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Simon Kurt Unsworth

answers the Usual Questions

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Simon Kurt Unsworth

Simon Kurt Unsworth is beginning to despair of ever finding proof that the world was awash with mysterious signs and portents that night.

He lives in an old farmhouse miles from anywhere in the Lake District with his fiancée Rosie and assorted children and dogs, where his neighbours are mostly sheep and his office is an old cheese store in which he writes horror fiction.

Has your interaction with fans, for example, at conventions, affected your work?

I'm not sure it has, to be honest, not in terms of content anyway.

It's certainly nice when someone presents a book for me to sign, or tells me they like something I've written, and that's an encouragement to keep going, so in that sense the interaction is a stimulant and a nice way of getting some positive feedback (or negative, which is less pleasant but can be useful if it's constructive).

The thing is, I don't go to many conventions, and when I do most of my interaction is with other writers. Or with beer. What's more common is what I call 'the comedian's moment', ("I have a great joke for you!") which happens when people who don't realize I'm a writer found it out and then discover what kind of stories I write: I'm offered a new story. As a writer of horror stories and, especially, ghost stories, I do tend to hear the phrase 'here's something that happened to me/my aunt/my dad/my dog that was really spooky and that you can use in one of your stories' or variations of it a lot...

Most of the things I hear aren't helpful, but just occasionally, one catches my imagination. That happened with a story I was told about the ghost of a chambermaid, I found it interesting and used a sad, somber version of it in the story that opened my second collection, Quiet Houses. That's rare, though, the exception that proves the rule - although I'll say here that I don't want people to stop telling me these things because I'm, first and foremost, a fan and I love those stories. Anything that can make the hair on my arms stand up or my eyes dart nervously around is alright by me, and that happens most with things that are told to me as true tales...

Is there any particular incident (a letter, a meeting, a comment that stands out?

Apart from the one mentioned above, the first time someone brought a copy of my book to a convention specially to have me sign it was really nice, which happened at 2011's British Fantasy Convention. Someone presented me with a copy of Lost Places and asked me to sign it. It wasn't available at the convention from any of the dealers, so they'd obviously brought it specially. It was a nice moment.

Do you have a favourite author or book (or writer or film or series) that has influenced you or that you return to?

Hundreds! I read Stephen King very early on and reread his stuff regularly, especially Salem's Lot which I think is a masterpiece beyond compare, and I've been heavily influenced by M. R. James, T.E.D. Klein (the Dark Gods novella collection in particular), Junji Ito (especially Uzumaki) and a host of others to numerous to mention.

Good books are a comfort for me - if I'm tired or miserable or ill, I tend to read something I've read before rather than tackle something new, because it's something I know and can simply luxuriate in the language, or the ideas, or the art in the case of graphic novels. I love reading something I've not read before, to be taken up by the tale and the surprises it contains, but revisiting my favourites is like slipping on a warm, comfy jumper and falling backwards to a place in which I can relax. As for other media, I love early John Carpenter movies, Jaws, the audio dramas of the HP Lovecraft Historical Society, the music of Babybird, the Bad Shepherds, Bellowhead, the Sisters of Mercy, King Dude and a host of others, and all of this makes it into my work. One day I'll write a perfect aquatic monster story, set in the Antarctic, and it'll have a soundtrack of slow, sinister music, and then I'll know I've made it and I'll be happy...

Who is the person you would most like to be trapped in a lift with? or a spaceship?

Well, the slightly sickening answer is that I'd choose my fiancée Rosie, because she's my best friend and we'd just enjoy the peace and quiet and we'd read and chat, although I suspect I'd end up having to calm her down if we got trapped in the lift for too

There are people I wish I'd had the chance to meet, people I wish I'd been able to have conversations with or ask questions of, but I have a suspicion that heroes are heroes because we never meet them. Spike Milligan, who's one of my all-time heroes, was, I suspect, a hard man to spend time with, and being trapped together would likely be a nightmare, but I wish I'd had the chance to meet him just once and tell him how important his work is too me. Likewise M. R. James and Robert Westall, but trapped somewhere with them? No, I think not. Better to keep our heroes and the people that exist in the starry firmament of our lives at a distance, let them exist through the books they wrote or films they made or music they created, and spend time instead with our families.


So, Rosie in the lift or the spaceship, maybe with a bottle of champagne, a few good books, a collection of classic horror movies and time. That might be nice.

Who is the person you would most DISlike to be trapped in a lift with? Or a spaceship?

Any member of the Tory party, any cast member from any reality show ever, anyone who sings George Formby, George Michael or Simply Red songs.

What would you pack for space? (Is there a food, beverage, book, teddy bear, etc that you couldn't do without?)

I'd need a good supply of pizza, my MacBook, wine and my iPod. As for books, It'd be impossible to choose - although I'd want a copy of Salem's Lot, Junji Ito's Uzumaki and the collected M. R. James ghost stories with me at the very least. I've always wanted to be able to play the banjo and mandolin as well, so I'll take them, as well as some teaching DVDs as well. Oh, and a cowboy hat and boots to wear so that I look cool when I'm rescued

What is the most important thing you would like to get/achieve from your work?

World fame? Masses of cash? To be honest, I only really write for me, even when I'm writing to other people's guidelines or for a commission - the only thing that matters is that I produce work that I can be proud of and that I'm happy is the best it can be. When I get that right, I'm proud and satisfied, and when people tell me they like what I've written, I'm happy. That's about the best there is, and that's the achievement I'd hope to get.

What is the special satisfaction of your work?

It's especially satisfying to me that it exists at all, that I took a childhood dream of writing and managed to make it real. I've had a lot of luck on the way, but I've worked hard for that luck and seeing the books on my shelf that I'm in, knowing I wrote some of those words or all of those words means that I succeeded, and that's a nice feeling.

submitted by Simon Kurt Unsworth

16 August 2014

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Just the facts:
Born: Manchester in 1972
Resides: Lake District, UK
See his web site

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