Interview with Author Stephanie Ellis

Stephanie Ellis is a busy woman of horror.

Based in Southampton, United Kingdom, Ellis divides her time as a writer of dark, speculative fiction; as editor of Horror Tree’s weekly ezine, Trembling With Fear; and as co-curator and contributor of The Infernal Clock anthologies.

Her latest project, Dark is my Playground, is her solo debut, a collection of dark verse and twisted nursery rhymes released on July 24.

Visit https://stephellis.weebly.com/ for more about Ellis and her writing.

In an exclusive interview with HorrorAddicts.net, Ellis discusses her new book and the other hats she wears.

THE LIGHTNING ROUND

  1. A favorite movie? The Rocky Horror Picture Show
  2. Favorite binge-watching series on Netflix? Being Human
  3. A favorite author? Terry Pratchett
  4. A favorite book? The Stand
  5. A favorite visual artist? J.M.W. Turner
  6. A favorite musical artist? Trent Reznor/Nine Inch Nails
  7. Any song stuck your head? Soultaker, “Blutengel” (this classical version https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M_sNkmGgF8o)
  8. A favorite website? Horror Tree!
  9. Pet peeve? Writing to a deadline and missing out on real life events only for the deadline to be extended when you’ve bust a gut to submit in time.
  10. You have one last meal. What do you want to see on that plate? My eldest, Bethan’s, Chilli Mac (vegetarian).

THE REAL INTERVIEW

Q1: You released Dark is My Playground in July, a collection of dark verse and twisted nursery rhymes. What draws you to the horror genre?

ELLIS: The atmosphere and emotion it generates. I’ve never been one for romance novels. I read most of my mum’s Georgette Heyer and Catherine Cookson books when I was about 11 years old, but found I didn’t have the patience for the ‘heroines’ in such books. I like stories with a bit more meat on them, a serious problem to overcome and usually that means something dark. Horror for me is darkness, not gore or gratuitous violence, and I like to read (and write) about what someone would do when confronted with some of their worst fears. How far would a person go to save themselves or someone else? I think horror allows you to explore human emotions and motivation at a deeper level, our baser instincts if you like.

Q2: You’re a talented writer who’s been published in numerous anthologies and collections, yet you indicated in your blog that there was a bit of trepidation in releasing Dark is My Playground, your first major solo project. You said that being among a list of other writers in anthologies was a “comfort blanket,” giving you something to hide behind. What were you hiding from?

ELLIS: Thank you, that’s kind of you to say but the answer’s easy – fear of failure. Like all writers I have huge bouts of self-doubt, fighting that old ‘imposter syndrome’ on a regular basis. It’s also partly because this is self-published and this means it’s me thinking they’re good enough to be read more widely – but what if I am deluded? I also hate promoting myself and my work, a very British trait.

Q3: You obviously love words. In Dark is My Playground, the poems are so beautifully written. I’ve already expressed my admiration for the phrase “bark-womb of the bellied tree,” which you said was inspired by an image. How important are visual prompts to your poetry?

ELLIS: Very. I’m one of those people who spent their childhood seeing images in clouds, something I still do and something my own children (now adults) also indulge in. The visual provides a more immediate trigger to an idea and allows my writing to almost become a stream of consciousness without having to think about it. Visual Verse where The Deceiver was first published only allows one hour to write 50 to 500 words and that allows a freedom in writing. No pretence or trying to be clever, I just play with the words. That particular poem is actually my own personal favourite. I look at it sometimes and still can’t believe I wrote it. Old flash competitions, sadly no longer with us, such as Flash Friday and The Angry Hourglass, would use images, and I think what I enjoyed the most was the personification of the inanimate. There was a house in one picture which had one window closed and immediately it brought ideas of eyes and watching to mind, giving me the introduction ‘I have a house. It sleeps with one eye open. Watchful in the wilderness, it keeps me safe.’ The picture gives me the ‘way in’ to a poem or story.

Q4: You are also the editor for one of my favorite online features on Horror Tree website called Trembling With Fear, which publishes short stories and drabbles (100-word shorts). With time always being an issue for writers, why do you wear that editorial hat, which must cut in to your writing time?

ELLIS: Firstly, because Stuart Conover, editor at Horror Tree, asked for help and as I had achieved much of my publishing success as a result of his submission calls, I figured it was a way of saying thank you. The other part was due to me assessing my future in writing. This last year or so, I decided was the time I was going to take it seriously and not just in terms of trying to get a novel published or extra short stories out there but by becoming more involved in the horror community. Writing is very isolating and with no community as such in my part of the world, it does not feel ‘real.’ By becoming involved with TWF, I’ve made contact with a lot of great writers – yourself included – and I now feel like a ‘proper writer’; I’ve even met a couple of other writers in real life recently and turned online friendships into real ones. In terms of time, I had not expected it to take up as much as it has done, but that’s a result of TWF growing and becoming more well-known. What I also enjoy is coming into contact with writers who say TWF is the first time they’ve ever subbed for publication and I like being able to give feedback and encouragement even if they don’t get selected – pulling them into the ‘family’ if you like, removing a little bit of that isolation we all experience. It’s also great when I see them being published for the first time, and they’re over the moon about it. Actually, a knock-on effect of these demands is a greater focus on my writing time. If I have free time I procrastinate; a deadline or limited time forces me to concentrate … mostly. Editing is something I’ve done a lot of in the past, although as a tech writer/project manager in a technical publications company has also made this aspect easier for me.

Q5: Speaking of time, you’re also a co-curator for the time-themed anthologies of The Infernal Clock. Why the time themes and why the passion for this particular project, which is yet another time-consuming demand?

ELLIS: The Infernal Clock is something born very much out of friendship, going back to my roots in the FlashDog community. The FlashDogs are a looser pack these days as we are all doing different things but it was effectively an online group of people who competed against each other on flash fiction sites such as FlashFriday, Angry Hourglass, MicroBookends and other places. David Shakes was one of the original members of this group. I became part of it about a year later and we became online friends (and again have met in real life). He had the idea for the first Infernal Clock project, which a large number of FlashDogs submitted to – and then asked for help getting it out. Do you see a pattern forming here? So, I stepped up, we got the first book published (The Infernal Clock) and had some good reviews and then before I knew it we were discussing a follow-up (CalenDark) and now we are in the process of finalising DeadCades, which is due for publication October 1st. This latest anthology includes a number of writers from Horror Tree’s TWF as well as old FlashDog friends, each writing a story set in a particular decade from 1880 to 2020. We have been amazingly lucky to get writer-of-the-moment Vox author Christina Dalcher (who also wrote us a story for CalenDark) to write our foreword and our first long story in the collection is from award-winning author Deborah Sheldon. We also have some great stories from the other contributors, so I have high hopes for this book. The time theme was in keeping with the Infernal Clock name. Shakes muttered something about centuries, but I said no … DeadCades is the last of the time-themed anthologies. It won’t end there though. We have plans for a magazine, but some research and planning is required. We want to make this a paying market, so will be taking our time in sorting out exactly what we want to do with it. Glutton for punishment.

Q6: I follow you on Twitter, and I see you are constantly writing, or reading and editing other writers’ submissions, or helping with publication of anthologies … I’m tired just thinking about it. Where does this passion for the written word come from?

ELLIS: I have just loved reading. For as long as I can remember I’ve had piles of books around the place. I remember going to town as a child with my Dad to visit the library and being able to leave with a pile of books was wonderful. Growing up in an isolated country pub when your parents work pretty much all day leaves you on your own a lot of the time. I had sisters but you still had to find ways to entertain yourself – no 24-hour or satellite TV or internet then. So reading became my escape. They became movies in my head, and I was able to experience a different reality if only for a while. I still love to read, and sometimes I have to put everything on hold and just read a book from cover-to-cover; it’s almost a physical need in a way. I can’t imagine not reading. Words are amazing; they have so much power whether triggering wars, providing a religious code or instilling an emotion. History can turn on what has been said or written.

Q7: How does your family feel about your writing? Outside of advice on fonts, how do they influence or inspire your writing?

ELLIS: In the past, I always called my writing ‘scribbling,’ as if it wasn’t something I took seriously, so they didn’t pay too much attention to it. Once I started getting published they took a bit more notice but not too much. Now they are all very supportive, even if they don’t always read what I write! My daughters now give me advice, including what to write about and the range of merchandise it could generate, not to mention being a box set on Netflix. I remember when they read the poem ‘The Darkness is my Playground.’ they were shocked at the violence implied in it. Not something they’ve ever associated with me. I’m the most harmless person you could imagine – but it is nice to shock people sometimes, deliver the unexpected.

Q8: You’re from the United Kingdom, but in your role as an editor, you read stories from authors all around the world. Do you notice any differences in style or tone between UK writers and writers from the USA? Have you noticed any writing trends in any countries or regions?

ELLIS: Apart from the spellings, I don’t see any real differences. The same topics and tropes appear, and I never approach reading or writing with the idea that we are somehow separate. I think it’s because we are all ‘Westerners’ so we have a lot of common ground. I do have to try and avoid correcting U.S. English at Horror Tree, although I standardise to UK English for Infernal Clock.  I have been invited to write a flash piece for an anthology edited by Oleg Hasanov (Russian). This particular publication will include many writers from across the globe including those from Eastern European and Asia, and I’ll be really interested to see what the authors from those areas come up with. Which reminds me, I must get to work on it – and I do have an idea, based on a picture I saw on a van.

Q9: What defines success for you as a writer? Is it enough to be published or is success something more?

ELLIS: It changes as I go on, e.g., first publication, first contract, first invitation to write, but ultimately success is validation of my writing, knowing that people genuinely enjoy what I write and aren’t just being nice. And yes, I’d love to get my novel published.

Q10: What scares you?

ELLIS: On a mundane level – daddy long legs. Otherwise it’s water. In my first-ever swimming lesson, I think I must’ve been about 5 or 6, we lined up by the pool and one of the other kids pushed me in the deep end. I can still picture myself underwater and hearing the teacher say, ‘Don’t worry, she’ll get herself out.’ And I did. But lessons from then on saw me down on the shallow end and even now water over my face makes me remember that feeling of suffocation and panic.

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Guest Blog: Arrachnattack by Mark Woods Review

 

Arrachnattack! By Mark Woods was passed to me by HorrorAddicts.net in return for an honest review.

3 out of 5 stars.

In the Norfolk town of Dyreham, strange things are happening. Melvin Dobbs, an obnoxious and thoroughly unlikeable man, is a scientist in a secretive establishment on the outskirts of town. A project he had been working on was closed down due to funding issues but he continued to carry out his highly illegal and dangerous research on spiders in his own home. Using his research as a means of revenge against those who have crossed him, he forgets to protect himself and unfortunately falls victim to his lethal arachnids. From there, the spiders spread across town, and as their victims pile up, they come to the attention of a local reporter Daniel Blake. As he investigates, a shadowy body, The Company, warns him off his story; others who try to help him die or are discretely silenced. And behind all this is a reference to ‘Mr. Skinny Legs’, a supernatural being who appears to be controlling events.

I must admit, I took a strong dislike to Mr. Melvin Dobbs, so at first, it was hard for me to keep going but once he’d been unceremoniously-and deservedly-bumped off, the story really began to draw me in and I’m glad I persevered. In this small town, so much is happening, old mysteries are resurfacing with references to Mr. Skinny Legs and the Lovecraftian Elder Gods, that you can’t help but read on. And not every question is answered. You know something more is coming, but that is the next book. You know something darker than anyone has ever experienced before is hovering on the horizon and you are fed teasing snippets and you want to know more. Again that is the next book. Mark Woods has created a believable world, has developed characters you begin to care about and want to follow on their adventures, and has laid the foundation of what promises to be an entertaining series.

 

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Stephanie Ellis can be found:  http://stephellis.weebly.com/ and herTwitter handle is @el_Stevie

When Stephanie isn’t writing reviews, she is the co-editor at The Infernal Clock http://infernalclock.blogspot.co.uk/ a fledgling publishing venture. And the co-editor at The Horror Tree’s Trembling With Fear online magazine (https://horrortree.com/category/trembling-with-fear/) where they are always open for flash submissions

Where Nightmares Come From, The Art of Storytelling in the Horror Genre: A Review

Where Nightmares Come From, The Art of Storytelling in the Horror Genre

Review by Stephanie Ellis

This novel was received free in return for an honest review

4 out of 5 stars

As a writer gradually developing her craft I am always open to hearing and reading the views of those at the top of their game, those who have ‘made it’. Like most, I think we approach such articles in the hope that we’ll discover the magic ingredient, the key that turns a novel in the drawer into a published piece of work. I didn’t get that from this book, nor is it something I discovered from my go-to motivational source, On Writing by Stephen King, who also appears in this particular publication. What I found, which was equally valuable, was the same story from all contributors—whether they be a filmmaker, author, poet, director, publisher or editor—the rule of three: read, write and finish what you start. No exceptions. I learned from Ramsay Campbell that you don’t need different notebooks from different projects, he—like me—makes notes on one thing, goes on to another, then returns to that first project … in the same notebook! I learned that daily word counts don’t always matter—unless you’re trying out for that annual marathon, NaNoWriMo. I learned that you should write for yourself. I mean, if you don’t enjoy it, why bother? In truth, and in my heart-of-hearts, these horror giants were merely stating what most of us already know, the only rule is that rule of three. Whilst the book was geared towards those who write in the horror genre, much of what was said can be applied to writers across the whole range of fiction and even non-fiction. And when it comes to nightmares—everybody is different but the contributors reinforce the idea of developing horror from the everyday and mundane, from the what ifs? There doesn’t have to be blood and gore, it can be subtle, darker and slow-building—again, another reassurance as that is the style of horror I prefer. So what did I take away from all this? A lot of reassurance and a reading list … oh, and the determination to keep on writing. And now I’m off to read Patricia Highsmith’s The Snail-Watcher.

http://www.crystallakepub.com/

 

Ghost Of Manor House: A Review

Ghosts of Manor House by Matt Powers

Review by Stephanie Ellis

This novel was received free in return for an honest review.

A ghost story in October, what better time to read one than when the nights are drawing in and the wind howls mournfully outside. For such nights, of Ghosts Of Manor House is perfect. Between these pages, you will find the Haunted House and its equally disturbed companion, the old oak, Mr. Travels. Together they have been the site of many an unfortunate death and judicial hanging over the centuries.

It is to this house that Edmund and Mary Wilder and their surviving child, Stephanie, go in order to come to terms with the death of their son Tommy, Stephanie’s twin. What Edmund doesn’t realize, however, is the arrangement Mary has entered into with the house in order to reunite her family. Once there, life becomes vague and Edmund’s sense of reality is distorted by both house and tree. He believes himself to be alone, working on a novel, awaiting his wife’s arrival unaware she is already there somewhere. The innkeeper, Lucas and ancient housekeeper, Mrs. Krane play their parts, convincing him he can never leave until eventually, Edmund realizes the step he must take to be with his family once more.

This chilling tale serves as a nicely done homage to the authors own heroes which include Stephen King and Shirley Jackson.

https://www.ghostsofmanorhouse.com/

 

Guest Blog: The Infernal Clock Anthology Stephanie Ellis

Time ticks for everybody and has become the instrument with which humans torture themselves, marking as it does the countdown to each person’s eventual end. Not a precious minute can be wasted in each of our allotted lifespans … whether it be used for good or evil.

 

The Infernal Clock is an anthology tracking one day in time, each of its 24 hours filled with horrors and torments. Between the covers, lie a collection of diverse styles ranging from dark fantasy to the literary to the classical—here is horror in its many forms. The anthology is available on Amazon but to celebrate its recent launch we are offering the chance to win a print copy of the book. Check out our 500 word flash horror competition over at The Infernal Clock blog. And if that’s not enough, here’s a taster from the book:

The Graveyard Shift

by Stephanie Ellis

“Are any awake?” asked Nurse Maddison. Joseph cast his eye over the bank of monitors in front of him. Each showed a sleeping patient, unmoving. “Dead to the world,” he said. “If only,” said the nurse as she walked away. They both laughed at the joke, tired though it was. The graveyard shift was almost over. She just had to wait until the clock struck three. And the big hand was almost there, moving slowly towards the end of its hourly journey, second … by second … by second.

Click.

He watched her grab her freedom, striding out of the facility’s gates, waving up at his camera as she disappeared into the night.

He sighed. It was alright for her, he still had another hour to go; another hour of mind-numbing boredom. He could pass the time like others by watching TV or flicking through trashy magazines but he had more of a conscience than that, ever since … well, what was past was past but from then on he had always done everything by the book—almost always anyway. Needless to say it did not help his popularity and he frequently found himself walking the corridors or watching the monitors at this unearthly hour, his colleagues having bagged the more attractive shifts as payback.

A slight movement in Patient One’s cell caught his eye; Nurse Maddison’s replacement—Nurse Ole Lukøje, a male medic this time. The Dane had been there a week and Joseph still hadn’t met him. It was almost as if he lost time when Ole was on duty. Joseph had a worrying suspicion he sometimes dozed off on the job despite all his good intentions. But nothing had happened and nobody had caught him. Hell, it wasn’t a sleep clinic for nothing; he could afford to cut himself a little slack, all those years of tedious conscientiousness had built him a balance of credit he felt could do with spending. And his time here was nearly up after all. Tonight though, his curiosity was piqued. It was definitely about time he met the guy. He rubbed his eyes and returned his gaze to the monitor. Ole Lukøje, he pondered the name, a Danish synonym for the Sandman, very apt.

He continued to watch Patient One. What dreams are you giving your patients, Nurse Lukøje, he wondered. The nurse had left but the man was no longer sleeping peacefully. His body had begun to twitch uncontrollably, his legs jerking as if running from something, his hands swinging out wildly against an unseen attacker. Joseph cast his eye over the patient’s notes left with him in case of ‘emergencies’. Patient One was prone to night terrors—well that was something new—and apparently only a recent development as it had been added by Nurse Lukøje. There had been no such observations from any of the other nurses who worked that shift. An extra note had been squashed into the space at the bottom of the page. It merely stated that normal sleep patterns resumed at 4 a.m. Joseph frowned. Usually the nurse would stay longer, wait until the patient had settled down, adjust the meds if any were being administered. But he wasn’t there. He wasn’t anywhere. And Patient One was becoming more agitated by the minute.

To read more and find out what other horrors can happen in 24 hours, check out The Infernal Clock

Clockwork Wonderland Author Interview: Stephanie Ellis

Horroraddicts.net publishing has recently published our 5th anthology called Clockwork WonderlandThis is a book where anything can happen and time runs amok. In this book lies tales of serial killers, insane creations, a blood thirsty jabberclocky, and zombies. Clockwork Wonderland includes 15 tales that make Wonderland into a place of horror where all your worst nightmares come true. One of the authors in this anthology is Stephanie Ellis who took some time to tell us about the book and her writing:

What is your story in Clockwork Wonderland called and what is it about?

My story, Hands of Time, takes place in the subterranean world of Wonderland, in the dark dungeons and cellars no one ever really thinks about. Their existence, never referred to, must be real, after all the Queen of Hearts was always arresting her subjects and demanding their beheading. So, where did these miscreants go and who despatched them? This is where the Executioner comes in, a hooded figure shrouded in secrecy … like the world he inhabits. And like all people with a trade, he has his apprentices. These are his hands, one of whom will become chosen as his successor. Together with the TimeKeeper, who is in charge of the Queen’s clocks, he selects Rab as the one to follow his trade. But how is this choice made and what happens to the other hands … well, you’ll just have to read the story.

What inspired the idea?

“Off with their heads!” The line that everyone remembers. But whether you read the book or watch the film, you never see much of the Executioner. I wanted to know more about him and his world. I also played around with the different meanings for the word ‘hands’ – hands on a clock, work hands, actual flesh and blood hands (although not for long!!) and linked them all together. And suddenly an idea was born.

When did you start writing?

Several years ago, mostly privately and just ‘scribbling’, I didn’t think about doing anything more serious. Then about four years ago I saw a submission call for a horror anthology, thought it looked like fun, so had a go. It wasn’t successful as it didn’t quite fit but the feedback was positive so I tried again and this time got in. The then editor, Theresa Derwin (now of Quantum Corsets), was extremely supportive, and took other stories of mine for other anthologies. This encouraged me to try the wider market and here I am. Slow but sure.

What are your favorite topics to write about?

The darkness of the soul! Whatever I write, it always ends up dark. Some stories feature a bit of blood and gore but it’s not by any means all ‘slice and dice’ and only a few have standard horror tropes, ie tend to avoid vampires and werewolves. I prefer to hint at darkness, build up a sense of horror in setting and atmosphere, twist what might seem innocent at first.

What are some of your influences?

It goes without saying that Stephen King is one of them, he is amazing at creating such a real sense of place and time. He also shows that horror can be written in many different ways and he is certainly never repetitive. Ray Bradbury, particularly for Something Wicked This Way Comes, again the atmosphere, the characters, and its gothic feel. Then there’s Shirley Jackson, Edgard Allan Poe. But it’s not only these more famous authors. There are other writers I’ve met online, particularly a small Flash Fiction community called the FlashDogs and they have pushed me to raise my own standards. We compete against each other weekly in flash competitions and there are some amazingly dark people amongst them, particularly David Shakes, Mark A. King, Tamara Rogers to name but a few. The latter two have also recently published their first novels.

Another influence isn’t a book or a writer but a place. I grew up in an isolated rural area in a country pub, The Cider House in Shropshire . And something that’s always stayed with me is the atmosphere of that area and the feelings it generated: getting off the school bus and then facing the long walk home along narrow country lanes in gathering dusk; of the stillness before storms when birds stopped singing, branches stopped rustling and everything seemed to be waiting; of fog shrouding the fields and woods around the pub and walking through those mists and becoming totally disoriented. It always made me feel there was ‘something else’ at work around us and that’s an element I try to include in my writing.

What do you find fascinating about the horror genre?

The evil man can do, how it could even be considered. I just can’t comprehend how some people can commit the atrocities you hear of in the world today. What is it that drives them? Is it this idea of the Devil, is it a disturbed mental state? Who actually pulls the strings to create the nightmares? Perhaps there is more ‘out there’, a supernatural realm. Horror allows you to explore this darkness, consider the ‘What Ifs’. It makes you think and shakes you up but always delivers you safely on the other side … it keeps the monsters between the pages.

What are some of the works you have available?

I have had a number of short stories published in horror anthologies, all available over at amazon but I would like to mention the following in particular:

The Infernal Clock, co-edited by myself and David Shakes which has a story for every hour of the day. It features two of my stories, The Graveyard Shift-a new take on the Sandman legend-and Whispers which centers on a dysfunctional family in a haunted house.

Weird Ales Volume 1 (edited by the wonderful Theresa Derwin) which includes my story The Yowling, cider-making taken to a whole new level!

Masks edited by Dean M. Drinkel (again, another very supportive editor) which contains my story The Face Collector, a gothic story in which the Devil always collects.

What are you currently working on?

I have just finished my novel Black Switch, a near-future, industrial-type horror I suppose you would call it. What happens when humans run out of fuel, out of electricity but then discover a way of turning the lights back on; a way which could only be described as immoral. If you discovered someone had the ‘capacity’ to become a human battery, would you plug them into a Generator just so someone else could have a hot bath? Would you, could you trade another person just to save a member of your own family knowing what that trade would lead to?
The book is now out with a small group to beta-read before I take any further steps with it. To get over the nerves whilst I await their response I’ve started to mull over ideas for a new novel and since my Hands of Time story featured an Executioner, the whole idea of what ‘makes’ an executioner has stuck in my mind.

Where can we find you online?

I’m @el_Stevie on Twitter and can also be found at http://stephellis.weebly.com/ where my blog is usually only randomly updated. I’m hoping to improve on that slightly this year though.