Lamplight and Forests: Interview with Christopher Stanley

Welcome back for this week’s interview! Today I’m happy to feature Christopher Stanley. Christopher is the author of The Lamppost Huggers and The Forest is Hungry, among many works of flash fiction.

Recently, Christopher and I discussed favorite authors, inspirations, and what’s next.

A couple icebreakers to start: when did you decide to become a writer, and who are some of your favorite authors?

I’m not sure anyone in their right mind decides to become a writer! It’s always seemed like more of a calling to me – like vampire slaying but with pencils instead of stakes.

I do remember when I decided I wanted other people to read my stories. I’d just found out I was being made redundant after eleven years in a job, and I wanted to make some changes. So I signed up to Tom Vowler’s excellent short-story writing course, and I joined Bath Company of Writers. These two things turned a hopeless coffee-shop writer into a published, hopeless coffee-shop writer.

As for favourite authors – there have been many. Outside of horror, I’ve enjoyed the novels of Delillo, Franzen, Eggers and Palahniuk. My favourite horror authors at the moment are Paul Tremblay, John Langan, Andrew Michael Hurley, and a multiple Stoker-award winner named Gwendolyn Kiste. Am I allowed to say that? Ah, what the hell.

Can I also give a shout out to Ellen Datlow and all the other editors who work around the clock to produce volume after volume of incredible horror stories?

Congratulations on the forthcoming release of your collection, The Lamppost Huggers. What can you tell us how about how this particular collection developed?

Thank you! I started writing flash fiction when our second child turned out to be twins, because I had neither the time, nor the energy, to continue writing short stories. Being a member of the Bath Company of Writers also nudged me in this direction, because the other members included my good friends Diane Simmons and Tino Prinzi (co-directors of the UK National Flash Fiction Day).

I started writing horror flash fiction after I stumbled across the first volume of The Molotov Cocktail Prize Winners anthology, which is a stunning collection. So much beauty and imagination! I suffered a lot of rejections on the road to winning their quarterly contest with a story called ‘Gettysburg,’ but I got there in the end.

Over the past few years, no one has championed my writing as much as The Arcanist. I think I’m right in saying that my story ‘Oymyakon’ is their most read story ever (or maybe it’s ‘Lepidoptera’ – I’m not sure). After I won their annual flash horror contest for the second year in a row, I reached out to the editors (Josh, Andie and Patrick) and asked if they would consider putting out a collection of my horror flash fiction. The Lamppost Huggers and Other Wretched Tales is the result, and it’s been a real collaborative effort.

Your book, The Forest Is Hungry, was released last year through Demain Publishing and their Short Sharp Shocks! series. What can you share about that project?

The Forest is Hungry is a fast-paced novelette about nature fighting back. There’s something sinister growing in the forest next to main character’s house, something that will threaten the lives of everyone in his neighbourhood before the day is out, starting with his daughter.

I have a lingering sense of guilt about this story. I originally wrote it for a weird nature anthology that got cancelled, so I submitted it to Weirdbook instead. Doug, the editor, passed on the story but very kindly said if I could fix a minor plot point, he’d be happy to see it again in the next submission call.

I fixed the plot point on a sunny Sunday morning in February 2019. At the same time, I noticed a writer friend of mine was having a novelette published by a new publisher, Demain Publishing. I figured there was no harm in sending off a query email, and amazingly The Forest is Hungry was accepted within a couple of hours.

The Forest is Hungry was published as Book #16 in the ‘Short Sharp Shocks!’ series in April 2019. It was my first standalone publication, and it’s been very popular with fans of the series.

But I still feel bad I didn’t send it back to Weirdbook.

What in particular draws you to the horror genre?

House of Leaves. The Haunting of Hill House. The Shining. The Loney. The Fisherman. The Rust Maidens. A Head Full of Ghosts. Shouldn’t the question be: what’s wrong with people who aren’t drawn to the horror genre?

I go to horror because I recognise the landscapes and characters, but I know there’s an imagination at work that means anything is possible. And that’s exciting.

Do you have any writing rituals (e.g. writing at the same time every day, or writing while listening to music)?

I have writer friends who listen to music but it’s never worked for me. Being a songwriter, I have such a strong connection with music that, if I’m listening to it, I’ll probably hear a chord change or a riff that inspires me, and then the story is forgotten while I fetch my guitar.

I’m not sure I have any writing rituals – should I make some up? I write in the mornings before the kids come downstairs but that’s out of necessity. Sometimes I get an hour, sometimes ten minutes, and either way it’s fine with me. With great children comes great responsibility (and frequent interruptions and soul-crushing tiredness). I wouldn’t change a thing.

If forced to choose, which part of the writing process is your favorite: developing characters, crafting dialogue, or establishing setting?

That’s a bit like asking me to choose between my kids. When the writing is going well, I love characters, dialogue and setting equally. It’s satisfying to read stories back after they’ve been published and think yep, I nailed that. But like kids, there are days where these things make me want to scream.

What are you working on next?

Right now, I’m making the final edits to a novelette and a novella, both of which are unlike anything I’ve written before. They’ve both forced me to write about things which are uncomfortable and challenging, and I think maybe this is one of the jobs of a horror writer, but it’s so hard. I guess that’s why I’m not rushing to finish them. I really want to get them right!

I’m also thrilled to say I’ve had a mini-collection of short stories accepted by Demain Publishing. That’s all I can say about this one at the moment, except that there’ll be announcement in due course.

Where can we find you online?
The best place to find me is on Twitter @allthosestrings. I also have a brand new website, Sign up to the blog for updates on The Lamppost Huggers and my other projects.

Thanks for all the great questions, Gwendolyn.

Big thanks to Christopher Stanley for being part of this week’s author interview series!

Happy reading!