The cover of this horror anthology piqued my interest immediately, and the stories that followed completely delivered on the promise of disturbing and terrifying tales. Serial killers, mysterious objects, haunted houses, things that scratch in the night, and other deadly encounters await the reader on every page. No matter where your deepest fears are seated, there will be something in this collection to make your skin crawl.
Unlike many other short story compilations released by a single author, Tunnels and Other Short Stories constantly varies both the subjects and narrative points of view, creating unique twists and turns that will have you unable to put this book down. As a strong voice within the indie horror community Blakey-Novis is an author worth following, and I look forward to reading more of his works.
On my search to read new up and coming horror writers, I was fortunate enough to make a connection with P.J. Blakey-Novis, and he was kind enough to spend some time with me for an interview.
WS: The cover for this collection is very evocative, and I wanted to start reading as soon as I saw it. Who did the cover art? And where did the concept come from?
PJBN: The cover has had some great feedback, and it really does stand out! My wife, Leanne, has recently finished studying graphic design, and has started offering a number of services which now includes low-cost book covers. This was the first one that she did, and I think it looks amazing. As the title story revolves around the ghost of a woman accused of being a witch, the choice of cover image reflects this. (If you’re interested Leanne can be found at www.facebook.com/redcapegd).
WS: My favourite story to read was the title story, Tunnels, where we join a couple on a ghost hunt. The wife was a believer, but the husband was a complete skeptic. Which side do you fall on? Have you gone on ghost hunts?
PJBN: In Tunnels, the couple were closely based on myself and Leanne. And I would say I am strongly the skeptic, but Leanne is much more open to supernatural things. We haven’t been on any ghost hunts yet, but they do run them at the fort near to our home. We have been on a number of other Halloween adventures, largely walk-throughs during which we would be chased about by chainsaw-wielding mechanics, zombie nurses and, of course, clowns.
WS: Which story in the anthology was your favorite to write?
PJBN: From this collection, I would say I’m most proud of Tunnels. The feedback has been amazing, with multiple 4 and 5-star reviews. I also really enjoyed writing 21, as it’s told from the perspective of a serial killer, so it was fun to get into the mindset and see how shocking I could get away with making it.
WS: Since the collection covers many different fears, I’m curious to know what frightens you the most? Have you tackled writing about that subject?
PJBN: In real life, I don’t believe in anything supernatural, so I’m not worried about poltergeists or zombies. People are far more terrifying! I think the fear that something was going to happen to Leanne, or our children, is the strongest. In writing 21, I think it would have been more difficult to tell the story from, say, the father’s perspective, as it would seem too real for me. In another story, which is due for release in February, the main character finds himself forced to harm his partner and that was quite a difficult part to write.
WS: Speaking of perspectives, it was refreshing to see the stories in this book vary in narrative voice, with some told in first person and others from a third person perspective. When writing, how do you decide which narrative voice to use?
PJBN: I rarely plan the stories out before I begin writing, preferring to get an idea or image in my head and jotting down a first paragraph. If I’m aiming to convey the horror that a particular character is suffering, or inflicting, then I tend to write in the first person. If it’s a story like The Box, with multiple victims, I will tell it from a third person perspective to give a better insight into each of the characters. That said, I do find writing in the first person easier when it comes to horror, but both of my novels (The Broken Doll series, a Fatal Attraction type story) are third person.
WS: Since you do write both novels and short stories, how do you recognize an idea as a short story? Do you just start writing and see where it takes you, or do you know it will be a short story from the beginning?
PJBN: When I get a vague idea, or image, in my head I tend to start writing. Usually this will end up as a short story, as I need a much more detailed mental image if I think it has the potential to become anything longer. The story makes itself clear as to how long it can be, I think, in that it’s obvious when a tale is stretched out for the sake of word count. The novels that I have written are both around the 90k word mark and could have been much longer had I not tried to keep them fast-paced. The short stories I have written vary in length; the shortest being around 1,500 words, through to Tunnels, and my next release, at almost 8,000 words. I believe most of my stories fall in the 2-3,000-word count.
WS: When did you know you wanted to be a horror writer?
PJBN: Not until I wrote the first horror short, for an anthology. I saw the call for submissions and thought it would be a good way to try writing a story shorter than my previous work. Leanne and I watch a lot of horror movies, so I was well prepared for avoiding the clichés, and trying to put a different angle on the story. I expected to receive a rejection email, and planned to use any feedback from this, but the publishers actually liked the story. They even paid me for it, in real money! That was when I started putting together my first collection of short horrors, Embrace the Darkness.
WS: With your upcoming project, Boxes of Blood, which we’ll get to in a minute, you are becoming a strong advocate for indie horror writers. What lead you to become an indie author?
PJBN: I wrote my first novel, The Broken Doll, more as a hobby than anything. I started it, put it aside for a while when life became busy, then picked it up again every now and again. Then I had surgery on my foot, (the inspiration for the short medical horror, Opened Up), and was laid up for a few weeks so I went back to the novel. Suddenly it was finished, but I had no idea what to do with it, and it was only then that I started researching self-publishing options. It’s been a lot to learn, but so much has happened over the last year that I really feel that I am getting somewhere with my writing.
WS: One of your next projects, as I mentioned, is called Boxes of Blood, where readers can purchase a mystery box of indie horror books, and other swag. Where did you come up with the concept?
PJBN: Boxes of Blood came about very recently, as I was looking for ways to help get other indie authors’ work seen, aside from just online posts. With the insane number of books being published daily, from a reader’s point of view it’s almost impossible to make a choice, particularly as the majority of indie writers are not well known outside of small circles. The idea is to offer varying sizes of boxes, most likely 2, 4, and 6 books, which will also include cotton bags with some of the book covers on, bookmarks, magnets, coasters etc. Within the first 24 hours of announcing Boxes of Blood, we had almost fifty books submitted for consideration, ranging from novellas, to anthologies, to full-length novels. Now we are at the point where we need to read them all and ensure they meet the standard we require. I can’t confirm the prices as yet; we are still working on the costings and, most importantly, the shipping cost. We are in the UK and are currently looking for the best option to enable us to offer worldwide shipping. The intention is to make the boxes available from the start of May 2018.
WS: Sounds very exciting! I’ll be sure to follow you on GoodReads to see your reviews as you make your way through the submissions. Are there any short story authors that have influenced your writing?
PJBN: I started writing short stories only a year ago, at least with a view to actually publishing them, and it was then that I started reading others. I’ve been really impressed with a number of short stories and novellas over the last few months, but the writers that I’ve most enjoyed so far have been D.J. Doyle, Kevin J. Kennedy, Mike Krutz (check out Pleasure Seekers), Renee Miller, and C.M. Saunders. Also, although not horror, Noah Finn & the Art of Suicide by E. Rachael Hardcastle was one of the best stories I’ve read recently.
WS: Since you’ve written both short stories and novels, do you think short stories are a harder sell to readers?
PJBN: When I started writing, with a view to publication, it was a novel. I knew little about short stories, and my assumption was that novels were the way to go. The two novels that I have written have done fairly well, gaining great reviews, but both of my horror collections have sold far more copies. I think, especially when it comes to e-books, the market is better for low-cost, short stories. People who don’t have a lot of time are more likely to take a chance on a collection of shorts that they can dip in and out of, than a full-length novel by someone they may not be familiar with. In turn, as has happened with my books, people have taken a chance on my short stories, enjoyed them, then gone on to buying my novels.
WS: What’s the most challenging part of writing for you?
PJBN: Time, which is probably what everyone says. Fitting time for writing into the day would be easier, if it wasn’t for the marketing, blogging, and other aspects of the work. And then I come up with ideas like the e-magazine we publish, Indie Writers Review, and then Boxes of Blood, and the hours become more and more full. Realistically, I have one full day each week to write, and as long as I have a vague story idea then I can get the first draft of a short done in that time.
WS: And lastly, any advice for novice writers?
PJBN: Keep writing. When you aren’t writing, read. It’s a long, slow process so be patient. Support other peoples work as much as your own, if not more. Learn to take criticism (something I still struggle with. I woke up one day to a 4, 5 and a 1-star review and could only focus on the 1 star, even though it said nothing in the review, and they had probably not even read the book). Enjoy it; if it feels like a chore then the story will suffer.
I’d sincerely like to thank P.J. Blakey-Novis for taking the time to speak with me. I hope you enjoyed this interview, and if you would like to know more about the author and his works, feel free to connect with him on the following social medial platforms: