{Interview} To celebrate her new novella, Matryoshka, author Penny Jones talks to Kendall Reviews.

The Kendall Reviews Interview

Penny Jones

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Penny Jones knew she was a writer when she started to talk about herself in the third person (her family knew when Santa bought her a typewriter for Christmas when she was three). Penny’s debut collection Suffer Little Children published by Black Shuck Books was shortlisted for the 2020 British Fantasy Award for Best Newcomer, and her short story Dendrochronology published by Hersham Horror was shortlisted for the 2020 British Fantasy Award for Best Short Story.

There’s something wrong with her husband, Mark. Lucy had heard all the rumours about him, the whispered warning behind her back. The half heard Chinese whispers seemed to haunt her, mocking her wherever she goes. Now it appears that whatever’s the matter with Mark is spreading; tainting, infecting both strangers and those that she loves the most. So, Lucy will go to any lengths to protect both her young daughter and her unborn child.

Kendall Reviews: Could you tell me a little about yourself please?

Penny Jones: Hi my names Penny and I’m a writer of horror and dark fiction, I mainly write in the short form, and my debut collection Suffer Little Children was published by Black Shuck Books in 2019 as part of their shadows collection. My first novella Matryoshka is being published by Hersham Horror as part of their Primal novella range and is due out in both paperback and Kindle on 21st April.

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

PJ: I read a lot, but I think that’s pretty much par for the course with writers. My comfort go to read is always horror, and my Christmas is not complete without settling down to read whatever Stephen King book Santa has brought for me. I also love anything to do with the water, so swimming, snorkelling, kayaking. We moved to the coast just over a year ago, and although it’s been delayed, we should be able to start our sea kayaking classes this summer, so I’m really looking forward to being able to go out and investigate the caves and wrecks around our coastline.

KR: What is your favourite childhood book?

PJ: My reading was never censored as a child, so I tended to read whatever my parents or my brother had on their shelves, as well as on my own. So a lot of my childhood reading wasn’t “children’s” books. Though there are a few that I read that were aimed at children rather than adults. I loved and lost both Mary Danby’s Green Ghost and other stories anthology, and Nicholas Fisk’s Grinny. I managed to replace my lost copies when I was in my 20s after years of searching through second-hand bookstores, and I was really pleasantly pleased to see that the stories still held up when reading them as an adult

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

PJ: My favourite album is Pink Floyd’s The Division Bell. I find music very evocative of time, so will often imagine music playing within a scene when I am writing it, but I get too easily distracted so I don’t write to a playlist as I need absolute silence to be able to concentrate. I have a couple of short stories that I’ve written that are based on how certain songs resonate with me, my story Along the long road was published in a chapbook by Fox Spirit Books, and I’ve got a short story called I’ll be seeing you currently out on submission with a publisher.

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

PJ: I love the eerie beauty of Guillermo del Toro’s films. There is a sweetness to his tales that make the horror even more gut-punching when it finally happens. I also have a real soft spot for David Cronenberg’s films. There used to be a show late at night when I got back from the pub as a teenager, called Moviedrome. I think that was when I saw my first Cronenberg film that kind of set the precedence of my Cronenberg movie binges, though I’m not sure if I’ve ever watched one sober.

KR: What are you reading now?

PJ: I’m currently reading Sean Hogan’s England’s Screaming. I’ve just finished his companion piece Three Mothers, One Father. And even though I had watched hardly any of the relevant films it didn’t matter as the stories were so well written.

KR: What was the last great book you read?

PJ: Other than Sean’s book. I’ve just finished reading Tracy Fahey’s collection I Spit Myself Out, which is excellent and should be brought to the top of everybody’s TBR pile, and I’ve also just finished reading Shadows and Tall Trees vol 8 where I was blown away by James Everington’s The Sound Of The Sea, Too Close.

KR: E-Book, Paperback or Hardback?

PJ: I like all of them, I tend to go through stages of what kind of book I want to read, on holiday I always read from my kindle, but there is something really nice about settling down with a big, heavy hardback on Christmas day, or running your fingers over an embossed paperback cover.

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

PJ: When I started it was Stephen King, Shirley Jackson and John Wyndham. They have wonderfully deep characters that don’t detract from the storylines. I also have always loved Cate Gardener and Robert Shearman’s writing for their ability to make the absurd both horrifying and heartbreaking.

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

PJ: I’ve always been a pantser, and I think that is how I will always be for my short stories. I will usually have an idea for the story, but that snapshot may be from the start, middle or end, and the rest of the story grows from there. But I have just started working on another novel, and I have tried to at least show willing with plotting it out, mainly because I hate having to do so much editing.

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

PJ: It depends on what I’m writing, for most work I try to write about things I already have a decent amount of knowledge with, and if there is anything I need to look up I’ll pop a comment in red, to remind me to look it up later. I don’t particularly like having to check and recheck facts for a story as it ruins my flow. That saying I have written a couple of Holmes stories and those take a lot of checking and research. I expect I spend four times as long checking Holmes’ timeline, or the history of the period, than I do actually writing the stories.

KR: How would you describe your writing style?

PJ: Chaotic. I write a lot of long sentences. Because I moved schools from a two-tier system in Wales to a three-tier system in Worcestershire I missed out on the lessons where they taught you punctuation and when to use it. My English teacher realised that there was an issue and she spent some time teaching me the basics. But she told me that a comma was to be used when two ideas are linked, and a full stop is when you stop for breath. Well if you have ever had a conversation with me, you’d realise I never stop for breath, and in my head everything is linked. Beta readers and editors are my saviours.

KR: Describe your usual writing day?

PJ: My writing day used to be I’d get up in the morning, have breakfast then write until lunchtime, before then usually going out and either doing errands or my day job as a nurse in the afternoons, but that has gone a bit to pot. We moved house, had builders in, then my husband started to work from home because of Covid, and now we have builders in again. So now I have an hour of quiet time each day to write (builders permitting). I’m looking forward to some warmer weather where I can escape into my garden where hopefully I can get some peace and quiet to write.

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

PJ: The first story I think I wrote and actually liked was Dendrochronology so I was really happy when it was nominated for the BFS best short story award. I also have another story that I adore, but which is unfortunately struggling to get a home as it’s a bit odd, called To Pray at Your Temple. I have my fingers crossed as it is currently out for an anthology with an editor who I think it would really suit. But if the worst happens and it doesn’t get picked up I am intending on having it published as part of my next collection.

KR: Do you read your book reviews?

PJ: With trepidation and fear. I don’t actually mind bad reviews, I’m aware that not everyone likes every style of writing, and by the time my work is published I usually hate it anyway. But I do get really excited if a reviewer gets what I was trying to portray in a piece of work. I think I would prefer a negative review where the reviewer understood what I was aiming for with a story, than I would a positive review where they’d got completely the wrong end of the stick. But I’m also happy for a story to start with a writer and finish with the reader, my short story Dendrochronology is a good example of this, a lot of the reviews, both positive and negative, have stated about how you don’t know if the protagonist in the story is male or female, and that it was either a construct that the reviewer liked or didn’t. I would like to apologise I wasn’t trying to be clever, as the author I knew what gender the protagonist was, I just didn’t realise I hadn’t said in the story. I think it’s quite cool that people will have read that story so differently, so I’m not going to say the gender of the protagonist, but if anyone wants to know, feel free to ask me.

KR: How do you think you’ve developed as an author?

PJ: Hopefully my punctuation has improved, but I think the main way my writing has developed is I am trusting myself more when I write. When I first started I was definitely trying to parrot other author’s voices, or trying to write what I think people wanted to read, but now I think I’m finding my own writing voice easier when I start a story, and I’m trusting that voice to tell the story more.

KR: What is the best piece of advice you’ve received regarding your writing?

PJ: When I was writing my novel I was struggling to write 1000 words a day. Mark West told me to change my goal so I was aiming for 500 words a day, because then that 700 0r 850 words I wrote was to be celebrated rather than a failure to beat myself up over. It worked and as soon as I cut my word goal to 500 words I started writing 2000, 3000, 4000 words a day instead. I soon upped my goal back to 1000 words, but when I’m struggling I always change it back to 500 and it seems to work every time.

KR: What scares you?

PJ: Jellyfish. I hate them, which is pain when what I really love doing is being in the sea. If I see one on the beach that will be that beach off my radar for that swimming season. I know where my phobia stems from (I was three and one was miles away from me in the sea, when my Dad came screaming in to rescue me from it). I’ve been stung by one and it was no big deal, no worse than nettles, but I’m even scared of ones that don’t sting. They are completely alien to me, and everything about them makes me feel nauseous.

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

PJ: Matryoshka is being published by Hersham Horror as part of its Primal novella range, and its central themes are pregnancy and loss of self. The story is very loosely based around a patient I nursed who developed post-partum psychosis in the last two weeks of her pregnancy. It was terrifying for her family and for the medical professionals involved in her care: she was refusing medication and she wouldn’t eat or drink because she was sure we were poisoning her, she was a flight risk but we couldn’t restrain her because of the advanced stages of her pregnancy. I remember being all too aware that no matter how fearful we were for the wellbeing of her and her baby; for her it would have felt as if she was living through a horror movie. She was in a waking nightmare, where she believed that her son had been replaced by his evil twin, as had her mother, and they were now trying to replace both her and her unborn child. Luckily both mother and baby were fine (although labour did start in a barricaded attic), and once the baby was born the mother consented to treatment, and six months down the line both were back to full health. With the novella itself I tried to capture the paranoia of Rosemary’s baby, and also the claustrophobia and dreamlike quality of the 1953 film Invaders From Mars. That sensation of being on your own, of nobody believing you. Of that ultimate despair when you start to doubt yourself and question your own sanity. When you start to wonder what would be preferable: the horror that surrounds you being real or that you had gone insane. That to me is what makes these stories so terrifying.

KR: What are you working on now?

PJ: I’m currently working on a novel which has the elevator pitch “Bridget Jones meets The Wicker Man”. It’s basically a story about small-town mentality and the isolation that can occur when you have no choice but to return.

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

You can choose…

a) One fictional character from your writing.

PJ: It would probably be Pablo Rogers from my story That’s the way the cookie crumbles as he’d always have biscuits, so at least we wouldn’t starve.

b) One fictional character from any other book.

PJ: It’s been so long since I’ve read it, but maybe whoever built the treehouse in The Swiss Family Robinson.

c) One real-life person that is not a family member or friend.

PJ: It would have to be Stephen King, and to be fair kidnapping him and forcing him on to a deserted island is probably the only way I’ll ever meet him. And I am his number one fan.

KR: Thank you very much Penny.


There’s something wrong with her husband, Mark. Lucy had heard all the rumours about him, the whispered warning behind her back. The half heard Chinese whispers seemed to haunt her, mocking her wherever she goes. Now it appears that whatever’s the matter with Mark is spreading; tainting, infecting both strangers and those that she loves the most. So, Lucy will go to any lengths to protect both her young daughter and her unborn child.

You can buy Matryoshka from Amazon UK & Amazon US

Penny Jones

You can find out more about Penny by visiting her official website www.penny-jones.com

You can follow Penny on Twitter @pennyqotu

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