Kev Harrison is a British writer of horror and dark fiction living in Lisbon, Portugal. His debut novella, The Balance, is coming in early 2020 from Lycan Valley Press, while his novelette, Cinders of a Blind Man Who Could See, is available now from Demain Publishing. His short fiction has appeared in Lost Films, from Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing, In Darkness, Delight, from Corpus Press, Beyond the Infinite: Tales from the Outer Reaches, from Things in the Well and on podcasts such as Tales to Terrify and The Other Stories from Hawk and Cleaver.
Tabatha Wood talks to him about what prompted him to start writing, finding his resilience, and terrifying ten year olds with his stories.
Welcome to the Well, Kev. Let’s start with some quick-fire questions:
Describe your writing style in five words.
Bleak, character-driven, folkloric, dark
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
This depends entirely on the work. My forthcoming novella had the word ‘only’ so many times it was a nightmare picking through and changing or deleting. I also have to run through every edit phase killing “for a moment” from fifty percent of my characters’ actions.
What three themes/tropes make your writing instantly recognisable as yours, and yours only?
Broken relationships (especially familial), outsiders, supernatural entities.
Who are your heroes of fiction?
Haruki Murakami, Gemma Files, Victor LaValle.
What three books would you want with you if you were stranded on a desert island?
Murakami’s Dance, Dance, Dance because it literally saved my life would be one. The others could change with the wind.
If you could go back in time to do so, what wisdom would you impart to your teenage self?
I’d tell myself to ignore the naysayers. I went to a great school, but they told me that pursuing creative writing in any meaningful sense was a fool’s errand and that I’d be much better off getting a ‘proper’ degree and job. Fast forward to my early thirties and what was very nearly a total meltdown and that looked like really bad advice. Now, in my forties, as a teacher and writer, life has never been better.
Name three traits you find deplorable in others.
I hate: Excessive greed, picking on those who are different (in whatever way)
If you could go for a coffee with any fictional character (including one of your own) who would you choose and why?
Anton Gorodetsky from the Russian Night Watch series. He’s so wonderfully cynical, but a great guy deep down.
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?
My cat is number one. My laptop because I write only on that – I have the world’s worst handwriting. My kindle because I do almost all my reading on it these days.
How do you want to be remembered?
As someone who tried to enrich other people’s lives at least as much as his own. No idea how I’m doing with that. Haha!
Let’s dive a little deeper. Tell me, what prompted you to start writing?
I was always interested in story telling and I felt I had some talent for it, as I used to tell stories at a ‘show and tell’ type activity most weeks in primary school. In terms of taking it more seriously, it was really at about age 35, after a lot of lows hit at the same time. Having been in a band for most of my life from my mid-teens, I was missing that creative outlet as a way to deal with adversity. I saw a competition for a horror story and I just bit.
Tell me about the first story you remember writing.
The first story I remember really vividly was at a primary school summer camp. We’d been to a local history museum and everyone had bought these Roman coins. In the evening we had a talent show. I made up a story about a haunting at the campsite, where the spirits were bound to these ancient coins. A lot of my fellow ten-year-olds were up all night crying, terrified. I was so proud. The teachers weren’t as impressed, mind you.
What inspired your story for Beyond the Infinite: Tales from the Outer Reaches? Is there a story behind the story?
My story, ‘A Precious Quarry,’ which featured in Beyond the Infinite… was one of those lucky ones that simply comes to mind immediately. I was a huge fan of ancient myths as a youngster, none more so than those from ancient Egypt. I’ve visited the country several times and even have one small and one colossal tattoo inspired by the culture. One thing that always grabbed me was their connection to astronomy. So, when the Sci-fi horror anthology popped up, I knew I wanted to set something in the near future, but which referenced back to that wondrous past and culture. Travel is by far the biggest inspiration to me. I set many of my stories in the places I’ve lived in and visited. I’m lucky enough to have lived in four countries, all of which are quite different to one another. A big part of that travel experience, to me is food and another is the people. Each of these you will find often in my work.
What sort of things scare you?
I’m frightened by a lack of control and this, too, works its way into my stories as the object of fear for my characters.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned as a writer?
To be resilient. Sometimes rejections come thick, fast and relentless. My fastest rejection came to me within 17 minutes of submitting a story! There are times where I think all of us question whether we have the stuff (whatever the stuff is!) to be a writer. But I think the most important thing is to keep going. You can’t fail to improve, the more you write.
What do you think is your biggest obstacle when it comes to writing?
Procrastination. I am terrible at being distracted. I have some strategies I’m going to be applying in 2020, which I hope will make some headway in beating that.
Are there any topics which you wouldn’t feel comfortable writing about?
I would never say never.
What piece of advice would you give to any new and upcoming writer right now? What do you say to those people who think writing is “easy”?
It’s definitely not easy, for a start! My biggest piece of advice – one that I got after I’d been taking my writing seriously for about a year – is “start the story as late as possible.” It’s so easy to window-dress and scene-set. This can be laborious and dull, even if the language is beautiful and poetic. But start with a threat, something in jeopardy – now you have me!
What kind of responses do you get from friends and family to your work?
I have a really tightly-knit group of people that I met on the This is Horror story a week challenge in 2017 and those folks are my go-to people for sharing advice, beta reading, etc. Some of my family members are fans of my work, which I really appreciate. But for some, horror simply isn’t their thing, which is fair enough.
What are your goals for 2020? And for the next decade?
In 2020, I have my debut novella, The Balance, coming out from Lycan Valley Press. Making a success of that and getting it into as many hands as possible is my main objective. I also have a novella on submission currently, called Below, which is a subterranean, possibly supernatural piece that I’m really happy with. I’d like to sell that this year and see it released either later in the year or in 2021. I haven’t thought about the next decade, but I do have a little dream to try writing audio dramas and/or screenplays. You can find out more about my work at my website: www.kevharrisonfiction.com
Thank you, Kev, for some really interesting and insightful answers. I wish you all the very best with your writing and I hope that The Balance is very successful. The Well Creatures are stirring, I can see them getting restless. I’ll bid you goodbye while you can still outrun them…