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World of Horror: Interview with Ross Jeffery


Ross Jeffery

Ross Jeffery is the Bram Stoker Award-nominated and 3x Splatterpunk Award-nominated author of The Juniper Trilogy, The Devil’s Pocketbook, I Died Too, But They Haven’t Buried Me Yet, Only The Stains Remain, Beautiful Atrocities and many more. He has been published in print with a number of anthologies and his short fiction has appeared in various online journals.

Ross lives in Bristol with his wife (Anna) and two children (Eva and Sophie). You can follow him on Twitter here @RossJeffery_

World of Horror: Interview with Ross Jeffery


What was it about the horror genre that drew you to it?

I think what first drew me to the horror genre was the fascination and thrill of being scared.

Who doesn’t like to be scared, right? That’s the whole reason we say “Boo” to babies, and it’s been ingrained in us from our earliest moments on this earth.

As a child, a teenager, and a young adult, knowing I could experience horror and flood my heart and brain with these emotions from the relative safety of my home had a huge influence and impact on me and it’s something I still enjoy to this day… being scared is a high and I’m not coming down from it.

As a child, though, I watched many horror films in my room (I wasn’t a big reader back then, although I did read Stephen King’s IT), which way back when was harder than it is today to get hold of 18-rated films, but I soon discovered where there’s a will, there’s a way—I also had parents with no filters, so they sometimes helped to procure me the nasty stuff.

As a child, there’d always been a certain level of mystique about horror, and, I guess, in a way that mystique still exists today when you consider how the literary world looks down upon the genre and its writers more often than not—as if we’re all a bunch of Satanists.

As a kid, I’d heard whispers on the playground around Halloween (a festival which isn’t celebrated that much in the UK – or I should say, it wasn’t back then) of a film called Candyman which was being shown that week along with a string of others (Halloween, Nightmare on Elm Street, and The Exorcist) and it was these whispers which really pulled my young mind in. Some of the older kids who’d seen it, or heard about it, or who just wanted to scare the living crap out of the younger ones began to tell us parts of the film and its lore. We all stood around kicking our trainers in the dirt and peering over our shoulders to make sure a teacher wasn’t coming. “You stand in front of a mirror and say…Candyman, Candyman, Candyman…,” one of the big kids said, enjoying his torture of us. He continued and informed us that, once you’d said it five times, you turned off the lights and some huge, hulking man with a hook for a hand would come and gut you.

Needless to say, I didn’t get to watch Candyman, or call on his name in front of the mirror, because firstly, I was scared shitless, and secondly, I’d missed the showing of it on TV (I say missed, I fell asleep…I was like eight or nine at the time), but I did catch The Exorcist a few days later, and it scared the living hell out of me.

I’d say, without a doubt, it was this early introduction to horror—and The Exorcist—which pulled me towards horror, and that’s where my great love affair with the genre started.

Is there a horror tradition in your country, in your culture? A taste for horror, a market? Not necessarily literature; perhaps oral tradition too.

I wouldn’t say there was a particular horror tradition in the UK, but it’s a place where folklore thrives—from Pendle witches to kelpies, from knockers to redcaps, from the Loch Ness monster to the Green Man, from selkies to Spring-Heeled Jack, and from boggarts to the Lady of The Lake—our history is saturated with myth and lore.

The market for horror in the UK is growing, but it still has negative connotations associated with it. As a writer, and a writer of horror, I’ve often been speaking with people, and on telling them that I’m a writer, the most common question asked is “What do you write?”, to which I reply every time, “Horror”. It’s either met with a half-hearted “That’s cool”, followed by a pitying smile, or it’s met with “Have you ever thought of writing anything else?”—no, dipshit, I haven’t!

The UK is saturated with macabre lore and dark history; horror flows deep within its veins, but most people tend to avoid the genre like the plague (another dark time in our history).

For example, I’m known more in the US as a writer of horror than I am here in the UK… and I’m okay with that, honestly I am, but I do wish people would sometimes pull their heads out their arses and realise that there is true value found in the horror novel and genre as a whole.

Who are some of your favorite characters in horror, internationally and/or in your own culture?

The horror I like is human horror, they are the real monsters of our world: men, women, and sometimes evil children. That’s the type of horror I tend to write, and it is the type of horror I’m drawn to when reading—although I do like many elements of supernatural horror, too. I love a good ghost story—possession and creature feature stuff.

Some of my favourite characters in horror are as follows: Regan MacNeil, Damien Karras and Detective Kinderman from The Exorcist. Jack Torrance from The Shining. Annie Wilkes and Paul Sheldon from Misery. Malorie and Gary from Bird Box. Smoke and Rot from Unbury Carol. Julia and Frank from “The Hellbound Heart”.

I also have a huge soft spot for broken and damaged characters—I see a lot of myself and humanity in them.

Do you make a conscious effort to include characters and settings from your country in your writing and if so, what do you want to portray?

When I started writing horror with my Juniper series (of which Tome was nominated for a Bram Stoker Award®), I decided to set it all in a fictitious town in America. The reason behind this was that, to me, horror has always been American. From the books I read to the films I watched, America and horror were woven intrinsically into the same fabric, so I didn’t even think twice about it when I picked up the pen to write; it was “horror is American, so let’s get to work”.

Don’t get me wrong, we’ve some great horror writers over this side of the pond and I’m partial to a good James Herbert novel from time to time, but in my mind, America has always been the home of horror in a sense.

With my last four books (Only The Stains Remain, The Devil’s Pocketbook, I Died Too, But They Haven’t Buried Me Yet, and an untitled project) I decided to venture a bit closer to home, with all of them set within the UK and predominantly Bristol.

What I want to portray is the sheer beauty and history of this place, but also to showcase to others that we too can be a home of horror, that although my horror is set in the UK, the themes of horror are universal—being scared is being scared however you slice it. Yes we may speak funny over here: yes we call “pants” trousers and a “trunk” a boot and a “fanny” is not an ass (or an arse) but in fact a vagina, and an “eggplant” is an aubergine—but horror, no matter where it is set, is scary if you get it right, and if I can also bring some of our lesser-known folklores to a new audience, then that’s a job well done.

If you are not a native English speaker, but write in English, do you first think of horror in your native language or English? How do you draft them in your mind, in English or your mother tongue?


What has writing horror taught you about the world and yourself?

That it doesn’t matter who you are or where you’re from; there’s no stopping the bad stuff from happening, and as a writer and a reader of horror, we get to have a practice run at whatever ungodly scenario may rear its head, so we’re prepared (as well as we can be) for when the time comes and the bad stuff comes knocking.

How have you seen the horror genre change over the years? And how do you think it will continue to evolve, both in the US and in your country?

I think what has changed drastically and all for the better, in my opinion. What I’m enjoying is the diversity we are seeing in the genre at the moment and the huge successes related to this diversity too—especially from indie authors stepping up into the publishing echelons—authors such as Cynthia Pelayo, Eric LaRocca, Gabino Iglesias and Stephen Graham Jones—all doing such great work… whilst kicking arse and taking names along the way.

Topically there have been huge shifts too, with writers not being content with the state of play in the world and using their words and their platforms to speak up about injustices, creating content that is brave, unique, horrifying and most importantly… important.

How do you feel the International horror writing community has been represented thus far in the market and what hopes do you have for representation going forward?

I can only speak for the UK, but things need to change. There needs to be a shift in the perception of the genre, because it’s more than cheap scares, more than monsters and things that go bump in the night. The themes and topics horror is able to cover are important, and the writers working in this field today are producing some of the best, most compelling, and most interesting works of fiction—not just horror—I’ve read in a long time… their writing is fearless.

Who are some international horror authors you would recommend?

I would highly recommend: Priya Sharma, Alan Baxter, Zachary Ashford, Steve Stred, Caitlin Marceau, Beverley Lee, Stephanie Ellis, Kev Harrison, Catherine McCarthy – but if we’re including American authors in this list (because they’re international to me) then… Josh Malerman, Philip Fracassi, Tyler Jones, L.J. Dougherty, Donald Ray Pollock, Cynthia Pelayo, Joe Lansdale, C.S. Humble, Chad Lutzke, Eric LaRocca, Jonathan Janz, Michael Clark, Alma Katsu, Brian Bowyer, Sonora Taylor, Brennan LaFaro, Gabino Iglesias, S. A. Cosby, and Laurel Hightower—there’s just so many.

What is one piece of advice you would give horror authors today?

Be bold and push the boundaries of the genre, as well as your own ability.

And to the writers from your country out there who are just getting started, what advice would you give them?

Don’t be a dick. Respect those who have gone before you, embed yourself in the community you are striving to be a part of, read as much as you can, write as often as you can, be charitable with your time, and help to lift others up.

And, because I feel it deserves repeating… don’t be a dick.

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