AN INTERVIEW WITH… GAVIN GARDINER

An upcoming horror author from Scotland, Gavin Gardiner believes there are no greater terrors than that which reside within our own minds. For this reason, he specialises in the psychological, and pushes the themes and subjects of his work into areas seldom explored in the genre.
His debut novel is now available.
Experience the nightmare:https://linktr.ee/GGardinerHorror

FOR RYE BLURB: Renata Wakefield, a traumatised novelist on the brink of suicide, is drawn back to her childhood hometown following her mother’s ritualistic murder. Before long, she becomes ensnared in the mysteries of Millbury Peak as one question lies heavy:
Who killed Sylvia Wakefield?
As the answer draws nearer, as madness continues to envelop the quaint country town, Renata will come to realise that the key to all this insanity lies with one man – the world’s leading writer of horror fiction. His name is Quentin C. Rye, and he will guide her to the revelation that true madness lies within.
Discovering that the darkness of her family’s history runs deeper than she ever could have imagined, Renata Wakefield’s eyes will finally be opened to one single, hideous truth, which will awaken a long-dormant evil.

Do you want to talk about your debut ‘The Rye’, for those readers who don’t know it, yet?

Sure, and thanks very much for having me!
For Rye, in short, is a horror that revels in the traumas and tragedies of the real world. Some difficult topics are broached, and it is in these horrors that I believe we can find the most fear.

The story follows protagonist Renata Wakefield, a traumatised romance novelist on the brink of suicide, who is forced to abandon her self-imposed exile and return to her childhood hometown of Millbury Peak. It soon becomes evident that she is ensnared within a complex web of lies and deception, which centre on her childhood and the mysterious events that occurred, hidden even to herself.

From there it gets…well, dark. You have been warned.

 Is Millbury Peak based on anywhere real?

I’ve lived in a number of small country towns, and so I have to be honest and say that I did transfer some of the inherent creepiness of these rural locales into Millbury Peak, but it’s not explicitly based on any one place. The idea behind Millbury Peak was to create a town that would serve as a believable backdrop to Renata’s family, which appears highly functioning to all on the outside, but on the inside is actually a living hell. Her father, the town vicar Thomas Wakefield, is the cause of this hell, yet is also practically worshipped by the townsfolk, adding to the hopelessness of the situation. The story picks up late in the family’s existence, and is interspersed with flashbacks from Renata’s childhood, so we get a complete picture of the Wakefield family and its troubling past.

Again, the town had to serve as a worthy and believable backdrop to this situation, and so my focus was on giving the place an insular feel, as if the townsfolk had no interest in anything other than their own small-town affairs. Geographically, Millbury Peak effectively ‘replaces’ the town of Newark-on-Trent in the East Midlands, with the River Trent being overwritten by my fictional River Crove. The story opens in the city of Stonemount (again, made up) which replaces Nottingham, and I also created an island in the Outer Hebrides called Neo-Thorrach which features in the story. As you can see, I’m somewhat carving out my own fictional world within our own world. There is a reason for this, but that reason is, at this time, strictly confidential.

Do you want to tell us something about your start in the indie world?

My involvement in the online horror communities such as those on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads, didn’t begin until For Rye was complete. The writing of the novel was an entirely focussed endeavour, and it wasn’t until I was finished that I stopped to ask, ‘Well, what now?’ The answer, of course, was that these days much of the promotion and marketing is up to the author, and starting to network as soon as possible is never a bad idea.

I began submitting my novel to various literary agents, but it didn’t turn out to be suitable for any of them. You can never truly know whether this is due to your story/writing simply not being of a high enough standard, or because your project doesn’t ‘fit’ with what an agent is currently looking for – or what is trending – but I did my best never to let rejection slow me down.
I was eventually pointed in the direction of an indie publisher with whom my friend was signed, and was ecstatic with the amount of creative control I was offered. I’ve learnt that this is one of the big advantages of independent publishing, and although I don’t know what the future holds, I’m extremely happy at this point to be a part of the indie world and be able to see my creative visions through to the very end without too much interference.

With the advent of social media, is it still relevant for an author to have their own website?

Building my website was a priority for me right from the beginning, but it became evident quite quickly that this is where you get the least traffic and engagement, at least at the stage I’m at in my career. Building the thing was a nightmare; I have little experience in the construction of websites, and I found the whole process extremely unintuitive. The site is quite obviously an amateur job, and it’s my intention to eventually have it rebuilt by someone that treats web design as an art form in itself.

I think there’s real potential for an author’s website to be a ‘hub’ of sorts. At this stage, mine is simply a kind of online business card, somewhere prospective readers can get a feel for what I do. In short, yes, I think it’s important to be seen to have a website, but in practice most people will connect with you on social media.

With the advent of social media, do you think that “being popular” is more important than actually writing well, for an indie writer’s career?

I’ll jump straight in and say that nothing is more important than writing well. Any creative pursuit starts with the form itself – the thing that you’re trying to create. That’s why I chose to put all my energy into writing For Rye before setting out on the journey of establishing myself online. I believe social media and the various online communities can be both encouraging and educational for a writer, but they can also serve as a distraction. They serve an important function in the career of a modern author, but the primary aim should still be writing the best story you can.

As for ‘popularity’, that’s a term I feel needs defined. Number of followers certainly ain’t it. There is talk of prospective publishers looking at a submitting author’s social media and analysing engagement, as well as weighing up the worth of their follow-to-following ratio. I can’t comment on whether there’s any truth to that, but I’ve seen authors with great success at all ends of the ‘popularity’ scale.

My advice to any author looking to establish themselves online (which they should be) is to focus not on numbers, but on presenting a professional, branded – yet authentic – image that will appeal to potential followers. Prepare plenty of content in advance, and decide on your niche – don’t be vague about what it is you do. Narrow it down. First and foremost, go into it with the objective of actually connecting with people and making friends. Engage with each and every comment, show your gratitude for any gestures of goodwill shown towards you, and go out of your way to give a foot up in any way you can to your fellow writers. We’re all in it together, and helping each other is more important than getting any arbitrary numbers up.

Vampires are scared of crosses and all that’s holy; possessions are due to demons and should be fought by exorcists; ghosts are souls that struggle to reach the afterlife… How difficult is it to separate horror from religion?

This is a great question. I’ve thought a lot about the prominence of religion in horror. I, for one, am not religious, but stories such as The Exorcist resonate with me deeply. This may be because of the stark symbolism; you don’t get much more archetypical a portrayal of good versus evil than pitting the forces of Heaven and Hell against one another.

For Rye‘s protagonist, Renata Wakefield, comes from a fanatically religious family. I found it interesting to explore a father who imposed a system of belief upon his family in such a way so as to have a detrimental effect on their upbringing, even though his intentions were essentially good. My work revels in horrors of the real world, and so demons and angels don’t play so much of a role, but I plan on continuing to explore the theme of religion in future works, both as a force of bad and good.
Horror and religion have a long and rich relationship. Some of the earliest examples of horror are to be found in folklore, and if we go back even further we find plenty of horror in religious mythology. The two are destined to dance a complex and compelling waltz for as long as stories are told, and I’d encourage any writer of the genre to try exploring religion as a theme.

 Writing, proofreading, editing, marketing, cover design, formatting… Do you wear all these hats yourself, or do you have someone helping you?

As I previously mentioned, working with indie publishers means that you get a lot more say than you would with a large publishing house. I suppose I ended up taking the role of a kind of project manager on the road to For Rye‘s publication, and enjoyed drawing on the strengths of those around me while also guiding the project towards a very specific vision I had in my mind.

The conceptualisation, writing, and editing of the book was entirely my own work up until a point. I then gave ‘prototypes’ of the book to friends and family, who proved invaluable. My mum effectively took the position of developmental editor, and she went through the whole thing several times, line by line, advising me on everything from grammatical considerations to anachronistic concerns to how much blood and gore should feature in particularly grisly scenes. (Spoiler: she always demanded more.)

I then embarked upon a thorough editing phase with my publisher, and from there it was an ever increasing list of jobs to be completed on the run-up to release day. I was in a fortunate position to have felt like I could step back and let it assemble itself, but I took great pleasure in getting involved every step of the way. 
The moral of the story is that the myth of the solitary writer is a mostly inaccurate one. So far as I can tell, all the best books have had a team behind them contributing a wealth of disparate talents towards a shared vision. I will be forever grateful for having had the best team I could ever have asked for.

What, if anything, is missing from the horror scene?

I’m not sure this is exactly ‘missing’, but I feel the horror genre is somewhat inundated with the supernatural. I love this kind of horror as much as the next horror freak – The Blair Witch Project is my favourite horror film of all time – but I don’t see why trends have to swing in that direction quite so much. Stephen King’s Misery forever changed my perception of what a monster could be, and ever since then I’ve obsessed with tracking down stories of human forces of evil. It is this direction in which For Rye pushes, and I intend on sticking to that path for the entirety of my writing career. We need to bring horrors that could happen back to the genre.

What is next after “For Rye”?  What is in your future?

I’m actually sitting on a completed novella titled The Last Testament of Crighton Smythe, which is just waiting for the For Rye wave to settle down before it emerges. It’s still horror, but it veers in a different direction stylistically; it’s more of a stream of consciousness, first-person narrative, and I’ve taken to calling it my American Psycho meets Catcher in the Rye.
Besides that, I’m currently deep into the planning stage of my follow-up novel, Witchcraft on Rücken Ridge, which I’ve described as a folk horror set up a mountain. It promises cults, caves, and cannibals, and is hopefully going to be as rough a ride as For Rye.

Did Covid affect your writing at all? What I mean is: does it feel “unrealistic” writing about characters that go out and interact without worry about lockdowns, masks and social distancing, or it didn’t bother your writing in the least?

That’s a great question, and one I wish I could properly answer! The truth is that I’d completed all my current writing projects when Covid hit, and spent much of the pandemic working hard on various preparatory tasks to do with publication. Having said that, I’ve also been thoroughly planning my next novel, the folk horror set up a mountain I previously mentioned. However, since that takes place in a secluded Austrian commune completely apart from the rest of society, I can’t imagine that even Covid would have had much effect on the lives of those characters.

What I’m certain of is that it will affect my writing in the future. I think it’s had such a huge impact on us all – psychologically, sociologically, politically, within the contexts of work, family, friends, technology…basically everything – that I’m sure many creative types will feel new inflections to their styles emerging. I’ve always wanted to write a pandemic horror, but may hold off on that one since I imagine we’ll be overloaded with that trend for some years.

Classic question: do you plot in advance or do you write “by the seat of your pants?”

This one’s exceptionally easy to answer: I’m a plotter through and through! Although I certainly don’t believe one is more ‘correct’ than the other, as proven by endless masterpieces from both camps, I personally revel in building up the story via an insanely thorough and complex plan. I use the Scrivener word processor, which comes with a built-in folder hierarchy where you can arrange various planning documents as deep as you like. I assemble comprehensive texts for everything from character studies to setting, and before I begin the first draft everything that happens must be written out in a bullet points, chapter by chapter. To emphasise how much of a plotter I am, I actually wrote the final chapter of For Rye first! Once you read the book and see how everything comes together in its closing few pages, you’ll see how essential a thorough plan would have been to achieve this. But once again, neither’s ‘better’ than the other. What’s important is to find the best way of doing things for you.

Do you ever explore different genres outside horror as a writer?

I did a little non-fiction writing before I made the decision to write a novel, but other than that this is my first serious writing project, and I decided early on to focus on one genre. Although I plan on sticking exclusively to horror – partly because it’s easier to ‘brand’ and market yourself when you specialise, and also purely due to my insatiable love of the genre – I do like the idea of dipping into other styles from within the context of horror.

Another part of why I write horror is because I like how the genre doesn’t hold back from presenting the darkest facets of our lives – indeed, it revels in weaving the very worst traumas and tragedies through its narratives. However, I personally find it important to remember not only to bask in the macabre, but also juxtapose and counterbalance the horrible stuff with the lighter elements of life. For example, For Rye features a prominent romance thread running through a large chunk of the novel. This is integral to the plot – and the horror – and aids in presenting a well-rounded tapestry made up of both the light and darkness of existence. Having said that, it always comes back to the horror.

How difficult it is to get praises for a debut novel?

Ever since the first person to have read For Rye offered their feedback, right up to the reviews that are starting to pour in now upon release, I’ve never stopped marvelling at how lucky I am to have received so much encouragement and support. Maybe it’s actually easier to get praise for a debut novel, since people are more aware of the fact that this is your ‘first time’, and that you may be in a more sensitive emotional state than a seasoned writer. Or, of course, maybe it’s harder. After all, every writer should be continuously learning with every new project, therefore improving with each subsequent work.

In truth, I can only answer for myself. It was bizarrely easy for me to find praise for my debut novel, but in the end that’s not what a writer needs. I was blessed to have been on the receiving end of such kind and gracious words, but I place far higher value in the criticism those closest to me were able to offer. My mum and brother in particular committed a huge amount of time to going through the book line by line, taking copious notes for possible improvement. They’re both also utterly ruthless, and the book would never have arrived at its current state had they felt the need to hold back so as not to hurt my feelings. They knew I was out to write a decent book, not have my ego stroked, and any writers with the same objective will feel like they’ve won the lottery when they have a team like I did, offering to tear the story to pieces for them. I certainly felt like a lottery winner.

Would you like to give us some of your contacts?

Certainly! You can find all my social media channels and website via my Linktree at https://linktr.ee/GGardinerHorror. Through this link you can also sign up to my newsletter for monthly updates regarding my various horrorific activities, and follow the Amazon links to grab your copy of For Rye. I very much hope you’ll join me for the nightmare…


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