Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Interview with S.P. Oldham, author of Hag’s Breath

Today on the Speculative Fiction Showcase, we are delighted to interview S.P. Oldham, author of Hag's Breath, Wakeful Children and the Mindless Trilogy - and more!

You describe yourself as a writer of Horror and Dark Fiction. What does that mean to you?

There is a difference between the two. Horror can be visceral and graphic without having any supernatural reference whatsoever. It can be bloody, brutal and shocking. Dark Fiction on the other hand, describes stories with a definite shadowy, supernatural feel that may also have a horror element, but not necessarily graphically so. Sometimes, the implied is more unsettling, more horrifying, than the blatant. I think it is fair to say that I write in both genres, though more often in Dark Fiction.

You have written the first two books in the Mindless zombie trilogy, and two collections of short stories, Hag's Breath: A Collection of Witchcraft and Wickedness, and Wakeful Children: A Collection of Horror and Supernatural Tales. Do you prefer writing short fiction or does the novel format suit you better?

Honest answer, I have no preference. I enjoy writing short stories very much and often have ideas that are well suited to that medium, but I also enjoy writing longer, novel length stories too. Some plotlines and inspirations better lend themselves to one or the other – I just go with what feels right for that story.

Tell us a little about Hag’s Breath. You say in your blurb that the witches you write about are “not quite what you have known before.” What does that mean?

This is based on a quote from a review kindly left by a reader, who said “If you think these are your standard black dress black cat witches you'd be mistaken...these witches take their roles very seriously, each one completely unique in their appearance, abilities and desires…”
I think when one thinks of witches, one thinks of the pointy hat, warty nose and broomstick witches of our childhoods. In part that is true of this collection: we do see a pointy hat and broomstick or two. Beyond that however, these witches are far from stereotypical. Many of them are beautiful, outside at least. There is an affinity with nature and a tyranny over it; a coven that meets for dinner parties, where guests forget their manners; a medieval witch who turns to her natural calling in her hour of desperate need and a young girl who discovers one summer that friendship is not all that it at first seems. These witches are from a variety of backgrounds, in a mix of settings and with their own peculiar specialities.

Do you have any favourite - or detested - literary witches? What about film versions such as Maleficent or the Wicked Witch of the West?

As a young child, the witch in Snow White and the Seven Dwarves was the epitome of wickedness to me! To my young mind, that was exactly as a witch was meant to be. The Wicked Witch of the West always struck me as shrill and somewhat annoying – now that was an ending well deserved! Maleficent – a totally different proposition. A definite pagan, folklore feel to her which is somehow more powerful and compelling than mere magic. Even in the Disney version she was a more forceful and sinister presence.
I love the contradiction of witches: how they are essentially elemental creatures with a power over nature, yet often act as aberrations of the same. White Witches excepted, of course…

You describe Wakeful Children as a collection of Horror and Supernatural Tales. Do you have any favourite ghost or horror story writers, past or present?

I am sorry to be so unoriginal in my answer to this, but my favourite horror writer is Stephen King. Not only does he have the knack of imbuing his work with at the very least an unsettling sense of unease, if not outright horror (I always think of Rose Madder, not one of King’s own personal favourites) but he is a great story teller and an expert at creating believable, if not always likeable, characters. Of course, the great Charles Dickens was very adept at writing suspenseful, atmospheric ghost stories. I have recently been introduced to Sheridan le Fanu, the Victorian gothic writer, and I am looking forward to reading his work.

Horror as a genre seems to be undergoing a renaissance - why do you think that is?

I am not sure.  Perhaps it is because horror is a way of mirroring the ugly realities of life and the world today, of examining it and our reactions to it, whilst remaining safe from it; we hope. Perhaps it is a way of challenging ourselves to face up to such things, testing to see how much we can withstand before we hide away screaming. It could also be that there is a willingness to accept now that there is some genuine talent out there in the genre; writers and authors of ability and flair, whose work can be openly enjoyed. I don’t know but I suspect that the horror genre may have suffered from the same snobbery as romance for a while, in that it was a widely held view that it ‘wasn’t real literature.’  There are good and bad examples of ALL forms of writing. No genre should be snubbed as a whole because of that.

Have you heard of the Folk Horror Revival and if so, what do you think of it?

I will be honest and say I hadn’t heard of it, but now that I have it makes perfect sense to me. This is very much in keeping with what I was attempting to explain about my interpretation of the sub-genre ‘Dark Fiction.’ It would seem that Folk Horror, as its title suggests, draws on folklore, legend, paganism and perhaps mythology too. It seems entirely right and natural to me. So many of those old stories are by definition horrific or dark in nature. I have written some myself, based upon frightening characters and cautionary tales of my own childhood; stories that were passed down through generations before they ever reached me. There is something seductively compelling about such tales, I feel. Great raw material for a ghost or a horror story.

You have also written the first two books of the Mindless Trilogy, about the Zombie Apocalypse. What drew you to this topic?

As cheesy as this is going to sound, it is nonetheless true: a dream! I had a particularly vivid dream in which a man escaped an especially dangerous zombie (a Thinker) by means of a window leading out onto a fire escape. In my dream, which I can recall to my mind now as clearly as if I had actually seen it, this man is clinging to the remains of a steel fire escape ladder, discovering once he is out there that the rest has decayed and fallen away, leaving him facing the prospect of taking on the Thinker or falling to his death. In my dream the sun was beating down harshly, the sky was clear, the world near-empty of life. The whole time the Thinker stood, unmoving, simply watching, waiting for the man to make his choice… I woke up thinking it was a great idea for a zombie story and set to it. It is fair to say that, whilst I always love writing, I have never had such fun writing a story before in my life!

Why are such stories so compelling today?

I think this goes back to your question about the apparent Renaissance of horror. It is a way of dealing with wider societal issues perhaps; of expressing frustrations, fears, anger – you name it – at the state of the world and some of the people in it. That is on an intellectual level, if a subconscious one. A much more mundane answer, but one I feel to be just as valid, is that it is fun! The genre opens up such a wide arena of possibilities, with so much potential to let your imagination run wild. What’s not to like, really?

In the sequel, some of your characters have survived to carry on the fight. How do you envisage the next volume of the trilogy?

I have almost finished Book 3 of the trilogy actually, so have a very good idea of what happens next! I don’t want to say too much here, for obvious reasons, but if anyone wants to know more feel free to check me out on any of my social media or my website for release dates etc…

How do you research and prepare for your writing?

There is a whole wealth of information out there about how to prepare for the apocalypse! Some people take this stuff very seriously indeed, others approach it with a deliciously wicked sense of humour that makes the various guides and ‘advice’ great reading! I try to be as accurate as possible when it comes to real-life issues such as how long fuel will last and still be usable, how to use a specific firearm (not that there are many in my books, my characters have to get creative and draw on their resources) and other such questions. As to how I prepare: I write whenever I get a spare minute. For reasons I won’t bore you with here, I am often quite nocturnal, so it is not unusual for me to be writing in the small hours. I also try to hold down a day job though, so I try not to get too carried away…

Is there a very specifically English strain of horror writing?

I think there is, yes, especially when we look at classical authors of horror and ghost stories and even more specifically during the Victorian period. There again, I think there is a tendency for most zombie/apocalyptic fiction to be set in the USA, though there are British writers making forays into the genre, just like myself.

What are you planning to write next?

I have had an idea on the back-burner for some time, that I intend to get started on once the trilogy is completed and I have attempted to ‘get it out there.’ I don’t want to give anything away but suffice to say I am excited about it. Whilst it is horror, it is also a little different from anything I have done before and I am keen to see how it develops.

About S.P. Oldham:

I am 48 years old, happily married to Adam for the last 28 of those years. Together we have two grown up sons and a spoilt Cocker Spaniel. We live in the Sirhowy Valley in South Wales.

I write primarily but not exclusively in the Horror and Speculative Fiction/ Supernatural genre. I currently have four horror fiction books available on Amazon and am in the process of writing a fifth.  I also have a horror collection, Wakeful Children, available in paperback from Troubador, Amazon and all good book stores.

You can find me on the following platforms:
On my website, So Lost in Words:
On Facebook:
Goodreads: (Please note that due to Goodreads policy this is a ‘split’ profile encompassing both Lillian White and S P Oldham.)
Twitter: @dogskidssmiles

1 comment:

  1. I throughly enjoyed the stories by S P Oldham they are a wonderful escape from reality. This author has a wonderful imagination which allows the reader to get lost in the stories. If you haven't read the books then I would certainly recommend that you do, and real page turner. I also enjoyed the interview and look forward to the next exciting book by this up and coming author.