The final story in Hard For Hope to Flourish is “The Whispering Marsh” by Thomas Ouphe. This is a horror story, but one that is very firmly situated in the complex family dynamics that surround the terror and the nightmares the characters encounter. Read on to learn more about the final story in this Midnight Bites offering from Crone Girls Press.
Q (Crone Girls Press): What do you write? How long have you been writing? What are your preferred genres and why?
A (Thomas Ouphe): I write a variety of things, from literary fiction through to straight genre and pulp. I have been writing in one way or another since I was about 8. I was always in a daydream lost in some story or other, so it made sense to start writing it down.
So far as writing goes, I’m happiest with horror. Though I’m currently writing a historical drama that is (like I’ve said about every work in progress I’ve ever written) going to be the best thing I’ll ever write. I have a great fondness for dystopia and humour fiction too.
Q: What inspired your story in this anthology? Tell us the “story behind the story.”
A: The Dee estuary itself, it always looks so wild and alive. I remember my dad warning me not to ever try to walk across it, “A lot of little boys like you have tried, and nobody ever saw them again.”
He tried to explain about the hidden pools and quicksand, but I pushed for there to be a monster. I’ve had fun inventing horror stories about it since then. This is as much my dad’s story as it is mine.
Q: What draws you to the genre of horror/dark fiction? What do you find there that you don’t find anywhere else?
A: Purity. Horror gives a distinct threat, a clear challenge and an almost universal sense of resolution. All stories are driven to some degree by the metaphorical clash of humanity versus monster. But in horror, you get to have actual monsters.
Horror strips humanity down to its most basic need to survive, and in that, there is a purity that is hard to match in any other genre. All the protagonist has to do is make it out alive. Anything else they’ve done wrong can only be fixed if they survive.
Q: There are a number of subgenres/tropes/flavors of horror. Where does your story fit? What drew you to this particular category?
A: I have always preferred more atmospheric horror. The Whispering Marsh is one part classical ghost story and one part Blackwood monster. I wrote it because it was the story I wanted to read.
Q: Why horror? Why do you write it? What about the genre appeals to you as an author?
A: As I said before, I like the purity and the focus. One hero, one journey. Modern horror is the closest relative of the stories our neolithic ancestors whispered to keep each other brave; as the embers faded and the sounds of night moved closer.
Q: What do you find the most challenging about the writing process, and how do you meet that challenge?
A: Scene block. I’ll get to a certain point, and I’ll know the story needs a bridging scene to get to its next beat. But I can’t come up with anything. I’ve abandoned more projects than I can count because of it. These days I just stick a note in triangular brackets that reads something like, <explain Derek’s sudden knowledge of linguistics>. More often than not, I find I can avoid writing the scene altogether by making an earlier change. But, it took me a long time to figure it out. Some scenes don’t want to be written because they’re just not necessary.
Q: What was the worst writing advice you ever received? The best writing advice? Why, and how did it affect your writing?
A: It’s hard to say which is the worst, I’ve come up with so many terrible approaches over the years that it’s hard to tell which is mine and which I got from somebody else. I learned a lot from trying things out, even though I’ve thrown a lot of material away. I have no regrets.
However, I’d say the best advice I ever got was this, don’t write something you wouldn’t want to read.
Q: Of the characters you’ve created, who is your favorite, and why?
A: I needed an antagonist for a depressed nervous protagonist. I came up with a woman called Mrs Barrowbrews. I’d wanted her to be the most irritating person ever to jar against the protagonist every second. She is awful; possessive, controlling and inappropriate. But then she fell in love and her humanity crept in before I noticed it.
Q: If someone asked you to recommend books/stories similar to what you write, who/what titles would you be giving them? And, why?
A: The Willows by Algernon Blackwood was a huge influence on the Whispering Marsh. Blackwood’s prose is pure poetry.
If there is a book I would recommend to every horror reader, it’s The House of Erzulie by Kirsten Imani Kasai. She’s the author I want to be when I grow up.
Q: What’s next in your writing journey?
A: I am finishing off my historical piece. After that I am looking at a Kaiju / gnosticism inspired YA series.
Thomas Ouphe spends his time writing and as a lead teacher of English. Using several assumed names, he has published stories in several online and print magazines including British Fantasy Society Horizons and Wild Musette. He practices Chen Style tai-chi mostly as an excuse to play with swords as an adult. He cannot run as fast as Amelia but when he does go running, he takes his dog.
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