Recently, well yesterday, in fact, I had the pleasure of reviewing Dear Laura by horror author Gemma Amor. It was a cracking read that I couldn’t put down. The phrase ‘page turner’ is an often thrown around and if I’m honest, cringe worthy expression that I loathe to use. But use it I will as that is exactly what Dear Laura is. What sets Dear Laura apart from other horror tales is that its monster is all too real. It doesn't rely on ghosts or vampires or other mythical creatures to put the creeps up you. There are people in this world like X and there are sadly, very real victims like Laura.
As I stated in my review, I had the pleasure of meeting Gemma at a horror convention recently and I mentioned back then that we had a site and that we would like to conduct an interview sometime. Well, that time is now and we are fortunate enough that she agreed to take time out of her busy schedule, (Gemma is an incredibly busy and prolific writer), to have a chat with us.
For anyone wishing to take a look at my review, here is the link:
There are also links for anyone who wishes to purchase any of her books. If you are on the lookout for an incredibly well told and frighteningly realistic horror story, then we recommend getting your hands on a copy of Dear Laura.
For anyone not yet familiar with your work, would you mind telling us a little about yourself?
Hi! I’m Gemma and I am a horror fiction author, illustrator, podcaster and amateur voice actor. I have several published works out and write for a number of podcasts too. Best thing to do is look at the graphic I attached for a clearer idea of what I’ve been up to!
What first attracted you to the horror genre?
I was an avid reader as a child, and devoured sci-fi, fantasy, horror, speculative fiction, the classics- I studied English Lit at university. I just love to read, basically, but I did start to find myself gravitating more to horror as a teenager. It was escapism more than anything else, horror being an appealing genre for the imagination. Then I stumbled across King, late to the party as usual, and his mastery of the short story lit a fire in my belly.
Was there any particular author that influenced your decision to become a writer?
No, I am a product of all the many varied and amazing authors I have read since I was a child. I simply read books and thought: ‘I want to do that,’ and started writing when I was about nine, I think. I haven’t stopped since. There are writers who influence my style, which is different: Carter, Du Maurier, Atwood, Perkins-Gilman, Dickens, Christie, King, McCarthy...the list goes on and on and on. Basically I am a book nerd, and have ingested so many words over the years that I cannot help but be inspired every single day.
Where do you draw inspiration from, and do you use any tricks to help with the creative process?
The only trick I have is this: write every single day. That’s it. every day. Even if it is only twenty words. Just get it down. Being a writer is about habit and dedication. Its a part of life, for me, like brushing teeth or taking a shower. If you write every day, you get better, period. Everything else I figure out as I go along.
I draw inspiration from lots of things: my past life, other books, movies, music, nature, art...the usual places. Sometimes I start with a single sentence, or phrase. Sometimes an image, or personal experience. I’m always receptive to things I could write about, and try to spend as much time as possible exploring themes and ideas and the world in general. This means looking at things that aren’t my phone. I try and limit screen time, too, as I find this dulls my brain a lot, but it isn't easy, because I am my own marketing team, and spend a lot of time on promotional stuff.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers, hoping to self publish? How do you compete in such a crowded marketplace?
I try not to think about competing. Being an author is not a competition, for me. I just write the stories I want to write, and put them out there for people to read. I focus on my small and loyal group of followers, interact with them as regularly as I can, and promote and boost other author’s works wherever possible.
The advice I would give to aspiring writers looking to self-publish is this: take your time. If you self-publish, the onus is on you to make sure your spelling, presentation and grammar are top notch. A rushed book will not perform well- readers hate typos, plot inconsistencies and badly formatted layouts. Getting all this corrected takes time, and several versions of a manuscript.
If you have any money to spare, considering hiring an Editor to help you do this. There are plenty out there who specialise in working with first time authors and are very reasonably priced. It will help take the pressure off of you and allow you to focus on the fun part: the actual writing.
I would also start saving money for a good quality, unique and eye-catching book cover design. Don’t use the standard templates you can find on publishing platforms like Kindle. I know they are free, but they are very limited aesthetically and not likely to inspire people to want to buy your book, especially if it’s your first. Think of a cover as an investment. People absolutely judge books by their covers, especially in an age of social media and bookstagram. Shop around for a designer to suit your budget. Twitter and Instagram are great places to connect with book cover designers and many are willing to work with whatever budget you have, small or otherwise.
Finally, have reasonable expectations about your book and how well it will perform. Goals are great, but self-publishing is hard work and requires a lot of effort on your behalf to market and advertise your work. Without the work, the sales are unlikely to follow. If you are pursuing writing from a recreational point of view, then sales are not likely to matter to you as much as a writer who needs to sell books to pay rent. I am still learning all the ins and outs of self publishing, and have a long way to go before I can rely on it for income. For me right now, the benefits of creative freedom and time to market are enough. For the future, we’ll see.
I read Dear Laura and really enjoyed it. What I took away from the book was a theme of female empowerment and learning to stand up against a male oppressor who had stolen the childhood innocence of the title character. In the wake of the MeToo movement and women feeling that they can now use their voice to stand up to their abusers, was it a conscious decision to explore and put your own spin on this subject or had the story been brewing before these events occurred?
The story evolved as all my stories do: from a single scene. I had a vivid image of a woman walking through the woods, with a destination in mind and a letter in her pocket. The rest sort of followed organically after that, and the themes of female empowerment are common in my work. As a woman I crave characters I can identify with, rightly or wrongly. More importantly, however, was the idea of the stalker in modern fiction. I wanted to address and subvert the idea that men who stalk women are charming, somehow, and even attractive, as we’ve seen in some more recent novels and TV adaptations around the theme. The problem with glamourising threatening and invasive behaviour like this, is that it takes power away from the victims of stalking and abuse. This happens all the time in horror, particularly with female victims, and I wanted to paint a different picture. Stalking and controlling behaviour isn't cute or attractive. It’s terrifying and damaging and life-threatening. My book was about the victim, rather than the perpetrator. That’s why he doesn’t get a lot of ‘screen time’ in the book- I don’t think he deserves it. Laura deserves it, and this is her story. One more thing: I think #metoo has been important in raising awareness of abuse towards women, but I do not think it means women feel more comfortable in standing up to their abusers. Abuse strips away identity and makes it hard to perform the most basic of tasks. Awareness is only half the problem. Prevention, education and psychological care is the other half. We have a long way to go before we get to that point.
You mention that you write, produce and act in the comedy/horror podcast ‘Calling Darkness’ which also stars Kate Siegel (star of many Mike Flanagan films). How is that and do your paths ever cross?
Both Kate and Mike are listeners of the wonderful NoSleep Podcast, the horror fiction anthology show both I, and my co writer S.H. Cooper, write stories for. We were lucky enough to be able to discuss Kate’s involvement through our connections with NoSleep. She was a joy to write for, even if we did make her swear a lot and say things like ‘fuck trumpet’- the outtakes from that were hilarious btw. Our paths have not yet crossed, although I have been on a very brief call with her, where I gabbled like an idiot for three minutes, nearly threw up with nerves, then ran away. Maybe one day in the future I can redeem myself! She is a consummate professional, an extremely funny lady and someone I would love to write for again in the future if the opportunity ever arose.
You released a book entitled ‘Cruel Works of Nature’ which is an illustrated series of 11 horror stories. Do you have a preference when it comes to writing or illustrating?
I love both, but I would say writing is something I have to do to stay sane. Art is different, it’s more of a hobby and it relaxes me. I like to paint when I need a break from typing.
Do you read much by other up-and-coming authors? If so, who would you recommend that we look out for?
I genuinely wish I had enough money to buy all the wonderful books there are out there today. I try to read as much of other people’s work as I can, and support indie authors in particular, but I can no doubt do much better. As for recommendations, there are so many I don’t know where to start, so try this:
We have spoken before at For The Love Of Horror in Manchester. Do you have any more conventions planned for the near future?
I have a lot of events but not conventions like FTLOH, which was brilliant fun but might not have been the best place to sell books, ha ha. I’ll be attending PodUk, a podcasting event in Birmingham in February, and StokerCon later in the year. I’ll also be hanging around with the NoSleep team on their first UK and European tour this year- I’ve even written a live script to be performed, which is super exciting. Other than that, I will have to see- conventions are expensive!
What’s next for you regarding book releases?
Till the Score is Paid- this is my second collection of illustrated short stories about vengeance and retribution, due out December the 10th from Giles Press.
White Pines- my first published novel, its a cosmic-folk horror about a town that disappears. Coming out in Feb 2020.
Girl on Fire: an extended novella based around the character of Ruby Miller, who pops up in Cruel Works of Nature
That’s it for the moment- I have a few more things up my sleeve though!
Finally, we always ask this. Who would play you in the movie of your life?
Ha ha, oh God I have no idea. Nicholas Cage could have a good stab at it. Failing that, give me Florence Pugh, she’s ace.
Huge thanks to Gemma for taking the time to answer our questions. We will be reviewing more of her work in the future, but in the meantime, why not go out and read some of it for yourself.