Hey everyone! Just your Horrormadam here bringing you another amazing author Nick Stead! When reading most literature on werewolves, it becomes apparent that most authors follow the same banal, over-worked imagery. A human is cursed with a wolflike appearance and then they generally kill indiscriminately. Nick Stead has written a very refreshing story arc, where a person has a supernatural lycanthropic event but actually takes on all the aspects of a real wolf. Their social aspects and pack mentality, alpha vs beta, communication and scenting behaviors. Nick’s books are such a joy for me to read because they are such a divergence from the norm. I wanted to introduce you to his work and asked him a few questions so that you may better understand this talented writer! Let’s get to it:
My first obvious question, is why horror? When did you first fall in love with it and what made you want to write in the genre?
I think I’ve always had a love of monsters and things with big fangs and claws so it probably started there. Ghosts and skeletons fascinated me as well–I’m struggling to remember a time when I wasn’t into anything horror! I can’t think of a specific moment from my childhood that started my love of the genre–I know I used to enjoy cartoons like Scooby Doo and would watch them religiously. But my first real taste as a kid was probably the Goosebumps series. Those books probably deepened my attraction to the creepy and the macabre and my love of the genre only grew from there.
It was actually my cousin, ‘Lady’ Sarah, who got me started writing. She’d done a few short stories and got sick of me nagging her to write more so she suggested I start my own and helped brainstorm the first three chapters of what would eventually become Hybrid. I’ve always had a love of fantasy as well but I was getting more and more into horror as I developed into a young adult and started to discover all the classics like Nightmare on Elm Street and Hellraiser. The more I found to watch and read, the more of my own horror stories I wanted to write. My first book was always going to be a werewolf horror though–I’m too obsessed with them for it to ever have been anything else!
Why did you go with werewolves?
I’ve always been obsessed with wolves and werewolves for as far back as I can remember. There’s just something about the idea of turning into a wolfish creature that really appealed to me when I was younger and it’s something I never grew out of! In many ways Hybrid started out as my own personal werewolf fantasy. The lore I used in the series is a mix of my favourite myths and my own ideas–I like to put my own spin on existing mythology where I can.
What are some of your favorite books and who are some of your favorite authors?
Horror wise, Graeme Reynolds’ High Moor trilogy ranks among my all-time favourite werewolf horror stories and I’m really enjoying S.L. Mewse’s Primal Progeny werewolf series as well. I did used to enjoy Darren Shan when I was younger but I’ve not read any of his stuff in years, and I was enjoying the Anita Blake vampire hunter series till it got a bit too much in the relationship’s wayside of things and not enough of the horror for my tastes. I think the last one of them I read was book 12 or 13 so I must be well behind on those by now.
Fantasy wise, I’m a big Terry Pratchett fan–love his Discworld series! Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance Cycle is awesome as well, reread all four books a few times and I never tire of them. I also love G.R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series and am still mourning the end of the TV adaptation–hope we get the next book soon! I have to mention Harry Potter as well even though I haven’t revisited that world since the last book came out which must have been in my late teens/early twenties (I’m 31 now). And Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files!
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein needs mentioning too. We studied the original novel for GCSE English Literature and I really connected with that story and the character of the creature in particular. In fact, there are parts of Hybrid heavily inspired by Shelley’s novel, including the prologue–I love how she starts with the letters Captain Walton writes to his sister, as for me it gave it a sense of reading about real events that had actually happened rather than just the usual narrative prose of fiction. So I wanted to bring that same feeling into my own story, but instead of letters I went with the second person opening as a way of bringing the reader directly into the story. I really wanted to give that feel of being there with the character as he tells you about his ‘real’ life as a werewolf.
What are some of your favorite horror films and influences?
I love the Nightmare on Elm Street movies and Hellraiser 1 and 2–both Freddy and the Cenobites definitely inspired some of the more creative deaths I’ve written. American Werewolf in London still has the best transformation scene to date, in my opinion, and I never tire of watching that. In fact, it’s more or less how I imagined and described my own character’s transformation in Hybrid and I still remember my excitement at seeing that being brought to life on screen for the first time. The look of the fully transformed wolf doesn’t quite do it for me though. I’m very fussy with my werewolves and if they don’t live up to the right mix of wolf and man I end up being disappointed. Van Helsing still comes in first place for my favourite movie werewolves–those are almost perfect, if only they had tails!
I also love the werewolves in Dog Soldiers and The Howling of course. The prequel to Underworld is another fav–it’s the historical setting in that one that does it for me, probably because of my love of fantasy. And Ginger Snaps is great for its humour and the slightly different take on werewolves with the way they permanently shift into a wolfish creature rather than just under the full moon.
And of course, there’s the 90s adaptation of Frankenstein. This one is the closest I’ve seen to the original book and was a huge influence on my teen self, along with the novel as mentioned above. Seeing Shelley’s story brought to life in a way which I feel really does the book justice (and it’s rarely I say that about a book to screen adaptations!) was almost magical.
In your Hybrid series, like the author Darren Shan you chose to use your own name as the main character, how much of yourself is reflected in the character?
There’s a lot of my teenage self in the first book, particularly in the earlier chapters before the character starts to change and grow darker as a result of his curse. Hybrid is actually a really personal story on a lot of levels and there’s probably more in there than fans realise which mirrors what my real teen self was going through in school. I was bullied, and I did suffer with severe depression, partly because of the bullying and partly because of the way things were at home, so the chapters where the character sinks into a similar state were written straight from the heart and much of that raw pain of my teen self survived through to the final edit.
Hunted and Vengeance are more or less pure fiction, and the character is much darker in those books and more adult. We all have those dark urges from time to time, the things we fantasise about doing to people who anger us for whatever reason, and I think a lot of that inner darkness comes out in my fictional self. It’s the perfect place to channel it without actually killing anyone!
In your writing, the specificity of the wolfs thoughts and actions astonished me. How did you get into that mindset?
I used to watch tons of nature documentaries on wolves and other predators so I think a lot of it probably comes from that, plus my own beliefs and passion for animal rights. All the stuff I learnt on real wolf behaviour I was able to bring in to his character, but I wanted to make it clear the monstrous side to him is purely down to the werewolf curse and the darkness of his humanity–wolves have been given a bad enough reputation as it is!
When I first started writing I actually found it easier to do the wolf’s character than the humans. Not sure what that says about my teen self!
Why do you think people are so interested in lycanthrope mythology?
I think it speaks to that primal part of us we’ve tried to separate ourselves from over the millennia but can never quite escape. We all have a favourite animal and things about that particular species we admire. I think for earlier civilisations who lived in much greater harmony with the natural world, the idea of shifting into other creatures and taking on their traits to become better hunters or fighters captured their imaginations, and it’s something that has stayed with us as we’ve continued to evolve. Lycanthropy as a curse came much later and historically was always as the result of witchcraft rather than the modern idea of a bite or a scratch passing it on. I think that horror side of things was a way of rationalising human monsters at times, before we came to understand more about the human mind and all that can go wrong with it. And in the modern day I think werewolves are a way for people to continue exploring all that remains uncivilised in our species and the wilder side to our natures.
The Hybrid series was a long journey for you, can you explain your process and how it led you to being published?
It certainly was, and to think at 15 I was young and naïve enough to believe when it was ready for publishing it would just happen!
After my cousin helped with brainstorming those first three chapters, the scenes we’d come up with started writing themselves in my head and it wasn’t long before I started working on them, amid my last year of school and exams and moving up to college. I would be in lessons daydreaming and my imagination would be going places in the Hybrid universe and coming up with all these scenes till I realised it wasn’t just a short story I had on my hands or even a novel, but an entire series! I’d also get narrative writing itself in my head and would have to commit it to memory if I couldn’t get away with making notes mid-lesson. Then the day would finally finish, I’d go home and get any homework out of the way and write for the rest of the evening (well, not quite the entire evening, every evening–some nights I’d want to read another author’s work or catch up on TV or enjoy some time on the PlayStation 2!). On weekends once homework was done, I’d devote some time to writing and some time to my other hobbies. I think it took me about a year to finish the first draft of Hybrid so I’d have been 16 when I finished writing it, then it ended up being sat on my PC for the next few years virtually untouched because I was too busy enjoying student life.
I got serious about being published again once I finished my studies–it was the only career that really interested me, despite doing a couple of different courses in my college years to try and find a back-up plan in case making a living as a published author never happened for me. But when I went back to this ‘masterpiece’ my younger self believed would be an instant bestseller, it was something of a reality check. I soon realised it needed a good rewrite, so I then spent an intensive year doing just that.
I’d not heard of beta reading at that point but a few friends begged me to let them read it so I did do, and two of those I still use for beta reading now. They say you should never use friends and family as beta readers because they never give you honest feedback, but I’m lucky that the friends who beta read for me are very good at picking up on any issues and feeding that back to me. So once I’d tested it on those brave guinea pigs and acted on the feedback I was given, I then started sending out submissions to all the big agencies I could find who would accept supernatural horror.
This was probably the hardest part of the whole process. It’s always disappointing to get a rejection letter–that’s one thing you have to learn to deal with as a writer. But so many places just don’t bother to acknowledge they’ve received your submission at all and it’s so soul destroying to go through weeks or even months of waiting and hoping you’ll receive a reply expressing interest and asking to see the full manuscript (as the initial submission is only ever a sample of your work, usually of the first three chapters, and a synopsis), only to finally accept, it’s probably another no. I did try chasing up one or two who never replied but didn’t even get an answer to my email asking if they’d received it!
I must have spent three years submitting to agencies (as it’s frowned upon to do a big blanket submission so I was restricting myself to sending out to a handful of places at a time) before I finally found Wild Wolf Publishing. They thought the story showed promise, but they felt the manuscript needed more work before it was ready for publishing, so I then did another major rewrite to fix what they felt was the main issue–namely that some parts read too YA while others were more adult, and it needed to be consistent for one or the other. I’d always intended it to be for adults so I edited out a lot of the really YA stuff, though the first one still ended up in the teen/YA section on Amazon, anyway! But Wild Wolf loved the new edited version I sent them and didn’t take long to write back asking to see the full manuscript. Things happened really quickly after that–it took only a month to hear back on the final decision once they’d read the full thing and it was the good news I’d been dreaming of all those years–they wanted to publish it for me.
Wild Wolf has been very fair with things like royalties and giving me a say in the cover design. It’s been much harder than I ever anticipated to try to make a name for myself though! As Wild Wolf are only a small publisher, I have to do 99% of the work marketing myself and chasing opportunities for doing readings and signings. Sometimes it feels like the world is against indie authors and publishers but I live in hope that someday I’ll be one of the big names in horror, even if it takes years of hard work to get there.
I have read that you are also going to be working in the dark fantasy genre, what themes are you going to be exploring?
The premise is basically immortal beings playing a game, using the fantasy world like a chessboard and mortals as pawns, which I touched on in my short story, Immortal Game. I wrote that one for a competition and when I shared it with the other members of Huddersfield Author’s Circle they all enjoyed it and told me to carry on with that world, then when I got into live action roleplay it really inspired me to write a short piece based on my experiences at my first larp event. The character in the piece is essentially the same one I play at larp but the world it’s set in is my own. So that then led to a load of ideas for developing the concept I’d got in Immortal Game and the two immortal characters in that story but set in the fantasy world of the larp inspired piece rather than modern day earth like Immortal Game. I’ve got tons of ideas for the gods and demons attached to that world, as well as the mortal main characters caught up in the game they’re playing, but it’s going to be a big project with all the world building so I haven’t done much with it yet.
Link for reading: https://nick-stead.co.uk/work/short-stories/immortal-game/
I’d say one of the recurring themes across my work is the damage we’re doing to the planet and animal rights and there is going to be a sense of that in this one as well, but the corruption in that world will mostly come from the demons. It’s hard to say for certain before I’ve really started working on it (as I don’t do too much planning in advance – I’m more the type of writer who has an idea and just runs with it and sees where it goes!) but I think there’ll be themes of loyalty and betrayal like with my Hybrid series. It will be the kind of fantasy world that has magic and dragons but I much prefer writing anti-heroes and villains to out and out good guys; conflicted characters who have their own inner struggles which impacts the decisions they make, rather than just doing something because it’s right all the time. So it will definitely be dark fantasy rather than high fantasy, and there will probably be a good dose of my trademark gore in there.
What new projects should we be on the lookout for?
I’m currently in the process of moving my Hybrid series over from Wild Wolf Publishing to Miami Fox Publishing after the success of The Complete History of the Howling. The move will see a re-release of the first three books with brand new cover designs and they’ve had another edit for these second editions, plus there’s going to be just over 19,000 words of never before seen bonus content. This will take the form of a short story from a different character’s perspective to my fictional werewolf self. I had a lot of fun with that piece, building on the character’s backstory and exploring more of the history of the Hybrid universe, as well as doing a bit of a crossover with Vengeance and hinting at things to come in book 4.
Link to interview for The Complete History of the Howling in case you missed it! https://horrormadam.com/2019/05/20/the-complete-history-of-the-howling-author-interview-2019/
Book 4 is now drafted and has been through a round of editing and is now going through the beta reading phase so I would hope to have that out later this year as well. And Hybrid fans can also look forward to another short piece in an upcoming werewolf anthology by Graeme Reynolds called Leaders of the Pack. My contribution is a prequel piece from the point of view of the werewolf who bites my character at the start of Hybrid. I’d written that one before doing the bonus piece for the second editions so there’s a little bit of a crossover with two of the characters from the prequel appearing in the second edition bonus story. I think fans are going to love it.
And finally (for now), in 2017 after finishing Vengeance I announced I was going to take a little break from the Hybrid series to work on my own take on the Pendle witch trials of 1612. It took a lot longer to write than anticipated due to the amount of research I had to put in–not just reading up on the trials and what we know of the people involved but into the time period in general to make sure all the little details were as accurate as I could get them when it comes to setting and things. I finally finished the first draft early autumn 2018 then went back to the Hybrid universe to do book 4 while the witches went through beta reading. I’m now about to start the next round of editing based on the feedback I’ve had and I’m hoping this one will also be out later this year, but it depends how much more work needs doing.
Many stories have been written about the Pendle trials but in my take on it I’ve really tried to put my own unique spin on the tale, weaving the supernatural into the historical setting and combining the horrors of the time with my twisted imagination. The feedback from beta readers has overall been very positive and is hopefully a good sign I’ve succeeded in doing the story justice. If anyone wants a little taster, this is another that started out as a short piece, though this one was written for a competition category ‘opening for a novel’ so it was written with the intention of being carried on with rather than a one off short story. It’s one of the free to read pieces I’ve published on my site and is currently titled The Reckoning. (Which works for this short opening but not the novel it grew into–I’ve still to settle on a title for the full novel.)
I want to thank Nick so much for taking the time to answer my questions! You will really enjoy his work and we have included links below to find out more about him and get your hands on his books!