The Ghost Road
an interview with
Life is not a single narrative thread. Between birth and death, we
do not tread an individual path, but a complex network of soaring freeways,
unmarked footpaths, twisted lanes and sudden blind alleys.
Like all of us, Maynard and Sims have travelled many roads to arrive
at their current location. But in their case, they have travelled almost
all of them together. Out of that partnership, many supernatural and
weird tales have flowed and a multitude of anthologies have been edited
and published. They have a close working relationship and a deep, loyal
friendship -- in fact, they are so inseparable that the words of one,
are also the words of the other, as you will see in what follows below.
Here, they've paused for a moment, to look over their shoulders and
examine the route they have taken. A simple reminder of the richness
of their lives so far, and the potential of the road as yet untravelled.
A Merging of Paths
'We first met in 1964,' say Len and Mick with one voice. 'It was two
years before England's glorious triumph in the World Cup, and eleven
years after we were both born. Mick is a month older than Len, which
lends him that natural authority, while Len retains his youthful good
looks. We both went to Ambrose Fleming Technical Grammar School in Ponders
End, Enfield, after passing the old Eleven Plus exam and, actually,
we were aware of each other at school without being close friends at
'It wasn't until 1971, when we were eighteen, that the real friendship
began. Mick was just leaving school to begin a lifetime with Lloyds
Bank (now a senior manager) and Len was already a year or so into an
apprenticeship as a lapidary (now office manager). The friendship was
created, as much of our lives have been blessed, by a woman -- a rainy
evening, a lonely drink in the Crown and Horseshoes pub in Enfield,
and the shared reflections on the vagaries of love's labours lost.'
'A short time after this pub meeting, Len wrote a short horror story,
Mick read it, and we discussed the merits and faults of it. We argued,
we resisted criticism, we revised -- it was the start of a natural pattern
of collaboration. Then Mick wrote a short atmospheric story, and the
same process continued with each writing a story in turn.'
'Our first sale was a professional one: in 1974 we sold Curtain
Call to London Mystery Magazine for £7. We were also accepted
and published that year in Taste Of Fear, edited by the great
Hugh Lamb, who liked the story Benjamin's Shadow. That gave us
the confidence to write more ghost stories, and the result was the first
collection Shadows At Midnight in 1979, published by William
Kimber & Co.'
'The memory of acceptance of that book is still as fresh today as it
was then. It was Christmas Eve and someone had to read the letter out
to me over the 'phone. I then rang Len and we were both pleased to say
'We have always written together since then, but the process has certainly
evolved since the early days. Back then, we would write a story and
the other heavily revised it. One might start a story and the other
finish it. One might write a whole story and the other might add thousands
of words or remove thousands of words.'
'Nowadays we tend to need only slight revisions on the original story,
and typo's that kind of thing. Using the Prime collection Incantations
as an example, most of the stories in there had one voice in that there
was one prime author (pun intended) for each story but the other had
significant input; maybe with revised passages, with key ideas, or key
scenes. It combines all the joys of writing solo -- the creation, the
pleasures of creating characters and stories -- with the discipline
of having to prove the worth of what you have written to someone else
even before it is shown to an editor or publisher.'
'We've written more or less continuously since that meeting in the
pub, but things have changed. Our output over the past five years now
exceeds our output over the previous fifteen. Why? Laziness in part,
but more accurately a lack of confidence, a lack of focus and direction,
and definitely an overload of life. We had divorces, births, deaths,
miscarriages, work pressures, house moves, marriages -- all the things
that make life the rich tapestry it is, but we had them constantly and
although over a fairly long space of time, it was diverting. Somehow
the continual problems that came up never let the conscious mind concentrate
on the business of writing -- certainly the creative side suffered.'
'We did write a lot during that period but everything needed revising
and that has been done during the past five or so years, as well as
writing tons of new stuff. The fact that we actually wrote quite a bit
during that long relatively barren period, and that revising it all
was fairly easy, suggests the unconscious writing mind was working overtime
all the while.'
A Shared Road
'Today, our relationship is like a comfortable old shoe, without the
possible smell that might suggest. But in the early years we were very
volatile; there were rows and pregnant, tense silences over the changing
of just a single word. The stories were very personal to us and for
someone else to suggest change was difficult to accept.'
'The friendship was also developing; we were young and going out with
girls; Len was in a rock band; and we were growing up. We have always
been individual people -- obviously -- and as such we have different
tastes and opinions on things. This manifested itself early on in the
writing and caused some friction, with both of us thinking their opinion
over a story was correct. Then we began to learn the benefits of writing
together -- the story boarding, the two heads better than one scenario
-- and for a while we used the differences to write better stories:
'The next stage in the evolution of our friendship and writing partnership
-- two distinct things -- was a more supportive style of discussion
where we admitted our faults as writers and used our strengths to outweigh
any weaknesses. The one who could write description would help the one
who could write character, and vice versa. The one who could start stories
but struggled to finish, helped the one who could write endings if he
had a beginning to take him there. That way, we developed as writers
and the honesty that was generated has helped our friendship.'
'Then it became a lifeline to sanity for both of us, as we battled
through the nonsense that life threw at us. During these times, the
friendship became far more important than the writing -- actually it
always had been, but we occasionally lost sight of that fact.'
'These days, we are so comfortable with each other that there is total
honesty. We can complain, criticise, praise without fear of hurt feelings;
about writing and about each other.'
The Guide to the Right Road
'Much of our very early work was influenced by what we were reading
at the time. We read a lot of the Pan series of Horror, anthologies
'edited' by Alfred Hitchcock, and worked our way up to the anthologies
of August Derleth and Peter Haining. Even prior to discovering horror,
there were the comic books of Amazing Stories, Fantastic
this and that. It was all very persuasive to formative teenage minds.
So it's no surprise that our first stories were short horror pieces,
either completely atmospheric with very little going on, or very gory
with the supernatural more or less tacked on at the end.'
'Then we began to collect books, and did so with a passion that saw
us at the Enfield market every Saturday and some Wednesdays taking away
box loads of paperbacks of horror, ghosts, and the supernatural. There
seemed to be dozens of titles published in those days. We would regularly
travel up to London where there were seemingly plenty of bookshops where
we could buy the newer hardback and paperbacks.'
'Amongst these books were anthologies by Richard Dalby and Hugh Lamb.
The stories in them were often subtle and disturbing. That moved us
into ghost story territory and we began to become influenced by the
people who were influenced by M R James. We like James, but preferred
people like Wakefield, Malden, Caldecott and Benson. The stories that
formed the Shadows At Midnight collection were all from this
period (1974-1980). Some of the stories that became Echoes Of Darkness
(published by Sarob Press in 2000) were written during this period too
but they were revised later on, well about twenty years later on actually.'
'Between 1980 and 1997 we felt as if we were thrashing about under
the influence of several factors. There was no direct influence on our
style -- it was a middle period, albeit it a long one -- where we were
finding our own true voice. As mentioned earlier we wrote loads during
this 'barren' period but it all needed revision later, at a time when
we had found out who we were and what we wanted to write.'
'For this fifteen-year period (yes, we know, 1980 to 1997 is seventeen
years but who's counting?) we tried crime novels, mainstream stories
(a collection was almost accepted by Penguin!) and suspense novels,
as well as stories that could be categorised as horror but were actually
a whole raft of styles from slipstream through ghost, from horror to
'Then in July 1997 we were suddenly reborn.'
Accelerating Along a New Track
'We felt strangely revitalised. All our old stories were revised, the
two Sarob collections were written and published, all the old stories
outside these collections were revised and published in the small press,
and we began to write new and stronger stories. After far too long in
a personal wilderness we had found our own voice, and we had a direction.
Everything in the last five or six years is down to that fact; we suddenly
knew who we were and what we wanted.'
But to tell the truth, we're damned if we fully know what got us kicked
off and started. We were pretty much settled domestically. Len had been
re-married for five years, and happy; Mick had been married for ten
years and his daughter was nearly four years old. We'd been writing
on and off, mostly off, but had actually written quite a bit, when suddenly
the old urge to write another ghost story, to get back to basics, hit
us -- to the extent that Len bought an old fashioned manual typewriter
in the hope that it would kick start this new phase. The first (and
only) thing he wrote on the cumbersome beast was the beginning to An
Office In The Gray's Inn Road (available elsewhere
on this site), though at that time it had no title and was just
a first page with no story to attach to it. Len showed it to Mick, who
enthused, and we began to talk about ghost stories and our origins.'
'It sort of snowballed from there. Mick had picked up a small press
booklet of ghost stories by chance some months before, when he was having
a family weekend at a hotel in Tenterden, Kent, and we suddenly realised
that there was a market for what we were writing. We realised that with
publishers such as Ash Tree Press there was an interest in ghost and
supernatural fiction, rather than the splatter stuff that had dominated
the market for so long. Mick set about revising the older stories, editing
them down to a length acceptable for these small press zines, and Len
carried on writing new stuff, some of which were revisions of old stories
long since consigned to the bin. Some of these he wrote almost word
for word the same as the original -- showing that the sub-conscious
can carry an idea for pretty long periods of time.'
'Our style now is modern, not influenced by any other writer, and is
the culmination of our years of collaboration -- meaning our two voices
have created a separate style based on the best, and worst, of both
'As the style evolved, so too did the content. The earlier ghost stories
were very much influenced by such things as the atmosphere in an English
country churchyard, the Green God Arthur Machen mythology, and the written
style of the 1930's ghost stories. That meant we peopled our stories
with crusty older gentlemen who drank port, played chess and discussed
grave (pun again) issues at their smoky clubs. We actually wrote a novel
that was set in a gentlemen's club. It was a series of inter-connected
stories along the lines of the society in Straub's Ghost Story.'
'The story content of the ghost story period consisted of churches,
country houses, haunted objects and the like. There was much made of
ancient evil influencing the present, of innocents meddling in the present
and unleashing past horrors. Haunted pieces of furniture, unholy ground,
ancient practices long hidden.'
'As we began to write away from that style so the content evolved as
well. We had content that was more urban, the settings moved into the
towns and cities. The crime and suspense novels were all city based
and featured tough cops and even tougher baddies.'
'Gradually, the complexity of the stories increased. The stories became
less linear than before and the contents broader based. Modern influences
such as email and the Internet became integral to the stories.'
'As we grew in confidence so we found more of our own lives being used
in the stories. Not overtly, there are few if any autobiographical stories
in our portfolio, but there are certainly areas of our lives that we
have used. Feelings, too, began to be explored so that our own way of
looking at life events became added to the stories and the way a character
would behave was often influenced by our own perceptions and beliefs.'
'This took us away from our earlier crusty characters, who liked cerebral
pastimes and would enjoy brass rubbing, church architecture and rather
bachelor pursuits. As we were both unhappily married at the time, that
is possibly why our characters preferred isolation to human companionship.
The characters liked to be alone and were, more often than not, rather
sad and only inspired by their obsessive personal desires. Nothing autobiographical
'During the middle period of our writing, when we were both floundering
to discover a direction in our own lives, it is not surprising that
our characters seemed afloat on a sea on uncertainty as well. There
were characters that hated themselves, who were selfish and adrift.
The characters lived in stories that were themselves not fully formed
so the people in them had incompleteness about them.'
'From 1997 onwards, as our present period took hold, so the characters
took on a whole new demeanour. They actually developed as a story developed;
being different at the end of a story than they were at the start. They
are much rounder characters in that they are not wholly god or wholly
evil, there are shades of grey rather than the black and white images
we wrote earlier. Now the characters feel like real people, people we
might know in our lives.'
'We have been altered as people because of what we have experienced
in life and it would be unnatural if that didn't translate itself into
our writing and our characters.'
'Rather than the stories being artificial as many of the earlier ones
might have seemed, with the influences being from the outside rather
than from personal experience, they now seem more real. The stories
are often based, or certainly contain some reference to, events that
have changed us, and this makes them deeper, more liable to strike a
chord with the reader.'
Walking Two Parallel Paths
'When we began to start writing in earnest again, in '97, it was obvious
we had a lot of ground to make up. We'd been out of circulation and
hadn't sent anything out for possible publication for about 15 years,
so the name wasn't known.'
'That began to change as stories were accepted by the many small press
magazines that existed at the time, but even so there was a wide gap
between our experience and achievements. Coupled with that was a sense
that we had something to share with people that might help aspiring
writers. We had been around a long time, had learned lessons the hard
way, and it seemed to us that we might be able to give a little something
back to the genre.'
'So, one Monday night at Len's house, after a regular session of story
discussion, nostalgia, and okay a few beers, we said -- and neither
of us will admit to having actually uttered the words -- "Let's
start a small press magazine." Enigmatic Tales was born.'
'It seemed to be well received straight away. So much so, in fact,
that we were swamped with good quality submissions. That led to Enigmatic
Novellas being launched, followed by the similar Enigmatic Variations,
both for longer stories; and later Enigmatic Electronic on the
web, which allowed us to publish stories that didn't fit the guidelines
of Enigmatic Tales. All seemed to go well, and we managed to
sell out of all the copies produced. We were also able to push length
up to two hundred pages with a regular quarterly schedule thanks to
funding in part from the Arts Council.'
'Running Enigmatic Press certainly refined our editing skills but when
we first started we were real novices. We tried replying to each rejection,
explaining at length why we were declining. That was part of our mission
to help newcomers. But it did mean that we trod a fine line between
explanation and rejection. It only backfired once when a UK writer wrote
back a really rude letter "explaining" his story and coming
to the conclusion that as it was marvellous we were clearly deficient.
He has since disappeared without trace.'
'Meanwhile, the Enigmatic name became synonymous with traditional supernatural
stories. We were known as Mick and Len the ghost story men. Really,
all we have ever done is publish and accept stories we liked. Our taste
may not suit everyone but it is all subjective isn't it? What we like
will not please everyone but that is not what we have tried to do. We
have simply tried to create forums where writers can see their debut
story published, more established writers can be published in a half
decent product, and the exposure the writers (and artists) get is reasonable.'
'Later, when the Arts Council funding failed to be renewed, we were
unable to continue at the same production quality or title quantity,
and we'd really didn't want to compromise our standards so we closed
Enigmatic Press. In a way, we feel now that it was probably not such
a bad thing. Our time was being eaten up with publishing and editing,
we were getting hardly any time to write and had precious little energy
left over for real life. When we'd begun, we'd been charged up with
the excitement of it all, and gradually there developed a genuine enjoyment
at the creation of something that seemed to be worthwhile making an
effort over. But in the end, it was just a hard slog.'
'Shortly after Enigmatic closed in 2000, Sean Wallace of Cosmos Books
(and later Prime) offered us the chance to edit without the hassle of
publishing. Darkness Rising was created from the vision of Enigmatic
but gave us a wider brief with regard to content and with less work
involved. The sheer weight of hours required to edit, produce, handle
distribution, artwork, and proofing is immense. With Darkness Rising,
we were reading stories, editing them, and sending a completed volume
of the series to Sean. He and his team did the rest.'
'The more editing we have done, it is inevitable that we have become
better at it. Nowadays it is relatively easy to know within the first
page if a story will be suitable. Darkness Rising under Prime
offers such a wide range of stories that content is rarely an issue,
so it comes down to quality. With our desire to offer new writers a
platform, there is a possibility we select stories other editors would
reject. That doesn't worry us as we maintain that subjective argument
throughout -- we accept stories we like, just as we write stories we
like, not stories we think need to be written a certain way to please
The Road Not Taken--Yet
'Our current workload is substantial, with a number of titles in the
pipeline for publication over the next year or so. There is The Seminar
novella coming out from Sarob Press in Summer 2003. It's a witch story
about six teenagers on a writing seminar who battle against the forces
of evil. The story is based at a country manor house in Dorset England,
which is owned, and the courses run by, The Senice Foundation. Far from
being altruistic, the Foundation is actually a cover for a centuries
old witch who uses the Foundation as a recruiting agency for fresh victims
to feed her constant need for new bodies with which she rejuvenates
herself. It also becomes apparent that Lisa is the blood relative of
the original Isabella and she has been lured to the manor house for
a sinister reunion.'
Prime have recently released Incantations, our third story collection,
and the fourth is already written. Sarob Press has accepted Falling
Into Heaven for Summer 2004 publication. There are stories in there
that evolve from the style of the stories in the third collection, but
far more that push aside any pre-conceptions people might have about
our writing. These are stories that have the supernatural as a backdrop,
but that aside they could be mainstream stories. Stories such as Sliding
Down The Slippery Slip, which has a lesbian orgy as its plot but
masks so much more; Calling Down The Lightning with the Irish
Trouble as a background but could be about relationships; Soaking
Wet Without A Boat, which is about levels of pain, physical and
emotional; or Flour White, Spindle Thin, about a couple facing
up to an inability to have children.'
Our first completed and retained novel Shelter is currently
being read in USA and we have everything crossed for that. This
is story about a Moroccan Water God and an ancient curse. The evil is
entirely mythical and is a creation very much in the mythos of the Tashkai
we created in Moths. Set in the present day, the catalyst for
the evil begins on active duty in North Africa after the Second World
War when William Charteris, head of a titled family from England, fathers
a child by a local Arab girl. The girl, and the resulting son, is Verani,
an ancient race of creatures who need humans to feed from and to perpetuate
their noble species of Moroccan Water Gods. The consequences, once William
and his loyal associate Tom Hooper bring the boy to England, reach into
the present day. Why a Moroccan Water God? The story is about revenge
and the intrusion of real life problems into a successful life. The
mythical creature is a symbol of the issues we all have to face in life
at some time, but made dramatic and frightening by the creation.'
'Our current writing project is story boarding the novel version of
The Hidden Language Of Demons. As the story began life about
twenty years ago as a novel, it is quite ironic we are revising the
novella back to, and way beyond, the original length. The novella was
well received but a few people mentioned that they wanted more depth,
more background about the characters. This is what we are doing now,
while also adding far more than was ever in the original story and giving
it a title change. The story now begins when the triplets are boys,
and then carries them through their early life, filling in background
and giving the reasons why they each took different paths. It then fleshes
out the rather staccato style of the novella version, adding depth and
'After that? Our short story creative juices have been moving for some
time onto a more mainstream wavelength and it is probable we will write
some non-supernatural stories for specific markets.'
'These stories are likely to echo a series we wrote and abandoned in
the 1980's. Stories about people and their lives without a supernatural
backdrop. The only reason these stories might not linger in the darkness
so much is partly to try something new, partly to try different markets,
and partly to give voice to the various lines of creation that still
persist in both of us. But supernatural stories will never be abandoned.
Especially as the frisson of excitement that we still get quite regularly
from reading supernatural stories, remains far deeper than ever.'
'With so many demands on our time we have had to be very careful we
don't get into overload. Editing, and previously publishing as well,
took up far more time. That has eased with editing only, and an annual
anthology should fit in nicely but we'll have to wait and see. That's
not to say that if an interesting offer to edit a decent anthology came
along we wouldn't be interested, of course, but our priority has always
been our own writing.
'You see, when you write, you are exploring your own soul. When you
create characters you are giving them the flesh of your own life force,
letting a little bit about yourself be revealed, pushing out into the
world naked and alone, to be judged and stared at.'
'If our writing life can be segmented into early, middle and present,
it could be said the early stories were born from a desire to write
and to create a replica of what we wanted from life -- a little peace
and contentment. The middle period was thrashing about in primal uncertainty
with various pressures and difficulties distracting from any planned
route. There was plenty going on in the sub-conscious mind and that
enabled the stories from this period to be so successfully revised later
on. The present period is one of maturity and some satisfaction. We
are developed as people, though one never stops learning or growing,
and this is reflected in the writing.'
'So far as direction is concerned, we had so many changes, during the
middle years, as we sought success in different styles and challenges,
that spanners in the works were a weekly event. We would start a project
only to be deflected onto another path. Only now, when we feel confident,
have we put the spanners toolbox away.'
© Sandy Auden 2003
Incantations (2002) is published by Prime.
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