Meet author Luke Walker @lukewalkerbooks #HorrorLounge
Tell us about your latest book
‘Ascent’ was published a few months ago by Crowded Quarantine Publication. The cover blurb - When terrorists threaten to detonate a nuclear device outside RAF Lakenheath, Kelly Wells races for a nearby office block, frantic to find her sister in their last moments. At the same time, a handful of others do the same—all desperate to make it to loved ones before the bomb goes off barely fifty miles away.
In the frozen second of the explosion, Kelly, her sister and three strangers are trapped in that instant and trapped in the building. But they are not alone. A sleeping evil from the deepest pits in the earth has woken. Stalked by a creature that knows their most private secrets and fears, the group are lost in a world of their individual hells. Here, horror takes the forms of their darkest dreams to draw sustenance from their fear, and the monster haunting them will dine well.
First memory of reading horror
It would have been any one of several. I stole my eldest brother’s James Herbert paperbacks (I always loved the cover for the late 70s edition of The Fog which featured a hand holding a decapitated head in swirling green mist next to the review from a newspaper that said not to leave the book on your aunt’s chair). There were also some of the Pan Books of Horror which were just foul (the doctor who incorrectly thinks his wife is cheating on him was a prime example. He drugs her so she appears dead, then she wakes up about thirty seconds before the coffin is burned in the crematorium. At the end, he gets the bouquet of flowers she arranged to celebrate their anniversary). My dad had a lot of the early Stephen King novels which I also nabbed. And somehow, I got hold of a collection of Poe’s stories. The Cask of Amontillado has stayed with me ever since.
I can’t pin the first memory down to one, to be honest. Everything seemed to come at once.
Do you have a favourite horror sub-genre, and why?
Not so much a sub-genre but there are areas I’m probably more drawn to than others. Horror set in the familiar world is always a plus (which is probably why my characters keep going to pubs), and I like our comfortable, known world to be turned on its head. I’m drawn to apocalyptic fiction on varying scales because. . .well, look at the state of things right now, and because wiping out everything we know leaves a lot of room to play with. The characters/survivors are given a chance to start afresh in a country, civilisation or world destroyed. Or they can just carry on killing each other. I like that potential even if I slide on the cynical scale of things.
I’ve also become drawn to science-horror lately which is odd for me as SF is not my area at all. I think it’s in the assumption many people have – science has the answers while fantasy is literally just that, and horror isn’t about the answers because with answers, there’s less room for fear. We’re scared of what we don’t know, recognise or understand, after all. Putting those potential answers and our knowledge with the unknown is a big draw.
Most terrifying book you’ve ever read.
Pet Sematary is still one of the most frightening books I’ve read. There’s a brief passage in that book that summarises King’s ka is a wheel (or Fate for those not familiar with a lot of his work) and gives me the shivers even now. When Louis has tipped over the edge for the last time and he’s preparing to deal with Gage and Church, King writes it in sparse terms, focusing on the noise of Louis banging about in his house, then leaving the home empty and ready for anyone else who might move in. The final line about them perhaps owning a dog…genius. The horror is in the inevitability of the characters being doomed. Fate is coming down on them and getting out of the way isn’t an option. Ditto for whoever else moves into that house.
Your favourite Stephen King book.
Without question, IT. I first read it when I was coming up for twelve (so the same age as the kids in the story) and devoured it. King nailed the friendships you have at that age. Funnily enough, I re-read it last year for the first time in about ten years – by then, I was the same age as the characters when they’re adults. Twenty-seven years later, I could still see the eleven-year-old I was in a late 80s summer speeding through the book and feeling like King was speaking to me. I read a little slower these days; even so, I lived the book again. I don’t doubt when I pick it up again at some point in the future, I’ll do the same.
New horror authors you’d recommend.
Not so much new as he’s been writing for a while – I love Gary McMahon’s work. He knows how to get under the skin of the less than perfect people, those with lives that have gone wrong either through luck, poor choices or just events completely out of their control. There’s not often a happy ending for McMahon’s characters, but so what? Life isn’t neat and tidy. Why should fiction be?
William Meikle is another great writer. His books are like watching a DVD while having a few beers on a Friday night – the film might not have the biggest actors or largest budget but it turns out to be one of those films you tell your friends about and watch again and again. I always have fun with Willie’s books.
I definitely recommend Alison Littlewood’s stuff, too. No OTT gore or hideous monsters for Alison; she knows how to be subtle, how to get creepy in just a few paragraphs of description, and how to create an atmosphere as real as the night pressing against your window. Or maybe that’s someone’s hand on the glass?
Your favourite horror film (adapted from a book) & why?
I know not everyone will agree, but for me, The Mist is up there as one of the best adaptations of a King story and an all round great horror film. Overall, though, my favourite is the original Night Of The Living Dead. Fifty years old, low budget, black and white…still terrifying. I can watch it at any point and enjoy it while being creeped by the scenes after the escape attempt and car explosion, and the girl advancing on her mother with a gardening trowel. Romero and the other people involved made something special in horror as well as film. You could watch Night in another fifty years and still be horrified.
Horror book that you’d like to see adapted to film & why?
Any of mine, obviously. Daddy needs a new pair of everything.
Did you write in other genres or straight to horror?
I like Fantasy as well as horror although it tends to be dark. As with my horror, it’s usually set in a familiar world that’s gone to the side of normal things. Think Neil Gaiman. I’ve got a lot of respect for authors who can create an entirely new world and build it from the ground up, but I’m far too much of a lazy bastard for that. I’d rather just steal the world we’ve already got and play with it. As I mentioned above, I’ve become more drawn to science-horror lately and am kicking about the idea for a three-part, epic tale that involves…I’m not telling you.
Tell us briefly about your route to being published.
There have been ups and downs. My first novel was an eBook about six years ago with a publisher that closed two years later. I had a second book with them published a year after the first. Obviously, both went out of print. I gave the first a new title and a lot of editing before it was republished as Hometown last year. Still hoping the second will find a new home at some point but it’s hard enough submitting original work to decent publishers let alone previously published work.
A few months after the two books went out of print, I self-published a collection of short horror which was hard work but fun. A novella which the editor described as ‘Lovecraft meets Mad Max’ was published in 2013 and it’s recently gone out of print due to the publisher closing. That was a real shame as I managed to get that book exactly as I wanted it from outline to final version.
My most recent book, Ascent, was published a few months ago. That was a funny one to write. I started it as a novella which was crap, then expanded it to a novel but still with a low wordcount. It was only when I fleshed out a lot of the plot and characters that it felt half decent. I read through it approximately a million times prior to publication so I was sick of it by then, but I’m still really happy with how it worked out.
Horror doesn’t seem to be as well respected as other genres of fiction. Why do you think that is?
It’s a sex and death thing. Erotica gets the same disrespect as horror by people who don’t read either. If you read/write erotica, you’re a pervert. If you read/write horror, you’re quite clearly a nutcase who rolls around in your own filth while torturing animals and you shouldn’t be allowed near children. Utter crap for both genres. It’s like saying people who enjoy thrillers all want to be Jason Bourne or people who read historicals can’t deal with modern life.
The people who are most likely to question the validity or worth of a genre like horror or erotica don’t seem to get writers are showing you the world as it is. Turn on the news and you’ll see more violence than anything in fiction. Get naked with your special someone and you can be more graphic, detailed and personal than any mucky book. Writers of those subjects don’t have a problem with saying things are bloody, ugly, sexy, personal or anything else.
If you ask a horror writer why they write such things, ask yourself a couple of questions: would you ask a writer of any other genre the same question? And ask yourself if pretend horror is anywhere near as a dangerous as real horror.
Do you think horror is ready for a renaissance?
The thing with horror is it’s never been the biggest selling genre, but it’s always had a passionate and loyal readership hungry for new books and new authors. They’ll spread the word when they encounter something special (which is often the only way a horror writer gets known). Every now and again, the mainstream takes notice because a particular book takes off or a film that nobody had heard of until ten minutes ago breaks out and reviewers and critics are surprised by the public’s lack of taste.
I’d love to see horror as a genre become bigger, and not just because that’s what I write and loads of sales would be sweet. I love horror. I think it has a hell of a lot to say about our lives and can show us who we really are when the stuff we know and understand is blown into little pieces. But because it’s seen as low, because it can’t help but to remind us we’ll be dead and rotting one day, it’s probably never going to be our favourite child. That doesn’t mean publishers and the money people shouldn’t invest in it or consider it a guaranteed loss. Far from it. The readers and viewers are out there. The Walking Dead is one of the biggest programmes on TV. The small and mid-sized presses are publishing some utterly superb work by authors who should be so much bigger than they are, but until the readers know these books are out there, those writers – and the genre as a whole – will continue to struggle. The little publishers can’t compete with the big boys and the writers selling next to no copies can’t live on that so the presses close and the writers call it a day. All because the investment isn’t there to get their books into the hands of the people who want to read them.
Tips for new writers of horror fiction.
Read a lot. I mean a lot. Widely. Good books, bad books, all the books. And write a lot. Don’t expect your stuff to be great from the start. Learn from it. Write something else. Get personal. What scares you? Makes you uncomfortable? Hurt you in the past? Get down into your secrets and use them.
Do you believe in evil?
Not in a spiritual, religious sense. In a human sense, definitely. To say otherwise is even more of a pretence than my books. Trump is consciously evil rather than simply incompetent. He doesn’t care about human life which is a tad of a problem for all of humanity. When he became president, I wasn’t surprised. Scared shitless, but not surprised. It’s how evil men operate – convince others you’re on their side, tell them you’ll fix their problems and rely on their refusal to admit they fucked up to keep you going.
What scares you?
Something happening to my wife.
3 most scary words in English language?
“Dentist appointment today.”