Recently HorrorFacts had the amazing opportunity to sit down with horror author David Sodergren, and his fantastic pug Boris. Join us as we discuss his oeuvre, his inspirations and his upcoming works.
Quick path down memory lane first. I first became familiar with his work when I got back into reading. I purchased The Forgotten Island and read it on my train rides into work; the amount of looks I got from my audible gasps still stays with me to this day. His writing is unique and intense. It created a feeling inside me of what it was like to actually be scared again.
BJ: How are you, how’s the wife, how’s Boris? I know the world is kind of in shambles now.
DS: It is. We’re quite well..funnily enough I came down with COVID symptoms about a week ago, but I’ve had the test and it’s negative–thank God. It was the worst cough I’ve ever had in my life. Apart from that we’re well, Boris is up there now (editor’s note, Boris was sitting on the couch being cute as hell). Life never changes for him, except he got a bit fed up of us being home cause we were locked down from March to June.
BJ: I’m really thankful and glad we were able to sit down and chat like this. The first thing I wanted to ask is within genre fans there’s like a majority of us who refuse to collect anything besides physical media and with Kindles and eBooks its been so easy to just carry a hundred books on you at once. With books in particular do you feel that there are a resurgence of genre fans wanting to hold physical copies of books, especially ones with such kick ass covers like yours?
DS: Well, I think so yeah. Part of that is very possibly down to the prevalence of Instagram these days. There’s the whole Instagram/bookstagram community which is where I actually started before I was writing these books–I’ve always been writing, but I started off, I mean you see my Instagram feed just posting pics of vintage horror books with Boris cause there is something much nicer for a photograph with having the actual physical hard copy there. People do post pictures of their kindle screens and things, even if it’s just a black and white image, but it’s just not quite the same. I mean for me I very much try and collect physical everything. I have tons of BluRays, DVDs, books, etc. I did have to make a decision a wee while back and stop collecting music so with that I’ve gone entirely digital. You have to decide at some point and sadly that was the one that lost out. But books yeah, so much of it is buying based on the cover art…it is so important. If I see a cool cover I’ll just go “yep, that looks great.” Which is why I insist on having brand new painted artwork for each of my new releases. To me it’s such a huge part of the experience.
BJ: Do you have a favorite novel?
DS: You notice I’m glancing off to the side of my shelf now. It’s so boring but it’s gonna have to be Stephen King’s The Dead Zone. A part of that is a huge sentimental value thing as well, that was the first adult horror novel I ever read. I read like Hitchock’s investigator books. My grandma used to work in a charity shop and I told her if a Stephen King book comes in get it for me! She got me Dead Zone. That was the first one I ever read. How much of it I understood I couldn’t tell you, but because of that I think that will always be my favorite. Even if it sounds dull.
BJ: Everyone has their favorite for a reason! What about a favorite cover?
DS: Oh…jeez yeah I do. Shaun Hutson’s Spawn. You see these little chaps here? They’re mutant fetuses. And this is a horribly burned man who befriends the mutant fetuses. My god it’s an amazing book.
DS: I’ve owned this exact copy for, erm, 30 years maybe. Read several times. Shaun Hutson’s not very well known in America I don’t think. Have you heard of him?
BJ: I have not. But I will definitely be checking him out now!
DS: He’s like the really trashy British Stephen King. Like really sleazy, dirty, nasty stuff–which is a huge influence on my books, to be fair.
BJ: On the same topic of cover design The Forgotten Island and your new novel coming out Maggie’s Grave those were both illustrated by Trevor Henderson right?
DS: Absolutely, yeah.
BJ: And he’s the guy who made Siren Head, right?
BJ: How did you guys meet? How was that relationship cultivated?
DS: I think I got really lucky because when I was doing The Forgotten Island, it would have been early 2018. At that point I don’t think he had created Siren Head. I was looking for cover artists, and if you don’t know where to look it can be really expensive. So I just trolled through twitter and happened to come across his work and really liked it. I’m trying to remember which was the one that made me think, “that’s the guy,” but basically I liked his work and contacted him and he agreed to do the cover for The Forgotten Island and was an absolute dream to work with. Shortly after he did that cover his popularity just skyrocketed. I think he went from a few thousand followers now he’s got well over a hundred thousand I think. I got really lucky. I contacted him again to do the cover of Maggie’s Grave, he actually did the cover for that last october. I hope to work with him again, cause I am planning The Forgotten Island Part 2. And in that collector mindset I really want that cover for part two to match the cover of part one.
BJ: I love the sound of The Forgotten Island part 2. I mean the first one messed with me so much.
BJ: It made my skin crawl like there were thousands of spiders under my skin–I mean go figure.
DS: Well that’s the thing. It was the first book I ever wrote, and there was always the chance that no one would buy it, everyone would think it was shite, and I would never write another book again. So I sort of threw everything into that one. Looking back it’s bursting at the seams with weird crazy shite. With [redacted]’s death where [they] are hanging upside down with the spiders crawling–that’s like my absolute worst nightmare. I had to put that in there.
BJ: So you went with an everything-or-nothing for The Forgotten Island?
DS: Absolutely, cause it started off a straight up cannibal story. I love Italian cannibal films–well it’s a weird thing I love the idea of cannibal horror films. I think there’s only one good one and that’s Cannibal Holocaust. But things like Cannibal Ferox, Eaten Alive, Man From Deep River, the idea is always there for really good scary films. You see Cannibal Holocaust and you think, “WOW that’s absolutely terrifying and disturbing,” but no one else seemed to be able to do that so I thought I’m going to try and do my own cannibal story. Then I thought what about having a big monster in it as well. Then they ended up getting combined with Lovecraftian cosmic horror and there was the horror of man. Everything. I threw everything in there.
BJ: In the back of all your books you have the playlists you wrote to. For The Forgotten Island I remember seeing Cannibal Holocaust and Cannibal Ferox are two of the soundtracks you have listed. I would assume those movies that go along with the soundtracks also provide some inspiration for what you write?
DS: Usually, although not necessarily. Mostly with The Forgotten Island and Dead Girl Blues. Night Shoot not at all, I was listening to a lot of Christopher Young or orchestral scores for like The Fly 2. I try to think at the start of every project the themes and feelings I want and I create the playlist first. And listen to it for the 6 months, or year, it takes to write.
BJ: I read about you, “growing up he was the kind of kid who collected rubber skeletons and lived for horror movies.” Do you remember the first horror movie you ever saw?
DS: Sort of. It could be one of three. It goes so far back I genuinely can’t remember. It would have been seeing the end of King Kong, not the 70’s one or anything or even the Peter Jackson one. Jack Arnold’s Tarantula, a black and white giant tarantula movie, they’d show it on TV at like 2 in the afternoon. Or The Thing From Another World. I remember seeing that, I only saw about 10 minutes or so, they open a door and the monster is standing there and I turned the channel back to like, well not the Teletubbies, but something like that. Also while it’s not horror I remember being incredibly young and going to see Snow White and the 7 Dwarfs and the thing I remembered was the witch descending down the stairs and there’s a skeleton reaching out for the goblet and she kicks the goblet and a spider crawls out. It awakened something.
BJ: Do you have a favorite horror movie? And I know that’s a loaded question for a genre fan.
DS: Several. I guess, gotta think about my Letterboxd. Cannibal Holocaust, Fulci’s The Beyond, All the Colors of the Dark Sergio Martino’s satanic giallo it’s amazing. Virgin Among the Living Dead Jesús Franco’s film, and definitely The Evil Dead. I have a penchant for euro horror of the 70s, it’s fair to say. The films were weirder, crazier, sexier, more violent. That sort of stuff.
BJ: How did you get started writing?
DS: Well when I was a kid, my earliest horror story was when I was in primary 3. The story was aliens attacked my classroom and everyone died it was very on brand for an 8 year old, hahaha. And I remember trying to write sequels for films that I liked. I had seen Child’s Play 2 and ended up writing my own Child’s Play 3, and of course one came out soon after. Then there was a long period of nothing where I watched and read horror but I didn’t write anything. It wasn’t until about 2017 when I–I never stopped watching films for even a second, but I did stop reading for a wee while about 2 or 3 years, and that’s when I picked it back up and started doing the Instagram stuff. I thought I was reading books where the art was great but the content was terrible. That’s when I thought I could do this better, I’ve always been good with words and the English language. The thing that put me off for a long time was actually I had this feeling that I’ve seen too much and read too much and that anything I wrote would be derivative of something else. And to a point that still happens. I write a great scene and think, “oh no that was in a film I saw ten years ago.” But it doesn’t matter, that’s the thing I had to learn that it doesn’t matter cause even if I’m subconsciously taking something from somewhere else I’m going to change it and adapt it and use my voice. So once I overcame that hurdle that is when I started writing properly again. The Forgotten Island was the second book I wrote, I wrote one before it that–I think every author has to write something first that they can throw away and say that was a warm up. Looking back at that first one there was enough in it that I am going to put it out a few years down the line, with a top down rewrite. So I started writing fully at the end of 2017.
BJ: Do you have any thoughts of your works being adapted into film?
DS: Uhh, that’s the dream. The absolute dream. The Forgotten Island is definitely my most popular book by far, I think that one is an impossibility. You would need a big budget. Look at Del Toro’s attempt to do At the Mountains of Madness the past 5 years or something. It’s not gonna happen. Night Shoot on the other hand or Dead Girl Blues I think could be good at Netflix or at Blumhouse or something!
BJ: Night Shoot would be an amazing Blumhouse production. It would fit right into their filmography.
DS: It’s sort of low budget, there’s loads of scares, a good young cast, some feminist themes. I haven’t seen their Black Christmas remake but I heard it was sort of a #MeToo slasher and I thought oh Night Shoot! There was a thing, about a year ago, where there was a marvel film which has an Asian American actor as the lead. I can’t remember the details but he put a tweet a year or so before where he said, “oh this role, I’d love to do it.” and then he got the part,! And he put out a tweet saying you should tweet your dreams! So the tweet I put out was “hey Blumhouse I think Night Shoot would be an excellent film for you.” I never heard anything though. Live and hope! Dead Girl Blues I thought would be a perfect DePalma film. Have you read Dead Girl Blues yet?
BJ: gulps It’s the only one of yours I don’t have a physical copy of. I got the kindle edition at the beginning of quarantine, I am halfway through it I apologize! I am working my way through it though. Now Maggie’s Grave is a black cover correct? And giallo stands for yellow right?
BJ: I really love how you went with the yellow cover. I need to get a physical copy of it so I can have the one yellow cover among the three black ones.
DS: My thought was, it was a specific giallo homage to both books and cinema. I felt I had to do that. It was sort of airing on the side of thriller with horror elements. I felt I had to change it up. But Maggie’s Grave is very much very much straight up horror all the way. I thought I had to go back to the classic black cover. And back to Trevor!
BJ: Your novels are so viscerally visual. Have you written a screenplay?
DS: No I think it’s a very different skill.
Boris: (pug noises)
DS: Hi Boris, it’s all right! A lot of people think writing a screenplay is you take the book and you just write it in a script form. It’s so different. For me a novel is almost easier in a way, cause you can internalize everyone’s thoughts. In a screenplay you can’t! So no I’ve never really tried I think. I have a friend who’s a screenwriter so if anyone ever came to me about that I think I’d turn to him.
BJ: I also read that you’re working on two novels and one novella?
DS: Yes, possibly. I had the most outrageously productive lock-down. I was incredibly fortunate. I found myself creatively rejuvenated. I just sort of sat down and wrote every day nonstop for about 3 or 4 months. I came out of that with Maggie’s Grave finished, a novel I’ve cowritten with a Canadian friend of mine which is a horror western, a short novel, a novella. So I’m at the stage at this moment figuring out what to do next. I have all these pieces and I need to figure out which to tackle next.
BJ: Could you talk about Maggie’s Grave a little bit?
DS: With all my other books I put the synopsis on the back. With this one I was kind of like, I don’t like to say too much about them beforehand in terms of a synopsis. I’ve left the synopsis intentionally vague. It’s a return to supernatural horror kind of like The Forgotten Island. I would put it close to folk horror. Like The Wicker Man, or Blood on Satan’s Cloth. It has an eerie folk feel to it but also has wildly outrageous crazy monster stuff in it. That’s no real secret cause you can see it on the cover. There’s definitely a monster in there. There are a couple of scenes where if you like a the craziness of The Forgotten Island I think you’ll like this. There are also some things in there that I have never seen or read before! Ever!
BJ: Well love the sound of that!
DS: I disgusted myself writing parts of it.
BJ: I really appreciate you taking the time to sit down and talk with me, just one last question for you. Do you have any advice for someone who is trying to write a horror novel? Or just horror in general?
DS: (Boris enters the frame again) I guess, like I was saying earlier, don’t be afraid if it feels like you’re ripping something off. Everything has been done at this point. Make it your own. I see a lot of people writing, like they get part way through something and get stuck. You have to power through and just get a first draft done. The first draft might be absolute garbage, it probably will be. All my first drafts are rubbish. But if you have a complete first draft you can work on it and craft it into something good. If you don’t have a first draft there is nothing you can do. You’re stuck. You can’t improve something that doesn’t exist. Just go for it. Also have a good social media presence. Cause you can write the best book in the world and if no one knows it’s out there what’s the point? No one will read it.
We would like to extend one more gigantic thank you to David for sitting down with us and chatting! You can find David (and Boris) through his Instagram page Paperbacks and Pugs. You can also find The Forgotten Island, Night Shoot, and Dead Girl Blues over at Amazon, and while you’re there you can even preorder his next book Maggie’s Grave!
I write horror sometimes.