Welcome to the fifty-seventh of my blog interviews with novelists, short story authors, poets, directors, bloggers, scriptwriters, autobiographers and more. Today’s is with horror / science-fiction author Stuart Hughes. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate the author further. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here.
Morgen: Hello Stuart.
Stuart: Hello Morgen.
Morgen: Please tell us something about yourself and how you came to be a writer.
Stuart: Sure thing. I was born in Burton upon Trent, Staffordshire in March 1965 and now live in Belper, Derbyshire with my wife Margaret and two cats Jodie and Jessie. I work for a building society which saw us moving up and down the country for a while before we found a place to settle close to the beautiful Derbyshire Dales. I’d always read a lot as a child – Enid Blyton, Roald Dahl, the Hardy Boys, stuff like that – and as a teenager I found myself reading a lot of James Herbert, Gary Brandner, Graham Masterton, Stephen King and Dean Koontz. I’d always had an active imagination too. As kids I used to play a lot of imaginative games with my friends – based on Star Trek (my favourite when there was a group of us), Starsky and Hutch, Randall and Hopkirk deceased, and a Witch Hunter game I made up – and I was usually the one suggesting the storylines and moving the games forward. I also remember walking around the playground at Junior School with a friend of mine called Darren, telling him a story about the people who lived in mirrors. I was making the story up in my head as I went but Darren was captivated. The next day Darren told me he had had nightmares based on the story I’d told him and I found that really cool. So, I guess, at some point I was always going to try my hand at writing down some of the ideas I had floating around in my head. I dabbled a bit during my teenage years and in 1988 I started writing seriously – I attended a creative writing course run by a guy called David Bell, a complete stranger at the time who would go on to become a very good friend, and a year later had my first short story published.
Morgen: Ahh, Starsky and Hutch. 🙂
Stuart: Yeah. I was Hutch and my friend Andrew was Starsky. We used to ride around on our push bikes chasing criminals. Those were the days.
Morgen: 🙂 What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Stuart: Horror. The writer who most inspired me growing up, and still does even now, is Stephen King.
Morgen: I used to read his books all the time (I’d be the first one in the bookshop on release day) and blame him for me wearing glasses (torch / duvet, say no more).
Stuart: I know what you mean. King writes horror primarily but he grounds it so well in the mundane everydayness of life that it really resonates with me. I was reading other horror writers too – some good, some not so good – and it was what I knew. I started writing horror stories and found I was quite good at it, good enough to get them published any way. I do write in other areas too, fantasy mainly but some stuff in what I would very loosely term science fiction – in as much as it’s set in the future. I’ve just finished the first draft of a 6,000 word fantasy story called Castle of Books which I’m particularly pleased with. Anybody who belongs to the Critters Workshop – Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror can judge that for themselves when it reaches the top of the queue (27th July approx). I’ve also considered writing crime fiction from time to time but haven’t written any yet. To be honest though, I don’t get too hung up on genre labelling and pigeon-holing.
Morgen: Sadly agents and publishers tend to so more authors are going the eBook route.
Stuart: The stories I enjoy writing most are those where I have an inspiring idea and I can write the story I want to write, worrying about who might publish it later. I do write stories aimed at specific markets (usually anthologies) but this can be hard work sometimes if the target market, rather than the story idea itself, is driving the writing.
Morgen: What have you had published to-date? If applicable, can you remember where you saw your first books on the shelves?
Stuart: In total, so far, I’ve had over 60 short story publishing credits (69, I’ve just counted them). The first, a 500 word piece called Money Talks, which was published in Rattler’s Tale #2 in 1989, through to the most recent, another short piece of 750 words titled Beach Rage, which was published in the Derby Telegraph, our local newspaper. That sounds like I write really short pieces, which isn’t actually the case. The average length of my short stories would be around three to four thousand words.
Morgen: I didn’t think that local papers published fiction so you’re very lucky.
Stuart: Yeah, they publish about three a week.
Morgen: Have you had anything else published?
Stuart: In 2011 I’ve had work published in the British Fantasy Society Journal (Dark Horizons section), the Derby Telegraph, Golden Visions Magazine, Midnight Street, Sex and Murder Magazine, and on the websites Derby County Mad, RamZone and This is Derbyshire. Obviously I’m still writing and looking to add to that list of publishing credits. More of my short fiction is coming soon – Brylcreem and Pipe Tobacco in the Derby Scribes 2011 Anthology, Unfinished Business in the Alt-Dead Anthology, Long Way Home a 10,000 word short story I collaborated on with Richard Farren Barber in ePocalypse: emails at the end and Canvassing Opinion in Morpheus Tales. Back in 1997, eleven of my short stories were published in a collection titled Ocean Eyes, with an illustration for each story by the wonderfully talented Madeleine Finnegan. Even as a writer, I can’t begin to explain the thrill of holding a book I wrote myself in my hands. Let’s just say it’s a rush and a thrill and leave it at that.
Morgen: Feel free to go on, every writer / reader likes to hear of successes. 🙂 How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Stuart: ‘Brand’ is stretching things somewhat but we live in hope. I do all my marketing myself which, to be fair, isn’t a great deal. I have my own website Stuniverse – the world of imagination, which I keep updated with News and a regular Blog, and I use Facebook as well. I tried Twitter but couldn’t get the hang of it.
Morgen: Persevere, it’s great!
Stuart: I will. My published work at the moment is short stories appearing in magazines and anthologies and it goes without saying that those publishers and editors will be publicising their publications as well.
Morgen: Have you won or been shortlisted in any competitions and do you think they help with a writer’s success?
Stuart: In the 90s David Bell, who I referred to earlier, and myself edited and published a horror magazine titled Peeping Tom for the best part of ten years, maybe slightly longer. We were fortunate enough to win the British Fantasy Award on two occasions – 1991 and 1992. I’m also a member of the Derby Scribes writing group and won the Scribes Short Story competition last year. I think winning awards and competitions like that is a fantastic confidence boost and looks good on the C.V. Whether they help a writer’s success or not I wouldn’t like to say. The quality of the writing should always be the main consideration in my opinion.
Morgen: Absolutely, although having such a back catalogue must help.
Stuart: I hope so.
Morgen: Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Stuart: No, I don’t. I will be looking for one though when I’ve finished my novel. I know quite a few professional writers and it’s interesting talking to them about the role an agent has played in their career. The most common answer to “How did you get an agent?” is that the writer had been turned down by agents previously but, as soon as a publisher was interested in buying their book, suddenly the agents wanted to represent them. I think agents are good for opening doors and there’s a growing number of publishers now that will only accept manuscripts submitted via an agent.
Morgen: Yes, sadly too many. Are your books available as eBooks? If so what was your experience of that process? And do you read eBooks?
Stuart: I’m a great believer in real books but there’s no doubt that the publishing industry is changing now and will continue to change as the technology for eReaders improves. But I think books, even eBooks, should remain books. I want to read a book; if I want embedded video clips I’d check out YouTube etc. I recently bought a Kindle though and I love it. It’s not the same as a real book but is much more accessible and great when I’m travelling or on holiday. Since getting my Kindle I’m finding I’m reading more and can see myself buying more books – I’ll probably still buy as many real books as I did before but, additionally, I’ll buy eBooks that I doubt I would’ve purchased as real books.
Morgen: That’s the general feeling; that readers are reading more and non-readers are now reading – a ‘win win’ for everyone.
Stuart: There’s definitely a place for eBooks and I’m looking into getting my book Ocean Eyes republished as an eBook. I would certainly consider ePublication for future works.
Stuart: Thanks. Madeleine Finnegan – a very talented artist – did all the art work.
Morgen: What was your first acceptance and is being accepted still a thrill?
Stuart: Oh yeah, it’s always a thrill . . . and very much still a thrill. It’s great to know that somebody likes reading your work but it’s a huge buzz knowing they like it enough to want to publish it. My first acceptance was my short story The Car Park, which I came to think of as my jinx story. The story got accepted in 1988 by a magazine called Skeleton Crew. I was ecstatic because Skeleton Crew was one of the horror magazines in the U.K. at the time and regularly won the British Fantasy Award. Unfortunately the magazine got sucked into a black hole after that and never re-emerged, folding before getting around to publishing my story. Next, The Car Park, got accepted by Maelstrom but, unfortunately, Maelstrom suffered the same fate. And so the saga continued . . . but there’s a happy ending. Midnight Street finally broke the jinx by publishing The Car Park for the first time this year.
Morgen: Perseverance will out. 🙂 Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Stuart: Of course, haven’t all writers? I think the secret is to not take it personally and continue to believe in your work. I think I have a reasonable grasp now of when a story works or doesn’t work and if I think it works then I’ll shrug and find another market to submit the piece too. If I think it doesn’t work, or if I’m not sure because it’s been rejected a lot, I’ll send it to Critters Workshop – Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror, see what feedback it gets, rework it as appropriate, and then send it out again seeking someone to publish it.
Morgen: What are you working on at the moment / next?
Stuart: Given that I have a full-time job, and only get to write in my spare time, I seem to have a lot on at the moment. There’s three projects I’m particularly excited about but it’s early days and discussions are ongoing at the moment. I don’t want to risk derailing these by saying too much about them. Ask me again in six months time and hopefully I’ll be able to be more specific.
Morgen: Happy to, although you may need to give me a nudge to remind me. 🙂
Stuart: My main focus is a novel with the working title of Guardian Angel. I’ve written 35,000 words so far but realised that the first person viewpoint wasn’t working. There’s things the reader needs to know that my viewpoint character doesn’t know . . . so I need to rework it with a third person, multi-viewpoint narrative.
Morgen: Omniscient does have its advantages, maybe alternate first / third person chapters / passages?
Stuart: I also have to resolve in my own mind whether it’s going to be a straight crime novel or a supernatural horror novel. It has the potential to go either way and the first two-thirds of the plot can be written before I have to make that decision. I also have four short stories in various stages of development and there’s five or six anthologies with deadlines later this year I’d like to submit work to. I’m also writing a series of collaborations with Richard Farren Barber and we have two stories on the go at any particular time – one which Richard kick-started and the other that I started. And that’s not all. I decided to get back into editing this year and am a deputy editor with Hersham Horror Books working on their Alt-Dead Anthology. I’m also editing this year’s anthology for my local writing group – Derby Scribes 2011 Anthology. Both anthologies are due for publication in September 2011 so there’s a lot going on with the final proofs at the moment.
Morgen: Do you manage to write every day? What’s the most you’ve written in a day?
Stuart: I certainly try and do something with my writing every day and when I was building up the 35,000 words for my novel I managed to add to the word count every day, even if it was only 150 words. The most I’ve written in one day is about 6,000 words. I don’t set myself a target but when on a roll I tend to average about 8,000 words per week. Unfortunately though I’m recovering from shoulder surgery at the moment – I tore one of my rotator cuff muscles playing badminton and detached it from the bone. It’s my right shoulder, and I’m right handed, so my output has been severely restricted as I need to rest my shoulder and I’m limited as to what I can do using just my left-hand, my wrong-hand.
Morgen: Ouch. Maybe a good time to do (paper) edits? Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Stuart: Both, but with short stories I’m more likely to get an idea and run with it. For me, part of the fun and the excitement is finding out where the story will go and what happens to the characters. If I plot too much before I start writing then a lot of that fun is lost. With my novel, out of necessity, I’m plotting a lot more. I think a novel needs more of a structure at the outset to keep it focussed and on track.
Morgen: Definitely more, yes. Who is your first reader – who do you first show your work to?
Stuart: There’s a few writers who I know really well and who’s opinion I trust so I’ll send it out to them. I’m also a member of a local writers group Derby Scribes so I’ll send it to other Scribes for their feedback. Finally, I’ll send it to Critters Workshop – Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror.
Morgen: Ooh, feel free to send the list of interview questions to them. 🙂 Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Stuart: To be honest it depends on the story. I find the better stories, the ones that come most naturally, are the ones that have been going around in my head for sometime. The more formed the idea is before I start writing, the easier the job is. I tend to overwrite in first draft so there’s always a need to go back and cut unnecessary words out. There’s a huge difference though between editing words and changing whole chunks of the story because the structure’s wrong or the thing just doesn’t make sense. That’s where feedback from people you trust is invaluable.
Morgen: Absolutely. My critique group have pointed out flaws I’d never considered and probably saved the story. You mentioned earlier that you also collaborate on stories. What’s that like?
Stuart: It’s fun. No doubt about it, it’s great fun. I think the secret is to find a way to write collaboratively that works for all the contributing authors and then keep an open mind about the way the work develops. If you’re going to get upset, or annoyed if a collaborating author takes a plot in a direction you hadn’t considered, then collaborating isn’t for you. But if you can keep an open mind then it’s really invigorating and exciting. I first collaborated with D. F. Lewis around the turn of the century and we wrote eleven short stories together, over a couple of years. More recently I’ve been collaborating with a couple of fellow Derby Scribes. I co-wrote a fairy tale titled The Sin-Eater’s Apprentice with Peter Borg following a workshop session the group did. I’m also working with another Derby Scribe, Richard Farren Barber on what I hope will be a series of collaborations. One, Long Way Home, is due to be published in ePocalypse: emails at the end later this year, another one, Synsis, is written and on an editor’s desk as we speak. A third one, Night Lights, has been through Critters and we’re doing final edits on it, and we’re working on the first draft of two more stories.
Morgen: Do you write on paper or do you prefer a computer?
Stuart: Direct onto computer for sure. I do sometimes write on paper but that’s usually if I get inspiration when I’m not at home or my laptop isn’t readily available.
Morgen: Me too; notepad / at least two pens in every jacket pocket and bag (two+ because I’ve had a pen run out on me before and that’s worse!). What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Stuart: I think it depends on what viewpoint is needed to tell the story effectively. I’ve written in both first and third person and both come quite naturally if the story idea is right. My preference, if I have a preference, would probably be third person. I didn’t think I’d ever write a second person viewpoint but never say never. One of the short stories I have in development at the moment has a second person viewpoint.
Morgen: Ooh, it’s my favourite viewpoint and I’d love to see it (or maybe you’d be brave enough to submit it for my ‘red pen’ podcasts?). If anything, what has been your biggest surprise about writing?
Stuart: That I can actually do it. That editors want to publish what I write. And that readers enjoy reading what I write.
Morgen: That’s my ultimate goal when I write. Are there any writing-related websites and/or books that you find useful and would recommend?
Morgen: Oh yes. I’d heard about Duotrope before but never investigated it then it was raved about in Crysse Morrison’s workshop at the recent Winchester Writers’ Conference (which I would urge anyone to go to, and if you’ve been and enjoyed it please write to them as their funding is under threat) so investigated and it is great!
Stuart: I’m also a member of the British Fantasy Society.
Stuart: I’m based in the U.K. but, to be honest, with the Internet and email I don’t think it matters too much where you’re based these days.
Morgen: Where can we find out about you and your work?
Stuart: My website Stuniverse – the world of imagination.
Morgen: Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Stuart: I’m a lifelong Derby County supporter, and my Rams-related match reports and articles have been published in the Derby Telegraph and on the Derby County Mad and RamZone websites.
What they said about Ocean Eyes:-
- “Very powerful, driven by strong feeling, that grabbed my attention and drew me along easily.” – Stephen Gallagher
- “I read this with a great big grin all over my face – I loved it.” – Simon Clark
- “I really enjoyed this – it dealt with mature topics which is always a joy to see in genre stories. An excellent command of dialogue and that made the characters seem real to me.” – Mark Chadbourn
- “Stuart Hughes has a natural ability, a determination, and raw talent that is undeniable.” – Conrad Williams
- “Stuart Hughes has a clear, concise writing style, an excellent grasp of narrative and a sharp ear for dialogue.” – Mark Morris
- “Hughes has just knocked my prejudices into touch with powerful and moving horrific fiction (rather than mere horror).” – Keith Brooke
- “At times touching and sad, at others exhilaratingly cruel.” – D. F. Lewis
- “A very satisfying collection.” – Steve Lockley
- “This was so good I didn’t want it to end. That’s the highest accolade I ever give anyone!” – Madeleine Finnegan
Morgen: Wow, that’s a great one to end on, and some great links, thanks Stuart.
Stuart: Thanks, Morgen. It’s been a pleasure.
If you are reading this and you write, in whatever genre, and are thinking “ooh, I’d like to do this” then you can… just email me and I’ll send you the information. They do now (January 2013) carry a fee (£10 / €12.50 / $15) for the new interviews on this blog but everything else (see Opportunities on this blog) is free.
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