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A M Shine Interview Main

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A.M. SHINE INTERVIEW

Interview conducted by Tony Jones

I first read A.M. Shine earlier in 2022 and was greatly impressed by his Irish ‘cabin in the woods’ debut, The Watchers, which features a young woman stranded in a remote Irish cottage, whilst something unpleasant lurks outside. Whilst I was still shuddering from The Watchers, I was fortunate to snag a review copy of The Creeper and was so impressed by this second novel, I just had to track the author down for an interview. Both tales feature a strong sense of ‘Irishness’ and lean on the country’s rich folklore to develop highly impressive, original and immersive horror novels. What these stories do for the Irish tourist industry is another matter! But now it is time to get to know A.M. Shine…

Tony Jones: For anyone who has not read your fiction, sum up what you do in a couple of sentences.

A.M. Shine: I like to think that my horror stories are a blend of the contemporary and the classic.

After absorbing and practicing Gothic tales for far too many years, I fell in love with their dark, descriptive writings and all those little techniques like misdirection and the old slow build of tension. So Instead of surprising the reader with a quick scare, I prefer to lead them down a long shadowy corridor. Make them uneasy. Give them cause to glance over their shoulder. And then, when they realise there’s no way back, they’ll hear my laughter echoing through the walls. Or just giggling in the dark beside them. Whatever works.

More recently I’ve segued into contemporary Irish folk horror (which sounds very niche). I’ve incorporated everything that I find fun and interesting about the genre, and it still retains that Gothic tone to it.

And also, oddly enough, ever since The Watchers spent some time as the #1 Irish travel guide on Amazon, I’ve accepted the challenge to single-handedly obliterate my country’s tourism. Soon everyone will be too nervous to go for any length of a drive around the island.

TJ: Irish mythology, superstition and folklore all play parts in both your novels The Watchers and The Creeper; as a youngster, were you always interested in this, or was it something you picked up inspiration from when you were older?

AMS: There was no escaping horror when I was growing up, and I hope that hasn’t changed. But there’s always the worry that local folklore will be lost as our storytellers pass on and each generation becomes more and more globally connected.

Mythology was taught to us in school through stories and poetry, whereas superstition and all the scary stuff were generally passed down through word of mouth. The majority of these were intentionally designed to terrify, I think, and so they’re the ones we tend to remember.

In the village where I grew up, there was a massive rock in a field as you drove into it. Apparently, this was once a witch who, for reasons lost to time, was turned to stone. When driving past it at night there was a chance you’d catch sight of her in the backseat. A brother of mine once said that he’d felt the weight of the witch on the back of his bicycle, as if she were hitching a ride into town.

Only when I was older and developed an unhealthy fascination with the horror genre did I really appreciate how creative some of these stories are, and how tied they all were to some aspect of the landscape.

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TJ: Both The Creeper and The Watchers play to the strengths of the wild Irish landscape; when you were writing these books were you aware of how incredibly ‘Irish’ they would come across to the reader? (If so, you totally nailed it!) The sense of time and place are real strengths of both stories.

AMS: The Irish landscape is a horror lover’s dream and I’m surprised that more writers and movie directors haven’t taken advantage of it. There’s something beautifully bleak about the place, especially in the autumn and winter, when the nights are at their longest and even the days are dark.

I don’t think I set out to intentionally capture something that was quintessentially Irish, but this is what I know. I wouldn’t do justice to a landscape that I hadn’t experienced myself. Every setting in my two novels is a sight that I’ve experienced myself, and I’m thrilled if the reader can feel it like I did in the moment. That’s why it’s important to treat the landscape like one of the main characters as it plays such an important part in any story, especially horror.

TJ: When you were writing your first novel, The Watchers, were you aware of the similarities to the popular American ‘cabin in the woods’ trope? Did you always have a clear-cut idea on how to bring your own very clever (and original) spin to it when still in the plotting stages?

AMS: I was, indeed! And I know how people make their own snap assumptions when they discover where a story is set. But that’s one of my self-inflicted priorities as a horror writer. I want to bring new ideas to the genre, even if that means taking a familiar trope and twisting it into something original that readers won’t expect.

I needed my “cabin” to be unique enough to present a mystery in itself. The story was always going to have an emphasis on survival, but I like the fact that the threat and the safehouse were two unknown elements that I could use to torment the characters. And the coop is made of concrete and glass, so surely that should surprise all the “cabin in the woods” aficionados. (cabins are made of wood, aren’t they?)

Even the horror element in The Watchers – which I shan’t say in case of spoilers – was a reimagining of something much older. I took what I needed and invented the rest. So it’s all about subverting expectations and hopefully surprising the world with some fresh cabin designs.

TJ: There is a lot of ambiguity in horror, often with books being left open to interpretation by the reader. However, both The Creeper and The Watchers answer all the tricky questions (and do so beautifully) when you were writing these books were you ever unsure how these were going to end? Was ambiguity ever a ‘fallback’ option?

AMS: I hadn’t decided on the endings for either book until I got there, but I had plenty of ideas to choose from. And being ever indecisive, in both novels I finished up with a conclusion and an epilogue, just so I could tidy up any loose threads.

The most important thing was to ensure that the last page wasn’t an upbeat moment. This is horror after all. I want people to feel a little lost for a while after they close the book – the story may be over but it should linger on in their heads.

With regard to ambiguity, I think it’s nice to reward the reader with answers. Personally, I prefer a sense of closure instead of being left wondering if I understood what the author was going for. But, of course, there will always be aspects of certain novels that are probably best left a little foggy.

If I know what I’m writing about, then why not share it, if only to prove to the world that my ideas aren’t half-baked. This doesn’t mean that the answers they get won’t be dripping with horror like everything else though.

TJ: The isolated village of Tír Mallacht featured in your second novel, The Creeper, is a desolate and fearful creation. Is it based on a real location? (Don’t tell me you grew up in a place like this!)

AMS: Funny you should ask that actually. I basically grew up in Tír Mallacht, geographically speaking anyway. The people there are far less sinister than what Ben and Chloe run into. So I had the pleasure of walking around with my notebook, picking out details that I liked the look of without running into too much trouble (and no creepy kids).

It’s a wild little village with ruined cottages scattered around its windy turns and hills. And there’s also a turlough (land that becomes a lake when the rain pours down), which is a feature I added to Tír Mallacht. Much like in The Watchers, and because these stories are Irish, the elements play their role in both novels. There’s nothing more horrifying than the weather here on the west coast of Ireland.

TJ: The entity which lurks in the background of The Creeper is a sinister and unique boogieman-style creation. Was it based or inspired upon anything in particular? Are there any creepy characters from Irish folklore which might not be known to those not from the Emerald Isle?

AMS: The Creeper was actually taken from a short tale I wrote ten years ago. But that was more of an origin story which was reworked to some extent in the novel.

I was drawn to the idea of the horror having rules. Once the curse latches onto someone, they must adhere to them to stay alive. And because they’re so simple and spoken by a child at one stage in the novel, the horror is easily dismissed as just a story, which is how we treat most superstitions.

Ireland’s cast of creepy characters is pretty rich. We have one boogieman but he rarely crops up at all these days. The Bodach takes on the appearance of an old man and it’s said that he slinks down chimneys to kidnap children at night. Apparently, his one weakness is salt. So spread some on the hearth and the poor Bodach will have to climb back up the chimney empty-handed.

TJ: Could you walk us through your educational background and literary path towards having your debut The Watchers published in 2021? Do you have a stack of unpublished manuscripts hidden in your sock drawer at home?

AMS: In university, I studied Irish heritage which included the likes of literature, archaeology and folklore (which proved to be quite useful down the line). And I capped my education with a master’s degree in history.

All that essay writing left me with a haunting desire to write something with adjectives and adverbs. And I’d read so much Gothic horror that I wanted to give it a go. I knocked out a novella with no style or understanding of what the hell I was doing. But I loved doing it. And so I put my head down and practiced for a decade. After two short story collections (with many more hidden away) and two novels that never saw the light of day, here we are.

Only when I felt like trying something new did I attempt a contemporary horror novel, and that became The Watchers. Which was also my first stab at writing in the third-person perspective. But I think my Gothic upbringing still shines through here and there.

TJ: What is the best piece of advice you ever received from another author?a m shine interview 03

AMS: The classic 'kill your darlings' rule is one I’ve learned to live by. I know this advice has been attributed to quite a few writers, so for the sake of keeping it local, I’ll stick with my belief that it belongs to Oscar Wilde.

It’s so important to trim the fat off a novel and make it as lean as possible. I’ve learned to cut 10% off the word count from the first draft. Any sentences that seem unnecessary or a little weak need to go. Instead of trying to cure bad writing, just kill it and go again.

And reread and edit until it leaves you mentally scarred. If you’re not losing your mind, you’re doing something wrong.

TJ: What aspects of writing to do you find the most difficult?

AMS: The part that requires the most editing – and so I can only suppose that it’s the most difficult – is the beginning. The opening two or three chapters. These I have to return to again and again.

The horizon of the narrative is so unclear at that stage. Characters, pacing, language – they haven’t quite come into your own yet. So to counter this little issue of mine, I won’t move on from the first 10,000 words until I’m pleased with it (though I know full well I’ll be back to it a hundred times).

Oh, and travelling. Getting your characters from A to B. They can’t just teleport, and the reader has to get a sense of the time and distance, and it has to be interesting. Not my favourite.

TJ: What sort of stuff did you read as a teenager and which authors have had the greatest influence on you, horror or otherwise? Do you have any ‘gateway’ novels which flicked the switch for you?

AMS: My teenage years had a strong Lovecraftian theme to them. Through a friend of my older brother, H.P.’s third omnibus – The Haunter of the Dark – found its way into my hands and I immediately began obsessing over the language and ideas. The stories were so unique. There was no telling what you were in for and I’d never read anything like it before.

I think one of the first Gothic novels I read was The Monk by Matthew Lewis. So I’ll always have a special place for that in my heart. But as far as flicking the switch goes, I’d have to blame Lovecraft for that.

TJ: Which authors have been pivotal in your personal development as a writer?

AMS: Having spent so many years trying to improve as a Gothic horror writer, I learned much of what I know from all those wonderful authors who have already passed. Actually, for years I didn’t read anything penned by a living person.

So, I’d like to raise a glass to Poe, Lovecraft, Stoker, Le Fanu, Shelley, Stevenson, Wilde, James, Wharton, Gaskell, and all the other geniuses of the craft. Without them I wouldn’t be doing this.

TJ: Could you tell us a bit about your next ‘work in progress’?

AMS: It’s definitely the most ambitious novel I’ve attempted yet. I’ll be keeping the Irishness but any elements found in The Watchers and The Creeper won’t be repeated. I think it’s important to make every book different unless it’s a sequel with rolling themes and characters.

I spent months toying with different ideas for this one and after more than a few false starts I finally sewed them all together. It’s set on an island with a very peculiar history and some very dark secrets.

It’s driving me demented but I’m really enjoying working on it. So some things never change.

TJ: A.M, it has been a pleasure featuring you on Horror DNA and we hope The Creeper brings you the success it clearly deserves. And good luck with your ‘work in progress’ which we are delighted to hear retains your distinctive sense of Irishness. You probably would not have it any other way!

Horror DNA would like to thank A.M. Shine for taking the time to share with us! 

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About The Author
Tony Jones
Author: Tony Jones
Staff Reviewer - UK
Such is Tony’s love of books, he has spent well over twenty years working as a school librarian where he is paid to talk to kids about horror. He is a Scotsman in exile who has lived in London for over two decades and credits discovering SE Hinton and Robert Cormier as a 13-year-old for his huge appetite for books. Tony previously spent five years writing The Greatest Scrum That Ever Was, a history book very few people bought. In the past he has written for Horror Novel Reviews and is a regular contributor to The Ginger Nuts of Horror website, often specialising in YA horror.
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