Risingshadow has had the honour of interviewing Terry Grimwood.
Terry Grimwood is the author of numerous short stories and reviews which have appeared in Midnight Street, Bare Bone, Murky Depths, All Hallows, FutureFire and Eibonvale Press's Blind Swimmer anthology among others. He has written and directed plays and runs theEXAGGERATEDpress which started when he published his first collection, The Exaggerated Man. His first full length novel, Bloody War, was published 2011.
Click here to visit theEXAGGERATEDpress.
AN INTERVIEW WITH TERRY GRIMWOOD
Risingshadow: Could you tell us something about yourself in your own words?
TG: I’m a Suffolk boy and proud of it. It is a little known fact that Suffolk was the first place God made, and while doing so, used up all His best ideas. It’s a big, wide, open county, not hilly in the traditional sense, but not flat either. If you don’t believe me, hire a bicycle and take a ride around the county, then come back and tell me Suffolk is flat.
The thing about being brought up in the countryside is that you are used to solitude. And solitude can be conducive to the development of an imagination. Even though I was part of a happy family, with a brother and sister, I still spent a lot of time alone under that big East Anglian sky, wandering along lanes and across fields, making up stories and, once I was old enough to hold a pen, writing them down.
I left school at 16 and became an apprentice electrician. Good trade, which took me both onto building sites and into people’s homes. The words grist and mill immediately spring to mind! Like all jobs in the construction industry, it is a rough trade, cold in the winter and hot in the summer. There isn’t a lot of tolerance, or time, so you’re expected to learn fast and start earning your keep - hard for a lazy 16-year old who thinks he looks like Ozzy Osborne (the young version) with hair down to his shoulder blades and an attitude to suit. I met a lot of colourful characters, good and bad, had my share of near-misses (there wasn’t much in the way of formalised health and safety in the 1970s and early 80s) and have probably got enough anecdotes for a James Herriot-style volume called It Shouldn’t Happen to an Electrician. The experience taught me a lot, however, and has led me to my current role as a college lecturer, which is the best and most satisfying job I have ever had. I used some of my site experience in my novel Axe (Double Dragon), by the way.
As well as writing, I’m an amateur dramatic ham and I’ve been acting and Directing, and even writing plays since the 1990s. Great fun. At the moment I’m a member of the Knebworth Amateur Dramatic Society, who are a friendly, talented bunch and whose company I enjoy very much.
I also play the harmonica and sing. I currently perform once a month at the Sunday open mic session (4pm to 8pm), in the “Ain’t Nothin’ but the Blues Bar”, Kingly Street, London. It’s a famous, long running event and features some amazing musicians (that’s the OTHER musicians!). Blues maestro, Barry is the master of ceremonies and it works by him collecting a list of performers, then creating short-lived bands made up of random musicians. This means that, not only have many of the “band” members not played together before, they probably have never even met until that terrifying moment they find themselves huddled together on the tiny stage. Yet, every time, the magic happens and some wonderful music gets played.
On top of all that, I’m a proud dad and grandfather.
Risingshadow: You run a small press called theEXAGGERATEDpress. Could you tell us about theEXAGGERATEDpress and its history? What inspired you to start publishing books?
TG: Seven or eight years ago I had enough stories for my first collection. I touted it around some publishers, but no one was taking on any new work. In the end I decided to publish it myself. All the stories had appeared in various magazines and anthologies, so they had credibility and provenance. Called, The Exaggerated Man, the collection was reasonably successful and garnered some excellent reviews. About a year later, my good friend, John Travis came to me with a collection of his own. It had been accepted by another publisher, but, sadly, they had folded. So I agreed to help publish, what was to become, the excellent and wildly original Mostly Monochrome Stories. I decided to brand the book with a logo and theEXAGGERATEDpress seemed like a good one to use. And so the press was born.
Douglas Thompson’s science fiction novel, Apoidea, made it a hat trick and we were away. So, as you can see, I stumbled into publishing by accident. A happy accident, that is. I enjoy publishing and feel it is my contribution to the writing world. A chance to give something back, I suppose.
Risingshadow: What can readers expect from the books published by theEXAGGERATEDpress?
TG: Most of the work published by the press comes under the weird fiction umbrella. Inevitable since most of the writers I know are associated in one way or another with that world. However, the press is open to all kinds of writing and I want to expand its genre boundaries. I have an idea for an anthology of westerns, love stories and the like, and to invite weird fiction writers to step out of their comfort zones and try their hand at something completely different. I feel that would produce some interesting work; people bringing the styles and skills they have honed in their genre writing, to bear on a very different workpiece. Indeed, my mission statement, if that doesn’t sound too corporate, is “No particular genre, just good writing”.
Most of our books are collections, and that is great because the short story is an important art form and needs encouragement and respect. I would love to publish more novels and novellae as well.
Rhys Hughes, D F Lewis, David Gullen and Stuart Hughes are among the authors whose books we have published.
Risingshadow: What is the most recent book that has been published by theEXAGGERATEDpress?
TG: The Magonia Stone by Markus Wolfson. I am immensely proud to have published this novel. Sadly, Markus died within a few day of publication and I am forever grateful to the book’s cover artist for the effort he put in to produce the art work in time. The novel was launched in the hospice at Markus’s bedside so he got to see, and celebrate, his book.
It is a darkly humorous tale of magic and meddling deities, set in the Elizabethan period and features characters such as Guy Fawkes and John Dee.
Before that, we published Open Waters by the immensely talented, David Gullen, a writer everyone should check out for sheer lyrical delight, powerful ideas and freewheeling imagination.
Risingshadow: In addition to being a publisher, you're also an author. What inspired you to become an author? Have you always been interested in speculative fiction?
TG: I’ve always loved stories and started reading comics and books at a young age. The first novels I read were westerns, loaned to me by an old fella for whom my mum kept house. Westerns are a masterclass in character and plot. They should be compulsory reading for anyone who wants to write.
Then three things happened.
First: Apollo 11 landed on the moon - yes it did, I have no truck with daft conspiracy theories. I will never forget watching the first images beamed straight to our television. We all thought we’d be having holidays in space in a few more years. There was an immense feeling of optimism. I was 12 years old.
Second (and round about the same time): Star Trek burst onto our television screens. I know people laugh at its polystyrene planets and rubber-suited aliens, but at the time, in the late sixties, when it finally reached Britain, it was far ahead of any other sf seen on the small screen. Up to then we had to make do with Dr Who (sacrilege, I hear you say, okay, it was imaginative and eccentric, but it seldom floated my boat, I’m afraid), and Lost in Space, which started with great promise but soon degenerated into utter nonsense. The only reason I watched it was because I hoped vainly, that each episode would be better than what had gone before, and more importantly, I was desperately in love with Marta Kristen, who played Judy Robinson! So Star Trek was a revelation, a breath of fresh air, a thousand times more realistic and powerful than its predecessors.
Third: A neighbour lent me a pile of of science fiction paperbacks. The first one I read was Slan by A E vanVogt. And that was it! Epiphany! To this day I will never forget the feeling that slim volume gave me, the sheer wonder.
A lethal combination, Apollo 11, Star Trek and A E vanVogt. I had to write after that. It was as if I had no choice in the matter. And write I did, feverishly, story after story. But it was a long time before I was published, almost twenty years, in fact. No one can say I’m a quitter!
Risingshadow: Have any authors, books or stories influenced your writing style?
TG: Difficult question to answer. The first “proper” novel I wrote, Atonement for Kamis (never published - and deservedly so), was inspired by Clifford Simak’s Way Station. There was something in that novel that made me understand, at last, how a story works.
A lot of my stories are horror stories of one shade or another, and there can be no doubt that I was heavily influenced by Stephen King, by his conversational style, by the horror to be found in the every day. The Stand was the first King novel I read, and it blew me away, as they say. I just wanted to write like that. The Shining is the perfect occult tale and one I revisit in my own writing over and over again.
I was also inspired by the film Mona Lisa, staring Bob Hoskins. It’s hard to put my finger on why it had an effect on the way I write and probably hard to see how, but I came out of the cinema that night wanting to write a story just like that film. Perhaps it was the characterisation, the sharp, inner logic of the story, I don’t know. But it is still there, inside me.
Lately, J G Ballard has turned my interest towards the clash between the everyday and the surreal and violent. High Rise, for example, original, horrific, yet utterly British, a masterpiece. I think my story, Journey to the Engine of the Earth, in Where are we going? (Eibonvale) has its roots in Ballard-ian fiction; the dystopian housing estate, the threat of mindless unreasoning violence, a catastrophic clash of cultures.
John Steinbeck is the gold standard, however; Of Mice and Men, a work of flawless and terrible beauty, The Grapes of Wrath, a giant among books. That’s how I want to write!
Risingshadow: What kind of fiction do you write?
TG: As I’ve indicated, horror, sf and weird fiction in general are my literary homes. But I do write outside those boundaries. The Exaggerated Man boasts three non-genre stories within its pages and some people have said that they are among my best work. I also contributed a non-genre story to Andrew Hook’s punkPunk anthology (Dog Horn) and am more and more interested in moving outwards from my weird fiction roots. That doesn’t mean I would turn my back on what I know and love, but I want to explore, to just write a sentence and see where it takes me and not be restricted by mores and tropes. My two good mates, Allen Ashley and Douglas Thompson - great authors - have been a real source of encouragement in this literary adventuring.
I’ve always tried to be versatile. The first play I wrote and Directed was a post WW1 drama called The Bayonet. I have a non-genre story in the pipeline for Pendragon Press. I even got a story into Peoples Friend back in 1997! They paid well, and are a more interesting market than people think. Their stories can be quite strong, and they are certainly no push-over. I’ve never been able to repeat my success with them.
I also write for Pearson Educational press. I’ve co-written a number of engineering and electrical text books, as well as on-line teaching materials. A very different style of writing, but just as satisfying as fiction, particularly when you get your hands on a beautiful, big text book with your name on the cover, for the first time.
Risingshadow: You've written Bloody War (Eibonvale Press, 2011), which is your first full length book. It's an intriguing apocalyptic and dystopian book about war and life during the wartime. What inspired you to write this book?
TG: I was driving home from work one evening, back in 2010, and listening to Radio 4’s A Good Read. The singer, Imelda May, was on the programme and her book choice was All Quiet on the Western Front. Something clicked and Bloody War came to me in a moment; plot, characters, setting, the lot. It is an angry book and expresses my frustration with government and the way they mislead their people and drag us, sleepwalking, into wars on a lie. I wanted to show a media who are used to make the unacceptable, acceptable, to drip feed us with brightly-coloured anaesthetic until we are numb and compliant. The Romans did it, dazzling their citizens with the spectacle of the amphitheatre, while their society rotted from the inside. I also wanted to write about the sheer waste and tragedy of war, the biggest crime that humanity commits. Never mind four-letter words, the real obscenity is a three letter one.
Risingshadow: Was it challenging to write about Britain that has been plunged into war?
TG: Yes, although this was one of those rare stories that just seemed to write itself. It doesn’t happen very often I’m afraid. My parents’ generation lived through the Second World War, and I was weaned on tales of Britain in wartime, so there was a lot of material there. Another influence was the fact that I watched The Valiant Years (Churchill's history of WW2) as a child and The World at War as a teenager and both those television series affected me deeply.
Translating that imagery into a present day setting was the real challenge, along with making it believable. There were some review comments stating that I didn’t mention what was going on in the rest of the world. True, but that wasn’t the point of the story. I was trying to show how people can be duped and brainwashed, how something as awful as the war in the novel can become acceptable in a modern, civilised country. Bloody War is an allegory, a parable - if that doesn’t sound too pretentious.
Risingshadow: You've written a chapbook called Soul Masque (Spectral Press, 2013). Could you tell us something about it? What kind of a chapbook is it?
TG: Soul Masque started life many years ago as a submission to a proposed anthology called Paging Mr Hitchcock; stories that famous film directors might write. Inspired by Pulp Fiction, Soul Masque was meant to be a Tarantino style story; vicious, sharp, odd timeline, a lot of dialogue, and disparate characters brought crashing together. Sadly the anthology never happened and the story languished until Spectral Press appeared and began publishing their chapbook series. The rest, as they say, is history.
I suppose you could classify Soul Masque as an urban fantasy, not a term I like very much. It is about religion, certainly, and the definitions and realities of holiness, and the ramifications of a good-versus-evil conflict. It also explores the way the Divine traditionally uses humanity as its pawns, what it actually means to be “used by God”.
Holiness is a terrible thing. Take a look at the Bible. There are plenty of tales of atrocities committed it the cause of “righteousness” and ordered by God Himself. Added to that, disreputable, self-serving characters such as Jacob, are allowed to prosper, while others seem to suffer punishment and bad luck through no fault of their own. In this war, the means is absolutely subservient to the ends. Be warned, Soul Masque is no Sunday School text book!
Risingshadow: You've also edited books. One of the books that you've edited, The Monster Book for Girls, is an interesting and entertaining anthology of diverse speculative fiction stories. How did you come up with the idea of editing this anthology?
TG: While helping to clear out a friend’s mother’s effects, I stumbled on a large, ancient, pre-war, volume of stories called, you guessed it, The Monster Book for Girls. The monster, in this case, was the size of the book and the amount of stories it contained. I loved the title, stole it, unashamedly, and gave the “monster” a new meaning.
I am immensely proud of The Monster Book for Girls. It contains some very powerful fiction, and explores some of the real monsters women face, as well as supernatural ones. In fact, there are very few purely supernatural stories in the book. The authors are both men and women, something that has caused a little controversy here and there. Well, there will be a Monster Book for Boys, an opportunity for women writers can get their revenge perhaps!
Risingshadow: Was it challenging or difficult to gather stories to this anthology and choose which of them will be published?
TG: The stories flowed in, so no difficulty there. Making the final decisions was not as hard as I thought it would be. The anthology had an inner life, a theme within a theme, and I instantly knew which stories were right and which would not fit in. I was also very touched by the number of highly respected authors who submitted work, among them, Farah Ghusnavi, one of the top authors in Bangladesh.
Risingshadow: Because The Monster Book for Girls is a good and unique anthology, it would be interesting to know if you'll be editing similar kind of anthologies in the near future?
TG: As I said, there will be a Monster Book for Boys, possibly in 2017. As for editing, theEXAGGERATEDpress publishes a bi-annual magazine/journal/call-it-what-you-will, called Wordland. Each issue has a theme and is open for both stories and poetry: non-genre and any genre. The next issue will be Wordland 6: Black. Allen Ashley will be guest-editing Wordland 7, so watch out for the guidelines.
I enjoy editing, and it can be a refreshing change from writing.
Several Exaggerated press authors have collected Ellen Datlow Honourable Mentions, by the way. Just thought I’d slip that into the interview!
Risingshadow: You've also edited The Dark Heart of Peeping Tom (theEXAGGERATEDpress, 2014). What kind of an anthology is it? What is the target audience of this anthology?
TG: Edited and published by Stuart Hughes and David Bell, Peeping Tom was a near legendary horror magazine of the 1990s and early 2000s. Peeping Tom was the seed bed for a number of writers who have gone on to be successful; Simon Clark, Tim Lebbon, Conrad Williams and Graham Joyce for example. Others, who were already big names, such as Ramsey Campbell, Brian Stableford, Guy N Smith, Stephen Laws and Stephen Gallagher also appeared within its pages. I was privileged to have two of my own stories published in Peeping Tom, including my first ever published horror tale, John.
I always thought that there should be some sort of retrospective Peeping Tom anthology and mentioned it at a BFS open night to Allen Ashley. His answer was; “You’re right, so why don’t you do it?” Good point. It took more than two years from decision to publication, all with the full support of David and Stuart. I was touched by the generosity of some very big names who were delighted to let me have those old stories and give then another airing. I am also moved that both our lost brothers, Graham Joyce and Joel Lane appear in the book, both of them were very enthusiastic about the project.
My one regret was that there were a number of authors I was not able to track down, so the book is not as long as it would have been! I feel that a little bit of horror history has been preserved with the publication of The Dark Heart of Peeping Tom.
Risingshadow: What are you currently working on? What can readers expect next from you?
TG: Busy! Spectral Press have asked me for a series of sequels to Soul Masque. Two and a half are now complete and submitted, and I’m working hard to get the rest finished by Christmas (2015). I found it hard to get started on these books because I have never written a sequel before. However, it didn’t take too long to get back into the rhythm of the work. I’ve tried to make each story different from the others in subject matter and style, particularly with the first of them; Shadow Waltz.
Pendragon have also accepted two novellae, the first, Eluma Elis, an epic urban (that word again) fantasy featuring members of the panoply of Babylonian gods and demons, has been delivered. The other one is still in my head! This second story is based on true, and tragic, events and is the story of a gay Christian (someone I once knew), and his awful struggle to reconcile his faith and sexuality. A theme that is horribly current, given recent events in the USA and a general resurgence of religion-based homophobia.
Due in print over the next six months are short stories in the forthcoming Terror Tales of the Ocean, Creeping Crawlers and Madame Morte anthologies.
Still to come from theEXAGGERATEDpress this year are an anthology of war-related novellae by such luminaries as Mark West and Richard Farren-Barber, Wordland 6: Black and The Sleep Corporation by award winning Scottish author, Douglas Thompson. In 2016 we have Wordland 7, as well as a collection from Allen Ashley and a novella from David Rix (he of Eibonvale press fame). I’m sure there will be more.
Risingshadow: Is there anything you'd like to add?
TG: Writing is a huge part of who I am, I can’t imagine not being able to write, or not writing by choice. I write whether I feel like it or not. For me it is a pleasure, a delight, a discipline and way of life. Writing helped me through the tragedy of my first wife’s illness and untimely death, and has provided a means to make sense of the senseless. Writing has given me a lot of great friends, and granted me a much cherished membership of a big, eccentric, noisy, occasionally fractious, but mostly happy family. Writers!