Welcome, one and all, to part 2 of my interview with horror writing twins, CL Raven! Let’d dive striaght back with their short story anthologies!
You have a number of short story compilations under the Romance Is Dead title. First up, what inspired you to feature love alongside the horror themes?
We hate Valentine’s Day as much as we hate Christmas and we wanted to ruin it for everyone. Valentine’s used to be about single people but couples have hijacked it. The day is so commercialised, with the same gifts every year – roses, teddies with hearts, chocolates. It’s not romantic if everyone receives the same gifts or celebrates on the same day because a calendar tells you to. There’s no originality. Men in particular seem to be under a lot of pressure not to screw up on Valentine’s day. St Valentine was beaten and beheaded. St Dwnwyn (the Welsh patron saint of love) was raped by her lover and joined a nunnery. There’s nothing romantic about that.
The stories are varied in terms of subject matter, and some even deal with some lesser-known Welsh traditions. Can you tell us about some of more obscure themes readers can expect?
The Welsh tradition of the love spoon is quite sweet. Men would carve a wooden spoon for their lover. Different carvings have different meanings. If he was a sailor, he’d carve an anchor. If he was a blacksmith, he’d carve a horseshoe. Far more effort went in than buying someone wilting roses from the garage forecourt! So we took that and used it to carve out hearts.
Are the stories fairly gore-laden, or do you mix it up depending on the tale?
Most of these are gory but funny. Gore amuses us. We’re a little bit twisted. Some don’t have any gore at all.
Though each story is its own tale, I noted that Trey is a recurring popular character in the books. What can you tell us about Trey, and were you expecting him to be as popular?
We had no idea he would be so popular! He wasn’t meant to return but when we wrote Still Life in the Bad Romance trilogy (part 2), we realized we’d written it in Trey’s voice. So we made it Trey. Then women told us how much they loved him. This man turns people into mannequins! He’s not exactly dateable! We loved writing him, so we were surprised when other women loved him too. We then decided that as he was in the first two trilogies, we’d put him in the third then when put all the trilogies together in a print book, it seemed fitting to have Trey in a bonus story.
In a similar vein, you also have the short story collection Deadly Reflections available. Is this thematic like the Romance is Dead series, or are these more of a grab bag of tales?
This is a collection of ghost stories. We hunt ghosts in our spare time and love anything to do with the paranormal. Places we’ve personally investigated appear in it. We’d published Disenchanted, our fairytale collection then our mum suggested doing a collection of ghost stories.
How long did it take to write the different stories in this one? Were they collected over a number of years, or written in short order for the release?
Some were already written and had been published elsewhere, the rest were written quite quickly for the anthology. We thought after that we were done with ghost stories. We’re not. We’ve written more since and have plans to write even more. Hell, if M R James could make a career out of ghost stories, we can try too.
Are any of the tales in these collections ones that appeared in anthologies or magazines, or are they all entirely new for the books?
Field of Screams won Writing Magazine’s ghost story competition. Deadly Reflections was also published elsewhere.
Do you have a favourite tale amongst your short story collections?
Don’t think so. We have some that we prefer, but we don’t have one favourite.
Do you co-write each short, or do you split the stories between yourselves?
We co-write each one. We haven’t written separately for 11 years.
Do you find that you have a preference for writing short stories or full-length pieces? Or does it vary depending on the story you want to tell?
It varies. Short stories are easier and quicker but we started writing novels when we were 12 and love doing them.
Of the short stories that have appeared in other publications, do you have any that you’re particularly proud of?
Autumn of Terror was published in The Mammoth Book of Jack Ripper. He’s our favourite serial killer so that was a special moment for us. The Mammoth series are hugely popular, so we’re proud that we got in.
Looking back on things, what inspired you both to start writing, and did you always write together?
We loved creative writing in school. We found stories we’d written for school when we were 10. They were very gory with pictures of dismembered people and lots of blood. Nowadays they would’ve called in child psychiatrists and had us assessed but in the ‘80s, you were ‘odd’ and left to it. One of our uncles gave us notepads and pens when were 12, so we decided to use them to write novels. Twenty three years later, we haven’t stopped. We only started writing together eleven years ago, just before we were first published. We hated the idea that only one of us might get published so we put both names on any submissions. Then created C L Raven pen name and started writing short stories together. After that, we also wrote novels together. We’d always edit each other’s work and add stuff to each other’s stories, so we were used to working together.
Are there any challenges to co-authoring books in the way that you do?
Not for us. Though we can’t imagine working with anyone else. They’re not tuned in to Twin FM.
Do you have a set routine to writing and planning stories?
We don’t plan. We hate planning. One of us writes two pages then we switch. We don’t tell each other what we’ve written. The other one goes to our writing shed, reads it, continues it. It shouldn’t work but it does.
You’ve worked with a number of cover artists over the years, including David V G Davies, River Rose, Mark Stone, and Ryan Ashcroft. How do you pick an artist for your books and do either of you have a favourite cover so far?
They’re all people we were friends with at one point. We met Dave ghost hunting and he loves horror as much as we do. We do horror cons together so we work well together. We then found out he could draw, so we hired him. Mark is the husband of one of our writing friends, Cinta Garcia. And River Rose is another friend and extremely talented. We don’t really have a favourite cover. We love them all for different reasons.
You tend to stick with self-publishing rather than traditional publishing. What made you decide to go down this route?
We wanted a novel published before we were 30! Soul Asylum had received positive feedback from a publisher who suggested we turn it into a film or TV series. Self-publishing was just becoming popular and we were intrigued, so we gave ourselves a month to do it. We taught ourselves how to format for ebook and print then released Gunning Down Romance in 2012. We love the control. We pick our artist, our release date, how it looks, its content. And we get a bigger share of royalties. Publishers have readers who go through the ‘slush pile’ and if that particular reader doesn’t like your book, it gets rejected. A different person at that office may have liked it. Publishers go with what sells and aren’t really interested in something new and original. Horror magazines these days are leaning more towards literary and losing the horror from it. We’re old school horror writers. We’ll write it our way, not the way that’s trendy right now.
Do you ever receive any backlash from the writing or reading community for self-publishing? It’s something that seems to go through ups and downs in terms of how people perceive it.
We haven’t. It’s got a lot more respect than it used to have. There are a lot of excellent self-published books out there. There are also a lot of bad ones. But it’s the same for traditionally published books too. There is still a bit of stigma attached to it, but mostly from people outside the publishing world. They still think that you only self-publish because you can’t get an agent or publishing deal. We haven’t tried to get a publishing deal for our novels, apart from Bleeding Empire, but that was only because Gollancz had an open reading period.
What is the biggest challenge for you with self-publishing?
Selling. Dear god that’s hard.
You are both regulars on the book convention scene in the UK. Were you nervous before doing your first convention at all?
Terrified! Like we said, we suffered with social anxiety for many years so being in a con was our worst nightmare. We couldn’t speak to anyone or make eye contact with them. Luckily, our friend, Hayley, came and she’s worked in sales all her adult life so she taught us how to sell. We don’t sell many books online, so cons are essential for finding new readers.
How have you found the convention scene in general? Do you have any particularly cool or funny memories you can share?
We love it now. We met Ari Lehmen, who was the child Jason Vorhees in Friday 13th. We told him we were writers so he insisted on coming to our table and wanted to buy Deadly Reflections. We signed it for him and he hung out with us, spent about twenty minutes walking around the venue with us. When people went to get his autograph, he read out lines from the book to them! He was really cool. We also meet some characters. Like one man who told us he didn’t want to buy our historical books because he prefers fact to fiction, then told us he was one of the fae folk and could take us to meet the Tylwyth Teg (evil Welsh fairies). We declined. There also a young man who was convinced he was alive during the Victorian times and was either a werewolf or a vampire. Or both. He wasn’t clear on that. Traders have a term for them: ‘the con nutjob’ and we always seem to attract them. We’ve made friends with other traders and it’s nice to hang out with them. And it’s lovely when people come just to meet you. We were guests in Edinburgh Horror Con and one of our fans, Chloe, came to the con just to meet us. That was lovely and makes this worthwhile.
What would be the best advice you can give to authors looking to get started in the business, or looking to build their brand?
Run. Run fast and don’t look back! But if you insist on being writers, do not expect to get rich or famous. It is very hard to make money from this. It’s long hours often for no reward. It is a hard, sometimes soul-destroying job. But also the best job in the world. Write what you love. Share your interests. And for the love of Twitter, do not spam social media with ‘buy my book’ links every five minutes. Also, make sure you stick to submission guidelines, don’t miss deadlines and always submit. Submitting is scary, but if you don’t do it then you definitely won’t get published. And don’t give up. Never give up.
Do you have any new projects on the horizon that you can tell us about?
Always! We’ve just finished writing a crime novel about a necromancer who helps the police and we’ve turned The Black Kiss from the Romance is Dead trilogy into a film script and will be filming it hopefully later this year. We’ve also written our first comic. Our next release is Empty Graves, our third historical novel. It’s set in Edinburgh in 1828 and focuses on the bodysnatchers. The main character, Lachlan, is a hangman and is the ancestor of the executioner in The Devil’s Servants.
Outside writing, you have a very varied life with a plethora of interests. Let’s start with the obvious though. You’re both horror fans, and have been for a long time. What was the first horror film that you saw, and how did you both react? Were you left with nightmares at all?
Our first films were Snowbeast and Blood Beach when we were 8. We loved them and watched them repeatedly, constantly trying to pause the VHS on the split second you see Snowbeast’s face. We never succeeded. Horror films have never scared us or given us nightmares. Ask us to phone someone and we’ll break out in a cold sweat, but horror? Nah, not scary.
Do you ever disagree on horror films? Like, is there one that one of you loves but the other can’t stand?
Nope. We have the same taste.
Can you name your individual Top 5 horrors for genuine scares?
We don’t get scared, so can’t really answer that. Eden Lake had an effect on us but that’s because of the bullying we suffered, so we could really feel the characters’ fear.
What are your thoughts on CG in horror compared to practical effects? Do you have a preference, and can you let us know your pick for the best and worst example of both?
Hate it! We grew up in the 80s with practical effects. It’s far superior. CGI should only be used to enhance what’s there. Best practical effects? Jurassic Park. We love dinosaurs. Alien too. The xenamorph is a thing of beauty. Worst practical effects? Zombeavers is pretty bad. Stuffed creatures on roller skates basically. Loved it. Worst CGI is always fire and water. What are you doing? Just stop it. Birdemic and Birdemic 2 are great for terrible CGI. The birds look like they were made in Word. There’s also a CGI ambulance and giant jumbo jellyfish. Watch it. You won’t be disappointed.
You’re also music fans. What was the first song that really grabbed your attention?
We grew up listening to Meatloaf, Bon Jovi, Bruce Springsteen. First cassette we bought was Two Princes by Spin Doctors. Still love that song. But Bat out of Hell was always one of our favourites. Still is. We met Meatloaf recently. He was lovely.
Do you have any current favourite bands or albums?
Rise Against are our favourites. We have goth and punk souls and are quite political and always ready to start revolutions and rebellions. Love all their albums. Disturbed’s ‘Immortalized’ is just fantastic. My Chemical Romance’s ‘The Black Parade’ is very important to us. Also been getting in to Marilyn Manson. Our music tastes are definitely more rock than goth.
If you were given free rein to DJ a night of music, what five songs would each of you pick?
Rise Against –Prayer of the Refugee; Tragedy and Time
Disturbed –Never Wrong
Marilyn Mason – Tainted Love
My Chemical Romance – Welcome to the Black Parade
Meatloaf – Bat out of Hell
Alice Cooper – Poison
Muse – Muscle Museum
Def Leppard – Pour Some Sugar on Me
Linkin Park – Numb
Are there any musical acts that are popular but that you just can’t stand?
Anything in the charts! What is that? That’s not music!
You also run a YouTube ghost hunting channel called Calamityville Horror. I love that title. What I find interesting is that you say that you yourselves don’t actually believe in ghosts. What therefore draws you to ghost hunting?
We’ve loved ghosts and ghost stories since we were kids, even though we never believed in ghosts. We were cynical, odd children. We love history and the locations interest us as much as the ghosts.
Do you have any theories as to what may cause people to believe that a place is haunted? Is it a want to believe, or is there likely a scientific explanation?
It’s a want to believe. People don’t want to confront the idea that this life is it. There’s nothing more. We’re atheists. We don’t believe in a Heaven or Hell or gods and monsters. Also, some people aren’t used to the noises that houses make. Particularly old houses. They’re so quick to blame ghosts. Door bangs. Ghost. Stairs creak. Ghost. Draught – you guessed it, ghost. Most likely, they left a window open.
How do you think you’d react if you did find evidence of a haunting?
We have actually experienced things we can’t explain. Cat saw a woman in an upstairs window of Woodchester Mansion. When we got inside, we discovered there are no floors by that window. The mansion was built on the site of Spring Park mansion but was never finished. Apparently other people have seen her. In The Ancient Ram Inn, Lynx heard footsteps leave Cat’s room, walk across the landing to her room and stop outside her door. She opened it. There was no-one there. Cat was locked in. And in Bodmin Jail, we have a man’s voice captured on a digital recorder saying “Careful” after our friend suggested splitting up. There were no men there. It was just five women. We got really excited. But our first reaction was to assume we were hallucinating.
Have you had any scary moments filming Calamityville Horror?
Nope cos generally, nothing ever happens! When it does, we get excited. After a while, even the most exciting or creepy location can feel a little boring. You’re basically sat in the dark talking to yourself. Pretty sure that’s the definition of insanity.
Do you need to get special permissions to film any of the episodes?
Not for filming but we do have to pay to hire locations. Unfortunately, ghost hunting is so popular now that locations charge a minimum of £600. We can no longer afford to do it. And that’s really sad. We’ve loved doing it but the only way we can afford to do it is to go on public events. We hate those. There’s always some twatbandit who winds us up. One woman complained Cat’s camera whirring was ruining her concentration. Well love, your poodle perm was ruining our view. Sit down and be quiet.
Random question time: favourite items of clothing that you couldn’t live without?
Jewellery. We feel naked without it.
Another random one: What is the oddest meal that you’ve enjoyed?
Apparently people think dipping chips in Slush Puppy is weird. Those people are wrong.
You’ve also taken up pole fit classes. What made you settle on this as a form of keep fit?
We did Burlesquefit and loved it. Pole seemed different and fun and a woman we were in school with ran a studio, so we joined.
How have you found it so far, and would you recommend it?
We are utterly obsessed with it. It’s so much fun. It’s given us a lot of confidence. Before, we couldn’t bear to expose our legs. Now we wear skimpy pole outfits and don’t care. It’s conquered our fear of being upside down and we’ve done things we never thought we could do. It led to us starting gymnastics. It gives you great upper body and core strength. It doesn’t matter what your fitness level or age is, pole is for everyone.
What was it like growing up Goth in Cardiff? Is there a decent Goth scene there, or was it a little harder to find like-minded people?
We mentioned the bullying earlier. That’s what it was like for us. We couldn’t walk down the street without someone yelling abuse at us from the car, or throwing things as they drove past. We don’t go out drinking so if there is a scene, we don’t know about it. We’ve certainly not met any other goths and the only even remotely gothic shop is Blue Banana. There are other Goths in Cardiff, but we don’t like going into town so we never meet any.
Finally, I wanted to thank you for stopping by. Do you have any final messages for readers? Where can they go to find out more about you and your work? Feel free to link to anything you like.
It’s been our pleasure! We’re on Twitter – @clraven where we rant about slow drivers and occasionally share book links. Also Instagram – clraven666 where you can see our polefit pics and videos and laugh at how bad we are at gymnastics (so bad). All our work is on Amazon or our Etsy store – Ravens Retreat Store – where you can buy signed copies. We also host a horror themed radio show every Friday on Vitalize radio 7-9p.m.
Don’t have nightmares 😉