While the internet can be the source of troubles and strife from time-to-time, it also grants the amazing ability to unite with people from all across the globe who share similar interests and hobbies. One such person I was able to meet recently was John Linwood Grant. John’s an affable British author and editor of weird tales who possesses near limitless knowledge of classic horror literature and Lurchers (more on this in the interview). Despite how busy he’s been producing content and interviews for his blog greydogtales.com, writing his own short stories and novellas, and co-editing the forthcoming new magazine Occult Detective Quarterly, John was kind enough to carve out some time to answer a few questions for us here at Horror Delve.
1. HD: Who are some of your personal favorite writers from when you were younger and from now?
John: “That’s a hard starter. Who did I grow up on? Saki (H H Munro), and Jerome K Jerome, who wrote some wry ghost stories. I devoured huge amounts of Conan Doyle, William Hope Hodgson and M R James, so I suppose I started in a very British fashion. Then it was Lovecraft, Jack Vance, Sheri Tepper and Roger Zelazny; Patricia McKillip and Gene Wolfe. Away from those, I used to read a lot of detective stories – Dorothy L Sayers, Daphne Du Maurier and Agatha Christie. I still love Sayers and Du Maurier especially. Nowadays I read quite a bit of borderland weird – one of my favourite recent authors is Matthew M Bartlett because of his unusual approach to weird fiction. I like Shweta Taneja, Michael Wehunt, Caitlin Kiernan and too many others. This is very unfair to so many brilliant writers I know, but someone has to be named.”
2. HD: What led you to pursue writing?
John: “Excessive imagination. I make things up constantly, always have done. Every writer of fiction is a liar, even if it’s only to frame truths, and I can lie quite fluently. So writing was an obvious route. And people fascinate me. Most of my writing is about people, by which I mean I like exploring individuals more than plot devices. Occasionally I forget the plot and just write dialogue, a lot of which has to be scraped off afterwards.”
3. HD: You’ve penned several tales under the Last Edwardian umbrella which feature some of literature’s greatest characters such as Sherlock Holmes and a few of Carnacki’s friends. Can you tell us about the origins of this series and what we can expect going forward?
John: “The origin is easy. What did the four men who listened to Carnacki’s stories do after the man himself had gone? That was the question I set out to answer. And in doing so, I found myself drawn to Henry Dodgson, the original narrator. He becomes the Last Edwardian, a man who takes up the Ghost Finder’s occult investigator role, and lives far beyond his era. So you can expect Henry in the Great War, his time in twenties America (coming later this year in another anthology), and his reluctant involvement in covert work during the Second World War. Seemingly ageless and isolated, he struggles for identity and a role even now in 2016. I guess that it builds into an occult tragedy, in some ways.”
4. HD: You’ve said that you took an extended break from writing professionally before your recent return? Can you tells what led to your resurgence?
John: “Nagging. One of my close friends had been insisting that I get more hip to social media, and my partner had said the same. So I explored, found a few fellow enthusiasts of William Hope Hodgson, especially Sam Gafford, then got pushed into having a website and doing a blog. After that it was madness. I’d taken early medical retirement (I’m agoraphobic), and I had nothing ready to my satisfaction, so I wrote some new short stories. Within a few weeks I’d sold one, and it all got out of hand. Short story followed short story, then a novella, and so on…”
5. HD: What’s your process when embarking on the creation of a new story?
John: “Rather random. I wrote a story called ‘The Jessamine Garden’, about a Virginian recluse in a garden full of toxic plants, entirely on the sound of the title. What was a Jessamine Garden? Otherwise, I might envisage a scene, in movie style, in my head, and then work to make that scene happen – ‘Messages’ in the Cthulhusattva anthology came from musing about a mother and daughter on a bus, heading for an unknown destiny. Or I might like a character name that pops into my head. Mr Dry, my Edwardian assassin, came entirely from the name. At the moment I’m working on a story called ‘The Death of Beauty’, provoked by a book title I saw, ‘The Beauty of Death’. I suddenly saw Beauty as the name of a doomed young black woman in colonial Africa, and staggered off from there.”
6. HD: You regularly produce a lot of content over at your blog, Greydogtales. What have been some of your favorite moments so far?
John: “The unexpected ones. Last year’s William Hope Hodgson festival was an amazing success, considering it came from a whim. The Lurchers for Beginners series, which started as a sort of idle joke about how mad our dogs were, went virtually viral, and still has more views than anything ever posted. But new delights came when I found that people liked being interviewed by us. So we had Ted E Grau on his Nameless Dark collection, John Coulthart’s fabulous weird art, Andy Paciorek on the whole Folk Horror Revival, our Scary Women interviews, Milton Davis on black writers and Sword and Soul – it became a thing in its own right. Personally I love our trivia trails, where we connect things in a convoluted way – the three part history of the true ghoul in literature and myth, for example, but I rarely know what others make of them.”
7. HD: Can you tell us what readers have to look forward to from the new OCCULT DETECTIVE QUARTERLY magazine you’re co-editing?
John: “Pure pleasure, and a gradual exploration of what it all means for writers and readers – occult detection, psychic investigation, and what happens when you meddle in such things. Supernatural and paranormal goodness, all crammed into one exciting journal. We’re already confirming stories of classic monsters taking up a side-line, detectives who aren’t human, hard-bitten noir investigators, and quietly determined women who go that step further into the strange. We’ll have some great names in the first issue, and we’ll be introducing talented writers with whom you might not yet be familiar. And we’ll have some serious and fun articles about the whole theme.”
8. HD: You did an open call for submissions for ODQ. That must have been a daunting task to read through so many submissions. Can you give us some insight about the process?
John: “It turned out to be quite harrowing in some ways. Sam Gafford and I took on additional readers with experience to help cull and give second, even third opinions. These guys and gals turned out to be invaluable. We had one hundred and thirty plus submissions. Some tales were definites from the start, but a number fell into that nightmare zone – interesting ideas and characters, even styles, sometimes very original, but not quite market-ready. We’re still pondering some of these for later issues. It’s not the editors’ job to tutor writers, but sometimes we could see that only a small edit might make a story hit the mark.”
9. HD: As an editor, what suggestions can you give to new writers submitting their stories?
John: “I wrote two pieces which people can find on greydogtales (So You Want to Submit a Story 1 & 2) trying to open up exactly that area. In summary – don’t tell us how good the story is, don’t swamp us with credentials. Read the submission instructions and theme repeatedly until you’ve got them fixed. It’s amazing how many new writers don’t do that. Proof-read properly, don’t just spell-check. Try asking someone else – does this story actually work? Is it interesting and original enough that a magazine would want it? Few magazines can afford to take stories that are just ‘Not that bad, I suppose’. If you have confidence in your story and can justify that confidence, go for a paying market. I say ‘justify’ because you should always ask yourself at the last moment – do I stand by this piece of work? If you can’t say yes to that, go through it again.”
10. HD: Who are some of your favorite occult detectives?
John: “That varies from day to day, apart from my interest in William Hope Hodgson’s Carnacki, who I believe to be a true archetype of the actual detective in this field. Arcane knowledge, but scientific principles of investigation. The only early one for whose approach Sherlock Holmes might have had some respect. Algernon Blackwood’s classic occult detective tales are very good, but I find his John Silence often annoying as a person. I always recommend Henry S Whitehead’s Gerald Canevin, but Canevin is more often an observer of the occult. Joshua M Reynolds’ recent Charles St Cyprian, the Royal Occultist, is enormous period fun, and so is Adrian Cole’s Nick Nightmare, as a later protagonist.”
11. HD: What upcoming projects do you have coming up?
John: “Too many. I’m just entering a second year of interviewing for greydogtales, and may also have to publish something more substantial on the dog side of the site, which we insist on keeping up. I have tentative snuffles from a couple of publishers about a collection of Tales of the Last Edwardian, but I’m sketching out another possible novella first. The Occult Detective Quarterly Kickstarter should be up this month – we ran late agonising over so many submissions – and the magazine itself will be out before year’s end. I have about a dozen stories which might be due out in the next six months or so, and if some of those prove popular, I’m always ready to diversify.
My latest accidental project is ‘Imperial Weird’, prompted by discussions with fellow-author Matt Willis. I’m putting together the concept of an anthology of new dark and supernatural tales set in the last quarter of the Victorian period – roughly 1870’s to 1902. It was a time when the British Empire was involved across the globe. Its soldiers and seamen found themselves in strange lands, ill-prepared for much of what they met, and who knows what they experienced? Imperial Weird may answer that question, if the project comes off.”
12. HD: How are your Lurchers doing, and please explain what they are to those who may not already know?
John: “The Big Question. The lurchers are a large part of my life, and had to be part of greydogtales, as I mentioned. A lurcher is a sight-hound (like a greyhound, saluki, wolfhound or deerhound) crossed with another dog, basically. There are a few specific combinations which are bred for their abilities and their nature. Our current ones, Django and Chilli, are both deerhound/greyhound crosses, big animal which are almost as fast as a greyhound, stronger, and enormously good-natured. Except to squirrels, other small mammals etc. And they’re very well, thank you!”
13. HD: Is there anything we haven’t covered that you would like to add?
John: “I think you’ve heard more than enough from me for now. I’ll just say many thanks for the opportunity to spout off, and hope that people enjoy the tales.”
John’s Blog: greydogtales.com
John’s Amazon Page: https://www.amazon.com/John-Linwood-Grant/e/B01EIGUW8G
John’s recent release BLOOD, SWEAT AND FEARS:
U.K. Page: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B01KOZGNYM
Horror Delve’s review of John’s novella A STUDY IN GREY: https://horrordelve.com/2016/05/26/a-study-in-grey-by-john-linwood-grant-review/