Welcome, one and all, to another MDM Project author interview. Now, long term readers will know how much I loved werewolves, so when I had the chance to interview an author of werewolf literature, you can imagine how thrilled I was! As such, please help me welcome aboard UK author, Nick Stead!
Before we get going with the bookish stuff, can you do a quick introduction for any readers that may not be familiar with your work?
Sure. I started writing in high school (fifteen years ago now – I’m getting old!), but I’ve always had a love of stories from as far back as I can remember – I was generally the quiet kid in the corner with my head in a book! I’ve only ever really been interested in the horror and fantasy genres, and as a writer I tend to favour specifically dark fiction. I write mostly supernatural horror but I’ve done one or two short stories which are more in the way of dark fantasy, and I have plenty of ideas for a dark fantasy novel as soon as I get the time to write it.
Your current releases, Hybrid, Hunted and Vengeance form the Hybrid Series. Can you begin by telling us what the books are about?
The series follows a werewolf protagonist, named after myself (I figured if Darren Shan can do that with his vampire character, why can’t I?!). Hybrid is really about fictional Nick becoming a werewolf and the struggles he faces to adapt to his new predatory nature, as well as the changes lycanthropy has on him as a person. But there’s also the added complication of a secret human faction called the Demon Slayers (or just Slayers for short) set on wiping out anything demonic or undead, so there’s plenty of action whenever the two sides clash. Fictional Nick is believed to be the last werewolf so it’s a pretty lonely existence, and he only really has vampire companions to help him with his struggles.
The same kind of themes continue on in Hunted though there’s other things going on as well, but Vengeance went in quite a different direction. I’m keen to avoid falling into the trap that some series seem to where the story gets a bit samey after a while and too formulaic, so I’m trying to keep each book as fresh and original as I can. My character’s much more settled in Vengeance and he faces new challenges devised by his enemies, rather than the struggle with his lupine side that’s so predominant in the first two.
With three books out there, should readers expect more to come in the series, or does the third book finish the series? Also, did you always intend this to be a series, or was the original intent for it be a one-shot tale?
I’m thinking there will be around ten books in the series when I’m done, but that figure’s very subject to change as I don’t really plan things out in advance. I just know that I have several key plot points spanning the series as a whole and I’m estimating it will take roughly ten books to get from the beginning of Hybrid to the overall end I have in mind for the final book. I’m on a little break before I start book four though as I announced recently on my social media – I don’t currently have an agent and am feeling the next step for my career would be to try again for one, so I’m working on something new and completely separate from the series with the intention of submitting that to agencies in 2018.
Originally Hybrid was intended to be just a short story but I think my passion for werewolves took over and caused my imagination to go a bit mad with the concept. It wasn’t long before I realised I had a full length novel on my hands, and then I had even more ideas and realised I had enough for a series!
The first draft of Hybrid began life way back in 2003 when you were doing your GCSEs, and was completed just before you began college. You then finished working the manuscript into something submittable in 2012, and the story found its home with Wild Wolf Publishing in 2014. That’s quite a journey from start to finish! Starting at the beginning, what inspired this particular tale?
It’s really thanks to my cousin Sarah that I started writing. She did some short fantasy stories based on things going on in her life at the time and the characters were all close friends and family, so I got to be a knight and my sister was a princess. I loved them and kept nagging her to write more, till the day came when she was sick of my nagging and suggested I write my own to read to her next time we met up. So that’s how Hybrid started – it was going to be a short story using the same idea of basing it on my real life, and Sarah helped me brainstorm the first three chapters. The vampire character, Lady Sarah, is based on the real Sarah and the backstory we get for her in chapter three is actually my cousin’s words, with maybe just a bit of tweaking from me over the years.
The first book is a really personal story on a lot of levels, probably more so than people realise. I often say it started off as my own werewolf fantasy and grew from there, which is the short answer I suppose! Obviously I changed the names of family and friends with fictional counterparts, unless they wanted their character left named after them, but I wanted to keep my own character named after myself. He’s very different to the real me by the end of Hybrid and into the rest of the series though!
Did you find that the story went through any major changes depending on where you were at that stage of your life, or did the basic concept tend to stay consistent throughout the developmental stages?
I seem to have a habit of getting so far with a working draft and feeling the need to completely redo the opening before I can finish it, so that was the only real major change to the plot of Hybrid and Hunted (Vengeance didn’t change that much, other than getting a couple of things added into the first half that needed to be there for things that came into the second half). The storyline in the first three chapters of Hybrid has stayed pretty consistent ever since that first brainstorming session and the help from Sarah to get going, but originally I had my fictional self discover he’d killed and eaten a human straight away after his first transformation. That meant the tone of the narrative got pretty depressing very quickly (partly because I did suffer with depression back in school), and I soon decided it was better to have my character think he’s only killing animals to begin with, which allows for a more gradual psychological change and I think it makes it more horrific when he inevitably learns the truth.
The first major redraft I gave the manuscript in my early twenties (when I was in a much better head space) was to then lighten the tone of the earlier chapters so it wasn’t too depressing a read, and because I felt that better reflected the change the character goes through. Ironically, when I submitted it to Wild Wolf Publishing they advised me it needed another edit/redraft before it was ready for publishing and told me to revise and resubmit because the tone was too inconsistent between young adult and full on adult horror. I say ironically because the bulk of the young adult bits came in during that first major redrafting phase in my early twenties, rather than being a product of my teenage self’s voice! So I then went through another major redraft to take anything that was too young adult back out, as I’d always intended it to be for adults. The early chapters became somewhat darker again as a result, but I think it’s a good balance now between a touch of humour where it’s needed to lighten the tone and the feeling of impending doom to set the tone for the horror of the later chapters. And I do think the narrative is much stronger as a result of that final redrafting stage, so I’m glad Wild Wolf prompted me to do it.
It sounds like you’ve found a good home for the books with Wild Wolf Publishing. How did you first find them, and how have you found working with them thus far? Is there something that you feel sets them apart from other publishers that you approached?
I started off by trying to go down the ‘traditional route’ of finding an agent who would then find me a publisher, but like so many other writers I went through rejection after rejection until I was on the verge of considering self-publishing. A friend of a friend was published through Wild Wolf and things went well for her, so when I was chatting to Alex about the struggle to find an agent he suggested I go straight to a publisher and said Wild Wolf would likely love my werewolf novel as they specialise in horror and dark fiction. I did think at the time that perhaps it was fate since they had the perfect name for publishing a werewolf story!
I’ve found them to be very fair with royalties and things, and they’re always quick to reply to me whenever I need to ask them anything. They’re the one and only publisher I submitted to with trying agencies first, but having the potential recognised in that weaker version of Hybrid definitely sets them apart from all the agents who turned it down!
You’re quite active on the convention scene over here in the UK, appearing at various horror cons over the course of the year. What has been your most memorable experience at a con thus far, and do you have any advice for authors who haven’t yet done one?
It’s hard to pick a most memorable experience as there’s been so many good times at them all! Probably the most memorable con overall would be Huddersfield Haunting because I was a guest author at that one rather than just a trader, so it was my busiest day for people chatting to me and buying my books. I also had a slot to do a reading at that one which went down really well, despite a slight hiccup with me starting a few minutes too early and people wandering in just as I’d finished the short story I opened with. I’ll have to keep a better eye on the time in future to make sure I give people plenty of time to come in for it.
I’ve also met a lot of great people at all the events I’ve done this year and done some good networking. I’ve seen CL Raven about though I’ve not managed to chat to them much yet – I’m going to have to try and rectify that next year! I was also grateful to have Brad Harmer-Barnes and James Parsons either side of me at Liverpool. That con was a pretty quiet one and there weren’t many people coming over to chat to us authors on that row, so Brad and James helped keep me sane. It’s a long day when you don’t have anyone to talk to!
It was also fun to share a table with S.L. Mewse and Lauren Womack (artist HamsterToybox on Twitter) at Birmingham and Bristol, and teaming up helped split the costs. It’s been an expensive year to go to so many!
As far as advice goes, the main thing I can think of is the usual musts for customer service – be friendly and chat to people as much as you can, and be sure to remind them to take your promotional materials like business cards and flyers because so many people don’t bother otherwise, even though they’re free!
I was sold on the idea of your books the moment I read the word ‘werewolf’, as I’ve been a fan of the monster since my childhood. This is a love I understand that we share, so my question is, what drew you to werewolves in particular?
I’ve always loved animals, particularly predatory species with big teeth. Wolves quickly became my favourite so I think with werewolves it was the idea of being able to transform into this creature I was in such awe of, and the idea of becoming something I found to be far cooler than my ‘boring human body’ as I’d have put it when I was a kid. I also think it was partly down to bullying at school and the idea of gaining the strength to deal with the bullies through lycanthropy.
There’s also just something about beastmen that has fascinated me so from a young age which I’m not sure I can quite explain. Not just werewolves but other human/animal hybrids like the skaven and lizardmen races in Warhammer, and I was a big fan of the various animalistic characters in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles growing up. I think it’s something about the combination of an animal I love mixed with the human body I was born with that appeals to me, plus when you have beastmen with all the advantages of that animal species combined with opposable thumbs, that would surely be the apex predator of all other apex predators!
Do you have any favourite werewolf movies or books that you can recommend?
As far as books go, I’m really enjoying the third in S.L. Mewse’s Primal Progeny Series at the moment. I enjoyed the first two books as well and the second in particular did get really exciting towards the end, but the third has really had me gripped right from the beginning!
I also can’t recommend Graeme Reynolds’ High Moor trilogy often enough – his first book is one of my all-time favourite werewolf reads to date. I actually discovered it amongst the latest batch of rejection letters for Hybrid so it really inspired me to keep going with getting my own story published because it showed werewolves still have their place in the horror genre, despite the likes of Twilight trying to drag them down into paranormal romance.
Movies wise, I’m very fussy on the look of my werewolves so that generally defines which ones rank in my top werewolf films. The Van Helsing werewolves are still my favourites but I also love the look of the werewolves in the first Howling movie and Dog Soldiers. I love the Underworld prequel, Rise of the Lycans, too, mostly because of the historic setting and all the swordplay which feeds into my love of fantasy. And of course American Werewolf in London still has the best transformation sequence in film history (in my opinion).
Speaking of movies, you’re involved with an upcoming book about the Howling franchise! Can you tell us a little about your contribution to the book and how you came to be involved?
Yeah, I’m very excited to be involved in this project with Bryn Curt J Hammond! We have a mutual fan on Twitter who kept asking if we’d work together and honestly I didn’t expect it to come to anything, but it led to Bryn getting in touch and inviting me on board. My main contribution is a new story arc for the first movie. It’s a short story set just after where the movie ends with Karen White’s broadcast and the reactions of the public to seeing her transform on live TV. I’ve really tried to get the feel of the movie whilst still putting my own stamp on it, and giving it the usual darkness and gore I’m becoming known for in my own work.
Bryn’s also keen for us to do joint signing events so there should be more details of that to come soon!
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?
I’ve found my local writing group invaluable for honing my skills. We alternate between reading meetings which are good for getting feedback, and workshop meetings which are good for driving new ideas. I really feel the group has helped me grow as a writer through all their feedback, and it’s helped to get some fresh perspectives on my work from other writers, even if I don’t always agree with everyone.
Moving away from writing for a moment, you are a self-professed LARPer. Can you tell us how you got involved with Live Action Role Play? Do you have any favourite memories from your time LARPing?
I don’t remember when I first heard about LARP, but from the moment I discovered it, it was a thing I was dying to give it a go someday. So when I got back in touch with an old school friend and she told me LARP was her new hobby, I didn’t take much persuading to come along to an event with her. The system I LARP with is Lorien Trust and even though I hate the camping side of things, I got straight into the game as soon as I first hit the field. I love the atmosphere at these events and how friendly and helpful everyone is (the complete opposite to the attitude towards ‘noobs’ on MMORPGs!), and I’ve made so many new friends from LARP that it’s become as much about seeing them as it is about the game for me.
I don’t think anything will ever top the high from my first event. There was a certain magic to experiencing it for the first time and getting lost in that fantasy game world our characters inhabit. The real you knows it’s all make believe of course and that there’s no actual danger, but because characters can die it adds a feeling of real threat, for me at least, and I found myself constantly scanning the field for approaching enemies. These are big events, the largest of which is always ‘The Gathering’ at the end of August – that one has attracted numbers of around 1000 so when you get a big battle it’s pretty epic, and I get a sense of what it must have been like for warriors marching into real battle, knowing it might be your last, or the last time you see your friends. If you’re invested in your character you don’t want to lose them and have to become someone else, and there is a sense of loss when friends’ characters die as well. It might sound a little crazy to non-LARPers but if you really throw yourself into the game and let yourself get caught up in the fantasy of it, the characters you’re playing, the storylines and the world you’re imagining you’re in really do take on a life of their own.
You also enjoy video games. What systems are you currently playing on, and what are your picks for your top games?
I’m so behind with video games. I never upgraded from my old PS2! Mostly because the PS3 was so expensive when it first came out and I didn’t like that it wasn’t backwards compatible like the PS2, then I got into World of Warcraft (for the worgen of course) and spent all my gaming time on WoW, so there was just no point spending any money on a new console. But since Hybrid came out I’ve had to give up WoW as I just don’t have the time for it anymore between doing work to pay the bills, writing more and promoting.
The most recent game I’ve played other than WoW is Skyrim for the PC, again for the werewolves. I haven’t had time for that in ages either, but Christmas morning I plan to have some fun massacring towns in wolf form before it’s time to go over to my mum’s for pressies and Christmas dinner.
The dream is to someday be able to live solely off my writing so if that happens and I’m not trying to juggle as massive a workload, I’m sure I’ll catch up on all the games I’ve been missing out on.
You currently own two cats and are hoping to add a tamaskan dog to the family too. Being an owner of both a cat and a dog myself, I know well that they aren’t as incompatible as pets as fiction often has you believe. What are your cats like, and are you planning to get the tamaskan as a puppy or an adult?
One of the cats is a ginger called Rose and she’s virtually no trouble and daft as a brush, but Yoda the tortoiseshell is so mischievous and too intelligent for her own good, and she’s very talkative. She’s definitely got that feline attitude of the universe revolving around her. They keep me company when I’m just at home writing, even if they drive me a little crazy at times! Rose has a painful habit of jumping up on the desk and walking across the keyboard, often when I’ve got text highlighted which promptly gets replaced by the random keys she treads on. Thank god for the undo key! I love them to bits though, even if I joke about wanting to throttle them at times.
I’d love to raise a tamaskan from puppyhood someday but wouldn’t rule out rescuing an adult for my first dog. I probably won’t be able to take on a canine companion for some time though, as I’d struggle with the added vets bills and things at the moment, plus finding the time for training and everything.
You live in Huddersfield, Yorkshire. Now, many probably recognise the county as being the setting for the first part of An American Werewolf in London, but the area does have some other creepy associations. For one, there are a number of haunted hotspots in the area. Do you have any belief in the paranormal, and have you ever visited any of Yorkshire’s haunted places?
I do have a strong belief in the paranormal – there’s still much science has yet to explain! I’ve had some spooky experiences in other houses I’ve lived in, though my current place has been quiet on the ghostly front. I’ve only ever been on one ghost hunting experience but that was just over the Yorkshire border as it was Pendle Hill in Lancashire, based around the infamous witch trials there. The new project I touched on in a previous answer is in fact a novel based on those events of 1612, which started life as a short competition piece that I’m now carrying on with. You can get a sneak peak of what’s in store here – http://bit.ly/1LFdV7K
Finally, I wanted to thank you for stopping by the site, and to say that I’m looking forward to reading Hybrid. Whereabouts on the web can everyone find you if they want to contact you or know more? Feel free to link to anything you want.
Thank you for featuring me on here, it’s been a fun interview! I have two websites, hybridseries.co.uk for anyone wanting to know more about my Hybrid series specifically, and nick-stead.co.uk for more information about me as an author. I’ve published various short stories free to read on my author site as well, like The Reckoning which I linked above.
I’m also on Twitter (https://twitter.com/nick_stead) and Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/officialnickstead/), and of course Goodreads (https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/14138888.Nick_Stead).
It’s always great to hear from fans so please do find me on social media!