This month I’m happy to bring you all an interview with sci-fi and horror author I.E. Lester (aka Edmund Lester). Edmund’s YA supernatural novel “The Stairs Lead Down” is scheduled for release on Oct. 31st.
- Let’s start at the beginning. When did the writing bug bite you? Was it something that you aspired to as a youngster or is it a more recent interest?
The thought of writing fiction never occurred to my teenage or twenty-something self. I was a voracious reader in those days, mostly of science fiction, fantasy and horror, although some other fiction would occasionally sneak in. In my youth the reading bug was absolute; as was the collecting bug. As a result forty years after reading my first science fiction book, a short story collection by Isaac Asimov, I have a collection containing more than 16,000 books and magazines.
The first time the idea of writing science fiction appeared was when I created a science fiction, fantasy and horror fiction website called the Eternal Night. On this site I reviewed books, conducted author interviews, wrote articles about science fiction and science fact. I ran the site for the best part of ten years until the age of social media started and people moved away from web 1.0 sites.
During this period I was fortunate to meet many, many authors for the interviews section but also socially; including one particular group called the Terror Scribes. One or two of them wondered why I had never tried my hand at writing fiction. They encouraged me to give it a try although I was very hesitant. My background is in mathematics and physics. My day job was coding software systems. I was used to writing technical documents, an easy switch to the science articles, but I didn’t think I had any chance of adapting my writing style to fiction.
When I hit forty my wife told me to give it a try. Well, how could I disappoint her. So I tried writing some short stories and several of them sold, mostly to webzines but also to some small press magazines and anthologies. I continued with the short form for three years until an opportunity to set up a side line business selling superhero comics, toys, and merchandise presented itself which consumed all of the spare time I had.
When I sold the company after four years I decided to give writing another try only this time I wanted to see if I could write a novel. I did. And then I wrote another. Neither of them was any good but they proved to me I could stick with it all the way to typing those two glorious words, “The End”.
I wrote a third, a huge science fiction alternate history book that was intended to be the first in a series. It was the first novel I’d written where I felt it was actually a novel someone might read. I sent it out to every agent and publisher I could find who might consider it. None of them went for it; although a couple did request a full manuscript so that was encouraging. I wrote a fourth, a horror book based in part on my own childhood growing up just south of Birmingham in the 1970s. It too failed to find a home. I kept trying.
This was followed by a handful of weird novellas featuring a middle-aged, middle-class, middle-Englander whom I torment in strange ways; another horror novel, this one a claustrophobic tale of people stuck in a village store; a ya fantasy novel; a bawdy comedic space opera; two surreal novels on company culture and the fame game; and the YA supernatural, The Stairs Lead Down coming out on Hallowe’en 2017.
- I saw you had an article in Darker Matter some time ago called Generation Spaceships. Your other work has centered around the Horror genre, so I’m curious about a piece that is so very much Sci-Fi. It was quite a detailed piece of work.
My background is in science. I studied mathematics and physics at University and trained to be a teacher. I have maintained an interest in science ever since. Before the idea of writing fiction I had written and sold dozens of articles on science, history, horror, linguistics, plus a number of mini-biographies of people I admire.
When the online magazine Darker Matter started the editor was kind enough to consider my suggestion of including a non-fiction article in its first issue. I write a piece on Exoplanets, a topic I’d studied at University albeit it only in theory as it was 5 years after I left that the first one was discovered. The article seemed to go down well with his readers so we turned it into a series of articles on astrophysics. I enjoyed researching and writing these articles and was disappointed when the magazine ended.
You are right about the horror focus on my other published work. When I first started writing short stories the majority of the stories were horror. I couldn’t see the point of trying to write fantasy short stories. Fantasy to me is long form. Science fiction is a very friendly genre to the short form and I did write a number of sf shorts but I found horror much easier. There’s something satisfying about getting a little scare in, in just a few words. I had a particular fondness for writing horror drabbles (100 word stories), especially comedic ones.
For interest here is one I wrote six years ago. It was accepted by a magazine that unfortunately folded before it was published.
Don’t Blame Me
“Don’t blame me, you made this,” he repeated
I looked at him, really looked at him. His eyes glowed red; his forehead was bumpy; behind him something flickered. A tail?
“Satan?” I asked uncertainly.
“Who were you expecting, Mother Theresa?”
“What do you mean, ‘I made this’?”
“Our policy is to make each hell fit the individual. Kind of a personal service eternal suffering you might say.”
“But a neon-lit karaoke bar, who would create something like this?”
“You! It’s your idea of the worst possible night out. Eternity here should be complete hell.
Then Satan vanished.
- I’m sure you’ve seen the memes that want to give writers a verbal beating because we’re not sitting at our computers writing 24/7, 365. I simply can’t do that. What sort of writing work schedule and routine do you try to keep?
I do not have a very good writing schedule. Routines do not work for me. I go through peaks and troughs with it. Sometimes I can sit and write for hours on end and it all comes naturally; other times it is a struggle. Of late it’s been a trough time so I’m not writing all that often and when I do it becomes a chore.
In contrast when I’m on a peak the words just flow and I never want to leave the keyboard. To give you an example of what these times can be like. I had the idea for my sf alternate history novel walking down a road in the Netherlands whilst on holiday in May 2015. I started writing the novel on my return, with one week of the month to go. I finished the first draft by the start of August; 122,000 words long. In that time I’d also written a 30,000 words novella, the Intersection due out next year. In two months and all while maintaining a day job (I do have to keep paying the mortgage) I’d written more than 150,000 words of fiction. The revision of them both was done in another month.
This year’s been much more of a struggle. I’ve fought through writing a surreal satire around the entertainment industry and a full rewrite of my YA fantasy as requested by the publisher interested in it. They were not easy though. It really did feel like work for much of it.
I’m hoping I’ll be able to get out of the funk soon. I have so many stories I want to tell.
- Your first novel, The Stairs Lead Down, is scheduled to be released on Halloween of this year! Can you tell us a bit of the back story, what inspired it, and maybe share a little sneak-peak excerpt?
The Stairs Lead Down was one of a couple of the stories I’ve written that have come around because of films I’ve watched; only for all the wrong reasons. If I watch a good film or a good TV series I will walk away with happy but with a clear head. I am satisfied with how it was told. If however, I watch a film I find terrible it is quite the opposite. I start wondering how I would have written it; what I could have done to make it better.
These thought processes always end up with nothing of the original story remaining. My brain swaps out literally every single part of the film, its setting, its plot, its characters, its time period; everything. Then I sit down with a notebook and start scribbling down my idea. I keep an A5 notebook for every story idea large enough in scope to potentially become a novel or a series. If at the end of this scribbling I have enough I construct a framework plot, flesh it out with characters and scenes, all still in the notebook. Then when I’m happy I start typing.
The Stairs Lead Down, is set in my hometown, Ashby de la Zouch (rather than the big city in the USA in the film that started me thinking). There are a couple of reasons for this. Firstly it makes research really easy. I know we live in the age of Google Maps but actually walking up and down the streets where the story is set is so much more valuable to me. But the main reason I picked Ashby is its history. It’s existed for more than a thousand years and everywhere you look there is history. When you’re writing a ghost story this is invaluable. I can have ghosts from any point in history just drop in as needed.
Having the two main characters as twins is possibly the only holdover from when I started thinking of the story. Twins are simultaneously freaky to non-twins but common enough that having them in a story isn’t unrealistic. (There were no twins in the film the idea started from.)
The twins in my story share a power that allows them to see the ghost realms (also non-existent in the film) hidden to everyone else. It also exposes them to danger as there are people in the world who want to rip this power from them for their own, obviously nefarious, purposes.
The house where the majority of the action takes place is based on the one where an old friend of mine grew up. It has a history almost as old as Ashby, albeit was rebuilt by the Victorians. My friend’s house was actually older, or at least part of its basement was. The foundation of his house was thought to be Roman, some 1,700 years old. The twins house has a later origin being originally built a mere thousand years ago.
Here’s a brief excerpt from Chapter One of The Stairs Lead Down:
Lizzie twisted herself almost entirely around so she could see through the rear window of Dad’s car. Standing outside the gate of her, now old, home was Michelle. There were tears running down Lizzie’s face as she waved to her friend, growing smaller as Dad drove away. It wasn’t fair. Just because Mum and he wanted to move to the country, why did she have to? Her whole life was here. What did she want with Leicestershire?
The car turned the corner. Michelle was now out of sight. A few seconds later she turned back around. Looking back was depressing; and not a little uncomfortable. Dad drove the route she had walked each morning since she’d moved to high school. Within a minute they would be passing the gate she would never walk through again.
Lizzie wasn’t interested in taking one last look though. She fished her iPhone from her pocket and started tapping in a message to Michelle. It was her intention to spend the whole journey like this. She certainly had no intention of saying anything to her father. Five minutes later she’d run out of things to write. She could tell from her messages Michelle was feeling as uninspired as her. She said a quick goodbye to her friend, promising to talk later.
She looked out of the window. She didn’t recognise the road Dad was driving along. It wasn’t somewhere she’d been before; or if she had she hadn’t cared enough to remember it. It was a London street like any other; rows of houses and shops, bus stops and bollards. It wasn’t as nice as Twickenham; but when she thought about it, nowhere was. And she was sure this Ashby de la Zouch, the nearest town to their new house, wasn’t going to be either.
What kind of name was Ashby de la Zouch anyway? It sounded French. What was a town in England doing with a French name? It was stupid. She’d seen pictures of it on the internet. It looked boring; boring and stupid. And it was her new home. She felt miserable.
Lizzie glanced at the Satnav screen. There was still more than two and a half hours to go before they’d arrive; two and a half hours of misery and the weather looked like it agreed with her. Rain started to fall as Dad turned onto the M25. Two hours; it felt horrible. That’s how far she would be from everything she liked about her life; two and a half hours from anything civilised.
She wondered where Noah and Mum were. They’d set out half an hour or so before Dad. He’d agreed to stay to the end; handle the handover of the keys to the estate agent and take care of any last minute paperwork. Lizzie had been glad he had waited. That extra half an hour with Michelle, in civilisation, was precious to her.
For once the traffic on the M25 was free from queues. Every time she’d been on this road (usually for days out or holidays) they’d been held up. Dad would usually start to grow angry and begin cursing. Mum would always tut and remind him of Lizzie and Noah. Mum needn’t have bothered. His language was nothing she hadn’t heard in school; and not even close to the screams of the girls on the hockey pitch. There was nothing she could learn from him.
Her attention was caught by the clicking of the indicator. She looked through the windscreen to see where they were. The sign indicated he was turning onto the M40 and headed for Oxford and Birmingham. Oxford was as far north as Lizzie had ever been before. Her school had organised a trip there last year to visit the Ashmolean Museum. She’d found the museum boring but had enjoyed walking around Oxford itself. The college buildings were pretty.
Birmingham though was something else. She’d never been. From everything she’d heard she never wanted to. She’d met one or two people from the city and they sounded awful. She could hardly understand them. She also couldn’t understand why they allowed themselves to sound like that. She knew if she’d been born there she would have done everything possible to not have that accent.
A horrible thought passed through her head. Would the people in Ashby sound like that? Was she going to be surrounded by people who talked…wrong? Could anything else make this worse?
Noah was glad Lizzie had opted not to join him and Mum on the drive up. It meant he wouldn’t have to listen to her whining or suffer through the inevitable argument with Mum it would lead to. It also meant he would get to see the house first, explore it and stake his claim on the best bedroom. Lizzie had had the largest, other than Mum and Dad’s, in their house in Twickenham and now it was his turn.
Mum announced a detour. She was going to drive along the high street in Ashby de la Zouch before they headed for the house. Noah was happy when she’d suggested that. It was something else he was going to get to do before his sister. She usually insisted on being first at everything and would always remind him of being born first whenever he questioned it; as if twelve minutes made any difference, beyond their having different birthdays anyway. He’d always liked that. He got his special day and didn’t have to share it with her.
High Street, no Market Street he corrected himself, looked normal. Okay it was a little smaller than Twickenham’s centre but it seemed okay. There were plenty of places where he could hang out with the new friends he was sure he would make. It would be different but he reckoned he would get used to it; and so would Lizzie. She would just be insufferable until she did.
Mum pulled the car into the drive of their new house just behind the first of the removals vans. The drive way was enormous; just like the house. Back in Twickenham one van like the one ahead of them would have filled their driveway. Mum and Dad had had to park carefully if they wanted to get two cars on the drive. Here you could probably fit more than a dozen.
As the removals van turned around ahead of them Noah saw another vehicle was already there; a car he didn’t recognise. The man leaning against it was also unknown to him. Mum did seem to recognise him though. She waved as she pulled on the handbrake and switched off the engine. That was it. Their journey was over. They were here.
Noah unclipped his seatbelt and got out of the car. The gravel of the driveway crunched under his feet. He stared at the house. It looked weird. The stones, wet from the recent rain, gleamed in the sunlight. It looked wrong. This house was so old he thought it would look far better through mist than in bright sunshine.
Mum had crossed the distance to man she’d waved at seconds before. They were talking warmly. When the two of them moved to the front of the house and he unlocked the front door, Noah realised who he must be. He was the estate agent his parents had bought the house from. Mum stepped inside. That confirmed it. It was real. This was his new home.
He had this uncontrollable urge to rush inside and explore but wasn’t sure if he should. Would he just be getting in the way of the removals men? His restraint was never going to last. There was no way anything was going to keep him from seeing where they would be living. He virtually ran across the driveway; wanting to get a closer look at his new home.
A few feet short of the door he pulled up to a halt. There was a name carved into the stone about the door. It was weathered but still just about readable. His new home was called Clemency House. It was an odd name. He wondered what it meant. He shook his head. That was a matter for later. Right now he had more important things to do. He jumped through the large oak front door into the entrance hall beyond. He was in his new home.
5. What other things have you got going on in the writing arena? Now that you’ve written one novel, and have another one in the works, do you think that will be your preferred method of story-telling or do you have some more short stories in mind?
I have aforementioned finished novels I will be submitting out at some point in the future once they’ve been revised and polished. I’ve been a little remiss on doing this so at least six are sitting there at first draft only. I like to convince myself it’s because I have had to concentrate on the revisions of the books publishers want but it’s not entirely true. Writing new fiction is much more fun than revising a previously written story; especially once you get to drafts 3 and above.
The draft of The Patternmaker’s Daughter I sent in to the publisher at the end of August was draft 5 (plus a final polish so you might almost call it draft 6). All I know is by the time I had gone through it that many times, I was finding it hard to keep liking the world and its characters as much as I had when I was inventing them. I can’t complain too much as I can see how much these reworking have improved the story. I’m just hoping the publisher believes it sufficiently improved to be worthy of publication.
I do have a number of possible projects. I have written the first 3 chapters of the sequel to The Stairs Lead Down. This second book, called Breath of Imagined Dead, a title which will make sense to anyone who reads it, is set a few months after the end of the first book. The characters are having to deal with the consequences of the events in book one and getting used to having powers and wondering what perils are likely to come their way in future. These chapters, when I’ve polished them, will be available as a taster with the release of book one. I’ve left them with a bit of a cliffhanger. I hope people aren’t too annoyed by me for where I’ve left the story.
Away from that I have a number of other novel ideas in preparation, all adult level rather than ya. There are two fantasy stories, both of which will take a number of books to tell, one set in a roughly Industrial Revolution period world and the other in an alternate 21st Century, having diverted away from our history in the 1930s. I’m a little hesitant to pick either of these two as if Patternmaker’s sells it will start its own series and maintaining two fantasy series simultaneously does not seem a good idea.
The main science fiction idea I have is also a multiple book story. It would probably take three books to tell. It’s a post nuclear war Earth recovering tale set in Africa and Australia, the two areas least affected by the war and involves the fast rise of a new religion.
Then of course there are the weird novellas. I have scribbled down nearly twenty ways in which I could make the life of my middle-aged, middle-class, middle-Englander go to hell in a handcart. These are so much fun to write. I base a lot of this character on me, although with characteristics from some of the people I’ve known over the years to blur it a little. For one thing he’s not as tall as I am. I didn’t want him to be anything other in average in any way. Making him 6’8” wouldn’t fit with this. Also he has a child, whereas I don’t. Most people do have children so he needed to if he was going to be ordinary. I made him an accountant too, as one of my former colleagues was an accountant and I felt having a boring character being an accountant might annoy him.
As far as short stories go, none of the ideas I’ve had for fiction since returning to writing have fitted the short form. I’m not dismissing the idea of writing any in future but when you have a world encompassing idea that needs dozens of characters in various different countries to tell you just need more words than a short story can contain. Let’s see what the future brings though. I might get a slew of short fiction ideas. That would be fun.
- Where can people learn more about you and your work? Website? Twitter? Facebook?
My main social media presence is Twitter. I like the 140 character limit. You can find me at https://twitter.com/ielester/
I tweet most days. I tweet most often on writing days, usually giving progress reports and announcing the music I’m using for inspiration. I always write listening to music – I’m doing this interview with my foot tapping along to Ian Dury and the Blockheads. A band I’ve loved for more than 30 years. I have an eclectic taste in music and use many different genres to keep me going. As a result you’ll see mentions of bands and artists like Rush, the Who, It Bites, Lou Reed, Metallica, Kate Bush, Suzanne Vega, Springsteen, Tanita Tikaram, Marillion and Ultravox. I don’t see the point sticking to a particular type of music. I go where the mood takes me and will even admit to listening to my guilty pleasures.
I tend to interact with people a lot on twitter and will always reply if someone tweets at me. I don’t reply to the automatic DMs that get fired off when you follow some people. They annoy me. Obviously personal DMs have a much better chance. I reply to most of those.
Twitter will also be the place where I make any announcements regarding my writing.
I do have a blog although I have to admit to being terrible at maintaining it. I’ve just noticed it’s been seven months since I last posted. I will have to change that. In fact I’m going to post once I’ve finished this interview.
Here’s the link – http://ielester.blogspot.co.uk/
In the past I’ve been a lot better, posting much more regularly. This seems to go in the same phases as my writing with the peaks and troughs. I’m hoping typing up the answers to this interview might inspire. For some reason I’ve found it easy to type (hence the huge amount of words). This could be a turning point.
I have got a Facebook page. My wife set it up for me last year but I keep forgetting to update it. I must get better at this. As for a website. For someone who maintained a sffh website that ended up with 22,000 pages I have been completely terrible at getting around to creating an author website. I must make time for this.
Thanks, Edmund! What a great interview! I wish you all the best on your new book and may it lead to many more.
Folks, if you want to look further into Edmund’s novel The Stairs Lead Down – check out Writer’s Sanctum Publishing for all the details.