HWA Interview with: Anthony Ferguson

Can you tell us a little about yourself and the major influences on your writing?

I joined the AHWA in 2007. Though I was always drawn to the darker side of life, I kept such thoughts on the back burner for years. I have two university degrees in the Humanities. It took me a long time to hone my writing skills. I observed, I read, listened, learned, critiqued, submitted over and over, took the hard knocks. Still take the hard knocks. I always read horror, loved horror films and shows like the Twilight Zone. When I started writing seriously, I found myself immediately drawn to the dark side. I blame Mr Chuckles for this. He used to live inside my walls, now he lives inside my head.

How would you describe your writing style?

Chaotic, brooding, thoughtful and sexy. Certainly measured, in that I always draft every piece, however short, several times. I cast it aside, ruminate, forget about it, pull it out of a drawer again and cuddle it, shout at it a bit, then tell it I’m sorry. Then I send it to a trusted bunch of beta readers, who point out all my foibles. Then I write it again, and I know its good to go.

Please tell us about your most recent work, and how do you think this differs from your early works?

Most recently I published a non-fiction book, Murder Down Under: Notorious Australian Serial Killers, with Exposit Books, an imprint of McFarland in the US. This is my attempt to discuss one of my favourite topics, true crime and serial killers, in the context of popular culture. I look at serial killers and how they fit into the Australian landscape.

It’s not a huge stretch from my earlier work, because I notice a lot of my stories feature serial killers. What can I say, I’m a method writer.

Novel writing can be a challenging process. Are there tips you would provide new horror writers on how to move from an idea towards something more substantial they can flesh out into a story?

A good question. I started out with short stories and could not imagine myself writing a full-length novel. However, I think it becomes a natural progression over time. I found I wanted to say more, and eventually, the shorter form begins to feel slightly restrictive.

As for tips. You can free form and seat of the pants a novel if that’s the way you like to write, but I prefer a tighter structure. So I write a synopsis first – beginning middle and end, a loose narrative outlining where you want the story to go. You can change this along the way of course.

Then I write chapter outlines. A paragraph for each. I find this process incredibly helpful if ever I get stuck. I can re-visit the outlines and know what needs to be said in a chapter to get from point A to point B. As you write, you get a feel for how the story is playing out and you can rearrange those chapters or add some in or delete some, anything you like to make it work.

I also sketch out the main and incidental characters and give them names and individual quirks (can be the way they look, or the way they speak). Names are important and can sell your story. For example, if I’m writing about Aussie bogans I give them Aussie bogan names. The names need to be age specific too. Try and find catchy names. I keep a list.

Finally, I write a one-sentence elevator pitch that encapsulates the entire story. That’s your pitch to a publisher, and it’s quite hard to do. Along the lines of “In space, nobody can hear you scream.”

Apart from that, try and start out with a big dramatic bang to reel the reader in. Then you can build up the tension to a tipping point two thirds in, and hammer home the shocks over the last few chapters to a huge crescendo.

That’s how I do it anyway, but I’m a nerdy Virgo. I think the structuring comes from my uni days and essay writing. I’m a very organised killer…I mean writer.

Horror writing covers an incredibly broad range of styles and topics. Is there anything you feel crosses a line that you won’t write about as an author?

I’ve never been big on gore. For example, the thought of eyes being gouged out, or penetrated in any way makes me squirm, so I try and avoid that part of the anatomy. Never a fan of the slasher film, which is probably why I’ve still never seen Halloween. Never got past the first Saw movie, and as for that Human Centipede, count me out. I don’t like mindless cruelty.

Apart from that, I try and avoid cultural appropriation, and being nasty to children and animals. I try and avoid touching on different sexual orientations and basically anything that I have no experience of or comprehension about.

Which of your works are you most proud of, and why? What would you recommend a reader new to your work start with? 

All of them. They are my babies. I’d recommend my short stories as there are loads of them out there. Particularly if you like black humour, sexual deviance and nefarious characters who get their comeuppance in a gruesome manner.

For example there’s the sexed up zombies of “The Ardent Dead” in the RomComZom anthology; the wickedly lustful “Driven” in Midnight Echo 7 and reprinted in the Dead of Night anthology; the doomed mobsters of “Road Trip” in the “In Sunshine Bright and Darkness Deep” collection; the killer couple of “Protégé” in Monsters Among Us; family fun with your parents in “Demontia” in Underbelly magazine issue 2; first dates gone very wrong in “Blind Date” in Breach magazine, March 2019; ancient curses in “Ointment” in Gallows Hills magazine, April 2019; and more serial killer fun in “Brumation” in Midnight Echo 15 – you’ll never look at alligators the same way again.

Are there any pieces of your work you would like to hide, pull back, or rewrite?

I’d like to re-write a bunch of my early published short stories and fix up the rookie errors. I think I can do that.

 Could you name three other horror authors that you think we should search out?

 I’ve already given the rub to most of my AHWA peers in other forums. Take it as read (ha ha) that you should read as much Aussie horror as possible. Aside from that, I tend to read very eclectically, not just horror…Just answer the question, numb nuts! … Shut up, Chuckles. I’m getting there. I love Joe Hill’s short stories. A real chip off the old block. Always been a fan of good old Ramsey Campbell, one of England’s finest. His collection of pervy horror tales, Scared Stiff, kept me up many a night. Oh and I love Joe R. Lansdale, that sicko.

Of all your previous work, which of your novels is your favourite, and which novel would you recommend a new reader of your work to pick up first?

 Ha that’s easy, since I’ve only published one novel. It’s a cracker though, for a first effort. Protégé, a grisly tale of toxic masculinity, violence and the twisted relationship between three generations of men, one of whom is dead. It’s almost autobiographical. I’d recommend it, Hell yeah.

Protégé by Anthony Ferguson Sinister Reads AHWA

 I did write four other earlier novels, but I shelved them cos they weren’t quite there.

Have you got any new projects in the works that we should keep our eyes open for?

Oh yeah. I’m on the third draft of another novel, or it might be a novella, as it’s currently sitting around 40.000 words. It’s called Gap Year. Two English girls go backpacking around Australia to escape a traumatic experience. They sign up to do fruit-picking on a remote farm, and things go downhill from there. There is a major twist in the tale of course.

I have also collected all of my 44 published short stories into a single document, then selected the best 30 or so with a view to hitting up an Oz horror publisher to bring out a collection of my short stories in the near future. I think its Fergie time. Why the Hell not?

After that, Chuckles says I have to write some stories about him, or else.

[This interview first appeared in the February issue of the AHWA’s newsletter. For more information on the AHWA, including how to join, go to www.australasianhorror.com]

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