Author interview with Stephen Gregory
I’m Stephen Gregory, an Englishman living and working and writing in Brunei Darussalam in SE Asia. I’ve been out here with my wife Chris for thirteen years – I teach English and French to cheerful, cheeky teenage girls in a local government school. Our son Nick is here too and we have two grand-children in Thailand. Brunei is a ‘tiny, oil-rich sultanate’ (it says in the guide-books) on the north coast of Borneo, hot and tropical, with everyday bright sunshine and torrential rains ... we have a little bungalow surrounded by bits of jungle, a backyard with snakes and monitor lizards and monkeys, and our two ‘local’ dogs Poppy and Marmite. I get up at 5.30 and teach in the mornings, we take the dogs to the beach late afternoons, and in the evening (after it’s gone dark with the wailing of the mosque at 6.30) it’s time for a gin and tonic and then either stay in or go out and eat somewhere in the capital city Bandar Seri Begawan. I write in the evenings too.
Starting to be a writer? I was writing in my 20s when I was a young teacher in England and Algeria and Sudan, I published a few stories, and I was planning one day to escape and try writing properly full-time. At last, after ten years’ teaching, I ran off to Snowdonia and rented a little cottage ... and wrote THE CORMORANT.
Inspiration for WAKENING THE CROW? It shares the bird-theme with THE WAKING THAT KILLS and really all my other books. Ever since THE CORMORANT I’ve had some bird or other marvellous piece of wild nature as the iconic, symbolic centre of my writing ... whether it’s a toad or a fungus or a brittlestar, and more birds. In THE WAKING THAT KILLS I had the amazing swifts, and in WAKENING THE CROW it’s a scraggy, sinister crow, discovered in the belfry of a church, which carries the spirit of Poe throughout the story ...
Selling the book in one sentence? Another of my ‘fierce little novels’ (as one reviewer described my writing), ugly and beautiful, cruel and tender, original yes, but with the spark of Edgar Allen Poe glimmering throughout ...
Problems writing the book? Not really, except maybe the 7,000 miles between me and my setting. I mean, I was feeling homesick out here in sultry, steamy Borneo and decided to set my book in a freezing sub-zero January, in a nondescript town in the midlands of England ... a world away.
So I especially enjoyed the iciness ... I’d be sitting in my writing-room here in Brunei with a nice swirly g & t, outside the darkness of the trees pressing around the house, and writing about the frozen fields of Long Eaton park, ice-skating in the open air, or else taking my little boat along the Trent & Mersey canal, crunching the bow of the boat through thin ice, with the cattle steaming in the frosty fields etc etc! Delicious!
Retract anything? Yes, I would always change this or that ... it goes for every one of my books, and things I do or say every day.
Fears? I draw my material from bad dreams and fragments of bad reality, from other books and films and newspapers. Yes, I’ve drawn from my own experiences in my visions of horror, places I’ve been to and situations I’ve imagined in those places and situations.
I think people are drawn to a horror story with a lovely shivering anticipation of what’s lurking somewhere inside it ... there’s a delicious inevitability about the page-turning, the dread of what’s waiting on the next page or maybe the page after that ... the closer the story is to real life, a real place and situation, the more dreadful the expectation of horror ... that’s why I’ve set my stories in fairly ‘normal’ or ‘real’ places ... a seaside town, a school, an English suburb, a Welsh village ... where everyday people meet an extraordinary event which breaks them down ...
I don’t know about boundaries and ‘keeping it clean’ when I’m writing a horror story. Certainly the material I’ve touched on is quite unusual and some people find it disturbing ... Cormorant, Woodwitch, Blood of Angels, Perils and Dangers of this Night ... and some uncomfortable reading in Waking that Kills and yes in Wakening the Crow too ...
Other projects? I have another new book, PLAGUE OF GULLS, to be published as an e-novel by Pigeonhole in January 2015 ... exciting and new and different. Meanwhile, in USA, Valancourt are bringing out superb new paperback editions of THE CORMORANT, THE WOODWITCH and THE BLOOD OF ANGELS. So, with Solaris doing THE WAKING THAT KILLS and WAKENING THE CROW, there’ll be six new publications out there.
My favourite books? As a young reader I immersed myself in the deep, dark, natural worlds of Henry Williamson’s TARKA THE OTTER and SALAR THE SALMON, the woodlands and riverbanks and deep dark pools of the English countryside ... then it would be DH Lawrence’s WOMEN IN LOVE and LADY CHATTERLEY and THE FOX, again it’s the countryside really, and Thomas Hardy ... and a gem like WATERSHIP DOWN ... for something more modern and urban it would be Ian McEwan and Paul Auster ... and the best book of all books and simply unmatched by anyone ever, Malcolm Lowry’s UNDER THE VOLCANO.
A sneak peek of WAKENING THE CROW? My muse, the evil genius of Poe ... it glimmers and gleams through my mean little story.
Brunei Darussalam, September 2015