Ginger Nuts of Horror
Jonathan Wood is an English Horror and Dark Fantasy Author who resides in Sweden. Jonathan is the author of a number of published short stories and his work has also appeared in digital formats for E-Readers and Kindle. Jonathan also reviews other authors and books in the horror and dark fantasy genre. In amongst fitness training and tennis, Jonathan also likes to dabble in a little photography, guitar playing and building custom gaming PC’s in his spare time.
Hello Jonathan, how are things with you?
I'm good thanks, still here, still working, and still scribbling.
You are now living in Sweden, what prompted you to move over there?
My partner is Swedish, but we met in London, where she had lived for almost 20 years, so I'm not your typical “love refugee” Anglo Saxon who finds himself in Scandinavia. Moving to Sweden was a combination of us both growing tired of the rat race in London and also a grisly murder which took place quite close to where we lived in South London. At that point, we decided enough was enough!
So what’s life like in a Scandinavian country?
Different. It might be only a stones throw across the North Sea, but you may as well be on Mars in many respects. Sweden is culturally quite different to the UK. I think like anyone who migrates to another country, there are positives and negatives to weigh up, but overall, there are many things I like about living here. I work within IT with my day job and have a good job here. Now I can speak the language better, things are easier. Sweden is an expensive place to live and tough if you don't have a job, but it is a lovely place to be in summer time if you like the outdoors.
What do you miss the most about living in the UK? And what are you glad to see the back off?
I'm a big football guy and miss not being able to watch my beloved Sunderland, whom I follow through thin and well..thinner, so I have to make do with the TV and crap Swedish commentary. I also miss elements of the North East culture. I'm from the North East originally and Northerners are generally friendly people that I understand.
What do you like to do when you're not writing?
My list of hobbies seems to be on the increase lately. I like to take pictures with my camera and I've started playing guitar again and taking lessons for this. I read a lot too and try and keep fit.
You like to keep fit at the gym, and you have posted some hilarious updates about some of the characters you have seen there. What is the one thing that really gets up your nose about the gym culture?
I guess the one thing that annoys me the most is the forty something's males on the treadmills with huge egos. They have this kind of “competitive dad” vibe going on from the Fast Show sketch and all seem hell bent on proving they can still mix it up with the younger guys. They set their running speeds just higher than the guy running next them( who is usually ten years younger) and watching them go into cardiac arrest after five minutes is as sad as it is annoying. There's a lot of ego and bravado in Sweden, regrettably.
Have you ever thought about using these guys as fodder in one of your stories?
Oh, absolutely. I like to try and take my experiences and always find value for them in stories and characters. I'm a compulsive people watcher too and often take people's traits and inject them into characters. Characters that more often than not end up going feet first into a wood chipper.
What’s your favourite food?
Chinese food, without doubt. Every Swede I meet for the first time makes a crack about Fish and Chips like it's something I eat for breakfast and I just smile politely. I have a soft spot for Lemon Chicken with a quality sauce and a fried rice. It's simple, but that's me. I'm a man of simple pleasures when it comes to culinary matters.
Who would be on the soundtrack to your life story?
This will sound really cheesy and pretentious but it would have to be the Rocky Story. Awful outdated 80's rock anthems(A time period I grew up in), and a theme of struggle against adversity. Like many people, I have faced adversity in many forms over the course of my life and it takes a lot to keep getting back up when you get knocked down.
Like myself you also like to dabble in photography, what kit do use?
I've just actually gotten started with this and bought a Nikon 5100 DSLR camera. I also just bought a new Telephoto Tamron 70-300 lens which is great for wildlife and landscape shots, and it's beginner friendly, which is excellent for me.
Do you have a favourite type of photography?
I really enjoy wildlife photography and I think there's a particular skill involved in getting great shots of animals. Although it's hardly award winning wildlife photography, I recently got some close ups of a little wild Red Squirrel in a park. Red's are dying out in the UK but they seem plentiful in Sweden. He seemed quite tame and intent on showing off for the camera a little too. I definitely want to pursue more wildlife photography.
Do you prefer the term Horror, Weird Fiction or Dark Fiction?
Dark Fiction, most definitely. I think there can be elements of horror in any genre story and you don't need a “horror” tag on it to be horrified or scared by characters or themes.
Who are some of your favourite authors?
There are so many, but I'm a big fan of Adam Nevill, David Moody, John Avjide Lindqvist, Clive Barker and also American crime writer James Lee Burke. I think his Dave Robicheaux series is just sublime. I also like Gary McMahon and many many others.
Your first exposure to horror fiction, was like many of us thanks to James Herbert. What’s your favourite James Herbert story?
Either The Rats or The Fog.
To me Herbert is perfect example of a writer who should have stopped writing, in as much as his later novels were big disappointments. What’s your thoughts on this?
I agree completely. I feel Herbert's early work captured a time period when the horror genre needed a shake up and his latter efforts failed to hit the same mark. His work was shocking for it's time and delightfully pulpy. I recently re-read The Rats when Herbert passed away and it didn't shock me in the same way it did all those years ago. I guess it's a sign of how the genre has evolved and how as readers we have become de-sensitized to violence in a way.
Do you still read Herbert, and do you think his work still stands up after all these years?
I haven't read any Herbert for many years. I was disappointed with one or two of his later novels and basically lost interest in his newer material. If I was to re-visit his work, it would be for The Rats series and novels like The Fog, and Moon. For me, they were his best.
Do you think the idea to use his name and legacy for an award is a good idea?
You know, I really don't know. I think there are much stronger writers than Hebert who could be worthy of an award, but James Herbert was important and I think he inspired a new culture in the genre and encouraged brave uncompromising new authors to come forward. Maybe he deserves it on that basis.
What is your all-time favourite horror novel, and film? And what is it about them that appeals to you?
I have many favourites so it's hard to choose. It has to be The Shining, I think. King writing from his boots about alcoholism, broken relationships inside a creepy haunted hotel.
Apart from Herbert, who has also been an influence on your writing?
I discovered the work of Adam Nevill a few years ago and I'm a big admirer of his. The craft and stylisation in his work is first rate and it's something I am trying to learn from in my work. Adam's ability to craft slow dread in a story is wonderful.
How does a writer become something more than just the influences who shaped them? How did you find your own voice?
That's a good question. I think you need to be brave, more than anything else. They say the best writers are avid readers too and this may be true. Stay true to your ideas and convictions, look for originality in your dialogue and characters and keep away from cliché. I think it's always good to have an inner circle of people you can bounce ideas and work off, people you trust to be honest and objective too. Don't rush your work, be patient and take advice, even if it's painful advice.
If you could erase one horror cliché what would be your choice?
It's got to the “I'll be right back” line, uttered in countless slasher and monster films. I agree with that movie nerd from SCREAM, which as you know pokes fun at cliché within the horror movie genre whilst also being one. “Don't say you'll be right back”. Because you won't be back. Ever”.
Which fictional character would be you perfect neighbour, and who would be your nightmare neighbour?
I get very irritated by noisy neighbours, so I think Michael Myers would be my perfect neighbour. He doesn't talk much and I think he'd be out a lot which is perfect for writers who need a little piece and quiet.
I'd hate that silly moody teenager Bella from Twilight to be my neighbour. Pouty expression and full of MTV esque angst. She also dates a vampire who shimmers in the moonlight. He's annoying as well.
What do you think of the current state of the genre?
Another big question. I think the surge in e-publishing industry is a double edged sword. It's given many good and talented indie authors a shot to get noticed and exposure they wouldn't have had a chance of, earlier. Sadly, it also means the market gets flooded with a lot of rubbish as well, making it harder in some respects for the good guys. I think the genre is in a generally fruitful state and there are some very very good authors putting out very good quality horror.
What I the one thing about it that really bugs you?
Public perception of it. Someone recently said to me that their vision of horror is always “Dracula, thunderstorms, darkness and death” and my heart sank. I think that is an incredibly stunted and shortsighted, albeit stereotypical view that hinders the horror genre quite badly.
What was the last great book you read, and what was the last book that disappointed you?
Adam Nevill's The Ritual. A fantastic story of tension between old friends and a hiking trip that goes very wrong. It terrified me. The last book that really disappointed me was Clive Barker's Weaveworld, and I wanted so much to love it. I just couldn't come to terms with the themes.
If you could kill off any character from any other book who would you chose and how would they die?
Bella from Twilight. Feet first into a wood chipper early on in the first novel. Then that may have saved us from a few sequels!
And what one character from another author’s work would you like to use in one of your own stories?
I would really like to take Gary McMahon's Thomas Usher and introduce him into a story of mine in some way. I can identify with Usher. He's brooding, deep and damaged goods. It would be gold dust to write about.
How would you describe your writing style?
I try to inject a sense of reality into my work and make the characters and dialogue believable and relevant. I try not to rely on gore or excessive violence, which I actually find dull. I try to build tension psychologically instead and make the story and scenes frightening or creepy for what I'm not saying. When scenes of violence or gore do come, I believe the pay off is then much better and they deliver a lot more punch and shock value.
What aspects of writing to do you find the most difficult?
The discipline, without question. Having a partner, a day job, about a hundred other hobbies and daily life to negotiate, discipline is important for serious writers and the craft is as much as in that, as it is in any talent you may have. Writing is a hard lonely process and I do struggle with being creative on cue. For me, it's much more of a spontaneous emotion to suddenly sit down and write rather than allocate a certain amount of hours every day to it.
Is there one subject you would never write about as an author? What is it?
Romantic literature and explicit erotic fiction is probably an area I would never want to write about, it just seems rather contrived, artificial and dull to me. Subjects such as paedophilia and explicit sex and violence don't sit well with me either. I have written a short story which has an underlying theme of child abuse, but I tried to handle it from a distance. Even so, the story continues to sit uncomfortably with me. No theme is off limits, so to speak, but I think it would depend how I could handle it as an author so as not to compromise the integrity of what I'm writing.
What do you think makes a good story?
Original plot, believable characters and the ability to engage your reader and keep them engaged. Make them think, scare them, make them want more. Make them go to bed with the light on!
How important are names to you in your books? Do you choose the names based on liking the way it sounds or the meaning?
Good question. They are important and sometimes hard to create without making them either sound like porn stars or the bloke who lives down the road. You obviously don't want to use names of friends and colleagues etc, particularly if that character in the story is an arsehole! Character names can also sound a little kitchen sink and dull if you try and make them too common. I mean, does anyone really want to read about Bob Jones, Vampire Hunter and Exorcist?
How do you think you’ve evolved creatively?
My writing style has changed dramatically over the last few years. My sentences are shorter and I try to make dialogue more punchy. My work used to have a twist or two in the tail and I'm slowly weaning away from this with some of my newer material. I don't want it to become a gimmick that gets associated with anything of mine that people read. I feel I'm a more mature writer now in some respects and I'm braver with my ideas.
What tools do you feel are must-haves for writers?
You obviously need the talent. I believe writers are born and not made, although writers can benefit massively from fine tuning their craft through workshops and other means. But you need the base talent to succeed. In addition to a furtive imagination, you need to be patient, persistent, disciplined and thick skinned. Rejection can be tough to take.
What is the best piece of advice you ever received from another author?
“Write, write until your fingers bleed, Jonathan!”
How do you market your work? What avenues have you found to work best for your genre?
Social networking has proved to be a massive marketing tool for me, and I was accepted for publication for most of the anthologies I am part of because of it. I keep a blog, which I post updates to on a regular basis and often give away snippets of upcoming works, flash fiction and sometimes full stories away for free. I have work uploaded to sites like Wattpad so readers can sample my work and hopefully it will gain me some attention and attract new readers who like what they read.
You have recently released Urban Chiller, which is a collection of flash fiction and short stories. It’s often thought that short stories are heard to sell, so is trying to sell flash fiction must be extremely difficult?
Yes, I'd agree in part. I'm working on my first full length novel at the moment which has been a roller coaster so far. I've always enjoyed writing short stories so for me, they are organic to write but it can be challenging to get everything condensed into a 5K word limit and ge the result I want sometimes. I tried to make the Flash Fiction in Urban Chiller nostalgic, surreal and dream like. Whilst it's not poetry, I tried to maintain a loose rhythm to how it reads and I wanted it to be a little break in between the longer shorts in the book.
What is the biggest challenge about writing a piece of flash fiction?
Telling any kind of story in a piece of flash fiction is always difficult due to the limitation of words so that's the hardest part. It challenges you as a writer to be thoughtful and economical with your prose. In my case, the flash fiction pieces had specific themes underpinning them, so it was a case of trying to crafting those ideas into a very short piece.
You self published the book, what was the hardest part of the process?
All of it! I had never self published before and it's a jungle out there. After re-writing and in some cases re-imagining some of the stories in Urban Chiller, I made sure I hired a good editor, a great artist and someone with good previous formatting experience to help me with physical creation of the book. Once I had those people on board, I felt like the process became easier and it was a case of just pulling everything together so I could put out the best quality product I could. I could work to my own deadlines too, which made things a little less stressful.
Would you do this again?
I may consider it again, never say never. I self published Urban Chiller in order that I could retain total control of the book. Previously, many of the stories within the book had been clipped to make word length restrictions so I wanted to present them in a re-edited and restored format, more representing my original vision.
In your short story Harlequin was it difficult write a first person narrative told from the perspective of a character whose sanity is literally unravelling before the reader’s eyes?
Yes, Harlequin was challenging to write as a short story. As it was written in the first person, I needed to find some way of catapulting myself into the shoes of someone in the midst of a complete mental breakdown. Finding that medium of presenting a plot that the reader can follow and balancing it against the fear and confusion of a character's world told from his perspective, as he's slipping into paranoia and madness proved to be difficult. It was a tough challenge and although Harlequin is the darkest and most uncomfortable piece of fiction I have written to date, I was happy with the end product.
You are currently working on your novel Dark Places, can you tell us anything about it?
Dark Places is my first full length novel and is a supernatural thriller about the perils of dabbling with Ouiga. It's partly a story about loss the central character loses her partner in an accident at the beginning of the story and a series of events unfold which just render her in the wrong place at the wrong time.
What made you decide that the time was right to tackle a full length piece of fiction?
Having cut my teeth on short stories for years, I felt the time was right to step up to that first novel. There was no way I could tell the story of Dark Places in a short story or novella and do it justice, so that was the principal factor.
Fame, fortune, or respect?
Respect. I'd like for my work to gain at least some critical recognition, I think all writers seek to achieve that and it's great for the confidence if it does come. Fortune, A pipe dream, but I'd like a little of that too! Not so bothered about the Fame. I'm a private person so I'd find fame intrusive and scary. I'd be one of those guys constantly up in Court for punching paparazzi!
What piece of your own work are you most proud of?
I'd say my new book Urban Chiller. It was nine months in the making and I felt very chipper to see it fully completed.
And are there any that you would like to forget about?
There are one or two unpublished short stories from many many years ago I've looked back upon and wondered if it was even me who wrote them! The ideas were good, just quite poorly executed and I could see the limitations of where I was as a writer at that time. I guess it's a sign I'm a better writer now if I can spot that.
For those who haven’t read any of your books, what book of yours do you think best represents your work and why?
I think Urban Chiller would be an excellent place to start for anyone new to my work as it's an amalgamation of all of my previously published short material. Urban Chiller is my original vision for all of those stories and I think any new reader would get the most pure experience of my work to date.
What's the one question you wish you would get asked but never do? And what would be the answer?
“Mr Wood, We'd like to advance you 1 million pounds for this book and also tie you up to a future 4 book deal with very loose deadlines. Will you sign here please?”
“Yes, I'd be delighted”
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