Mark Cassell is a UK-based horror author from the South East coast of England. Before he brought us such treats as Sinister Stitches, Monster Double Feature and The Shadow Fabric, his jobs have included baker, lab technician, driving instructor, and he was even once a spotlight operator for an Elvis impersonator. Although Mark is now best known for his supernatural horror fiction, he also writes sci-fi and steampunk and has starred in Matt Shaw‘s horror debut MONSTER as a human birthday cake. We caught up with Mark for a quick chat about the festive frights he has to offer!
Emily: You’ve a had quite the array of jobs before you took your rightful place on our bookshelves! How did you begin your journey?
Mark: Since 2013 I networked (mostly at conventions) and managed to begin making money from the weird shit that goes on in my head. Since then I’ve seen over fifty stories published by top publishers, had a best-selling novel, and my readers still demand more. They’re as weird as me.
Emily: What was the inspiration behind these books?
Mark: Absolutely everything… but I’ll give you one example: my wife once pulled a jumper on over her head, and the way her arm twisted and her hand poked from the sleeve gave me an idea. At the time, I was writing my Lovecraftian steampunk horror novelette In The Company of False Gods and this inspired the ending to totally change. And for the better, I like to think!
Emily: Is there a favourite era or style you draw from, and does that influence your writing?
Mark: For me, style and influence often comes from desolation and ruin. Barren ground, an expanse of nothingness, empty places, void of anyone else. I think what intrigues me is that there can be beauty and serenity in the way nature takes over, the way the elements tear down anything created by humans. Think of the pattern of rust, the pockmarked sandstone from an assault by the wind, and the tangle of determined weeds. Relentless, often silent deterioration or even growth… and it will always be there long after we die. There’s something about Brian Lumley, author of the fantastic Necroscope series, and the way in which he weaves his stories that inspired me to write my own. On top of that, I would say how he’s written short stories surrounding his novels urged me to take a similar route. And it literally paid off, because those short tales reinforce a reader’s desire to buy the novel.
Emily: What kept you motivated during lockdown?
Mark: I made certain that my routine did not change. Although my day job was put on hold, I recognised that my life didn’t have to. A day job, after all, doesn’t define us. I know that there was much more to it than just not going to work, and we’ve all been locked in our own homes, unable to see loved ones all the while an invisible killer lurks outside, but for me it was an opportunity to knuckle down the creative energies (my wife was the same in this respect). So I made lists, giving myself daily projects. I must say that it’s the most satisfying thing to tick stuff off as you go. Please know, however, that my heart goes out to all who struggled and indeed remain struggling. I know that if I could not channel my creative energy I would’ve gone utterly insane.
Emily: What advice would you give other aspiring horror writers, especially during the apocalypse?
Mark: Aspiring writers are so fresh and see far too many rainbows! I know I was like that when I first started out. Very soon enthusiasm is overshadowed by caffeine and rejections. Ha! My advice though? Keep at it, write for yourself to clear your mind, and if you make money off the back of it then that is your rainbow.
Mark: I’m most proud of my debut novel The Shadow Fabric. It’s a modern-day story revealing the unknown history of witchcraft and the true cause of the Great Fire of London. A subtle horror novel of sins, shadows, and the reanimated dead, it’s based in the present day yet combines elements from the 17th century. It evolved that way as I plotted, so research took me down the witchcraft and demonology path, which was interesting, and so I suppose that’s why it remains a favourite of mine.
Emily: Do you illustrate these yourself or do you have a team?
Mark: The book cover was created by Christopher Shoebridge, although I’ve also used Berlin Tuesday and Joe Redski, and more recently Michael Bray for my Christmas release.
We’d like to say a massive thank you to Mark Cassell for catching up with the Squid! If you’re in need of a little Christmas fear over the holidays, you should take a peek at Mark’s trio of festive horror shorts, Murder, Machinery & Snowflakes. You can also check out the rest of his books here.