Chilling Chat: Dark Divinations – Ash Hartwell

DarkDivBannerAsh Hartwell has over fifty short stories published in a range of anthologies from Stitched Smile publications to The Sinister Horror Co. JEA published a collection of his Ash Hartwellstories Zombies, Vamps and Fiends in 2015 and his first novel, Tip of the Iceberg, was awarded Best Horror Novel 2017 by Critters.org and made the reading list for both the HWA and BFS awards for the same year. Ash lives in the English countryside with his wife, kids and too many animals.

How did you become interested in the Victorian era?

I have long been a fan of Arthur Conan Doyle and read the usual HG Wells/Jules Verne stories as a child. The gothic nature of literature, the image of Jack the Ripper lurking in London’s foggy streets, and the classic Hammer Horror films have all helped cement my interest in the period. I have returned to it for both novels and short stories often in my writing career. It is a period where society is advancing yet without the convenience of mobile phones and automatic weapons so stories can have a purer nature.

What is your favorite Victorian horror story?

Carmilla and Dracula are obviously in there. But there are many other tales, often serialized in the newspapers of the time, which are notable reads. Henry James, MR James, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Arthur Conan Doyle spring to mind. The period provides rich pickings for readers of the genre and there are some very good collections available for anyone wanting to read further, obviously after reading Dark Divinations!

Do you have a favorite Victorian horror movie? 

Maybe Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) but I remember hiding behind the couch watching the classic film version of The Time Machine.

Are your characters based on real people?

No, but my grandmother lived in a house built for officers during the Napoleonic Wars. There are many ghostly sightings including officers in uniform riding down the street associated with the place. The barracks didn’t close until the 1990’s. I think that, subconsciously, my story has its roots in those sightings and stories.

Do you use an outline to write? Or do you write by the seat of your pants?

I write an outline then career wildly off course until I have something which looks nothing like the original plan. It seems to work…sometimes! On longer pieces, I do have a story arc in mind that forms the framework of the main narrative and I try and stick to the broad parameters of that arc, but sometimes they are very broad parameters!

Do your characters have free will? Or do you decide their fate?

I allow them a certain amount of free will, although I define the world and situation within which they can exercise that freedom. Some characters, through necessity, have a pre-destined path which often forms the skeleton of the story. I have allowed characters too much freedom and they have gone off on an unexpected tangent – but that never ends well for them, after all, the pen is far mightier than the sword! 

What are you most afraid of?

A global shortage of coffee! Seriously I think I worry about the future my kids will inherit. The way society has lurched in recent years, and months, has caused me to fear for the future. Do ghosts and vampires scare me, no.

What is your favorite form of divination?

I don’t think I have a favourite. Palmistry and tarot cards both interest me as does the idea of an old crone dispensing words of wisdom from her hovel. I think it’s a case of horses for courses – and if you can predict the winner then lets me know!

Who is your favorite horror author?

Joe Hill and Adam Nevill of the current crop spring to mind, but Edgar Allan Poe, James Herbert, Neil Gaiman and Richard Laymon could all lay a claim.

What does the future hold for you? What books, short stories, or works do Horror Addicts have to look forward to?

I have just signed a contract with Terror Tract Publishing for my second novel. A Cursed Bloodline will, hopefully, appear during the summer (2020) and is set in Victorian England. Witches, demons, a religious artifact from the crusades and an ancient curse; what more do you need?