with Steve Jensen of The Black Glove
Steve Jensen: Please introduce yourself and tell us a little about your writing and publishing careers.
Gary Fry: Hi, I'm Gary Fry. I've been writing and publishing for about five years now. Sold my first short story to a mass market antho and since then have seen four collections released. I write ghostly, suggestive fiction with the occasional foray into more explicit horror. My novella The Invisible Architect of Pyschopathy, due early next year from Pendragon Press, will surprise a few people familiar with my more reserved stuff . . . As for the publishing: Gray Friar Press has now put about 13 titles, from anthos to collections to a series of novellas and, soon, its first novel. I specialise in short-run collectibles and affordable paperbacks. Horror, as both writer and publisher, is a tough market, but I love it too much to do anything else.
SJ: What is your forthcoming novel, The House of Canted Steps, about?
GF: It's located very much in the classic haunted house category, but with a modern twist, if you like. I wanted to explore the tensions and psychologies of broken families, of step-families. So the basic idea is that if a house had been built by a stern traditionalist, who believed in family blood and pure ancestry, what would happen if a step-family moved in? It's a terse, gripping read, with twists and turns in every chapter. PS Publishing will do a limited edition late next year. Pete loved the book and appears to have torn through it in less than a day. Other folk who've read it have described it as unputdownable, too. So I'm really looking forward to its release. Oh, and it has a spook called 'The Blood Boy' in there . . . not a nice person at all.
SJ: Sanity and Other Delusions received high praise from all quarters. Do you have another collection planned?
GF: Nothing specific, no, though there are three other collections already out there: The Impelled and Other Head Trips, World Wide Web and Other Lovecraftian Upgrades, and Mindful of Phantoms. These books collect around half of my written short fiction, though there is plenty more top-drawer stuff awaiting new unified homes. I'm particularly interested in publishing a collection of my non-supernatural horror fiction; I'd like to call it Things That Really Could Happen. I'm often drawn to the 'real' when it comes to terrors; it doesn't always have to be shades and whispers. But going back to Sanity - I think this book works like a TV series: six tales like the episodes in a solid horror show. Those are some of my darkest pieces in there, especially 'The Familial' which is arguably my scariest work.
SJ: Who in particular has helped you establish yourself as a writer and publisher?
GF: Ramsey Campbell above all others. He bought my first short story for Gathering The Bones, wrote the intro to my first collection, and has generally mentioned me in interviews, etc, quite regularly. Next up it would be Pete Crowther who read one of my pieces in a publication and effectively created the PS Publishing Showcase range to give my work (and subsequently that of others) more exposure. Other important folk have been writers Mark Patrick Lynch and Gary McMahon, who've read and commented on a lot of my first draft manuscripts; my mum, who reads my work with haste and enthusiasm, especially the novels; and Simon Strantzas, who deals swiftly and uncomplainingly with my website. All good guys.
SJ: Which book has influenced your thinking, and your writing, more than any other?
GF: Probably Merleau-Ponty's Phenomenology of Perception. M-P was a philosopher, a French existentialist, whose understanding of human experience is rich and beautiful. I think his vision informs all of my work; once it gets inside you, it's hard seeing the world any other way. That book is the most rewarding thing I'll ever read; I'm still trying to get to grips with its every nuance. Wonderful.
SJ: What makes running a relatively small publishing company worthwhile? Now that e-commerce attracts more consumers than ever before, can you see the independent press taking on the major houses on near-equal terms at some point?
GF: You're asking the wrong person. I don't know much about where technology is moving; I'm more interested in simply putting out quality fiction the only way I know how. Frankly, however, the notion of books being pushed back in favour of electronic text horrifies me. A book isn't just ink on paper; it's a solid something you can hold and display. When I want to reread, say, Stephen King's Misery, I can't summon much enthusiasm for uploading to a screen; I want the physical object, a thing I can pass on to others and say, "This is great." The alternative - "I'll email you the file" - just seems a bit naff, in my opinion. (But no doubt, ten years down the line, I'll be using the machines just as eagerly as everyone else. You just get swept along, don't you?)
SJ: Does your passion for classical music inform your writing, and if so, how?
GF: Not really. However, I have to say that musicals - which I also like - have probably helped me develop the structure of longer works in a way that novels haven't so much. I think it's because musicals are so thematically symmetrical, and repeated listening (always easier than repeated reading) has allowed me to identify the nuts n bolts of a good, well-shaped piece of fiction. I've since been able to translate these techniques into written fiction . . . Mind you, just going back to your original question, I guess a lot of my favourite composer - Franz Liszt - may have had a nebulous influence on my fiction: he wrote some great horror music concerned with Purgatory, etc. Powerful stuff.
SJ: Whose writing style do you aspire to equal?
GF: Nobody's now, though if you'd asked me five years ago, it would have been Ramsey Campbell's. I love his approach - the suggestiveness, the linguistic virtuosity. Indeed, a lot of my early work has his shadow upon it. But with more experience I think I've moved away from Ramsey's idiosyncrasies and towards my own natural voice, which presently has a little more casualness about it, a more chatty tone. I still like trying out linguistic tricks, letting words bounce off each other in terms of meaning and the 'colour' of a phrase. If I do have a distinctive prose style, I think it's still developing; I guess when it feels instinctual - and it does feel that way more and more often lately - then you're heading towards sounding like yourself.
SJ: Are there any current British writers you particularly admire, and have they had any influence on your own work?
GF: Ramsey Campbell, for sure. No secret that. Martin Amis, too - wonderful prose. I also love Alan Ayckbourn's plays - he's a brilliant psychologist. Julian Barnes can be great as well; his book Talking It Over had a profound influence on me. Ruth Rendell is also a superb writer: deceptively simple and frequently profound. Hey, even John Cleese has had an impact: his work on Fawlty Towers taught me a lot about characterisation. Who else? M R James, E M Forster, Bernard Shaw. There must be more, but those come immediately to mind.
SJ: Please tell us of any future projects you might have in mind Gray Friar Press.
GF: I try not to get too far ahead of myself. I suspect it would all then feel like hard work. I've accepted another two books for release later this year - one our first novels: The Castle of Los Angeles by Lisa Morton; and the other a novella by Hollywood screenwriter Stephen Volk: Vardoger. But after that I'm pretty much undecided. I like the serendipity of this approach, of not knowing when a superb new manuscript might end up with me. Once I make a decision, I publish fast. I know the ropes now. Would like to expand my novella series and publish more and more great collections by key authors in the field like Simon Bestwick (whose Pictures of the Dark has just been released).
Gary Fry was speaking to Steve Jensen.
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