Those of you who follow me on Twitter may have seen me gush about the awesomeness of The Eyes of the Dead, an indescribably creepy (in a good way!) novel by author G.R. Yeates. I had the pleasure of interviewing Yeates via email during the lead-up to the release of the sequel to The Eyes of the Dead, and I thought I’d share the interview with you.
So without further ado, here is Mr. G.R. Yeates!
My readers may not be familiar with you or your work. Could you take a few moments to tell them a little bit about yourself? What do you do when you’re not writing?
I was born in Rochford, which is a small town in Essex, a county in the East of England. I grew up in a number of seaside towns and I do miss being by the sea now I’m based in London. I taught English as a foreign language in China for a year after finishing university. Since moving to London, I’ve been a member of a few bands that didn’t work out but I was always complimented on the quality of my lyrics, which started turning my mind to writing rose when I came to a personal crossroads in 2006 and had to decide whether I was going to continue as a musician or try a different path. Given the response to The Eyes of the Dead so far, I think that I made the right decision.
When I’m not writing I am usually socialising with friends or catching up on my reading or film viewing. Though I’m not sure a writer ever stops writing. I might not be at a keyboard or wielding a pen but it’s always there, on my mind. My imagination is always creating in some respect.
How did you decide that the horror genre was the ideal genre for you to write in? Are you going to be an exclusively horror author, or would you consider branching out to other genres, and if so, which ones?
There was never a question about it, really. My imagination has always leaned towards the morbid and ‘unhealthy’ side of things. Also, politically, I’ve always believed in art as a means of agitation and confrontation. I rarely become passionate or excited by something that just escapist and entertainment though I’m not saying these things should be absent from what one creates. You need to be able to entertain someone in order to engage them otherwise whatever you have to say will be lost or ignored.
To give some examples of artists who I respect and admire that fulfil my above criteria; Francis Bacon, Edvard Munch, Toulouse-Lautrec and H.R. Giger are among my favourite painters. I think that Diamanda Galas is one of the single greatest musicians and singers we have – if you want to listen to a truly terrifying and profoundly moving suite, try her album Vena Cava. It’s a vocal study into the onset of dementia suffered by a terminally-ill patient being kept in solitary confinement. A further example would be last year’s notorious art-house horror film; A Serbian Film, where the consequences of the Serbian conflict are used to explore just how abused we are by our governments and how this then dictates and degrades our personal relationships down to the most intimate level.
As to whether I’d consider branching out into other genres, this is something I have given a lot of thought to. I don’t consider myself a writer of traditional realism as I use the ‘real world’ as a jumping off point for my stories rather than something to be emulated or mirrored so I think it’s very unlikely I’ll move into crime fiction or something similar. If I were to branch out, it would be into some further form of speculative fiction. I have a nascent idea for a sword & sorcery epic romance, partially inspired by growing up with John Milius’ Conan the Barbarian and my admiration for Michael Moorcock’s Tale of the Eternal Champion. I can’t really say more than that at the moment as it’s all still very rough as an idea but that might be where I go next.
My readers may not be familiar with your first work, The Eyes of the Dead. Could you tell them a little something about it?
The Eyes of the Dead is set during the Passchendaele campaign of the First World War. It follows an ordinary soldier, Private Wilson, who has been traumatised by his experiences and suffers from amnesia. Following a battle that degenerates into massacre, he takes shelter in a crypt with two of his mates and they are attacked by a vampire. This creature then pursues Wilson across the Western Front and it becomes clear that there is some connection between them. Wilson then has to work out just what this is before it is too late.
Could you also tell us about your newest release, Shapes in the Mist?
Shapes in the Mist takes place in London during the First World War. Under cover of the zeppelin raids, the murders of Jack the Ripper are being recreated and it becomes clear that the Vetala vampires are behind it. A number of suspects are introduced including the protagonist, Jerry Reinhart, an American fighter-pilot. We also find out more about the Vetala, the Grey and the timeless entities that the vampires serve in this novel.
Being a bit of a mythology buff, I have heard of the Vetala before, but it isn’t a mythology that most people are familiar with. What made you settle on the Vetala as a subject in your books?
I was concerned with finding a type of vampire that had not really been done before. The Vetala appealed to me because they were not of the sexy, romantic type and they had attributes that made them formidable in a way I think vampires have not been for a long time. They get inside your head and drive you insane, which makes them parasites in a much more personal sense than something that just wants to suck your blood. Also, their being able to know the past, present and future is something I will be developing further in the next novel, Hell’s Teeth.
And they dovetail with my own preferences in horror; I prefer an antagonistic force that is wholly alien and has concerns to which humanity is a footnote rather than a focus. I also prefer to explore themes a tad more abstract and nebulous than, say, hope, love and redemption. As I’ve said before, I think the point of the genre is to unsettle and disturb, so giving the reader a reassuring Campbellian story arc is not something that interests me at all.
As a historian, I found the World War I aspects of your novel Eyes of the Dead to be surprisingly accurate, something I don’t see happen too often, especially in independently published works. How much research did you put into writing your books? What were the most challenging aspects of the researching and information gathering for this novel? What made you choose World War I as the setting for Eyes of the Dead?
There wasn’t much challenge for me as the First World War is a period of history I am passionately interested in so reading about it was a pleasure, not a chore. The only stumbling block was that I got carried away and ended up doing six months of research before sitting down to write the book, which I think was overkill on reflection. But, at the same time, I’ve received many compliments on the detail in The Eyes of the Dead so it was six months well spent. Also, that initial period of research paid off handsomely for Shapes in the Mist and Hell’s Teeth as I didn’t have to do quite so much reading before sitting down to write them. I’ve got a pretty strong memory so I remembered a lot of the stuff I needed for each book and what I couldn’t remember I had tagged in the research books for future reference.
Was there a particular author or book that you find influential or inspirational? Who are your favorite authors or, barring that, what are your favorite books?
The one who endures for me is H.P. Lovecraft and the Mythos that grew out of his work has been an influence on the Vetala Cycle. Not in an obvious sense but in how I have structured it; the antagonists being the recurring element rather than the protagonists, the antagonists having an origin that is cosmic and metaphysical rather than traditionally supernatural and the focus on a central protagonist who descends into a hell where their understanding of the world breaks down into overwhelming insanity.
Did you attempt the traditionally published route before you settled on independent publication? If yes, why did you choose to abandon it? If no, why did you choose to not pursue it?
I did and I abandoned it because I was getting positive feedback on my work but nothing more. Some detractors of the self-publishing route have said if you are rejected by an editor, publisher or agent then it is for a reason, implying you’re just not good enough. Well, my experience was that I was being told that I just wasn’t what they were looking for at that time. So what do you then? Sit and wait for some inestimable future point where you are what they are looking for? There’s no way to predict the way trends and tastes are going to go. Additionally, I did have an agent but that did not work out as I was just kept waiting and waiting. Promises were made and not followed through on.
Self-publishing suits me a lot better as I am a very independent and self-reliant personality as well as being a hard worker with a sharp eye so whilst it might look to some like I’m churning away and being very prolific, I don’t feel that way at all. This is my natural speed when it comes to creativity and I will never put something out that is not my best work. I also like being able to interact with fans directly and build up those relationships. In Shapes in the Mist, I asked two readers to blurb the work, which is something I wouldn’t be able to do with a traditional publisher and I think it’s a nice way to say thank you to the most important people in the process. It’s great to get the thumbs-up from my peers and critics, don’t get me wrong, but readers will always be the bulk of your audience and I think self-publishing lets us acknowledge that fact and salute those people who decide to take a chance on us rather than the latest James Patterson or Stephen King. As John Locke has said, we can now ‘go deep’ with our audience and I think that is invaluable as an opportunity.
What do you feel were the most difficult aspects of independent publication?
I think it’s all hard work really as you have to be thorough and methodical but also be able to adjust your marketing approach when something doesn’t work out. But, at the same time, I was doing all the work beforehand anyway when I was following the traditional publishing route. Everything I have now is down to me putting in the hours, writing, talking to people as people rather than consciously networking, reaching out and just learning how to make this work. This is why I have only marginal sympathy for writers who bemoan having to do everything themselves, I already was doing that and I survived, I’m still here and I’m getting results, slowly and steadily.
How do you market your work? What avenues have you found that work best for marketing in the horror genre?
I’m still in the early days but I think it’s as much about what works for you as an individual rather than your genre per se. I try to keep up a steady flow of updates to my social networks, do some interviews and blog posts and I’m now moving into Goodreads and Librarything so I can chat more with readers. As I’ve said before, conversing with my peers is great but I think it is doubly important for readers to be able to see you and know you exist so where they are is where I’m going to go in the immediate future. Additionally, I only have two books out at the moment and I want more out there before Christmas, which will see the next big surge in ereaders, so I am prioritising getting material written, edited and out there over extensive marketing.
What are you currently working on right now?
I am working on Hell’s Teeth, which is the third novel and the end of the First World War trilogy. It is set during the tail-end of the Gallipoli campaign in 1916 where an ex-pat from New Zealand will attract the attention of the Vetala and take a journey into the future to see what awaits mankind after its final war. I am also sketching out three short stories which will be released individually and as part of the collected edition at Christmas. The Last Post is set during the 1914 Christmas Truce where a soldier will meet victims of the Vetala from past wars such as the Crimea and the Boer. A Death at the Somme will be something a bit different as I’m planning it to be a long prose poem of a mortally-wounded man’s last moments during that terrible battle in 1916. Finally, The Iron Coffin, which will be set on one of the German U-Boats, the U-156, which disappeared on 25 September 1918 off the coast of Bergen, Norway.
What can we expect to see next from G.R. Yeates?
After I finish the first trilogy in The Vetala Cycle, I will be moving on to three standalone horror novels that have been in the works for a good few years. All I will say right now is that they were considered by my agent to be ‘too sick’ for a traditional publisher so, in 2012, you can expect some truly dark and disturbing fare to download onto your Kindles and Nooks. After that, I will start to roll out the second trilogy which will take the Vetala to the Second World War and I plan to set the stories on the British Home Front, at Stalingrad and an abandoned concentration camp in the present day.