Defeating The Black Worm: Paul Flewitt
On December 31st we welcome Paul Flewitt to DEMAIN with his Short Sharp Shocks! 62 – Defeating The Black Worm.
Matthew had fallen so far, so quickly. The anxiety and panic had overcome him suddenly, and he couldn’t find a way back. In desperation, he sought help from doctors psychiatrists, but no one was any help. He lost it all to the hunger and appetites of the Black Worm. At his lowest point, and with nothing more to lose, he finds aid in the most unexpected of places…but can he defeat the Black Worm?
(with a cover by Adrian Baldwin)
Paul Flewitt Talks To Demain Publishing
(Originally featured on the Demain Publishing Blog 9th December 2020 HERE)
DEMAIN PUBLISHING: Hello Paul – hope you’re well and safe. I know your time is precious so let’s get straight down to it…can you tell us a little about yourself…
PAUL FLEWITT: Hi Dean. Great to be here. I know you already know quite a bit about me, so this is for the uninitiated. I’m a horror and dark fantasy writer from Sheffield, UK, and I live with my wife and two children, who I adore. I guess I’ve always been a writer in one way or another. My Dad encouraged me to read from an early age; there’s a story my parents told me about finding me reading to my classmates in nursery school when I was 4 or 5 years old, so storytelling has always been there. My Dad was a hobbyist writer, mostly of poems, and I do remember seeing him write a poem one time and annoying him with incessant questions (as kids often do.) He got annoyed and gave me a pad and pen, and told me to write my own poem. It was the first time I’d never really considered writing outside the classroom. Although English was definitely my subject and creative writing was always something I enjoyed and felt that I could do. After that, I never really stopped. I wrote poems and short stories which were terrible, trying my hand at longer stories and novels which were rarely ever finished. Then in 2011 I found myself out of work and struggling in the job market after the economic crash, so my wife and I discussed our options and she told me to give writing a serious go. Since then, I’ve written a bunch of short stories and a novel which have all been published and critically received pretty well. I’m working on more novels, and a trilogy as we speak.
DP: So your background influenced you as a writer?
PF: I’m very much a working-class lad. I grew up on one of the most deprived estates in Europe, and my Dad was a former mechanical engineer who ended his days working in a distribution warehouse to make ends meet. I’ve worked in a number of different areas, from selling windows, to call centre work, to engineering factories and in care homes too. It’s all lived experience which finds its way into stories in some way or another. I would guess the biggest influence is in honing the ability to dream my way out of situations. It’s something I clearly did as a kid, living in the environment I did, with a lot of poverty around me. I had a good upbringing, raised by parents who did their best to provide for my siblings and I, but nobody really had a lot of luxury growing up, so I learned to invent my own in my head.
DP: I’m with you – it does work its way in somehow. Now that I’m thinking about that I realise that my first ‘job’ after University was cleaning aeroplanes at Heathrow and recently I’ve been commissioned to write a horror movie set on a plane – talk about full circle haha! Okay, as I mull that over, what was your first introduction to the horror genre?
PF: I guess the very first would be Grimm’s Fairytales when I was a little kid. Those stories are pretty horrific when you think about it, and pretty awesome. The first outright horror story I remember reading was in a children’s horror collection called “Cold Feet,” and featured a short story Philip Pullman called Video Nasty. I read that story until the pages started falling out. It intrigued me, and definitely gave me an appetite for darker works. After that, I suppose I discovered Stephen King and James Herbert … then Clive Barker absolutely changed my mindset on what dark fiction could really be.
DP: Yeah, good old Clive – what an influence he’s been to our generation (and not just our generation mind you) of writes and readers. So your Short Sharp Shocks!
PF: Ah, The Black Worm story is a curious one for me. I generally don’t write directly from my own experience, but this one was definitely borne from that and is quite personal to me. My Dad passed away a couple of years ago, which seemed to trigger intense panic attacks. I’d never had to deal with my mental health before, and now I was suffering anxiety which started to become quite debilitating throughout my Dad’s short illness and subsequent death. I started writing Black Worm as a very personal thing, to try and make sense of what was happening to me. There are a couple of scenes in the early part of the story that come from my personal experience, and things that actually did happen to me. So, Black Worm is about anxiety and how it can be crippling. It really drills down into how I was feeling, but then I took it somewhere else and turned it into a more fantastical horror story. It contains magic, demonology, blood and guts too. So, pretty much a “me” type of story, despite the personal undertones. It certainly isn’t a self-help book, and it’s not big on positivity. It’s quite bleak. Please understand, that I wasn’t writing it to make people feel better. It’s my story, and that’s all I can really write.
DP: It is very bleak and as I said to you separately it does remind me a lot of Clive’s early work – which is a compliment – well done again for writing it and I hope your readers can really connect with it…did you to do any additional research?
PF: I did a little bit. Obviously I’d researched anxiety pretty deeply, since I was trying to grapple with it at the time (and it is an ongoing battle as I write this,) so all of that was already fresh in my mind. Some of the arcane stuff and language is totally made up. I did try and get the Latin right, but I don’t think there is an exact translation for what I quote. When I write, I try to put just enough truth in there to make it plausible. I use very broad sweeps of the truth brush to make it sound authentic, but I’d say 98% of everything I do is made up. There is no Devil’s tongue. There is no Ekeneia, no Anguis. Those are all constructs of my imagination.
DP: And what an imagination! I really enjoyed all the Devil’s Tongue stuff – resonated a lot with me. Because of what you’ve said so far, was the story hard to write?
PF: No! This one flowed out of me. I guess because I was purging a lot of stuff that really was inside of me at that time, it was pretty stream of consciousness stuff. It took longer for me to decide whether or not to publish it than to actually write it. When all’s said and done though, it’s a good story, and one I’m pretty proud of.
DP: And you should be. Creatively Paul, what is your biggest success to date?
PF: I guess there are two answers to this one. Critically and fiscally, my novel, Poor Jeffrey is my most successful release. It made me some money, and people seem to enjoy it when they read it, so I have to say that. All of that said though, the one I’m most proud of is a story that you have some connection with, Dean. I think Climbing Out, which featured in your ‘Demonology’ (Lycopolis Press) anthology was some of the best writing I’ve done. I think that was one where I truly found a voice that I was happy with, and I really like the story I created. I think it was constructed very well, and the theme was something I really got my teeth deep into. It’s still a story I’m very proud of, even after all this time. Others may supersede it in future (I’m pretty proud of Black Worm, and it’s very close to Climbing Out in terms of execution, so is up there in my estimation,) but I don’t think I’ve got there yet.
[SPOILER ALERT: A slightly revised version of Climbing Out will be appearing as a ‘bonus feature’ in the upcoming paperback release – ETA spring 2021]
DP: Besides King & Barker, what other books/authors do you read and are they influence?
PF: I read all kinds of things, and not necessarily all horror. I enjoy Bernard Cornwell books, and I’ve just finished re-reading Philip Pullman’s ‘His Dark Materials’ books which really captivated me. I read quite a bit of high fantasy, like Tolkien, Brookes and Donaldson. My theory is that if something speaks to you, then it will inevitably find its way into your own writing. I call that my ‘choir’. I always say that you can hear many voices in my stories, but the soloist is very definitely me.
DP: I love that! What does horror mean to Paul Flewiit?
PF: For me, it’s always been about escape from the mundane. I think that’s why horror and fantasy work so well together, because they meet the same need to escape and go somewhere else. Even when times are bleak in the real world, it’s still almost comforting and cathartic to delve into a good horror story and escape for a while. Maybe it’s a “but for the grace of god go I” type of thing, like an affirmation that things could always be worse. I quite like Clive Barker’s analogy; that horror is like a roller coaster ride. People like the feeling of being out of control, but know that they can close the book and the experience will end.
DP: So what do you think draws readers to the horror genre?
PF: I think I answered this, in part, above but I would add that it’s really about good story. People want to be wrapped up in a good story, with relatable characters in peril. I think that’s what readers look for in horror.
DP: You’re right – with everything that’s been going on in 2020, do you think the horror/fantasy genres are affected by world events and do you ever include world events in your work?
PF: I definitely think it can be. I think when the whole COVID thing is over, we’ll see a swathe of books and stories around pandemic and being locked in. I think we’ll probably see quite a few on dictatorships and totalitarianism too. I think that’s almost inevitable, and people may need that to purge the experience in some small way. Personally, I try not to write anything based around actual events. It creeps in occasionally, but as a general rule I try to keep very much in a fantasy world.
DP: Probably for the best and I think you’re right – there’s going to be a glut of covid related books/films…with that in mind, any upcoming horror book or film you’re looking forward to?
PF: I always look forward to anything Clive Barker does, and next year is set to be a bumper year with a new novel, a short story collection and a poetry book. I also always look forward to anything Mark Cassell does particularly. As far as films go, I’m not really that big of a lover of horror movies. They rarely do the subject justice. It seems to me they rely far too much on gore and jump scares, which they overdo and make them cliché. Strange for a horror writer to not like horror movies, I know…
DP: I’m with you don’t worry – I did watch (the last couple of days in fact) a Mexican / Spanish horror movie called [English Title] The Day Of The Lord on Netflix – wasn’t expecting much but found it quite effective (a little like The Exorcist with its tongue firmly wedged in its cheek I will admit) – I love non-Hollywood stuff, particularly European as you seem to get much more bang for your buck and it’s not as clichéd (in my opinion anyway) and as things stand I’m personally slated to direct a ghost/horror film next year and it’s going to have a lot of Italian/French influences…anyway, any new writer or director out there that interests you?
PF: Okay, so now I’m going to call myself a liar here. Matt Shaw has been producing his own films over the last couple of years, and I think he does an amazing job. I always look forward to hearing about what projects he’s doing. He’s very much a polymath, being an author and a filmmaker. As far as new writers go, Mark Cassell isn’t really new, but I think he’s one that more people should be aware of.
DP: Ah, Matt – know him well. He’s definitely one of the genre’s ‘doers’ isn’t he. Need a bit more like him. I’m personally not really aware of Mark’s work so will check that out asap. With those last two questions in mind, would you say the horror genre is dead / dying?
PF: Absolutely not. I think it’s burgeoning in the independent scene, which the mainstream isn’t great at taking notice of. There is a following there, and a great group of writers making some very exciting art. If only the bigger markets would see them and snap them up, because there are a lot out there that deserve wider recognition.
DP: Yeah, very very true. What scares you?
PF: I think I fear the unknown, death, ageing, and dementia. I think those things appear quite a lot in my work, so maybe I’m confronting those things?
DP: And creatively is there anything you’d like to do that you haven’t done yet? If so – what is it?
PF: Absolutely. I’d like to see a movie made from one of my stories. I’m told I have a very cinematographic style of writing, and there are a couple of short stories and my novel that could be done very well. I am also keen to write and finish the trilogy that I’m working on, which is a step further into the darker end of fantasy.
DP: So writing is a long term career for you?
PF: Well, I’ve been doing it since 2012, so I don’t think there’s anything short term about it at this point. They say that overnight successes are a decade in the making, so maybe it’ll be my turn soon?
DP: I hope it will be – you deserve it. How did you handle the lockdown – what was your routine, was there anything different you did to get through it?
PF: I’m a stay at home dad who writes scary shit, so nothing really changed for me. Aside from homeschooling my son, and dealing with a daughter going through exams during the pandemic, it was really same old, same old. If anything, I was more productive because I couldn’t go and do stuff. I completed several short stories, two novels and made headway with two more novels over lockdown. Some of those were projects that I’ve been working on for two or three years, so it was nice to get them to my editor.
DP: Yeah, I too tried to use the period as successfully as possible – though will admit the last few weeks of Lockdown 2 (and where I currently am we’re in Tier 3 still!) have been a bit tough. I need some ‘fresh air’ so to speak and can’t see that happening until early 2021…anyway, do you interact with your readers…
PF: I try to interact as much as possible. I’m always around Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and I just opened an account on MeWe. If people send messages or comment on posts, I try to always respond. I’ve also just started a WattPad account, where I’m writing stories and releasing them chapter by chapter, totally free to read. I’m hoping to build a little community there. I’m writing a fanfiction there right now, which I haven’t done since I was a kid, but I’m really enjoying doing that. All of that is an effort to be reachable, to let readers and potential readers inside a little bit. Hopefully they come check it out.
DP: And finally Paul: what is something your readers might be surprised to find out about you?
PF: I’m not sure that there’s anything that anyone would be particularly surprised by. I’m a pretty open book, so people probably know quite a lot about me already if they follow my social media. I’m not good at pretence, so what you see really is what you get with me. Perhaps I should make something up?
DP: Haha – and on that note…thanks a million for your time – all the best with your Short Sharp Shocks!
Paul Flewitt is a horror and dark fantasy writer from Sheffield, UK, where he lives with his wife and two children. Paul began publishing in 2012, beginning with the flash fiction story, Smoke, for OzHorrorCon’s Book of the Tribes anthology. He went on to pen further short stories, including Paradise Park, Climbing Out, Apartment 16c and Always Beneath. In 2012, he also published his first novel, Poor Jeffrey, which was received much critical acclaim. Paul cites writers such as Clive Barker, Stephen King, James Herbert and JRR Tolkien as inspirations on his own writing. Paul continues to write, contributing to Matt Shaw’s ‘The Many Deaths of Edgar Allan Poe’ anthology in 2020 with The Last Horror of Dear Eddie. He also began releasing free short stories and fanfiction on his Wattpad account for fun. You can find more information, and keep up to date with latest news at these links…
Find Paul on Facebook
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Follow Paul on Twitter @RealPaulFlewitt
Follow Paul on Instagram @paulflewittauthorofdarkfiction