September 14, 2021

#013: Sean Lusk talks about the clockwork behind idea generation, writing, agents and publishing.

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In this episode I interview Sean Lusk; a fiction author from the UK with some wonderful insights about writing and generating ideas. You can check out his debut novel The Second Sight of Zachary Cloudesley here. Described in his school report as a dilettante, Sean took the description seriously, failing his exams and traveling to Pakistan, India, Egypt, and on through Africa. Along the way, he has had jobs as a gardener, immigration officer, speechwriter, teacher, strategist, diplomatic official and conference organizer. He began writing seriously in 2000, winning prizes with his unsettling, darkly humorous, and intriguing short stories. After writing and later burning a novel set in the mountains of Pakistan and another set entirely in the small ads column of a local newspaper, he returned to work for the British Government, focusing on teaching officials to think strategically and plan for the future. He wrote an academic book on the subject in 2014, having observed that running exercises on pandemic planning or climate change seemed to have the effect of absolving everyone from the need to take any action, much as confessing one’s sins to a priest does little to stop sinning. The Second Sight of Zachary Cloudesley is his debut novel, a celebration of fluttering birds, clockwork, travel, eighteenth-century spymasters, and love in all its forms. Sean has recently moved from rural Greece to the Scottish Highlands where he lives with his wife Sally and is in the process of acquiring chickens, dogs, cats, tartan carpets and, he prays, some llamas.

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April 24, 2021

Chris Roberts: A Note About This Post

Following is a transcript of an email interview I carried out with published author Dani Brown. Dani has a very interesting style that has more than a slight lean towards the extreme. Having been dubbed the ‘Queen of Filth’ this is probably not surprising. She has already published a large catalogue of novels, novellas, and shorter pieces, all of which are described in detail below.

One of my favourite quotes from this interview is: “Reptile isn’t something you read to enjoy. You read it to see if you have what it takes to make it to the end.” And I think that is an excellent summary of Dani’s work. Below you will certainly find things that will shock you, but give this post a read and open your mind to some really interesting ideas, concepts, and an imagination that really thinks outside the box.

I could probably have reordered some of this but I decided to leave it in its original order to preserve the flow of thoughts and conversation. We start with a summary of Dani’s extensive work to date and then further down progress onto some more practical thoughts on writing.

If you want to find out more about Dani you can find her on Instagram and Facebook. You can also visit Dani’s website.

Without further ado … the interview.

You’ve just had a new novel released, Stef and Tucker. I read this is the first of a series of novels. Can you give us an idea of what this series is about?

Stef and Tucker are novelettes. They average about 10k, hence the 99cent price for the kindle version. I self-published this first one and plan on self-publishing the series. The first few sat unpublished with a publisher for about 3-4 years and then sat for an additional 2-3 years on my computer before I had the opportunity, equipment, and confidence to do it myself (I want to do my own book covers and formatting, which took time to learn how to do). Stef and Tucker are two members of a touring rock band. The books follow their erotic and bizarro exploits.

Stef and Tucker: Dancin’ With Ice Zombies sets the scene for the series. Stef and Tucker are in love, but one of them is married (you meet Jordan in the second book) and has a horrible habit of sleeping with the bikers that follow them around the country (like Dead Heads following Grateful Dead, only more sex and less drugs). In this first book, they finally get their first date. As the band isn’t exactly approving, the bass player is always stoned and they drug the drummer (the most uptight of the four-piece). As the books are so short there isn’t really a road crew or a manager to worry about.

Dani Brown

Tell us about some of your other work to date?

I think it is best to go backward here.

Becoming

Becoming was released in February 2020, just before the COVID-19 pandemic gripped the world and sent people into panic buying mode (my son stopped complaining about my food and toiletry hoarding and bulk buying habits once he realised the shops were out of everything, his complaining about it intensified in January of that year and it has been something that I’ve been in the habit of for years). It had good sales those first two weeks and then it just dropped off. The publisher (Death’s Head Press) put the kindle version up for free once the USA was in lockdown and it did well during that, but sales never recovered. Although similar in style to 56 Seconds (Nihilism Revised, August 2018) and featuring the same main character, it hasn’t enjoyed the same level of success.

Becoming, as already mentioned, was released in February 2020 by Death’s Head Press. It is the story of how Marcy died. This one is very intense and very extreme. I wrote the notes for this one while I was writing 56 Seconds. 56 Seconds took about two weeks to write. So I spent two weeks making notes for Becoming and five weeks writing it. I usually don’t care what format someone buys my books in, but with Becoming I recommend the paperback. This is because the kindle version lost some of the formatting (which I’m learning about now as I start to self-publish). Marcy finds herself in a series of bad relationships. Becoming details this last one but there are flashbacks to previous ones. It is written in a way that is like having PTSD and it is from Marcy’s point of view. A lot of extreme horror is from the perpetrator’s point of view, not the victim’s. At the time of writing, I didn’t realise I was doing something different in that regard. I did want to humanise the victim. As someone who suffered through a bad situation myself, I found being dehumanised after the event to be much worse than what I actually went through. People congratulate themselves on how much they “help” victims but they aren’t helping, they’re making the situation worse and setting up the survivor to be revictimised and go through the same thing again. I had a notebook filled with real stories from real women and girls of what happened to them, plus various newspaper stories detailing domestic violence. I used as much of that as possible in Becoming. Obviously, there’s a big creative license to it, especially when undertaking something that has a particular rhythm to it and goes on for that many words (just over 50k).

Dani Brown

Sparky The Spunky Robot

February 2019 saw the release of Sparky the Spunky Robot from Bizarro Pulp Press. This is my personal favorite out of all my books. It is something different from me. It is a Bizarro release and isn’t particularly violent. The most extreme thing in it is the size of Matthew’s balls. I wrote this one in October-November 2017. I don’t know how. I was vaguely aware that the #metoo movement was occurring. I was trapped at the time. I didn’t realise what was happening in the world was going to bring about a permanent change. I did end up with Sparky tattooed on me while I was writing it (I will get Sandy as well at some point in the future). This was the last book I wrote during the “bad times”. Sparky came about after I had burnt myself out in summer 2017 with finishing a novel (Ketamine Addicted Pandas), various short stories and a few novellas. One of those short stories, which remains unpublished, had great feedback from the publisher. It was about a robot at the end of the world. Another one of those stories, which is on my website and will eventually evolve into a novel, was about a man who cries tears of cum (Lester). He is the brother of a man who jerks off into ice and sells it as “Cloudy Ice” (Chester). I sent Chester’s Cloudy Ice to Burdizzo Books and they sent a hilarious rejection letter back (that’s also on my website). So I wrote Lester’s Electric Milking Machine specifically for a rejection letter (also on my website).

As summer 2017 blurred together (I was having a brief preview of the freedom I would later get on a permanent basis from January 2018) I don’t know if the positive feedback on my robot story and the rejection letter for Lester’s Electric Milking Machine occurred on the same day but it would have been around the same time. I posted a picture of a toy robot on my Facebook page and jokingly said “I’m going to write a story about a robot filled with cum”. Em Dehaney from Burdizzo Books commented “Sparky the Spunky Robot”. So I had a title. I tried to write the story over the summer but nothing was working. I was burnt out and needed a break. I must have written close to 500k words during 2017 despite high drama levels that year. Eventually, I remembered an older idea. The idea focused on why people of a certain background feel the necessity to interfere in other people’s lives. These are people a bit down on their luck and the people who interfere often keep the people down on their luck down. There’s no sense to it at all. Then I had watched a documentary about late-era synthpop (I listen to the early stuff). And Matthew the keytar player who missed his chance to be a pop star was born. I combined this with the cum filled robot. It had to be a keytar. An ex of mine wanted a keytar more than anything. He had me spend my time looking for a keytar, which took hours that I could have been spending putting my life where I wanted it or just resting. I put him on a waiting list over at Korg. In the meantime, he spent his keytar money on Harry Potter blue rays. All of it. On Harry fucking Potter. I guess the keytar wasn’t as important as “the boy that lived” and Draco goddamn Malfoy. Once I added that keytar to my original musings of why some people see it fit to control others they view as less than themselves, these people needed a reason to do that beyond abstract insecurity. It needed to be something that could be seen. So the abstract insecurity became garden decorations. The more of your identity and goals your household gave up, the better garden decorations you could have. Higher tier garden decorations meant better holidays and you could host BBQs. Matthew refused to sell his keytar no matter how much his wife Karen (named before the memes) nagged him. Lost dreams are stored in garden sheds in Suburban Hell. Karen and Matthew are at a rough spot in their marriage (you can read about what happened next for Karen in Karen and the Crabs from Outer Space which I will eventually get up for preorder, this is another one of my self-publishing ventures). They aren’t having sex so his balls become very heavy. Every night he goes into his garden shed to jerk off over his keytar. But he can’t cum on his keytar every night because it will break (I don’t know how much weight in body fluids a keytar can take, I don’t care, I don’t want to know) so he built a robot to take his load instead. One night this robot comes to life and discovers Suburban Hell’s lost dreams.

Dani Brown

56 Seconds

Nihilism Revised published 56 Seconds in August of 2018. I think everyone involved was shocked by the success and popularity of this book. It comes in at just under 20k and took all of two weeks to go from idea to final draft. It was the second book I wrote after life changed for the better for me. It was the first book that I wrote that adopted a style I had started to experiment with in university. There were hints of it coming out in Sparky and in the as of yet unpublished Ghetto Super Skank (not sure if it’ll be quicker to get this released by shopping it around to different publishers or adding it to my self-publishing list). But I need to be happy and calm to write. That means no drama around me. It wasn’t until March 2018 when I could finally get rid of the people causing the drama (I had been trying to do that since May 2008, when I handed in my final university assignment). I had just written the short story The Last Human, which heavily features jerk-off footage sent to women. I didn’t feel like I had explored jerk off footage as much as I could when I sent in The Last Human to the publisher so I immediately started writing another story about jerk off footage. In February of that year, I went to an EBM night (it is a music thing, not a sex thing, creeps) and the dance floor was completely empty. The DJ kept adding bottled fog to this empty dance floor. I was also concerned my ex was going to start hoovering which he would have done using text messages or instant messages. I thought the best reply would be to send him the same song over and over again. Tainted Love is a song that has been covered a lot and had suitable lyrics so I lined up covers of Tainted Love (I can never remember the name of the woman who did the first one). One of these covers (which I used in The Last Human) had imagery that I liked and an angel of death. So I had an angel of death, flies and honey (carried over from The Last Human), jerk-off footage and an empty dance floor. In a state of calm, I was also able to recover my old erotica writing skills (writing sex and writing erotica are two different things) as well as my experimental writing/prose poetry style. I just combined it all. Marcy walks out of the fog and taunts and teases this DJ. He’s in love with someone else (Honey, I haven’t finished writing her story yet). It shifts back and forth between life and death, love and lust. Then carrying over from Sparky is the lost dreams thing. DJ Donnie (still a dick, still a jerk) had dreams too and lost them all in a 56 second display of lust carried over the Wi-Fi. Also, I had spent my life surrounded by people with the more dysfunctional variant of borderline personality disorder (hence the drama that used to surround me), so I incorporated some of the symptoms into the story. I wrote a winner.

Dani Brown

Crackhouse In The Desert

I don’t like including Crackhouse in the Desert published July 2018 by JEA on any sort of list because it is the book I’m most ashamed of writing. I wrote this in January – February 2018. In late December 2017, the drama ended (minus some lingerers) in a big dramatic display. It took my body two months to adjust with my mind catching up. Also, I was still being gaslit. In my head, I had planned a dystopian novella but I couldn’t get into writing it and it shows (a lot of what I write now is me re-writing books that I feel I could have done better on, including books with dystopian themes). I do include it here because it is the best example of me trying to write when surrounded by people who don’t treat me with respect and piss on my boundaries, even though a good chunk of them had left in late December 2017 (some caused some drama in October 2017 while I was writing Sparky they weren’t meant to be in my life on any level past then, but I guess I’m going to have to explore legal options there). When you have gaslighting, abuse, identity erasure it creates post-traumatic stress. It is difficult to get your thoughts to follow any sort of linear pattern, so writing a book in this state is impossible. But I had a deadline so I tried. I will bring back my talking cactuses somewhere but not in the books I’m writing now, even though they have some dystopian themes. I don’t really recall much else of this book.

Ketamine Addicted Pandas

Next up brings us to June 2018 and a reader favourite Ketamine Addicted Pandas published by JEA (I think under their Wetworks imprint). I’m not sure if Ket Pandas is extreme horror, torture porn, bizarro, sci-fi. It really has a little touch of everything told in the most extreme and horrible of ways. It is about pandas that break out of the zoo upon seeing a corpse paint wearing black metaller gawking at them. I was approached by one of JEA’s former editors to write a short story for Endangered Species. I thought I would have to write about a literally endangered species and sent a quick message asking if pandas would be okay even though they had just come off that list. I was told the endangered species were people. That makes things even more interesting. Pandas, black metallers. Some black metallers wear makeup that makes them look like pandas, so the pandas have a motive. They’re also addicted to ketamine. Ketamine being a common animal tranquiliser and all, but it isn’t strong enough for pandas. It was given to my cat when his balls were snipped (and my son when he broke his arm). That’s about how strong it is. It is also a popular party drug. Black metallers tend to enjoy electronic music (apparently they prefer trance to techno, but a lot of my friends love techno and I recalled it from my teens). Some black metallers also incorporate Nazi imagery into their look. So there are these escaped pandas traveling through Northern Europe doing black metal things, stealing Nazi uniforms, blaring techno, having orgies and trying to get their next fix. Oh and I’m dyslexic and couldn’t get “bamboo” to show up in the Word dictionary so pandas now eat “baboon brains”, which did show up (I can spell “bamboo” now, I learned about halfway through writing this book). Actual Nazis in Hell take offense to what is happening while these pandas are in their uniforms (stolen from black metallers and neo-Nazis, all corpses raped). They bust out of Hell in pursuit (in a flying saucer because of conspiracy theories). Nazis belong in Hell so Demons chase after them. Demons and pandas have a common cause so the Demons make a deal with the pandas. And that’s pretty much how it was born. There will be a second and a few spin-offs when I get around to writing them.

Dani Brown

Dual Depravity 2

April 2018 saw the release of Dual Depravity 2 also from JEA and probably under their Wetworks imprint. This book has four novellas; two from me and two from David Owen Hughes. Mine are The Previous Plastic Surgeon and God’s Fleshlight. These were written between 2016-2017, when my life was at its worse (it had been gradually getting worse from the day after I handed in my degree assignment that was meant to make my life better). The Previous Plastic Surgeon is from an earlier idea that drama wouldn’t let me complete. That one is about a man that was a plastic surgeon in every life apart from this one. He also has some mommy issues. He only dates the ugliest of women so he can give them cosmetic surgery at home. God’s Fleshlight was another attempt to write something dystopian when I couldn’t think straight with all the drama and stress around me.

3 Of A Kind

January 2018 kicked off an unexpected year of a lot of releases and things improving with 3 of a Kind published by Morbidbooks. This one has two novelette length stories and one short story. All three were written during the bad times. The last one in the book was written at the end of the summer of 2017 when I was burning out but having my preview of what freedom and respect is. We Call Her Lala is about an escort furry whose fursona is that of a rat. Her brother has a pet micro-dinosaur and Monopoly pieces reproduce in her vagina. Considering what was going on in my life at the time of writing, I like this one a lot. I can’t remember the title of the second story, that’s the short one. It is a violent invasion story where a woman saves the day because her boyfriend is pathetic. That didn’t win me any fans with male reviewers. The third one is about a straight man who picks up “dates” in a gay club so he can steal their body. I think I could have written it better, but it is a fun and weird story.

Broccoli

September 2017 saw my first attempt at self-publishing with Broccoli. It was probably not a good idea to self-publish at that time in my life. Publishing is very stressful when you first start doing it and my life was already stressful surrounded by drama. This was written years before and just languished on my computer. No one around me wanted me writing, let alone having stuff published. It is told in the second person. It starts with You waking up. In 2009 I was pregnant and my mother confined me to my bedroom. My friend was doing a master’s degree in creative writing and found a list of writing rules that aren’t meant to be broken. He thought that if I tried to break them it would cheer me up and it did (isolation really sucks by the way, but I did have my computer so I was able to communicate with people that I connected with). I can’t remember everything on that list but I do remember, don’t write in the second person, and don’t start a story with a character waking up (I do that all the time and parts of 56 Seconds breaks into the second person). It is from a much earlier idea about green chunks leaking out of pimples. I just took it to a body fluid extreme. I can’t remember if I finished in 2010 or 2011, apart from the stress and drama surrounding me I ended up with a postnatal infection or series of infections after my son was born so was bedridden for a bit. The cover was done by Uncle Frank Productions with formatting done by me. This is the one book I have that isn’t on kindle. I will try to rectify that soon.

Night Of The Penguins

Prior to that JEA released Night of the Penguins in the same year (I think a few months before). This one was originally a short story for a university assignment during my second year. I never forgot about it. I always wanted to do more with it. It just wouldn’t rest so eventually I wrote this book that came in at nearly 100k (I want to do another one with chipmunks and plague and I think somewhere there are notes for a few more following the Biblical Plagues in Exodus). Night of the Penguins was originally the plague of blood. It expanded on that. It really is for people that have worked a job they hated for little pay and no appreciation. Management is in a bizarre cult. Carla has to break into the zoo one night to steal food for herself because her pay is that low. Management is there for their cult activities. They catch her, but she’s the wrong woman to catch. This is another one of my extreme horror releases. It is also on audible for anyone that would rather listen to it.

Reptile

JEA release Reptile in July 2016. This one does really well when I’m at an event in person. If you are there I will invite you to open the book to any page at all. The reason I do this is because there’s something extreme and horrible on each and every page. It really is a horrible book with horrible characters doing horrible things to each other. I guess this one would be “torture porn”. I mentioned during Crackhouse in the Desert that some of the books I’m writing now are my attempts to rewrite previous books. I’m doing that with Reptile now even though it remains a favourite amongst readers. As I mentioned there’s been a lot of horrible people surrounding me in my life, I couldn’t get into “the zone” deep enough with them around me to write about them and although I started to do that in Sparky, I do feel like I need to explore the idea a bit more until I write them entirely out of my system. I remember trying to finish this because I had a deadline and the people around me couldn’t understand what a deadline was and how I needed peace to write. Reptile isn’t something you read to enjoy. You read it to see if you have what it takes to make it to the end. This is the one where if you enjoyed my story in The Year’s Best Hardcore Horror 3, you will want this book.
 
Dark Roast
Dark Roast was also released in July 2016 by JEA. This is a little novelette. A bit dystopian. It was my favourite release for a long time, right up until Ketamine Addicted Pandas, 56 Seconds and Sparky the Spunky Robot. It isn’t extreme though. A scientist tries to create the perfect lover during downtime from his government job (all science and creativity is government regulated). He ends up creating werepossums. There’s also genetically engineered coffee, which is a lot stronger than cocaine.
 
Welcome To New Edgehill
Morbidbooks released Welcome to New Edgehill in November of 2015. It has faded in obscurity, which is a shame. Despite writing it at a really awful time in my life, it is a nice little sci-fi horror book. Two states cops find three el chupacabras. I vaguely remember not letting the cops and chupacabras have sex. One day I will write the monster porn story that I restrained myself from writing.
 
Toenails
Morbidbooks released Toenails in October of 2015. This one was written purely for the sake of being nasty. I had a day job then that required travelling on one bus and a train for an hour and a half each damn way every single day (how this was good for me, I don’t know, but the idiots that be decided I needed a day job to cure me of depression I didn’t have). People would look at my computer while on public transport. I wanted them to stop so I wrote the grossest most disgusting thing I could come up with at the time (again with the stress and drama around me, I couldn’t think straight and write way worse in a much better way now). People buy this because they know they are going to be disgusted.
 
Middle Age Rae of Fucking Sunshine
Middle Age Rae of Fucking Sunshine, published in November of 2014 by Morbidbooks was my biggest completed story-telling disappointment until Crackhouse came along years later. This is novelette length. It took me from January right up to October to fucking write this with all the stress and demands of unstable people around me. It should never take that long to write something this short. It is one of those books that I feel my later stuff is rewriting as it wasn’t the story I wanted to tell regardless of how popular it remains with the people that have read it. It follows a support group of middle-aged women who aren’t allowed to live their lives in the way that they see fit. Something bad has happened to each one but the “support” afterward is worse.
 
My Lovely Wife
My Lovely Wife was my first published novella. That was released in July of 2014. I had short stories published before this. It was originally sticking to my experimental style. In this case, I wanted to write a book as emotionless as a Kraftwerk album. As it was written post-2008, I couldn’t get as deep into the zone as required to write stuff like that so went with a psychopath. It was re-edited into genre fiction (not by me or the publisher). The reviews called it “torture porn” which was the first time I came across the term. And yes, “torture porn” fits. I guess the emotionlessness carried over from the original experimental piece. It was influenced by a Stephen King serial killer in one of his short stories, where the killer brings flowers to the victim but I can’t remember the title. The narrator marries a woman purely because he wants to stick his cock in her trachea ring.
 
Some Notable Short Stories

Some notable short stories include my story in The Year’s Best Hardcore Horror 3. This story is about X/Xanthe, an opera singer/musical theatre actress. Something sinister is going on at the opera house and it is pure torture from start to finish. I’m pretty proud of this one and I will be resurrecting X/Xanthe at some point in the future so she can have her own book.

Bumper Book Of British Bizarro

The Bumper Book of British Bizarro needs to be mentioned as well. It is one of my proudest achievements. It was released in June 2020. I managed to not only write a short story for it but helped put it together. My dyslexic arse found typos in the stories. One of the reviews for my story gives me warm fuzzies, every time you think you are going to see death, she shows sex, every time you think she’s going to show sex, you see death and it was also called something along the lines of Blade Runner meets The Matrix on acid in the same review. This review basically confirmed for me that I could write what I intended (although I was really just going for Blade Runner but okay, with The Matrix on acid, even better). I even had some stress floating around me while I wrote the story and the book was coming together; including man trouble (he was surrounded by the same types of people that caused so many problems in my life), the lingering borderlines, my son breaking his arm and the nightmare neighbours from Hell who would blast loud music day and night and environmental health not doing anything about it (it took phoning the police during one of their lockdown parties, the police putting me and my son in danger and a subsequent complaint about the police for something to start to be done about them and the neighbours themselves fled into the night after breaking my window, the police showed up a few days later looking for them for some other criminal activity). Apart from the neighbours, everything else was handled because I didn’t have too much other stress floating around and was able to take time out from writing when I needed to instead of forcing myself to write through all the drama around me. This made a huge difference to being able to tell the story I wanted to tell.

You have a bit of a cult following. How did you go about building that following? And, how important is that for a non-mainstream author?

I don’t know how I ended up with the cult following, especially after I released 56 Seconds, which was very different to anything I had released before, but much truer to what I wanted to write to begin with. I can speculate though. I’m sure social media played its role. I do post nearly every day. And word-of-mouth. Never doubt what impact someone telling their friends about your books and art can have.

I want to ask you about your label as the “Queen of Filth”. How did that accolade come about? What’s the story behind it?

It is a very simple story. My ex came up with it without realising the Cradle of Filth connection (their vocalist is called “Dani Filth”) so I sometimes get Cradle of Filth fans looking for him. I imagine given the subject matter in the few Cradle of Filth songs I’ve heard that we must share a lot of fans. I did purchase one of his teeshirts that I occasionally wear when promoting my books.

My name is Danielle. Unfortunately Dan Brown (of Da Vinci Code fame) had already used “Danielle” as well as Dan. I googled variants of my name and Dani didn’t seem like it was taken by any authors. I do think one of the Dani Brown’s was writing under the name before me but was obscure enough to not come up in the first few pages of the google search. There’s also German Dani Brown but I was writing under the name first (I’m forever having to have that one’s books removed from my amazon author page, I’ve given up on Goodreads). There’s a journalist with the Dani Brown name too. I guess people with variants of the name “Daniel Brown” make good authors and writers. Sometimes I wish I went with “Danya” which was my second choice, or something a bit more obscure like “Nell” or “Nellie”.

Then on top of all the authors with the name, there’s actresses and photographers and dancers and now a fictional character created by Talia Hibbert (although that one is irrelevant towards how I ended up being the “Queen of Filth”).

I needed to set up a website. This was around the time Reptile was published and it really is one of the most extreme and horrible things ever (at the time I was really into seeing how disgusting I could make my texts). I used a free service and still do for now (eventually I will hire someone to combine my writing, art and probably sound into one easy-to-access place that’s simpler to navigate). Danibrown was already taken, so my ex who was sat next to me suggested “DaniBrownQueenofFilth”. I was too tired and drained of energy to come up with something better.

Whether or not I remain the Queen of Filth once I get my creative career where I want it to go, I haven’t decided yet. There’s a lot of negative associations with the name. I’m forever dealing with sexual harassment and people failing to understand that I write fiction. I might re-brand once my career is more where I want it. Sometimes with the name it feels as if I’ve written myself into a corner. I don’t just write torture porn and body horror. The intention upon leaving university wasn’t just to write but to use visuals and sound as well. I also intended to be more experimental and less extreme. In my personal life, I did explain to the people wearing my extreme writing like a mask that it was always my intention to focus more on my experimental stuff. I wasn’t heard.

You’re an extremist author with a clear lean towards dark themes and disturbing subjects. Have you always had a draw to this sort of writing? I have to admit I too have a slight lean towards the darker side of things but maybe not as extreme as yourself.

In person I am really squeamish. When I was young I wanted to be a pathologist but fainted in the lab because body fluids, so I had to switch to epidemiology. Then add to it I grew up in New England. There’s a meme I saw about Stephen King and the meme was like “I thought Stephen King made this all up”. No, New England really is a weird and very haunted place. I didn’t start writing fiction until university. According to my American grandmother (who is a massive horror fan) I would tell horror stories when I was a young child, but I don’t recall doing this. She said I would give myself nightmares. I did read a lot of Stephen King as a child. I couldn’t read until I was ten due to dyslexia and the first book I read ever was by Stephen King. He writes in a very accessible and dyslexia-friendly way. Whoever typesets the bulk of his paperbacks must realise that a lot of dyslexic people read him and although the font isn’t ideal, it is a lot friendly than other paperbacks. On top of all the Stephen King and squeamishness, at various points in my life I have been surrounded by people with cluster b personality disorders. That adds a lot of psychological torture and trying to understand why these people behave in the way in which they do, what goes through their minds? Why do they project all their insecurities and jealousies onto the people around them instead of dealing with them? And most importantly, now that the law and system have changed over here, how do I avoid them altogether?

What do you think makes you go for the more extreme writing?

While I was writing my more extreme stuff I was surrounded by people with extreme black and white ways of looking at the world. I couldn’t relax because they’d keep me on edge all the time and in order to write the stuff I do now, I need to relax entirely. There are still extreme elements but they aren’t the focal point of the story anymore.

I do have something extreme planned for the future. It’ll probably be my last really extreme book. I planned it in January 2018 but there hasn’t been the right time to write it yet. Basically, a girl band is abused by a series of producers and spat out by the music industry. It actually came from a more bizarro idea. I’ve written a lot of stories from that original idea.
I also wanted to write a torture porn novel but give it a chick-lit cover. There was a meme on Facebook a while back that showed the women’s fiction section of a book store and all the covers were either purple, sky blue, or more commonly, pink. The books aren’t in the appropriate genre. They’re all lumped in together in pastel colours and purple. I always heard women tend to read more than men so the picture wasn’t marketing at women, but a lumped togetherness of women authors as if we all write the same type of book.

How do people tend to react to your work? Does the extreme nature of the writing polarise people?

Some people read far too much into what I write. There’s no reasoning with these people when it is explained to them that it is fiction. It isn’t real. I just make up this stuff, with the exception of Becoming, but that has a serious creative license. With that one exception, I write to entertain. I play with the language in my more experimental pieces (I did that in Becoming too). I play with the characters in my fiction. There’s no hidden messages or secret codes. I’m not channeling the underworld or whatever. It comes under the broader horror genre so it is meant to play with the reader’s emotions. In most of my books, that emotion is disgust (or more reaction, I’m not sure if disgust is an emotion).

My mother was like that. She would try to use what I was writing as a method to control me and tell me Mi5 were going to come to get me. I think that might have related to some incidents in American schools. My experience with creativity in the United States was not positive. The teachers would, again, read far too much into what I was writing. They’re the ones who would assign things to write. I find people with those beliefs that think a writer is writing whatever their deepest, darkest desires are to be very dangerous.

I’m not sure if it was My Lovely Wife or Night of the Penguins that really started to cause some problems for me. It could have even been my final university assignment which is freely available online.

At university, I developed a false sense of security. I could write whatever I wanted with no problems. Then after university, the same crap from when I was a schoolgirl in the USA happened with people reading too much into things.

As I’ve mentioned, people reading too much into fiction has created some problems for me. There’s a lot of sex in my books. The only one intentionally erotic is 56 Seconds, although there are parts in Becoming where Marcy is thinking of something better than her lot in life and those bits were written to turn on the reader on purpose. They were a way of saying that even after being raped, a woman can go on to have a normal life and a normal sex drive, there’s no need to rape her again and again to “help” her get over it (people have some bizarre beliefs, I’ve actually come across people that think that). If Marcy lived, she would not have been broken. Becoming really is my only story where there is a bit more than meets the eye and the reader is meant to go deeper. Becoming was written in May 2018 after ten years of people reading too much into my books.

As a result of the high content of sex in my books, I find myself on the receiving end of a lot of sexual harassment. Some of that seems to stem from a specific person going around spreading rumours about me as a result of stuff that happens to characters in my books. I’m a prude and as already mentioned, I’m squeamish. I kept saying the books are entertainment, but I guess, even though as the author of them, whatever I had to say didn’t matter. The person spreading these rumours surrounded himself with teachers and former teachers, so I’m left wondering what children are being taught in school English classes. I thought it was a bit safer for creativity here than in the United States. I’m also left wondering how much of the shit I’ve been through in Liverpool, or since I moved to the North West, could have been prevented if people didn’t read too much into my books and listened to me instead.

One of the sex scenes in one of my books involves a tentacle of phlegm. In Night of the Penguins Carla is sexually assaulted by a tentacle of phlegm. Apart from being disgusting, that isn’t even realistic. It can’t happen. And it is rape. No one wants to be raped in any way shape or form. I don’t get how someone can read “sexy” and “let’s sexually harass the author” out of that.

My Lovely Wife was my first published novella. The point of the book was to tell a story in the most emotionless way possible. The psycho-killer narrator rapes his wife, treats her as an object, etc. He isn’t very nice and that’s the point. This not nice person tells his story in a not nice way. But it isn’t my story. Objectification of people disgusts me. The book is disgusting and horrible. It is meant to be, but for entertainment purposes, not because I want to be treated like that.

Then once we get past the people that have read my books and reacted by reading far too much into things, we have the people that haven’t read my books and react to me as if I’m living in a fantasy world and will never have a book published. This is fine if it is the average person I don’t know particularly well. I just pull out my phone and show them my amazon author account, that shuts them up. It causes problems when it is someone like a teacher at my son’s school who then takes it upon themselves to “help” me get a job to cure me of depression I don’t have. First of all, I have a job. The “help” prevents me from getting any meaningful work done. Second, if I had depression, the best way to help it is by going to a doctor and discussing treatment options. Being forced into a day job has resulted in me feeling suicidal on top of the increased and prolonged poverty. So it obviously wasn’t very helpful at all. I always kept proof of what I was doing, even before I was published to deal with these people, but not even the evidence was good enough. Thankfully my son goes to a different and much better school now with supportive and brilliant teachers and staff. Although I don’t want people to know what school my son attends so I can’t name names, some creatives have attended the school over the years. Big names too. It is one of the reasons we picked that school for him (I let my son have a big say in what schools we applied to, I’m not the one attending, he is, it is his life). We figured that with those names having attended there, I would have fewer problems with my career. The better school can’t erase the damage caused to mine and my son’s life through enforced “help” though.

So reception hasn’t been particularly positive to what I write or my writing in general. I do have supportive friends though. I told one friend years ago that I was going to write the most extreme over the top thing ever and he laughed and thought it was very suiting for me (I think I accomplished that with Reptile).

And obviously the readers. Knowing that some of my books are someone’s favourite book really helps keep me going when the outside “help” or creepy weirdos are causing problems.

The reception to Ketamine Addicted Pandas was largely positive. Not even the creepy weirdos who read too much into things could read further into that. It is about pandas taking ket and burning churches and killing things. There’s nothing there beyond entertainment.

The reception of 56 Seconds surprised everyone involved I think. It is just a little experimental book. By the time it was released in August 2018 I had already done a lot of interviews saying, “do not sexually harass me” and “stop reading too much into things” so I was able to receive the positive reactions without the negative or sexually derogatory reactions getting in the way. Although you can’t really predict how people are going to react and it shouldn’t dictate your mood, reactions to 56 Seconds left me feeling good and increased my confidence.

When I post links to my books on social media I do try to remember to include a warning to not sexually harass me or try to arm chair diagnose me. I don’t appreciate either.

You studied for a BA in Creative Writing at university. Which university was that? How did you find the course? If you had to pick 1 key lesson you learned at university, what would it be?

I attended Bedfordshire University for Creative Writing. I graduated in 2008. I actually started on the Creative Writing and Journalism course, which brings us to a key lesson, if something makes you miserable and you don’t like it, drop it. I absolutely hated journalism. I hated it at college too when I was forced to take it. I felt pressure to take it at university level. My creative writing lecturer said I could drop it and just do creative writing, which I obviously did.

I think I mentioned already that the creative industries were not my first career choice. I really had my heart set on a career in epidemiology. Moving back to England messed that up for me, so I took art and then media and journalism. In my last year of college, it was time to select a university course. My mother had me apply for a few art ones. Then I had I think three more choices. I literally rolled dice for them.

Writing was a good choice. It is something quiet I can do without any notice. All I need to do it is a laptop really (although I have notebooks and post-it notes). I lived at home while I was in university and if my mother took notice of what I was doing, she’d ruin it somehow. Then I had this awful boyfriend and he wouldn’t like it if I would do something with visuals or with sound. One of my university projects did incorporate visuals and he sat there while I was putting them together criticising. That project I still intend to do more with it. There’s meant to be sound too and I want to redo the entire second section. Even after I graduated I still wasn’t left alone to do what I needed to do. It is only in the last three years when I was able to rediscover my visual and sound skills.

I see you have written multiple forms (short story, novel, novella, etc.) What form is your favourite? And why?

I don’t really have a favourite form. I go where the story takes me. If I have a deadline on a short story and I know it is going to be longer, I set it aside for another time and start a new one. I have a lot of those from 2018-2020.

What has been your most impactful piece of fiction to date? Tell us a bit about your writing and what’s out there?

I think that depends on who you ask. Although Sparky the Spunky Robot is my personal favourite, it hasn’t had the impact on my life that 56 Seconds had regardless of having the robot tattooed on me. 56 Seconds told me that I can get my old writing style back. I can write what I want. I can borrow from life (borderline rage dying on the sheets). I can take influence from music videos (the flies and honey). I can write prose poetry and it can sell. While writing 56 Seconds and the short story I wrote before it, I went from trying to get out half-formed ideas to actually getting them on paper in a way that I can be proud of and say, “Hey I wrote that”. A short story I had published by that publisher shortly before writing 56 Seconds titled Satan’s Yeast Infection really opened the doors for me on that one, but I wrote it in summer 2017 during a brief break from the drama. My preview of what life could be. Satan’s Yeast Infection is like the banned video for Relax by Frankie Goes to Hollywood but with Marmite instead of cum. I hate Marmite. One day I will write a story about it that is so vile it’ll compare to the substance and maybe even have it not only banned, but all the Marmite in the world put on a rocket and propelled into Uranus. I’m surprised it isn’t considered to be a bio-hazard. It can’t be buried with nuclear waste. It must be propelled somewhere off the planet.

Becoming has the potential to impact on a mass scale. As it is based on what happens to real women and girls, it can hit empathy receptors and hopefully get people to rethink their behaviour and words and what impact that is having on those around them. It just had what turned into an unfortunate release date. I was reading comments on Facebook the other day and someone hadn’t realised that I wrote and it was out already. So now that things are settled down a bit, 13 months later it is a case of letting readers know it is there. It can be read in Kindle format, but I really recommend the paperback to get the experimental formatting and text. The story and meaning are still there in kindle but I think the impact is greater in paperback.

I wrote a short story in Dig Two Graves Volume 1 titled Visions in Blue (after the Ultravox song, they’re one of my favourites and the colour blue is significant in this groups of stories, what I’ve taken to calling Tainted Love/Push the Button as Marcy hates it, that’s explained in another short story titled Everything Blue, although nearly titled Blue after the Sugababes song but that song is really angry and isn’t one of their best). This is Marcy trying to sell her visual art while dealing with a creep. That creep from August 2018 wanted my stories to be real so badly that I thought I would make it as real as I could. Unfortunately, it isn’t possible to trap creep souls in trees.

What’s your muse?

I mentioned my drunken declaration of “Sugababes only ever sing about masturbation” already. I still have the sheet of paper. The following New Year’s Eve I did try to recreate the happy feeling I had from my hungover arse finding that paper and I succeeded but then the neighbours from Hell and their sound system. I do take a lot of influence from song lyrics and music videos.

There wouldn’t be a Stef and Tucker if it weren’t for me accidentally on purpose changing song lyrics around in my head. There wouldn’t be any Tainted Love/Push the Button (Era Two) stuff if it weren’t for the Sugababes.

Yes, whatever I come up with is far removed from the original song lyrics or music video but that doesn’t matter.
Obviously black metal played a massive role in the creation of Ketamine Addicted Pandas along with dance music. I have a ton of records and CDs and an iPod with something like seven days of music on it. Then Apple Music subscription so I can access anything on there at the press of the touchscreen. I try to listen to a lot of different types of music.

Bubblegum pop and synthpop influenced what happens in the Tainted Love/Push the Button stuff as much as Coil and Skinny Puppy influence the overall flow of the words. You have black metal where it is purposely dark, but bubblegum pop is dark without meaning to be. There’s a Ricky Martin song that reminds me of being in a relationship with someone with borderline personality disorder. That’s pretty dark, even if it is presented in a pleasant, swept off your feet in a whirlwind-type way. If I need a whinge fest there’s Placebo (another one of my favourites) or Nine Inch Nails.

I don’t have a person who serves as a muse. I don’t think that is very fair on the other person because I’m creating situations for them inside my head and removing them from who they are. Some individuals may play a small role in each story creation, like my ex without the keytar in Sparky the Spunky Robot. I do take influence from being around people with cluster b personality disorders. I combine different behaviours from different people in the same character. That is more me trying to work out what went on inside the heads of people I have been around.

If you could have dinner with any writer (living or dead) who would it be?

Right now I will answer that with Clive Barker. That is subject to change though. I’m currently writing We Gave the World Synthpop Dreams, which has a major Sunset Boulevard vibe. I named The Tentacle Queen after Gloria Swanson (the actress who played Norma Desmond). I just read Cold Heart Canyon and saw the similarities between that and my own novel. It would just be nice to talk about it. Plus, I am curious about his experiences living in Liverpool. I haven’t had a good time here. I don’t know much about him but I know he moved out of Liverpool and this is where he’s from.

What key piece of advice would you give an aspiring writer? Particularly one who is maybe a little nervous about pushing boundaries and tacking taboos?

Just write what you want. Yeah, maybe it’ll need a trigger warning, but who cares. I’m not too fond of trigger warnings myself but that’s because I don’t know where the boundaries are anymore. I’ve been trying to use them on my blog and there’s a general warning over on my writing website. I do think people should be warned if they might be triggered by something so they can go away and prepare themselves before coming back. I think when they first started appearing the warning themselves would trigger me. I don’t like being treated like a child, but now that I’m away from the bulk of the stress and the drama and I’m treated better, I can understand how they work. I really couldn’t think straight surrounded by that much drama and suffocating beneath the stress.

If you really want to push taboos, write something simple then expand and expand it again, give it more details. That’s how I made my writing more extreme, although being pushed by someone with borderline personality disorder really put it from disgusting and into extreme territory. Add some maggots feasting on a corpse and then fuck that corpse. Let the gasses escape onto the character’s cock. Let him feel the warm grave fluids.

Once the idea is on paper, play around with the words. If you are writing horror, you need to grip the reader’s emotional responses. More showing and less telling. So don’t just say “she stabbed him in the heart”, go for “the blade reflected the dusty lamp in the corner as it swooped into his chest, he couldn’t feel it until the warm blood ran over his skin”.

Do you have any writing routines, tools, tactics, hacks that my readers might find useful? Particularly interested in this question. Looking for key takeaways that people can try out for themselves.

When I was trapped, I would wake up at 5am to write. I would write every single morning, no matter what. I would just write, even if I had to fix it later.

These days, I’m a lot more laid back about my writing schedule. I obviously have a big body of work. I’m talking about what happened to me and what impact that had on my life in the very physical sense. There have been some cultural changes. All these things mean I can relax a bit and don’t have to force myself to write as I did with Middle Age Rae of Fucking Sunshine and Crackhouse in the Desert. I know if my post-traumatic stress is being bothersome, I might be able to write but try in a notebook first. If it is completely flared, to not even try because I know I will screw it up. (That’s just me, some people with mental health problems find they write better when they’re flared, it is a case of knowing who you are inside and out to know when the best time to write is for you and when you should avoid it.)

If I get a writing block, then I switch to visuals. After three years, I’m still learning to take time off. With the lockdown, this has been time off to watch TV and knit. If I didn’t live in Liverpool and had more money, I would probably go to the cinema or out for a meal or meet up with friends. Time off is very important. That time off, where I was trying to articulate the swirling images in my head between Crackhouse in the Desert and 56 Seconds really helped make 56 Seconds what it was. This is time off to relax, not to clean or do other things, but to just relax, unwind and take in your surroundings.

It all depends on you and doing what works for you, but you need to try different things to find that out. Try forcing yourself to write and it might flow after the first few hundred words. I know that worked for me during the bad times. I know it doesn’t work for me now most of the time. I do try though.

Always keep a notebook. My New Year’s Eve notes from 2018 are on a receipt, hanging next to my New Year’s Eve 2017 declaration of the Sugababes song themes. I don’t know why I don’t use the notes app in my phone. I guess I like real paper. I also keep index cards in my bag and have some in the kitchen and front room in case I don’t have my notebook handy.

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