Next victim on my 20 Questions is the rather lovely Rev Peter Laws author of one of my favourite books of the year so far, that would be Purged, a shoe in for my top ten in December so I had a load of fun with this one. Not sure how much fun it was for him but I don’t care so much about that. So here you are…
So go on then tell us about Purged. Only 5 sentences though (these questions have very random rules that I make up as I go along)
Okay, so Purged is the first in a series about an atheist ex-vicar turned University Professor. He spends his time writing books that debunk the Christian Faith while also helping the police solve religiously motivated crimes. In Purged he’s trying to catch an evangelical serial killer who baptises his victims before killing them – he figures that’s the most caring way to fast track people to heaven. It’s crime fiction with a healthy dose of horror and spookiness. Ooo…one sentence left…it’s got a green cover.
When the world throws a sudden shortage of Marmite at you (yes this is a question so related to my career choice) how do you cope?
I drop to my knees and praise the sweet lord for ridding humanity of Satan’s hair gel. Seriously, that stuff is rotten and probably demonic in origin.
Later this year (and VERY SOON FOR ME I hope) you’ll be unleashing Unleashed which will once again feature Matt Hunter, a man very much after my own heart. Do that thing where you give away a little about Unleashed without in any way spoiling Purged. It’s a challenge.
Unleashed takes place a few months after Purged, and kicks off with a horrific dog attack at a primary school open day (I wrote it because my life consists of constant school runs, so you’ll appreciate my need to unleash some mayhem into that scenario). It’s through this attack that Matt is made aware of a fifteen year old poltergeist case, which seems to be returning – with homicidal consequences. While Purged explored the concept of Baptism and ideas about salvation, Unleashed explores the human desire to see patterns in life and how that can lead to a clash of worldviews. The book is filled with people having different opinions on what is killing people. I really like Unleashed. It’s a meaningful story to me.
Normally now I ask the cheese question but I’m over cheese so given your Horror credentials I think this will be harder. One Horror film. Definitively. Can be old can be new but only one. (Remember the random rules thing)
That’s like getting me to choose between my two kids…but that’s fine because I only like one of them anyway (that’s a joke by the way). But yeah, to choose one film’s tricky, but I’ll do it. I’ll opt for The Changeling from 1980 starring George C Scott. It’s my favourite haunted house movie and it influenced the writing of Unleashed because I listened to the soundtrack to that film on a loop while I wrote it. Amazing film, that is, which so many other horror movies copied.
Oh go on then what IS your favourite cheese?
I’m really getting into Blue Cheese and Stilton. It’s because I follow that Joe Wicks guy who suggests it in recipes a lot. It tastes like old lady’s tights, which at first was the attraction because it was so rough it made me only eat tiny bits at a time. Very slimming. Now I’ve got a taste for it I’m eating chunks of the stuff, so maybe it’s time to find a more disgusting cheese. Like Marmite flavour, perhaps.
When I was at your book launch t’other week I asked you whether you thought genuine possession ever happened (or something like that I had after all had a glass of wine or two) – I remember everyone being fairly fascinated by your response so I’m asking again for readers of this madness.
The Bible is pretty clear that demonic possession is a phenomenon that can happen, but I do think we need to be extremely cautious in this area. Some forms of mental illness (such as epilepsy, tourettes syndrome, alien hand syndrome etc) could have been seen as demonic in ancient times. Thankfully, we’ve stopped stigmatising these natural conditions, and treat people accordingly. So I’m extremely reluctant to label someone as possessed, especially when some of the signs of possession are so easy to fake (such as increased strength, aversion to Holy symbols etc).
However, there are other signs that have been reported that are not as easily mimicked. I’ve heard reports of people levitating for example, or their eyeballs turning completely white. Plus there are cases where a subject has knowledge they wouldn’t naturally have known – so when the so-called possessed person starts spouting out secret (and specific) information on the Exorcist it’s scary. Like if a subject mocked the priest by saying, ‘Ha…I know you tried to kill yourself when you were seventeen, on the trainline to Leeds. I was there.’ If that turns out to be true and nobody knew it, it’s pretty freaky – though I guess it could be a form of telepathy and not demonic. Still though, with all these cautions in place I’m open to it happening and the Matt Hunter books certainly explore the subject of demonic influence in the world. It’s going to be a running theme, that behind every crime there may be a mundane explanation, or a sinister more supernatural one. I leave that to the reader to decide.
In a very loosely connected to the above question – How much of you is there in Matt Hunter and how much of Matt Hunter is there in you?
To be honest with you, there’s quite a bit of me in Matt Hunter. For a start he’s a trained church minister, like I am, though he’s jacked his faith in while I haven’t. He’s also a bit of a geek, which I’d say I am too. He’s more intelligent than I am, younger and more handsome, clearly. But we share a quirky sense of humour and a fascination with the bizarre.
Lettuce. Why. Just WHY?
Ha ha! So many people have spoken to me about the lettuce scene in Purged. It’s given people nightmares, which for a writer is a punch the air moment. Funnily enough the bits with the possessed Nigerian woman and the lettuce are linked to a real-life case where some nuns ate some unblessed lettuce. Afterwards they started acting crazy and were considered to be possessed. So basically I picked lettuce because it has a historical precedent and…most importantly…it freaks people out.
Last book you read that you wanted to recommend to everyone. That wasn’t one that you wrote.
I just read a great Australian thriller called Fear is the Rider by Kenneth Cook. Sadly Cook passed away some years ago, but the manuscript for this novel was found in his belongings, and thankfully it got published. It’s a read-in-one-sitting horror thriller where two urban professionals are chased across the Australian outback by a feral man. It’s got very little character development or extra detail – it’s just 200 pages of pure action and adrenalin. I’d also recommend Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury, Strangers by Taichi Yamada and On Chesil Beach by Ian McCewan. All of which made me cry – which is good. I like books that move me.
As a Rev I know you go and give guest sermons. Having heard you speak about your novels I’d definitely be interested in hearing you in “other” professional mode (assuming that is I could walk into a church without immediately being struck down) so how do they come together? Obviously with a different approach than writing or talking about writing and horror stuff – or is it significantly different?
I speak in a lot of churches on Sundays (and am available for anybody out there, if they want to get in touch!). I don’t tend to write and deliver horror sermons (though I can occasionally drop in a few creepy facts now and again). But on the whole I just look at a Bible passage and examine what it meant when it was first written to the ancient world. I was taught a bit of Greek in Bible college so sometimes I’ll translate some of the words from the original text, so I can stay close to the original intention. Then I spend a bunch of time trying to bring the message of that text into modern life. So much of the Bible can speak into our everyday challenges. I like sermons that are fun and down to earth but that raise big questions, sometimes from unusual angles. Writing a sermon can be hard work, but when I’m delivering it, it feels kind of special. Like I’m doing something important and meaningful for both me and those who are listening.
Also, you could definitely walk into a church without being struck down. Some people get the impression that God is like a ticked-off headmaster annoyed with anybody who knocks on his door – but in my opinion he’s like the best, most loving, perfect Father who sees his prodigal son on the road and rushes out to hug him and throw a party. I was very anti-Christian up until I was in my early 20s. I’d constantly pick on my Christian R. E. teacher for her ‘pointless and outdated’ religion, and I was even in a band for a while which sang about spitting on God and the Bible. Yep, I wrote that one. Then I started going to church in my early 20’s and I didn’t feel like God was waiting with a cane to whack me. I felt him throw his arms around me and my life changed forever. I know this sounds a bit whacky, but my life really has changed in so many wonderful ways because of my faith. But I hate the idea of forcing my beliefs on anybody, hence why Matt Hunter is a staunch atheist. In fact, some readers have said that Purged comes across as really anti-Christian, ha ha!
That was a bit deep that last question so let’s get back to the important stuff – if you were stuck on a desert island for no apparent reason whatsoever except that I say so and could choose 3 famous people living or dead to be stuck there with you who would you choose?
William Shatner. Without a doubt. He’d be first on the list, because I’ve loved that guy since I was a kid. Then I’ll have Stephen King because as everybody knows, he totally rules. Let’s have Elvis Presley too, cos I’d love to chat with him. Aw, hang on…I’ve used up my go’s and I ended up with all men. Bummer!
What one food did you try once then immediately wish you could delete from the planet?
I think I already answered that above. But if you want another it’s liquorice. That’s dirty food, I’m telling you.
On that note – tipple of choice?
I’m into Whiskey at the moment. I tend to drink Bourbon with just ice. Not only does it make a cool clinking sound in the glass, it makes me feel like J.R. or sumthin. I’ll also take Red Wine, lager and beer if you’re asking.
I know you compose – but what type of popular (using the term loosely) music do you enjoy just chilling out to?
I’ll listen to anything, me. My daughter loves Little Mix for example, and I’m happy to have it on in the car. I also think Bruno Mars writes some brilliant songs. But on the whole tend to listen to a LOT of film soundtracks. I like electronic music too, especially people like John Carpenter or Carpenter Brut. I’m back into Vinyl so have been buying some great albums on that. Oh, and I like cheesy lounge music too. Bit of metal, bit of funk, and I really love music from old Blaxploitation movies. Heck, I pretty much like everything.
Guilty pleasure – that one thing you feel you really shouldn’t enjoy but do (Me, its singing very loudly along to Taylor Swift songs with the windows open in Summer)
Well I’m not sure if I should feel too guilty about this, but I really got into the TV soap opera Nashville recently. My wife was watching the first season and I wandered by and just casually watched the last ten minutes of an episode. Then we both avidly watched all the seasons. I wasn’t really into country music much, but that show had me loading up my Spotify list with the Nashville albums. Which is kinda cheesy, but hey. It’s odd because I have zero interest in the popular British soap operas – but when it comes to stuff like Dallas or Prisoner Cell Block H or Dark Shadows I TOTALLY get the appeal.
What on earth made you decide to write fiction? You KNOW it’s hard right, and yet so many of you do it. And do it so well…
Hey, thanks! I just had as notion to write a novel, while I was walking in a field with my wife. The idea was for a book called Congregation – which will actually become Matt Hunter 3 if the first two sell enough and the publishers want more. Writing fiction is hard, but I’m currently writing a non-fiction book for Icon books called The Frighteners and that’s even harder! It asks why human culture is drawn to the morbid so there’s a lot of fact checking on that one – but at least I’ve been able to hunt werewolves, be chased by zombies, stay in haunted ruined churches and be surrounded by wild dogs in Transylvania for it!
The most irritating thing you can think of (please don’t say wonky wheeled supermarket trolleys I obviously do my best but I’m only one employee…)
The slap of a flip flop against the underside of a foot. That sound is like Chinese Water Torture to me.
Last thing that made you laugh.
I watched a bit of Smokey and the Bandit the other day and that always makes me chuckle.
Last thing that made you cry.
A friend of mine has been through a horrendous time of stress recently and my wife and I went to visit him for dinner the other day. We prayed for him, and as soon as I closed my eyes I felt myself filling up. Prayer’s pretty interesting – it can be boring sometimes, but at others it’s really powerful. Oh, and on the same day I took my kids to see this film called The Boss Baby, which has a scene where an older brother is lying in bed waiting for his parents to read to him, but they’re fast asleep on the couch because the baby brother is taking up all of their time. The film was trying to say that sometimes you get left out and forgotten and that got to me a bit. Maybe it had echoes of the last five years and me trying to get a book deal, ha ha!
How much do you hate me right now?
My hate levels for you are at the same zero percent they always are. I’ll let you know if they change, but let’s face it, Liz, I seriously doubt it.
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