence on my work as my favourite authors. Directors like Hitchcock, Kubrick, Carpenter, Craven. I’ve adored their movies and they’ve absolutely influenced my writing. It’s because of their work that I discovered authors such as Robert Bloch and Daphe du Maurier. Stephen King, Shirley Jackson, James Ellroy, are all authors whose work has influenced me, too.
INK HEIST: Could you tell us a bit about your next ‘works in progress’?
ANDY: My next project is a new collection of horror stories. It’ll be called Heart and is planned for release in late 2020.
INK HEIST: It is an absolute pleasure to feature you on the site. We hope Remains attracts the attention it deserves and we wish you all the best for your future projects.