Today, I'm joined by Benjamin Knox, my fellow Brit, and co-contributor to the Bloody Parchment anthology, available in June on ebook from eKhaya. The anthology is edited by Nerine Dorman and contains stories by, among others, Brett Bruton, SL Schmitz and Joan De La Haye.
LM: Hi Benjamin, welcome to my blog.
BK: Thanks, I’m excited to be here.
LM: What can we expect from Wither, your story in the Bloody Parchment anthology?
BK: Atmosphere, atmosphere, atmosphere.
I was really going for that quality found in some dreams or nightmares were everything is slightly off, or skew, where the familiar becomes strange and frightening. The type of dream were you know inexplicably that something terrible lurks around the corner, filling you with fearful anticipation and dread.
The story follows our narrator trapped in their own remote home and delirious from an unknown degenerative disease. But the question is; is what follows merely the workings of a fevered mind or is there really something unnaturally sinister approaching?
LM: Why Bloody Parchment? How does a Brit find himself as a finalist in a South African writing contest?
BK: Strangely I studied a little in South Africa. Cape Town mainly. I still have many close friends living there and I try keep in touch as much as I can. A friend of mine knew I was starting to write spotted the competition and she linked me to the site. I thought, “why not” so I entered. Choosing which story to enter was tough though.
I really didn’t expect to make the shortlist never mind the finalists. I hoped, sure, but I wasn’t holding thumbs. It’s one of those things writers, especially authors just starting up, get used to (you’ll know all about this too); rejection letters.
After a while it’s just water off a ducks back.
LM: Dark humour features heavily on your website, particularly in the comics section, and you state that some of your stories will make readers laugh. Do you find it difficult to create a blend between horror and comedy? How do you get the right balance?
BK: I find that when writing I often tend to take myself a little too seriously. It’s one of those things I think most writers do at some point. That’s usually when I get stuck with a project. My comedy-horror stuff is a way for me to relax and step back and just tell a fun (if rather creepy) story. It’s a good exercise.
Also, to be frank, I’m rarely in a very serious mood so it’s fun to indulge that silly side of me when writing my pulpy fiction.
As for the balance between horror and comedy, I don’t really think about it, I just remind myself not to get caught up in the details (or take the story too seriously) and keep things light and at a pace. I find them easier to write than my more grim fare. Though, I’ll always write pure horror.
It’s just where I’m at as a storyteller.
It is very liberating to have both my serious and silly work able to stand side by side. It was discovering Jeff Strand’s work that showed me that those two can live together without having to resort to a pseudonym. After all both styles are very much me, just different angles.
It’s the same with my comics. I like to draw and it’s good to have a break from writing and do something in an entirely different medium.
LM: You have the following short stories, A Keeper of Secrets, and Doombunny available on Amazon? Tell us about them?
BK: Keeper is a dark-fairytale about a girl at her grandmother’s wake, when she goes exploring through the old house and finds a something rather peculiar in the attic. I remember vividly what it was like to be a child and tried to capture that feeling, and creep the bejeezus out of you at the same time.
Doombunny was written on a whim for Easter and was so much fun to write that I’ve started a whole set of horrible holiday themed comedy-horror stories. I can’t tell you how much I enjoy doing the creepy-silly stories. This one is about little Kyle on Easter morning and his bizarre and slightly horrific encounter with something that is definitely NOT the Easter bunny.
LM: What do you find the most difficult aspect of writing and how have you overcome it?
BK: Without a doubt, editing. I’m an impatient person by nature so it is often very difficult not to race ahead (run when I should walk). Also by the time I’m finished writing something I’m often done with the idea and want to move on to something else.
In the end it is self-discipline (something I’m not very good at) that forces me to go back to a story, after a brief break, and begin tightening and polishing it up before it goes on to exterior editing and proofreading etc. But somebody else does that, which is a relief.
LM: What are your next projects? Do you have any further releases planned?
BK: Oh yes indeed. This summer is a busy one for me. Of course the Bloody Parchment anthology comes out very soon, but I’ve also got two very creepy novellas (a bleak sci-fi horror and an eerie mind-bending London based horror) as well as some pulpy-comedy titles: Lust of the Saucermen and The Trouble with Wandering Tattoos. Of which the later is set in a whacky alternate universe Cape Town.
LM: What are your aspirations as a writer? Where would you like to see yourself in ten years time?
BK: Still writing. Without a doubt that is what I want to be doing. It’d be nice to reach more readers, but as long as I’m still having fun writing and telling the stories I want to tell, then it’s all good. I’ve no desire to be the next King, Gaiman, Barker, Keane or Laymon. I want to be me.
Practically, I’d like it if my stories kept me in fresh coffee and paid the bills. That’d be the good.
LM: In general, as a reader, what do you think good writing is?
BK: Strangely enough I’ve been thinking about this recently. As I get a little older I find (and remind myself) that I read for pleasure, for fun.
I think in terms of craft, fun is overlooked. Fun is also subjective. I think the best test is whether you find yourself sucked in to the story. If a story can totally absorb you, it’s good.
In the end I read is to be entertained, to have fun on some strange adventure all the while being safely curled up on the sofa or in bed or wherever. If the story entertains and you enjoyed reading it (and nothing snapped you out of the illusion) then it’s good writing.
LM: If you had one piece of advice for other writers, what would it be?
BK: Just write.
Sounds simple and more than a little trite, I know. The best advice I ever got (and was too young at the time to properly comprehend) was when I was in Film School. My lecturer told me “If you want to make movies, then just do it. Find a way.” It’s true and applies to all creative endeavours. If you want to write, write. Make sure it’s the best story you can tell.
The other thing is not to rush. I’m an impatient person so it is often difficult for me to step back and not rush into things or push a story that isn’t ready just yet. It is important that when your reader finds you work that it is as good (writing style, spelling, grammar and formatting) as you can make it.
After all, as Scott Nicholson said: “You only get one chance to make a first impression.”
LM: Your Kindle (or generic, non-branded e-reader) is broken and you can only have one book (not your own!) on there. What would it be and why?
BK: Argh, this is a tough one... I suppose other than “The Complete Works of Everyone Everywhere” I’d have to say it would be a collection of short fiction. If I’ve only got one book I want a variety of subjects and a range of emotions. It’d have to be something I’d enjoy reading and rereading.
It would be a toss up between Richard Laymon’s Dreadful Tales, Jeff Strand’s Gleefully Macabre Tales or Thomas Ligotti’s Teatro Grottesco.
In the end I’d have to go with Teatro Grottesco, it’s probably my favourite book and I could happily read Ligotti over and over.
Bloody Parchment, will be published by eKhaya, and is available to buy from Amazon.com in June 2012.
You can find out more about Benjamin Knox over at his blog, The Strange World Of Benjamin Knox