About the Author:
Alan Porter was born in Wales in 1967. After a successful career as a composer of theater and commercial music in the 1990s he moved into publishing, initially as a music typesetter, then later as a book designer.
Alan began writing in 2005 and his first horror novel for teen readers, Midwinter Lucie, was published in 2008. His latest novel for adults, Run, was published in 2013.
He lives in rural Worcestershire, England, with his wife and parrot.
MF: You write horror. What drew you to this genre as a creative outlet?
AP: I think horror is deeply rooted in the British psyche. From Bram Stoker (OK, Irish!) and Mary Shelley, through Hammer films to James Herbert and Neil Gaiman we have it in our DNA. Maybe it’s because we have such a long, unbroken history, and history is a dark place. Something in me was just receptive to this growing up. I used to stay up to watch the old black and white Frankenstein and Mummy movies on TV when I was nine or ten, and I began reading James Herbert before I hit my teens. Why? I don’t know. I guess the dark side of human nature fascinates me.
Why this as a creative outlet? I don’t think we choose that. We just write what we are comfortable with, and for me that was, broadly, horror. I am a firm believer in the goodness of human nature, but it is fun to probe our darker sides, to dig beneath the surface into our primal core. Human beings are complex creatures and the internal conflict that such complexity can set up in some people in some circumstances makes for very interesting stories!
MF: What makes your brand of horror stand apart from other books in the genre?
AP: I don’t believe horror should be horrible. Sure, I do occasionally have some violent and gory scenes, but they are never more than punctuation to the main narrative. I deal in psychological horror – in the deep fears we all have. For this reason I rarely use ‘monsters’ in my work. For example, in my last book, Run, the creatures that initiate the action and enable the plot ultimately play only a very minor role. The horror comes from within the main character – how he deals with what has happened to him and the changes that go on within him. I’m more in the tradition of Richard Matheson’s ‘Shrinking Man’ than Wes Craven’s ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’.
I also believe that while a good story is interesting, what really interests readers are good characters. Humans want to know about other humans, not just the stuff that happens to them. Too much horror concentrates on plot at the expense of character. I try to get a satisfying balance between the two.
MF: Do you think people have misconceptions about the horror genre? What about your own work?
AP: A lot of people think of horror as being stomach-churning exploitation fiction – lots of violence, blood and guts – or else stories that are implausibly supernatural. In a lot of cases, of course, they would be perfectly correct! But horror also covers far subtler material. There’s a capacity for horror that exists inside all of us; a capacity that comes from the very earliest evolution of human consciousness. It is the fear of snakes, of spiders, of the dark. Even where our modern world has rationalised these fears away, we still retain a powerful need for fear, and this gets sublimated into fear of hospitals, or flying, or dying alone in an unheated flat at Christmas.
All this fear has a common core, but there are numerous ways to exploit it as a writer.
The blood-and-guts writers believe that core to be the fear of death (or transformation into a death-like state), and they exploit it by bringing death into violent focus within their work (the Wes Craven model of horror). The other school of thought is that our central fear is loss of control – we fear hospitals because faceless people can do all kinds of painful things to us; we fear flying because of faceless lunatics with bombs render us impotent; we fear dying alone because to do so means losing any sense of meaning and purpose as a human being. This is the Richard Matheson model – of course, we know the Shrinking Man is going to die, but it is his journey through his loss of humanity, not his ultimate demise, that drives the story.
It is this latter that I write about. Both models (and all the variations in between) have redemption as their final destination, but for me that redemption comes from slaying our internal monsters, not driving the stake through the heart of an external one.
MF: Your books are published through Eyelevel Books. Tell us about your experience with them.
AP: I chose to publish through a small press mainly because I wanted to maintain control over the direction and pace of my career (plus the fact that most big publishers don’t seem to care about the concept of a career at all these days!). Eyelevel Books is not really a fiction publisher, but they took a punt on me and so far it is paying off for both of us. Whoever you are published by, or if you chose to do it all yourself, there is a lot more to being a writer than just writing. It’s a crowded market these days, and you’ve got to be able and willing to get known, but you’ve also got to be realistic about how long it takes. The problem with the big publishers is that they require a quick return on their investment. Small-press or self-published authors can take a little more time to breath.
MF: What inspires you?
AP: Life around me. Simple as that. For a writer, every person you walk past in the street, every building you enter, every tree you shelter under in the rain has a story. The fun is imagining what that story might be.
MF: What has been the toughest criticism given to you as a writer? What has been the best compliment?
AP: My toughest criticism wasn’t, strictly speaking, a criticism at all. When I started writing I didn’t have much of an idea about being published – it just wasn’t why I was writing at the time. I did, however, send some stuff out to publishers and agents just to test the water. I jumped through all the hoops – first three chapters, synopsis agonised over for days, covering letter, the lot. Then I waited. And eventually I got rejections back. That’s fine: publishers can’t possibly publish everything they are sent! BUT, it was all too easy to read a subtext into those rejections.
Now, I’m not saying I’m the best writer ever to be rejected by the major publishers. What I had a problem with – and why I saw those unconsidered rejections as criticism – was that I read books that these publishers *had* accepted. And some of them were garbage – derivative plots, minimal characterisation, tenuous control of material, in some cases barely literate. And what was the message that pertained? That I was *worse* than that!
I don’t, of course, feel like that now. Publishing is a business, and I think we’re just in a phase right now where money has become so dominant that quality sometimes gets left behind.
The best compliment is the flip-side of that worst criticism. I am constantly paid the best compliment any author can be paid – just being read by thousands of real people who buy and enjoy my books and keep coming back for more.
MF: What do you read? What do you re-read?
AP: Outside of fiction my major interest is exploration, especially polar exploration. I love tales of endurance beyond what we normal folks experience, and my favourite arena for that is the snowy wastes of the poles.
For fiction, there is no one to compare to Stephen King. With two or three horrible exceptions, he is one of the finest writers working today. It is unfortunate that he is branded as a ‘horror author’, as this is far too limiting. ‘The Stand’ is equal to any of the Great American Novels of the twentieth century, and if I read a better book than ‘11.22.63’ this year I will be very surprised.
I ‘dip into’ a wide variety of other authors (I volunteer one afternoon in a charity bookshop, so I have unlimited opportunity!). I am generally drawn towards thrillers, military fiction, crime, that kind of thing. The only vague criteria I use is that I rarely bother with anything that has been on the Bestsellers lists, or anything that has won a prize.
MF: What is your favorite writing tip or quote?
AP: Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well. It’s about getting up, getting well, and getting over. Getting happy, okay? Getting happy.” Stephen King (of course!)
MF: Do you have any advice for other writers?
AP: Be the best you can possibly be. A first draft is not a novel – the real work of writing comes in sculpting that first rush of creativity into a controlled whole. Do that and readers will believe in you and your work and will repay your effort. Anyone can write a hundred thousand word ‘book’. Very few people take the time and trouble to turn those hundred thousand words into a novel. They are very different things.
MF: If you could jump into a book, and live in that world … which would it be?
AP: This might be a very disappointing answer, but there isn’t one! I like reality: it’s infinitely varied, fun, and as engaging as you make it. At a push, I might say it would be fun to sit above Geoffrey Household’s foxhole in ‘Rogue Male’, or sail on Henri Charriere’s boat in ‘Papillon’, even walk in the footsteps of Ran Fiennes across the Antarctic, but really, in every case the author has done such a fantastic job of describing these situations, what more could I learn?
Daniel Ang lives to run, so when a freak accident leaves him in a wheelchair, he thinks his life is over.
He fights against his injury, against the creatures that did this to him, and against life itself.
What he doesn’t realise is that the real enemy is not out there at all.
It’s inside him, and crippling his body is only the beginning….
Eye Level Books