Who doesn’t love a good gothic horror novel? I know I do. Gothic horror and dark fantasy styled novels are right up my alley. And guess what? I managed to score an interview with someone who happens to write those very same kind.
A writer for 23 years, Birmingham-based Jay Raven was a journalist before leaving behind the clamour of headlines and deadlines to chase his dream of capturing monsters and releasing them into the world of fiction. During that time his work has been widely published in horror and fantasy anthologies on both sides of the Atlantic.
As well as reinventing traditional Gothic horror for a modern audience, he writes alternative history urban fantasies – usually with supernatural themes. He loves to cross genres and bring unexpected elements – if not elementals – to the party.
Now, continue reading and discover what makes up the man, Jay Raven.
Luny: Please tell your pen name and where you are from.
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Jay Raven: I’m originally from Glasgow but now live in Birmingham, Britain’s second city.
I write all my Gothic material under the pen name Jay Raven. I adopted an alias to keep my horror output clearly separate from my other fiction work and allow me to be more explicit and shocking in my storytelling.
I chose Jay Raven for a variety of reasons. Firstly, it nodded towards the writing of Edgar Allen Poe and his poem The Raven. Then there was the fact that it had a very North American feel and a lot of my dark fantasy originally appeared in US and Canadian anthologies.
I’ve been asked if it has anything to do with The Penguin’s female sidekicks Jay and Raven in the Batman comics, but although I’m a huge fan of The Dark Knight it wasn’t anything I’d consciously connected with.
Luny: I noticed on your website, you mentioned being confused as how to speak/dress/behave etc, has life gotten a little easier in finding out who you are?
Jay Raven: Before concentrating full time on historical horror and Gothic chillers, I was a humorist and had a very laid back, jokey image. When I switched to supernatural stories I naturally assumed that my new horror readers would expect me to adopt a scary, dark and slightly intimidating persona.
But I can’t keep up the whole creepy Vincent Price routine and when I do podcasts and Facebook Live video broadcasts I find myself starting to mess about, so I’ve come to a compromise where I try to look the part in still photos and promotional material but am more relaxed and light hearted when I’m broadcasting and appearing “in the flesh”.
Luny: I see you recently launched your newest book title Crimson Siege. Can you describe for us a little what it’s about and what made you decide to want to write it?
Jay Raven: Crimson Siege is a fast-paced vampire-hunter story set in the mid-19th century, the first of my Blood Riders Gothic horror series. The action takes place in the violent badlands of Transylvania where ruthless vampires and bounty hunters battle for supremacy. This opener charts what happens when a nosferatu prince is kidnapped by mercenaries, who take shelter in a small town jail that is surrounded by the Undead who will stop at nothing to rescue him.
It’s my ambition to re-invent traditional Hammer Horror for a modern audience and Crimson Siege gives it a spaghetti western feel, while introducing new features such as the vampires being able to communicate telepathically.
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Luny: When it comes to writing or drawing inspiration, where do you go? Who do you look at or get ideas from?
Jay Raven: I’ve never found it difficult to dream up story ideas. In fact, my brain is a constant whirl of half formed plots. It’s like there’s a non-stop cinema in my head.
I don’t read other horror writers because I don’t want to be influenced by what they’ve created, or find I’ve unintentionally copied anything. But I am fascinated by historical documentaries and they spark loads of ideas, as do my visits to spooky old buildings in European cities.
Legends and myths provide a mountain of potential material for the Gothic writer. The original fairy stories were cautionary horror tales, before the Victorians “sanitized” them into children’s fables.
Luny: I read your about me section on your website and noticed you live in a very interesting house. Does it have any fascinating history behind it? And how did you acquire it?
Jay Raven: The moment I saw the house I knew I had to own it. It’s located on the edge of a 500-acre forest and has bats flying around it at night and deer wandering into the garden during the day.
The house itself is very handsome and a little creepy looking. It was built in 1904 and extended in the 1980s. I’ve spent the last three years renovating it, reinstating the original features such as period coving and fireplaces and giving the 1980s extension an authentic Edwardian look.
The famous chocolate-making Cadbury family had grand houses further up the hill from us, and we believe our house was originally built for one of their staff.
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Luny: Being a writer for 23 years, what changes have you seen in yourself and your work? And where do you see yourself in the future as a writer?
Jay Raven: The biggest change over the last two decades has been the advent of the Kindle and that has changed my approach to writing beyond recognition. In the past novels had to be 85,000 words (in order to make a decent thickness of paperback) but now with electronic books, they can be half or a third of that length and that means telling the story in a much tighter, punchier way with lots of brief chapters and teasing cliff-hangers.
The other major change has been the development of the “series”. Twenty years ago I’d have penned a novel as a one-off standalone. Now, readers are hungry for second, third and fourth instalments, and that means needing to have a number of plots in mind for the characters, right from the off.
In the future I suspect I’ll be producing linked series of novellas – each about 30,000 words or so, and produced quickly to make sure voracious readers don’t have to wait long for the next episode.
Luny: When you aren’t working on a new book, what are some things you enjoy doing?
Jay Raven: Travelling – I love city breaks, especially exploring old buildings and castles all over the continent. At home I love cooking, and baking – I do a mean Victoria Sponge.
Luny: Would you consider it challenging to write for the younger generation today? Do you find yourself sacrificing anything to please them or anyone you write for?
Jay Raven: I’m not sure I’d single out the younger generation. It’s simply more difficult to write for modern readers in general. They are more demanding and know exactly what they want and aren’t afraid to complain in reviews if you don’t deliver. There are so many sub genres these days that you must target your niche fans incredibly accurately.
In addition, there’s more competition in the marketplace – there are literally millions of books on Amazon and I’m up against thousands of very talented horror writers – and the pressure to be a word factory, churning out titles is very strong. No one wants to wait 18 months for a sequel book – 18 weeks is about as long as fans will hang about.
But writing for the Kindle age is exhilarating, and it’s a fun challenge to keep stories fast paced, dynamic and lean. There has to be lots of action, tension and exciting emotion-packed dialogue. I also concentrate on giving my work a cinematic feel, so that readers get the sense they are watching a film rather than reading a book. Happily, this approach appeals particularly to a younger audience.
Luny: Can you give us a taste of what new books or ideas may be in store for the future?
Jay Raven: I’m currently working on a sorcery-themed trilogy set in England in the 17th century featuring Elizabeth Fiennes, a reluctant witch forced into the craft to save those dearest to her. The first volume, To Snare A Witch, is being published on July 17th.
Soon as I’m finished the trilogy, I’m putting together the follow-up novel to Crimson Siege, so more vampire and bounty hunter mayhem is on the cards.
In addition, I’ve got an idea for a werewolf thriller set in Victorian times, which I’d love to start work on before the end of the year, so there’s a lot to keep me busy during the remainder of 2018.
Luny: Finally, is there anyone you’d like to thank or any websites you’d mention our readers visit?
Jay Raven: This is one of these awful moments when you worry you’ll miss someone out and offend them forever. I’d really like to thank Junction Publishing for signing me up and all their help and support, plus a big “cheers” to the many writers – too numerous to mention – who have offered advice and a metaphorical shoulder to cry on when things have been tough.
I especially want to thank my wife Liz who not only has to listen to me whinge from time to time, but acts as my sounding board, beta reader and biggest but most engaged critic.
As for websites – can I suggest my own www.jayraven.com? I’m not saying it’s the best, but I could do with the visits! I blog regularly.