Praise for Twisted Tales Events

'In the past few years Twisted Tales has become a major force in the promotion and appreciation of horror fiction. As well as putting on author readings and signings at bookshops it has expanded into organising larger events, bringing authors and critics together for discussions of the field. I've been involved in quite a few of both and have found them hugely enjoyable and stimulating - I believe the audiences did as well. May Twisted Tales continue to grow and prosper! If you love the field, support them! I do.' - Ramsey Campbell

‘Twisted Tales consistently produce well-organised events for writers and readers of horror. What really distinguishes Twisted Tales for me is the intelligent themes and investigations they pursue, and the high quality of the discussions they always stimulate. As an author I've been invited to three of their events and have been pleasantly startled, to near shocked, by the attendance levels - two out of three were even sold out. I salute anyone who contributes so much to the literary and cultural life of horror fiction.’- Adam Nevill

'Twisted Tales events are wonderful... a great way of promoting 21st century horror fiction. Supported by Waterstone's Liverpool One and really well organised, Twisted Tales brings together established names in the genre as well as new voices and of course readers. Looking forward to much more to come...' - Alison J. Littlewood

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Stuart MacBride interviewed by David McWilliam

Stuart MacBride is the author of several bestselling novels featuring DS Logan McRae including Shatter the Bones which reached no 1 on the Sunday Times Bestseller list. The Logan McRae series has already sold over 1.1 million copies. MacBride is a multiple-award winning author, whose profile is continuing to ascend. More recently he undertook a literary crime tour for BBC Radio 4’s Open Book and he continues to work with the forensic society researching his novels, and is involved in all manner of speaking events in his native Scotland.

DM: Close to the Bone is first and foremost a crime novel, yet the themes it engages with (occult rituals, witch-hunters, and madness) draw heavily from horror. What influenced you to write a book about a serial-killing witch hunter in contemporary Scotland?
SM: For me there’s very little difference between really good crime fiction and really good horror. They both speak to a very primitive, deep-seated hollow in the human psyche that we’ve been filling with stories since we first gathered around the fire, at the back of the cave, trying to keep the darkness out. I love a well-written horror novel just as much as I did when I was eleven.

Close to the Bone came about in a fairly convoluted manner. One strand came from a song I heard on the South Island of New Zealand, driving a borrowed car in a blizzard. The other strand came from an alternative history novel I’ve wanted to write for a long, long time, but have never managed to find a slot big enough in my schedule to do. So I decided to combine the two and have the book I’d like to write but haven’t being made into a film in the book that I was going to write next. For years, in my head, the not-book was going to be called Kirk and State, but the more of it I wove into Close to the Bone the more I wanted it to be like a proper real life book. I ran the blurb and extracts past Jane Johnston – she was Tolkien’s editor during the 1980s and 1990s, as well as being the Publishing Director of Voyager, and a damn fine writer in her own right – to make sure everything sounded as if it had actually been published, rather than just made up to add a bit of colour to another book. And part of that was running the title through the proper channels. In the end Sales and Marketing agreed that Kirk and State was a dreadful title, so it became Witchfire instead. A lot of Close to the Bone came out of the interaction between this unwritten book and the characters in the written one. So really, I inherited the themes from a book that doesn’t exist yet. But I still intend to write some day.

DM: The crimes in the novel are inspired by the fictional novel Witchfire and its filmic adaptation. This struck me as a really interesting angle for a writer of ultra-dark, violent noir to take. What's your own view of the relationship between fictional and real violence?
SM: I genuinely don’t see my work as violent – I like to think that it’s honest. I’m a big believer in show, don’t tell, and want to put the reader into the point-of-view character’s head. I want them to see what he sees, experience what he experiences. As such, I like to put it all on the page, instead of telling the reader to look away when it gets to the uncomfortable bits. Because I want those bit to be uncomfortable. If Logan’s investigating a child murder then I want that on the page and I want it to be horrible. It should be horrible, because that’s what murder is… Anyway, enough ranting, back to the actual question: I don’t think there really is a relationship between fictional and real violence. OK, so fiction borrows from reality, but that’s it. People who commit violent crime don’t do it because they’ve read too many Val McDermid books, or watched too much Tarantino, or played too much Grand Theft Auto, they do it because there’s something slightly broken inside them that thinks beating the crap out of someone else is a good idea.

Crime fiction is one of the most popular genres in the UK, and it has been for generations. If fictionalised violence really did turn people into crazed killers, the UK would be knee-deep in serial killers. And as the majority of crime fiction readers are women, it’d make the WRI a very different kind of organisation. “Today, we’re going to have a talk from Mary who’s going to tell us all about the killing spree she went on in Prague this summer, with slides, tea, biscuits, and the trophy scalps she took from her victims.” …Actually, I think there’s a short story in that.

DM: My own research explores the limits of criminality where responsibility comes into conflict with clinical insanity in cases of serial murder and I was struck by your line about the killer: 'Not a monster, just doing monstrous things'. Is this an issue you have grappled with when creating your antagonists?
SM: I always like to treat my antagonists in exactly the same way as every other character in the books – they have to have reasons behind what they’re doing. Those reasons might seem twisted and weird from the outside, but to them they have to make perfect sense. My belief is that we’re all capable of doing monstrous things, it’s just a question of whether or not we can justify doing them to ourselves. Serial killers don’t wake up in the morning and think, “You know what? Today, I’m going to be really, really evil! That’ll be nice for a change.” They do what they do because it makes sense to them and they can justify their actions. And the same thing is true of every atrocity ever committed.

DM: The grotesquery of the horrific aspects of the novel seems to be both counter-balanced and reflected in the humour of your characters. How do you see the juxtaposition of horror and humour functioning in your work?
SM: It’s a happy accident and comes from treating all the characters as real people. Police officers aren’t the slab-faced bastions of justice they’re often portrayed to be. They’re just like you and me. They do good work, they occasionally screw up, and they make fun of each other. I’ve worked in teams my whole adult life (well… until I became a writer) and humour was always a big part of the team dynamic. And the worse things got, the bleaker the prognosis, the darker the jokes became. I just applied that to the characters in the books. It’s there, because that’s what real people do.

DM: This seemed to be largely absent from Birthdays for the Dead, which I felt was almost nihilistic at times. It is a powerful book, but also a fairly harrowing read. I believe you are writing a follow-up and wondered whether you intend to offer Detective Constable Ash Henderson a glimmer of light for his second outing?
SM: I’d been wanting to write a proper noir tale for years. The whole ‘Tartan Noir’ label is pretty meaningless in terms of a distinct writing style; it’s just a marketing term for any crime novel written in Scotland. But real noir has some pretty exacting rules, and Birthdays was my attempt to follow those. Which is why it’s as dark and as oppressive as it is. Someone recently told me it was more of a Shakespearian tragedy than noir, but I’m still pretty happy at the way it turned out. As for the follow up, there has to be hope for Ash, because if he’s got nothing to hope for, he’s got nothing to lose. And if he’s got nothing to lose, I can’t take it away from him…

DM: There seems to be a growing trend for the line between horror and crime to blur, especially in the figure of the serial killer who is often presented as being literally, as well as metaphorically, monstrous, possessed of superhuman qualities. Would you ever be tempted to write a novel that moved more firmly into horror territory?
SM: I don’t make my serial killers superhuman. OK, I did it once, in Halfhead, but other than that I like to keep their feet very much on the ground. I think they’re more frightening if they’re just like you and me, only a bit more screwed up. When they become proper ‘monsters’ they lose a lot of that uncomfortable menace. For me, the enemy within is always going to be more troubling than the enemy without. As for writing a horror novel, I’ve already done that. Flesh House was my big horror novel – a homage to all the Stephen King and James Herbert I used to read as a kid. Yes, it wears the clothes of a police procedural, but peel those back and it’s horror right through to the core. I can’t believe no one actually noticed that’s what it was: I set the thing at Halloween, a lot of it takes place in complete darkness, and there are ghosts. How many more clues did people need? And of course, it’s become very topical, given that it centred around contaminated meat getting into the food chain. Even if that meat was something a lot worse than horse.

Stuart will be appearing, alongside Adam Nevill and Steve Mosby, at Twisted Tales of Serial Murder from 6-7.30pm Friday 22nd February 2013 at Waterstones Liverpool One. For further details and instructions as to how to book your FREE tickets, visit:

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