JM: You’ve had a very busy year by anyone’s standards, having published three novels and two short story collections via Amazon KDP. Working in chronological order, they are White Vampyre, the first in the Europa City trilogy; A Pauper’s Shroud, a crime novel set in Inverness; short story collections More Stories About Sex, Drugs and Violence, and Phantasmagoria; and most recently Though Your Sins Be Scarlet, the second Europa City novel. (The links above are to my reviews of the books, although I still have a couple to catch up on.) Can you provide some background to the individual stories in More Stories About Sex, Drugs and Violence?
The use of the second person in the narrative is a direct homage to those old adventure game books that originated in the eighties, where you navigated through the book by turning to various numbered sections. Depending on your choices, you either won or died!
In line with the choice of the second person was the decision to write in as gender neutral a voice as possible. Despite being the oldest story in the collection, having been written in 1996, it holds up remarkably well.
The Dog Trainer
The setting and much of the early dialogue relating to dog psychology are lifted directly from a session I had with a dog trainer after re-homing a dog that turned out to be aggressive. Somewhere during the process I started to wonder what would happen if you applied the same process to a human.
The concept behind this story started as something of a joke, someone setting out to commit every specific type of murder, and swiftly turned far more serious. Is it too fantastical?
Death & Taxes
A reproduction of the composition piece I wrote for my English O Grade. Proof, were it needed, that my humour has always been black. For those that may be interested, I received a B.
For want of better term, a more literary examination of the concept behind White Vampyre. I later attempted to turn it into a novel with no success. Some of the material from that failed attempt was then used in a second failed attempt to turn Tracks, another story in this collection, into a novel. One of these days I will complete a novel about Aberdeen lowlifes based on my time in the city. Honest.
One of several pieces in this collection originally written for a competition. In this instance the brief was a modern updating of a myth. I chose Leda and the swan from Greek mythology. Didn’t win.
Inspired by an advert for a company offering to turn human cremation ashes into diamond via an industrial process. The character of Wayne swiftly took on a life of his own, becoming far more unpleasant than anything I’d first imagined. Had a different twist when I first conceived it. This one works better.
Another competition piece and the only flash fiction in this collection — 500 words on the subject of time. I suspect the racist language at the beginning may have queered this with the judges. I considered removing it for the submission but it is entirely justified for the character and self-censorship is a slippery slope for any writer.
This one arrived out of nowhere, starting with the title which sounds like something J G Ballard might have used. Any resemblance to an ex member of The Libertines is entirely coincidental.
Down The Rabbit Hole
The most light-hearted story in the collection. Besides the obvious references to Alice In Wonderland, The Wizard Of Oz and 70’s British Children’s television, there are a number of references to Tori Amos lyrics in the text. I do this sort of thing far too often for my own good.
Another story that seemed to arrive almost fully formed. This one manages to feature all three of the collection’s title themes along with a generous helping of black humour. I like to think it attempts to make some serious points along the way.
Another Nail In My Coffin
In large part inspired by the excellent charity anthology Off The Record, where each story was inspired by a classic song. The title comes from Nail In My Coffin from The Kills' Blood Pressures album. The two, however, have little else in common.
The Killing Of Joe Fly
Competition — the body in the library. Hard-boiled detective fiction with a twist. Also didn’t win.
LS: There’s a theory that trilogies normally conform to one of two patterns; either Up/Down/Up or Down/Up/Down. I think I may be attempting to break the mould with Down/Down/Down! Though Your Sins Be Scarlet is a more introspective book than White Vampyre If the first was a headlong rush of hedonistic delight, then the second is the day’s dawning afterward, when your skin is crawling and you finally have a chance to take stock of what you’ve done. It’s definitely the come down after the high.
A number of minor characters from the first book come to the fore in the sequel as the consequences of Kurt’s actions are felt by friends and foes alike. There are also glimpses of the past that help to explain how the various characters arrived at their present place in life. If I have one concern about the novel it is whether readers will be disappointed by the fact Kurt and Lady Methedrine play a smaller role than in the previous novel. I like to think I’ve compensated for this by strengthening the supporting cast, particularly Duval, Slinky and the Damocles Assassin.
LS: I completed the revised draft of my WWI novel and that’s currently undergoing the submission process. It’s a book I’m very proud of, although it is not necessarily a Leon Steelgrave book.
Next was the second short story collection, Phantasmagoria, which is more fantasy based.
I’m currently working on a story for the Neil Gunn writing competition (if you haven’t read any of his work go out and buy one of his books now), after which I intend writing a novella, Marlow, which explores the nature of reality and personality; how people’s perceptions of a person can vary quite drastically according to their interactions and perceptions. Much like the WWI novel, this probably won’t come out as a Leon Steelgrave book and I hope readers won’t be too disappointed by the delay. I have spent most of this year revising older manuscripts and now have the itch to produce something brand spanking new. With any luck the initial draft will come together quite quickly.
Once that’s out of the way, I’ll be resuming work on the final part of the Lady Methedrine/Kurt Brecht trilogy — The Violet Hour. I hope to put it out towards the end of next year. That will be all from Europa City for the time being, although it’s a setting I will certainly return to, both before and after the events of White Vampyre.
Looking beyond even that, there’s the possibility of a Norse based fantasy novel that I rather got tired of writing and brought to something of a premature ending. I really need to see it through to its rightful conclusion. I also need to revise The Disciples — a vampire trilogy set in the Goth scene of the 1980s. If I slavishly applied myself, I could probably put about a book every three to four months right now with the material cluttering up my hard drive, although much of the above is in need of serious revision.
JM: Good news for readers is that for today only, More Stories About Drugs, Sex & Violence, Phantasmagoria and Though Your Sins Be Scarlet are free from Amazon. From the point of view of this reader, if you don’t have them, you should treat yourself to at least one. And since White Vampyre and A Pauper's Shroud are just 77p/99c at the moment, there's no reason not to pick up the full set.
Leon Steelgrave's books are available from Amazon in the UK and the US.