AHWA Interview with: Bernie Rutkay

Can you tell us a little about yourself and the major influences on your writing?
I suppose that I would say I’m a horror screenwriter who dabbles in other forms and genres when I feel like it’s good for the story that needs to be told. Writing is the one thing that I’ve always done and always wanted to do – it was either that or become Indiana Jones.

Aside from the aforementioned, some of the big names who have left their indelible marks on me would be Stephen King, Clive Barker, Ramsey Campbell and Dan Simmons as prose writers, and Guinevere Turner, Darren Aronofsky, Joss Whedon, Jane Espenson, Vince Gilligan and Jennifer Kent as scriptwriters. As a kid though, I have really vivid memories of reading strange stories by John Bellairs, Paul Jennings, Alvin Schwartz, Michael Ende and Sally Odgers. And lots and lots of traditional European fairy tales – you want to talk horror, let’s talk about those!

Bernie Rutkay AHWA Sinister Reads

How would you describe your writing style?
I have a very dry, dark, flippant sense of humour. I’m convinced that it’s been inherited from my Hungarian father’s side of the family. I try to see stories as a form of learning-teaching-sharing-play, so it’s about finding the moments of fun or creativity or surprise or triumph amongst the primal terror. That’s what feels good and right to me in one of my horror stories.

Please tell us about your most recent work, and how do you think this differs from your early works?
One of the scripts that I’m pitching at the moment is called APPEARANCES, and it’s something which I’ve been working on for the better part of the last five years. That’s the most time I’ve spent working on anything. It’s also the first script I’ve had a professional script consultant on. I used to have this idea that the best writers were magical creatures who could conjure incredible stories that editors or producers and directors only need to tweak before publishing or making into a complete film. The minute I found out that wasn’t true – that books and scripts get edited/consulted on before they get pitched, and there’s also this thing called mentoring – I realised that I really didn’t have to keep trying on my own. I could get help and – more importantly – it was acceptable to get help. Encouraged, even! That was amazing, and getting that help has been such a wonderful and totally invaluable process.

The other important thing about getting help – professional help that’s a good fit for your personal style – is that it gives you a sense of where you’re at as a writer. Getting mentored through the AHWA in 2012 was the first time that I felt a sense of worth as a writer. I didn’t feel like a fraud or someone who might have no real talent – a professional was willing to spend their valuable time helping me. It meant so much, and I still carry that feeling with me. And now, I get to help others have that feeling through the Mentorship Program, which we’ll be reopening in around May this year.

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?
Novel writing really is a challenging process – one that I’ve not yet succeeded at! But I can say this about screenplays: the first thing you have to do is write it down. Stop imagining it all in your head, learn about formatting or get a program that does it for you, and just smash it all down. Then get familiar with the vast array of tools you can use in screenwriting. Look at different kinds of structure, templates, journey maps… all of it. Find what fits the story you want to tell. Then the rest is rewriting!

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 personally choose not to write about witchcraft. I don’t criticise anyone for wanting to create stories about it, and I do occasionally consume stories which include it, but it’s something that, as a general rule, I prefer to keep separate from my own work.

Which of your works are you most proud of, and why? What would you recommend a reader new to your work start with? 
Well, screenwriting works a little bit differently to prose, but I do hope to have a collection of middle grade short horror stories coming out later this year. This is something that I’m writing for my local community, but which is intended to be accessible by anyone who wants to read it. So stay tuned!

Are there any pieces of your work you would like to hide, pull back, or rewrite? 
The first feature film script that I wrote, called FACING SUN, was terrible. Really, truly bad. It was a powerful exercise for me, because I was able to hold the proof in my hands that I could complete something of that size and work on it until I thought I couldn’t make it any better. In that sense, it was great – but it was still terrible! 

Could you name three other horror authors that you think we should search out? 
Kaaron Warren is a magical horror-writing goddess and if you haven’t read her work, you are missing out. Koji Suzuki is phenomenal – “Edge” absolutely blew my mind. I’m also going to recommend that people read Wade Davis’s “The Serpent and the Rainbow” – it’s non-fiction, but it’s about zombies, so I think it fits here and it’s utterly, utterly brilliant.

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?
My favourite thing is always the thing I’m working on now, because every time I write something new I learn a little bit more about how I operate as a writer, and I think I can do things a little bit better, or dare a little bit more, or dig a little bit deeper into the parts that are going to affect someone taking the story in. So look out for a thing called CAPTURE. Because, in the words of the late, great Dr Seuss: this thing is fun and fun is good.

Have you got any new projects in the works that we should keep our eyes open for?
OK, so I also just started this werewolf script…

Where to find Bernie:

Web: www.cartesianwordservices.com
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/bernie-rutkay-85996040/
Ko-fi: http://www.ko-fi.com/berniecartesian
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/berniecartesian
FB (although I don’t really use it at the moment): https://www.facebook.com/cartesianwordservices/

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

Share this on Social Media: