Gary Buller is an author from Manchester, England where he lives with his partner and two daughters. Buller grew up in the Peak District and their haunting beauty inspired him to write his dark and creepy stories. He loves a tale with a twist in in and is a fan of all things macabre and bizarre.
His short story, “Duelling Aces,” was published in Beside the Seaside – Tales From the Daytripper by Things In The Well in 2019.
Tabatha Wood invites him deep into the Well to talk about his heroes of fiction, the first story he wrote, and what he would say to those who say writing is “easy”.
Hi Gary, it’s great to see you. Please ignore the Creatures in the corner, they are mostly harmless. Please don’t feed them though. There’s a candle in the corner if you’re finding it too dark to see. I’d like to begin with some quick-fire questions to get to know you a little better. I find that just like when I need to keep the Creatures under control, these are best answered in short, controlled bursts.
Describe your writing style in five words.
Psychological horror with a twist
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
This is a difficult one. I get self-conscious when describing a character’s reaction to a horrific situation. I’m tempted to use ‘goosebumps’ or ‘gooseflesh’ quite a lot, and have to restrain myself.
What three themes/tropes make your writing instantly recognisable as yours, and yours only?
I’d say most of my stories have an element of nostalgia, even if just a little. My fiction usually deals with psychological issues, too – there is often something beneath the surface of my characters, and my stories often explore these themes. Finally, I’d say either a twist or an incredibly bleak ending. Very few of my stories end happily, I’m afraid.
Who are your heroes of fiction?
The usual suspect, Stephen King is one of them. Joe Hill is another. 20th Century Ghosts is one of my all time favourite collections. I’ve met Joe on three occasions and he’s always taken the time to have a chat. Finally, I’d say Adam Nevill. The Ritual is brilliant.
What three books would you want with you if you were stranded on a desert island
American Psycho by Brett Easton Ellis, Pet Semetary by Stephen King and Fred and Rose: The Full Story by Howard Souness.
If you could go back in time to do so, what wisdom would you impart to your teenage self
That’s a hard one. I wouldn’t change a thing, or influence myself to do anything differently, I don’t think. I’d encourage myself to work hard and not expect success to just fall into my lap.
Name three traits you find deplorable in others… And three you most admire.
Deplorable — People who virtue signal to gain favour, especially on social media. People who force their opinions on you and expect you to assimilate. Dishonesty.
Admirable — Courage, diplomacy and a good sense of humour.
If you could go for a coffee with any fictional character (including one of your own) who would you choose and why?
Sherlock Holmes might be an interesting companion for a chat.
Consider these lines from a poem by Fran Landesman: “If you ever find my house on fire, Leave the silver, save the photographs.” Your house is burning, what three things do you save?
Assuming my wife and children are safe; I’d rescue my box of signed books, including volumes by Adam Nevill, Bruce Campbell, Richard Chizmar, and Joe Hill. I’d also make sure all of my Evil Dead and Army of Darkness merchandise was safe. Lastly, I would save all my family photographs. There are pictures of my childhood, holidays, my mum (who sadly passed from cancer in 2017) and my wedding. Some of them are not digitised at all and I would miss them.
How do you want to be remembered?
The last thing my mum asked me before she passed away was whether she’d been a good parent. In all honesty, I would love to be remembered as we all remember her. Loving and protective, she raised my siblings and I to have good manners and she had a wonderful sense of humour. If I come anywhere close to her memory then I would be very happy.
Thank you, Gary. That’s a lovely way to honour your mum. Tell me, what prompted you to start writing?
I’m relatively new to the writing game, though I’ve been an avid reader my whole life. I started writing and submitting stories in 2016 when I was thirty-four. I had a lot of free time in my old job and decided to take a shot at putting some short stories together. It took around a month before I got my first acceptance and I was absolutely delighted.
You’ve come a long way in three years. Tell me about the first story you remember writing.
The first short story I wrote was called ‘The Way Out.’ It also happens to be the first story I ever sold. I used to work away from home a lot and spent a lot of time in hotels, ‘The Way Out’ was about a character trapped in a hotel room. I wrote it freehand, and knew the ending before I put pen to paper.
Do you think it was indicative of the kind of stories you write now?
I can definitely see the seeds of my current writing style in ‘The Way Out,’ although it wasn’t edited very well and I sometimes cringe a bit when I read it.
What inspired your story for “Beside the Seaside: Tales From the Daytripper”.
‘Dueling Aces’ is a story inspired by a trip to Blackpool Pleasure Beach when I was a child. My grandparents bought me an-inclusive pass or whatever the equivalent was back in the day, and were determined that I should go on every ride, including the haunted house and the rollercoasters. I was brow-beaten to go on everything, and on some of them, I was absolutely terrified. The experience stuck with me, and I combined this with the idea of everyone having their own individual ghosts, their own individual fears. Luckily, Steve (Dillon) liked the idea and published it in his fantastic book.
It is a great collection and your story fits in really well. So what sort of things interest and inspire you?
The fiction I read, movies I watch, and my wife and kids inspire me. In terms of general interest, I love horror movies and TV shows.
And what scares you?
Death used to scare me, but it doesn’t any more. A friend of mine pointed out that we haven’t existed for infinity before we’re born and it’s just the same after we die. Before conception, I didn’t exist for an endless amount of time. I’ve already experienced (almost) forever’s worth of nothingness. So if there’s no afterlife (I’d love to believe there IS an afterlife, by the way) it’s essentially going to be the same again. An infinite amount of time of not existing. Weirdly, I take comfort in this. At it’s worst, death isn’t scary — we’ve all been through it before. That said; I’m claustrophobic and the idea of being buried alive is absolutely terrifying.
That’s a really interesting way of approaching issues of mortality I definitely agree with you on being buried alive. That’s nightmare fodder… What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned as a writer?
When it comes to submitting stories then always start big, with the high paid markets, and work down to the unpaid stuff. Never give up and keep trying. Rejection is a huge part of writing, and just because a number of publications reject your story it doesn’t mean that story isn’t any good. Keep going.
That’s really good advice, and something a lot of new writers don’t realise. What do you think is your biggest obstacle when it comes to writing?
Right now, it is finding the time. By the time I’ve finished work, got home, sorted the kids out and sat down, I’m absolutely shattered and just want to go to bed. I overcome this by writing on my lunch hour, and occasionally using my mobile phone to write when I’m on public transport.
And the best bit?
The best bit about writing is when I hit my flow and the words pour out. I think this is when I discover my best voice.
Are there any topics which you wouldn’t feel comfortable writing about?
Writing fiction can be a deeply personal and intimate experience. It sometimes feels like you’re baring your soul, or at least a small part of it, to the world. I don’t like to write anything too erotic or sexual. Part of me thinks my daughters might read this one day and think their dad is a pervert or something. It’s cringeworthy stuff to me and I try to stay clear of it.
What piece of advice would you give to any new and upcoming writer right now?
It’s old hat, but I’d encourage upcoming writers to read and write everyday, avoid passive sentences, remove just and that from their prose and avoid weak verbs like ‘felt’ and ‘saw’. I wasn’t aware of these in the beginning and they’re such simple things to remedy.
What do you say to those people who think writing is “easy”?
People who think writing is easy clearly haven’t given it a go. It might be easy to throw words down on the page, but to make a story sing takes real effort.
Absolutely that. And I don’t think anyone can write a perfect story in a first draft. Editing is crucial. What kind of responses do you get from friends and family to your work?
My family aren’t into books in the same way as I am, and although they’re all very supportive with each and every success and failure, it is often a solitary venture for me.
Would you say that writing has made you more friends or expanded your community in any way?
Yes. That’s where the Twitter writing community has come good. It’s nice to know there are many others like me out there and it’s reassuring to hear their experiences. I currently do a YouTube video-cast with Will Marchese whom I met on Twitter, and there are a few other genuinely great folks I keep in touch with.
Are there any stories you’ve written that you’ve purposely hidden from those close to you ?
Not really. I think each and every story I pen contains an element of me, and I’m always conscious of this as I lay down the prose. That said, I don’t mind baring my soul to those who take the time to buy my book or read my story.
Do you have any amusing or terrifying submission/rejection stories? Or any interesting tales linked to your writing experiences?
I didn’t fully grasp the idea of no simultaneous submissions when I first started writing, and my first story was accepted by three different publications. It was pretty embarrassing and I had to do a lot of apologising by e-mail. Luckily, one of the publications was gracious enough to accept another story as a replacement. Another time, I wrote a short story with a particular publication in mind. I was really pleased with the result, and then absolutely gutted six weeks later when said publication rejected it. I edited the story slightly, resubmitted and was lucky enough to get my first semi-pro acceptance out of it.
That’s pretty impressive, though. Getting accepted three times! What are your goals for 2020? And for the next decade? (If you’ve thought that far ahead.)
Next year I’d like to write a novella, but realistically I’d be happy just getting more short stories out there. In a decade I’d like to think my daughters will have grown up enough to give me enough free time to sit down and write.
Do you have any upcoming books/work which you’d like to mention? Or previous works which you’d like to draw attention to?
Gallery of Curiosities are a fantastic podcast and I am delighted to have two stories produced by them. One is called Pet Shop and another A Light in the Darkness.
I also have a couple of short story collections coming out; One with Unnerving- out in June 2020, the other I can’t announce just yet. In addition to this I have stories coming to The Grey Rooms Podcast and Telltale Press.
That’s awesome, Gary. I wish you very well with that. Thank you so much for talking to me, and I look forward to reading more of your work in the future. I see the Creatures have woken up, and it’s almost feeding time. If I were you I’d leave now while you still can…