Monday, 23 January 2012

Interview with Graeme Reynolds

Graeme Reynolds' first novel, High Moor (a werewolf novel set in the North East of England), came out in November 2011. I’ll be reviewing the book soon, but, in the meantime, I caught up with Graeme to talk writing, werewolves and publishing…

She-Wolf: Hi Graeme. Thanks for talking to us. Why don’t you start by telling us a little bit about yourself…

Graeme Reynolds: I’m originally from the North East of England, but moved to the Bristol area when I was 18, with the RAF. After a brief military career that lasted a whole year and a half, I stayed in the area. These days I break computers for money, and I moved into an isolated smallholding in Wales last year, in readiness for the inevitable zombie apocalypse. I’ve been writing for just over three years, and some people even like my work. My first novel, High Moor, came out in November.

SW: Tell us a bit about High Moor – what’s the book about?

GR: The book is split into three parts. The first part is very much a coming of age story, set in North East England in 1986 and also conforms more closely to the “classic” werewolf tale. The children in the first part have to deal with some pretty traumatic events, and that sets things up for the rest of the book.

Part 2 is very much about coming to terms with change. In this instance, it’s about how the characters deal with loss, and how their lives change as a result of the events in the first part of the novel. Specifically, how a family reacts to the fact that their ten year old son is now a werewolf. I like to think of part 2 as being the “what happened next?” part of the book.

SW: Sounds intriguing. What about the third part?

GR: The last section takes place in 2008, and the theme is how your past actions can have unforeseen consequences, sometimes years later. John, the main character returns to High Moor after a long absence, when he hears reports of what could be another werewolf in the town. He races against time to find the beast before the next full moon, when he will turn into a werewolf himself.

SW: So how did you get started in writing?

GR: Writing is something that I always wanted to do, but never really got around to. I used to write horror based role-playing games in my teens and twenties, and had a couple of false starts where I would write a chapter of a novel then consign it to the bin because I wasn’t happy with it. Then, in 2008 I discovered flash fiction and wrote about 30 or so short stories that were published in a few electronic and print venues. I started High Moor not long after I started writing shorts, but it sat gathering dust for a while. All things considered, that wasn’t a bad move in the end, because it gave me time to learn the craft, try different styles on and develop my own voice.

SW: Where do you get your inspiration from?

GR: High Moor was inspired by events in my childhood. There were reports of a big cat in the area, attacking livestock in fields. There were some sightings, and even a photograph of “The Durham Beast”, and we had the police coming into schools, warning us not to go into the woods alone. I was around the same age as the characters in the book at the time, and it left a lasting impression on me.

SW: So is High Moor a bit autobiographical then?

GR: There is an awful lot of autobiographical stuff mixed in with part 1, in terms of what the kids get up to. My mother has already chastised me for a scene involving the school VCR.

SW: So there are a few stories from your childhood then?

GR: One scene in particular – the climax of part 1, has been with me for years. I remember being at a scout camp and being told around a campfire, under a full moon, about a book that had a werewolf attacking a cub scout camp. I got so scared that I packed my stuff and walked home at 2 in the morning. It turned out later, when I read the actual book, that none of that stuff happened, and it was just kids being nasty. That mental image of that scene stayed with me though, and that was in many ways, the starting point for me when I sat down to write High Moor. It’s been a story that I’ve wanted to tell since I was ten years old.

SW: Tell me a bit about the werewolves in High Moor. Did any particular traditions inspire you?

GR: I started off with the standard, common and garden wolf man stereotype, and found in many ways, the twist to the mythology that I came up with grew organically from the story. I’ve always loved the fact that werewolves very much represented man’s struggle with the bestial part of his nature. I tried to really build on that, so while there is only one “curse” as such, depending on the mindset of the individual, they become a different type of monster.

SW: So what sort of werewolves do they become?

GR: The classic wolf man is called a moonstruck in the story. These are the people that fight against the wolf and keep it suppressed. When the moon is full, the wolf becomes too powerful and they change, but because they fight it, they end up caught between man and beast. All pain, rage and instinct.

The afflicted that accept the wolf side of them become more fully wolf, and retain their personality and intellect. The two sides work in harmony, although even in human form, they have strong wolfish instincts as they are in a symbiotic relationship with their animal side.

The last type is somewhere between the two. When a victim gives themselves over to the wolf. They retain their intelligence to an extent, and can change at will, but even in human form, they are more animal than person.

SW: There’s been a bit of a boom in werewolf fiction lately, why do you think they’re so popular?

GR: I think that werewolves have always been popular. A great deal of the recent interest comes from the paranormal romance genre, where the werewolves are considered primarily as a love interest for a human character. The same thing happened with vampires, and while it may make for a nice teenage fantasy, it gets away from what is interesting and frightening about the monster, taming it, if you like.

There are more horror themed werewolf stories coming out as well, though. Maybe with vampires and zombies saturating the market, people are turning back to the werewolf as another option. I can only hope that it continues, and we get some real quality werewolf fiction coming out. There are not that many truly great werewolf novels, when compared to other sub genres. Not that I have found anyway. It’s about time there were more.

SW: You have some female werewolves in your book – tell me a bit about writing them.

GR: I have a couple, but the main female werewolf character was very different to write than the others. She’s probably the most assured character in the book – certainly the most comfortable with herself. She has a playful, tender and quite mischievous side to her, but has her own agenda and won’t think twice about making a mess of anyone that gets in her way. By the time I finished the book, she was probably my favourite character. She’s almost certainly going to be the main protagonist in the second book.

SW: Was she any harder to write than the male werewolves?

GR: In some ways, she was the easiest to write, but also the most frustrating. She had an uncanny knack for turning my plot on its head and ruining my chapter plans, because she would go off and do something that I’d never even considered. It’s strange when things like that happen, but also great.

SW: Outside of your own (of course), who’s your favourite female werewolf?

GR: While I’ll always have a soft spot for Kelly Armstrong’s Elena, my favourite she-wolf has to be Laura Greenacre, from Thomas Emson’s brilliant Maneater and Prey novels. She’s smart, withdrawn in many respects, but is absolutely loyal and vicious when she needs to be. Both books are among my favourite pieces of werewolf fiction, and Laura’s character is a big part of that.

SW: Let's talk about publishing. Once you’d finished writing High Moor what happened next?

GR: When I started High Moor, I was intending to go down the traditional publishing route. Unfortunately, the more I saw of traditional publishing, the less I liked the idea. I’ve met people who have sold 100,000 copies of a book and made almost no money from it. I’ve also spoken to people who have been given a dreadful cover by the publisher that has hurt their sales. I wanted to retain creative control over the book. I’m proud of it and didn’t want an editor chopping out the interesting parts to make it fit a niche.

SW: You started your own small press to publish your novel. Tell me a bit about that decision.

GR: The decision to form Horrific Tales Publishing came fairly easily. I understood enough of the market to know broadly what else I needed to do once the book was finished (little things like paying a cover artist and getting a professional editor involved). As I started getting these things done, the costs started mounting up and it occurred to me that, as I’m intending to start a business (albeit with one product) I might as well run it like a business. That way I can put things down as a business expense, for example. Also, while people will read something that a small press has put out, they won’t always consider something that’s “self published”. There is still a great deal of stigma attached to the term, and people who submit their first draft to Amazon without so much as proof reading it are not helping.

It could all go horribly wrong, of course, and I may have to eat my words and go crawling to a traditional publisher if no one buys it, but for now, I’m happy with my choices.

SW: Will Horrific Tales be publishing any more titles?

GR: There is a chance that I’ll expand into publishing other people’s stuff. I have a couple of writer friends that have some great books in progress, and it may be that, because I’ve dealt with a lot of the paperwork and other business parts, that they may want me to put their stuff out through the imprint as well. It all costs money, though, and takes a lot of time, that will invariably take me away from my writing. I’ll have to see how it goes.

SW: And what about a sequel to High Moor?

GR: I’ve already started on the sequel, and there is an “in continuity” short story out in an enhanced eBook anthology called Tooth and Claw through Liquid Imagination Publishing. I’m hoping to have the sequel out by the end of 2012, and at the moment, I’ll probably publish that one through HTP as well. There are going to be at least three books in the High Moor series, maybe more. I’ll have to see where the story takes me after the first three.

SW: What sort of books do you enjoy reading? Any favourites from the last year?

GR: I’ve had a very werewolf centric year. I started off with Wolfen, by Whitley Streiber, which scared me as much a second time around as it did when I first read it as a child. Then I read the fantastic The Wolf’s Hour by Robert McCammon. It’s an amazing novel – especially the parts dealing with Michael’s life in the forest as a newly turned werewolf. It’s not really horror, but it’s one of my favourite reads of the year. This week I finished The Last Werewolf, by Glen Duncan. Parts of the book blew me away. Other parts went on a bit, I thought, and I wasn’t keen on the ending. Finally, today, I finished a book called The Squirrel who Dreamt of Madness. It’s a very odd book, but hilarious in places and quite thought provoking in others.

SW: How about films? Any favourite werewolf films?

GR: Decent werewolf films are few and far between. American Werewolf in London and The Howling remain the all time classics. I loved Dog Soldiers and liked a few of the Ginger Snaps series - especially the one set in the Middle Ages [ed. – Ginger Snaps Back, actually set in 19th-century Canada]. Other than that, I would struggle to think of any really good ones, although I did enjoy The Wolfman remake. I just wish that they’d stuck to practical effects instead of the CGI.

SW: I always ask this question…vampires or werewolves?

GR: Do you have to ask? Werewolves all the way. I mean, what is scarier – some angst-ridden walking corpse that seduces teenage girls, or a seven foot tall mass of muscle, claws and primal rage? No competition really.

SW: Thanks for chatting to us Graeme. Best of luck with the book.

High Moor is out now for Kindle (UK and US) and in paperback in the US. The UK paperback is planned for early 2012, as are other eBook formats.

The first five chapters of the book are available for free on Graeme’s website.

OUT NOW: Variant Spelling by Hannah Kate

My debut poetry collection is now available from Hic Dragones and Amazon, priced £6.99.

Here's what the publisher has to say about me:

Hannah Kate is a North Manchester-based poet, author and editor. Her work has appeared in a number of local and national magazines, as well as an anthology published by Crocus Books. She is a freelance teacher of English, Maths and Creative Writing, and reviews genre fiction and academic writing for a number of organizations. This is her first full-length collection of poetry.

And here's what the blurbs say:

“Delicate and strong, Hannah’s words beautifully communicate the impossibilities of communication. She explores the subtexts of what we do with our language in ways that will resonate with anyone who finds their own feelings and intents too big for semi colons.” Dominic Berry, Poet

“The poems in Variant Spelling evoke a North in revolt; a place of abandoned dyeworks, soot, winter, granite and grease. Through the ‘shifting vowels’ of the title poem they celebrate a world at odds with the imposed culture of the South. It is at its most rebellious in Praise God, where Hannah ‘praises the God of the North’, a place where the ‘air hangs with burning witches’.” Rosie Lugosi, Poet and Performer

I've blogged about the collection on my creative blog, and there's a sample poem up there. But here's another one - hope you enjoy!

Sir Ywain

On the wood on the bracket
of a cathedral seat,
there’s a picture of a knight
dressed for battle.

On second thoughts

he looks as if he’s already been fighting
for a long, long time.
He looks like he’s wounded his foe.

But the knight isn’t going to win this one,
because a portcullis has fallen,
missing his body
but carving his horse in half.

Poor knight.

Without a horse he won’t be able to fight.
Without a fight he won’t be able to win.
It looks like
he’s going to lose this battle.

But then again

the picture of the knight
on the wood on the bracket
of a cathedral seat
is just a picture of a man
sitting on half a horse.

Variant Spelling is available now, from Hic Dragones.

Friday, 20 January 2012

CFP: Insular Books: Vernacular Miscellanies in Late Medieval Britain

Location: The British Academy
Dates: 21-23 June 2012
Dr Raluca Radulescu (Bangor University) and Dr Margaret Connolly (University of St Andrews)

Funded and hosted by the British Academy, this conference brings a new and multi-disciplinary focus to the late medieval miscellany, a little-investigated and poorly understood type of manuscript. The main aim of the conference is to foster academic interest in vernacular manuscript miscellanies from the period 1300-1550 written in a mixture of medieval languages (English, Anglo-Norman, Welsh, Scots). Attention will be paid to the interactions between literary and non-literary texts in miscellanies, and to evidence of exchange between different communities, including dialogue across the Welsh and Scottish borders. A main objective is to achieve agreement in the area of taxonomy; at present there is no agreed definition of the medieval miscellany which is treated variously by specialists in different disciplines and by
cataloguers. The discussion will thus address four main inter-related concerns:

• how to achieve a definition for the miscellany which distinguishes it from other mixed-content manuscripts (anthologies, collections, composite volumes);
• how to make manuscript miscellanies and their textual contents accessible to modern readers, including scholars, students, archivists, and general readers;
• how to develop a coherent scholarly methodology for dealing with volumes whose contents are intrinsically multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary;
• how to understand and represent the complex relationships between manuscript miscellanies.

The list of confirmed speakers includes: Prof. Derek Pearsall, Dr Ceridwen Lloyd-Morgan (Universities of Cardiff and Bangor), Prof. Wendy Scase (University of Birmingham), Dr Helen Deeming (Royal Holloway, University of London), Prof. Ad Putter (University of Bristol), Prof. Diane Watt (Surrey University), Dr Sue Niebrzydowski (Bangor University), Dr Phillipa Hardman (University of Reading), Dr Marianne Ailes (University of Bristol), Dr Tony Hunt (St Peter’s College, Oxford), Dr Dafydd Johnston (Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies, Aberystwyth), Dr Anne Parry (Aberystwyth University), Dr Sara Elin Roberts (Bangor University), Dr William Marx (University of Wales, Trinity St David’s), Dr Carrie Griffin (Queen Mary University of London), Dr Andrew Taylor (Ottawa University), Dr Carol Meale (University of Bristol), Dr Deborah Youngs (Swansea University), Dr Katherine Olson (Bangor University), as well as the two co-organizers.

The organizers are happy to receive additional proposals for 20 minute papers which focus on any of the four areas of interest outlined above. Please send an abstract (maximum 150 words) to the organizers by 15 January 2012.

Some bursaries will be made available to doctoral students and early career researchers in financial need (an application form will become available on the conference website at the British Academy).

Thursday, 5 January 2012

GUEST POST: Laura Vivanco

From the Middle Ages to Harlequin/Mills & Boon Romance

The publication of For Love and Money: The Literary Art of the Harlequin Mills & Boon Romance marks a significant stage in my transformation from a medievalist into a scholar of popular culture. My time spent with medieval literature has, however, shaped my approach to, and my expectations of, literature. As a result, I was unconvinced by many of the criticisms I encountered of Harlequin/Mills & Boon romances. In the face of Ann Barr Snitow’s confident statement that descriptions of clothing are “the number one filler in Harlequins” (249), for example, and Janice Radway’s opinion that

The clothes described [...] almost never figure significantly in the developing action. Instead, the plot is momentarily, often awkwardly, delayed as the narrator accidentally notices seemingly superfluous details for the reader. The details, however, are not really superfluous at all. They are part of an essential shorthand that establishes that, like ordinary readers, fictional heroines are “naturally” preoccupied with fashion. (193)

I was unavoidably reminded of the importance of colour symbolism in many medieval works. As Harriet Goldberg has observed,

In sentimental romances and other courtly works, architectural marvels, banners, shields, gowns, tunics and hose are colourful embellishments. Their colour was often the bearer of extra meaning. [...] Although some authors explained their chromatic imagery, others did not, relying on a chromatic awareness shared with their readership. (221)

It therefore occurred to me that perhaps the critics’ low opinion of modern romances was based on a lack of understanding of the conventions which modern romance authors “shared with their readership.” And so, instead of accepting that “Any history of the romance will in one sense be a record of decadence. The works now popularly called ‘romances’ are usually sub-literature” (Beer 1), I began to look at them more closely. As I did so, I discovered topoi such as the locus amoenus and the hunt of love, familiar to me from reading medieval texts. There were also explicit and implicit references to chivalric romances which support Peter Swirski’s argument that

popular literature created for the mass enjoyment of mass readership may be as true a medium of literary artistry and aesthetic continuity as the canon, circulating and recycling plots, narratives, and characters that have proven their enduring worth. [...] Its predilection for well tried formulas and its penchant for recycling may, at the end of the day, be a good way to preserve the great motifs of literature for new generations of readers. (64)

I’d like to think that one can take both a scholar and romances out of the Middle Ages, but you can’t entirely remove traces of medievalism from either of them.


  • Beer, Gillian. The Romance. The Critical Idiom, 10. 1970. London: Methuen, 1977.

  • Goldberg, Harriet. “A Reappraisal of Colour Symbolism in the Courtly Prose Fiction of Late-Medieval Castile.” Bulletin of Hispanic Studies 69.3 (1992): 221-37.

  • Radway, Janice A. Reading the Romance: Women, Patriarchy, and Popular Literature. 1984. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 1991.

  • Snitow, Ann Barr. “Mass Market Romance: Pornography for Women is Different.” Radical History Review 20 (1979): 141–61. Rpt. in Powers of Desire: The Politics of Sexuality. Ed. Ann Snitow, Christine Stansell and Sharon Thompson. New York: Monthly Review P, 1983. 245–63.

  • Swirski, Peter. From Lowbrow to Nobrow. Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2005.