Friday, 14 January 2011

Fifteen minutes with William 'Witchfinder' Hussey - Part Two

Gallows at Twilight, the second book in the excellent Witchfinder series is out now. For the first part of my interview with author William Hussey, click here – or read on for part two …

8. Where do you write?
I have a very messy little study downstairs. Piles and piles of paper toppling every which way, books crowding every surface, research material cluttering the floor. The most important thing is it has a lock on the door and, if the door’s bolted that means do not disturb! The office means work: my writing computer isn’t connected to the internet so there’s never the temptation to spend hours surfing the web, the view through my window is painfully dull, and my phone is switched to silent. I’m just getting used to working in different environments – on public transport, in hotel rooms etc, but the office is where I work best.

9. Do you write with music on? If so what? What are you listening to now?
No, I must have silence. I even write with ear plugs in! I know many authors who can’t work without music playing in the background, but I love music so much, and I’m so emotionally affected by it, that it tends to impact on the tone of what I’m writing. It isn’t good if I’m writing a quiet scene and I’ve got Iron Maiden thrashing in my ear! Some writers get themselves into the mood of a scene by, say, playing the Indiana Jones soundtrack when writing an action sequence, but I would then find myself taken out of the universe of my book and into the realm of Indy – it just doesn’t work for me.

Currently on my iPod – Kings of Leon.

10. Do you use a notebook? Can you share with us the last thing you wrote?
I have lots of notebooks – it is the most important tool for a writer. I have one by my bed, one in the loo, two or three in my study, a whiteboard in the kitchen, one by the phone (I often get ideas when waiting for a call centre to pick up) and in my car I use the dictaphone function on my mobile – when I’m parked up and the engine’s turned off, of course! The last thing I wrote is a note for my next book – The Ghost Machine. It’s a nice little teaser actually – ‘The Skeleton Crew knew that Hiram Grudge was dead …’

11. How much research do you do? What kind and do you enjoy it?
I love research. I think it’s important, when writing fantastical fiction, that the real stuff is as genuine and as credible as it can be. You are asking your reader to accept some pretty incredible things – the existence of witches and demons, for example – so it’s important that you support their willing suspension of disbelief by getting the real-world stuff right. For example, say you’ve got a nuclear engineer who just so happens to be a werewolf in his spare time. Fine, you can be as out there as you want with the werewolf stuff, you can even reinvent the lycanthrope mythos, but you should also take the time to get the details of the nuclear engineer part right. What does his job entail? What’s his day-to-day routine? What stresses and strains does such a position put on him? What specific knowledge does he need? Does he have a uniform? You get that stuff sounding right and the reader will allow you to be as creative as you like with the werewolf element.

The only problem with research is when it becomes an excuse not to get the writing done. Research feels like bona fide work, you can pat yourself on the back for a whole day spent in the library, but it isn’t writing. No one will pay you for your research notes! So you must be strict with yourself. You know in your heart when you’ve done enough planning and research – the weight of material reaches a kind of critical mass – so be brave and start typing.

"Research gives you the writer, the confidence to stride purposefully through the world you’ve created and carry the reader with you."

The other thing is how to use your research properly. Just because you’ve spent an entire week labouring over nuclear engineering textbooks doesn’t mean that all your notes merit a place in the book. For Gallows at Twilight, I had 4 notebooks full of Civil War history, including the clothing of the period, the food, speech patterns, politics, the intricacies of the religious disputes of the time etc. I’d say that less than 10% of it made it into the finished book. My job was to give the reader a credible flavour of the period – not to bombard them with facts and figures and to show off how hard I’d worked. The reader just isn’t interested in all that. He or she wants to be put in the scene in as realistic a way as possible, and then to get on with the story. It’s hard, discarding all that research, but none of it is really wasted: it has given you, as the writer, the confidence to stride purposefully through the world you’ve created and to carry the reader with you.

12. What are you working on now?
I’ve been commissioned by OUP to write a series of stand-a-lone books about ‘genuine’ supernatural objects. Unlike Witchfinder, there will be a fresh batch of main characters and a new story in each book, but there will also be several connecting threads. I’m hoping that, when we come to the end of the series, I’ll be able to write a final book that draws all these characters together. I can’t say too much more about it at the moment, other than that I’m really, really excited! These books are a little less horror-based than Witchfinder – they’re more supernatural adventure stories, but I guarantee that they’ll be really spooky. The first is called The Ghost Machine and the second has the working title of Jekyll’s Mirror.

13. If you could tell people to read just one of your books, which one would it be?
Dawn of the Demontide – because they would then (hopefully!) be intrigued enough to read the rest!

14. Which book do you wish you had written?
So many books! But if I had to choose one, I’d say ’Salem’s Lot. It’s a perfectly crafted horror story – a single, isolated location, a wonderful cast of characters, a genuinely terrifying concept and bogeyman, beautiful pacing and great writing. I must have read that book 10 times or more!

15. What question do you wish I had asked you? 
(And what would your answer be?)
Can I buy you a pint, William? Thanks, Dave, you’re a gent!

Of course! It would be a pleasure William – the least I can do. 

Witchfinder Book 2: Gallows at Twilight is out now, published by Oxford University Press, in paperback and Kindle editions – available in all good bookshops and online here.

When not witchfinding, William Hussey can often be found at Trapped By Monsters. Take a visit … if you dare.


  1. I so relate to what William says here - the locked study door, the silence, the notebooks and the research. I felt like a nodding dog reading his answers to your questions, Dave!
    Thanks to both of you for a great interview.

  2. Yep, ditto Nicky. It's a great interview, so true about the research and I love the question you should have asked ;)

  3. The research advice is crucial. What isn't there is as important as what is! But it needs to be *beneath the surface of the page*!

  4. Thanks for your comments folks, glad you enjoyed the interview – credit goes to William for providing such thoughtful answers.
    Nice to 'meet' somebody from Machynlleth on here David – I spent a most enjoyable afternoon in Dyfi Valley Bookshop in October – great to walk into a bookshop and be greeted by a roaring open fire …

  5. A bookshop with a roaring open fire sounds inviting!

    Dave I've left a little something for you over at the blog.