Today Alison Littlewood, author of A Cold Season, Path of Needles and The Unquiet House talks about inspiration, getting published and her reading habits.
1. Your new novel The Unquiet House was published on 10th April. What’s it about?
The Unquiet House is a ghost story set in a rather dour corner of Yorkshire, following the fates of different generations of the same family. It delves into the history of the place, the things that created it and haunt it still – there are sections set in the present day as well as the seventies and the outbreak of the Second World War. The historical stories shed light on each other and on what’s happening in the present. In some ways, though, I suspect it’s probably best read knowing as little as possible, which makes this an strangely difficult question to answer!
2. Your novels are all standalone. Where do you find your inspiration?
Well, I put a lot of things into my books that scare me, such as losing loved ones, being isolated, or in the latest, creepy houses! In the case of Path of Needles, I also used the things I love – fairy tales and winding pathways through the woods – albeit in a twisted way. So I guess anything goes. Places also inspire me. I’ll often come back from my travels with a new story idea, particularly where I’ve done some digging into the local folklore. A Cold Season would have been very different if I hadn’t been struggling to commute over the snowy Pennines, and place has informed and shaped my subsequent novels too. With a novel, I tend to need a central idea to snag in my brain. As I mull it over, other things connect with it and the whole thing starts to grow.
3. How long did it take you to be published with your first novel, A Cold Season?
It seemed to take a long time to get anyone to read it, but once they did, thankfully it all happened quite quickly! Someone at a magazine recommended me to Jo Fletcher Books, and it went from there. JFB made the decision to put the novel forward for the Richard and Judy Book Club, and as it made it through the reading rounds we had to crunch the schedule to get the book on shelves in time – so, suddenly, it all seemed to happen at once. Of course I’d been writing for a lot of years by then, putting the hours in and learning everything I could, so it depends where I start counting from.
4. Horror and the dark side of fairy tales feature in your novels. Does your own reading focus on this area? What do you like to read?
I didn’t grow up exclusively reading dark fiction, beyond borrowing my brother’s Stephen King novels – I used to read anything and everything I could lay my hands on – but these days I do tend to choose darker books. The more I’ve been drawn into writing that kind of fiction, the more I’ve come to know the genre. I love novels by Joe Hill, Neil Gaiman, Graham Joyce, Sarah Langan, John Ajvide Lindqvist, Gary McMahon and many others. Darkly magical fiction with a fairy tale feel is also close to my heart, possibly because of my love of Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen when I was young. Angela Slatter and S. P. Miskowski are brilliant.
5. Can you tell us anything about your next project?
I’m returning to some scary soul-snatching territory in the next book. There will be gleefully wicked goings-on! I also have a nice project in development with Daniele Serra, a talented artist and a good friend, which will be a fully illustrated mini collection of short stories. I’m also working on a script which will hopefully be turned into a short film later this year.
6. You must answer a lot of these questions. What question have you never been asked that you wish had been, and what’s the answer?
Oh – ha, I don’t know! Possibly something about audio books. I’ve had several short stories developed for audio and I’ve been hoping for a novel – now The Unquiet House is in the pipeline! I’m really pleased about that, since I love audio books. I don’t get as much chance to listen to them as I used to, but they used to be a lifeline on that long Pennine commute. I’d listen to anything from the Skulduggery Pleasant books (hilarious), to one of my favourite novels, The Road by Cormac McCarthy.
About Alison Littlewood
Alison Littlewood is a writer of dark fantasy and horror fiction. Her short stories have appeared in numerous magazines, including Black Static, Crimewave and Not One Of Us, as well as the British Fantasy Society’s Dark Horizons and the charity anthology Never Again. Her first novel A Cold Season was a Richard and Judy club pick and has sold more than 30,000 copies.