I placed a video camera along the path (on top of the trapdoor, of course) and came in to find Anna Taborska making a documentary on the many ways of escaping an underground fortress. She hadn’t made it out, so I traded her a poorly drawn map and a bag of bread crumbs for her cooperation in answering a few questions.
Why writing? What drew you to it? Why do you continue?
My Father was a writer, I’d fall asleep listening to the sound of his typewriter in the room next door, and my mother wrote academic books, so I was around books and writing all my life. Then I fell in love with film – horror films in particular – and I spent a lot of time going on film courses, getting a scholarship to go to film school and working my way up through the ranks on film sets until I got to direct. I directed two documentaries and three short fiction films, one of which won a couple of awards, but getting funding became an increasing problem, and I found myself spending more time writing screenplays than making movies. Eventually I started writing short stories too, and that seemed to go well and fit in around other commitments, so I’ve stuck with it.
If you were freezing to death and the only thing left to burn were the books in your library, what 5 books would you burn last? (And yes, everything else burnable has been burnt.)
The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (are complete works cheating?), James Herbert’s Ash (I saw James a few weeks before he died and we spoke about Ash, which I still haven’t read – it’s next on my reading list, so I’m definitely not burning it), Shirley Jackson’s The Legend of Hill House (no matter how many times I read the beginning and closing passage(s) of that book, I am awed), Richard Matheson’s I am Legend (a great last book to read) and Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot (it’s probably King’s only book that I haven’t read yet and, if the two-part TV mini-series directed by Tobe Hooper is anything to go by, it would scare me to death, thus sparing me from freezing).
What’s the most challenging thing you’ve done (in life or in writing (your choice))?
Directing my first film. Everything that could go wrong, did go wrong – from the director of photography breaking his leg and having to be replaced three days before the start of filming, to a rain machine that was supposed to give light drizzle, but produced only torrential downpour that washed all our props away down the street. I could write a list of disasters that would go on for pages. But somehow the crew and I finished the film and lived. And the film won a couple of awards.
What’s one word or phrase that drives you nuts? Why?
Hubba hubba. I have no idea why, but I absolutely can’t stand that phrase!
Do you have a favorite character you’ve created? If so, who is it and why?
I have a character called David in an unpublished novelette called Rock Star. I haven’t sent the novelette out anywhere, as I feel I ought to expand it into a full length novel. David is the lead singer in a rock band – a position he’s landed by pretending that he can write songs. To cover up his lie (David has a great voice, but no ability whatsoever to write his own material), he makes a pact with a mysterious songwriter – a decision that has fatal consequences… The reason I’m so fond of David is that he is one of the most flawed characters I’ve created – he’s weak-willed, he’s vain, he isn’t very bright, he sleeps with way too many women and takes way too many drugs, and he’s something of a coward, but he’s kind of loveable at the same time (I hope). When writing horror short stories, one doesn’t often get to create complex characters, and perhaps that’s one of the reasons I think David deserves a novel rather than just a long short story. I hope I’ll find an appropriate home for him one day.
Creepiest place you’ve ever been? Has it appeared in your fiction? Why or Why not?
I don’t know if this is appropriate to mention when discussing fiction, but the creepiest place I’ve ever been is the Nazi German concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau. When I was working on the BBC television documentary series Auschwitz: The Nazis and the Final Solution, we did a couple of night shoots both in so-called Aushwitz I (the earliest part of the camp, which housed predominantly Polish prisoners) and in the infamous Auschwitz II (or Birkenau), which originally housed Soviet POWs and female prisoners, and was later turned into a death camp for murdering Europe’s Jewish population. The black wooden barracks of Birkenau, some of which still stand, were built on swampy land, and at night a thick white mist drifted all around us as we filmed, so that we were constantly wet and couldn’t see more than a metre or so ahead. There were hundreds of frogs in the area, which you couldn’t see, but which made incredibly creepy sounds. I remember the veteran BBC sound guy commenting that the frogs sounded like people screaming. As for Auschwitz I – basically a converted army barracks, consisting of red-brick buildings, I remember trying to go into one of the cells in the so-called Block 11 – a building in which prisoners were tortured and killed, and I physically couldn’t. As soon as I stepped in through the door into the pitch black cell, I felt such a chilling, oppressive feeling of utter terror, that I couldn’t even go in there for a few seconds. Neither the red-bricked Auschwitz nor the black wooden Birkenau feature in my fiction, and I think that’s because of the fact that – for fear of stating the obvious – no fiction could do justice to the facts – of 1.1 million people murdered in the most horrific ways.
What’s the best rejection you’ve ever received?
I don’t think any rejection is pleasant, despite many editors’ best efforts to soften the blow. I suppose the best rejection I’ve ever received was when I knew that another editor was already waiting to see the story if it got rejected. That was my story Underbelly, which ended up appearing in a cancer charity anthology edited by William Meikle, called The Unspoken. An important thing to remember – particularly if you’re just starting out as a writer – is that what one (or more) editor rejects, another editor will more than likely love and gratefully accept.
How did you get that scar?
Not very glamorous – I fell out of my pram.
What song would precede your entrance into a room if we all had personal soundtracks?
It would have to be the opening of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana (Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi: O Fortuna). Unfortunately Ozzy Osbourne has already grabbed it (but he deserves it – he’s Ozzy!)
Promote yourself and/or your writing
My first short story collection, For Those Who Dream Monsters, should be out in November 2013. Closer to the date I’ll put out a trailer with more info on my YouTube page and, after that, I’ll hopefully have a novelette collection, Bloody Britain, out in 2014. I must confess, these collections will not contain Zombie stories – rather tales of other monsters, both human and not. However, in the meantime, for fear of letting the Zombie out of the (body)bag, I can only hint that there will be a somewhat kinky Zombie story coming out from Mortbury Press later this year in The Tenth Black Book of Horror, edited by Charles Black. If the idea of a naughty Zombie story with nuns and necromancy appeals to you, then keep an eye on the Mortbury Press website – The Tenth Black Book of Horror should be up there around November-time, and on Amazon not long after that. I’ve had stories in the Black Books of Horror before, and my story in the Eighth Black Book of Horror was picked up by editor Ellen Datlow and republished in her anthology The Best Horror of the Year Volume Four. I’ll be posting updates about my work on my new website.
Final thoughts before you run screaming for your life?
Keep reading, keep watching movies. If you’re so inclined and able to do so, write, make films or do something else that you’re passionate about. All these things are good for us, and make the world more tolerable. And be kind to others whenever you can. The world definitely needs more kindness… Thank you for listening to my rambling.
Thank you for your time and informative answers, Ms. Toborska. Feel free to use the map in your escape. I wouldn’t trust any left turns though, or maybe it’s the right ones. Don’t try to map the way with the camera though, it hasn’t worked since my fifth grade graduation. If you make it to the man in in the reflective vest and plastic helmet, you’ll know you’ve gone the wrong way. I can’t guarantee his vocabulary…