What attracts you to writing horror?
I always feel a bit of a fraud being described as a horror writer. I do like stories with an uncanny aspect to them - as a writer and a reader. That strange or uncanny lilt may contain horror, but I think there is a real difference between writing horror and writing chillers - which is in essence what I've been doing for the last few years. Horror can be a bit like slapstick - it can be great in its way, but a bit simplistic. I prefer stuff that's a bit more deadpan if you'll excuse the pun. If in fact that is a pun. What I mean is that it seems quite easy to revolt the reader (or viewer, in movies). It's harder to unsettle them. That's what I want to so. I want to unnerve the reader. I want my stories to have barbs that get stuck in their minds.
Where do you find your inspiration?
From everything I've ever read or watched and everything I've ever done or heard stories about. Inspiration is a fascinating thing. Things are firing my imagination all the time. I have far more stories going round in my head than I could ever have time to write down.
Do you have a favourite character from your books?
I'm very fond of Uncle Montague. But I do have some unlikeable children in my books. Michael in ‘The Dead of Winter’ is a character I grew to really like during the course of writing the book.
Tell us more about ‘The Dead of Winter’ …
‘The Dead of Winter’ is a story about an orphaned boy who goes to stay with his eccentric guardian in a cold and inhospitable house in the Fens one snowy Christmas. The house seems full of secrets and haunted by the ghosts of past crimes. Surrounded by a snowy wasteland and encircled by an icy moat, the house becomes an increasingly dangerous and frightening place.
Does writing a novel differ to writing a series?
I'm not sure it does really. That is I think that each novel in a series should be able to stand alone. ‘The Tales of Terror’ books are only a series in the sense that they are all compendiums of creepy stories. They don't have repeated character (although Uncle Montague does pop up in all three).
Is it difficult to create the suspense and terror needed to instil fear in the reader but at the same time keep them reading?
Well I think that if you have created the suspense and terror, then the reader will have no choice but to read. At the beginning of ‘Uncle Montague's Tales of Terror’ I have Edgar follow Uncle Montague down a dark corridor lit only by the candle Uncle Montague is holding. I wanted that to be a metaphor for the whole series. That to me is what a writer does - and not just a writer of horror fiction - he takes the reader off on a journey that he only illuminates a page at a time. Getting the reader to follow you is the key.
Have you ever had a supernatural experience?
Like everyone, I've seen things I couldn't quite explain. But I have a feeling everything is natural – it’s just that we don't understand it all yet.
Do you have a special place you write?
I wish I could say yes to that, but at the moment I write in a very unsatisfactory bedroom-cum-study. I dream of having a purpose-built study/studio in my garden when I get round to buying a house.
If you had to choose between writing and drawing, which would you pick and why?
That is a horrible question! I have done both for as long as I can remember and for a long period in my life art was the thing I did every day and which paid my mortgage. I have tried to consider giving drawing or painting up, but I just can't seem to do it. In fact in the last year or so I have had a real urge to do more art.
Who are your literary idols?
There are many. I have always loved short stories and so I like the writers who are good at those - everyone from Raymond Carver to Franz Kafka by way of Poe, M R James, Ray Bradbury etc etc etc. I've recently got round to reading H P Lovecraft and he's great in a crazed kind of way. Richard Matheson is good too – ‘I Am Legend’ is a great book - very scary indeed, but also fascinating and it really stays with you. Shirley Jackson's ‘The Haunting of Hill House’ is a wonderful, creepy book. But another day I'd write another list. I suppose, if there is a common thread, it is that I like writing where the writing shows. I like painting where the brush strokes are there and I'm the same with writing - I want to hear the voice. I also like writing that surprises me - not in an obvious page-turning way, but in the creativity of its composition.
With a critically acclaimed series, do you have any writing ambitions you’d still like to fulfil?
More than I'd care to mention. I'm not aware of fulfilling any writing ambitions yet, save for the one of getting published - that's the one ambition that really counts. My ambition is always the same - to write something really good. Of course I wouldn't mind winning the Carnegie, having a major motion picture deal and selling millions of books either. But oddly - I have a slight nightmare that I'll write something really bad and that will be the one that gets the movie deal!
What advice can you give budding young writers?
Don't write to be rich or famous. Most writers are neither. Writing has to be a need, a compulsion. You are no less a person for not having it - but you probably won't survive the many disappointments and frustrations of writing. Keep notebooks (and try to remember where you last put them!). Try writing some short fiction. Don't start things and never finish. Finishing is crucial. Read lots of different things.
Do you have a website?
I have a blog - www.chrispriestley.blogspot.com - and Bloomsbury have a website - www.talesofterror.co.uk.
What do fans of Chris Priestley have to look forward to for the rest of the year?
Well there is a new novel out in October – ‘The Dead of Winter’ - as well as the paperback of ‘Tales of Terror from the Tunnel's Mouth’. I will be whizzing about the country in my horse-drawn carriage, promoting both books. In March next year all three ‘Tales of Terror’ books are being re-issued with new jackets and additional stories and I am doing a World Book Day flipbook with the great Philip Reeve. This will be another Tales of Terror book.
Can you sum up ‘The Dead of Winter’ in 3 words?
A ghost story