Meet Catriona Ward
Tell us about your latest book
My debut novel Rawblood (W&N) is set on Dartmoor. It tells the story of the Villarca family, who are haunted through the generations, by her. She is white, skeletal, covered with scars. Her origins are a mystery but her purpose is clear. When a Villarca marries, when they love, when they have a child – she comes and death follows. By the time the novel opens in 1910 only Iris and her father are left, alone in the echoing halls of Rawblood.
Iris makes her father a promise: to remain alone all her life. But when she’s fifteen, she breaks it. The consequences of her choice are immediate and horrific.
My second novel. ‘Little Eve,’ will be published by W&N in April 2018.
First memory of reading horror
The first ghost story I remember reading was The Monkey’s Paw by W.W. Jacobs. The tale reaches its climax as a mother and father cower away from a pounding at the front door- which they know to be their son, risen from the grave… I remember feeling afraid - and suitably thrilled. But most of all I recognised a mode of storytelling which gave expression to the fear I felt in the night. I immediately understood that ghost stories and horror give you permission to fossick in the darker parts of the psyche, and explore those places in safety.
For readers new to horror which 3 books would you recommend they start with?
‘The Haunting of Hill House’ by Shirley Jackson
‘The Vet’s Daughter’ by Barbara Comyns
‘Behind her Eyes’ by Sarah Pinborough
Do you have a favourite horror sub-genre, and why?
What I love about horror is its scope, how it finds its way across all genres, over every imaginable time, place and human concern. All good writing contains some horror.
Most terrifying book you’ve ever read.
Your favourite Stephen King book.
It will always be ‘It.’
Did you write in other genres or straight to horror?
To me genre seems like a network of interconnecting pools rather than a series of discrete spaces – I like to move around!
Tell us briefly about your route to being published
I spent six years writing ‘Rawblood’ in evenings and weekends while working for a human rights foundation during the day. A lot of that time was spent learning how to write – which you can only do through practice and grievous error.
When the end of the novel finally came in sight I felt I needed a something to spur me to the next level so I did the Creative Writing Masters at the University of East Anglia. The workshops gave me a much needed forum in which to discuss work, not only my own but that of others in the group. You learn a lot from that.
When I finally got around to writing to agents and meeting them everything began to move much faster. Three months after I signed with my agent the novel was sold at auction to Weidenfeld & Nicolson. That was the surprising part – I had worked on Rawblood for so long in private it took me some time to get used to the idea of it being actually published.
Tell us about your fans
They are very intelligent clear-thinking people. Also very good-looking.
In all seriousness I find that there is a passion, a warm centre to the horror community that is very nurturing. People are deeply invested in the genre, they are always keen to seek out new authors, they read voraciously and knowledgeably. Meeting readers, speaking at bookshops and literary festivals is an unadulterated pleasure - to talk with like-minded people, not just about Rawblood but about books.
Because of Rawblood people always want to tell me ghost stories. Everyone has one. I have become a walking almanac of hauntings… I love it. Oddly many people preface these stories by telling me they don’t believe in ghosts.
Do you think horror is ready for a renaissance?
It has never gone away!
Tips for new writers of horror fiction.
Less is more. The power of horror resides in ambiguity. A world where ghosts exist isn’t frightening - they would become normalised, everyday. A world where ghosts’ definitely don’t exist is definitely not scary. But a world where they might… might is terrifying.
Read! The best teacher for a novelist is another author’s excellent writing. Read as many different genres, periods and styles as you can. You will develop. Also – practice! Find readers who are honest with you and listen to them. It’s impossible to judge your own work, at times, and, after all, you are writing to be read. You can also ignore them, sometimes. You will know when.
Enjoy it. Writing is heart-wrenching and laborious and it can be very badly paid. But it is also a great pleasure. Building an imagined world until it becomes something you have wandered into, rather than created… It’s wonderful. If you really must do it, put everything you have into it, and enjoy.
Do you believe in evil?
Only as it relates to us. The natural world holds much that is painful, fearful, brutal – but it does not contain evil, which is an exclusively human concept. More and more, I am coming to reluctantly believe in human evil.
What scares you?
The thought of deep oceans or endless space.
3 most scary words in English language?
Bus replacement service.
Do you celebrate Halloween?
I am American as well as British so I love Halloween. It comes at the perfect time of year - on the crest of the wave of autumn, before winter has begun to drain your will. As a festival it is reassuringly pagan, nondenominational - and it has costumes. What more could you want?