When and why did you begin writing?

I began writing aged 11.  I think it was in the summer transitioning from primary to secondary school.  Being the cool kid I clearly was, I bought from Ottakar’s (since merged into Waterstones) The Wind Singer by William Nicholson.  It was a book that a couple of friends from school had themselves read and I thought I would give it a go.  Until that point, I was reading and re-reading Harry Potter like there was no tomorrow (I was in the generation when we were the same age as the characters in the first three film releases).  I didn’t have a very broad horizon of fiction that I had read, save for what we were reading all together in school.  When I bought that book then, it was almost like an epiphany.  There was something of a very content, fulfilled and even sophisticated feeling of holding a fresh new book, complete in itself.  From there I decided that I wanted to create my own, new complete book.  From then on I’ve been jotting my ideas down , of which there are quite a lot, and planning out my ideas for years, in and around everyday life and ,y eventual career(s).  My reading range rapidly increased as well a I found it easier to pick anything up and read it.

What is the biggest thing that people THINK they know about your subject/genre that isn’t so?

I’m speaking about the horror genre, as my debut novel is in that genre. 

These days it seems to be all about the shock factor.  It’s all about explicit blood, gore and violence.  The film industry hasn’t helped that in the slightest, with franchises like Saw having a big influence in horror.  Swearing is another thing.  Yes, it’s a factor of every day life, certainly in the U.K, but when young children are desensitized to the f-word and the c-bomb from its over-use in horror and all genres, there’s something not right.

Then there’s sex.  Sex is great but Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire, although brilliant (both TV and books), and the 50 Shades series among others have influenced the use of graphic and vivid portrayals of sex in such a way that it has almost become mainstream.  Gallons of blood and people mating in ever more creative ways don’t need to be the key themes of horror.  They’re not even necessary to the genre at all. Slow build-ups, a creepy atmosphere, a being frightened of the unknown.  They are what make a horror, in my opinion.  It’s a classic formula but it still works.

Do you work to an outline or plot sketch, or do you prefer to let a general idea guide your writing?

I always try to have an outline of the plot before I actually start writing.  It never works.  There may be a brief outline of where I initially think the plot is going to go, but never ends up going that way.  It’s way more fun just to write and see where it takes you.  Sometimes it may be worthwhile having a brief guide to try to stick to – however loosely – but why not go on the adventure with the characters?  Does the author create the story or does the story create the author*?

*N.B I’m going to trademark that question and use it in a future work 😉

How do you feel about indie/alternative vs. conventional publishing?

I think that there are pros and cons to both.  In this day and age, the Space-Year 2020, it’s fantastic that authors from all backgrounds and experiences can self publish, either in print or more commonly online.  And quite rightly so.  I firmly believe that everyone should have the ability to showcase their works.  The traditional publishing market is fighting – I believe – a losing battle against the new ways to self publish and a lot of that I think stems from a culture of ‘snootiness’ that used to be fat old codgers who has done nothing with their lives save for driving a desk and putting their own, usually inexperienced, subjective opinions on other people’s efforts.  J.K. Rowling had Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone rejected twelve times.  Twelve!  It really is the luck of the draw, though.  There are many quality stories and ideas out there that are only out there because of the wonders of the internet, and former attitudes of publishers have been their downfall, and I think that trend will continue.

However – perhaps contradicting what I’ve just said to a certain degree – conventional publishing may guarantee to the reader a level of quality.  A publisher accepting a pitch means it’s been assessed, reviewed but most importantly, read.  That shows then that traditional publishing still does have some major advantages.  At least, if accepted, you will normally receive an advancement and your works will physically be there in shops, stood out from the (digital) reams and reams of fiction and non-fiction that are filling cyber-space day by day with new self made publications.  But perhaps then that just puts onus on the writer to produce a quality work to stand out if they’re going to self-publish.

Can you share with readers a little bit about your latest book?

Certainly can!  My debut novel, Payment, actually started out as a short story competition entry in early 2017.  The theme was horror and it was done on the website fanstory.com.  What FanStory is, is a website that lets aspiring authors enter writing competitions and/or write their own works to be read and reviewed by fellow aspiring writers or people who simply love to read.

I didn’t win the competition.  I was a bit miffed because I actually thought the winning entry was unoriginal and written not so well.  But it didn’t matter; the reviews and words of encouragement I received from random people on the internet, none of whom I know personally or have met, encouraged me to keep writing.  I decided that there was so much more I could do with Payment.  Here was a basic skeleton of a story (no pun intended given the horror theme) with a lot of unexplored themes, avenues and even literary devices.  So I decided that I would make Payment a full length novel over 40,000 words.  I even manage to incorporated one or two other ‘flash fiction’ competition entries that I did on FanStory into this novel too!

Payment is a back-to-basics gothic horror.  There are references to things featured in many horror stories, such as ghosts and old, spooky mansions, and the story itself is written from the point of view of the main character; a 19th Century Esquire, dealing with the themes of loneliness, fate and forgiveness as he tries to protect what matters most to him against forces he can’t understand.

Payment was released on March 13th of this year.  Some of you will look at your phones or diaries or calendars and see that it was a Friday the 13th!  Don’t worry though, it’s already horror themed, so there’s nothing wrong with that 😉

The brilliant artwork was done by a young man called Daniel Percy, from Sweden, who I met on Reddit.com.  A link to his work is also at the bottom of the page.

If your book was made into a movie, who would you cast?

A completely unknown set of actors and actresses.  I don’t care much for fancy stars or mainstream ‘must have’ celebrities.  To me, the more unknown and fresher they are, the better.  It means they haven’t already been typecast by their previous works.  I feel that for the majority of A-list Hollywood stars that they don’t come close to being the character they’re portraying; they’re just a brand for the film and/or director and/or producer.  The soul of their acting usually leaves them after a while of being at the top.

They’d probably have to be British, but realistically anyone who can pull off a Northern English accent would do.

What was the hardest thing about writing your latest book?

Maintaining a gothic horror atmosphere.  I re-read parts of Frankenstein and Dracula but for a long time I was struggling with this aspect.  I thought then – and still do now – that the reason that horror fiction works so well as short stories is because maintaining that atmosphere for shorter pieces of writing is so much easier to do.  Poe’s Raven and The Fall of the House of Usher: both genius and frightening!  And very relatively short.  The former is little more than 1,000 words in length.

The inspiration I had that assisted me greatly in this was reading The Woman in Black by Susan Hill.  For people wanting to revisit the Gothic Horror genre, this is the book to read.  It’s the only book that whilst reading I jumped at the sound of the sudden wind outside.  I owe Hill so much gratitude in being able to study her work and realise and develop my my own gothic atmospheres.

What is your next project?

I actually have two on the go – although I am aware that that is not necessarily always recommended!  I have a medieval adventure-quest on the go that will probably take a couple of years to finish in all honesty.  I’m not going to disclose exactly what the quest is about.  I think I have thought of a very, very simple idea that nobody has yet come up with and I’d be rather miffed if someone else saw the idea and published a work on it before I could!  The themes are, I think, rather clever and will make people go “ahhhh” in realisation.  That’s what I’m hoping to achieve anyway.

The other project is going to be set in the 1700s and focuses on investigation and legal proceedings.  Whilst the application of law itself is fundamentally duller than dishwater, the history of English Common Law and the history of legal processes are something I have actually found very interesting.  The beauty of the internet era is that you don’t have to search very far to find court records and proceedings from centuries past that have since been transcribed digitally.  I have read into trials and judiciary proceedings that have taken place where I live from centuries past.  It’s incredible that it’s fundamentally the same today.   Again, like with the above project, I’m not divulging too much information about the themes of the investigations/trials.

What role does research play in your writing?

Lots.  I mean lots.  I mean a hell of a lot.  All bar one or two of my ideas for projects are all historical stories, so I try my best to be absolutely meticulous in the historical accuracy of attitudes, inventions, events and people who lived in those times.  It is all too easy these days, with instant access to unlimited information, to read a paragraph and ‘fact check’ it.  If a person has discovered an inaccuracy, the done thing these days isn’t to write a private letter to the author(ess) or publisher, but to showcase that mistake on social media as if it was a circus attraction.  This typical behaviour that is all too common these days makes research and accuracy all the more important.

The research can sometimes take as much time, if not more, as the writing during the periods of time that I have to write.  Research is also fundamentally important not only to keep the fact-checkers at bay, but as many works of fiction require a suspension of disbelief, there needs to be at least an element of belief in there to start with.

Who is your favorite fictional character and why?

A tough one.  There are many, many characters who I like but for me, certainly in the reading world, it has to be Commander Sir Samuel Vimes, of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series.  For those who know the character, my main career (in law enforcement) is very much what his is, a bit further down the scale. 

He’s a man who’s seen a lot, done a lot and could quite easily have said ‘sod it’ and let all the difficult and dark experiences of life turn him into a bad person.  But after the events of his debut appearance (Discworld VIII: Guards! Guards!) He regains himself and becomes a man of hard, decent, honest and dedicated work.  Despite all the cynicism of the world and hardships he maintains his moral compass, no matter how difficult that period of time may be, always with a dry sense of humour.

Vimes is resilient – no matter what comes his way, he’ll ride out the challenge or situation right unto the very end, come what may.  That’s the kind of commitment that makes a person a genuine person, one who sees something through, no matter the grit or discomfort.  That’s the kind of man I try to be. 

What is one great lesson you have learned as a writer?

Perhaps its just been my unlucky experiences bit it seems to me that a lot of people, including close people, don’t really care about your work, when it comes down to it.

Now, this may come across as an embittered answer but it is something I am sure that many people may have also found.  It is not unreasonable to assume that all of your close friends and family would log in to Amazon and download it the minute it was released.  But this is not the case.  Our friends have their own lives to lead with the challenges that live provides.  If they’re not active readers to start with then it’s unlikely they’ll invest the time in your book.  I myself have heard, “yeah, sure, I’ll read your book” from a lot of friends, so many times.  They still haven’t.  I know they’re not going to either. 

There are plenty of, for example, aspiring writers’ groups on Facebook that are for people to talk about what they’re writing, showcase ideas and gain feedback.  This is great when you’re in your initial wiring stages.  But when you’ve put your work together and even published it, there don’t seem to be many people who care.  These ‘advertise your book here’ groups are full of people who want everyone to buy, read and share their own books but aren’t willing to buy, read or share anyone else’s.  I myself have now fallen guilty of that.  I’ve bought a couple of people’s works, hoping that (not necessarily the same) people would buy mine.  It didn’t happen.  Not from these groups anyway.  For those who have written and published, these groups are a stalemate.

I guess what I’m getting at is that it can take a lot of searching to find the best kinds of communities, with places such as this fine website, where sensible discussion about writing can be had and showcasing the works where they can be better appreciated.  They’re certainly there, just not in the first place you’d hope them to be.

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

Just write your novel.  Don’t worry about whether or not people will like it or not.  With over 7 billion people on the planet you will find that many people don’t like idea.  But with 7 billion people on this Earth, there will be many that do, and your story may be a pleasant pastime or distraction for them.  Just write.  Don’t get caught up on publishers.  If you haven’t yet written your story, a publisher can’t read it or publish it.  Just write.  Don’t fret over the marketing you have to do if you’re self publishing, because you can’t market something that hasn’t yet been written.  Just write.

I talk about this a little bit in a Medium.com article I wrote (link at the bottom).  There are hundreds of people in this world who say “I would have done [insert dream] but I couldn’t because [insert lame excuse]”.  Don’t be one of those people with big, challenging and achievable ambitions but ultimately mediocre lives.  Just write.  Norman Vincent Peale said, “Shoot for the moon.  Even if you miss you’ll still land amongst the stars”.  There is never a truer phrase to describe writing your own fiction.


Want to learn more about Rhys N. River’s works?

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