Sunday, November 5, 2017

The Gal's 2017 Halloween Frivolities Day 15: Among the Stacks with John Linwood Grant


This man, this man is awesome.  Epically talented - and I say this because I absolutely LOVED his Sherlock Holmes story.  Great characters!  I couldn't put the darn thing down.  I'm excited to have him on the blog so that y'all can learn more about him.  And check out his stuff.  Seriously.  There will be links...


The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Hey, John.  I have to admit, I seriously fangirled when you agreed to be interviewed here today.  Thanks for stopping by.  I have been a huge fan of Sherlock Holmes since I was little, and I just absolutely fell in love with your character, Captain Redvers Blake.  I believe I'm also meeting up with him today for an interview, and I seriously can't wait.
            Before we get started on all the hard questions, tell us a little bit about yourself.

John Linwood Grant:
Not much to it.  I'm a professional writer, editor from Yorkshire, who herds lurchers, a long, fast type of hound.  After working for an actual wage for many decades, I decided it was time to write for a living and make much less money.  So I did.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What are five things most people don't know about you?

John Linwood Grant:
My entirely useless specialty is the biology of reptiles and amphibians.

My body contains more dog hair than bacteria.

I have a number of completed novels that aren't bad, but I can't be bothered to revisit and edit them.

I bake exceedingly good bread, especially a pesto roll.

I cannot use a camera properly, how ever much I try.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What is the first book you remember reading?

John Linwood Grant:
My first immediate memory is of the comic Magnus, Robot Fighter, which got me into SF as a fan. That was certainly in primary school.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What are you reading now?

John Linwood Grant:
Rob F Martin’s unusual novella ‘The Dollkeeper’, from Electric Pentacle Press.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What's a book you really enjoyed the others wouldn't expect you to have liked?

John Linwood Grant:
Diary of a Nobody, by George and Weedon Grossmith. I adore it, but it has no supernatural, speculative, thriller or horror elements whatsoever.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What made you decide you want to write?  When did you begin writing?

John Linwood Grant:
It was never a conscious decision. I started writing odd bits and pieces in primary school, and kept doing it on and off for decades. I simply never did anything with it.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Do you have a special place you like to write?

John Linwood Grant:
I write everything on a PC shoved into the corner of a cluttered dining room, surrounded by dogs and rubbish.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Do you have any quirks or processes that you go through when you write?

John Linwood Grant:
Not a one. Writing’s writing. Working out a story for me is much the same as working out how to do a bit of plumbing. I try to see where I want to go, and then I do it. Which is why some of the house leaks.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Is there anything about writing you find most challenging?

John Linwood Grant:
Simply not enough time.  I always have something I want to write.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What's the most satisfying thing you've written so far?

John Linwood Grant:
Probably the short story ‘Grey Dog’ (in my latest collection), which is the only first person tale yet of a particular classic occult detective, and puts a real life spin on all the fiction, whilst remaining supernatural and unsettling.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What books have inspired you?  Who are some authors that have inspired your writing style?

John Linwood Grant:
I have no obvious answer. If I have a preferred style, it probably comes from Saki, Jerome K Jerome, and M.R. James. It’s an amalgam formed over many years, though - if I’m writing a supernatural piece, I don’t think “Time to get Jamesian”. I’m a huge fan of Roger Zelazny, for example, and Philip K. Dick. The supernatural writer who most interested me (not sure if that was inspiration) was William Hope Hodgson. But some of his style is to be avoided at all costs – it’s his content and imagery that matter.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What do you think makes a good story?

John Linwood Grant:
Language. I usually write quite clearly, stripping back if anything, but some choose complex approaches. Both can work. The most mundane ideas or over-used tropes can be transformed by how they are expressed.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What does it take for you to love a character?  How do you utilize that when creating your characters?

John Linwood Grant:
I like characters who are people, not symbols or place-holders. If I come to love them, it’s because I believe in them. Cardboard tastes awful. I assume that everyone in one of my stories is a complete human being with their own history and concerns, even if they only have one line to deliver. Even if they accidentally die, mute, in crossfire, and have no further story relevance.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Which, of all your characters, do you think is the most like you?

John Linwood Grant:
Arguably Mr Bubbles, the slightly psychotic pony with unexplained origins. He’s inclined to say “I’m bored now,” and either trample you with great iron hooves, or wander off to find a turnip. Or maybe I just want to be like him. On a routine, human level, I’m closer to Mamma Lucy, the old black conjure-women who plods on making do as she deals with obstacles and problems, whether she wants them or not.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Are you turned off by a bad cover?  To what degree were you involved in creating your book covers?

John Linwood Grant:
I’m not totally put off by a bad cover, but if I don’t know the writer, it doesn’t help. I’ve read a few very good books with very weak covers, but you then have to pass on a recommendation which says “Ignore the cover”. Writers don’t always have much choice about covers, but the one for ‘A Persistence of Geraniums’ was very much what I wanted, by a terrific artist, Paul Boswell.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What have you learned creating your books?

John Linwood Grant:
That technology is a great blessing and also a ridiculous time-sink when trying to do exactly what you want with a book.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What has been the hardest scene for you to write so far?

John Linwood Grant:
I haven’t written it yet. It’s due, and I keep putting it off. It concerns two recurring characters. One will die, which will change someone’s life for at least the following ninety years.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What makes your books different from others out there in this genre?

John Linwood Grant:
That’s not really my call. I do have a blend of unease and whimsy which some say they like. As I write a lot of stories set between the 1880s and the 1920s, maybe also that I approach characters and setting without carrying lots of ‘let’s write a historical piece’ baggage. I try to write clear, interesting stories about people that don’t overwhelm the reader with unnecessary archaisms and faux-historical bits. I seek accuracy and sensitivity to period, but not pointless twirls and decorations.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
How important is the book title, how hard is it to choose the best one, and how did you choose yours (of course, with no spoilers)?

John Linwood Grant:
Title is King – and Queen. I feel very uncomfortable if a title isn’t quite right. For ‘A Study in Grey’ it was obvious - a murky area of military intelligence and spiritualism. For ‘A Persistence of Geraniums’, it was the one phrase which captured what I was after. Adding ‘and other worrying tales’ capped it off nicely. Occasionally the title is a phrase from the book or story which grasps you and say that it’s the one. “And Her Smile will Untether the Universe”, an excellent collection by Gwendolyn Kiste, is an example of a perfect title in my eyes.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What makes you feel more fulfilled: Writing a novel or writing a short story?

John Linwood Grant:
I like wrapping up an entire tale or incident between 6000 and 10000 words. Novelette length, quite often. That usually says what I want it to say. Occasionally, it needs a novella, but rarely more than that.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Tell us a little bit about your books, your target audience, and what you would like readers to take way from your stories.

John Linwood Grant:
I write unsettling stories featuring characters who interest me. As I said above, much of my work is period fiction with a twist. Much of the short novel ‘A Study in Grey’, for example, is an insight into the morally ambiguous main character, Captain Redvers Blake of Military Intelligence – what he does and how he ticks. About half of ‘A Persistence of Geraniums’ is about Mr Edwin Dry, the notorious Deptford Assassin. I love the women who dominate the other stories in there as well, such as Great-Aunt Agatha, and Dr Alice Urquhart. Murder and death crop up frequently, though not so much gore. In fact, when I think about it, there’s murder and death in virtually everything I write. And loss is a key element, with a touch of black humour occasionally.
            I’ve had a lot of other stories published, including 1970s and contemporary horror, folk horror, science fiction and straight Sherlock Holmes. Whatever length they are, I suppose they’re aimed at people who are curious about other people, and how they act or react in unusual circumstances. My target audience is neither pulp nor literary, but anyone from either who likes a strong tale. As for what you take away, maybe further curiosity about those people you’ve just met.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Can you tell us about some of the deleted scenes/stuff that got left out of your work?

John Linwood Grant:
I’m a terrible one for drifting off on the lives of minor characters. I regularly have to excise sections about their background, or needs, or what happened to them. In a word-count market, these things are fun, and may be important to me, but they don’t cut it with publishers. So I have a lot of deleted characters.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What's in your "trunk"?  (Everyone has a book or project, which doesn't necessarily have to be book related, that they have put aside for a 'rainy day' or for when they have extra time.)

John Linwood Grant:
A massive grimdark fantasy saga, To Hear Leviathan, about our choices in life. It was drafted way before grimdark was a thing, and became so monumental that I’ll probably never manage it.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What can we expect from you in the future?

John Linwood Grant:
More of everything, if I’m lucky. I’m at the first stages of plotting a co-authored Victorian murder novel (details slightly secret at the moment), planning a collection of Mamma Lucy hoodoo-woman stories set in the 1920s, and there are more Last Edwardian tales in general to come. Mr Bubbles will return, along with the tongue-in-cheek folk horror of a village called St Botolph-in-the-Wolds, which yet may be a book in its own right. I’m also editing an anthology for Ulthar Press, ‘Hell’s Empire’, which is broadly War of the Worlds but with demons, and a couple of other projects.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Where can we find you?  (STaLKeR links.)

John Linwood Grant:
I do have an author's page, but quite honestly just go to Grey Dog Tales, my eclectic site about weird fiction, weird art, and even weirder lurchers (dogs, if you missed that bit above).  The site is pretty much me, with help from a few others.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Do you have any closing words for your fans or anything you'd like to say that we didn't get to cover in this interview?

John Linwood Grant:
Be kind to each other, care for your dogs, and if you're bored, buy my books.


About the author:
John Linwood Grant writes dark historical horror and weird fiction, including the Mamma Lucy tales of 1920s hoodoo and the St. Botolph folk-horror parodies.  With some thirty stories published, he is also editor of Occult Detective Quarterly, plus forthcoming anthologies.  His 2017 collection A Persistence of Geraniums - stories of Edwardian murder, madness and the supernatural - has been widely praised, whilst his popular website Grey Dog Tales explores weird fiction and weird art.

About the books:
"You are no John Watson, Captain Blake."
            "Indeed not.  He is courageous, steadfast, and many other noble things.  I have no d-d-delusions about my own character.  I lie, p-p-perjure myself, and deceive d-d-decent folk.  In the last week alone I've killed a man with the revolver you saw, and p-p-probably sent at least one other to the gallows."

The Edwardian Era has begun its rot into modernity, exchanging all the virtues of Dr. John H. Watson for the vices of Captain Redvers Blake.  But a case from Watson's era resurges in the present, ensnaring a high official in what may be a ring of German spies.  Not any mere ring of bombs and petrol, but a ring of spiritualism and seances.
            The former case was one of Holmes' failures.  Despite an illustrious employer, despite Holmes' warnings, and despite a vengeful fire, a young woman married a monster and slipped beyond the Great Detective's ken.  Now, she returns to his notice, hostess to the seance ring.
            As England prepares for war, Sherlock Holmes and Captain Redvers Blake must solve these two entwined cases at once.
            All this, to say nothing of 427 Cheyne Walk's new residents and their role...



Enter a world where the psychic, the alienist and the assassin carry out their strange duties whilst quiet tragedies unfold.  These are tales of murder, madness and the supernatural in an Edwardian England never quite what it seems.  From rural Yorkshire to the heart of the City, death is on the air, and no one can sense it better than Mr. Dry, the Deptford Assassin.  On the cursed shores of Suffolk, an army widow loads her husband's revolver; in a small village, a vicar and his wife hear a tale which challenges their beliefs.  The monstrous acts of a young gentleman are brought to an end by unlikely allies, whilst a deluded killer almost escapes the courts, only to discover another kind of justice.  And if you want to know why a pale dog waits patiently in a London terrace, the true fate of the Whitechapel murder, or simply the value of geraniums to one woman, then come inside... The first ever collection of Tales of the Last Edwardian, from John Linwood Grant.

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