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HMS: Lee, what inspired you to be a writer; more specifically, to write Crime and horror/fantasy?

Lee: Inspiration isn’t a static thing that I can put my finger on, looking back. But I absolutely have no concrete idea whatsoever. I never thought, “I want to be a writer”. It was just something I could do to amuse myself or my mates, or write about football for money. Initially it was mostly humorous stuff. It was only when I started getting work out that I knew I had more urgent stories to tell or other areas I wanted to write about outside of getting a laugh, and it snowballed. I can’t really articulate it better, because even this explanation could well be bollocks and change on a whim. As an optimistic, bemused, nihilistic, romantic hunting immortality, I just carry on plodding along in life with a curiosity I can’t seem to shake off and an addictive impulse to express things via the written word.

Sometimes it’s just a case of going, “Human Beings, eh? Come here and have a look at what they’re doing to each other, and even themselves. Have you seen what they’re capable of?” I just got a flashback of when got I paid to write a gambling column on the football. The magazine went bust, which I’m particularly adamant was pure coincidence. On a technical note regarding the age old topic of genre, I’ll write stuff and it gets placed into pre-existing categories outside of my control. I suppose that’s a marketing issue which is not my area. I’ve never actively picked a genre, that’d be up to other people. But I’m often interested in how various the responses are to a story, the different ways people react.

What kicked off the interest in what I’d say is dark fiction, thinking back, was watching an animated version of Macbeth when I was about eight at St Richards Primary School, Atherton. I was mesmerized by what these characters were up to and how it was affecting them - the haunted consciences and so forth manifesting as ghosts or hallucinatory blood that couldn’t be washed off. It also kicked off my interest in psychology and subsequent vocation. It was like a slap in the chops after a couple of years of being forced to listen to monotone readings of Enid Blyton or Charlotte’s Web on Friday afternoon story time; talking spiders and hallucinogenic blood. It’s no wonder I write what I write about. It’s all because of Shakespeare; it’s all that bastard’s fault. Maybe what I think are visions of stories are just psychotic flashbacks from story time intermingled with insomnia induced waking dream-states and a lifelong battle with the need for alcoholic sedation. Bear in mind the first real narrative I got at that school was the brutal murder of Jesus Christ. As far as I could gather his mission in life was to tell people to look after each other. And he got slashed to bits and nailed to a crucifix by our old friends the Human Beings. That was scary. And the teacher says, “You must never forget him.” Me thinking, forget him? I’m having nightmares about it, you fucking cretin, I’m five.

What kind of life lesson is that? Don’t stand up to move mankind forward or you’ll get betrayed, tortured and assassinated in public? And while you’re on the cross we’re going to set free a murderer instead of you. It was more like a foreshadowing or a warning. This was before the talking spider. I went from reading A is for apple, B is for Ball, to this assault on the mind. Who needs hallucinogenic drugs? I think within what constitutes crime and horror you can explore a lot more honest characters and a wider scope of the human psyche. Because what it boils down to is the human experience, and the depths of the human mind and how it fits into the world. To me it’s more interesting at the extremes, the transgressions of artificially created norms of thought, behavior or whatever.

Looking back, academically writing was a necessity from a young age and for whatever reason the activity and concentration required felt natural. It’s an affinity with the language too I suppose. In primary school I got almost perfect scores in English, and it’s been steeply downhill from there. Aspiring to be a writer of fiction wasn’t a concept. The whole educational system was set up to churn out a worker bee, with no interest whatsoever in putting economic value on creativity or any inherent talent, other than potentially academic. Writing work for publication was something ethereal because I didn’t know how it worked and nobody taught it. There were no high school newspapers or literary societies. In the mean-time I was more inspired to figure out a realistic and legal way of getting money after school and there were no writing factories I could pop into to toil away. In fact, there were hardly any factories as industry was decimated. And I didn’t really fancy anything dodgy full time because of the male to female ratio in jails. If I went into the career office and said I want to be a writer, they’d have told me to write a CV creatively and fuck off down the job center. Either that, or, “Great, which park bench are you planning on sleeping on. Good luck, now.” Even now I don’t feel being a writer is a part of my identity any more than vocal chords are part of a singer’s. It’s something I’ve always done. It’s just a matter of quality, quantity and context.

HMS: Who are the people that have made the most impact on you? What writers have inspired you?

Lee: Most impact? Too long a list. I’ll settle for my parents who brought me up properly and let me think for myself and taught me to read and write at a young age. After such stable early years I’m entirely responsible for the shambles that’s ensued after I left childhood and I can’t blame anyone else. Writers: My mate Lee Cartwright. He bugged me to start submitting work out. If he’s reading this, you should do the same thing. If you don’t, you’re getting twatted pal. Another friend said something once too that sent the cogs spinning. I’d wrote something to amuse my mate Lorraine Woosey while she was off work after an operation. Catherine Hibbert printed it out to give her. Catherine came in the day after laughing her head off and said, “It’s like a proper book”, book pronounced buuwk – it’s the way we tork, laake (talk, like). It was a definite lightbulb moment. So, thanks folks, it’s your fault too.

Then there’s the bloke who published my books, the prolific writer Earl Wynn at Thunderune. He put his own time, without recompense, into putting my stuff out when he was busy writing himself and doing all sorts of other zines to showcase hundreds of writers. He was keen, and enthusiastic that I could get better as a writer, which was encouraging. I say that because a bloke across the pond was willing to invest his own time in putting my writing together, purely because he thought I could write. These prompts solidified my intention to focus on writing for more than just my own amusement. The poet Lemn Sissay; I saw a documentary on his life in my early teens on the TV. So I read his poetry and it was clear he was a born poet and thankfully he made his voice heard. He’s gone on to do all sorts and inspires people all over the world. It turns out I met him when I was two in Atherton Town; funny old world.

Joe Clifford: because he writes great stuff and most importantly gave me the funniest and most human rejection I’ve received to date. What he didn’t realize was I’m also a Forty Niners fan, courtesy of my dad (who’d let me stay up and watch the Superbowls in the Montana and Rice days), so I was doubly pissed off. But like I said it was from a human being and it made me look for the humor in the submission and rejection game – which is a definite advantage. Jim Thompson: I’d written some first person stuff from some extremely dubious character’s viewpoints years ago. I thought what can I do with these? The cops might think they’re autobiographical or confessions, as oppose to psychological character prose stories. I did send one out to a place in Manchester. I got a letter back saying “we strongly encourage you to write, however not in our vicinity”, type of thing. I destroyed them and never sent anything out for a while after that. I thought I might get locked up for a crime I didn’t commit, like the A Team, and have to escape and survive in the Atherton underground, like my mate Super R. Pinks that time he was being chased by the cops for a crime he didn’t actually commit; but he had a small bag of drugs on him and he dived into a brook and submerged himself in the water to avoid the heat detectors of the helicopter. A millisecond later a hand broke through the layer of surface scum, trying to preserve the integrity of the powder like King Arthur’s sword gone wrong, as he waded his way home. The man didn’t even need a straw to breathe. He went on to steal an umbrella from the SAS, believe it or not.

Thankfully after I read Jim Thompson’s work I thought, “He’s nailed it, and I might be able to write what I want to”. And I’m still trying. He and Dostoevsky knew more about certain aspects of human psychology than any alleged professional psychologist who has ever lived. You can quote me on that. There are tons of others and I could go on for hours, so I’ll leave it there and with the fact that any writer is inspiring given the publishing game and the whole process of writing for publication in general.


"The first real narrative I got at that school was the brutal murder of Jesus Christ."

HMS: Tell everyone about your newest book and the short story “APARTMENT 6” that is featured in the Wicked Gardens anthology.

Lee: The story in Wicked Gardens (which is a great book – one of the most eclectic anthologies I’ve seen in a while – and it works) came from wondering what would happen to a certain type of serial killer’s mindset if they mistook a simple power cut for an apocalypse, told in first person. It looks at things such as alienation and rationalization and how most killers see nothing but their own needs and desires. And in this particular situation it would lead to certain fragmentations that play out. The newest book is Shotgun Therapy and Other Stories via Thunderune. There are thirteen collected flash and short stories I’d had published and an additional three exclusive to that book. It features a range of stuff: from corrupt lawmen in the old west, to the consequences of a drug rip off going wrong, a hallucinogenic spree kill, to a hitman looking for righteous vengeance amongst other things. It’s a shifting mix, but there are some clear themes from different perspectives. It also features a short intro from Will Viharo, who writes great stuff and people should definitely check his work out; which was why I wanted him to do it. Check him out.

HMS: What is it about Manchester, England that inspires such great music, writing and other pop culture art?

Lee: I wouldn’t know where to even begin to answer that properly I’m afraid. I couldn’t give an answer that would give the city the justice it deserves.

HMS: Going back and rereading some of your work, it strikes that the state of the world, especially politics and class is always either an undercurrent theme or featured prominently. Do you agree and if so, can you elaborate?

Lee: I wouldn’t say always, but often. It’s like I mentioned earlier, a case of, “Have you seen what’s going on?” I’ve worked a long time with people who have had to suffer much more than was ever necessary, purely due to the political establishment and the machinery behind said pantomime. Sometimes it may be about the clash between the engineered structures of society and the human being. This can work all sorts of ways: from a cop who can’t stand corruption in the system and won’t have it that a politician is untouchable, to a character who commits crime to ironically gain societal respect via ascendancy of the socioeconomic ladder. Some characters see the structure and others are damned by machinations they don’t know exist. All I’ll say about the machinery is to imagine politics and the media as a giant green screen; take a knife and slash the screen and peel it back. Have a good look. And be horrified. I was.

HMS: I’ve featured your story for my old podcast Blackout city. Have you ever thought of writing audio dramas or started your own podcast?

Lee: My attention is firmly on short stories, novellas and novels at the minute. I really enjoyed writing for the podcast, and would definitely do it again. It did make me think of looking at writing in different mediums in the future. I’ve never considered starting a podcast, but I have toyed with the idea of a flash zine - even a magazine. The problem is that literature is so subjective I don’t feel I’m in any way shape or form in a position to judge what’s publishable and what isn’t. I know what I like to read and I know what styles I enjoy, and I’m not everybody. Putting aside the usual stuff about spelling errors or words used inappropriately, excessive adverbs or whatever (all of which I’ve been guilty of myself when I first started), my sensibilities as a reader don’t make me an authority on turning away a story because I didn’t like it. Given that, I couldn’t reject other people’s work solely based on my taste or on arbitrary rules that can be broken to great effect at times.

HMS: What is your writing process?

Lee: With fiction, what happens is I get an idea, by which I mean a theme, topic, or impact. Sometimes a line or an image and then I’ll see a full scene and the main characters in my mind like a 3D film. I let it build until all of those things are vivid and immersive. Then I can sit down and just let it go. As I’m writing I’ll make notes of other scenes or whatever that pop up, and then I repeat the process as the story evolves. I’m not sure how the translation to prose happens to be honest, apart from figuring out the perspective. There are some aspects of word choice and sentence length that come down to different things such as look, sound, pacing and cadence, but that happens literally as I write. I’ve never messed around flicking through a thesaurus or dictionary, because when I type it up I make sure it corresponds with my inner ear, and the narrative’s voice. It’s just finding that internal rhythm where certain senses blend, and it’s difficult to articulate or break down, specifically because of the immersion, which is probably a meditative level of consciousness. Also, I don’t think my brain is wired right, so that might help.

HMS: Do you listen to music and what is it do you listen to?

Lee: I masturbate three times a week to, “Land of Hope and Glory.” When I’m cruising for ladies of the night on my rollerblades, with my turquoise mankini on, I’ve got Motorhead’s Ace of Spades blaring out of a ghetto blaster I perch on my shoulder like a bazooka; because I can. I like the original Sweeney theme tune on my iPod when I’m shoplifting. Keeps me on my toes, you see. I prefer to cat burglarize with BB King plucking away with sweet precision. I can’t explain it; his strumming just makes me feel sleek on the mooch. Its mood dependent and too long a mixed list, so I’ll leave it there.

HMS: What’s next for you Lee? Any new projects on the horizon?

Lee: Six pints of Guinness. My next project is working on how to fix the lottery. On a serious note I’m getting back into the groove after a lay off, but if I go into specifics I’ll end up jinxing myself and another disaster will strike, so I’d best not tempt fate.

HMS: What would be your dream project? Book/film/TV?

Lee: Definitely to get my manuscripts up to scratch and out in book form. Then the dream project would be to see one of my stories made for film or TV so I could compare it to what I envisioned when I was writing it. Just out of raw curiosity.

You can find L.A. Sykes on Facebook.

Mark Slade, HMS

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