Guest Blog – James Brogden

I was really delighted to interview local author and friend Janes Brogden recently. His career has just grown and grown, so dip in and hear what he has to say!

Hi James

Great to chat to you again and thanks for taking the time to answer my questions.

1) In Hekla’s Children, your debut with Titan (not actual debut) I couldn’t help but chuckle at the protagonists who are teachers off on a trip and notice some familiar old school memories – how much of your experience as a teacher went in to this? And what do your pupils think about their teacher being a writer?

1. I actually worried long and hard about writing a story which had teachers and students as the main characters, particularly that someone I work with would worry that I was basing a character on them. Which of course I wasn’t. But it was a bit like building a gaming avatar from a menu of features; this particular mannerism plus that little quirk of speech, this item of clothing plus that thing about an allergy… Taking interesting little facets of real people and mixing them together to create fictional people who I hope come across as believable. They say write what you know – they also say write what scares you. In my day job as a teacher the thing that terrifies me the most is losing a group of kids that I’m responsible for, so that’s where that comes from.

2) Balancing full time work and still producing novels (the latter being a hefty 480 pages) is no mean feat. How do you fit the writing career in with the day Job?

2. By doing both really badly. Ahem. No, so there’s this thing whereby a lot of people who aren’t teachers misunderstand the nature of school holidays and think that all teachers do during the breaks is swan off for weeks on end, except in reality what they’re doing is marking or planning or reading new texts and syllabi, pursuing further qualifications to make them better at their job – the list goes on. I’m fortunate to have a job which affords me that down-time from the face-to-face teaching when I can write. I try to get the planning, outlining and editing done during term-time (usually late at night), and then use the holidays to actually draft.

3) Speaking of the latest book, The Hollow Tree launching (INSERT DETAILS and links) I noticed it seems to have been inspired by a West Midlands urban legend – Bella and the Wych Elm – what started you on this path? And how much research was involved?

3. I can’t remember exactly where I first heard of the Bella story – I think it might have been my friend Dan Williams – but I do a lot of walking and rambling around the local area and I saw the graffiti on the Wychbury obelisk one day when my girls were little and we were out for a walk to see the old iron-age fort at Wychbury Hill. And yes, there was a TON of research involved – starting with the fact that the story dates back from WW2 and I really didn’t know much about the history of Birmingham during that time. Then I decided that I didn’t want to try to ‘solve’ the mystery of Bella but rather explore the different mythical versions of her, so I had to find out about the lifestyles and customs of Midlands gypsies, witchcraft, the cloak-and-dagger details of double-agents during the war, and all of it on top of writing a protagonist who was an amputee without having the faintest idea myself of what it’s like to lose a limb. Sort of the exact opposite of ‘write what you know,’ to be honest.

4) There seems to have been a revival lately in a particularly British horror sub-genre, which readers and reviewers are calling folk horror. It’s certainly picking up more readers following the release of films such as the Adam Nevill adaptation The Ritual.
Why now? Is this a reaction to the society we now live in?

4. It’s the dark side of nationalistic nostalgia. The last few years we’ve seen an upsurge in right-wing nationalistic politics attempting to manipulate people’s prejudices and xenophobia for the purposes of furthering absurdly destructive policies like Brexit, by appealing to spurious notions of British ‘sovereignty’, the Blitz Spirit, and all that is Green and Pleasant about this Land. To my mind, ‘folk horror’ (if that’s what you want to call it), is a recognition that there is a very dark and sinister aspect to all of this which we are conveniently forgetting. The avuncular local priest is holding satanic masses in the church crypt. The kindly old ladies who make the tea for the jumble sale are spiking the scones with rat poison. The monsters that lurk in the hedge-rows and forgotten scraps of woodland are the demonic face of Ye Merrie Englande – the face that subjugated and exploited dozens of other cultures in the name of Empire, and is now freaking out because they want to come here and enjoy some of the spoils.

Finally, before you go, you’ve successfully launched two horror novels after multiple stories in anthologies plus your own collections. What’s next for you in genre and writing?

Leetle bit of a rant. Last words: What’s next for me is another novel for Titan called ‘The Plague Stones’, about the Black Death and centuries-old curses, which we hope will be released about the same time next year. I owe them a fourth after that, but I have no idea what it’s about yet!

As always, pleasure to chat.

Readers can follow you on: I can be found at @skippybe on twitter and under my own name on facebook.

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