Monday 23 May 2016

Interview with Catherine Cavendish By David Kempf

Catherine Cavendish is a Welsh writer who writes Gothic horror. Her book The Devil's Serenade is getting serious attention and she continues to write tales that make the reader's blood run cold.

When did you first become interested in writing?

I have been writing for as long as I can remember. As a child I would make up stories for my dolls to act out, and adapt books I had read into stage plays. I saved up and bought my first typewriter (yes, I’m that ancient!) when I was ten years old. 

How did you get involved in fantasy/horror?

This goes back to a childhood reading Dennis Wheatley, Sheridan le Fanu and other authors of the genre. At school, I remember the deliciously scared feeling I experienced when we read The Monkey’s Paw by W.W. Jacobs. The amazing thing about that story is that nothing gory actually happens, but when that knock at the door sounds... Oh, the shivers! I loved reading horror and stories that gave me goosebumps so I suppose it was only natural that I would gravitate to writing what I enjoyed the most.

How did you go about finding a suitable publisher?

It’s been a long, hard slog. Firstly I tried repeatedly over a number of years to get an agent. Then I became part of an online writing community called Litopia where more established writers were so helpful in sharing their advice and experiences. As a result, I decided to forget trying to get an agent – certainly for the time being – and concentrated my efforts on carefully targeting potential publishers. I found websites such as Preditors and Editors and Absolute Write invaluable in helping me weed out the chaff and find reputable publishers. I had a couple of publishers before I landed at Samhain Publishing where I was privileged to be edited by the great Don d’Auria. Sadly, Samhain is closing so I’m on the search for my next publishing adventure

Tell us about The Devil’s Serenade. 

I live close to a river and regularly walk along the banks. There is a willow tree there which seems to have been struck by lightning at some stage in its history. Willows are not inclined to give up easily and it now grows in a most odd fashion, trailing its branches along the ground, twisting around itself – a sort of arboreal octopus. I nicknamed it ‘the tentacle tree’ – which was actually the working title of The Devil’s Serenade until I found another book with the same title! Sitting on one of its low branches one day, I suddenly felt a shuddering underneath me. There was no wind but the branch had shifted slightly and created a kind of ripple effect. It felt alive. An idea was born. Here’s the blurb:

Maddie had forgotten that cursed summer. Now she’s about to remember…
“Madeleine Chambers of Hargest House” has a certain grandeur to it. But as Maddie enters the Gothic mansion she inherited from her aunt, she wonders if its walls remember what she’s blocked out of the summer she turned sixteen.

She’s barely settled in before a series of bizarre events drive her to question her sanity. Aunt Charlotte’s favorite song shouldn’t echo down the halls. The roots of a faraway willow shouldn’t reach into the cellar. And there definitely shouldn’t be a child skipping from room to room.  
As the barriers in her mind begin to crumble, Maddie recalls the long-ago summer she looked into the face of evil. Now, she faces something worse. The mansion’s long-dead builder, who has unfinished business—and a demon that hungers for her very soul.

What do you see as the primary difference between British and American horror?

I think there is possibly more of a tradition of gothic ghost stories which persists to this day in the UK. I tend to find more ‘in your face’ goriness in a lot of American horror, but by no means all of it. British writers such as Ramsey Campbell and Susan Hill write dark and scary stories without a lot of splatter. This is something I strive to achieve as well. Having said that, one of the greatest haunted house/ghost stories of all time was written by an American – Shirley Jackson. The Haunting of Hill House is a classic. So maybe we’re not all that different. I think horror travels well both ways across the Atlantic.

Tell us why you think you were selected for the first Samhain Horror Anthology competition. 

The brief was to write precisely the sort of story I love – ghostly, Gothic and haunted. The anthology was called What Waits in the Shadows. Within a day or so of reading the brief, a story had formed in my mind and I went with it. I wrote the first draft quickly, then rewrote, edited and edited again. I got a second opinion from a fellow horror writer who also happens to be an excellent editor herself – Julia Kavan I then acted on her suggestions. There is no magic formula, but keeping strictly to the brief and producing the best work you possibly can always helps.

What are your favorite horror books?

How long have you got? There are so many! I have already mentioned Shirley Jackson and I can’t single out individual titles from my favourites such as Stephen King, Ramsey Campbell, James Herbert and Susan Hill. There is also a healthy crop of newer horror authors out there, writing books that keep me glued to the page. Authors such as Hunter Shea, Russell James, JG Faherty, Sephera Giron, Elena Hearty, Brian Kirk… the list is endless.

What are some of your favorite horror movies?

The original film version of The Haunting of Hill House (called simply The Haunting), Rosemary’s Baby, The Others, The Fog, Wakewood, Cherry Tree, The Woman in Black. Again, I could go on and on!

What do you consider your greatest accomplishment as an author?

To be able to entertain readers

Do you have any advice for new writers?

Firstly, develop the hide of a rhinoceros – you’ll need it. Never argue online – especially with someone who has given you a less than flattering review. You never win those battles and I have seen some writers’ reputations permanently ruined. The main thing though is to produce the best work of which you are capable. The words ‘that’ll do’ should be eliminated from your vocabulary. Be prepared to be ruthless with your own work. If that paragraph doesn’t move the story on or serve some other useful purpose, out it goes. Never, ever give up.
What is your opinion of the new self-publishing trend?

A mixed blessing. There are some excellent self-pubbed books, but those are the ones where the writer is truly talented and has taken the time and trouble to edit their work – and probably have it professionally edited as well. That can be a pretty expensive exercise, but necessary, as you are too close to your own work to be truly objective. Sadly, there is a lot of substandard stuff out there as well and it’s really hard for the good ones to stand out.

What are your current projects?

I have a novel currently looking for a new home now that Samhain won’t be able to publish it. Wrath of the Ancients is largely set in Vienna and features an Egyptian curse and an archaeologist obsessed with a long dead Queen. I have also just completed a novella called The Darkest Veil. This one centres around five young women who share a house in 1972. It is an apparently normal building in a working class neighbourhood, but 4 Yarborough Drive is anything but normal – as they will discover.

Please in your own words write a paragraph about yourself & your work. 

I live with my long-suffering husband in a haunted 18th century building in North Wales. Fortunately for all concerned, the ghost is friendly and contents herself (she's definitely female) with switching on lights, and attempting to discover how the TV and washing machine work (it's a long story!).  Following a varied career in sales, advertising and career guidance, I am now the full time author of a number of paranormal, ghostly and Gothic horror novels, novellas and short stories. In addition to my latest, The Devil’s Serenade and the previously mentioned Linden Manor, my work for Samhain has included The Pendle Curse, Saving Grace Devine and Dark Avenging Angel. My daily walks have so far provided the inspiration for two short stories, a novel and a novella – from twisted trees to… well, it’s amazing what you see down by the river, as it flows through a sleepy rural community. Those with delicate constitutions are advised not to ask! 

You can connect with me here:

You can find and buy The Devil’s Serenade here:

And other online retailers