Once upon a time, hiding in your closets or under your bed, or possibly in the space between each breath, there was a fear of the lingering dead. Spirits, ghosts and shadows came knock knock knocking at your door, and now they’ve come back to visit once more.
*Lighting FLASH and loud dramatic music*
Ok, attempt at atmosphere aside, we have Mark Nixon here today for an interview. Mark is the editor, creator, and one of the authors of shadowsatthedoor.com, an online (and soon to be real-life) collection of ghost stories.
Mark is in the midst of a Kickstarter campaign to fund the 1st multi-media “collection of illustrated, locally-inspired ghostly stories by top horror writers from around the world” .
Originally I was supposed to interview him with Dan Foytik on the 9th Story Podcast, but I ended up staying at work waaaay late that night so Mark was kind enough to answer some of my questions here as well.
Also, I asked different questions than what Dan covered in the podcast, so please do check that out as well, since it was a fantastic conversation about story and running a kickstarter campaign. You can find that episode here.
So, on to the interview!
JA = Jeanette Andromeda (that’s me!) and MN = Mark Nixon
JA- When did you first get excited about ghost stories? Was there a particular story that got you going?
MN- I was always interested in supernatural case study books as a child, reading rubbish stuff about the Bermuda Triangle and things like that. But in my early teens I read ‘The Signalman’ by Charles Dickens, and it made a huge impact on me. From then on I would pick up any anthology I could and soon discovered a lot more that would become firm favourites.
JA – What elements do you think a great ghost story needs?
MN – A slow build up of atmosphere, and subtlety. It’s no good if the ghost is jumping out and shouting ‘boo!’ early in the story, (at least in most cases). Your protagonist needs to be totally at ease with his surroundings at first, and then you can start to drop hints of something sinister in steady drops, like a [leaking] tap. This can come in varying degrees but all the great ones feature this formula.
I’m also a strong believer in ‘less is more’, lashings of gore desensitize me very quickly, and takes the reader out of the story. I do employ a bit of gore sometimes, but it’s used minimally and therefore for maximum effectiveness. So if the ghost must jump out and shout ‘boo’ let the protagonist know it’s coming with a steady build of unnerving, and hints and what’s outside their window, or similar.
JA – Oh heck yeah. That slow build tends to freak me out way more than jump scares and gore too. I’m curious, how do these elements affect your process when working with Barney and his artwork? (Barney Bodoano is the incredibly talented artist illustrated the story collection.)
MN – I really enjoy working with Barney. When I send him a story, I usually have a particular scene in mind to be illustrated, but not wanting to step on Barney’s toes, I keep quiet. Barney then reads the story and 90% of the time he suggests the same thing. Then it’s a matter of discussing the finer points, and for Barney to sketch a few ideas out.
It’s always interesting to see his ideas in the details too, as different things may really jump out at him as an illustrator. In the story ‘Leave a Light On For Me‘ for example, Barney sketched out the entire fictional town in which the story is set, he took the tiniest details from the story and brought them to life. I was quite taken aback! In the event of real locations, Barney likes to get as many details from those places as possible, so it best matches the images the writer was created.
JA – Very cool. How long have you been preparing for this anthology?
MN – Now there’s a question. I think maybe a year now. There was so much work to do before I even considered launching the Kickstarter. Selecting the perfect team, describing my vision adequately, researching every detail involved in book printing…. It feels longer though. It’s a real labour of love.
JA – What have you learned about the process of book printing?
MN – Cheapest is not best. Printers who charge more are usually bibliophiles who will guide you through every stage of printing. The cheaper ones don’t and give you a product that will be inferior, and that’s not reflective of of the price difference.
Little things about how covers look when shrunk down, may look terrible when viewed by a casual browser one line. Page design is very important, paragraphs can make or break a book. A browser in a bookshop may be put off by huge paragraphs, so spacing then out is important. But then you can’t do it by too much, because the same browser may think it’s a book aimed at a causal audience.
Oh and here’s a bit of trivia: ribbon bookmarks? Have to be hand stitched every time, no way to mass produce that by machine.
JA – What? Really? I had no idea.
MN – Neither did I! So they’re particularly expensive.
JA – I suddenly have way more respect for my ribbons
MN – Treat them with the love they deserve.
JA – The other thing I wanted to ask you about was your kickstarter video. (Which was creepy but fun and informative btw, fantastic job.) What was your process for filming it?
MN – Well thanks! It’s all very amateur I’m afraid!
It’s a tongue-in-cheek homage to my favourite ghost story ‘Oh Whistle and I’ll Come To You, My Lad‘ on which a poor soul is at one point chased by a cloaked figure on the beach. There were two adaptions for TV by the BBC that I took inspiration from for some of the visuals.
So, I wrote a script and invited some friends over, I showed them clips from the adaptation and then off we drove to a quiet beach in north east England armed with a bed sheet and a camera.
Although cold, it was a very bright day (well, for England) so the beach was quite crowded and a lot of the day was spent waiting for people to pass by, of course looking at the ghost figure they did slow down to look! None of us have any filming experience so it was quite fun to work out how we’d do it. The sun began to set as we filmed, so we used that to our advantage! Downside was how loud the waves were! But I’m pleased with the the video, and the music composed by the guys at Cathedral Sounds really changed it into something quite insidious.
JA – Wow, you filmed it in one day? There were a lot of shots right at magic hour (sunset) which really worked for you.
MN – Within about four hours, yeah!
JA – Wicked! How did you get connected with cathedrals sounds?
MN – Our friend Dan Foytik recommended them to me. Dan of course, works with a lot of musicians but he said that Cathedral Sounds were most suitable for this anthology. After I introduced them to the project, Shawn and Kim (the masterminds composers) were extremely enthusiastic and shared my vision for the anthology. Immediately we developed a great working relationship.
JA – Nice! And what’s your creation process with them been like?
MN – It’s been fantastic. I’ve sent them a story as each one has been completed and professionally edited to get their initial thoughts (it’s also been great to know how much they loved the stories). I’d also send them what kind of music I had in mind, and they asked or me to send some examples of stuff I think is suitable. Then we’ve discussed what instruments to use and things like that and have began to work on something really original. I’m not musically gifted beyond enjoying it, but Kim and Shawn have been very keen for feedback so the theme music for example, went through a handful of changes until we all agreed it was perfect.
JA – Thank you so much much for these insights into your current project!
♦ ————- ♦
And thank you guys for joining in on the interview!
If you’d like to help make this collection a reality, please stop by the Shadows at the Door Kickstarter, and if you don’t have any extra scratch at the moment, then please help share the project. Every little bit helps.
Connect with Mark
Have a good one my friends!