On June 3rd, Luke Walker releases his latest novel, Ascent, published by Crowded Quarantine Publications. I am a big fan of this publisher, owned and operated by Adam and Zoe Millard. They have put out some wonderful books by Rich Hawkins in the form of his Plague trilogy and also one of my favourite books from last year, Unger House Radicals by Chris Kelso. Luke Walker has joined the CQ stable and Ascent sounds like exactly the type of book I want to read. Check out the synopsis below:
When terrorists threaten to detonate a nuclear device outside RAF Lakenheath, Kelly Wells races for a nearby office block, frantic to find her sister in their last moments. At the same time, a handful of others do the same—all desperate to make it to loved ones before the bomb goes off barely fifty miles away. In the frozen second of the explosion, Kelly, her sister, and three strangers are trapped in that instant and trapped in the building. But they are not alone. A sleeping evil from the deepest pits of the earth has awoken. Stalked by a creature that knows their most private secrets and fears, the group are lost in a world of their individual Hells.
The cover is fantastic and It sounds pretty darn good too, eh?!
Luke Walker is the author of the novella, Mirror of the Nameless, published by Darkfuse, Hometown, published by Caffeine Nights and also the short story collection, Die Laughing. Ascent will be released on June 3rd 2017. Other short stories of Luke’s have appeared in various online sites and in print.
TGR: Luke, welcome to my dark little corner of the world wide web. Where does your love of horror come from? More specifically, where does your love of horror fiction come from and who are some of the writers that you enjoy reading?
That’s a question I’ve thought about for years and never come up with a definitive answer. I tell people it started when I found my brother’s James Herbert paperbacks (all sold for the princely sum of about 75p which tells you how far back I’m going there) and skimmed them for the violent and rude bits before reading one from start to finish, but I don’t know if that’s really true. Horror and fantasy have always interested me – I literally can’t remember a time they didn’t. When I was about eight or nine, I’d make up a rambling, stream of consciousness story and tell it to a few kids at school. Those tales were always lurid, ridiculous and very probably ripped off from those same Herbert books or a bit of a film I’d seen. Over time, the whole thing has developed from an interest in ancient myths of giants, goblins and fairies to legends of King Arthur and Robin Hood to the darker side of the fantastic and to a deep love of an area that can show people at their absolute worst and, conversely, at their best.
Writer-wise, it’s first off Stephen King. The man has done more for modern horror (and literature overall) than probably any other living writer. His son Joe Hill is a fantastic author, as well. Then there’s Gary McMahon, Tim Lebbon, Simon Bestwick, Alison Littlewood, Sarah Pinborough, Laura Mauro and plenty of others. It’s always a pleasure to come across a new writer who gets what makes a story work – regardless of genre.
TGR: What does a typical day in the life of Luke Walker look like?
I work full-time in a library so that obviously takes up most of the day. After that, it’s writing for a couple of hours and then time with my wife. I try to be at my desk at set times (it’s another job, after all) but life outside the books can affect that. If it does, I just write faster. Generally speaking, I can do 10K in a week but it does depend which draft of a book I’m working on. My first drafts are always a nightmare to slog through because I’m telling myself the story. After that, it’s time to tell it to others which is easier speed-wise but harder quality-wise.
TGR: I’ve been a horror fan for many years. It is a genre I feel people are generally very supportive of each other. It is almost like the metal/rock scene, where we are often seen as societal outcasts but we stick together and support each other. Do you get a similar feeling from the community?
Absolutely. It might not be the biggest genre in terms of sales, but it has a loyal readership who will happily support the writers and spread word to other readers if they read something special. I don’t buy the cliché of the horror reader (or writer) being weird or overly focused on violence as if there’s something wrong with them. It’s a lazy stereotype just as much as saying all the people who read stuff like 50 Shades Of Grey are a bunch of pervs. Writing or reading horror is no more ‘odd’ than enjoying any genre. The fiction might be unpleasant at times, but I wouldn’t have the people who love it and buy the books any other way. Good eggs, all round.
TGR: If somebody asks you “What is horror?”, what would you say to them?
I’d tell them to turn on the news.
No, that wasn’t a joke.
The world is a terrifying place and has been for a long time. Dickheads like Trump having power is bad enough; that he has support of people unwilling to see how much of a piece of shit he is, frankly that’s fucking horrendous. The same that applies to fiction applies to reality. People in horror stories don’t bow down before evil or a threat because we don’t in real life. Not if we want to survive. Not if we want to keep the good in life whole.
If you’re talking horror fiction, then it’s in a lot more areas than people might think. I read The War Zone a few years back and if that’s not a horror story wearing a smart suit with its hair brushed, then I don’t know what is. Horror is not exclusive to blood splattering on the page or some nameless thing trailing its fingers down your neck.
Not even a little bit. It’s everywhere.
TGR: I see from your blog that you are a Nine Inch Nails fan (as am I) and that A Warm Place would be a suitable soundtrack for your novel, Hometown, and that another NIN song, The Day The World Went Away would be suitable for your latest novel, Ascent? Would you care to elaborate on these two song choices in regard to the books?
Ha. The choice for Hometown started off as imagining what song might play over the credits to a film version of the book. In seconds, I knew it would be a piece of music rather than a song which is where A Warm Place came into it. That track has always summed up grief and regret to me which, as those are two of the biggest issues in the book, it was almost perfect. When someone asks a writer what their book is about, they’re really asking what happens in the book? That’s not the same issue at all. What happens in Hometown is a group of friends become trapped in a hellish other version of their city after another friend commits suicide and her demons become real. What it’s about. . .friendship, grief, regret and what time can do to all those things. A Warm Place fit.
As for the other NIN track and Ascent, guilt and the corrosion secrets can cause are the two main issues. On the surface, it’s a few strangers in an office block at the exact second terrorists detonate a nuclear device several miles away. Time freezes, meaning they’re caught in the instant of the explosion and everyone else has vanished. The strangers might be the only people left in the world, which if you take the lyrics of The Day The World Went Away, pretty much sums it up for them.
TGR: Hometown, released earlier this year is your first novel. Before that you have numerous short stories, a collection and a novella through Darkfuse called Mirror of the Nameless. How did you find the transition in writing from novella to novel? Personally, I feel that writing a novel sounds a pretty daunting task. So much goes into one and there is so much to think about, characters need to be engaging, plotting needs to be tight, then there is the pacing, structure…the list goes on. Was that first novel a struggle and did the previous writing of short stories and the novella help you in any way?
Hometown was actually pretty easy to write. I always come up with an outline and a character plan, but with that one, I’d written another book around 2001-02 which featured the same characters. While it was terrible, it did mean I could look at it several years later and think about where those people might be by then. I knew exactly what I wanted to say and where the characters were going so the first draft more or less fell out of me. I’d written countless short pieces before then and probably eight or nine crappy books; Hometown was the first that felt like something special.
Mirror was another fairly easy draft and one I’ve tried and failed to repeat since. I wanted a tight story that took place over a limited time period and had a much smaller wordcount than I was used to. I also had an idea in mind of it being an action horror playing with cosmic gods and the potential for the end of the world. The editor described it as ‘Mad Max meets HP Lovecraft’ which nailed it.
Writing a book compared to a short story obviously takes longer and is more detailed but it’s still just as case of one word after another.
TGR: Let’s talk about the new novel, Ascent. Terrorism is in the news on a daily basis these days and it is the spark that ignites your latest book. Did the writing of Ascent come about through the current issues facing the world?
Yes, definitely. While the terrorists are a fictional group, the setup is real. I wrote a short story a few years back about the aftermath of a terrorist attack in Los Angeles and the result for one man. Ascent was an extension of that story. Terrorism has become part of our lives to the point it’s no longer surprising when something horrible happens. I wanted to combine the real world horror of people who will kill for their beliefs or what they see as defence of their god, put that with the terrible power of guilty secrets and a creature who feeds on evil as well as guilt.
TGR: I read on your blog that the first draught of Ascent was written back in the summer of 2015. What was the most challenging aspect of writing the book?
Originally, I wanted another novella but it failed as one. Then I went for a short novel, but it was far too vague. Then it became a fuller novel with more of an explanation for what the hell is going on. It was a hard slog from the start of the novella to a developed novel, but it was worth it. Of course, I had no idea that it would be at the time. All a writer can do in that situation is keep going.
TGR: The cover art for Ascent is fantastic. It is pretty simple but works brilliantly I think. Who did it and did you have any input into to the design of the image?
It’s grand, isn’t it? Crowded Quarantine asked for my thoughts beforehand and I came up with some over the top crap that might have worked as a film poster but was far too involved for a book. It’s simple but effective. Adam Millard at CQP created the cover and I think he did a grand job.
TGR: What have you learnt as a writer between your first published story and Ascent? And what piece of advice would you now give to your younger self about the creative writing process if you could?
I always knew that while writing is an art, publishing is a business, but I don’t think I really got that until after a few years. So I would probably tell myself to write the stories I wanted to read (which is what I did) while also bearing in mind they were for others to read and judge.
I’ve learned that while a story or a book might not end up as I planned, or be any good, it’s always worth finishing it. You can’t improve a crappy tale without finishing it and you don’t know when that crappy tale will lead to a new idea or book years later. Which is then published.
TGR: Luke, it has been a pleasure having you over. Best of luck with Ascent, I look forward to reading and reviewing it here soon. Before you go, what else do you have planned for the rest of 2017 and beyond?
I’m in the middle of a second draft of a post-nuclear war tale featuring a family who will do whatever it takes to survive. Once that’s done, it’s time to look again at a couple of other books to give them a polish and outline another book. I’ve got a few ideas along with one or two plans for a short story. Also, watching horror films while my long-suffering wife falls asleep.
Thanks for having me. It’s been a lot of fun.
Pre-order a copy of Ascent from here.