This week, Tom Adams joins me for a chat about writing, dark fiction and metal! Tom talks in-depth about his influences and his own work. I love it when people take the time to answer my questions with such thought, so thanks to Tom for that! Hope you dig.
TGR: Tom, thanks for stopping by. Where does your love of reading come from and was there a particular book that inspired you to become a writer yourself?
Thank you for inviting me, I feel very honoured to be here chewing the fat with the Grim Reader! My love of stories probably began with the bed-time reading my father dutifully subjected my brother and I to when we were but little whelps. He read tales from the Bible, Masterman Ready, Captain W.E. Johns, Rider Haggard, Nevil Shute and Grimm’s fairy tales. Eventually, he started reading an absorbing tale called ‘The Hobbit’ and I was engrossed, so much so that I withdrew the book from my local library and finished it off. I can’t remember how old I was exactly, but it must have been around seven or eight. My Dad never did finish it – he said he got lost when Bilbo set about wandering under the Misty Mountains and encountering Gollum. After devouring this, it wasn’t long before I was taking out more books from the library including Tolkien’s other works. I actually read the Silmarillion before completing Lord of the Rings. I also enjoyed Richard Adam’s stories‘Watership Down’ and ‘Shardik,’ but I have to say that Tolkien was the king as far as I was concerned. That was until I came across the other King – that is ‘Stephen.’ But that’s another story.
It was this exposure to a range of literary influences that led me to write stories from a young age. Because I was into comics such as Marvel, 2000 A.D. and the much lamented ‘Action’ (one of the most violent comics in British publishing history – it ceased publication due to its graphic content in 1977,) I wrote fairly generic tales of superheroes and science fiction. You could call it fan fiction I suppose. I still have some of these stories, one of which (entitled Iron Mask) consisted of one long sentence three pages long. I’d like to say this was a literary device, but in honesty, I knew nothing about grammar – I was only six or seven years of age.
It wasn’t until my early twenties that I tried to write a serious novel. I got to 80,000 words and an intricately drawn map but then faltered. Family and children put a stop to things for about quarter of a century! I eventually wrote and published my first book at the age of 51. By then I had absorbed a lifetime of influences from Ursula le Guinn through to Dean Koontz, Clive Barker, Brian Lumley, Richard Laymon, James Herbert … the list goes on.
TGR: You write in the dark fantasy and horror genre. What is it about dark fiction that attracts you?
Whenever I see the phrase ‘dark fiction’, my immediate thought is ‘what parameters and perceptions are being applied?’ At its simplest, ‘dark’ simply implies that bad things happen to people and the writer/screencaster/actor portrays that for a particular reason. So, there is the whole question of what people perceive as ‘dark’ and whether there is some kind of moral attribute attached to that. In short, it’s a minefield. One of the ‘darkest’ books I’ve ever read is the Old Testament, and yet this is held up as a paragon of virtue and a moral yardstick! All that slaying of the Midianites, removal of private parts and tent pegs through the temple – it’s pretty graphic.
I’ve no doubt when most people hear ‘dark’, they are thinking horror, dark fantasy, slasher films and the like. But, for me, the darkest fiction I’ve read doesn’t involve graphic descriptions of violence or sex but takes the reader out of their comfort zone. To put it another way, they are disturbed – and I think this is a good thing. If a piece of writing or art moves you into a different frame of thinking then you are more likely to see things from a different point of view and develop empathy towards other people and sections of society as a whole.
Examples of this type of writing I have read recently include Jack Ketchum’s ‘Girl next door’, Ralph Robert Moore’s ‘Father figure’, Adam Nevill’s ‘Under a watchful eye’ and Craig Clevenger’s ‘Contortionist’s handbook.’ Two of these don’t involve any supernatural connotations at all and most of the narratives don’t refer to overt expressions of violence. But the threat of violence, fear and loss of humanity is certainly there and, because they are so well written, they have the capacity to shift your perspective and change your view of the world. This is what attracts me to so-called ‘dark fiction’ because it dares to step over a particular boundary or taboo. I’ve always been a rebel at heart!
TGR: What does a typical day look like for you?
They are very varied, depending on the project I’m working on. For example, I was finishing an audiobook last week which required a marathon session of about six hours of recording. On other days I’ll be doing entirely editing work or first draft writing. Because I have a busy life, I plan out the work I have to do on a weekly basis, but there are some mainstays. For example, I take time to meditate for 10-15 minutes every day. This helps to settle my brain and appreciate the ‘now’ rather than stewing endlessly over deadlines and commitments. I then read for about an hour – I usually have about three books on the go at once. I like to get in a walk of some description. I’m very fortunate to live on the threshold of some marvellous scenery; in fact, I’ve just written a blog post about a particular day’s trek that was especially significant for me. Again, this practice helps me focus on inspiration, and it is often that I can resolve a particular plot hole in a WIP, or create a thumbnail sketch of a character or the skeleton structure of a scene. In a sense, this is part of writing. The actual committing of pen to paper is just one phase in the process of creating a piece of fiction.
TGR: How much research do you do before you begin writing?
For short stories and novellas, the answer is ‘very little’, unless you count the reading I do – which acts as a springboard for the creation of ideas. For example, I’m embarking on a project soon where I will be writing a short story per day for 4 weeks (I hasten to add, these are 5 day weeks – I’ll need to come for air sometime!) In preparation, I’m reading books by Ray Bradbury (The Illustrated Man), Michael Marshall-Smith’s ‘What you make it’, magazines such as ‘Black Static’ and ‘Broadswords and Blasters’, together with short stories published on other author’s blogsites e.g. Drew Chial. Now, this type of reading does entertain, no doubt about it, but the primary aim is to study the style of these authors and get into the nuts and bolts of what makes these stories so effective.
When it comes to specific research for novels, I sometimes take time out to cover a particular topic so that the character or scene has a certain measure of authenticity. For example, I recently finished the first draft of a novel called ‘Mycophoria’ which required certain fact-checking about biochemical processes and the morphology of fungi and algae. Now, I’m a scientist by training, so I had a bit of a head-start, but it doesn’t take long before you’re in uncharted specialist territory and the interweb is a wonderful aid in this respect!
TGR: What genres are you comfortable working in and is there any other(s) you would like to try out?
My bio says I venture into horror, dark fantasy, speculative and bizarro. But in the end, these are just labels which indie writers such as myself have to be aware of for marketing purposes e.g. which categories on Amazon in which to place your book and the optimum keywords to use. But as a constraint, I try not to recognise them as I don’t like to be limited. My Psychonaut books, for example, feature elements of horror, fantasy, crime-fiction and even romance. I doubt whether any work I produce will ever be described as ‘literary fiction’ but I do read the classics and certainly try to give my writing a sense of ‘gravity’, something which touches on elements of universal truth (if there is such a thing). The so-called genre is just a vehicle for delivering these elements.
TGR: I’m a big fan of ambiguity in stories. Particularly with short stories, I like to be made to think about the story and its meaning long after I have finished reading. What are your thoughts on ambiguous stories? Is ambiguity something you incorporate into your stories?
I have become more and more conscious of this facet of story-telling over the last year. Gone are the days, in my opinion, where you can write a story with an original plot twist or surprise ending. It’s all been done before. It can also become very contrived to tie up all the loose threads at the end of a story. Some readers like that, and thrive on authors such as Lee Child or Dan Brown or John Grisham. That’s not to denigrate these authors, but they are producing writing for a particular market and it’s not really a road I’d like to tread.
I just finished watching the Netflix film, ‘Annihilation’, based on the book by Jeff VanderMeer. Although I questioned a bit of the science – prisms refracting DNA (please!) – the stretches of imagination the author had taken, together with the fact that not everything was explained at the end of the story, left me with a sense of – wow! What a journey that took me on. I’m still thinking about those final scenes and the significance of each event – especially how each character’s background affected their fate in the film. If I could achieve a fraction of this skill then I’d be a happy man.
To push me further into the area of ambiguity, I recently took an online course (yes, the teacher went back to school) run by Blake Butler (author of Scorch Atlas, 300 million, Sky Saw.) The course was entitled ‘Logic and the unconscious’ and Blake pushed each class member towards a freestyle approach using unusual starting points. This wasn’t just ‘stream of consciousness’ writing but employed a sense of writing constraints – a device championed by the proponents of Oublio technique. This tends to produce writing that is original but very chaotic and requires significant numbers of edits to shape a piece of writing into a final product. The course was quite mind-bending and found me in Phillip Dick territory as regards speculative nature. It planted in me a renewed desire to leave multiple suggestions for the reader, rather than succinct, tightly wound-up stories.
I’m not sure if that fully answers your question, but I hope this addition to the toolbox, so to speak, becomes evident in the short story regime I’m embarking on.
TGR: Tell us about your work. What does your back catalogue consist of and what is your most recent release?
My fiction work is entirely self-published and began with a release of short stories entitled ‘Defiled Earth’ (This is available free via my website). I’ve published two Novels in my ‘Psychonaut Trilogy,’ the most recent of which is entitled ‘Demonslayer’ and has a pretty wide scope, encompassing as it does the Uncreation of the Multiverse! I have two other books out – a sci-fi/horror novella called ‘Coffin Dodgers’ and another collection of shorts – ‘Beasts, Brutes and Abominations.’ My next book, as mentioned above is a full novel, ‘Mycophoria’ and is planned for a June release.
TGR: You’ve been invited to contribute a story to an anthology! If you could choose 5 other writers (living or deceased), who would they be and why?
I’ll answer this in list form:
– HP Lovecraft – He and Poe were where it all began – Nuff said.
– Stephen King – master storyteller. He is still on top of his short story game, as ‘Bazaar of bad dreams’ testifies to.
– Ray Bradbury – his prose poetry is spellbinding and his short story output phenomenal
– Mel Kassel – a speculative/bizarro author who came to my attention through Black Static magazine and her story, ‘Tancho’. The fact that she shares a zoological background with myself would be an added attraction.
– Ralph Robert Moore – he never fails to deliver stories from the left field that highlight the plight of human existence in all its myriad forms.
That was hard – there are so many more authors I could have included here!
TGR: Your latest book is being turned into a movie! Well done you! Who stars in it and who directs it?
I guess the book that would most likely fit this mold would be my Psychonaut series. When I wrote the original story I had a firm idea that Martin Freeman was the epitome of Merrick Whyte, the main protagonist. His mannerisms and witty comebacks summed up this sceptical atheist’s response to the world of magick he is confronted with. The book has so many characters that the cast list would be quite extensive, but one of the main heroines, a far-seer called Celestia Barone would be superbly portrayed by Greta Garbo, albeit with a jet-black bob-cut. The sadomasochist, Sarlic would attract open auditions from any androgynous person who is six-feet tall, possesses long flowing locks and can simulate paroxysms of agony and ecstasy with ease!
TGR: I see from your bio that you are also a metal/rock music fan, as am I. Does music have an influence on what you write and if it does, how?
It has an immense influence. As well as writing, I write and perform music in the prog rock/metal genres. I was brought up in the seventies and eighties and so my influences are more traditional and include Led Zeppelin, Rush, Black Sabbath, Whitesnake, Van Halen and especially Ronnie James Dio. In the past twenty years, I’ve developed broader musical tastes, but have not strayed far from what you might call ‘heavy’ music. Compared to the sub-genres of thrash, death and black metal my tastes are perhaps a bit mild. Someone once told me that the genre of ‘heavy metal’ was, in fact, the least metal form of metal! That said, I’ve enjoyed bands such as System of a Down, Killswitch Engage and Dream Theater. I know – DT have their mellow moments but songs such as ‘The Dark Eternal Night’ and the whole album ‘Train of Thought’ are pretty hardcore in my books. As long as the music has a melody in there somewhere then I can appreciate it. A song that epitomises my idea of ‘Light and Shade’ is Black Sabbath’s Sabbath Bloody Sabbath. It interposes lighter acoustic sections with the dirtiest, most evil sounding riffs played in drop D tuning. The quieter section lulls you for a while and then Iommi’s riffing bludgeons you when it returns after the chorus. The lyrics are quite something else too. Geezer Butler was amazing at evoking a sense of dread, and the absurdist howling of the following stanza in Ozzy’s crazy voice makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end:
God knows as your dognose
Bog blast all of you
Sabbath bloody sabbath
Nothing more to do
Living just for dying
Dying just for you
In terms of writing, there’s a large cross-over between my lyrics, poetry and prose. One bleeds into the other and I often allow my imagination to use darker music as a springboard to move into a frame of mind where I can create. Currently, I am putting together a second album of music for my band, ‘Hot Flow Anomaly.’ The musicians involved are many and varied and the output will be a record entitled ‘Second Sight.’ Titles of songs already lined up include ‘Sacrifice your God,’ ‘Nains and Gorics’, and ‘The Sleep of Reason.’ We’re probably looking at a release date sometime in the first half of 2019. In the meantime, folks can check out the band’s website at http://www.hotflowanomaly.fourfour.com and download the first album at https://hotflowanomaly1.bandcamp.com/album/hot-flow-anomaly-i
TGR: What are you working on now (apart from these questions) and where can we stalk find you on the World Wide Web.
As mentioned before, I’ll be spending the next month writing short stories. Some will find their way into a self-published collection, others will be shaped for submission to various trad pub destinations. Self-publishing is great, but the validation of seeing one’s story appearing in the pages of a major (or even a minor) publication is always an unholy grail. Story ideas I already have inline include a tale called Swinging in the air, and another two called Corvid Empire and Hircine. I’ll leave your readers to imagine what they are about!
My online portals of darkness are as follows:
Demonslayer is available on Amazon at this universal link: http://books2read.com/u/3J0wLX
My website can be viewed at http://tomghadams.com where you can download ‘The Psychonaut’ for free. The site also contains links to my audiobooks and catalogue of blog posts.
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/tomghadams
Youtube channel: www.youtube.com/user/ridgemoterider/
Thanks again for the chance to drop by.