Wednesday 1 December 2021

Interview with Natasha Sinclair By David Kempf

When did you first become interested in writing?

As soon as I was able to write, I was hooked. Even before my comprehension developed of the written word, I always loved the feel of putting pen to paper as a youngster, so I enjoyed exploring and practising calligraphy from primary (elementary) age upwards. My parents got me a calligraphy set with my first fountain pen, and I was intent on mastering the styles in the accompanying books and coming up with my own. I always found the ink flow from the nib as a mesmerising dance to get lost in. The act of writing can be very ritualistic. As a child, I spent weekends at my gran’s house; when I was a little older, though still of the primary age, she gifted me a typewriter (I am almost certain there was a not entirely legal story attached to its acquisition). I adored it nonetheless. It felt like such a thoughtful gift, and I remember watching Misery with her while tapping away at my own childish stories.

Writing itself is a craft that developed with those tactile elements that drew me in. I’ve always written in verse, not with any intended purpose. It was always just something that I had to do. For me, it’s a habit —like breathing— for a long time, I didn’t think about what or how I was writing. I just wrote, as a cleansing ritual, a purging perhaps.

Like breathing, writing now sometimes requires conscious and considered practice, particularly now that I write with more purpose of sharing pieces with an audience. It’s something that has a never-ending path of learning and evolution, and the lack of predictability is exciting to me.

How did you get involved in fantasy/horror?

As a fan, I can’t think of a time I didn’t enjoy horror and fantasy — from literature, music, tv, film and even true horror accounts. It’s just always interested me. As a kid, I watched a lot of horror movies with my gran — I appreciated that she didn’t set boundaries on that kind of content. I’ve always written with a dark, distinctly adult slant. I guess experiences and observations have fuelled the threads that have become poems and dark fiction stories. Horror wasn’t a conscious decision; I’m not big on categorising art.

The appeal of those genres is that there are far fewer boundaries to rub up against than within other literary categories. Horror and Fantasy fiction are rich, diverse and multi-faceted. They can take a reader on a journey that may be infused with uncomfortable truths, taboos and nuances of the human condition. Matters that we may otherwise be resistant to giving our attention to in an entertaining and palatable (all be it haunting or gore-filled) way.

Tell us about your first publisher.

I submitted my first piece for consideration for print in 2019 after coming across a post in a great horror book group on Facebook — ‘Books of Horror’. The open-call sought short stories to feature in the group’s inaugural anthology showcasing writers (new and seasoned) in the community. Up to that point, I had never considered submitting anywhere, and I figured, why not — all they can say is ‘n’, right?

My story was accepted by the group’s founder, who was spearheading the project, RJ Roles. Since then, the ‘Books of Horror’ imprint has put out three (four taking into account the third has to be compiled into two books) volumes of horror, which have been received well by readers and reviewers. RJ Roles and Jason Myers have since started ‘Crimson Pinnacle Press’, and I was invited to contribute to their first two anthologies, ‘Fairy Tale Horrorshow’ and ‘Twisted Legends’, released in 2021.

It’s been a very inspiring and humbling experience. Whenever I submit anything, I expect rejection, so being accepted (and receiving invitationals) by a publisher is always a pleasant and encouraging surprise.

How would you classify the genre you write?

I am very much of the mindset that it’s not my place to classify that. I’ve never much cared for labels. I realise to some writers (and readers) this will seem utterly absurd, maybe even unprofessional. Since so many (understandably) plough work into market research of specific genres before penning work with a field target in mind. Doing that, for me, kills the passion for writing. There is so much subjectivity to it. I find horror, for one, likes to bedhop around genres mixing with bizarro, erotica, gothic, speculative, fantasy, and the list goes on. When it comes to art that I appreciate or have a hand in creating, I am a literary bed-hopper. I don’t want to restrain what I write to a single genre.

My first published book was a memoir from my experience as a parent with a child in neonatal intensive care. Following that, my published work has been predominantly fiction, mainly under the (mammoth) umbrella of adult horror, often with psychological and sexual elements.

Why do you think horror and fantasy books remain so popular?

Pure and simple escapism. Horror and fantasy are safe places from the true horrors of real life. These genres can also facilitate a safe place to explore otherwise out-of-bounds subject matter mutually for both readers and writers.

What inspires your stories?

Anything can be a seed of inspiration. From a dream, the way seeds scatter in the wind, a passing thought, patterns of bird migrations, something my kid says, a line or riff in a piece of music or poetry. It can be a dismissible moment that just plants itself into my mind and roots there and spirals into something that I must write.

As an example, the closing story in my collection, ‘Murmur’, released in June 2021, is one of my favourites. Several things inspired it; When out for a woodland walk with my kids, my daughter stumbled upon a grave with a makeshift marker with ‘Cinnamon’ etched into the wood. The surrounding area became the setting for my story ‘Moonshine Cinnamon’. I couldn’t resist — there was a huge tree slung with a tattered blue rope over a fast-flowing burn among other borrowed elements, right down to a stray pair of red lace knickers hung on a fir tree when we had walked through the same area on a previous occasion. Musically, the story was heavily influenced by listening to a lot of The Ramones. In fact, it was originally written for an open call looking for stories inspired by their music.

Like many writers and other creative types, music has always been of significant influence. Every piece I write has its own soundtrack.

What do you think the difference between American horror and U.K. horror is?

It’s not something I’ve ever really considered.

Since I’m on the spot, it’s a genuinely tricky one. As we are as similar as we are different, nations divided by language that should be united in many ways. Then again, I feel that way globally — we are one world with a patchwork of interconnecting culture that should be embraced for each of our unique perspectives.

When I consider historically and answer this with unavoidable gross sweeping generalisations — British writers tend to have strength in slow-burn, eerie, creepy and gothic styles and have been able to modernise these ideas; playing on fears that come from an ancient landscape, persecution, society, mysticism, folktales and cultural shifts and divisions. Comparably I’ve found more wham-bam-in-your-face narratives and scares in American horror. These comparisons can be switched just as easily. We ‘borrow’ from one another often, which helps enrich and create some great stories with a wide appeal.

Any differences, other than American English Vs British English and local dialects and colloquialisms in language, are very muddied.

What are your favorite horror books?

I read a lot and don’t stick exclusively to horror; it’s hard for me to pinpoint favourites from that specific category. I’m a nightmare at picking favourites of anything; perspectives and tastes change over time. I hated being asked these questions as a kid; What’s your favourite colour? Why can I only pick one! I love them all! I still can’t pick.

Again, being on the spot, one of the first horror writers I fell in love with was reading Poppy Z. Brite as a teen. I still love his vivid settings, complex characterisations and alternative perspectives in his narrative. His characters aren’t ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Some may commit despicable acts of horror, but they are still very human and written so skilfully that they may canvas sympathy of sorts from a reader. Those early novels of ‘Exquisite Corpse’ and ‘Lost Souls’ particularly stuck with me.

There are tonnes of books that I love; I couldn’t begin to list them.

What are some of your favorite horror movies?

Again, with the favourites! What are you doing to me, David? It really depends on my mood.

I enjoy all kinds of horror in movies, from bizarre, psychological, gothic, haunting, slow-burn horror right through to the utterly ridiculous, in your face and comedy horror.

From early on, I have to acknowledge those that hold so much nostalgia and created a huge impression — Nightmare on Elm Street, The Birds, Omen, Evil Dead, Hellraiser, House, The Lost Boys, Gremlins, Poltergeist — a typical product of the ‘80s! I’m a sucker for werewolf and vampire movies — Gingersnaps, Dog Soldiers and Bram Stoker’s Dracula being among the longtime favourites. Right now, I’m in the mood for psychological and fantasy horror such as Splice, The Shape of Water, anything by Guillermo del Torro. Next week it might be comedy-horror tickling it fancy. There’s a sub-genre for every mood and season.              

What do you consider your greatest accomplishment as an author?

Honestly, just taking the plunge and putting work out into the public domain without anonymity is a huge personal step for me. I can’t say that I’m looking for any significant recognition or ‘status’ from my creative endeavours. I’m more focused on setting an example for my kids. And publishing and submitting writing took a lot of courage for me as I’m a pretty private person, even creatively. I’m keen to lead by example and show a bit of fearlessness in pursuing something that I’ve always loved. Regardless of insecurities and fears, we can rise against our own demons.

Do you have any advice for new writers?

Just write. Don’t overthink it, don’t concern yourself with what other people may think (that’s their business, NOT yours) and write. Write because you have to, write because you want to, just do it.

Do your research and continuously learn. Stay humble — no one is perfect, no one has all the answers no matter how it may appear or how much experience one has gained; we live in an ever-changing world.

When dealing with other people in the industry, be professional and realistic always. Don’t overpromise, and don’t underestimate yourself either. Trust your gut instincts — if something feels wrong or seems too good to be true, in most cases, you’re probably right. Find a community that supports you, whether in person at the local library or book group. Even if you’re an introvert like myself who shies away from that, the internet can be a great resource to have those needs met and find some camaraderie while managing that sense of overwhelm and the drain that socialising can have.

What is your opinion of the new self-publishing trend?

Is it still considered new?

I think it’s double-edged really.

It’s fantastic that the tools are there and accessible to more writers than ever, stripping out the headache of finding and enlisting a literary agent and the tumultuous and long process of trying to strike up a deal with a traditional publisher. There’s something increasingly elitist about mass market that has never personally appealed. In fact, when I was writing with the aim to publish, it never crossed my mind to do anything other than self-publish. It was only after that that I began to entertain the notion of submitting publishers and have since stuck to small independent press’.

I don’t imagine ever being interested in having a middle-person — that’s one of the benefits of self-publishing; the writer is entirely in control of their voice, story and how the entire writing and publishing process is managed. And who they involve in that process. There’s complete control over editors enlisted, cover design, formatting, marketing etc. There’s no big-wig trying to dilute or change a writer’s voice for general palatability or mainstream mass appeal. Unless, of course, that’s what a writer wants but that’s their choice. With self-publishing, there are also many potential pitfalls to consider —as the writer holds full responsibility and accountability for the material that goes out to market. Although the channel has opened doors to a more diverse and creative market — there’s a lot of poor quality material out there too. This means for many that it can be an uphill battle to establish credibility and a solid dedicated readership in a very saturated and polluted pond. This applies to self-publishing writers as much as it does to independent press’ and freelance editors and artists in the industry.

What are your current projects?

I’m finishing a couple of short stories, one is based on an old Glaswegian Urban Legend, and I have a couple of co-written shorts on the table to finish with fellow writer David Owain Hughes.

I recently purchased some stunning artwork for the novel I’m working on — the novel is a heavily psychological piece with elements of abuse, family secrets, and revenge. A large part of the story takes place in and around an Asylum (classic or cliché – I’ll leave that to readers to decide). I had hoped to finish that this year but my editing workload with Word Refinery clients took priority. Again, a benefit of self-publishing – deadlines are created by the writer.

Going into 2022, I am focusing on finishing my novel in progress and polishing and refining that to take to publication. I’ll also be working on two collaborative novels with two very different and fantastic writers.

One project with Ruthann Jagge – she is a wonderful writer and woman who is a real force of creative and passionate energy. A truly dedicated and inspiring individual. Jagge has such spirit and drive I know we’re going to create something magical and wicked together! We’ve appeared in numerous anthologies together and her debut novella ‘New Girls’ Patient’ releases in January — get that on your reading list! The second planned co-authored project is with one of the U.K’s most prominent anthologists of recent years. Kevin J. Kennedy. I’ve been Kennedy’s editor throughout 2021 – putting out books 9, 10 and 11 of the very popular ‘The Horror Collection’ anthologies which are known for bringing together a mixtape of quality indie horror to a global readership. I also edited and wrote the foreword for Kennedy’s debut solo novella ‘Halloween Land’ released earlier this year, and we’ve just launched ‘The Best of Indie Horror: Christmas Edition’. So we each have familiarity with the way the other works — it seems a natural progression to bring our very different writing styles together to concoct something interesting, which I am confident we will!

There are a few more irons in the fire but, I’m prioritising the aforementioned before pulling anything else out and burning my fingers!

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

From the heart of Scotland, I find inspiration to write in just about everything — from the maddeningly mundane to the utterly horrific.

My writing is often woven with horror, sex and psychological elements. I'm opposed to the almost incessant human desire to label and box off art. Art is unrestrained freedom.

I am a member of The Horror Writers Association.

I have independently published work, compiled and edited anthologies, and contributed to a plethora of publications. I support other creatives by proofreading, editing, and creating promotional material via Word Refinery services, linked on my website.

Out-with writing and editing, I'm an avid gig-goer, reader, vegan, home educating, nature-loving, adopter of wonky animals.