Broken On The Inside: Kendall Reviews talks to the brilliant dark fiction author Phil Sloman.

Phil Sloman is a writer of dark fiction. He was shortlisted for a British Fantasy Society Best Newcomer award in 2017.

Phil likes to look at the darker side of life and sometimes writes down what he sees. His short stories which can be found throughout various anthologies.

In the humdrum of everyday life, Phil lives with an understanding wife and a trio of vagrant cats who tolerate their human slaves. There are no bodies buried beneath the patio as far as he is aware.

Occasionally Phil can be found lurking here: http://insearchofperdition.blogspot.co.uk/ or wasting time on social media – come say hi.

KR: No stranger to Kendall Reviews, I’ve been lucky enough for Phil to write several guest posts links to which are included below

What Horrors Make Phil Sloman Uncomfortable

What Makes For A Great Short Story

KR: Coffee?

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KR: Could you tell me a little about yourself please?

Sure and thanks for having me over. In general I guess, like lots of people, I’m someone trying to make sense of the world and failing miserably though I am not sure there is a lot that makes sense nowadays! However, it does give me a lot of material for my writing which tends to veer into the dark psychological realms of literature. And I’ve been fortunate in being shortlisted a couple of years back for the British Fantasy Society Awards as Best Newcomer for my novella Becoming David so I must be doing something right.

Day to day, like a lot of indie writers, I have a day job which pays the bills and have a wonderful family who help keep me sane!

KR: What do you like to do when not writing?

Perhaps too many things! There’s a lot of spending time with the family, going out for walks or doing nature things like bird watching or fossil hunting (there’s a great beach nearish to us with iguanodon footprints in the rocks if you keep an eye out for them) and a bit of mushroom foraging with some going into the pot at home if I’m 100% confident of what I’ve picked.

On top of that I like to play tennis and football when I’m not injured. Sadly I’m at that age where most conversations start with a list of different aches and pains from my ankles all the way up to my neck!

And then there’s knocking around with my mates which usually means a pint or two down the pub talking about whatever takes our fancy. As I write this is it suddenly feels like one of those dating profiles you’d write –likes going for walks, or staying in, etc, etc!

KR: What is your favourite childhood book?

I read voraciously as a child being a regular visitor to the school library or local bookshop. The first book I ever had was an abridged version of Peter Pan, one of those ones which tells the whole story in about 20 very short pages. I’ve still got the copy at home for my own kids. I’ve also got copies from my childhood of a Sherlock Holmes complete collection of stories and 1001 page story book for children which I only realise now probably shaped a lot of my future reading given there were abridged tales in there by Poe, Le Fanu and many more.

I had a huge collection of Fighting Fantasy books and a few other choose your own adventure style books which I may have cheated on the dice rolls every now and then but didn’t we all! Alongside these and Lord of the Rings I devoured all the Dragonlance books as well as getting into Elric of Melnibourne among other books as I was a complete fantasy fan at the time. With Lord of the Rings though, there was something which simply grabbed hold of me and I’d read it six or seven times by the age of 14 so that takes my top spot for favourite book.

KR: What is your favourite album, and does music play any role in your writing?

I always feel slightly lacking when people ask me this question as music has never played a huge part in my life yet my friends will be able to reel off track after track of this obscure album or from some band I’ve never heard of. I think this is because of a childhood where my parents would stick on Cats, Evita or some other Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, not to my tastes, so I never really ‘discovered’ music until the 90s when I went off to university.

Probably if you asked me to pick something from the shelf it would be stuff by The Prodigy, Muse, Daft Punk, Fat Boy Slim, maybe some Bowie, perhaps something by Blur but I’ve never had a favourite band per se.

Unsurprisingly then, music doesn’t really play a part in my writing regime. I find it a distraction when writing and prefer the silence of writing at home or a quiet space when out and about with my laptop.

KR: Do you have a favourite horror movie/director? 

Hmmm, good question and not one I’ve ever really thought about too much. I think Del Toro has been involved with some fantastic horror either as director or producer so I will veer towards his films.

Also a big fan of the style of Dario Argento, there’s something artistic about what he does.

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I’ll also veer towards production companies and love some of the classic Amicus and Hammer output. Otherwise, in terms of horror, I find I go for word of mouth from friends rather than noting especially who the director was.

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KR: What are you reading now?

I usually have a few books on the go, one main novel and a few anthologies or collections to dip into. At this moment in time we’re travelling on holiday across the north of England and Scotland so have just brought the two books along: Ellen Datlow’s Best New Horror volume 8 and Brian Lumley’s Necroscope. I’m really enjoying both of them so good picks this time round and wishing I had gotten to Necroscope so much sooner!

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KR: Who were the authors that inspired you to write?

Perhaps a bit clichéd as I think lots of horror writers my age veer between King or Barker when asked this (I know plenty don’t!) but probably Clive Barker for me. There is a sheer brilliance to his writing, especially in the Books of Blood, where I just wanted to be able to do something similar. There’s a few stories I started in my late teens which are long dead now which would be clumsy attempts at writing like him. And then there was a 20 year gap where I just didn’t write because I thought I was crap and gave up on it. Beyond that it was a podcast I did with my friends Dion, Clover and Matty which kickstarted my passion again. We sat and talked books and interviewed writers and I got to thinking “I can do this” so had a play with some stuff and gradually found my writing style and what I wanted to write about.

KR: Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer to just see where an idea takes you?

Depends on the length of the work. I usually have the beginning and the end in my head if it’s a short story and then I go from there. I’ve said this in the short stories piece I wrote for you, but it’s like being a comedian and knowing what you want your punchline to be. The trick is making sure everything else in the story leads you to your punchline in a way which makes sense no matter how fantastical the story might be. For novellas or anything longer I have to plot. Each chapter will have brief paragraph telling me what I want to have happen within it. For example, Richard meet David in local pub, has drink together, etc. Enough bones for me to put some flesh upon and also understanding what the next chapter will offer up or next sequence if there’s not a natural link between the two.

What I will do though is discover elements of the story I hadn’t considered and then weave them into the other parts of the story as necessary. For example, in my short story Broken on the Inside, Dr Slocombe wasn’t really in the original story concept yet his character has roles to play which would make the story fall down without him in it now.

KR: What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?

Not a lot. Or not consciously anyway. I tend to google search for minor details in a story to make sure it is authentic. There’s a spider in a story I am writing at the moment during a winter period and I ended up spending ages working out if it would have been in hibernation or not at that point. The reference in the story is barely two sentences! However a lot of my unconscious research is people watching. Not in a creepy way, just noting how people react in different situations, listening to the lilt of someone’s style of speech, looking at how an old man’s beard will be stained a dirty pastel yellow colour if he smokes regularly. Those kinds of things. That’s what forms my stories, the rest is window-dressing around the interactions of the characters.

KR: Describe your usual writing day?

I have to write around my day job which means my writing is done on evenings or weekends around the family and other commitments. So my writing day is really about grabbing time whenever and wherever I can. As I said, we’re travelling at the moment for family holidays which means I am doing this interview holed up in a hotel room while my wife and kids sleep! I’ve also been able to get a few pages down on a novella I have been working on for a while.

KR: Do you have a favourite story/short that you’ve written (published or not)?

That’s like asking which is your favourite child! I really like all the stories in Broken on the Inside so any one of those but I guess, if pushed, I would say I have a soft spot for There Was An Old Man… I had a lot of fun writing that piece especially with the dark humour running throughout.

KR: Do you read your book reviews?

Yes. I probably shouldn’t but I do anyway. I guess it’s a way of working out if what I’ve written is any good or not. I always think the story is good before it goes out otherwise I wouldn’t want it published but then all the doubts creep in and there’s that piece of reassurance you’re looking for. And if it’s a review with criticism of your writing – by the way, I hate the term bad review, the review is not badly written it simply points out things which didn’t work for the reviewer – then I try and learn from those and use that learning in future writing.

KR: Any advice for a fledgling author?

I guess find your own voice. I think lots of people try to emulate their heroes when they are starting out by copying their style whether consciously or not. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. I did that myself producing half-good pastiches and it took me a while to work out what type of writer I wanted to be and how to improve on my own style.

Otherwise I would reiterate the advice of more experienced writers than me and do the following: write, write, write. Just get the words down on the page. Then go and edit them.

Edit. Edit. Edit! And read your work out loud when you are editing as you pick up so much that way.

Read lots!

Watch people and use it in your writing.

I’d also add, don’t beat yourself up if you don’t write every day and be happy! Writing can be a lonely thing and if you find the joy is gone at times then give yourself permission to take a break from it.

Finally, go and get advice from someone with more experience than me!

KR: What scares you?

Heights. I’ll go up to the top of a castle or tower, sometimes the edge of a cliff, and look down the side but then I get this nervous wobble in my legs where I am convinced the slightest breeze will send me flying over the edge to impact the ground or sea seconds later. It’s not as severe as others may experience but I’m not a fan. Also a mild phobia of flying (or rather crashing – the flying part is the bit that needs to keep going until touchdown!). But I have built up a failsafe system to prevent disaster! Read a book on take-off and landing. I’ve always done this and the plane has never crashed so it must work.

KR: E-Book, Paperback or Hardback?

I love the smell of an old second-hand paperback. There’s something nostalgic about walking into a second-hand bookshop and the aroma which hits you. Otherwise I’m happy to read whatever format – it’s all about the story for me!

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KR: Can you tell me about your latest release please?

Broken on the Inside, a micro-collection of five stories, was released in June this year by Black Shuck Books. It features five themed stories relating to the fragility of our minds and how we deal with different situations. People have been saying great things about it, which is always nice, and obviously you kindly offered up a review a few months back now.

KR: You can read my review for Broken On The Inside here

I’m also involved with a couple of other books which come out soon. The first is the Alchemy Press Book of Horrors which features an amazing collection of authors many of whom are legends in the genre. I have a story in there called The Girl with Three Eyes and it’s a tale about a high school in America and a student who has noticed something which isn’t quite right.

The second is Into the Night Eternal from Lycropolis Press which has stories from award-winning author Jan Edwards, Dean M Drinkel, Romaine Collier and myself. The overall book is a collection of French folk horror pieces and I have a novella length piece in there called Les Vacances which sees Frank and Elizabeth, a couple in their late forties, venture to France in the 80s for their first foreign vacation. Let’s just say that their cosy holiday in a gite doesn’t prove to be as relaxing as they might have hoped!

Oh, and I’ve also had a couple of stories out in the past few months in charity anthologies. I have a piece called A Dog is for Death in In Dog We Trust and a story called Richard of Cork in Under the Weather. Profits go to the Birmingham Dog’s Home and Resources for Autism respectively.

All in all it’s been a busy publishing period of late!

KR: What are you working on now?

I have a novella which I have been working on for ages (though perhaps understandably given the other works I’ve been putting out at the same time). It has a working title of Stanley Sebastian Solomon and is an angry piece focusing on a young man in a halfway house and the other residents. I’m stumbling towards the end and the next step will be getting other eyes on it as it is different to what I have written before.

Beyond that I have started plotting out a novel about a couple whose relationship is deteriorating and the boundaries of what is real and what is not are blurred (a bit of a theme of mine!).

KR: You find yourself on a desert island, which three people would you wish to be deserted with you and why?

You can choose…

  1. One fictional character from your writing.

Hah, they’re all pretty messed up individuals so not sure being on a desert island with them would be a good idea! Maybe Marnie Wiliiamson from The Banshee’s Egg which was published years ago in an anthology called Potatoes (yes, an antho about spuds!). She’s a kindly soul with a good heart so it would only seem right to have her there if only to apologise for what she is put through in the story.

  1. One fictional character from any other book.

It’s got to be Gandalf! Why wouldn’t you want a wizard with you when you’re stuck on an island?! Running out of food. Magic some up. Getting attacked by feral monkeys, get the wizard on it! May be a bit judgemental at times though.

  1. One real life person that is not a family member or friend.

Chris Hadfield. He seems the coolest bloke in the world and he’s been to space! The conversation should be brilliant and I’m sure he can jerry-rig some essentials on the island when needed.

KR: Thank you very much Phil.

Thanks for having me over, Gavin. It’s been fun.

Please visit Phil’s official website here

You can follow Phil on Twitter @phil_sloman

Phil Sloman’s BROKEN ON THE INSIDE presents a quintet of macabre mentality in:

  • Broken on the Inside
  • Discomfort Food
  • The Man Who Fed the Foxes
  • There Was an Old Man
  • Virtually Famous

You can buy Broken On The Inside from Amazon UK & Amazon US

Richard leads a simple, uncomplicated life in the suburbs of London where anonymity is a virtue. His life has a routine. His cleaner visits twice a week. He works out in his basement, where he occasionally he kills people. Everything is as Richard wants it until David enters his life. What happens next changes his existence in its entirety and the lives of those around him. Is he able to trust anything to be true? And will he be able to escape David or will David take over Richard’s life completely?

You can buy Becoming David from Amazon UK & Amazon US

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