Author Interview

Author Interview: Deborah Sheldon

1.Tell us about yourself and your latest book.

Deborah Sheldon

I’m a professional writer from Melbourne, Australia. I write short stories, novellas and novels across the darker spectrum of horror, crime and noir. My releases, through several publishing houses, include the horror novel Contrition, the dark literary collection 300 Degree Days and Other Stories, the bio-horror novella Thylacines, the dark fantasy and horror collection Perfect Little Stitches and Other Stories (winner of the Australian Shadows Award “Best Collected Work 2017”), and the creature-horror novel Devil Dragon.

perfect little stitches - final cover

My short fiction has appeared in many well-respected magazines such as Quadrant, Island, Aurealis, SQ Mag, and Midnight Echo. My work has been shortlisted for numerous Aurealis Awards and Australian Shadows Awards, long-listed for a Bram Stoker Award, and included in “best of” anthologies. Other credits include TV scripts, feature articles, non-fiction books, stage plays, and award-winning medical writing.

Contrition cover

Multi-award-winning press IFWG Publishing Australia released my novel Contrition in September. The back-cover blurb reads:

In her late teens, Meredith Berg-Olsen had all the makings of a runway model. Now in her late forties, after everything she had been through – including horrors that John could only guess at – she looked bloodless instead of pale, skeletal instead of slender, more dead than alive…

John Penrose has two secrets. One is the flatmate he keeps hidden from the world: his high-school sweetheart, Meredith. His other secret is the reason he feels compelled to look after her.

Contrition is a horror story with noir undertones and an atmosphere of mounting dread.

2.Do you currently have any new projects in the works?

My next confirmed title is a short story collection, which IFWG is bringing out in July 2019. It contains stories I wrote from 2006 to about 2013, plus three new stories I wrote over the past few months. The stories are dark, melancholic, with overtones of crime-noir and horror. We don’t have a title yet, but I’m very excited about the book’s upcoming release.

I’m blocking out a novel at the moment – an action-packed horror story – and I plan on getting started soon. It’s always daunting to start a long-form project. So much work ahead!

3.What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Do it for love because, chances are, you won’t make much money. Getting published is not easy in this crowded marketplace. Focus on the writing process and how much pleasure you get from it. Don’t worry too much about the business side of things. Once you get hung up on the numbers – royalties, sales, followers, subscribers – you start to wake up in the mornings and wonder what the hell you are doing with your life. In those moments, ask yourself, “If I were the last person on Earth, would I still write?” And if the answer is, “Damn straight I would”, then stick with your passion and enjoy it, no matter what.

4.You are such a prolific writer. How do you stay motivated?

I’ve been writing since I was a little kid, and professionally from the age of 18 when I sold a feature article during my first year of university. I simply can’t imagine my life without writing. It’s something I’m driven to do. For example, every time Christmas rolls around, I promise myself a month off to just relax, watch movies, read, sleep in, recharge my batteries… And then after a week or two, I start feeling antsy and irritable. That’s when my husband invariably says, “For God’s sake, Deb, go and write something!”

So, that’s how I stay motivated: because I can’t function normally without the discipline and release of writing on a regular basis.

5.Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?

No, never. I have a theory that writer’s block is caused by one of two issues: boredom or indecision.

Boredom can happen if you’re always writing the same kind of thing. My advice is to put your current project aside for a while and try a different medium, genre or style that stretches and challenges you. And always have a rough plan for your story. When literally anything could happen next, how can you decide on what to pick? At the very least, know your ending.

While I don’t get writer’s block, I do suffer from burn-out. This usually happens after I finish a long-form project such as a novella or novel. Burn-out used to worry me (oh no, what if I can never write again?) but I’m used to it now. While it lasts, I work on admin stuff, do some research for an upcoming project, maybe write a non-fiction piece or a short stage-play. You can’t rush the recovery from burn-out. The only solution is to wait, and to try using the time productively.

6.Favourite horror novel?

Just one? An impossible question!

A few of my favourites include: The Handmaid’s Tale, The Haunting of Hill House, Something Wicked This Way Comes, The Shining, The Silence of the Lambs, The Exorcist, and Rebecca.

7.What are you reading right now?

I’ve got three titles on my bedside table…

Hand on heart, I swear this isn’t a ham-fisted attempt at self-promotion, but I’m actually reading DeadCades: The Infernal Decimation, a horror anthology edited by Stephanie Ellis and David Shakes. It includes my story “Stagecoach from Castlemaine”, first published in my award-winning collection Perfect Little Stitches and Other Stories.

Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes, which I’m about one-quarter of the way through. The premise is intriguing, I like the writing style – I’m just waiting for the various story threads to intersect.

The Dark Descent horror anthology edited by David G. Hartwell has been languishing on my bedside table since April, and I’m not even at the halfway mark. I’m unsure whether to give up or keep slogging. It seems the editor’s tastes are very different from mine.

8.How long do you think you would survive in a horror story?

Oh, I’d say about five minutes. No doubt I would be a “redshirt” stock character. I might have just enough time to show the main characters a photograph of my family before I die.

9.I heard you worked on Australia’s Most Wanted as a researcher and scriptwriter, what was the most interesting case you worked on?

Every single case was interesting and important to me. Australia’s Most Wanted was an extremely challenging TV show in many ways. I liaised with about 400 detectives from two Australian states (Victoria and South Australia), and worked closely with victims of crime or the families of deceased victims of crime. It was long hours and emotionally draining – some of those crime scene photos I’ll never forget. Nevertheless, it was a truly rewarding time in my life. I felt that my efforts made a difference. I felt that I was helping people who needed every bit of help they could get. Some of the detectives used to kid me, asking when I’d sign up for the academy and become a cop myself, but I would never have the nerve or the stomach for it. I deeply admire and respect our police forces in Australia. These men and women do a dangerous, heart-wrenching and sometimes thankless job.

10.Biggest fear? And have you ever used a phobia as an influence for your writing?

Oh, wow, I have so many fears…! The ones I tap into the most would be (in no particular order) death, loss, the unknown, and random violence. Life is anxiety-producing if you think about it too much. In my opinion, the underlying and unifying philosophy of all horror stories, regardless of subgenre, is simply this: something bad happens unexpectedly.

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