Christopher Henderson Takes Us to the Church
Could you tell the readers a little bit about yourself?
Sure. I’ve been writing for a fair old while now, although for most of the time I was working under a different name and concentrating on non-fiction – or at least on the shadowy outer edges of fact. I’d always been interested in the paranormal and folklore, and as I was starting out as a writer in the mid-1990s, those subjects suddenly exploded in popularity thanks to The X-Files. I found I was able to sell magazine articles, and that led me into deeper research and on to writing several books about local legends and real-life paranormal experiences, which were published both traditionally and independently and enjoyed a moderate amount of success.
It’s only in the last few years that I decided I wanted to start again from scratch, working under a pen name and focusing on writing horror fiction, which is what I’d originally intended to do before I got sidetracked!
Which one of your characters would you least like to meet in real life?
There’s a character in my latest novel – Carmichael Greave – who is essentially an Aleister Crowley/Julian Karswell (from Night of the Demon, 1957) figure, with characteristics of particularly detestable contemporary politicians stirred into the mix. He’s not the world’s most pleasant chap.
Other than the horror genre, what else has been a major influence on your writing?
I was involved in scientific paranormal research for a number of years, before TV shows like Most Haunted changed people’s expectations of what that should involve, and things started getting a bit silly for my taste. My experiences in research definitely influenced my decision to write about paranormal investigators from the fictional Corsi Institute in my 1970s-set Undine and Cross stories. And, more generally, my abiding fascination with stories about the supernatural provides a deep well of inspiration.
The term horror, especially when applied to fiction always carries such heavy connotations. What’s your feeling on the term “horror” and what do you think we can do to break past these assumptions?
I often wonder whether “horror” means the same thing to different people. It’s certainly very difficult to pin down as an actual genre. When I was growing up, for example, “horror” felt to me as though it should involve the supernatural, and I would feel cheated if a horror film turned out not to have a ghostly, occult, or similar element. I think that was because this was the style of horror I was mostly exposed to at that time. Of course, I see now that horror need not involve the supernatural after all, and conversely that a supernatural story need not contain even the slightest of frights. It seems to me that any given story has the potential to be told in numerous different ways, and that “horror” may be better thought of as a word we use to describe a fairly wide and loosely overlapping spectrum of approaches to telling a story. Some people will find one or more of those approaches appealing, while others will not.
Unfortunately, there is the danger that somebody encounters something they dislike (perhaps, for example, a scene they consider to be “torture porn”) and conclude that everything described as horror must be like that.
Perhaps we need to do more to get people to see horror as an incredibly broad church, with content that should appeal to a far wider range of tastes than many would expect.
A lot of good horror movements have arisen as a direct result of the socio/political climate, considering the current state of the world where do you see horror going in the next few years?
Climate catastrophe is obviously going to continue driving a lot of stories, as are worries over the rise of AI. I can also see horror delving deeper into thoughts about the nature and the manipulation of truth and reality. I’m already conscious of those latter concerns emerging in ideas I am putting together for my next book. They have been the source of much deep personal unease since that moment in 2016 when one particularly loathsome UK politician gave the public explicit permission to place their own uninformed prejudices above the best expert advice available to them. I remember describing this individual at the time as the “high priest of a new Dark Age”, which did feel melodramatic when I wrote it, but looking back now at everything that those words seem to have heralded, I stand by them.
Given the dark, violent and at times grotesque nature of the horror genre why do you think so many people enjoy reading it?
As many have suggested, I think an important factor is that horror offers a way for people to process their fears at a safe distance. And in some types of horror (e.g. supernatural horror) the hard reality of truly profound concerns can be disguised just enough to make the examination more comfortable, which in turn can allow the author to probe deeper.
What, if anything, is currently missing from the horror genre?
Is anything actually missing? There’s a huge amount of content out there, so much that there should be something for just about anyone – if they can find what they want. So, perhaps what is missing is a good map of the territory! That said, I have no doubt that new directions in horror will emerge as our collective psyche seeks ways to process new developments in the real world.
What new and upcoming authors do you think we should take notice of?
There are so many writers that I feel bad singling out any of them! Off the top of my head, though, some of the new(ish) authors whose work I’ve especially enjoyed over the past few years include John F. Leonard, especially his tales from the Dead Boxes Archive and the cosmic horror of his Scaeth Mythos; Michael Sellars, with his dark literary playfulness; and Sarah Jane Huntington, whose stories often tap into the same vein of “fortean” high strangeness that has fascinated me for so long. Also, if I’m allowed to expand this question to include filmmakers, I’m cheering on Janine Pipe as she gets involved with writing and directing horror films, mentored by the great Neil Marshall (Dog Soldiers, The Descent, etc.). Apologies to the very many I’m overlooking!
Are there any reviews of your work, positive or negative that have stayed with you?
Every review, good or bad, stays with me, to the extent that I probably shouldn’t read them! But earlier this year, Steve Stred wrote that I reminded him a lot of Adam Nevill, in that I write “how the current crop of authors write (fast and loose) while also keeping one steady hand in the old ways (slow and delicate)” – and that absolutely blew me away because I’m such a fan of Adam Nevill’s work. And I will never forget the time Ramsey Campbell described the finale of the short story I wrote for the Diabolica Britannica charity anthology as “a little masterclass of understated dread”!
What aspects of writing to do you find the most difficult?
Getting started on those days when my usual schedule has been knocked sideways. I’m fine if I can stick with my routine and simply get going when I’m supposed to, but when my routine is interrupted, there suddenly seem to be a million urgent jobs crying out for attention.
And, following on from the preceding question about reviews, it can be difficult to deal with criticism. It is a hard truth that not everybody will like what you have written, and they might not be shy about letting you know that. I try to keep in mind a quote I found online, attributed to David Barr Kirtley: “Wanting to be a writer and not wanting to be rejected is like wanting to be a boxer and not wanting to get punched.”
Is there one subject you would never write about as an author?
I hope not. There are plenty of subjects about which I am ignorant and so I would certainly hesitate to write about them on those grounds, at least until I had educated myself to the point where I felt able to contribute something and if I then considered it appropriate to do so. But I can’t think of any subject I would – or should – consider an absolute no-go area.
Writing, is not a static process, how have you developed as a writer over the years?
These days, I (usually) finish what I start. That might sound simplistic, but I started and gave up on maybe half a dozen different works of fiction before I managed to finish writing my first novella. Perhaps that was a necessary part of the process, but I suspect it also had a lot to do with the sheer amount of mental effort involved in seeing a book all the way through to publication.
What is the best piece of advice you ever received with regards to your writing?
“Bum to chair, pen to paper.” It’s a cliché, and it’s technologically out-of-date, and I don’t know who ought to receive the credit for it, but their words of wisdom are burned into my frontal lobe. Writing has its moments of soaring, magical, effortless wonder, when the muse is dancing and the words simply flow, but an enormous amount of it is simply down to hard graft.
Which of your characters is your favourite?
Probably Hegarty in Artemis One-Zero-Five. That character started life as an amalgamation of several of my oldest and closest friends, so I suppose that makes sense.
Which of your books best represents you?
Perhaps The Horror at Lavender Edge (Undine and Cross #1), in part because the 1970s setting of that book was very consciously a way for me to try to escape the modern world, which is a world I am finding ever more uncomfortable to live in. I am also aware that the Undine character, whose unwanted psychic ability forces him to erect barriers between himself and other people, is rooted in my own introversion and my keen dislike of being sociable.
Do you have a favorite line or passage from your work, and would you like to share it with us?
It’s not that it’s my favourite as such, but I noticed once that a reader had highlighted the following two paragraphs in The Horror at Lavender Edge, presumably because they had liked the passage, and that meant a huge amount to me:
Pentacles. Layers of meaning spun out of the symbols Oldroyd had unleashed. Ancient ideas spiralled out and back, far beyond human history, promising to carry Undine with them, to free him from this existence and bring him into union with the forces that once shaped the primordial cosmos.
They could piss right off.
Can you tell us about your last book, and can you tell us about what you are working on next?
I recently released The Church on Wormhill Street (Undine and Cross, #2), which begins in April 1972, six months after the end of The Horror at Lavender Edge, although you don’t need to have read the first book before this one. Undine is coming to terms with how recent events have affected him, and ex-WPC Jo Cross is getting to grips with her new role investigating unexplained phenomena alongside him. Meanwhile, dark forces are gathering strength in London as the ultra-nationalist Excalbion party stirs up trouble in its mission to Make England Great Again. And then there’s a Crowleyesque politician who has a very particular vision of what needs to happen to save his country. Of all the fiction I have written, this story was the one most directly fuelled by anger at what I saw and continue to see happening around me.
The next book might have something to do with the unreliability of personal reality. As mentioned above, that’s something that’s been troubling me recently, although my interest in the topic goes back decades to when I was trying to understand more about people’s experiences with ghosts, UFOs, and so forth. It was the major reason I ended up studying for a degree in psychology. It might be fun to see what happens when I force my 1970s London characters to question everything they know about reality. I can’t imagine Undine will appreciate confronting the sort of Aquarian hippie claptrap he sneers at!
If you could erase one horror cliché what would be your choice?
When you’re running away from a car in a horror film (or any other film), don’t run in a straight line down the road letting it chase you! Turn left or right. Try to escape onto ground where it can’t follow you. Otherwise, you deserve to get squished.
What was the last great book you read, and what was the last book that disappointed you?
The great book that pops to mind is Immortelle by Catherine McCarthy, which was as emotionally intense as it was beautiful and haunting. I’ve become a massive fan of Catherine’s “quiet horror” stories over the past few years.
I must be pretty forgiving as a reader because it’s rare that I find a book disappointing. There was a thriller last year that didn’t work for me: Hong Kong (Jake Grafton #8) by Stephen Koonts. Even then, though, I didn’t dislike it enough not to finish it.
What’s the one question you wish you would get asked but never do? And what would be the answer?
Q. Would you like me to handle the marketing side of writing on your behalf, for no expense, because we all know you’re not very good at it and would much rather lock yourself away in a quiet room and tap away at your keyboard?
A. Where do I sign?! (Although I must admit I enjoyed answering these questions for Ginger Nuts of Horror. Thanks very much, Jim!)
The Church on Wormhill Street by Christopher Henderson
London, April 1972:
Six months have passed since the horrifying events at Lavender Edge. Paranormal investigator and reluctant psychic Harry Undine has finally gained some control over the sixth sense that plagues his life. At least, he hopes he has.
Ex-WPC Jo Cross now works with Undine, and she is finding it more than a full-time job. Each month sees an increase in the reports of ghosts, poltergeists, flying saucers, and Lord-only-knows what else reaching the Corsi Institute’s office in Shad Thames.
The world is a stranger place than Jo had imagined – but that strangeness is a welcome distraction from darker forces abroad in the city, where the ultra-nationalist Excalbion party is on a mission to Make England Great Again.
Then a mysterious charred corpse is found at the old Empire Textiles factory in a run-down area of Vauxhall. Is it a case of Spontaneous Human Combustion, or is the truth even more bizarre? And, out of all the weird goings-on to choose from, why does Undine feel compelled to investigate this incident in particular?
The Church on Wormhill Street is the second stand-alone novel in the Undine and Cross series.
(Content warning: adult language, violence, racism, fire. This story is set during the 1970s and contains some language and behaviour reflecting the prevailing attitudes of the time.)
Christopher Henderson has haunted south London (UK) since the dawn of the 1970s.
Only a few months before his birth, human beings walked for the first time on the surface of another world. Yet on the day Henderson arrived, Londoners were preparing to hunt and stake a vampire in Highgate Cemetery.
That contrast marked the start of a weird decade – perhaps the weirdest ever. A technological age steeped in the heady vapours of witchcraft and the occult. A time when ghosts and poltergeists could be serious news items, monsters lurked in every lake and wood, and Flying Saucers flitted through the skies. All that strangeness left its mark on a growing boy and led to a lifetime’s interest in the dark and mysterious.
Henderson is the author of Artemis One-Zero-Five – “a really well done, character-driven sci-fi/horror story” (Kendall Reviews) – and writes the Undine and Cross 1970s-set horror thrillers, of which the first, The Horror at Lavender Edge, is “a terrific and imaginative read” (Home Grown Horror Reviews). His latest book is the second Undine and Cross adventure: The Church on Wormhill Street, which is available to order now.
Order from Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0C748Y8KR?ref_=pe_3052080_276849420
AUTHOR’S WEBSITE: www.christopherhendersonhorror.com
AMAZON AUTHOR PAGE: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Christopher-Henderson/e/B0768KRXXR