Let me introduce today's guest, Gavin Gardiner, with his own words. Gavin believes there is no greater terror than a truly unhinged human mind. For this reason, he specializes in the psychological and pushes the themes and subjects of his work into areas seldom explored in the genre. Gavin, for sure is one of the top picks for Halloween reads.
Thanks for joining us, Gavin. Let start by telling us a bit about yourself and your writing process.
Thanks for having me! My name’s Gavin Gardiner and I’m a horror author from Scotland. My work focuses on the kind of horrors we might find in our own lives, albeit taken to the extreme. Although I enjoy supernatural horror, I’m only interested in concocting the kind of monsters that actually exist in the real world. These, I feel, are the most terrifying.
My writing process totally goes against that romantic image of writers spewing the magic directly onto the page in a delirium of creativity; I’m a thorough and obsessive plotter, and every detail of every chapter must be planned out before the first word of the first draft is written. My mission is both to disturb and delight you, and I plot and plan in order to ensure your terror.
That's how a story should be. Do you have any books published?
My debut novel, For Rye, was released back in April, along with various short stories prior to its release. I’ve been delighted with the book’s reception, having made it onto various Amazon bestseller lists throughout the year. People seem to have a place in their hearts for my nihilistic brand of horror!
The novel is essentially a character study of a woman on the brink of suicide, a troubled romance novelist who is drawn back to her childhood hometown upon the ritualistic murder of her mother. We join our protagonist is probably the worst mental state we could find anyone, and in this dire frame of mind, she must confront repressed memories of her family’s bleak and mournful past. A long-dormant evil soon emerges, and needless to say, things get very, very dark.
Which of your characters is your favorite? From which book and why?
It would have to be the aforementioned protagonist from For Rye, Renata Wakefield. Her arc is one of eventual empowerment but at a cost. Renata shows us what may become of even the most vulnerable, seemingly fragile souls if they surrender to the darkness. She’s spent her life subjugated, victimized, trodden into the dirt, and I think we’re all drawn to characters like Renata who find strength and come into their own. What makes her my favorite character is the heinous nature of this empowerment and the eventual dark transformation that comes to define her journey.
Which of your characters most represents you?
Well, they’re all pretty disturbing, so hopefully none! My upcoming novella, The Last Testament of Crighton Smythe, due for release this Halloween, features a disillusioned young man who must go to rather extreme, unusual measures to make ends meet. Thankfully I’ve never had to go to quite such horrifying lengths, but I did pour some of my teenage anxieties into Crighton. I remember that awkward age when you’re trying to figure out what kind of person you’re going to become, and the doubt and disillusionment that came with it. Although Crighton Smythe is in his early twenties when we join him, he still exhibits these anxieties about identity and one’s place in the world. I think he probably represents a particular phase we all go through at some point in our lives, and it’s my hope that readers will relate to him on some level, although not his terrible deeds. That would be worrying.
In transgressive fiction, we explore the character's psyche and some of us, at least I, put them in horrific conditions to see how they would react. It seems your stories fit well in the Transgressive genre as well. Can you tell us more about your writing style and genre?
There’s no question that my brand of horror is a transgressive one. During none of my projects have I had any interest in re-treading the same old tired tropes of the genre, and I’ve made the focus of my work nihilistic, hopeless nightmares from which readers can take very little in the way of moral worth or guidance.
As with the very best transgressive fiction, I try not to use mental illness as a ‘shortcut’ to depravity, but rather use the psychological instabilities and imbalances of my characters to garner insights into the darkest depths a human mind may descend. My horror concerns itself with the most torturous mental states a person can endure.
Another hallmark of transgressive fiction that I incorporate into my work is that of taboo subjects. I’m a huge believer in the function of fiction to both commentate and allow readers to experience catharsis by confronting their own dark pasts and awkward truths. I’m yet to shy away from any subject and plan on tackling many more in the future. In my work, you’ll find no ghosts or ghouls, only the absolute worst ordeals in which normal people like you and me may find themselves.
Great explanation. Can you tell us what is the most challenging thing about writing a book?
Writing my first novel very much felt like groping in the dark. It was my first serious writing project, and I had to do a lot of learning as I went along, identifying areas that needed improvement or where the extra study was required. Now that I’m working on my second novel, I’m finding my method has become much smoother, but I’m still a big believer that if the process isn’t challenging then you’re not working hard enough. As writers, we have to really push ourselves if we want our book to truly have a chance of moving people. Any time I begin to suspect that I’m not being challenged fully, I take a step back and try to figure out how to push myself harder.
Understandable. I wonder, how do you publish and market your books?
I’m signed to a small independent publisher, so much of the promotion and marketing is left up to me. I won’t pretend like I’d say no to one of the big publishing houses, but an advantage of working with smaller presses is the level of creative freedom you get. It’s been a joy overseeing every step of my writing projects, and I feel extremely lucky to have had the chance to fully realize my creative visions.
In terms of marketing, I decided early on that I was going to forgo the usual Amazon and Facebook ads, instead opting for creative approaches that might get the book noticed. One idea I had was to package the advance reader copies in the aged, blood-stained paper, tied with black twine and bundled up with a personalized handwritten note. This seemed to really capture the imagination of reviewers and their followers and added to the overall experience of the novel.
The lesson I learned was that we all have limited resources – both financially and in terms of time – and it’s up to us to figure out the most effective way to use these resources. My advice is to use your imagination and figure out some bold ways to stand out from the crowd. You’re an artist. Put that creative brain to work.
That's interesting. Could you give an advice for writers just starting out?
I usually tell writers to take some time to establish exactly what their goal is, but this advice can apply to any endeavor. You have a far greater chance of success if you narrow down your aims and define your destination as accurately as possible.
In my case, I decided early on that I wanted to write psychological horror that would explore the darkest, most depraved real-world situations. Narrowing down my mission statement in this way ended up taking some of the work out of my hands; it guided how I would promote my writing, where I would network, who my target audience was going to be, my plan for future works, and much more. I advise new writers to put in the effort to establish where they want to take their writing. It might take some experimenting to figure out your style or area of interest, but that’s all part of the process. Concrete, defined goals have a far greater chance of realization than fuzzy, amorphous pipedreams.
Above all: write.
Thank you so much Gavin for this amazing interview. Sure, we learned a lot.
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