Welcome, one and all, to the first part of two-day interview with the horror writing twins, CL Raven. Now, this is a special run, because I went a bit overboard and sent them more than seventy questions … and they answered every single one! So, we’re splitting it up over a few days. Today, we’re talking about their latest title Bleeding Empire, and their other novel and novella length works.
Welcome to the site! For those unfamiliar with your work, can you readers a quick introduction to yourselves and what you write?
Hello! We’re C L Raven, we’re identical goth twins from Cardiff and we write horror short stories and novels.
We’re going to talk a little about as many of your projects as possible, but we’re going to start with your latest novel, Bleeding Empire. Now, this is a darkly humourous take on the apocalypse, and features the children of the original Four Horsemen. First up, what made you decide to focus of the offspring of the apocalypse for this one?
Because the four horsemen have been done a lot and we wanted to change it. We had an idea of what we wanted our horsemen to be and it wasn’t the traditional image of them, so by making them the offspring, it gave us more freedom to screw with the traditional image.
When coming up with the fledgling world destroyers, did any of them come to you more easily than others? Do you have a favourite among them?
We each have different favourites! Marsden is Lynx’s favourite whereas Morgan is Cat’s favourite. When we started, we couldn’t decide on a gender for the Death role so as we started typing, decided to have male and female twins. Demi was possibly the most fun to write because she’s so nasty, so horrible. It was good to write a detestable character who was one of the ‘heroes’. She was the character who arrived fully formed, whereas the others developed during the edits. Mac was probably the hardest because he prefers to blend into the background.
I loved the idea that health and safety prevented the use of the traditional horses, so the gang were forced to use motorcycles instead, and that the budget cuts meant sharing one travel inn between them. Was the book written with the intent of partially taking a comedic look at out focus on cost cutting in big businesses?
Nothing we write is entirely intentional! We don’t plan our stories. We stay in Travelodge when we travel for conventions, so it seemed funny to have them stay in one when they’re trying to end the world. The health and safety thing is a dig at the ridiculous way the world is heading, where there are warning signs on everything, and kids are treated like glass objects. The world is turning into a nanny state. If you need a warning sign to tell you not stick hair straighteners in an orifice then you’re doing something wrong.
The Horsemen are going to be tackled by a Fallen Angel called Drew. Is Drew also the offspring of a biblical character?
No, just an angel. He’s a Power, who are Heaven’s warriors in the Angel hierarchy (there is actually an Angel hierarchy in the Bible). He was kicked out of Heaven for going against God, so he’s similar to Lucifer, except he got sent to Earth.
Drew’s battle is essentially cocked up when romance is added to the mix. Can we expect Drew to deal with this in an endearingly awkward manner, or does that go more smoothly than the end of the world?
Nothing goes smoothly in this book! The fact he can’t physically touch his love interest makes things difficult. If he does, he’ll die. That’s enough to kill any budding romance.
Alcohol is also a bit of a stumbling block for the characters in the book, with sexual-named cocktails and drunkenness abounds. Do either of you have a favourite cocktail, and does it appear in the book?
We actually don’t drink much, so we spent a while Googling cocktails with funny names. Our favourite is one called Dark Passion but it’s not sold in many places, so Sex on the Beach is the one we’ll have if we splash out on cocktails. We usually drink vodka and lemonade. We once hired city bikes in Paris after a Sex on the Beach cocktail. That didn’t go well…
Which of the original Four Horsemen do you think would be the most fun to get drunk and why?
Death, because he’d be late to his appointments with dying people and it would cause a lot of chaos. He might also let us wield his scythe for a bit. Drivers who pull out on us at junctions then drive ten miles below the limit – we’re coming for your mortal coils!
The apocalypse in the book is pegged to take place over Christmas. Christmas horror is actually more popular than I realized when I was first getting into the genre. What do you think it is that draws people to darker themes over and set against the festive period?
We personally hate Christmas and have refused to celebrate it since we were 18. We enjoy the idea of taking everyone’s favourite holiday and covering it in blood. We did it with Valentine’s Day too. Christmas is a time when everyone puts on masks and pretends to love their extended families so one day of the year isn’t spoiled. It’s the one day that people get really stressed about because everything has to be perfect. The rest of the year can be ruined but not Christmas. We can’t stand superficial perfection and fakeness, and Christmas tends to cause that. We wanted to tear that down and expose the true natures around that time. And what better way to upset Christmas than end the world? That would really cause more stress than the turkey not cooking.
Do either of you have a favourite winter horror film?
We grew up watching Snowbeast so that will always be special to us. But we love Dead Snow 1 & 2. And Krampus.
Despite the humourous edge to the book, and of course the urban fantasy classification on Amazon, you are horror authors by trade. Should readers therefore expect some creeping dread, or gore on the pages?
With this one, it’s gore. When Marsden, who’s War’s son, unleashes his sword, the blood starts to flow. He’s brutal when he kills. In a way, Mac’s (Pestilence) scenes can be described as body horror. One scene in particular made one of our friends nearly vomit, so we’re quite proud of that.
When looking at the modern world, what do you think would be the biggest hurdle for the original Horsemen to clear if they turned up to kick start the end of days now?
Nobody would believe in them, or even notice them. War wouldn’t have to do much as there’s already constant wars. Pestilence would struggle against hospitals and antibiotics and with so many fast food places around, Famine would struggle starving people to death.
If turned into a Netflix series, who would you cast as your leads, and what scene would you most look forward to seeing on screen?
Tom Hardy as Marsden, mostly cos we really fancy him and would want him in our film. Wentworth Miller as Drew, because he’s also number one on our lickability list. Maybe Eva Green or Helena Bonham Carter as Morgan. Although Aeron and Morgan look alike so we’d have to find men who could be Eva and Helena’s twins. Or have them play both twins. Mackenzie Crook might make a good Mac because he’s great at being made up into odd looking people. As for Demi, it would have to be a super model as she’s so skinny.
Prior to Bleeding Empire, you released The Devil’s Servants. This is a historical piece set in Scotland in 1649, and deals with the Witch Trials. Here, nineteen-year-old Nessie Macleod is haunted by the ghosts of those that burned at the stake, and is tasked with getting revenge on the man that killed them, ‘The Witch Pricker’ John Brodie. My first question is, is any of the book inspired by real characters or events? My understanding was that we saw a lot less with trial carnage in the UK than in the USA, but I’m sure there were still some colourful people around at the time.
All the facts in this book are true. We read court records from that time period and all the crimes the witches in the book are accused of are actually in the court records. The survey of Scottish witchcraft lists 3,837 people accused of witchcraft in Scotland but only roughly two thirds were executed. Scotland tried them in the law courts, with barristers, rather than swimming them or putting them through torturous ‘trials’. Scotland also outlawed torturing witches after 1597. We read James VI book, Daemonologie, which was published during one of the witch panics. John Brodie is in a way inspired by the Witchfinder General, Matthew Hopkins, but Brodie is actually driven by a genuine hatred for witches, rather than it being for financial gain.
Was writing in a historical setting more difficult than a modern one?
Yes. Especially the language. Every word in the historical books is historically accurate. If a word wasn’t around at the time period, it’s not used. That led to being creative and having to rework sentences! Luckily Edinburgh preserves its history so it was easy for us to imagine how it looked back then. Historical readers are also really knowledgeable, so if you get something wrong, they’ll tell you. So, it’s quite stressful making sure everything is accurate, but at the same time, we love history, so really enjoyed writing the historical ones.
Can readers expect humour in the book, or is this one more serious in tone than Bleeding Empire?
There’s not a lot of humour in The Devil’s Servants! Nessie doesn’t have a good time.
The Malignant Dead is also set in 1640’s Scotland. Are the two books linked at all?
Yes. The Malignant Dead is set four years before and some characters make a return in The Devil’s Servants. Nessie makes a brief appearance in The Malignant Dead.
Did you do much research relating to the Bubonic Plague in preparation for writing the book?
So much. Unfortunately, most documents and information about the plague are about London’s plague in 1665. Edinburgh’s plague was 20 years earlier and very overlooked. We contacted someone at Edinburgh university and he helped us out. Everything in the book is factually correct. We also read up on 17th century surgery, visited museums to see surgical equipment from that time period and read a lot of texts written in 17th century Scots English.
What drew you to this disease and the concept of a Plague Doctor as subjects?
We encountered a statue of a plague doctor in Mary King’s Close during our first visit to Edinburgh. He was so creepy we wanted to use him. Our story is inspired by the true story of Edinburgh’s plague doctor, George Rae. The council offered him a large wage to be the plague doctor, as his predecessor died after only a week on the job. However, they never intended to pay him, as they hoped he’d die from the plague. Unfortunately for them, he was one of the first to wear the leather outfit and mask, so he survived and spent thirty years chasing them for the money. He never received all of it. His wife and child sadly died from the plague. It was such a good story, we wanted to use it, but with supernatural elements thrown in.
If the Bubonic Plague broke out in this era, and the dead started returning, how do you think people would deal with it differently to the characters in the book?
The plague is still around. The virus never dies. Skeletons of plague victims that have been found still have the bacteria living on them. It can be treated now, but only if you know you have it. Or three days and you’re dead. We’d like to think that people wouldn’t be locked in their homes now, but when panic sets in, people become irrational. People panic buy bread and milk when snow starts to fall, so the supermarkets will probably be ransacked. While it would be nice to think people wouldn’t react the same now as they did then, human nature doesn’t change. Plague victims today would probably be shunned.
Silent Dawn is a YA novel that deals with a group of teens who find that a video game character starts creeping into reality. Now, the game character is said to have a history dating back to the 1600’s. Was she based on any real legends, or is she entirely created by yourselves?
Entirely created by us though she was inspired by Slender Man. We played the beta version of the game a lot and loved it. The different versions of her in different counties are taken from those countries’ folklore.
The book was longlisted in the Exeter Novel Prize and Flash 500 Novel Competition. That must have been quite heartening to see. How did you find out about being longlisted, and what did you think? Did you both do anything to celebrate?
We got emails. We were thrilled. It’s nice knowing someone out there likes your work. Don’t think we did anything to celebrate. We’re usually too busy and too broke. We usually celebrate by going to the chip shop and watching a horror film. But then we also do that every week anyway, so not sure if it can be classed as a celebration. We just love chip and film night.
You’ve received praise for the lead characters in the book, and especially how relatable they were in relation to bullying. How important was it for you to ensure that all three were sympathetic and to show an authentic reaction not being bullied here?
A lot of what they went through, we actually went through ourselves. We were very badly bullied in high school. Mostly verbal but some physical as well. They would shout abuse at us, throw things at us, spit at us. It completely destroyed our lives, caused depression, suicidal thoughts and social phobia, leading to us being unable to leave our house for years. People think ‘it’s just kids, it ends when you leave school’. It doesn’t. Bullying genuinely destroys lives and kills kids and we wanted that to be shown. So many kids are bullied, and in many YA books we’ve read, the main characters are usually liked. We wanted to show what high school can really be like if you’re different and to show kids that if you’re bullied, it’s not your fault.
Do you play horror games yourselves? If so, which did you find the creepiest, and which one do you think would the worst to have to live through in real life?
We don’t have time! The last game we played was Resident Evil 5, which we love. We’re envious of people who have time to play games but if we’re not writing, editing or looking after our animal army, then we’re doing polefit, gymnastics, warrior training or selling our books at horror cons and comic cons. Plus we’re rubbish at any game that’s more recent than the Megadrive ones.
Your first novel, to my knowledge, was Soul Asylum. This deals with the restless dead in an old asylum. Did you need to read up on the treatment of patients in early 1900’s asylums and what sort of people would be held there?
We did. Asylums hold a deep fascination for us. Probably because of our own mental health issues. Back then, we would’ve been the patients in the asylum. The asylum is based on Denbigh asylum in north Wales. We read books about that asylum and treatments for the patients, looked at photos of uniforms etc. We even visited Denbigh but got thrown out for trespassing. Visiting museums is one of our hobbies and some have areas dedicated to asylums, especially if they were once a hospital.
Do the spirits in the story come across as whole entities, or more a series of repeating events?
A bit of both. Most of them are echoes reliving the past and can’t interact with the living but the more malevolent ones exist in both the past and the present and can hurt people.
Looking at reviews for the piece, the book has drawn comparisons to Edgar Allen Poe. Was he an influence on you at all?
We hadn’t read any Poe when we wrote that book. It was first written a very long time ago. Now we’ve read Poe and love him. The Raven poem is where we took our pen name from, so it’s a huge honour to be compared to him. Though he died insane and penniless, only finding success after his death, so we’re hoping the comparison doesn’t go that far. And we have no plans to marry our cousins.
The quotes I’ve seen show that the book has its fair share of gore contained within. How important do you think gore is to horror? I believe that Clive barker once said that he felt like horror without it was pointless, but then others prefer things to be more focused on atmosphere.
We don’t find gore important to horror at all. Our favourite subgenre of horror is the paranormal or supernatural. We love atmosphere and people’s fear but we can’t resist a little gore. That’s what we grew up with. Although gore should have a reason for being there. Gore for gore’s sake ruins a story.
The asylum is called Ravens Retreat, which also happens to be the name of your website. My question is, which was named first?
The asylum was named first, a long, long time before we adopted the Raven name. When we released it, we considered changing the asylum’s name but it had been called that for so long, it was embedded. So we thought it would be a nice touch to give our website the same name.
How do you feel that this book holds up against your newer works? Do you think you’ve developed as writers since, and do you still think of it as a strong piece?
We have actually gone back and edited it since it was first released. Nothing has changed to the story, it’s more technical things like sentence restructuring and using things we’ve learned since then. We’ve learned so much since it was released but overall we still love the book.
The novel was shortlisted for the 2012 National Self-Publishing Awards. How did it feel to see your debut novel get that far?
We were shocked. We were still young – 29 – when we released it. We were still relatively new to the indie publishing world so it was a great honour to know we were doing something right.
And that’s it for today! Stop back tomorrow for part two!