{Interview} To celebrate the release of ‘To Drown In Dark Water’, author Steve Toase talks to Kendall Reviews.

The Kendall Reviews Interview

Steve Toase

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Steve Toase was born in North Yorkshire, England, and now lives in Munich, Germany.

He writes regularly for Fortean Times and Folklore Thursday. His fiction has appeared in Nightmare Magazine, Shadows & Tall Trees 8, Nox Pareidolia, Three Lobed Burning Eye, Shimmer, and Lackington’s amongst others. Three of his stories have been reprinted in Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year series.

His debut short story collection ‘To Drown in Dark Water’ is due out from Undertow Publications on April 27th.

The debut short story collection from Steve Toase heralds the arrival of a transcendent visionary of modern horror, a melding of the beauty and terror of Clive Barker and Tanith Lee, with Steve’s distinctive visceral and vibrant voice. Containing 6 new dark visions and a curated selection of reprints, including 3 stories from the acclaimed Best Horror of the Year series, To Drown in Dark Water is a veritable feast of gruesome delights.

He also likes old motorbikes and vintage cocktails.

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

Steve Toase: My name’s Steve. Originally from North Yorkshire, I now live in Munich in Germany. At university, I studied archaeology and spent several years working as a digger. After getting my MA I moved sideways into working with historic mapping.

Writing-wise I do several things. In Fortean Times I have a regular page reviewing comics and also write features on a wide range of subjects such as Emergency Population Warning Systems the occult in biker films and books. My first published work was for motorbike magazines.

When it comes to fiction my stories tend toward the unsettling and weird, often balancing on the line between cosmic horror and folk horror.

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

ST: I ride motorbikes. I have a modern (well, 1996) Suzuki for everyday runs out, and a 1947 Norton rigid custom bike. Since lockdown, I’ve taken up playing chess online. I’m not very good, but I’m learning! I also like to dance Lindy Hop, and make vintage cocktails.

KR: What is your favourite childhood book?

ST: When I was at junior school we had the Puffin Book Club and they republished Chocky by John Wyndham to tie in with the TV series. That off-kilter blend of scifi and everyday life was pretty formative. I still have my original copy.

When I was in my early teens I collected Dennis Wheatley books (not just the occult ones) until I ended up with a full set. I think that’s where I first got exposed to that idea of weirdness in the landscape. Also, straddling the border between fact and fiction, the World of the Unknown: Ghosts from Usborne had a huge impact.

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

ST: I listen to a huge amount of music. New Model Army have been a big part of my life, and I got brought up on Hawkwind and Pink Floyd. Maxinequaye by Tricky is probably my favourite album (today). There’s something in the glitchy sound and lyrics that still fascinate me all these years later. Hell Is Around The Corner still sounds like a Clive Barker short story in song form.

I often think about the atmosphere I want to create in my stories in terms of music, so I may think in terms of Nick Drake’s songs or a Mazzy Star track.

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

ST: Favourite director is Guillermo del Toro and favourite film is Pan’s Labyrinth. Without a doubt. I have a huge interest in folklore and fairy tales, and I think the way del Toro contrasts the grotesque of the fairy tale side with the violence of the real-life conflict is incredibly powerful. One of the aspects I really like about Pan’s Labyrinth is how he uses texture in the film. The food on the Pale Man’s table looks like it’s incredibly ripe, just on the turn. I think that anchoring of the unreal makes the film far more effective.

KR: What are you reading now?

ST: I’ve got loads on the go. I’m dipping into several short story collections including I Spit Myself Out by Tracy Fahey, Teatro Grottesco by Thomas Ligotti, Sing Your Sadness Deep by Laura Mauro. I’m working through Joan Didion’s White Album, a collection of her essays. It might not seem connected with horror, but Didion is very good at getting into places, sitting quietly and recording the darkness of the world.

KR: What was the last great book you read?

ST: Because of my reviewing work for Fortean Times I’ve been going back and filling gaps in my comics reading. Recently I’ve been reading Alan Moore’s run on Swamp Thing. The whole concept he introduces is really well done, and the prose is genuinely beautiful. In terms of new books, I recently read Absorbed by Kylie Whitehead and enjoyed that a lot. I think it’s out soon from New Ruins.

KR: E-Book, Paperback or Hardback?

ST: Paperback. I’ve got hundreds of the things. Unfortunately, we currently live in a small flat in Munich and my books are all in England. At the moment I rely on my E-Book a lot and would be lost without it.

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

ST: Neil Gaiman, Charles de Lint, Angela Carter, Clive Barker, Robert Holdstock, Jeff Noon, Michael Marshall Smith. Also, a fairly obscure short story writer called Jim Fogg. He used to write fiction for the custom bike magazine Back Street Heroes. As well as a writer and biker, he was also an archaeologist which is my day job. He’s a bit of a hero of mine.

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

ST: I very much see where the ideas take me. I normally have an image or line to start with. For The Children of the Rotting Straw the line ‘The sky was made of sticks’ came from nowhere, and kicked off the ideas. I rarely know where the story is going until I’ve written it.

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

ST: I rarely do huge amounts of research. Atelier is set at the time of the first Der Blaue Reiter art exhibition in 1911, so I researched the locations in the story then went into the city centre to walk them. Grenzen is set on the road that travelled through East Germany between West Germany and West Berlin, so I did a fair bit of research into the protocols for people travelling that route. In other stories I tend to research details but it’s more to enhance the story rather than become the focus.

KR: How would you describe your writing style?

ST: I cut my teeth on flash fiction so tend to work on getting a paragraph to do several jobs, but the main thing most of my stories have in common is unsettling people slowly until they realise that there is an inevitability to the outcome of the story.

KR: Describe your usual writing day?

ST: I write three days a week and that will be a mixture of fiction, magazine freelancing, reviewing and other projects. Schedule wise I normally see my son off to school around 7:30, go down to the oubliette (my cellar office), play a couple of games of chess, then write until about 11:00. Apart from breaking for cups of tea and lunch, I’ll stay at the computer writing for most of the day.

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

ST: At the moment Dancing Sober in the Dust. The story came from an article I researched about dance during the Weimar Republic and the imagery was so strong (and the true story so unnerving) I wanted to explore it further.

KR: Do you read your book reviews?

ST: I do. As a reviewer, I do respect anyone’s right to have a take on my work. I don’t necessarily agree with it, but I can appreciate that’s their opinion.

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

ST: I think I’m starting to get better at writing longer fiction. I started by writing for motorbike magazines and was used to working to a tight word count. When I started writing fiction my main outlet was performing at open mic nights. Most places have a time limit and longer short stories didn’t work, so I wrote flash fiction. When I started trying to write novel-length stories, everything felt a bit baggy, but over time I’ve got better at keeping the flow through a longer piece. I’ve now finished two novels and a novella, and each time I learn something new.

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

ST: Make some regular time to write. The old saw is to write every day and that’s not always possible, but making time regularly really helps. Even if you can just write a paragraph in that time, the words will accumulate until you have a story. The best advice I can give is to use the time when you’re not writing to think about your story, so when you can sit down in front of the keyboard you can crack straight on.

KR: What scares you?

ST: Heights. Hate them. Loathe them, especially artificial constructions such as scaffold towers. Strangely I’m fine in planes.

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

ST: To Drown in Dark Water is a short story collection containing 26 stories, with six published here for the first time. Three of the stories have previously been reprinted in Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year series.

I play with genre a lot. Some are folk horror, others more cosmic horror. Flow to the Sea blends in science fiction, and Atelier has a historical setting. There’s also a couple that play with fairytale ideas. The thing that the stories, hopefully, all share is that they are unsettling. They get under your skin and stay there.

It’s coming out from Undertow Publications and I’ve been a huge fan of their work for ages. They published Priya Sharma’s All the Fabulous Beasts, and Laura Mauro’s Sing Your Sadness Deep, both of which are stunning collections.

I’m also really pleased with the cover art which is by Austrian artist Stefan Koidl. I think it fits the tone of the book perfectly and particularly resonates with a couple of the stories.

KR: What are you working on now?

ST: At the moment I’m preparing for a commission as part of the Esch2022 European Capital of Culture. I’m also working on a script for a planetarium show for people who are blind or vision impaired.

I’ve got a new novel I’m hoping to start soon. It’s set in the same world as my short story A Flick of the Wyvern’s Tale, but it’s going to almost certainly have more of a horror feel to it.

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.

ST: The unnamed narrator from Streuobstwiese because they deserve a break.

    1. One fictional character from any other book.

ST: Jilly Coppercorn from Charles de Lint’s Newford series of books, because we’ve both been homeless in our teens and I respect her strength and cheerfulness. She’s a survivor.

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

ST: The artist Jim Fitzpatrick. He did a lot of Thin Lizzy’s cover art back in the day, and was the artist responsible for the Che Guevara two-tone print that has now become so iconic. My first introduction to his work was via his art nouveau style paintings of Irish mythology. I met him at Dublin Worldcon where I nervously showed him my backpiece tattoo based on his version of Emer, the wife of Cú Chulainn. He has so many stories about music, art and politics that I think the evenings would fly by.

KR: Thank you very much Steve.

To Drown In Dark Water

To drown in dark water …

The debut short story collection from Steve Toase heralds the arrival of a transcendent visionary of modern horror, a melding of the beauty and terror of Clive Barker and Tanith Lee, with Steve’s distinctive visceral and vibrant voice. Containing 6 new dark visions and a curated selection of reprints, including 3 stories from the acclaimed Best Horror of the Year series, To Drown in Dark Water is a veritable feast of gruesome delights.

You can buy To Drown In Dark Water from Amazon UK & Amazon US

Steve Toase

I am a Yorkshire born author living in Munich, Germany. In my stories Gods are found in boxes, trees hitch-hike and bears play chess in sunlit plazas.

You can find out more about Steve by visiting his official website www.stevetoase.wordpress.com

You can follow Steve on Twitter @stevetoase

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