Welcome, one and all, to another author interview. Today, it is my pleasure to have Brad Harmer-Barnes, author of North Sea Hunters (REVIEWED HERE) on board for a chat.
Hi Brad! For those that aren’t familiar with you, can you tell us a little about yourself and your work?
Certainly. My name’s Brad Harmer-Barnes, and I’ve done all sort of weird stuff in my life, but now I’m principally a horror writer, which is something I’ve wanted to do since I was about fourteen years old. It’s a great time to be involved, as the horror genre is strongest it’s been since the eighties; possibly even the thirties.
North Sea Hunters is your debut novella, and was released through Severed Press. What drew you to this particular publisher and how have you found working with them?
I’d come across their books before, just looking for something to read, and had usually enjoyed them. They publish some pretty out there stuff, like Raptor Apocalypse, Pteranodon Mall and Battle Whale (which is about a blue whale that’s been fitted with scud missiles), as well as some more conventional zombie and sharksploitation stuff. There’s something kind-of 2000AD about their stuff that I really love.
I thought that North Sea Hunters would be a good fit for them. They had open submissions at the time (I think they still do), so I sent off the manuscript and a covering letter, not really expecting anything. I think it was just over a week before they came back with an offer of publication.
They’re great to work with. I’m involved every step of the way, including all the superb cover art that they do, and they’re very supportive.
North Sea Hunters deals with the crew of a WWII German submarine crew as they encounter a giant, prehistoric shark. First of all, why did you choose this setting, and did you need to do much research in terms of the submarine and its role in the war?
Most sharksploitation comes down to teenagers on spring break or a bunch of marine biologists on a mysteriously funded trip to the Mariana Trench or somewhere. I wanted to do something different. I also love historical fiction, so the idea of blending the two genres was appealing, and there’s also an exploitation cinema vibe of “SHARK VERSUS NAZIS”.
I’m a big tabletop gamer and actually learnt most of what I know about U-Boats from a board game called The Hunters: German U-Boats at War, 1939–1943 that I’ve lost hours and hours to. These sorts of games are geared to simulation, so I was able to experience the frustration of dud rounds and strafing runs better than a book or a movie could capture. I also read a few non-fiction books (Steel Boat Iron Hearts sticks in my mind as being a particularly good one), but I didn’t want to become too immersed in that side of things. I was worried that if I got bogged down in the factual side of it, I’d start hitting problems when I introduced the fantastical elements, and I knew most readers would be there for the shark, not the submarine.
And of course, we have the shark. I liked that you used a creature that did actually exist at one point, rather than going with a supersized or mutated version of a current beast. There’s nothing wrong with doing that, and there have been plenty of entertaining stories based around those two concepts, but I felt that the megalodon gave it an interesting and unexpected edge. Was there a reason that you went down this route?
Yes, absolutely. I don’t think you need to worry too hard about making monsters when Mother Nature has given us such a range to pick from already. The megalodon is terrifyingly huge, but it’s still just a massive shark. Look at some of the Lovecraftian nightmares that lived in the oceans of prehistory – they’re far more terrifying and completely inhuman.
Similarly, invertebrates are just as horrifying. I saw a documentary recently where a giant centipede (about a foot long) caught a katydid. The venom completely paralysed the katydid, and the centipede proceeded to eat it from the thorax up, while the katydid was still alive. The centipede was eating the bug from the inside, it’s head completely stuffed in there, eating its intestines, and the katydid was just still and staring, wide-eyed, while it was being eaten up towards its brain. That sounds like some Cronenberg or Del Toro shit, but it’s all real.
How much of the book did you plan out before you sat down to start writing? Was there a detailed lay-out in place, or did you just let it all come out while you were writing?
I had an outline, knowing roughly what would happen in each of the chapters. I’m glad it works for some authors, but I hate “pantsing”. I meander and get put off and give in. I need a road map.
Between the first and final versions, there were a couple of changes. Hertz was actually a little more heroic in the first version, and the original ending relied a little too much on a deus ex machina for my liking.
Were there any characters or scenes that you were particularly happy with? Have readers told you about any favourites?
I really like the sinking of the Freyr, told from Dahlen’s perspective. I’m very pleased with that, and Hertz has a great scene toward the end of the book. There are a couple of references to other things I’m a fan of that other people have picked up on, which is nice. It’s good to be one geeky family.
Readers really like Krauser and Dahlen as buddies, and I’ve had more than a few people want them in a sequel. I’ve also had several people convinced that they fancy each other. I didn’t write them as gay, but at the same time I didn’t explicitly write them as not gay, so that’s up to the reader, I suppose.
You recently attended Liverpool Horror Con, where you sold and signed copies of North Sea Hunters. How did you find the experience? Any cool stories you can tell about your time at the event?
The convention was amazing. Can’t wait to do more. Made a lot of good friends, including Adam Nevill, C.L. Raven, James Parsons and Nick Stead. All very good writers, and they were very nice to me, too, even though I was just Little Sharky One-Book.
What strikes me most about the horror scene is it seems to be the only subculture that doesn’t want to divide itself further. It’s not like heavy metal, where the death metal guys won’t talk to the hair metal guys. It’s not even like the supposed rivalry between Star Wars and Star Trek fans. We’re all just horror fans. You might like werewolves and I might like haunted houses, but we’re still both there as horror fans. It’s refreshing.
What has been the most surprising thing with publishing for you so far?
That it’s actually my job now. The taxman says so.
You recently announced that your second novella, Tempest Outpost, is coming soon, and that it would also be released by Severed Press. What can you tell us about this title, and was this signed around the same time as North Sea Hunters or at a later date?
Sure, thing. It came out at the end of October. Tempest Outpost is an experimental drilling rig just off of the coast of Antarctica. After a set-back, they finally manage to drill down deeper than before, and bring up some strange geodes. Then, overnight, the geodes start to hatch. The whole book is influenced by classic VHS horror like Alien, The Thing and The Gate.
I had started writing Tempest Outpost at the time that North Sea Hunters was accepted by Severed Press. I think it worked out that I ended up sending them the completed manuscript just before North Sea Hunters was released – probably the same week, even. It was accepted about six weeks later, I think.
Have you got any other books or projects in the works?
Always. It’s my job. The taxman says so.
I just finished up another “historical horror”, that’ll be looking for a publisher very soon. Tempest Outpost is another novella, but this is my first novel length piece. As soon as that’s sent off to a publisher, I’ll take a week off, and then start writing another one. I’d like to do a North Sea Hunters sequel, but I think it’s a bit soon, yet.
I am of the view that there’s always more to learn, especially when it comes to creative ventures. That being the case, is there any advice that you’d give to upcoming authors trying to get a footing in the industry?
Yes. Write your book. People ask me how they can get published and they haven’t even written anything yet. Write the damn book, because you’ll find it virtually impossible to published without one, unless you’re already famous for something else.
After that, treat it as a job. Do your research. Find a publisher you want to work for and who you think would want to work with you. Read their website. Look at the books they publish. Find out how to submit to them. Format your manuscript the way they want and write a damn good covering letter.
If you want to be taken seriously and paid money for doing this, then you’re applying for a job, so treat it as such.
Moving away from your own books, you’re a big fan of horror in general. How long have you enjoyed the genre and what was it that first attracted you to it?
My whole life, really. Started with watching the Universal horror movies and 1950s B-Movies when I was a kid. Saw Aliens when I was six or seven…well, bits of it. My Dad fast-forwarded through the tape and just showed me some monsters and guns. The Alien Queen is the first monster I ever loved, and she’s still my favourite now.
When I got to about eleven or twelve I started buying and reading loads of horror stuff from the second-hand bookshop in my hometown. Stephen King, Ramsey Campbell, James Herbert, the usual suspects. I discovered H.P. Lovecraft when I was fourteen, and it was him who made me want to be a writer. The Dunwich Horror was the first time that a book ever properly shat me up. I’d been reading horror stuff forever, but reading The Dunwich Horror at night with a storm blowing was the first time it ever actually scared me.
What, in your opinion, makes a good horror tale?
Identifiable characters are still the most important part, same as any genre. It can be something as huge as The Stand, where there are a whole load of characters you love and want to succeed, or it can just be that you identify with Jason Voorhees, because those teenagers are as annoying as hell. If you aren’t siding with someone, then there’s no fun.
Do you have any favourites you can tell us about? Or recommendations for people who may not have seen too many horror films or books?
An American Werewolf in London is a crash course in the horror genre. It has every element that makes the genre what it is: great make up, body horror, psychological horror, jump scares, gore and – that most underrated element of all – comedy.
John Carpenter is one of the greatest storytellers in modern horror. Halloween, The Thing, In the Mouth of Madness…so many great stories.
More recently, I really liked It Follows. That was really unnerving and great ghost/monster story.
In terms of books, you can’t go wrong with Lovecraft or M.R. James. Dan Simmons’ Carrion Comfort is tragically unsung, genuinely one of the great vampire novels. Stephen King has only had a few misses in his entire career. Dracula remains my favourite, though. Flawless.
For a while, you were a member of the skiffle band, Bender Crack Corn. How did the band come about, and can you explain what skiffle is as a style?
Hah! Well, this all seems a long time ago, now. Skiffle is the original punk rock. In the fifties, it was just after the Second World War, and there wasn’t a lot of money around, so you couldn’t afford to go buy a drum kit, so you made do with a cardboard box and a washboard. You couldn’t buy a double bass, so you made one out of a tea chest. If you couldn’t afford a guitar or banjo, you made one. Punk rock was “just get a guitar and make some music”. Skiffle was “you don’t even need a guitar”.
The band came about because I needed a novelty act to finish off a Rock N Rant event, so I got a ukulele and my brother got his washboard, and we did a botched together cover of The White Stripes’ Hotel Yorba. It was well received, so we did a couple more songs after that and it just snowballed.
It was a fun band to be in for a long time, but hard work, too. We were so different to every other band that the promoters and venues never really knew what to do with us. The ones who got it really got it, though.
During a gig in 2012, you were joined on stage by Ed Tudor-Pole, vocalist of Tenpole Tudor and former host of The Crystal Maze. How did that come about?
At the time, it was part of his contract when you booked him. If one of the support bands learned to play Swords of a Thousand Men, then he’d sing it with them. The promoter asked us to be that band. Ed’s a really weird guy, in absolutely the best way. One of those characters you’ll remember for the rest of your life.
You were also a stand-up comic for a while. What can you tell us about how you got into this side of entertainment, and why you started the Rock N Rant comedy club?
Yeah, I’d just gone clean, following a couple of years of trying to destroy my heart and liver by any means necessary, and needed something to focus on. I’d loved stand-up comedy since I was about ten or eleven years old, and it felt like something I could do. I set up Rock N Rant as an avenue for myself and other comedians to perform in, and we’d have bands and stuff, too. It ran for three years in Chatham, and I had some of the best nights of my life, and met some of my best friends doing it.
Did you have any fun memories or unexpected experiences during your time as a comedian?
Well, I met my wife while I was performing stand up and we’ve been together for nearly thirteen years now. Nothing’s really going to top that.
You’ve worked on several sites over the years, the first of which (to my knowledge) was Emotionally Fourteen, a nostalgia fueled geeky blog that you helped found. What inspired you to start this site?
As with a lot of things I do, there was no motivation beyond “This looks fun. I’m gonna do this.”.
When I was running Rock N Rant, I met my long-standing collaborator and heterosexual life-partner Rob Wade. We did loads of comedy stuff together and just wanted to give it a try. I edited it for a few years, until life got in the way. I took a year out, and now Rob runs it – and he runs it way better than I ever did. His podcast, The Crazy Train, has to be one of the funniest comedy podcast out there. Go. Subscribe. All of you. I’m on it sometimes.
You also run Suppressing Fire, which is a pulp gaming site, and have a long-time love of board games. What would you say to those that still picture board games as being monopoly and snakes and ladders and nothing more? Do you have any recommendations for games that people can pick up to sample the different types of game out there now?
For me, there’s no experience quite like tabletop gaming. You hang out with your friends and you make a story. It can be scary, exciting or – often – downright hilarious. Nothing makes me laugh and smile quite so much as gaming with my friends. It captures that feeling you had of playing with action figures when you were a kid, making up these epic sweeping stories for your characters. It’s exactly like that now. Only with more dick jokes.
Board games have moved on a tonne since Monopoly. They’re about as far removed as The Witcher is from Pong.
Recommendations are tough because I’m so far into it that I don’t really engage with the beginner games any more. The new Arkham Horror: The Card Game or Elder Sign are good, reasonably priced, relatively good intro horror games. Same goes for Zombicide. X-Wing is a great Star Wars game, and pretty cheap to get into (at first, at least…you can get addicted quick).
When you look at the stuff you’ve been involved with, you’d had a varied, and highly creative life. Was this something you always intended, and what has been your favourite experience in life thus far?
No, not at all. I didn’t sit down at the age of eighteen and go “Well, I’m gonna do stand-up for a bit, then learn to play ukulele…”. I just go “That’s cool, I want to do that.”. Then I go do the thing. Sometimes I’m good at it. Sometimes I’m not.
The highlights of my life had been my wedding day and being handed my daughter for the first time. On the professional/creative front…anything I’ve done with Rob [Wade] has always been an absolute blast. The live shows, Dickass DM, The Crazy Train…that’s all gold.
Bender Crack Corn were great fun for the longest time. Made a lot of great friends doing that, and some venues made me feel like a real rock star.
Seeing the cover art for North Sea Hunters for the first time was pretty amazing, too, of course. That was the moment when I realised I was actually going to have a book published. It made it real.
Finally, I wanted to thank you for dropping by and taking part in this interview. Did you have any final message for readers? And whereabouts on the web can everyone find you if they want to know more? Feel free to link to anything you want.
It’s been a pleasure to be here. I have a website at bradharmerbarnes.com, but there’s not much up there yet. On the social media front, I’m most active on Twitter and Instagram @RealBradHB.