A.M. Shine captured the hearts of horror lovers in 2021 with his debut The Watchers (see my review of it here). And now Ireland’s newest scary darling is back with a new novel that sounds just as delightful and creepy… I’m thrilled to be part of the cover reveal for The Creeper, out on September 15th from Head of Zeus. You can pre-order a copy via Bookshop here (affiliate link), and read on for the blurb, to see the gorgeous cover and for an exclusive interview with the author.
Superstitions only survive if people believe in them…
Renowned academic Dr Sparling seeks help with his project on a remote Irish village. Historical researchers Ben and Chloe are thrilled to be chosen –until they arrive…
The village is isolated and forgotten. There is no record of its history, its stories. There is no friendliness from the locals, only wary looks and whispers. The villagers lock down their homes at sundown. A nameless fear stalks the streets…
Nobody will talk –nobody except one little girl. Her story strikes dread into the hearts of the newcomers. Three times you see him. Each night he comes closer…
That night, Ben and Chloe see a sinister figure watching them. He is the Creeper. He is the nameless fear in the night. Stories keep him alive. And nothing will keep him away…
Which was the first horror story you read that made you want to write in the same vein? (Was it another type of story that first made you want to write?)
It all began with a picture book for 3-5 year olds called Funny Bones by Janet and Allan Ahlberg. It follows a skeleton family with a skeleton dog,and though not officially a horror per se, it’s full of fleshless, reanimated corpses, all smiling as if they’re happier in death than they ever were in life.After that, I was a teenager, and the book was Lovecraft’s third omnibus – The Haunter of the Dark. My older brother borrowed it off a friend of his, and then fate found its way into my hands. Stories like “The Outsider” and “The Thing on the Doorstep” opened my eyes to a style of writing that I would read obsessively for over a decade. Had that book not crept into my house, I wonder how different my life would be now.
How has the landscape of Ireland inspired your work? Have you visited anywhere that particularly inspired The Creeper?
The landscape here is a character in its own right. Aside from those few days of sunshine in the summer, the west of Ireland is a beautifully bleak place. It’s a horror writer’s dream, if said horror writer likes their settings dark,damp, and dismally cold. Nothing stirs the literary mind quite like a good blast of horizontal rain. I walked many a wet woodland when I was writing The Watchers. And the village in The Creeper is actually based on the village I grew up in as a child. It’s a maze of narrow country lanes, with flooded fields, and ruined cottages. It certainly helps to capture the landscape on paper when you’ve stood there in person.
You have mentioned the influence of Poe and the Gothic horror tradition on your work. Has modern horror had any impact on your writing and if so, which authors/books?
The quality of writing and the originality of ideas are a constant source of inspiration and envy. They’re the reason the genre is so fresh and exciting in 2022. There’s such variety to the themes and characters that now, more than ever, readers who may have avoided horror for whatever reasons are being lured in. And it’s a trap, of course. Once we have them in that cage, they’re never getting out. To name but a few: Simone St.James blends horror and mystery together beautifully in the likes of The Broken Girls and The Sun Down Motel. Michelle Paver’s Dark Matter is a masterclass in isolation and possibly the coldest book I’ve ever read. Jonathan Aycliffe (one of my personal favourites) is a pro at the slow build, making sure that shiver hits the right spot on the spine; Naomi’s Room and The Lost, to name but two. I also adore writers who pay homage to any Gothic influencessuch as Nicole Willson’s Tidepool, which was one of my favourite books of last year. The list is endless.
How do you like to write? Do your plots come to you fully formed or do you start with a character or scenario and work from there?
A generous tumbler of absinthe during a full moon usually does the job. I think it’s crucial to understand what your ‘horror’ is, and then build the story around that. But coming up with something original is easier said than done. That involves a lot of staring into space. I’ll play around with characters, fears, scenarios and locations, and try to approach it from as many angles as possible. Often, the final plot is woven from many threads that could have been individual short stories in their own right. The Watchers was a rare exception in that I wrote Mina before the plot. I knew that I was sending her to the coop, but that’s all. Only when she was safely locked inside did I plan out the rest. With The Creeper, I had the plot and then designed the character of Ben to best complement the horror of the story.
How has Irish culture and tradition impacted your writing?
I’ve embraced my country’s culture in the same way I did with my baldness. Impacted? Yes. Any choice in the matter? Maybe some subtle cries. I owe so much to Ireland for providing me with the parts I need to assemble something fresh for the horror genre. Even our better-known folk tales are open for interpretation. Reworking and updating old horrors is a great way to keep them interesting, otherwise there’d be no surprises.This was the case with The Watchers, which was a reimagining of a very particular character in Irish folklore.And The Creeper toys with Ireland’s love affair with old superstitions and how they survive to this day. The horror at their core of both novels is quintessentially Irish. So, I count myself lucky to have been born on this little island and to be surrounded by so much spooky shit all the time.
Do you ever model your characters on yourself?
There are definitely a few personal traits and foibles that I’ve put into Mina (The Watchers) and Ben (The Creeper). But I’ll never tell you which ones. I’m like a parasite inside my characters that no one can see. I think every author puts bits of themselves into their work. But I’d also be guilty of “borrowing” personalities from people I know, mixing up whatever cocktail I need for the narrative.
Which other genres do you particularly like to read? Do they have an influence on your work?
I rarely stray too far from the horror genre. It’s become an addiction that I’m happy to live with. But science fiction and horror are so closely linked that often they’re one and the same. I still enjoy books grounded in reality but what I really look for are elements outside the ordinary – a concept or idea that I‘ve never encountered before. I really enjoyed Blake Crouch’s Pines trilogy. The twists, horror and pacing were sublime. Stuart Turton’s Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle was also wonderful. Applying a concept like body-swapping to a murder mystery was genius, and I’m in awe of how he managed to map it out. And the occasional thriller is always welcome, especially if they’re twisty. The last one I loved was The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides.
If you weren’t writing horror what other literary projects would you like to pursue?
There’s only horror. Even if I tried my pen at sci-fi, it would always read like a horror. It’s both a blessing and a curse.
Which two of the following characters would you rather have dinner with: Carmilla, C. Auguste Dupin, Frankenstein’s monster, Count Dracula, Cthulhu, Roderick Usher?
Frankenstein’s monster – eloquent and an absolute gent. But would I enjoy my dinner sitting across from a mismatch of stitched together body parts? Probably not. Cthulhu – he’s a fair size, so I’ll put his invite aside until I’m having a summer barbeque. Dupin would probably talk too much, and poor old Roderick too little. So, I guess it’s got to be the Count and Carmilla. Vampires – good conversationalists, snappy dressers. With some bottles of wine and a few carafes of blood, we could quite happily natter by the fire until the dawn.