GUEST POST: Phil Sloman

By Phil Sloman

It’s always been a pleasure to be invited along to Meghan’s House of Books Halloween Extravaganza. I’ve enjoyed it each and every time. This year I thought I’d do a short article about guising or, more particularly, masks.

On reading up on guising it seems that the tradition grew as a way for children, and adults, to avoid the dead when they visited on Halloween. Or something along those lines. Now I like that as a concept but there’s a different take I wanted to present to you, dear reader. And perhaps as much to myself.

We all hide our true selves from time to time. Some more than others. Often dependent on the situation we are in. So, your work persona might be very different to your persona with friends which again may be different to your round the house personality and so on. Some masks may be worn for self-protection in a world where prejudice is rife and the anonymity of social media (a mask in itself) emboldens the bigots who are out there. That is not my story to tell.

For many, masks develop in childhood. I was bullied as a kid. A lot of people were and, sadly, continue to be. For me, it was mainly for being a bit of a nerd (bright kid, crap clothes). That was probably the first time I learned to wear a mask. I learnt to dumb down and hide the fact I was clever. I know I am not alone in this.

Now somewhere along the line I got into horror. Probably around the age of 15 or so. I remember having the Gremlins Read Along audiobook as a vague dabbling into horror and progressed from there. Ended up reading the book adaptation of Nightmare on Elm Street long before seeing the films and have to admit my imagination worked far more effectively than the films in the end. So, where is the mask here, I hear you cry. Well, this is the mask from my family. My Dad didn’t really get horror and couldn’t really understand what I got from it. So, I don’t really talk to my family about my horror writing and therefore hide it away. Even when up for awards I don’t mention it. Whether this is really a mask or just hiding from a situation; discuss amongst yourselves.

With the advent of social media, as noted above, it is interesting to see the persona some people adopt and the masks people choose to wear (or indeed the masks people drop behind the distance a screen and keyboard present). So much can be hidden behind that avatar, so much of us presented as the best versions of ourselves. The thing is that you risk getting lost in this other you of your own making; a smiling personality which may be drowning in tears on the inside. And there is a fear of judgement should that mask slip and our vulnerability be revealed.

Okay, so the link to Halloween, and thanks for sticking with me so far, is that this is a day when we get to wear masks as we go out and about on the streets asking neighbours and strangers for treats. Yet, I would claim here that some of the masks out there are people being free to express the true them and drop their day-to-day societal masks. Societal norms are abandoned and we can fully embrace “us”. The same, I find is true of horror conventions. Places where I know I have found my tribe. A place, other than at home with my wife or out with close friends, where I feel I can be me. There is a natural coming together of the like-minded and, what I have found personally, the welcoming.

As said, this was a short musing as an offering to Meghan’s celebrations. There may be pieces in the above which chimed with you. Equally, there may have been rolling of eyes and a note of “just be yourself and let the world accept you for who you are”. This is sound advice. Yet there is something drilled into a lot of us as kids that fitting in is what is required. And it takes time to feel comfortable to let those masks slip – and there are always multiple masks – where that vulnerability dissipates and all that is left is the wonder that is you.

So maybe we should hold on to that freedom that the 31st October brings with it and take that as a mantra through the entirety of the year. I know it is something I shall certainly ponder.

Phil Sloman is a writer of dark psychological fiction. His first story was published in 2014 and he has been writing ever since. In 2017 Phil was shortlisted for British Fantasy Award Best Newcomer for his novella Becoming David, and was part of Imposter Syndrome from Dark Minds Press shortlisted for British Fantasy Award Best Anthology in 2018, and edited the 2020 British Fantasy Award shortlisted anthology The Woods. Phil regularly appears on several reviewers’ Best of Year lists.

Richard leads a simple, uncomplicated life in the suburbs of London where anonymity is a virtue. His life has a routine. His cleaner visits twice a week. He works out in his basement, where he occasionally he kills people. Everything is as Richard wants it until David enters his life. What happens next changes his existence in its entirety and the lives of those around him. Is he able to trust anything to be true? And will he be able to escape David or will David take over Richard’s life completely?

SHORT STORY: The Interview by Phil Sloman

This is absolutely amazing and I am SO excited about getting to share this with you today. When Phil said he wanted to do the interview this year, but wanted to do it different, I never, in my wildest dreams, could have expected this. After reading it, I had to go out and share it with my mother (my best friend), who I think enjoyed it a little more than I did.

The Interview

He pulled up outside the house and put the car into park. His face was bathed with a dull glow as he turned on his phone. He flicked through a couple of screens, eventually finding the address he was after. The last thing he wanted to do was knock on the door of a random stranger and then stumble through why he was in the neighbourhood so late at night.

It had been a long drive, far longer than he had intended with traffic jams and a blown tire to contend with, but he was here now and that was all that mattered. He’d phoned ahead just to make sure, almost hoping that the answer would be “Don’t worry, grab a motel room and we can do it in the morning,” but she had seemed so enthusiastic, and he wasn’t one to disappoint. It was that eagerness to please which had brought him here in the first place. Normally these things would have been done online or by phone but he’d casually dropped in that he had family not too far away and the suggestion they do this face to face had been slipped in ever so subtly and in a way in which he couldn’t really say no.

Thirty minutes, he told himself, or maybe an hour tops and then he could be on the road to go find somewhere to get his head down for the night. He flipped his phone off and tossed it into the glove box without even thinking and made his way towards the front door.

A lot of effort had gone into decorating the house, the usual Halloween paraphernalia put out ahead of the weekend’s celebrations. Tomorrow the streets would be crawling with goblins and ghouls, witches and warlocks, all carrying plastic pumpkins filled to the brim with candy and treats. It was his favourite part of Halloween watching the children all heading out and having so much fun. Tonight, though, was more subdued. The calm before the storm. Fake cobwebs hung from Styrofoam gravestones, with skeletal hands emerging from the ground among a whole crop of carved pumpkins each filled with flickering lights. He smiled as he noticed the Satan Stop Here sign and imagined just what might happen if that particular red suited man were to turn up. At least he would have no problem working out who was naughty or nice.

He pressed the doorbell and waited. A black and white sign reading “Home Sweet Haunted Home” hung to the side of the door. He was almost too distracted by it to notice as the door swung open.

“Phil!” There was an excitement to the greeting.

“Um, hi, yeah,” he said, bumbling his words. “So sorry that I’m late, Meghan, you know, what with the traffic and the flat and everything. I mean, is it still okay? What time is it anyway? Almost midnight?”

Meghan looked up at him and smiled. One of those reassuring ones which makes you feel as if the world will all be just hunky-dory if you simply went with it.

“Of course it’s fine. You’ve come all this way and I wouldn’t want you to have a wasted journey now, would I. So why don’t you come right on in. We can settle down over a nice iced tea and get down to business. Doesn’t that sound great?”

“Yes, I guess it does.” Except he knew he’d only end up sipping at the drink out of politeness, counting the seconds until he could get his head down for some shut eye.

“Wonderful. Now do follow me. Please.”

He did as he was instructed, walking closely behind his hostess towards the inner sanctum of Chateau Hyden.

“You’ve got a lovely place here,” he said turning left and then right as they weaved through a maze of rooms. He was about to take another left when something skittered across his feet.

“Oh, jeez, what the hell was that?”

Meghan turned to face him. “That was Mia.”


“My cat. You might get to meet her later. She’s adorable but she does bring me in all kinds of strays. You do like cats, don’t you? I know some folks can get a bit superstitious around them.”

“Cats? Me. Nah, love them. We’ve got a couple of them back home. Only thing I’m really superstitious about is magpies. You know, where you have to salute them if you see one on their own. Otherwise bad shit will happen.”

He laughed, a little less convincingly than he would have liked.

“Oh, bad stuff can happen anyway, magpies or not,” said Meghan, that thousand-watt smile beaming brightly yet seeming ever so less reassuring now.

“Um, yeah, I guess you’re right.” He rubbed the back of his neck, not quite sure where to look.

Meghan simply continued smiling, the pair of them standing in silence, the sound of a carriage clock ticking away in the distance. For a second he thought he could hear something else too. Something muffled. Almost as if someone were shouting from the bottom of a well or a pond. Possible coming from his left. He turned, still listening, seeing a door with a lock, a large black key poking from the keyhole…the sound was definitely coming from the room beyond…he strained to hear…his hand resting on the doorhandle…

“Through here,” said Meghan.

“I’m sorry?”

“We’re through here,” she repeated, taking his arm and guiding him to follow her. Even so, he couldn’t resist one last look back at the door.

The room she led him into was spacious with bookshelves running from floor to ceiling. In the middle of the room was a coffee table with two wicker chairs either side. A tray with a large crystal jug and two tall slim jims, each filled with iced tea, had been placed on the table. Large potted plants added a touch of the exotic to the room.

“Please, do sit.” Meghan pointed to the furthest chair. “Then we can begin.”

He ambled to the chair, pausing to look at the bookshelves. There were so many books; it was wonderful. And here, right here, was the horror section in all its glory. There were the Campbells, Kings, Barkers, Jacksons, and Poes. Oh Poe. He hadn’t realised it was horror when he’d first read those abridged versions in his 1,000 Page Story Book for Children all those years back. How old must he have been? Eight? Nine? He couldn’t really remember. What he did recall was the fascination and atmosphere that those tales by Poe evoked in him. It would be almost a full decade before he properly delved into horror thereafter through Skeleton Crew and the Books of Blood. And here were some of the newer authors. Mauro. Sharma. Linwood Grant. Everington. West. Gardner. Jones. He paused as he recognised some particular books among the works.

“Nice to see a few of my pieces have made it to your shelves.”

“Of course.” That smile again. “We’ve always got a special place for Phil Sloman here. Shall we?”

The chair creaked as he sat down. He made a note to himself to cut down on the late-night cheese binges. Meghan sat opposite and pushed the tray towards him.

“Please, help yourself.”

“Thanks.” He grabbed a glass and took a sip. The taste wasn’t unpleasant but there was a hint of something he couldn’t quite place. “It’s good,” he said, manners kicking in.

“Thank you. My mother made it.”

“Well, do pass on my thanks to her.”

“Oh, I’m sure you’ll be able to do that yourself. In time.”

Time. He glanced at his watch. It was still the right side of midnight but only just. How long before he could be out of here? Before he could be on the road again.

“So, what did you want to know?” he said, eager to proceed.


“The interview. That’s why I’m here, right?”

“Oh, yes, sure. The interview.”

“And?” He was being snippy. He didn’t mean to be; the long drive, the late hour, but he just wished they could start.

“Right,” said Meghan, rising above his ire. “Let me see. Which unsolved murder fascinates you the most?”

“Wow, right in with the big questions. No punches held.”

“I like to be direct.”

“That’s good. I like that. Um, so to your question. I don’t really keep track of unsolved murders. You might think that a bit bizarre given some of my work. Becoming David and The Man Who Fed the Foxes being good examples without giving too much away.” He winked at her then regretted it immediately. He could be such an idiot at times. “But,” he said, recovering himself, “there’s that important divide for me between real life and fiction. You know what I mean?”


“I mean there’s every likelihood that there’s a dead body somewhere in this street and we wouldn’t know about it.”

Meghan laughed.

“Well, that would certainly be exciting, wouldn’t it!”

“I guess it would.” He took another sip of his drink. “Are you going to take any notes?”

“No, it’s fine. I have a great memory. You just keep on talking.”

“Sure. Well, I guess that was it really.” God, why hadn’t he done this by email. At least then he could have taken the time with his answers. “What’s next?”

Meghan leaned forward in her chair, her eyes widening almost with glee as she popped her next question. “Tell me, who’s your favourite serial killer and why?”

“Favourite serial killer? Hmmm, well I guess that’s a bit like the unsolved murders. A bit too real for me. I mean, Dahmer was someone who intrigued me at the time, as I guess he did for most of us, but there’s that worry for me of celebrity status for something so heinous. It’s almost as if we remember the killer and not the victims. It’s weird because I’m happy to write about that stuff as fiction but the real life stuff…” He pulled a face.

“I know what you mean.”

“And it’s always the people you least expect. Those people who come across as so nice, the next-door neighbour who everyone always had time for, who would go out of their way to get the drinks in.”

“Well, everyone likes a nice drink. How’s the iced tea?”

“It’s good.” He took another sip, then placed the glass on the tray. “Are you having any?”

“In a bit. Now, are you ready for the next question.”

He nodded, tugging at his collar as he did so.

“So, which urban legend scares you?”

“Urban legend. Let me think.” His fingers worked at the top button of his shirt. Air, he needed some air. “Urban legend…urban legend.”

“Are you okay?” There was concern in her voice.

“Yes, it’s just getting a little warm in here.”

“Is it? I hadn’t noticed. So, you were saying?”

“Right, legends. Urban legends. Umm, I guess probably that fear Poe had. You know the one where you’re buried alive. So not really an urban legend. Apparently it happened lots back then. You know folks trapped in their coffins, still breathing, somehow, with no one to hear them. Muffled voices shouting…from…the…grave.”

He could feel the blood drain from his face even as he said the words. Dots joining up slowly in a brain which was barely ticking over.

“Could you open a window?”

“In a bit. More iced tea, perhaps?”


He went to reach for his glass. Something so simple. All he needed to do was stretch out his arm and pick up the glass. Except he couldn’t. His arm hung limply by his side.

“Is everything okay?”

“Ye..” He tried to form the word. Just three letters. “Ye..” His tongue felt fat in his mouth, his jaw wouldn’t move. “Y…” He watched as Meghan rose from her seat, coming round to check on him, to give him help. Except she wasn’t. He saw the hand rushing open-palmed towards his face. He knew the contact must have happened except where there should have been a sharp pain, residual tingling, there was nothing.

“Mom, come here. He’s ready.”

Slowly his vision faded, the room becoming hazy, the world around him softening. He was aware of someone else entering the room, a woman, muffled voices talking then hands under his arms, being dragged from his chair. His feet skittered across the hardwood floor. Was that Mia playing around his ankles, dashing back and forth under his legs? He couldn’t tell. And then they were somewhere else. The corridor? That hum of voices. A door opening. The voices louder now. Familiar voices. Ones he had heard speak at conventions on panels, and some, the more famous ones, on television and radio.

“Meghan, honey, I think he’s still awake.”

“It doesn’t matter. He shouldn’t feel a thing. Probably.”

He opened his eyes. The first sensation was that he was underwater. The world blurred around him. Except there were some things he could make out. Shelves filled with large jars. The types you had in high school science labs, usually with some dead rat or alien looking creature suspended in formaldehyde.

“Oh, look, he’s finally awake.”

“About time. Now we know why they call him Slow-man!”

“Nice one, Ramsey.”

“My pleasure, Steve.”

“Who, who’s there?” he said, trying to keep the quiver from his voice. Except something was different. Almost as if he was speaking through melted marshmallow.

“Shut up, all of you. I think I can hear her coming.”

“Yes, Clive. Whatever you say, Clive. I mean what is she going to do that she hasn’t done already?”

“Yes, what sights might she have to show us?”

“Ah, fuck you, guys!”

Light flooded the room.

“Okay, what’s going on in here? I told you all before to keep the noise down. The neighbours have been complaining.”

“Yes, Meghan.”

“Sorry, Meghan.”

“Won’t happen again, Meghan.”

“Good. Glad to hear it.” He heard footsteps crossing the room. Then she was there. Her face in front of his. She tapped the glass of the jar, looking at the disembodied head.

“See, I told you we had a special place here for Phil Sloman. Plenty of time for questions. And I do have so many questions. In the meantime, welcome to Meghan’s Haunted House of Books. I hope you enjoy your stay.”

The End

Phil Sloman is a writer of dark psychological fiction. His first story was published in 2014 and he has been writing ever since. In 2017 Phil was shortlisted for British Fantasy Award Best Newcomer for his novella Becoming David, and was part of Imposter Syndrome from Dark Minds Press which was nominated for British Fantasy Award Best Anthology in 2018, and edited the 2020 British Fantasy Award nominated The Woods anthology. Phil regularly appears on several reviewers’ Best of Year lists.

Author website
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Becoming David
Richard leads a simple, uncomplicated life in the suburbs of London where anonymity is a virtue. His life has a routine. His cleaner visits twice a week. He works out in his basement, where he occasionally he kills people. Everything is as Richard wants it until David enters his life. What happens next changes his existence in its entirety and the lives of those around him. Is he able to trust anything to be true? And will he be able to escape David or will David take over Richard’s life completely?

Halloween Extravaganza: Phil Sloman: The Bogeyman Is Dead, We Killed Him

The Bogeyman Is Dead, We Killed Him

Halloween has a varied past depending on how you want to look at it. For some it is a pagan celebration, for others it is the night demons, witches and ghouls come out to play and wreak havoc on the world, and for the vast majority in our more commercial technology driven modern world it is an excuse to dress up in costume and go trick or treating. And in so doing we killed the bogeyman.

I remember as a kid being scared of the dark, or more accurately what lurked therein, walking along country lanes after school in the chill of autumn where the days are shortening and night is readying to be king, looking over my shoulder every minute or so as a new sound creaked or cracked in the shadows of the surrounding treeline. At the end of October, those shadows are already lengthening before you’ve sat down for your evening meal. And as you hit Halloween, you can bet your bottom dollar that your legs are going to be pumping like crazy to get home before the bogeyman comes to get you. But that was then.

Now I’m all grown up and somewhere along the line the bogeyman grew old with me and died without me noticing. Perhaps it is simply me being older and theoretically wiser. But I’m not so sure.

I think technology is largely to blame and especially the internet. We now live in a world where we demand proof for everything and that proof has to be delivered instantaneously. If you don’t believe me then just go and look at any online argument where links to evidence are demanded and that they must be rubberstamped with professorial endorsement. We didn’t have that back in the day, or not to the same extent. When I was growing up ,and even before that, all we had were grainy photographs taken from distance (think Bigfoot, think the Loch Ness Monster, think 101 varying ghost sightings) or apocryphal stories of ‘my friend said his cousin once saw a ghost in the cellar of the local pub’. And you believed them. Every single village where I grew up had its own ghost. Every. Single. One. You knew exactly where they were and what the conditions had to be for you to see them. And they were always going to be there if you were brave enough to stay up until midnight on 31st October. If.

Nowadays we all have video cameras sitting in our pockets hooked up to show the entire world within seconds what we’ve seen. But in that time has anyone captured a ghost on film, one which has made the national or international news, not the ones which are found on ghost-hunting programmes on the more isolated cable channels? Have we had more definitive images of Big Foot or Nessie or any of the other myriad mythological beasts and spirits which fascinate us so? And even if you were to capture something, to get a fleeting glimpse of the supernatural, would you simply be shouted down for lack of proof, accused of faking things with editing software? Probably.

So we back off from believing because we haven’t got the proof. And yes, the bogeyman tried to change with us as we changed, chain emails and websites which would bring death if not forwarded or shared for one example, stories of Slenderman for another, but our hearts aren’t really in it anymore.

Gone are the days where the bogeyman was going to get you. Now we live in an irrational age of rationality where Halloween comes and goes, where kids dress up as superheroes and celebrities, eager to see how much candy they’ve gained rather than glancing over their shoulder as the shadows creep closer and the bogeyman sharpens his claws. Yet with all good bad guys, and the bogeyman is the baddest of them all, there’s always a flicker of a pulse waiting to be reinvigorated no matter how many feet of earth they are buried under. So maybe, if you want the bogeyman to be reborn, hang out until midnight on Halloween in the dark in isolation and wait and wait and wait just to see if you feel his warm breath on the back of your neck.

Phil Sloman is a writer of dark psychological fiction. He was shortlisted for a British Fantasy Society Best Newcomer award in 2017 for his novella Becoming David. His short stories can be found throughout various anthologies and his collection Broken on the Inside has received widespread praise. In the humdrum of everyday life, Phil lives with an understanding wife and a trio of vagrant cats who tolerate their human slaves. There are no bodies buried beneath the patio as far as he is aware. Occasionally Phil can be found lurking here or wasting time on social media – come say hi.

Amazon US ** Amazon UK

Broken on the Inside

Phil Sloman’s BROKEN ON THE INSIDE presents a quintet of macabre mentality in:

Broken on the Inside
Discomfort Food
The Man Who Fed the Foxes
There Was an Old Man
Virtually Famous

Becoming David

Richard leads a simple, uncomplicated life in the suburbs of London where anonymity is a virtue. His life has a routine. His cleaner visits twice a week. He works out in his basement, where he occasionally he kills people. Everything is as Richard wants it until David enters his life. What happens next changes his existence in its entirety and the lives of those around him. Is he able to trust anything to be true? And will he be able to escape David or will David take over Richard’s life completely? A Novella from Hersham Horror Books

Halloween Extravaganza: INTERVIEW: Phil Sloman

Meghan: Hi, Phil! Welcome back! It’s always a pleasure having you here. It’s been awhile since we sat down together. What’s been going on since we last spoke?

Phil Sloman: Thanks for having me back, Meghan. Always a pleasure to be round at your place.

So, what’s been going on since we last sat down together? Life has been life with varying ups and downs, things which seemed important at the time but now have drifted from my memory. Every day the kids get older and I seem to get greyer but things are pretty good. Writing wise I’ve been lucky enough to have folks keep coming to me asking for stories so there’s a little bit more of my work spread across the literary landscape. I also had my first collection – well, micro-collection – put out by Black Shuck Books which has had a lot of love from readers and reviewers alike. The collection is called Broken on the Inside and deals a lot with mental health and psychological breakdown. As well as that I also recently guest edited a five story anthology in Hersham Horror Books’ Pentanth range. The anthology is called The Woods and features amazing stories from Cate Gardner, Mark West, Penny Jones, and James Everington as well as an editor’s story from me as is traditional with the series. And I guess one other thing I should note is winning Best Legs in Horror 2018 so am looking to defend my crown – or is that garter – this year.

Meghan: Who are you outside of writing?

Phil Sloman: In my day job I work as a disability rights campaigner working to remove societal barriers experienced by disabled people. Beyond that I am a father with two amazing boys and husband to an amazing wife. Lots of our time is taken up with nature stuff: birdwatching, fossil hunting, mushroom foraging though that has its perils. I remember once last year having brought back some mushrooms with an unknown mushroom to identify. My pulse started racing when I thought I had contaminated the gathered mushrooms with a Death Cap (they have the name for an incredibly good reason!). Fortunately I had picked the non-poisonous False Death Cap but it still made me very aware of my internal bowel movements for the next few days. As well as foraging, I’ve recently got into making my own cider. We have an allotment with a few apple trees on and it seems a shame to let them go to waste.I’m also a keen sportsman and play tennis and football (soccer for my friends in the US) for local teams. I’m not bad at tennis and have won a few trophies, football less so but I enjoy the run about!

Oh, and I also lead a band of heroes called the Slomanites trying to save the world from the evils of coffee creams, fighting the good fight against the tyrannical Jim McLeod of Ginger Nuts of Horror fame but that’s another story.

Meghan: How do you feel about friends and close relatives reading your work?

Phil Sloman: With my writer friends I’m quite relaxed about it as they write similar things. It’s when friends and family outside of that sphere discover that I’m a writer, and especially a horror writer, that I get a complex about my work. Or more particularly, the horror aspect of it; something I really need to get over. None of my family reads or watches horror that I am aware of, and only a limited number of my non-writing friends do too, so I think there must be a reason why they don’t. That then morphs into they must think anyone who writes horror is a serial killer waiting to pounce and before you know it I am ordering a false passport and a suitcase of money with non-sequential bills for me to flee the country with. The reality is that those who have read my stuff think it’s great which highlights to me the personal neuroses which I really need to get under control.

Meghan: Is being a writer a gift or a curse?

Phil Sloman: I’m going to do that typical thing of coming up with an option three! I think it depends on you as a writer and your circumstances. I know some people who connect intensely with their writing to the point that it affects their moods and their very being. Others who treat it as a job and switch off after a day at the writing desk.

For me I find it more gift than curse but it depends on which day you ask me. The opportunity to create all these fantastic stories and play around with concepts then getting them down on paper is brilliant. That’s the great side. Plus when you get someone come up to you and tell you they loved your story; there’s a lot of personal reward right there. Yet there is also the frustration and pressure which can build if you find your writing dries up or that you find you are not enjoying it. I think sometimes people are reluctant to say that they are not finding any joy from what they are doing while still producing amazing writing. There is that worry of people jumping on the situation and saying, ‘Well, I’d love to be a writer so stop moaning word-monkey and just keep typing’. Obviously I am overegging this but the pressure is there and often for very little financial reward plus you will find a good few writers, especially as they are establishing themselves, having to work a full-time job alongside the writing which can impact on family, friends and relationships as well as physically draining the author. And for those writers who do this as a full-time career, there are the pressures of getting the next gig, will their next book soar or flop, will they get paid as contracted or will the publisher fail to deliver on the contract and a hundred other pressures I am not aware of.

Meghan: How has your environment and upbringing colored your writing?

Phil Sloman: Completely. I often get asked about why I write horror. The simple answer is the 70s and 80s. Growing up as a kid back then there was the threat of nuclear war. I remember being taught at school about what to do in the event of the bombs dropping and seeing maps of England showing where the blast radius and fall out would cover if they hit London and where might be deemed ‘safe’. I think we were on the periphery of that ‘safe’ zone. We also had these public service advertisements to teach kids to be safe which invariably showed kids of my age at the time getting killed in varying ways usually involved quicksand or having entered building sites. To this day I have yet to find a patch of quicksand in the UK. So all of that was definitely starter fluid for where I am today. We also lived on a farm where our nearest neighbor was a mile away and school friends a good drive so that meant I was often left to amuse myself. I’d spend long periods of time roaming the local woods and fields on my own which I think built a more introspective character than I may have developed otherwise.

Meghan: What’s the strangest thing you have ever had to research for your books?

Phil Sloman: I once had to Google the decomposition process of a body left in a bath of acid. This was for my novella Becoming David from Hersham Horror Books. The book revolves around a serial killer and I needed a way for the bodies to be disposed of. Turns out that the human body will break down into effectively a brown sludge eventually, the bones gelatinous along the way. Now it’s things like this which make me wonder a) how people find this stuff out and b) just how writers would have found the answer to questions like that pre-internet. I have images of an author sidling up to a police officer and quietly whispering in their ear, “Excuse me, Officer, I know this may sound strange, but would you happen to know the best way to dispose of a body”; the other alternative, personal experimentation, doesn’t bear thinking about!

Meghan: Which do you find the hardest to write: the beginning, the middle, or the end?

Phil Sloman: Definitely the middle. The beginning and the end are the A to B on your road map for the story. It’s a bit like fishing. The beginning is where you are sorting out your bait and equipment, choosing the right spot to cast-off from (and there is a lot of skill in doing all that), the end is where you’ve reeled in your catch and have it in the net ready to show off to friends, making sure it doesn’t slip the hook before the net is in place). The middle is all the hard work where you’re trying to make sure the reader – sorry, fish – takes the bait, that you’re able to keep them on the hook, knowing that you’re going to have to put a lot of effort in to make sure they don’t wriggle off at the last moment and you’ve lost them forever, letting the line play out a bit and then reeling in once more.

Meghan: Do you outline? Do you start with characters or plot? Do you just sit down and start writing? What works best for you?

Phil Sloman: It depends on the length of the story. For short stories I tend to think through the story, work out my start point and end point then let the words take me where they will along the way. For novellas and novels I have to plot. I will write down a chapter by chapter outline, nothing too detailed, mainly things like Chapter 4: Richard meets David in a local pub, Chapter 7: police find out and come calling, that kind of thing. There’s still freedom to change things as necessary as you go but at least you have markers to keep you on that route from A to B.

In terms of characters or plot first, well I generally go with an inkling of a plot, more of a what if as it were. So, for Virtually Famous, which was published in Imposter Syndrome from Dark Minds Press and also in my collection, I asked the question of ‘What if someone was the face of a virtual reality game about them and saw themselves dying day after day, how would they react, how would people react playing the celebrity, where would it all lead?’. The answer is it leads to a very dark place, very dark indeed. It was after those questions that the character of Chet developed, his personality, the people around him, and so forth.

Meghan: What do you do when characters don’t follow the outline/plan?

Phil Sloman: I sit them down in a dark room and have a ‘friendly’ chat with them.

Seriously though, sometimes it is for a reason and you have to go with it. I’m not one for saying ‘the character made me do it’ but I am very aware that there are layers you are revealing as you get to know the make-up of your characters better, those little tics and traits which reveal themselves, which mean the story needs to bend to a degree to accommodate that. Sometimes I’ve had to include characters I hadn’t even considered from the start as I realize we need a certain motivator to occur or something to show a different side of our protagonist.

Meghan: What do you do to motivate yourself to sit down and write?

Phil Sloman: Deadlines are good. I have been very lucky in that people approach me to write stories for them but that comes with the pressure of having to meet your end of the bargain. Part of that pressure is that you want to be known as someone who delivers what you were asked to when you were asked to do it. There will sometimes be extenuating circumstances which may impact this, for example a serious family illness which is sadly something we are currently going through, and at those times you need to be honest with yourself and the publisher as you would with any employer.

I find it harder when not writing to a specific target or open call. Those days you just have to sit yourself down in the chair and write. However, I also think that you need to be kind to yourself. Day jobs tend to be five days a week with two days off yet the mantra is ‘write every day’. There are many writers who achieve writing every day but I also know people who burn out and writing becomes a chore, something they hate as I mentioned earlier, so you need to work out what is right for you while still hitting those deadlines when you have them.

Meghan: Are you an avid reader?

Phil Sloman: Yes but I find myself increasingly time poor nowadays but that is self-inflicted; trying to fit too much into life around the day job. I tend to have several books on the go at once, usually a novel alongside two or three short story collections. I’ve just downloaded Kindle on to my phone which now means I always have a book with me wherever I go. I generally read horror fiction but will pick up books in other genres if recommended to me by friends. I know people say you should expand beyond your genre but there really is a vast diversity in the styles and offerings within horror that I don’t find myself feeling limited by it.

Meghan: What kind of books do you absolutely love to read?

Phil Sloman: I tend to like an anti-hero. Those protagonists who have no redeeming characteristics yet there is this charisma about them which makes you root for them. A great example would be Thomas HarrisHannibal Lecter. You won’t get a much more reprehensible character yet we find ourselves feeling pleased when he escapes the clutches of the authorities. Also books which make you feel a bit grimy reading them. By that, I don’t mean in a sleazy sexual way, more an uncomfortable read due to the personalities of the characters on the page than necessarily their actions. Examples would be things like Joyce Carol OatesZombie, Netsuke by Rikki Ducornet, or Ritual by David Pinner.

Meghan: How do you feel about movies based on books?

Phil Sloman: It depends on the book! If it is a book I love then it is hard to separate that from the movie in so much as I have all these preconceptions of how the characters should act, the way the story HAS to be told and all of that. Sometimes directors do something with the movie which you weren’t expecting and it works fantastically, other times they fail (or at least in the eyes of me as a viewer) and you feel disappointed but I guess that’s all about our interpretations. Recently Mike Flanagan adapted The Haunting of Hill House which is right up there in my top books of all time and I have to say that I think he nailed it, taking the television series in a different direction to the book yet keeping faith with the feel of the original story. Overall though, I think movie adaptations of books are a good thing. They bring these fantastic stories to a wider audience and, one would hope, increase the readership of that book and the author.

Meghan: Have you ever killed a main character?

Phil Sloman: I think perhaps the question should be when haven’t you killed a main character! I am ticking off characters in my head thinking who have I killed off and who survives and I am pretty sure the dead column is stacked a lot higher than the survivors one. Perhaps there’s a reason I don’t tend to write romance or comedies!

I quite like having the option to kill off characters, it keeps the reader on their toes. There’s a thing for me where if you take that off the table, like in some thriller series where the hero always survives, that you remove the peril from the story as there will always be some plot device providing a miraculous escape.

Meghan : Do you enjoy making your characters suffer?

Phil Sloman: No, I definitely don’t enjoy making them suffer. Sometimes I am ambivalent towards it. I am usually quite good at compartmentalizing things, recognizing that the words I am putting down on the page are fiction, that no one is actually getting hurt. At other times I find myself slightly nauseous about what I am writing, more so when I am getting in the head of the character, when there is more emotional distress rather than physical harm. Those are the times when I need to close my laptop and walk away for a bit.

Meghan: What’s the weirdest character concept that you’ve ever come up with?

Phil Sloman: I once had a talking burger meal as a character in the opening to the story. Burger, fries and onion rings talking, and singing, to the main character in my story Discomfort Food. Effectively they were the beating heart of Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart, the conscience of our protagonist haunting her psyche. I also created some anthropomorphic foxes in my story The Man Who Fed the Foxes who come to help this guy called Paul find his missing wife. Otherwise my characters tend to be broken individuals either fighting against their own personal demons or visiting their demons on others.

Meghan: What’s the best piece of feedback you’ve ever received? What’s the worst?

Phil Sloman: The best piece of feedback was to trust your readers. If you write well then the story will explain itself. I had a habit of overwriting, just the occasional extra sentence here and there, to make sure the reader was definitely keeping up. Now my writing is tighter and all the better for it.

The worst feedback I had was from a story called Gifts which was rejected by one publisher – it found a home since in The Black Room Manuscripts 3 from the Sinister Horror Company – where the rejecting publisher said the story needed the main characters to be stronger or less flawed which kind of missed the point, for me, of the essence of the story where this marriage had reached breaking point and simply needed a nudge to have it all come crumbling down.

Meghan: What do your fans mean to you?

Phil Sloman: Fans are amazing. It’s brilliant to know that people are out there and regularly buying your work and enjoying it. It’s such a fantastic boost. But it’s also really strange to hear the phrase fans in relation to my writing. Like a lot of writers I experience imposter syndrome, that feeling where someone is going to suddenly find out you’ve been getting lucky this whole time and that really you can barely write a shopping list. Having someone come up to me at conventions or online and tell me that they’ve loved something I’ve written is such a boost. It also keeps you honest as a writer in that people are spending their dollar on your words. So you owe it to them to make your work the best it can be.

Meghan: If you could steal one character from another author and make them yours, who would it be and why?

Phil Sloman: I think Merricat from We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson. She is such a perfect character even if she is amazingly fractured, if that is the right word. So confident and self-assured at such a young age yet probably as dark as you can get. Layers within layers within layers.

Meghan: If you could write the next book in a series, which one would it be, and what would you make the book about?

Phil Sloman: Now that’s a tough question. I’d be tempted to be audacious and do a sequel to Lord of the Rings where evil has found its way back into Middle-Earth again, but I think that path is laden with doom via judgment from fandom and picking your way through the legalities of the Tolkien estate!

There could be quite a good story in exploring the world of I Am Legend, but the style I think would have to be quite different as you couldn’t write about the lone survivor again. Perhaps there’s something about other survivors or more about the evolution of the vampires though I fear I am straying into Walking Dead territory here.

Otherwise, from my own writing, I keep pondering about writing a sequel to Becoming David. There’s definitely potential there but I’d need to have a proper sit down and plot it through.

Meghan: If you could write a collaboration with another author, who would it be and what would you write about?

Phil Sloman: I would love to write something with Mark Z. Danielewski. I think House of Leaves is brilliant and I became incredibly obsessed with it when reading the book for the first time a few years back. What would we write about? Not sure, undoubtedly something which would broach on a form of madness, maybe an interconnectivity of a city, or borough, spread across a disparate group of people impacting each other’s lives unwittingly.

Meghan: What can we expect from you in the future?

Phil Sloman: Great British Horror 4 from Black Shuck Books came out in October. The theme is ‘It was a dark and stormy night’ and there is a ridiculous level of talent involved in the anthology; people like Tim Lebbon, Priya Sharma, Mike Carey, Catriona Ward, G.V. Anderson, and others. My story is called Old Women and Knives, which is an old Welsh term for stormy weather, and deals with an old man in the Welsh valleys haunted by his past.

Beyond that, I’m currently outlining a novel about street kids, some of whom go missing for reasons to be revealed, evil conglomerates and corruption. There’s a lot of working out who to trust and the like. This will be my first novel so I’m sure there will be a lot of learning for me along the way.

Meghan: Where can we find you?

Phil Sloman: I’m generally on Facebook or Twitter wasting valuable writing time but I have fun so I’m not complaining. I have a blog which I need to really update more often here.

And if anyone fancies buying any of my books then feel free to have a browse at the following big river links: Amazon US ** Amazon UK

Meghan: Do you have any closing words for your fans or anything you’d like to say that we didn’t get to cover in this interview or the last?

Phil Sloman: For fans out there, simply thank you for buying what I write and for the kind reviews which are always hugely appreciated. For anyone considering being a writer, don’t wait for permission to be a writer, just go and do it, the clock is ticking so take the opportunity and get some words down. For the rest of you, avoid the perils of coffee creams; that way lies danger!

And finally, thanks again to you, Meghan, for having me over. Some great questions and I hope I’ve done them justice.

Phil Sloman is a writer of dark psychological fiction. He was shortlisted for a British Fantasy Society Best Newcomer award in 2017 for his novella Becoming David. His short stories can be found throughout various anthologies and his collection Broken on the Inside has received widespread praise. In the humdrum of everyday life, Phil lives with an understanding wife and a trio of vagrant cats who tolerate their human slaves. There are no bodies buried beneath the patio as far as he is aware. Occasionally Phil can be found lurking here or wasting time on social media – come say hi.

Amazon US ** Amazon UK

Broken on the Inside

Phil Sloman’s BROKEN ON THE INSIDE presents a quintet of macabre mentality in:

Broken on the Inside
Discomfort Food
The Man Who Fed the Foxes
There Was an Old Man
Virtually Famous

Becoming David

Richard leads a simple, uncomplicated life in the suburbs of London where anonymity is a virtue. His life has a routine. His cleaner visits twice a week. He works out in his basement, where he occasionally he kills people. Everything is as Richard wants it until David enters his life. What happens next changes his existence in its entirety and the lives of those around him. Is he able to trust anything to be true? And will he be able to escape David or will David take over Richard’s life completely? A Novella from Hersham Horror Books