In this captivating interview, Paul Childs, a talented writer and IT Technician from Stockport, near Manchester, takes us on a journey into his creative world. By day, Paul fixes technology, but in his spare time, he immerses himself in a diverse range of passions, including writing, watching horror movies, playing guitars, and savoring Single Malt Scotch Whisky. Known for his work in the horror genre, particularly the Badgers Crossing series aimed at young adults, Paul shares his inspiration, writing process, and the deep connection between folklore, the countryside, and the genre. Join us as we delve into Paul’s intriguing experiences and his unique perspective on writing and storytelling.
Please tell the readers a little bit about yourself.
By day I work as an IT Technician in Stockport near Manchester. I split my spare time between writing, watching movies (my all-time favourite horror film is the original 1985 Fright Night), playing my guitars and enjoying Single Malt Scotch Whisky.
I’ve written nonfiction for Den of Geek, Film Stories Magazine, Folklore Thursday, Horrified and this very website, as well as my own pop-culture site World Geekly News (currently on hiatus while I concentrate on my books, but it should be making a bit of a comeback later this year).
My first book – Tales From Badgers Crossing – a collection of short stories I’ve written over several years (plus a handful of brand new ones) was published by Greenteeth Press in May 2022. In May 2023 I created the publishing imprint Broccton Press as the official home of Badgers Crossing. Bait, my first novella, was its inaugural release.
The Badger’s Crossing series of books is aimed at the YA market; why did you choose this corner of the horror genre?
It wasn’t specifically aimed at anyone – I just wrote what I wanted to write and when I read it back, I realised it had a similar tone to a lot of YA I’d read. When I first set out to write horror I fully intended to produce serious ghost stories for adults, but M.R. James I wasn’t. Every time I sat down to write with that mindset, it kind of fell flat. Then I thought back to what got me interested in horror in the first place in the mid-80s – comics like Scream!, The Eagle and 2000AD, the Usborne Supernatural Guides and All About Ghosts books, my junior school headmaster reading scary stories in assembly, etc – and changed my tactic. I wrote something that 9-year-old me would have loved. That was the first time I was truly happy with stuff I was producing.
Folk Horror never seems to fall out of love with the readers; why do you think that is?
In the UK, certainly, we’re always on the periphery of the countryside. Even in the biggest cities like London, or Manchester where I live, you can hop in a car or on a train and find yourself in the middle of nowhere in a matter of minutes. It still holds an air of mystery and danger to townies. There is something deeply – I hesitate to use the word ‘sinister’ – perhaps a better word would be ‘other’ about the countryside. I’ve lived in small villages and have experienced the cliché of walking into a pub only for everyone to stop what they’re doing to size you up many times. I have farmers in my family and they’re very devoted to their immediate community – to the city-dweller this can be misread as insular and secretive. I’ve heard some hair-raising stories from my cousins about what happened to people who disrespected their ways. I think the recent BBC adaptation of the Worzel Gummidge stories captured this feeling exceptionally well – a way of life that is gentle and comforting to those in the know, but unsettling to outsiders who disturb or catch an accidental glimpse of something they weren’t meant to see.
We’re still a very spiritual and superstitious nation. You see reminders of “The Old Ways” everywhere you go. Standing stones and long barrows pepper the landscape; Morris dancers and maypoles can be found in just about any village, school or even church fair; pubs have names like The Green Man, John Barleycorn or The White Hart (the fifth most popular pub name in the country); look closely as you drive or walk between towns and you’ll see cairns at the roadside and ribbons tied in tree branches.
It’s easy to remind ourselves that fantastical monsters are make-believe and our fear of them is just a product of our imagination, but the cultural divides that fuel Folk Horror’s central conflicts – urban vs rural, what is known vs the hidden, technological vs natural, reason vs superstition, modern vs ancient – are very real to this day and are right on our doorsteps. All you need to do is leave the safety of the town, take a wrong turn and say the wrong thing and you could be in for a world of trouble. I find that terrifying.
Although Bait is largely an 80s-style kids-on-bikes-fighting-crooks adventure, all Badgers Crossing tales have an element of Folk Horror about them. I wanted to flip the usual FH narrative, so that the locals with a deep connection to the land are not painted as superstitious and villainous, but the good guys who fear yet respect their home and traditions in a more reverential manner.
And why the Badgers? Is there a reason you war with badgers over, say, foxes?
Haha, yes! As much as I love our black and white stripy chums, the truth is a bit more mundane. Shortly after I decided I wanted to start writing, this would have been around 2007-08, I was driving home from visiting my parents in my home town of Corby when I noticed a road sign. I’d driven past it hundreds of times before but never paid it any heed. This time, however, the simple warning of “Badgers Crossing” struck a chord with me and over the next few hours, I’d created a town, a lot of its history and folklore, and several of the characters. I registered the domain badgerscrossing.co.uk as soon as I got home. I didn’t write any of it for about another five years, but much of what made it into my collection was thought up on that three hour drive.
How do you ensure when writing teenage characters that they remain believable?
Although I don’t have any children, I do have a fairly good memory. I remember what it was like being a teenager. I never had smart phones or tablets growing up, and the internet, although around but in a very rudimentary state, was a fairly science-fiction-like concept, only seen in films like Tron, Jumping Jack Flash and WarGames, but the feelings and emotions one experiences in those important formative years are pretty universal down the ages.
Kids still have crushes on other kids. Getting sent to you room is absolutely NOT FAIR. It’s more fun to do something when it’s dangerous or you’ve been forbidden to do it. Hanging out and playing with your mates is everything, whether riding your BMXs through the woods like in my day or playing cross-platform Rocket League over a Discord chat.
I also have a few friends with teen and preteen children who are always quite happy to read my drafts and weigh in on what today’s kids would and most definitely would not do (like use Rocket League as an example of a cool, modern video game).
In Badgers Crossing, Bert dies off in the early stages of the story. Do you have any plans to write prequels featuring Bert and how he became the guardian of the Badgers?
Yes, absolutely. Bert was first introduced in the short story The Grey Path which is in my collection Tales From Badgers Crossing. That tale outlines how Debbie, the main protagonist of Bait, first met Bert when she was six years old. I’m also putting the finishing touches to another novella called The Convergence which is a kind of Folk Horror/Found Footage/Hauntology mashup tale about a haunted 1970s car park. It’s set about nine months before Bait and Bert plays an integral part in it. It features flashbacks to Bert’s younger years and we get to know him a lot better. I aim to release that towards the end of the year. He may be gone, but I’m sure he’ll still pop up again in future Badgers Crossing stories.
What aspects of writing do you find the most difficult?
Last year I was diagnosed with ADHD, which came as both a bit of shock and a relief. I understand that one of my biggest writing flaws is linked to that – I tend to over-explain things (in real life, as well as my writing). Obviously, my wife, beta readers and editor catch these passages before they ever get to print, but the urge to let everyone know why one character did this while another character did that is strong. It’s not that I don’t trust the reader to work things out for themselves, it’s just how I think in day to day situations.
I’m getting better at recognising when I’m doing it, but sometimes I just can’t help myself.
Is there one subject you would never write about as an author?
Erotica. There’s been something of a backlash against sex scenes in film and books of late. I don’t really get that. If a love scene serves the story, then I see no problem with them – but I’m not sure I would ever want to write one myself. It’s just not me. I’m not a prude – I’m just certain there are plenty of other writers who could do the subject far more justice than I ever could. Caitlin Marceau for example – she’s very good.
I think I’d also struggle with writing about sexual assault – it’s a very sensitive subject that needs to be handled in exactly the right way to avoid it crossing over from relevant and dramatic to sensationalist or voyeuristic.
Writing is not a static process; how have you developed as a writer over the years?
The first piece of fiction I ever wrote as an adult was an epic 20000 word Star Trek Voyager fanfic calld Gravity Of The Situation. This was in 1996, I was 21 and I was so proud of it at the time. So I did something foolish. I uploaded it to a Star Trek Fanfic Newsgroup (remember those?) only to have it torn to shreds by the other denizens of the group. Yep, even then, in its infancy, the World Wide Web was populated by some very unpleasant sorts.
That put a dent in my confidence that I don’t think has ever been fully straightened out. It was 11 years before I even thought about trying again. Luckily, I’ve learned how to use the internet to my advantage, to avoid the trolls and overly critical and to seek out those who are only interested in helping raise each other up. People like Peter Laws, Mark Nixon (Shadows at the Door), Gemma Amor, Andrew Lyall, Bob Fischer, Stephen Brotherstone (Scarred For Life) and David Southwell (Hookland) have not only taught me a lot about how to become a better writer but how to kindly and graciously give and receive both positive and negative feedback. Although I’ve not met all of the above in person, I’m still very proud to call them all friends.
For me, having group of people who support each other around you is absolutely the key to improving as a writer. It’s not about doing each other favours with the hope of getting something in return, but offering your time and advice willingly with no expectation of reciprocation.
Technically speaking, it’s all about trying stuff out and not being afraid to fail. There are many more half-finished or abandoned Badgers Crossing stories in my Work In Progress folder than have ever made it to print. Sometimes I’ve returned to them years later and managed to fix a plot hole I couldn’t previously get past at the time and some of them will never see the inside of a book, but I don’t regret having written any of them. I guess what I’m saying is – practice, practice, practice. Use what works, but don’t dismiss what didn’t – keep it as a reminder of what not to do, or even as a seemingly impossible problem that you might eventually learn how to fix with a little more experience and confidence.
Sadly, the floppy disc (remember those?) with the Voyager story on was accidentally thrown out when I moved house in 2015. I’d love to read it again, to compare it with my writing now. Maybe it was a masterpiece and all those armchair critics were wrong. I guess we’ll never know.
What is the best piece of advice you ever received concerning your writing?
I once asked David Southwell, the creator of Hookland, for advice on the folklore surrounding a particular topic. He gave me a few basic pointers but told me that I should create my own so that it holds special meaning to me. That lore became the basis for much of Badgers Crossing, Bait in particular, so I’ll always be grateful for that gentle, encouraging nudge to step out into the unknown. He also told me not to be ashamed of loving Scooby Doo, because it’s awesome and its place as a gateway to horror for many, many people cannot be underestimated.
Which of your characters is your favourite?
I have a few so it’s hard to choose!
I love Debbie – she’s very much like the kid I wish I’d been. She’s definitely a geek like me and I’ve never confirmed it in print (yet) but I think she also has ADHD. She’s a lot less timid than I was as a child. She almost always says what she’s thinking (or what others are afraid to say) and doesn’t care what anyone thinks about her. I have always struggled with that. Her success rate with her vociferousness saving the day vs it getting her into even deeper trouble is about 50/50. There’s a hint of Spider-Man about her (my favourite superhero). She winds her antagonists (and her dad) up so much that they can’t think straight and start to make mistakes.
I have a recurring character called Andromalius who pops up in the bonus short story at the back of Bait. He’s charming and mysterious but he’s also a chaotic trickster type who thrives on causing trouble, not unlike Loki or Jareth the Goblin King. He exists outside of conventional time, like The Doctor or Q, so it’s really good fun to have him throw around thinly veiled references to things like Digital Watches or George Michael in stories set years before they ever existed.
Like Debbie, he’s an outlet for me to be a bit mischievous. He does and says some really outrageous and dastardly things, but unlike her, he’s much more devious and villainous (although he would be furiously affronted to hear himself described in such a way).
Do you have a favourite line or passage from your work, and would you like to share it with us?
I sometimes struggle with praising my own work – something I’m trying to overcome if I want other people to read it! That said, the editor of Tales From Badgers Crossing really liked a passage from a story called Still Boxed and I tend to agree with her. I quite enjoyed writing a passage that starts off full of the Lovecraftian dread of an infinite and meaningless universe and then ending it in a really mundane manner. Here’s a little bit of context:
Richard Yates has been looking for an action figure from a horror movie that was banned during the Video Nasties scandal. As most of the merchandise was seized and destroyed, it’s extremely rare so he’s delighted to win one in an online auction, but he can’t understand why the seller let it go for such a ridiculously low price. He soon finds out why…
I turn my eyes towards the source of the voice. Through the mist of recent sleep, I see what appears to be a small rectangular area, somehow darker than the rest of the room. Two tiny, but dazzlingly bright spots of light emit from the middle of the void. As my eyes grow more accustomed to the dark, the shadows cast by the glow reveal a tiny shape, like a man with two twisted horns on top of his head. The glowing yellow eyes burn with all the fury of two dying stars, far off in the obsidian recesses of space.
Although the thing itself doesn’t move, his small staff rattles furiously in the packet. The plastic flexes outward but thankfully doesn’t break.
“Richard Yates of 37 Walmsley Road?” The voice is somehow both deafening and barely audible. I lean in and look closer.
“Are you Richard Yates?” It repeats.
If you could erase one horror cliché, what would be your choice?
It’s said that the mobile phone has ruined modern horror over the last few decades and lately I’ve seen and read more and more convoluted explanations for why the protagonist can’t call the police, or parents or whatever.
Just write a story where phones can’t help them. Or do what I do in Bait – set it in the woods where there’s no reception, mention it once and then move on to the meat of the story.
Or use the phone as a plot device (like in this little known film I once saw called Scream…).
What was the last great book you read, and what was the last book that disappointed you?
I recently finished the new Joanne Harris novel Broken Light and I enjoyed that very much. Some have accused it of being preachy but I felt it had an important message that needed to be conveyed in that forceful manner. I also thought it was very cleverly written, masterfully playing with Unreliable Narrator, Nonlinear Storytelling and Found Footage tropes to subvert my expectations and keep me guessing right up to the end.
I struggled with The Reddening by Adam Nevil (sorry, Adam). I found it a bit slow and repetitive and I stopped reading about a quarter of the way through. I’ll definitely return to it to give it another go though. Perhaps I was just not in the right frame of mind for it at the time. Happy to be proven wrong on that one because I’ve loved everything else Adam has written.
What’s the one question you wish you would get asked but never do? And what would be the answer?
I don’t think I’ve ever been asked what music, if any, I like to write to. I almost always write with headphones on because my distraction threshold is so low, but lately I find that songs with lyrics, even if I’ve used them in the past, now pull me out of my focus.
Then, in 2017, I read issue of 354 of Fortean Times.
My writing has always had a nostalgic vibe to it, but with a slightly dark edge. Turns out that feeling has a name. That issue of FT was devoted to the artistic expressions that have arisen from Jacques Derrida’s philosophy known as Hauntology. It led me to music that perfectly captures the tone that I wanted to convey. Listening to acts like The Advisory Circle, Belbury Poly and Pye Corner Audio is both comforting and disturbing in equal measure, like wistfully looking back at a time where one longed for a better future that you desperately hoped for but knew would never come.
I’ve written The Convergence entirely to the music of Warrington-Runcorn New Town Development Plan.
Also Favourite Movie Horse? It’s Altivo from The Road To Eldorado.
Bait: A Badgers Crossing Novella
“Great fun – the Children’s Film Foundation with a whiff of Arthur Machen.” Bob Fischer, Haunted Generation.
For over seventy years, Bert Smallwood has cared for the wildlife and flora of Penlock Forest. Now he’s too old and infirm, he asks ten-year-old Debbie Carter, the closest thing he has to a granddaughter, to take on the responsibility.
Tania Hunt has lived her entire life in the shadow of her legendary jewel thief father. When she hears that the forest, and one valuable asset in particular, is no longer protected, she seizes the opportunity to make a name for herself in the criminal underworld.
As Debbie and her school friend Ty Grant make their way to Bert’s cottage for the night, they’re unaware of the dangers – both human and otherwise – that lie ahead.
An exciting adventure with a supernatural edge.
Bait also contains a bonus short story – Eleanor Culpepper & The Crossroads Book.
Paul writes horror, sci-fi, ghost stories and strange fiction. His stories have been published by Comma Press and Greenteeth Press, who also published his debut short story collection, Tales From Badgers Crossing on May 20th 2022.
He also writes features on film, music and television, often with a nostalgic and humorous leaning. He has written nonfiction for the websites Den of Geek, Horrified, Folklore Thursday and World Geekly News and he had a regular column in Film Stories print magazine.
Tales From Badgers Crossing is available from Greenteethpress.com and Bait can be bought from my author page on Amazon. Signed copies are available from paulchilds.co.uk/shop.