Martin Stewart Interview:
Questions asked by Poppy Nwosu.
Your most recent novel, The Sacrifice Box, is a beautiful mix of skin-crawling horror, atmospheric description and lovable characterisation. It’s a story about a ragtag team of misfits who must overcome a terrifying curse they’ve brought down on their isolated island home, and there is plenty of fun banter, really wonderful characters, and heart stopping horror.
I absolutely LOVED this book and the best way I can think to describe the overall experience is with the word ‘charming’, which is a little disconcerting considering the fact that one character spends much of the story hugging a dead squirrel to his chest!
Thanks so much for saying that! It’s EXACTLY what I hoped readers would feel ― that the driver of the story is the love the group have for each other, rather than the horror they’re dealing with.
Balance is absolutely at the forefront of my mind ― for my first book, Riverkeep, I wanted richness of language but also a contemporary pace/rhythm for the dialogue. It had to be detailed and gothic and full of wee allusions and details, but also be readable just as an adventure yarn. It had elements of darkness and humour as well ― an element I wanted to dial up for my second book.
For The Sacrifice Box, I wanted that balance of absolute fun and proper scariness. That was one reason to make the principal danger a teddy bear ― I was hoping that (as well as being a good creative challenge, to make a teddy scary) it would mean there was always a sense of humour on the edge of the horror: scary fun, rather than scary ‘oh my god the pits of hell are coming to murder me’.
It may come as a surprise, but I don't particularly like horror films! They scare me to my very bones, and that’s why the balance is essential. Laughs are so important ― a scare and a laugh both provide a similar release of tension― and I always wanted to write something that would have a real intensity of both. I was hugely influenced as a young man by the British show The League of Gentlemen. I don’t consider it horror so much as macabre or gothic, but it’s definitely dark and shocking. The laughs are right alongside the darkness, which is very satisfying, and I always wanted to write something that would get laughs from pretty horrible things.
Absolutely! Four Books is a riff on Desert Island Discs, the 75-year-old BBC radio show about the eight tracks people would take with them if they were to be cast away to a desert island. They also get to choose one book ― but it’s dealt with in such a quick, perfunctory way, and I always want more detail. Especially when someone chooses a book I love myself.
I’m a huge fan of podcasts, especially ones about writing, and I thought I’d do it myself.
My guests have to decide which four books they’d grab if they were about to be beamed aboard an alien spaceship. Mostly it’ll be writers, but I’m hoping to talk to people in other walks of life. I want to know how reading has influenced their writing, and hear their reasons for choosing these four titles. I’ve got a few on iTunes at the moment, with another bunch already recorded, and I’m so enjoying doing it. It’s hugely time-consuming, but very rewarding!
If you’re a fan of books and stories and hearing about writers’ experiences and advice then it’s definitely worth checking out ― all my space travellers (Alice Broadway, Taran Matharu, Liz MacWhirter, Sebastien De Castell, August Thomas…) have been absolutely brilliant.
Cannery Row by John Steinbeck was hugely influential on my language, but in terms of the kind of writer I wanted to be it’s The Northern Lights, by Philip Pullman ― not a book for children at all, it was a book about children, for everyone: so beautifully, elegantly written, so imaginative and exciting, and so delicately insightful about what it meant to be a human being. It made me realise that these were the kind of books I wanted to write ― stories that young readers would enjoy throughout their lives.
There are many books that had a deep and lasting impact on me, but only The Northern Lights had such a life-changing effect. That’s the power of great stories: they tell us something about who we are, and who we’d like to be.
Yes. That’s all I can say, I’m afraid! It’s all very hush-hush… I’m interested in writing for a slightly younger readership, let’s say that ― I love new challenges, and am so inspired by the prospect of doing something different. I’d love to write sci-fi, a proper ghost story, a whodunnit… the prospect of being able to explore different types of writing is the most exciting thing, and I’m doing that now.
Thank you so much for your time Martin! :) It was great hosting you on this blog!
If you have time, check out these past YA author interviews, I can't believe there's so many already!