Thursday, October 27, 2016

The Gal's 62 Days of Horror Day 21: AMONG THE STACKS: Phil Sloman


The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Hey, Phil.  Welcome to The Gal.  I'm so glad you could join us today, and thanks for being a part of The Gal's 62 Days of Horror.  Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Phil Sloman:
Firstly, thanks for having me over here, Meghan, it's a pleasure to be invited.
            My name's Phil Sloman and I am a horror writer from the south of England.  Writing is juggled around the intricacies of everyday life especially the unique situations which come with a young family.  I've been writing properly for the past five years with a host of short stories out in various anthologies.  My first novella, Becoming David, was launched by Hersham Horror in late September alongside titles by Mark WestStephen BaconMarie O'Regan, and James Everington - all excellent writers.
            I really like to read the type of horror which makes you uncomfortable, the stuff which is slightly off-kilter, and try to achieve the same with my own writing.  There's a lot of wonderful older works out there which I will come on to later but also some superb new writers coming through the independent presses.  I recently read Chris Kelso's very dark Unger House Radicals and was blown away by his work.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What are five things most people don't know about you?

Phil Sloman:
  1. Chronicles of Riddick is one of my comfort films even though I know loads of people aren't exactly what you would call fans;
  2. I don't believe in the supernatural;
  3. I can't stand the taste of cucumber;
  4. I used to live in a stately home (as staff, not as the owner, sadly); 
  5. I have dived with sharks in the wild without a cage (only reef tips, so  not the bad boys, but they would still give you a very nasty bite!).
The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What is the first book you remember reading?

Phil Sloman:
Peter Pan (a very abridged version) when I was five or six.  I still have that copy, which is very battered, and now read it to my own kids.
            I also remember getting a copy of The Three Muskateers when I was about 8 or 9 and being terribly disappointed that there were no pictures to accompany the text so I suppose that was my first 'adult' book.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What are you reading now?

Phil Sloman:
Lost Girl by Adam Nevill, Voices of the Damned by Barbie Wilde, Summoned from the Tomb compiled by Peter Haining, and Trying to be So Quiet by James Everington, plus some others (I tend to spread myself between books rather than have just one on the go).
            Plus reading a mixture of The BFG by Roald Dahl and the last book in the How to Train Your Dragon series by Cressida Cowell to my eldest.  Like his dad, he has a number of books on the go at any one time.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What's a book you really enjoyed that others wouldn't expect you to have liked?

Phil Sloman:
I am not sure what people expect me to enjoy but perhaps Room by Emma Donoghue or The Time Traveller's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger - both fantastic books.  Do go and seek them out if you haven't already.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What made you decide you want to write?  When did you begin writing?

Phil Sloman:
A simple love for books and language really.  I've always adored stories and have a very inquiring mind.  It's the 'what if?' question.  Stories allow us this massive safety blanket to play with ideas and concepts in a way that we could never in real life.  There's this amazing freedom in being able to take a blank sheet of paper and create your own world with these characters and situations you get to explore in intimate detail.
            I messed about with writing in my teens, but drifted away from it for a good few years as life overtook me, but I would still dabble with ideas in my head.  It was probably about five years ago that I decided to pick it up again through messing around with some flash fiction writing in a weekly 'contest' hosted online by the very talented Lily Childs (do go and check her writing out - she's brilliant).

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Do you have a special place you like to write?

Phil Sloman:
No.  I write anywhere and everywhere.  I have a laptop which I bought a few years ago to allow me to write whenever I have some downtime or when I'm on the move.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Do you have any quirks or processes that you go through when you write?

Phil Sloman:
In terms of processes, I am a plotter, especially for longer pieces of work.  For Becoming David, I listed the chapter headers (Chapter 1, Chapter 2, etc) and then put a sentence or three underneath saying things like 'Richard kills X in this chapter' or 'Natalie receives letter from Richard.'  It's like having a road map taking you from A to B but, while the start and end point are fixed, you can change which roads you take to get between the two as the journey progresses.  If I didn't know my ending, then I would be drifting all over the place.  Before I get to sketching that plot out on paper, I turn things over in my head, playing with the concepts, seeing what sticks in my mind.  I find the best way to do this is simply to go walking.  You can get a lot of plot development worked out that way as the distractions are less and, at least for me, I find my mind frees us a lot more that way and you can also people watch too, which adds to the characters in the tale.
            I rarely listen to music when writing.  If I do, then it is usually some dance music or similar without lyrics, otherwise I tend to get distracted.
            Oh, and I edit as I go along.  Writing on a laptop lets me go back and forth as I need to and tweak the story until I am happy with it.  I then go through a number of edits after I've finished the piece until I am happy.  Works for me, but not for others.  Plus, I enjoy the editing side of things!

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Is there anything about writing you find most challenging?

Phil Sloman:
Finding the time to write!  But I suspect less time on social media would help with that a lot.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What's the most satisfying thing you've written so far?

Phil Sloman:
Becoming David feels like a massive accomplishment, but I'm also fond of my short stories There Was An Old Man Who Swallowed a Fly, published in Phobophobias, and The Man Who Fed the Foxes, published in Bones III and reprinted in Masks.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What books have most inspired you?  Who are some authors that have inspired your writing style?

Phil Sloman:
I started off reading a lot of fantasy, stuff like TolkienMoorcockC.S. Lewis, and a bit of Roald DahlEnid Blyton, and some cheap sci-fi here and there.  At some point in my teenager years, I discovered Stephen King, but more importantly, Clive Barker's Books of Blood, which opened up this world of possibilities to me.  I never looked back.  Over the years, I've been introduced to a great array of writing talent, but have found that I am particularly drawn to the books which make me question what is going on in the protagonist's head and cause an emotional reaction.  Something like Shirley Jackson's We Have Always Lived in the Castle, William Goldman's Magic, Ian Banks' The Wasp Factory, or David Pinner's Ritual are books I love - they all make me feel grimy and sullied by the end and all have these wonderful character journeys as they descend deeper in their own personal darkness.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What do you think makes a good story?

Phil Sloman:
The reader needs to be in a position where they give a damn about what is happening.  There needs to be a hook of some kind to engage you with the characters and the situation.  Put something of intrigue in t here from the off and make the reader want to know more.  The rest is in the craft of the storyteller with regards to writing style, believable characters, pacing, etc.  Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None (aka Ten Little Indians) is brilliant at this.  A cast of ten people all brought to an isolated mansion with an unknown killer on the island.  Is the killer one of the ten or the mysterious owner?  Each character has a back story which is teased out as the story evolves and, as the body count grows, you're kept guessing as to whodunit right up until the end.  A very complex tale made to look deceptively simple.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What does it take for you to love a character?  How do you utilize that when creating your characters?

Phil Sloman:
The type of characters I write are hard to love, which makes me question a lot about my own inner psyche!  They are often hugely flawed and egotistical with traits most people would abhor.  What they have to be though is unique; there has to be something about them which makes you want to know more about them or see what they will do next.  The worst thing a character could ever be is boring.  
            How do I utilize that when writing?  I have a sense of the character, which makes them tick, what they are capable of, and what their boundaries are.  My characters evolve as I write them, like getting to know a new friend, their personality starts to come out more with each page, and I start to put more of their quirks into the writing as they become more apparent to me.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Which, of all your characters, do you think is the most like you?

Phil Sloman:
I think there is a bit of me in all my characters, individual neurosis bubbling to the surface and being presented on paper.  I suspect if you took a pinch of the varying characters, you would create some peculiar photofit picture of what my inner self is like.  For a horror writer and lover of the genre, I am a massive pacifist and cannot stand to see violence or aggression in real life so the nastier traits of my characters are simply parts of a darker psyche kept incredibly well in check.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Are you turned off by a bad cover?  To what degree were you involved in creating your book covers?

Phil Sloman:
Completely.  There are so many books out there that a bad cover can kill your chances of someone picking up your book.  Some covers I love are Ryu Murakami's AuditionJohn Dies at the End by David Wong, and Slade House by David Mitchell, but there are so many brilliant ones out there.  I once bought Cordwainer Smith's The Planet Buyer purely because I loved the cover.
            Neil Williams provided the cover for Becoming David and I love what he has done with it.  I provided an initial concept of reflections in broken mirrors, but Neil ran with it and then some.  Neil also produced the covers for the other Hersham Horror novella releases and he has done a brilliant job on each one.  The other books I have been in have all been anthologies, so the decisions were taken by the editor.  I have been fortunate to have some amazing covers for those anthologies and one of my favourites is the cover to Masks created by the late and immensely talented James Powell.  Steve Shaw of Black Shuck Books even made it into a t-shirt for me.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What have you learned creating your books?

Phil Sloman:
  1. Have a  clear direction for the story in your head before you put pen to paper.
  2. Nothing is wasted.  Take things from your own life and slot them in where relevant.  In my author notes for Becoming David, I note two incidents which happened to me about 20 and 30 years respectively which found their way into the story.
  3. The opinion of close, honest friends on early drafts is highly valuable.  You don't have to listen to all opinions, but you can be unaware of issues in the story which your friends can pick out for you.
  4. Editing should invariably end up in double figures in terms of re-writes.  It's like polishing up a rough diamond, removing the imperfections with each pass.
  5. And leave time between edits so you can come back with fresh eyes a few days later.
  6. Reading your work out loud is a brilliant way to pick up on errors or things which need a polish.
  7. Writing the book is only part of the process; you need to set aside time for promotional work afterwards.
  8. There are some immensely talented writers out there.  Find their works, read their works, and learn from them how they apply their craft (as well as enjoy some great stories).
The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What has been the hardest scene for you to write so far?

Phil Sloman:
I wrote a story recently which featured illegal dog fighting and should appear in a charity anthology in the coming months with proceeds going to an animal charity.  In the early part of the book, we are introduced to an underground dog fight brought together by this nasty piece of work called Beako.  Writing the dog fight scene was tough.  It is something I abhor, and even though I used more inference than description, I still felt uncomfortable writing it.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What makes your books different from others out there in this genre?

Phil Sloman:
The scratch and sniff element (that might be a lie).
            There tends to be a dark humor woven into the storylines, observations on society delivered with a starkness of writing.  The darker elements are presented in a simplistic fashion leaving the reader to join up the dots.
            Also, as noted previously, I tend to write a lot of characters you won't like as a person.  I am sure this brakes at least one rule of writing, if not more, but it seems to work for me.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
How important is a book title, how hard is it to choose the best one, and how did you choose yours (of course, with no spoilers)?

Phil Sloman:
The title is pretty important, but isn't the be all and end all.  For examples: Auditon, Room, Carrie, or Christine would never sound like great books given the title, but they are recognized, and rightly so, as superb stories.  Equally a great title can sell a book.  A title such as The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared screams at you 'Read me!'
            Becoming David came to me quite quickly as a title once I  had the idea of the story.  There was the whole aspect of transition mixed with a bit of intrigue.  I also like the simplicity of it, so the title stuck.
            'There Was An Old Man Who Swallowed a Fly' came about from a fly buzzing around my head, the children's rhyme entering my thoughts and, hey presto, story and title all there in one.
            For 'And the Desert Cried Tears,' part of the This Twisted Earth anthology edited by Dion Winton-Polak, I had originally settled on a title of Water which I liked as being quite blunt and stark. Dion pushed me to think again, and I am glad he did.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What makes you feel more fulfilled: Writing a novel or writing a short story?

Phil Sloman:
Writing the novella was more fulfilling than the short stories I have written, although I very much enjoyed writing all of them.  There was a greater sense of journey with the novella and the extended time spent with the characters meant that I became more immersed in the process.  It also felt as if there was this wider scope within which to play; I could explore aspects to greater degrees and spend more time scene setting.  I love writing short stories, but the novella allowed me more freedom.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Tell us a little bit about your books, your target audience, and what you would like readers to take away from your stories.

Phil Sloman:
As you've probably realized from previous answers, my writing definitely walks on the darker side of the street, questioning a lot of our inner neuroses and the things which make us tick.  My target audience is undoubtedly horror fans, but also those who like to take a peek into the shadows to see what is lurking there once in a while.
            My main thing I want readers to take away is something which has them questioning their own personal values and mirroring them against the characters I write.  Would they do the same in that situation?  How do the actions of the characters make them feel?  And to evoke an emotional reaction too.  Whether the reader loves or hates what I have written, that is fine.  The last thing I would want is a sense of ambivalence towards the book.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Can you tell us about some of the deleted scenes/stuff that got left out of your work?

Phil Sloman:
There was a piece in Becoming David which I cut based on advice from my good friend Mark West (who is also a great writer - do check him out).  In one scene, Natalie receives a letter from Richard which turns out to be pivotal to the plot.  I spent a lot of time describing this piece where she rarely received letters, how it was only on birthdays, the type of stamp, etc, etc - so far, so dull.  And that is exactly what Mark told me.  Cut it, it's crap.  So I did.  The end result is a much tighter scene which keeps up the pace of the book and still gets us from A to B (though I am not sure Natalie appreciated the journey come the end).

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What is in your "trunk"?  (Everyone has a book or project, which doesn't necessarily have to be book related, that they have put aside for a 'rainy day' or for when they have extra time.  Do you have one?)

Phil Sloman:
I wrote about 50,000 words on a novel about these siblings who get separated between worlds (essentially a veil of reality and fantasy).  In the one world, humans are collected to be used as slaves; the other world is the London of now.  It is essentially a Hellraiser/Cabal rip-off which works to a degree.  I might re-visit it one day, but for now it probably is better to be kept in the deeper recesses of my laptop.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What can we expect from you in the future?

Phil Sloman:
I am very lucky in having been invited to write for two different anthologies recently.  One will be a folk horror tale set in France of novella length and the other is a short story focusing on the birth of nightmares which I am planning on making quite dark.
            I think my next step after those is either another novella or a full length novel.  I have this idea revolving around a young family where the spousal relationship is breaking down resulting in an escalation of misunderstanding and violence driven by inner demons, or do the demons exist in their own right?  So something light and jolly.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Where can we find you?  (You know, STaLKeR links.)

Phil Sloman:
I'm on Facebook quite regularly, plus I have a blog I really must dust off more regularly.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Thanks again for dropping by.  It's been awesome learning more about you.  I'm intrigued by this thing you have in your trunk.  Do get a hurry on that, kay?  Haha.
            One more thing before you go: Do you have any closing words for your fans or anything you'd like to say that we didn't get to cover in this interview?

Phil Sloman:
For those of you who have read and enjoyed my work, I am immensely grateful.  It's a strange feeling of isolation writing these stories before setting them free into the wider world.  If you've enjoyed them, then please let me know.  For those that haven't read any of my stuff, what are you waiting for? Go grab a copy now!  Or at least check out some of the books I've named checked along the way today - there's some great writing amongst that lot.
            Finally, thank you again for having me here, Meghan.  It's been un and some great questions to answer.


About the author:
Phil Sloman is a horror writer from the south coast of England with a slew of horror stories scattered across the ether.  Phil likes to peak behind the curtains of reality and see what might be lurking there in the darkness.  Sometimes he writes down what he sees.
            His first novella, Becoming David, was released by Hersham Horror in September 2016.
            Officially Phil can be found lurking here or wasting time on Facebook - come say hi.

About the book:
Richard leads a simple, uncomplicated life in the suburbs of London where anonymity is a virtue.  His life has a routine.  His cleaner visits twice a week.  He works out in his basement, where he occasionally kills people.  Everything is as Richard wants it until David enters his life.  What happens next changes his existence in its entirety and the lives of those around him.  Is he able to trust anything to be true?  And will he be able to escape David or will David take over Richard's life completely?

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