Author of "The Doorman", the fourth story in The Fourth Corona Book of Horror Stories
Justin Cawthorne is interested in creating tales that explore new ways to draw terror from both the known and unknown. In partnership with the Tales to Terrify podcast, he has received a Parsec Award for Best Speculative Fiction Story: Small Cast (Short Form) for the adaptation of his story “Graves”. His other work in speculative fiction includes his novella There Is a Light That Never Goes Out and the short story “Colder Still” which appears in the Darkwater Syndicate anthology Shadows and Teeth.
What made you decide to write horror?
Horror was a natural, probably inevitable, choice for me. I grew up loving the classic Universal monster movies; I was obsessed with the movie Alien when I was barely into double digits; and was out renting every horror movie I could almost as soon as the home video revolution started. I imagine my reason for enjoying horror is the same reason most people enjoy it: it’s a safe space for us to explore our darkest fears, and writing horror gives me a dark and infinite playground to try and lure readers into.
Do you write in any other genre?
My other favourite genre to write in is science-fiction. As with horror, this allows me to explore ideas, characters and stories across the broadest possible canvas (one that’s far broader than my imagination could ever span). I also occasionally turn to more tongue-in-cheek fiction which gives me opportunities to try out the other ideas that my brain occasionally throws at me, such as: what if the devil crashed over at your house one night and refused to move out.
What genres do you read? Is it all horror or have you eclectic tastes?
Naturally I read a lot of horror, and a fair amount of science fiction too. I will veer into more fantasy-inspired fiction from time to time (Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus springs to mind). I also enjoy non-fiction, and particularly relish devouring books that go behind the scenes of my favourite movies (or any non-fiction that explores the creative process for that matter – I love reading about writing!)
How much do you value reading the work of other authors?
Tremendously so. Writing is a particularly solitary hobby/profession and it’s all too easy to get locked into your own style. Reading other authors’ work opens you up to new ways of expressing yourself, sparks new story ideas and often reminds me that there are few hard and fast rules. Seeing how other people stretch the bounds of storytelling is a constant inspiration – if an occasionally intimidating one at times.
Does reading other people’s work affect the way you write?
It affects the way I critique my writing more than anything. I won’t ever consciously write in the style of another author but will consider how other people have tackled various prose or plot obstacles that I might encounter (for example, the evergreen struggle with dialogue tags). Other writers are invaluable for demonstrating other paths that can be followed.
What are your favourite and/or least favourite tropes?
Two of my favourite tropes are the time loop story and the amnesia story (the type where your much-loved characters temporarily forget who they are and give you a chance to turn them into different people). They give you such scope to remix familiar things.
Least favourite tropes is harder. I’m constantly aware that endings are unnatural and will come away unsatisfied by anything that wraps things up too conveniently (the it-was-a-dream ending or deus ex machina are classics here).
Which authors inspire you?
Though I haven’t read her in many years, it was Anne Rice who first inspired me to start writing (with her vampire chronicles). Stephen King is probably the author who has most directly inspired me. I am a massive fan of M.R. James and I usually try and turn out a Christmas horror story each year as form of homage. However, I also love authors like Matt Haig, Douglas Adams and Neil Gaiman for their sideways view of things. One of the writers who has most impressed me in recent years is Bo Bolander; I only wish I could produce prose like that. I’m also an emerging fan of Mary Robinette Kowal and am learning what I can from her Lady Astronaut series and other works.
Tell us a little about the story of yours in The Fourth Corona Book of Horror Stories
When I write horror one of my favourite things to do is take the ordinary and give it a little twist; just far enough to turn it into something unsettling. Something as innocuous as your doorbell ringing isn’t necessarily scary. But what if you’re an introvert? What if the ring comes in the middle of the night? What if there’s no one there? This the line of thought that produced my story “The Doorman”.