Thursday, 30 July 2015

The Industry View - Horror's Darkest Imagination

By JJ Marsh

 MATT SHAW is the published author of over 100 stories. Although known as a horror author, he also enjoys spending time in other genres too - something he had always planned to do in order to have at least one book, in a wide collection, which would appeal to people from all walks of life. In 2004, he published his horror novel Happy Ever After - the first of his books to reach the number one slot on Amazon and the first to use his trademark style of narrating the stories through the first person perspective. An extremely prolific writer, Matt is continually writing as well as keeping up to date with his readers via his (some might say) crazy Author Page on Facebook.  

First question, who is your ultimate bad guy (book, film, real person)?

My favourite film bad guy is Norman Bates, without a shadow of doubt. I like the quietness to the character, the awkward shyness and lack of social skills. I guess, on some levels, he reminds me of myself before the writing took off (since the writing took off I have found my confidence and don’t get flustered talking to people now). I do like characters such as Freddy and Jason but it is the fact Norman is real that makes him a firm favourite. He could be your neighbour, he could be your friend… He could be anyone. But then, he was partly based on a real ‘monster’ and that was Ed Gein. Ed was the inspiration behind not only Norman Bates but also The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. He was a quiet guy who kept himself to himself but - at night - frequented graveyards to dig up corpses. Knowing he is the inspiration behind so many characters, including characters I have written myself, it serves as a reminder that sometimes fact is scarier than fiction.

You’ve written a swathe of quite terrifying characters – how do you keep each one different enough to be distinctive?

That’s all down to the type of story being told. I try and avoid treading ground once trodden before so things stay fresh. Fresh stories equals fresh characters. I have literally just finished a short story called “SNUFF” - it’s about two girls taking out their revenge on a man who has committed wrong. In the introduction I explained that it was a short story because - if it weren’t - I would have to go into the background of the characters to explain why they’re doing what they are doing and what turned them that way. Girls seeking revenge on people who have wronged them is something I have written before so, to turn that story into a novella or novel would have felt like recreating a story already written - in this instance my story ‘Whore’; the story of a prostitute who murders any clients who happen to be cheating on their partners. So, yeah, “SNUFF” was kept as a brutal, shocking short and it is all the better for it.

Another thing that helps is the wealth of information out there on real life monsters. You have Ed Gein, you have Dahmer, Gacy…. Drawing on aspects of all of these characters - and lesser known serial killers - and dissecting them for your own characters is a great way of ensuring you don’t have a character similar to another you’ve already created. Never just take one role-model and try and put them into everyone you write. It will get dull.

How far is there an element of psychology in creating these individuals? Do you, for example, say this is a sociopath, this one has zero empathy, etc…

There’s quite a lot of psychology involved, helped by the fact that I have seen many a psychiatrist because - going back many moons - my dark thoughts used to make me feel uncomfortable. I would be thinking one thing, totally happy, and then - out of the blue - I’d be imagining all these God awful scenarios centred on my surroundings. I saw the Doctors, I got referred. Next thing I am learning all about Psychopathic Personality Disorder and other fancy terms Doctors like to throw around the place whilst they trying to get inside of your head. It made me realise had complicated human emotions are, what with the empathy we are capable of feeling (in most cases) and triggers which can turn a good mood to a bad one. It’s all pretty interesting.

When I sit down and write a character I have to decide whether I want him to be a true monster or whether I want him to have some charm about him. Does he manipulate people with this charm? Does he just take what he wants from them? Does he just kill them for other reasons in his head (brought on from upbringing) etc. etc.

The collaborative work with Michael Bray is an interesting one for a horror author. Working individually, there are no limits. How does that change when working in a team?

Michael Bray knows that working with me means there are no limits. They go out of the window. He knows that anything we do is going to be Black Cover and he knows what people expect from them. They want ‘sick’ so we have to deliver it. We bounce ideas off each other until one of them sticks and then we get cracking and - I’ll be honest - we’re normally done very fast. Both ‘Art’ and ‘Monster’ took just over a week to write. ‘Home-Video’ a little longer and - because it is being a bastard to me at the moment, ‘Neo-Nazi’ a little longer than that but that is because we are trying something new with it. I am doing the main story section and then Mik is taking over for the real nasty stuff.

It’s interesting, if you read Mik’s stuff (you should) it is definitely tamer than the Black Cover Books (although he still has some pretty nasty bits) but he seemed to get into exploring his REALLY dark side with our story ‘Monster’. Some of what he came up with shocked me and that’s saying something. Not that I cared. I just laughed and said, “Let’s do this”. We write it, release it and then sit back with nervous apprehension as to how it will be received. Sometimes, when reading his sections, I often sit there wondering whether I have helped create a monster or whether he has always had that level of darkness within him and was just looking for an excuse to vent it. Who knows. Damned fine imagination though.

I will also just take the time to state now that writing with Mik is a real pleasure and I feel very fortunate that he approached me after I put an advert up asking if anyone wanted to co-write a book with me. I had heard nothing but good things about him, seen him around the social media sites with all these book deals happening and thought he would never look at someone like me. So when he messaged me, I jumped at the opportunity and sent him the idea I had in mind (our first project ‘ART’).

And filming your stories involves a lot of other creative minds. Is that motivating or frustrating?

Filming sucks. Which is funny because it was what I wanted to do with my life before my writing career took off. It is frustrating having people tell me what I can and can not do. Like, why can’t I show this or that? Why does this character need a reason to do this? Sometimes people just act out. Not everything needs a reason and sometimes it is scarier when there is none.

Over the last couple of years I have grown disillusioned with the whole film-making process. I have sold the rights to ‘Sick B*stards’ and ‘SEED’ and have since had them revert back to me, I have sold the rights to ‘Love Life’ to a guy who I was having regular meetings with and who has since disappeared from the face of the planet although that’s not a bad thing… He paid his money for the rights but no contracts were ever signed so… They also revert back to me. Now I’m pushing ahead with filmmaker Dan Brownlie to bring ‘Happy Ever After’ to the screen. Because I am more involved with this and raising the funds myself, I’ll have more control. This is the film that I want to make, this is what I think my readers deserve and this will be the film which ensures more Matt Shaw films follow.

If you want something done right… Do it yourself.

The passion Dan brings to the project is refreshing. There doesn’t seem to be any pretentious bullshit with him that you get with other directors and when we talk - which is fairly often - we seem to be singing from the same song sheet. I guess time will tell but I am hoping he is the one who reignites my passion within that particular industry.

Why aren’t there more Bad Girl characters in the horror genre?

Because it is too easy to paint a woman as a victim and so many ‘bad men’ have appeared in history, literature and film that people are often scared to step away and try something new. That and the fact that it is lazy storytelling; it’s easy to make a man appear bad, certainly easier than a woman. You can make the man large so he is a daunting figure, you can make him deformed so instantly we - the reader - know he is a bad egg… Most authors like to make their women pretty and approachable and this and that… But, again, that’s what makes them interesting to have as a bad girl; the monster buried beneath the make-up.

I have written many a bad man into a story but I don't just keep it to them. I like bad women as well. Snuff, Whore, Porn, Some Kind of Cu*t, Menu… Just a few titles where the women are the evil ones.

You’re a great example of how to interact with readers online and in person. What common elements attract them to your work?

We all share a love of horror, that’s it. Reading reviews, listening to feedback - they all seem to like the fact that I don’t seem to skirt around sensitive issues. I just jump straight in with both feet. These people want their horror nasty and dirty, I will give them horror. By handling certain things with sensitivity I feel I am cheating them. I’m not here for that. I am here, writing, to make them feel uncomfortable and question what they are reading. I want to push them to the point where they turn around and say, “Actually, this is too much for me”. But - and this is important - whilst doing this I want to give them a good story and, without trying to sound too modest, I believe I can tell a cracking story. I hate thinking of myself as an author because my writing isn’t very technical (something else my readers seem to like is how easy my books are to read). There are MUCH better authors out there… But I can tell a mean story.

Writers of all genres say readers tend to see the author in the characters or vice versa. How far do people expect you to reflect your writing? And do you have a strategy for dealing with that?

There are traits of me in the characters that I write, mainly the feeling of isolation and loneliness that some characters feel. Sometimes I can be surrounded by folk and still feel lonely. It’s quite horrible. But that’s about as far as my similarities to my characters go and - yes - people often think I am going to be this evil bastard who goes out torturing people when not writing. However… They then come to my Facebook page ( and realise that - actually - I’m usually up for a laugh. I’m the one doing naked dancing videos, I’m the one doing book readings whilst sucking up helium, or promoting a book by doing the cinnamon challenge… Once they say these videos, or the random posts I put up… They also see that I am approachable. I welcome questions on the publishing world, I offer advice where it is wanted and I have a laugh with them. They know I’m not the darkness that I write, just the madness. And that is fine by me.

 Have you, do you, will you write in another genre?

The Missing Years of Thomas Pritchard and Heaven’s Calling are two examples of books in other genres. Both of them are pretty sad and have reviews stating the reader wept like a baby at the end of them. I’m very proud of these books but - like I said before - it’s the Black Cover books that sell. This doesn’t mean I won’t write more of this style of book… I just don’t do them as frequently as the horrors. The same as Sexual Healing and Sexual Tension - two erotic books that I wrote just because I felt like a change.

It can get boring sticking to the same characters and the same themes, the same horrors all of the time. It’s nice to mix the horror up with different styles from time to time - if only to give my soul a break from the disturbing things that pop up in my head when writing these books!

Last question. You’re invited to a Hallowe’en party. Dress code: your worst nightmare. Your costume?

I would go as myself as - more often than not - I feel as though I am the worst aspect of my own life. Put it this way, I have a tattoo on my arm which reads, “My only regret in life is I’m not someone else”.

Seeing as that was the last question, I just want to give a shout-out to the people who have tried my work so far and have stuck by me. Your support for what I do has been amazing and I am truly grateful to you.


Want to help Kickstart Matt Shaw’s film?

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