Axe: Terry Grimwood
It is an absolute pleasure to welcome author (and genuinely nice guy) Terry Grimwood back to DEMAIN with his novel AXE. The book is published 17th December (initially as an ebook and the paperback/hardback coming early 2022) with a cover by Adrian Baldwin.
Part-time rocker, Steve Turner’s hopes of fame are fading, until he comes into possession of a briefcase full of discarded sheet music.
And there, buried amongst the dog-eared musical scraps and doodles is key to his dreams.
The Song, sublime and deadly.
Both gateway to paradise and stairway to Hell.
Terry Grimwood Talks To Demain Publishing
(Originally featured on the Demain Publishing Blog, 29th November 2021 HERE)
DEMAIN PUBLISHING: Hey Terry, welcome back, loved your previous DEMAIN title, JOE, which had some amazing reviews (well done !). Let’s start at the beginning [always a great place to start], tell us a little about yourself and why you became a writer.
TERRY GRIMWOOD: Hi Dean, happy to be here. I’m a Suffolk boy, and proud of it, although, nowadays, my wife Debra and I split our time between Hertfordshire and a lakeside lodge where we plan to retire. I’m an electrician by trade and spent a lot of my earlier working life on building sites – like Steve Turner in my novel AXE. As to why I became a writer, I suppose some of it has to do with spending a childhood way out in the sticks, often with only my imagination for company. The games I played as a kid, often had complex stories to them, inspired by the war films and TV science fiction I loved. At some stage I sat down and wrote stories of my own, mainly to entertain myself with the kinds of tales I liked to watch or read. I think I had some instinct for how stories should be structured and that the characters were important. I remember watching the first ever episode of Thunderbirds back in the 1960s and thinking, even as a child, that exciting as it was, the story was flat because of the lack of interplay between characters (not that I would have understood it in those terms).
DP: So you’d say your background had some influence on you as a writer?
TG: My own experience of working life has certainly influenced my characters. I must admit to being tired of dramas about successful architects and doctors, or, at the very least, someone who works in an office. I have noticed that any office that features in my stories tends to be a dreary place full of dissatisfied people. Skilled tradespeople are just as interesting and complex as those who wear suits to work!
Religion, as in Western evangelical Christianity, was a big part of my late youth and early twenties. Although I can no longer call myself a devout believer, I have never lost my belief in God. It has an enormous influence on my writing. From the agony suffered by anyone who was gay within a church in the 1980s (JOE), to the questioning of the nature of good, evil, God and the Devil, in the novellas such as Soul Masque and Skin For Skin, it forms the weft and weave of my novels, short stories and plays and probably always will.
Star Trek. I watched the first ever episode to be broadcast on the BBC back in 1969 and it was love at first sight. It was also my introduction to real science fiction as opposed to the pale imitation that had graced both the big and small screen up until then. Okay there were some good films out there, but they were few and far between. Rodenberry’s masterpiece made me write. Simple as that.
Books are, of course, a huge source of inspiration. I started with westerns and war comics. Then I was introduced to science fiction and I never looked back. I began reading when I was about 12 or 13 and have seldom been without a book on the go ever since. The first science fiction novel I read was Slan by A E van Vogt. I’ve never re-read it because I want it to stay as it is in my memory. Most of the authors I read when I was young were golden age writers such as Heinlein, Asimov, Simak and so forth (all still alive and working at that time), as well as the next wave; Silverberg, Sheckley, Shaw etc.
I’m sure a psychologist could find a thousand other influences but they are the ones that spring to mind.
DP: That’s brilliant. I’ve recently written a tv pilot script with an actor based on his life and he cites the original Star Trek has a major influence on who he is today. I’m more of a Next Gen fan but I definitely get your point. When I was a kid growing up I used to love the old Commando comic-books, I’d love to write one of those…anyway…what would have been your first introduction to the horror genre?
TG: I was always aware that there were certain scary films and tv programmes out there that I wasn’t allowed to watch as a child – understandable as I was of a nervous disposition! However, my first real encounter with the genre were the Pan Books of Horror edited by the wonderfully named Herbert van Thal. Lots of kids carried them about in their blazer pockets when I was at school, hidden because they were not approved reading for our tender young minds. I can’t say I was drawn into horror by those books, gruesome fun that they were, but it added another edge to my weird fiction tastes.
As an older and braver teenager, I loved sitting up late on Friday nights to watch a Hammer or Vincent Price film. But still, I wasn’t tempted. The Exorcist, which I managed to sneak in and see on its release, aged 17, and which unnerved me deeply, made me see that horror could be intelligent, modern and relevant, but still I wasn’t in love. Then along came Stephen King. I bought The Stand purely on the basis of its cover and sheer size. I hadn’t heard of King and knew nothing about his writing. Halfway through that book (the summer of 1982 it was), I knew what I wanted to write.
DP: When I was at school I remember everybody reading James Herbert’s books because they always appeared a little bit naughty haha – The Fog in particular. Teenagers hey?! So: AXE – really loved this. Can you tell us a little bit about it and did you find it hard to write?
TG: AXE took over twenty years to write! It was born on a late-night car journey during a difficult time in my life. A question popped into my mind, the sort of random nonsense the male brain likes to wrestle with. What if there was a guitar that drank souls like the sword Stormbringer in Michael Moorcock’s Elric of Melnibone books? I started the first draft one rainy afternoon in 1987, while working as a maintenance electrician. I was between tasks with time on my hands, so I grabbed my notebook and a pen and away I went.
That draft was too awful for words. I simply did not know how to put the story together and was trying too hard to write like my new horror idol. I gave up, had a second attempt which was marginally better, then put it aside believing that it was a no-go. But it would not go away. Over the years I made a number of attempts to write the thing, picked it up, and put it down, until, suddenly, there it was in my head.
I’m very fond of AXE. It was the first novel I completed, and I grew to love Steve and Lydia and the rest of its cast, even the bad guys! Not Lydia’s husband though. I never liked him. Many of the settings are real. Orwell Street, the location of the Jack’s Axe, was home to a lot of fascinating, downbeat shops I liked to explore when I was young. Joe-Jack, the proprietor, is based on a character I met during the 1975 Reading Rock Festival. Lydia’s flat is where some friends of mine once lived. The pub in which Lydia first encounters Steve is pretty much as described. And, finally, Steve’s bedsitter is the one I lived in back in 1981 to 1982 (rent £7.50/week!). There is a lot of me in Steve Turner, his trade for a start, his love of rock music and, of course, his determination, nay obsession, with his art. It’s a need not a hobby. It’s a desire to do something outside the mundane and ordinary.
DP: I could tell that a lot of time/effort/thought had gone into AXE – so well done. It’s a great achievement and I’m always a little jealous of those who write novels (I’ve been sketching one out for years but have never found the time to actually finish it and get it out there – perhaps in 2022). Did you find the writing of AXE research heavy?
TG: I can play the harmonica but can only strum a few open and barre chords on a guitar, so I had many conversations with my cousin Ivan Emeny, who is a guitar genius, teacher and performer and a storehouse of technical knowledge. Other than that, I didn’t have to do much in the way of research for this novel.
However, I have written a number of stories and a couple of, as yet, unpublished, novels set in the past, that did involve research. I mostly use books for this and often end up enjoying whatever I read on the subject. I have learned a lot about POW camps, the Blitz, unmarried mothers in the 1950s, stretcher bearers, castrati, the General Strike, pacifists and much, much more! Sometimes researching one thing turns up something else. For example, I discovered the catastrophic 1917 Silvertown TNT processing plant explosion in London, while reading up on women working in armament factories during the First World War. That event ended up in the novel I was researching. For Deadside Revolution and my short story Albert and the Engine of Albion, I walked the routes through London taken by characters in the stories. That was great fun!
DP: I bet it was. The last few years (outside of the pandemic anyway) a lot of my stories are based in Paris and like you, I’ve had a lot of fun writing about the streets I’ve walked and the pubs I’ve drunk in…ah, happy days. What would you say is your biggest success to date?
TG: Depends what is meant by success. I’ve won no awards, so can’t use that as a criterion. Financial and sales success has to be the text books I co-authored for Pearson Educational. I’m proud of those books. They were a departure for me and a different style and way of writing. All writers should branch out of their comfort zones and try something completely different.
Critical success? My novel Bloody War is highly regarded and the novella JOE has garnered a lot of praise. Another novella, Skin For Skin has, I believe, gone down well. A post First World War drama called The Bayonet, which was the first full-length play I wrote and then directed for the amateur stage, was also a success in terms of audience numbers, review and audience reaction. That was in 1994. I’ve never been able to get that play back on stage since, despite interest from various quarters. One day those characters will take flesh and live again. I did once get a story in People’s Friend, which has a wide readership, so maybe that could be seen as a success as well. I’d love to stick that story in the middle of a collection; horror, sf and then, suddenly, a love story!
DP: That’s brilliant! And love the idea of your The Bayonet – perhaps we should talk about shooting it as a movie – could be fun. So, books/authors – who are your favourites and do they also have an influence on you/your writing?
TG: As I’ve already mentioned, Stephen King is the big one, and there are times when I think to myself, how would he handle that scene? Clive Barker has given me permission to create some grotesque monsters and bizarre creatures. Carole Johnstone is a recent influence. I admire her work greatly. I’m writing more science fiction of late and I think Robert Silverberg and Philip K Dick are an influence in the type of sf stories I produce.
DP: Some great names there. Horror as we know is a very broad church, what does horror mean to Terry Grimwood?
TG: It gave me my first serious publication, a short story called John in a long-ago issue of Peeping Tom magazine. More significantly, it provided a way for me to make sense of the dark things that were happening in my life at the end of the 1990s and beginning of the 2000s. It was Des Lewis in one of his real time reviews of my first collection of short stories (The Exaggerated Man) who noticed themes of being trapped and fighting to break free. I created physical, killable monsters out of the emotional monsters that had closed in on my family. When my first wife died suddenly, I wrote two stories that helped me come to terms with the reality and meaning of death. They were Coffin Road which is about an old man and his grandson fighting to claim a burial place for their daughter/mother during a cataclysmic bird flu pandemic, and What Death Is For, set on a Bradbury-esque Mars which is the location of the afterlife.
DP: [I loved The Exaggerated Man by the way!] What do you think readers look for in the horror genre?
TG: It varies. There are those who like the tried-and-trusted, blood-and-guts format, which has splatterpunk at its extreme end, while others prefer subtle menace, the glimpsed and the featherlight touch (my preference). Many people like both of course. Above all, I think it has to be rooted in the everyday. It has to be a shadow cast over a landscape the reader recognises and, perhaps, inhabits, peopled by those they know and love, or despise. As in all fiction, of course, character is everything.
Horror stories have been around as long as stories have been told. Look at the ancient myths, they are full of supernatural beings and monsters. Even the Bible has its share of horrific tales; Debora, who nailed an enemy general’s head to the ground, Jonah, swallowed alive, massacres and genocides. A lot of it probably comes from fear of the night. Early human communities huddled in a cave, peering fearfully into the darkness where unseen predators waited for the unwary to step outside. These stories became fables then myths and fairy tales (which are pretty gruesome in their original form) and were one way to explain what was out there and how the world worked.
DP: You’re so right! So in a round-about-way [I’m thinking here now of the Book of Revelations/Four Horseman haha] , would you say the genre is affected by world events (not just the pandemic) and do you ever put such events in your work?
TG: I think that all fiction is coloured by what is going on in the world at the time it is written. You only have to look at television and film to see that. Hollywood can be pretty heavy-handed about it as well. In the 1950s, scientists were the bad guys, meddling with nature with horrific results. Then in the 1960s and 70s it was the military who were the root of all evil and often depicted quite cynically on-screen (Dr Strangelove and MASH for example). Since the 1980s that same military have become almost sacred and no one dares to say a bad word about them.
The dystopian future is a well-worn trope used by both horror and science fiction authors to ponder on the consequences of certain political or social trends in the contemporary world. Oddly this hasn’t changed that much. The root of dystopian stories is still control exerted over the masses by some authoritarian organisation. It has evolved and developed over the decades but at heart, it is the same thing.
The apocalypse, however, has changed. Back in that quaint, old-time twentieth century, post-apocalyptic invariably meant post-nuclear holocaust, because that was the predominant threat to the world at the time. Now it is zombies (yaaaaawn*) or an environmental or bio-chemical disaster that overwhelms over us. The pandemic has always been lurking in the background but I’m sure it will be far more prevalent in many of the post-apocalypse stories currently in progress. As for whether I put world events in my work? They can colour it, but I don’t think it’s ever overt.
* Sorry about the yawn, zombie fans. It’s not my favourite trope, although my novel Deadside Revolution is a flipped-on-its head zombie story, so I’m being a hypocrite!
DP: I’m interested then on your thoughts that apparently the horror genre is dead, would you agree?
TG: No. But it is changing. Some of the films I mentioned in my previous answer give an idea of where I think it is going. There are more intelligent horror films out there. We’ve had Sommerland, The Babadook, The Witch and Let The Right One In for example and hopefully they are the template for the oncoming wave of horror films and tv series. It was extremely imaginative in style and story as well. I enjoyed the Netflix series The Haunting and Brand New Cherry Flavour as well as a recent film adaptation of Sheridan le Fanu’s Carmilla. I loved Midnight Mass to bits. But, please God, no more groups of obnoxious twenty somethings on a road trip, getting picked off one-by-one! And no more zombies or handsome, angst-ridden vampires, I’m begging you.
There are some excellent, intelligent horror novels and short stories in print as well at the moment. The current crop of writers is superb. Forget literary authors who dabble in the genre and are suddenly interviewed by the BBC as experts. Their horror is seldom that interesting. Hunt out today’s real horror authors and you will be amazed at how good their work is (I refrain from naming names because I will inevitably leave out a hundred excellent authors and that would be unfair).
In the end, public taste is cyclical, so I have no fears for horror (pardon the pun).
DP: You’re pardoned. I loved quite a lot of Midnight Mass (I’m a massive Henry Thomas fan) and I thought that the mix of religion of horror was very well done but on reflection I was a little disappointed [that might be too strong a word] that it was ‘vampires again’ – maybe I’m being a bit over critical as I did like it and importantly I’m happy it got made. Oh well. What scares Terry Grimwood
TG: Large spiders and premature burial. Atoner was my arachnophobia story and Coffin Dream my premature internment nightmare. Sadly, writing about them hasn’t cured me of either! The latter problem has grown worse lately. Probably just a phase. I’ll grow out of it. On the other hand, living by a lake has helped with the eight-legged problem. In summer the place is home to a Woolworth’s pick-n-mix of arachnids, and their webs are everywhere. I’ve got used to their presence and even managed to pick up some moderate-sized beasties, so maybe I’m getting aversion therapy for free by living there.
The burial issue is an odd one. I’m having trouble accepting that death means that I no longer reside in my body and I fear that I will be aware when they nail me into a box and lower me into the ground. Bizarre, I know, but our fears are rooted in something. I haven’t yet figured that one out.
DP: Interesting. I kinda don’t like spiders but I’m not too bad with them now (though the big ones better stay out of my way) but the premature burial phobia is very intriguing. I saw some photos of a very ornate Catholic mausoleum in Italy recently and I thought that would be a great place to be buried and I’d make sure it had a lock on the inside (and the key obviously) in case I did ‘wake up’. As I’m sure you know, in the ‘olden days’ they used to put bells in the coffins with the deceased…perhaps we should start doing that again. Okay, moving on – creatively is there something you’d like to do that you haven’t quite managed (yet, obviously!)?
TG: Write a screenplay about the R101 airship. It’s an epic tale of government incompetence, hubris, and the doomed maiden voyage of a giant airship (which was only 50 feet shorter than the Titanic!) in October 1930. There are characters aplenty including, Christopher Thompson, the dashing Minister for Air (do we have a Minister for Air these days?), who was a real Boy’s Own hero during the First World War. It would be called To Ride The Storm, the title of one of two definitive accounts of the tragedy. The trouble is, I simply don’t know where to start. I have ideas, an opening scene and some sort of structure, but I lack the confidence to put pen to paper. Anyone out there who can help?
DP: I was going to make a joke about lots of Ministers being full of hot air in this government but you never know who’s reading haha. That sounds a really cool idea and perhaps we should talk…do you interact a lot with your readers and/or writers who have influenced you? Any funny stories?
TG: Social media has made it easy to interact with fellow writers and readers. This is a great thing. My first interaction with other writers in the genre was when Des Lewis set up a monthly meet-up in a pub in Colchester back in the late 1990s. I’d never met him before although I’d read his work in Peeping Tom. Finding other writers was a wonderful experience because no one I knew up until then were authors and didn’t really get it. From there it was conventions and meet-ups in London which I love. So yes, there is a lot of dialogue out there and it is important because writing is a lonely business and we all need encouragement and reassurance.
Funny stories? Well, a few years ago I put my name down for a reading one Saturday at a British Fantasy Society Convention (FantasyCon). Only three or four people turned up, all but one of them was a friend of mine who were there to offer support. The other person sat through my reading and when I thanked him, said; “That’s okay, I had actually come in here to hear someone else read and got the time wrong”.
DP: Oh my Lord!!!!!! Hopefully he enjoyed it though (I’m sure he did). Okay Terry, last one – what is something your readers might be surprised to find out about you?
TG: I was given a lift home from a dinner party by ex-Dr Who assistant and Blue Peter presenter, Peter Purves and his good lady wife one Saturday night in 2005. I couldn’t drive myself because I was over the limit so he kindly offered to do the honours. I’m sure he tells everyone he once drove Terry Grimwood home.
DP: Terry you made my spill my tea – that’s a great little story.
Thank you. And thank you for your time Terry, I really enjoyed that. The best of luck with AXE!
Suffolk born author Terry Grimwood, is the author of the novels, Bloody War and Deadside Revolution and several novellas, including Joe published by DEMAIN PUBLISHING, Skin For Skin (Luna) and Interference due from Elsewhen in 2023. His short fiction has appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies. As well as fiction, Terry has co-written engineering textbooks and reviews small press books on his Exaggerated Reviews web site. He has also Written and Directed three full-length plays. By day he teaches electrical installation at a further education college and has been known to take the stage to growl some blues and puff into the harmonica. He has never been booed off (yet). In 2020, he married the lovely Debra at the Gretna Green Blacksmith’s Shop.
For more information about Terry please visit his official website www.exaggeratedpress.weebly.com
Follow Terry on Twitter @@grim17978160