Today I would like to give a warm welcome to acclaimed author Wayne Barton. His debut novel ‘Coal House‘ is a real page turner and filled with enough suspense to keep you awake most of the night. I have just finished Coal House and loved it. If you like your horror classic with a modern twists then this is for you. I must admit classic horror is not usually my bag but once I’d picked this up I couldn’t put it down and nearly had to sleep with the light on!
Here’s a brief synopsis:
When property developer Finn Harper impulsively decides to make an investment with his wife whilst away together in North Wales for their anniversary, it seems an opportunity almost too good to be true. But as the disturbing truth of the home’s abandonment unravels itself, Finn finds himself alone, and a martyr of the local community. He must confront some personal demons, forcing him to consider what, or even who, is real.
Thanks for joining me today Wayne.
NF: Can you tell me a bit about your writing processes. For instance do you draft an outline, do you have a set number of words you try and achieve each day or do you go with the flow and see where it goes?
WSB: I wish I was that organised! I have a ton of ideas for characters and stories, many of them written down, many not… From that, I’ll write down ideas of how a story might develop. I take great care in making sure it’s all organic, and that might come from – for example – either the theme of story I want to tell, or, the natural reactions and ways characters respond to certain things. So, ‘Coal House’ was very much a ‘scary’ suspense story, that was what helped me write it. My other fiction works are ‘drama’ and so I end up writing tons of comments, conversations and dialogue that fits the theme of the story. And then I’ll create the storyline, where the characters are, why they are there, that kind of thing. I do go into each day with the best of endeavours (something like 6,000 words a day is always an aim). Sometimes I can feel I’ve had a really productive day when I’ve written just two thousand words.
NF: Coal House is a great title for a book. I’ve just finished reading it and loved it. Where did the inspiration for the book come from?
WSB: Thank you! I wanted to write a horror book. I’m such a huge fan of John Carpenter’s Halloween and I wanted to try and see if I could recreate that sort of suspense and dread in written format. I guess you could say it’s a traditional ghost story but what I tried to do was to make it as plausible as could be; for instance, I wanted a person who doesn’t believe in ghosts to pick up the book and be creeped out by something that could easily pass as real. Each person’s interpretation is different but so far, it’s been great that some of the reviews say ‘Don’t read this if you’re alone/before you go to bed’!
Don’t read before you go to bed, I would agree with that!
NF: The book is set in Wales tell us something about how that came about?
WSB: I think one of the greatest devices anyone writing suspense can have is isolation; and there is so much of North Wales that gives itself to that kind of setting. My memories of Wales are of going there on holiday when I was a kid, and now when I’m older, visiting friends. There’s a friendly and inviting charm, so I thought it would be interesting to turn that around and make it uninviting.
NF: If you were to give a piece of advice to someone about writing what would it be?
WSB: I don’t know if I could necessarily advise about writing because creation is such an individual thing. What I would say is, use your network of friends, family, fellow readers, as much as you can. Use them for feedback during the creation process and for word of mouth after it. A support network can be worth its weight in gold.
I agree, using your networks is invaluable the whole way through.That’s a great piece of advice Wayne, thank you.
NF: When writing fiction, how do you find where to draw the line that says it’s fictional enough without becoming too far fetched?
WSB: Going back to my answer for the first question… it’s difficult to do with a horror, but there always has to be some suspension of disbelief. How many times do you watch a horror and get frustrated because someone leaves the haunted house and then goes straight back in? What I felt I had to do was create logical scenarios which would not only make such a situation believable, but, also to an extent almost the natural choice. Hopefully I succeeded!
In my other work I try to do that through conversation. If you develop your characters strong enough, hopefully you know them well enough to provide them with realistic dialogue, and not just dialogue which is contrived to fit your own narrative. People don’t just react to your convenience, they have their own things going on. It’s not easy to do and I don’t claim to be a master of it, but at least being aware of it is something that I hope helps create a more believable story.
NF: What made you decide to stray from your comfortable zone of sports writing? Was it difficult to write solely on your own creative instinct rather than along with someone to write about?
WSB: For the last few years, I’ve always wanted to do something “new” within the world of writing every year. After a number of ghosted biographies and non-fiction sports books, it was finally time to scratch the itch of my lifelong ambition, which was to become an ‘author’ – by which, I mean, an author of a fiction novel, which is what I’d always wanted to do when I was a kid.
It was and wasn’t difficult; I always do have something to write about but when I’m writing on my own, with no deadline, I have no real discipline, so some days I won’t write much and others I will. It does help when I’m working with someone as it’s generally to someone else’s deadline. Working with creative people is so helpful and gives so much food for the soul. I just wish I had the kind of self discipline that I see in so many others!
Thank you so much for joining me today Wayne and good luck with the book.
Here’s an excerpt of Coal House:
I entered the house through the kitchen, once again acknowledging the silver tin on the table.
‘Hello?’ I said loudly, hoping to hear a response. ‘Clara… Clara, are you there?’
I received no reply but noticed as I got to the kitchen door that I could hear the sound of the television coming from the lounge. Not the sound of a television show, or the news, but that gentle static hum that vividly let you know that the television was on. I walked there quite briskly, fully expecting Clara to be sat inside, but as I opened the door, it was empty, save of course for its contents and the television which was playing, with its static and snow.
I stood at the doorway and shouted her name again but once more received no reply. Confused, concerned, I tentatively walked inside the room, when the television suddenly flickered, spluttered and went off. I flicked the light switch – it didn’t come on. Power cut.
At once, once more, my body seemed to react quicker than my mind, suffering that heightened tension and anxiety. Against the dark I could see a deviation in front of me, as if my eyes were playing a trick. I knew instantly it must have been the same gas fume-style visual obstruction I had fell victim to before, but now, it was real, in front of my eyes, surrounding me.
Then ‘Daddy!’ – the voice of the young boy filled the hallway, startling me to turn around. There was no mistaking it, the same voice I had heard. A boy of what, six? Six years old… surely it was too much of a painful coincidence to think that the voices I had been hearing in the house could have been that of my own boy? No, no… that would be absurd, too much to take.
Now a little quieter.
The voice was coming from the library.
I walked, cautiously, to the room, opening the door.
‘Daddy… Daddy… Daddy…’
Nothing. I didn’t know whether to feel relieved or afraid, but I do know my state of anxiety was beginning to grow. I looked around me but could see nothing, and I carefully narrowed my eyes to try and see the smoggy obstruction but all seemed fine.
The silence revealed another sound. The shuffling of furniture from upstairs, as if somebody was moving a table, or at least, heavy objects.
‘Clara?’ I shouted from the hallway.
More shuffling and then, nothing. It was a sound I was able to recognise, identical to the scratching I had heard coming from there the other night, but now, clearly, I was able to tell that it was furniture. I walked to the bottom of the staircase and waited to hear another sound for a few moments but could not hear any movement whatsoever. This house could amplify the quietest noise but when it was silent it carried a surreal atmosphere.
The sound of furniture being moved or thrown on to the floor came distinctly from the room with the mannequins.
BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG.
It was a frantic, desperate sound, banging against the door.
BANG BANG BANG BANG.
This time, as if it were against the bedroom window, as if the person banging was trying to smash it or get out of it.Then, the most sickening and horrendous wail I had ever heard in my life, a haunted screech that caused me to wince in the same way that one does when hearing squeaky chalk scratch on a board.I ran upstairs powered by adrenalin and momentum but when I reached the top and realised that all the lights were still off, I was decidedly more hesitant to approach the room.
‘Clara?’ I said again, realising the pointlessness at this stage, but wanting to signal a loud enough warning to whomever – whatever – was here if Clara was not answering.
W.S. Barton is a critically acclaimed best-selling author and ghostwriter for renowned sportsmen, actors and musicians. Recently, he has worked in Hollywood with the actor Charles Baker (Breaking Bad, the Blacklist, Wild) and in Texas with the grandfather of US youth soccer, Gordon Jago MBE. W.S. Barton – the football columnist for international sports broadcaster Setanta Sports – has been described by the Independent as the leading writer on Manchester United on the period between Sir Matt Busby and Sir Alex Ferguson and has ghostwritten the autobiographies of Brian Greenhoff, Gordon Hill, Danny Higginbotham and Mike Duxbury. His books Fergie s Fledglings and 74/75 received widespread acclaim from the major UK broadsheets. Coal House is his debut novel.