So PURGED is out today YAY, loved this one (link to my review at the end) so was VERY happy to get to have a chat to the author. I wrote some lovely questions (ok they were kind of lovely) and he answered them in the rock and roll style (rebel) but excellent. You really don’t want to miss this book. Its one of THOSE books.
So. Purged. Ok this is the obligatory where do you get your idea’s from question, except I kind of already know because I read stuff and take it in – so let me ask this instead. What made you make your main protagonist an ex Minister rather than a current one?
On a practical level, church ministers are often tied down to one geographic location. I prefer the idea of Matt being able to travel anywhere in the world for a case.
But mostly I made Matt an ex-vicar because I wanted his worldview to be complicated. That’s more interesting to me. Not that church ministers aren’t interesting when they’re still in post, ha. Some vicars I know are fascinating and wacky and filled with gripping stories. But for me, I liked the idea of God being a painful part of Matt’s life and something from his past. It’s like a hypothetical old girlfriend who treated you bad. She might have been amazing in one sense, but infuriating and saddening in others. Those sorts of relationships can leave you with emotional scars and disappointments of what could have been. You try and forget, but then old songs play on the radio and you’re flung into the pain again. And maybe there’s a sense of liberation for being free too. Matt has a kind of cosmic version of that.
What did you want to explore with that?
Well, I sometimes meet super strong Christians who never ever doubt their faith. Or atheists who absolutely refuse to believe in the possibility of the divine. I respect those positions, but most people I meet are somewhere in between those two poles. I don’t just mean straight down the line agnostics. People may be 99% atheist or 99% theist but I’m really interested in that one percent grey area. The places where we question our faith or lack of it. I think most people admit to some greyness in these ideas, though we often feel forced to say we are always 100% one way or the other.
There’s also a bunch of people who reject God but don’t reject the idea of the supernatural, demons, hauntings etc. That’s also fascinating to me.
Purged is blinking creepy in places. I genuinely am not going to eat lettuce again or even look at a lettuce.
Ha ha, I’m so glad you found it creepy. I love the idea that the book spooked you. I’m glad you picked up on the lettuce thing too. That was inspired by a genuine medieval tradition by the way, where a nun was supposedly possessed by Satan through eating some unblessed lettuce. Guess she should have bought Rocket Salad instead.
As I work for Tesco this might be an issue but I digress – I’m interested in the ongoing vibe for the series (thank heavens it will be a series because I’m seriously addicted already) – will we see more of the grey area’s between reality and possibility?
Absolutely. Though I have no idea what Matt’s belief trajectory will be. I certainly want to expose him, and the reader, to more elements of the supposed supernatural or unexplained. I like the idea of the demonic featuring as a recurring theme but I prefer to keep natural explanations just as plausible too. That’s why the books sit between the horror and crime fiction genre. I want people to be able to read both world-views into the same book. In Matt Hunter’s world maybe demons are orchestrating the evil or maybe it’s pure human misdeeds. I like the idea that both readings could work.
Also, I don’t want to suggest that my aim is to start Matt off atheist and then in book ten he’ll drop to his knees, shout hallelujah and become a born again believer. I mean I guess I can’t rule that out, as I don’t know who he’ll react to what he’ll end up seeing. But to be honest, if he was to become a man of 100% certainty that God exists he’ll cease to become interesting to me. Because that’s not how most people think.
Now you are an actual Baptist Minister.
Yup. I’m an ordained Reverend in the Baptist Denomination which always needs a caveat. That’s because people read the word ‘Baptist’ and figure I’m aligned with people like Westboro Baptist Church in America, who picket gay people’s funerals or say women aren’t allowed to speak in church. The Baptist Union of Great Britain is not like that at all, and I certainly don’t share those sorts of fundamentalist views. But yeah, it says Reverend on my Debit Card. These days though I spend most of my time writing, so I don’t look after any one congregation any more. I do travel around the country though, speaking at churches and leading services. If any of your readers wants me to speak at their church one Sunday, then tell them to drop me a line!
I should admit at this point that I’m not a God person although I sit on the fence, it seems practical to do so considering I don’t actually know everything – and you are also a bit of a horror buff (and expert) – so what made you take all that and channel it into fiction writing?
I loved horror way before I set foot in church. I became a Christian at University, but up until that point I never went to church. Neither did my family. I just figured religion was out to turn me into something I wasn’t, so I stayed away. I did love horror movies and scary stories though. Ironically, horror was one of the few areas of culture that was telling me that maybe there is more to life than purely flesh and blood. That hint at the supernatural was one of the things that set me on a path to explore Christianity later in life. For me, it was natural to fuse those two things together into fiction. I’ve been doing the same thing with my podcast and YouTube show and monthly column for The Fortean Times print magazine. I like to explore the deeper and sometimes spiritual themes found in dark stories and I hope that my novel does that a bit.
You seem like you might be very busy already.
I’m pretty busy, which is great, not least because it’s taken me a few years to get published. Over the last five or so years I’ve written four novels. Some of them got close to getting book deals but none actually did. Each time one failed I just put it on the shelf and wrote another one, but to be honest I was about to give up on that in early 2016. Then I was thrilled to get a two book fiction deal!
Ironically, when I didn’t think I was going to get a deal for my novels, I put together a non-fiction proposal on why people are drawn to the macabre. My agent sent that off, and then after various rejection that also got a publishing deal too – both here and in the US. So I’m working on that now, travelling around meeting vampires, shooting zombies and hunting werewolves. But that’s a whole other story. But yes, I’m busy, since after five years of no deals, I now have three books coming out in the space of 18 months!
Are you a “have to write” person?
I’m not sure. I meet other writers who say they would write forever, even just for themselves. That’s not me. I think I just love creating stuff and sharing it with others. For example, I’m also a musician and just the other day I released a full soundtrack album to the novel Purged. (I used to write soundtrack albums to books I liked growing up, so it was great fun doing it for my own book). It’s available here if you fancy giving it a free spin:
In many ways writing a complete original score to a fiction book could be seen as a pointless exercise, but I guess it shows I’m a ‘have to create’ person. However, now that I’m getting the chance to write professionally, I’m obviously doing more of it and learning how to do it better. Not that I’m a great writer by any stretch, but at the start Liz…I totally sucked. It was embarrassing. It took me a lot of writing to feel confident in stringing a sentence together. The more I write though, the more I think this is (if you’ll excuse the religious expression) something I’m called to do. So maybe I am a ‘have to write’ person after all, but that’s because I’m getting to share it. If I knew that nobody else would ever read it, ,maybe I’d take up something else creative instead. An Elvis impersonator, perhaps. But no seriously, at the moment I’ve been given a writing shaped creative outlet and I love it, and I really hope that Purged and Unleashed sell enough so I get the chance to keep doing it (The story for Matt Hunter 3 is all set and ready to write!).
I believe the next book in the series is out this year – can you tell us anything about it? Go on….just a hint. A teaser. Pretty please??
Ah, yes. The next book is called Unleashed which sees Matt drawn into a fictional suburb of London, famous for a historic poltergeist case. It’s a book that explores the clash of world-views and while it’s still a crime fiction book, it certainly dives deeper into the horror vibe. Obviously, I’ll be a little nervous for people to enjoy the second book, but for me I really love Unleashed. It’s a particularly meaningful story to me. Plus it starts with an intense animal attack at a primary school open day. Understand that my wife works full time so I’ve done most of the childcare and school runs these last few years. So releasing grim havoc in my house husband environment, albeit in a story, was an evil little pleasure.
I’m pretty much shoving Purged on everyone, its my new favourite thing.
I’m so, so grateful for that. Seriously. After five years of rejections, seeing the amazing reviews so far for Purged has been like a stumbling into a warm inviting cabin after a long trek alone through the snow.
Are you a big reader in the fiction market? If so is there a novel you’ve read recently that you’d like to recommend?
I read a lot more these days, but I’m a notoriously slow reader (I sub vocalise when I read…i.e. I say the words in my head, so it really slows me down). Because of that I don’t read anywhere near as many books as I’d like. I guess I read about 24 books a year, more or less. At least, that’s what my GoodReads Challenge has always been and I always meet it! As for what I’ve read recently, I’ve really enjoyed exploring a few older, spooky classics. For example Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury was just beautiful, and had me sniffling in the coffee shop, it was so moving. I also just read I Am Legend by Richard Matheson, which is nothing like the Will Smith movie. It’s scary, clever and thought provoking. Oh, and my current read is a biography of one of my favourite horror actors Vincent Price. Can I squeeze in another. I’m listening to the audio book of the fake memoir Toast on Toast from the Ch4 comedy show Toast of London. I’ve laughed hard at that.
Thank you so much for answering my blather filled questions – to finish off I like to do a fun one – can you tell us 3 random things about you that we may not ever know unless you tell us?
1) I used to play piano in a Pizza restaurant, and would sneak in themes from Poltergeist and Dogtanian and the Three Muskehounds into the lounge muzak.
2) I’m terrible at remembering Bible verses and still use the content page of my Bible.
3) I was obsessed with the TV show Prisoner Cell Block H in my late teens. Yeah, I’m THAT cool.
That IS cool. I always watched PCBH with chips. And usually slightly inebriated
Thanks so much!
About the book:
Matt Hunter lost his faith a long time ago. Formerly a minister, now a professor of sociology, he’s writing a book that debunks the Christian faith while assisting the police with religiously motivated crimes. On holiday with his family in Oxfordshire, Matt is on edge in a seemingly idyllic village where wooden crosses hang at every turn. The stay becomes more sinister still when a local girl goes missing, followed by further disappearances.
Caught up in an investigation that brings memories to the surface that he would prefer to keep buried deep, Matt is on the trail of a killer determined to save us all.
Read my review HERE
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