interview with mark nixon
For anyone with more than a passing interest in British Indie Horror, I'm sure you'll already know the name Mark Nixon by now. A few years ago, Mark wrote a ghost story and wasn't entirely sure what to do with it or where to send it. So, to share it with the world, he created the website Shadows at the Door. Since then, the site has gone from strength to strength, as have Mark's stories. They have a true, classical style and tone to them but they always manage to terrify the reader before they reach the end.
Due to the fact Mark is such a generous and creative soul, he not only published more of his own work on the site for free, but also encouraged other writers to share their stories there as well. Last year, he took that very same ethos and branched out into the world of publishing. Through Kickstarter, he launched an illustrated anthology of horror stories, featuring new works by himself and some of other authors he has featured on his site (including me).
Since first working with him, I've come to think of Mark Nixon as a real kindred spirit in the world of British horror. He's a man who knows his favourite flavour of scares and will always pay homage to them but, at the same time, he keeps an open mind when it comes to anything new the genre has to offer.
Now that the anthology has been available for a while, I wanted to check in and see how life was treating him.
CL: The Shadows at the Door Anthology has been out for a few months now and is getting some brilliant and thoughtful reviews. I was wondering, now that process of shepherding it into existence is over, how you feel about it?
MN: I worry if it's eating enough, and if it's wearing enough layers! Sorry. But seriously, I almost feel like the process isn't over. I'm immensely proud of the Anthology, and now I'm onto the next phase of getting it into the hands of reviewers and, of course, the general public. Although there is a small respite of reflection once somebody has finished reading it and they offer feedback, thankfully the response been overwhelmingly positive so far.
CL: Not just positive, but thorough. There's a real sense of people investing in the work, which must feel great. Do you think this all comes from the anthology's Kickstarter roots?
MN: I think that has definitely played a part. Thereís a strong sense of community from the backers, the writers, and everyone involved in its creation. But there's also been the response from readers who really understand what the book is all about
CL: It's funny you should say that. When we were at the book launch, there was an undeniable feeling of this book standing up for a particular style of horror. We even got called a movement by someone. That must have made this all feel worthwhile. You're leading a movement now.
MN: Great, now I'm destined to go mad with power. I admit it's very rewarding to resonate with readers, but itís not like I've suddenly come up with a new and radical idea. I'm just tired of what horror is perceived to be, and I think many other people are too. The lazy slasher flick may not be everybody's cup of tea (certainly not mine), but everyone has loved a ghost story at some point in their lives.
CL: That's very true. So, in amongst the plans for world domination, do you think you'll stick with the crowd funding route? It does feel like a decent way for indie books get out there and get noticed. Although, it takes some hard work to achieve that.
MN: Running a Kickstarter could easily be a full time job. I spent roughly four months preparing, and I still felt woefully unprepared a week into it. I'm hoping future ventures will be funded by sales proceeds from the anthology in hardback, e-book and of course the upcoming audiobook. I would hate to keep asking everyone for money, I'm far too British for that.
CL: Speaking of the future, I was wondering if being a father has in any way started to influence the sort of stories you're thinking about. Is there a chance that you'll start crafting ghost stories for younger readers now you've technically got a captive audience?
MN: Funny you should ask, I already have two spooky children's books in mind but they're on the back burner for now. Before the production of the anthology consumed my every waking second, I was halfway through a short story about a father and his daughter. I dusted it off the other day and wrote a few hundred more words, then grew annoyed as I imagined readers will think I only wrote it now that I'm a father myself!
CL: There don't seem to be many brilliant ghost stories aimed at children. It never feels like there's an established market for them to dip into.
MN: Clearly you didn't go to my local library as a child.
CL: Ah, okay. So which stories warped your mind into becoming a writer of ghost stories back then?
MN: I'm tapping into the dangerous world of memory here, but I recall picking up a few jumbo sized ghost story anthologies for children. Sometimes there were actually the true classics, I distinctly remember The Monkey's Paw from one of those books. I never did write any that age, too busy reading them.
CL: Well, sure, you need to marinade in the genre for a while. I do love the idea of a Shadows at the Nursery Door story. That could be brilliant, and I don't think anyone would accuse you of only writing for children once you have them. After all, Stephen King rarely gets a lot of stick from fans for writing stories about writers.
MN: I've recently developed a huge respect for Lemony Snicket, writing for children as if they're adults.
CL: Those books are great. There's a real intellect behind those stories and some brilliant characters. Speaking of returning characters within a series, will Professor Troughton ever make a return?
MN: There's a third Troughton story I keep rewriting, I put a lot of pressure on myself to I'm rarely 100% happy with the finished product but I'll get it just right eventually. But I don't want Troughton to out stay his welcome, so I'll only write more if the demand is there. I do have plans for him though, if it all works out.
CL: I think you'll find there's plenty of welcome left for that man yet. Can't wait to see where you take him. Whilst we're talking of people not outstaying their welcome, I was wondering if I could twist your arm into talking about Doctor Who. Which Doctor would you most love to write for, if given the chance?
MN: Oh, definitely Capaldi. There's a darkness to his Doctor I'm completely in love with, and his sense of humour is delightfully wry. Of course, I'm not saying "The current one! Hire me, BBC. HIRE ME!" But let me know if you think that'd work.
CL: Oh man, I wish that'd work. Do you ever think of writing for TV and movies? I've often wondered if Shadows at the Door will ever branch out into other formats.
MN: It's very different from writing stories and I'd love to master one medium before I move onto another. However shows like Inside Number 9 really appeal to me, and its popularity shows that audiences are craving intelligent and subtle shows. So if we're taking the cap off of our fantasies then yes, I'd love to.
CL: I'm sure you will one day. For the record, I've love to see the story you'd tell with the 12th Doctor. One last question for tonight, you were lucky enough to interview the fantastic Mark Gatiss the other year. Have you got any tips for a budding interviewer?
MN: If you've ever heard the audio from that interview then you'll know how much I've benefitted from transcribing it! But when I was lucky enough to secure the interview, I watched/read/listened to as many of his interviews as I could, so I wouldn't bore him by asking him things he's sick of answering. As I packed away he told me he'd enjoyed himself. So, he's either a consummate gentleman (and of course he is) or I'd like to think he genuinely enjoyed talking about the things we both love; M R James, Ghost Stories, Doctor Who, Horror et all. I keep in mind that Stephen King always laments that he's asked the same things each and every time, namely "Where do you get those crazy ideas?" Now there's someone I have some prepared questions for. You don't have his number, do you?
CL: You never know, one day he might be calling you.
MN: You're incorrigible, and a fine interviewer.
Thank you to Mark for taking the time to speak with me on a Friday night. He managed to come up with all of those intelligent and fantastic answers whilst looking after his twin baby girls, sharing a post on an M R James Facebook group and occasionally sending me self-deprecating messages cringing about what he'd just said. Let alone changing a nappy or two. The man is a machine.
There's a link to Shadows at the Door website under Collaborations at the bottom of the screen and the Anthology we discussed is available through the shop. If you buy a copy, why not post a review? I have a feeling Mark would appreciate that very much.