Mathew Gostelow (he/him) is a dad, husband, and writer, living in Birmingham, UK. Some days he wakes early and writes strange tales. If you catch him staring into space, he is either thinking about Twin Peaks or cooked breakfasts. His first short story collection “See My Breath Dance Ghostly” is available now, published by Alien Buddha. Mat was nominated for the Pushcart Prize by Spare Parts Lit in 2022 and longlisted for the Welkin Prize in 2023. You can find him on Twitter: @MatGost
Could you tell the readers a little bit about yourself?
My name’s Mat and I write creepy, atmospheric, and surreal short stories. I used to write terribly earnest poetry in my teens, then took a creative hiatus that lasted into my 40s, until came back to creative writing a couple of years ago. When I’m not writing, I work in marketing. And in my free time I like to read, watch movies, and run. I also started yoga recently. Honestly, if you asked me a few years ago whether I’d ever do yoga, I’d have laughed in your face!
Which one of your characters would you least like to meet in real life?
I would hate to meet the narrator of The Dawn Parade, which is a story in my collection. It’s a sing-song, jumble-tongued monologue delivered by some sort of entity that lives alongside humanity, unseen. These people/creatures have a parasitic relationship with human beings and seem to have sinister designs on us. In my head, the voice speaking the story sounds a bit like Old Gregg, from The Mighty Boosh, but I think the entity is much more sinister than that. Because they’re not described in the story, my imagination has blown them up to be something utterly terrifying.
Other than the horror genre, what else has been a major influence on your writing?
I think the work of David Lynch has changed me as a person, in so many ways. Although his work isn’t strictly horror, he is very adept at scaring and unsettling. But I’m also drawn to his absurd humour, his surreal approach to storytelling, the way he stays true to his vision and follows his art wherever the muse leads him. His films, his paintings, even his music and sound design, they have all be a massive creative influence on me.
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 feel like horror is constantly confounding the assumptions and stereotypes that are thrown at it. I think it’s only people who don’t engage with the genre who write it off as lowbrow, or gory, or lacking in artistic merit. And they’re the ones missing out. Horror can be anything to for anyone. If you want a no-brain splatterfest, the genre has you covered (in guts). But if you want slow creeping existential dread, surrealism, social satire, or high art, then there’s plenty to enjoy.
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?
I suspect we will continue to see a lot of creative energy around eco horror – weird nature and apocalyptic, climate collapse narratives. It’s only natural to find that in the creative consciousness when the planet is literally hanging over a precipice. I’ve read some wonderful queer and trans horror in recent months too, as well as pieces written by women that have themes around reproductive rights. I think any pressing, urgent social issue will find an outlet in horror, because the genre is so elastic, it can accommodate those themes and allow us to do wonderful things with them.
Given the dark, violent and at times grotesque nature of the horror genre why do you think so many people enjoy reading it?
There are probably a few reasons. One is that we like to feel scared whilst knowing that we’re actually safe. Look at the popularity of rollercoasters and videogames. These give us the same rush – that thrill of apparent danger – in a fundamentally safe way. Another reason is that I think, as humans, we like to rehearse the very worst things that can happen. It’s the same psychology that plants the thought “I could jump off here” any time we’re on a high balcony. Horror stories allow us to consider the very worst possible scenarios and think about the most horrible things that could happen to us. I feel like that’s probably a natural survival instinct, but we’ve turned it into a form of entertainment!
What, if anything, is currently missing from the horror genre?
I’m not sure anything is missing. I feel like there’s so much going on in horror right now. You have hugely popular films by the likes of Ari Aster or Jordan Peele, which are driving the mainstream popularity of the genre, and at the other end of the spectrum, you have small indie presses like Ram Eye or Tenebrous, providing a platform for idiosyncratic, strange and downright weird work from brand new talents. There’s quiet horror, torture porn, cosy horror, incredible graphic novels. Whatever you enjoy, it’s out there. It’s like Rule 34, but for horror.
What new and upcoming authors do you think we should take notice of?
I’m a huge fan of JP Relph. Her collection Know That We Held is available now and it’s incredible. It contains 14 short stories set in different apocalyptic scenarios – everything from zombie infestations to mutant animals. Some of the stories are gory, some are action packed, some are slower, but they are all deeply, profoundly human and full of heart. I can’t praise her writing highly enough.
Are there any reviews of your work, positive or negative that have stayed with you?
What aspects of writing to do you find the most difficult?
I’ve discovered that I love the editing process, which I know a lot of writers really don’t enjoy. But for me, getting that first draft out can sometimes be a painful process. I’m prone to overthinking and second guessing myself, which can really get in the way of the getting that story out on to the page. Once it’s there though, I take great pleasure in trimming, expanding, and polishing. It’s just the early labour that’s painful for me.
Is there one subject you would never write about as an author?
I’m always conscious of the question of whether it’s my story to tell. So I’d be really wary of writing about somebody else’s first hand experience of racism or sexism, for example. I’m very aware that I’ve come from a place of privilege and never had to experience those things directly. Now, I’ve seen those things and I’ve been in the room when people have been sexist or racist – so I can write from that perspective. I can empathise and I can work to be the best ally that I can, but I think it would be arrogant of me to believe I could write that experience directly and do it justice.
Writing, is not a static process, how have you developed as a writer over the years?
I have grown hugely, even in the space of the past two years. I think having a small group of writer friends around me, has boosted me immensely. We share drafts, kick ideas around, offer crits and advice on one another’s work. We also share liberal amounts of praise and confidence-boosting – which is absolutely key. Some of my stories have been completely reborn through that process, coming out so much stronger than they began.
I also read a lot and learn something from almost everything I read – whether that’s a story written by an emerging writer in an online lit mag, or a collection by Thomas Ligotti.
What is the best piece of advice you ever received with regards to your writing?
“Stop f**king about and start writing.” That’s the motto of the Writers’ HQ online community (which is brilliant by the way). It’s so true. The only way to write your story is to write the damn thing. Just get it on the page. You can fix it later. But first you have to write.
Which of your characters is your favourite?
I have a real soft spot for Alice, who is the main character in my story A Flood Will Come, He Says. She’s a young girl who faces an incredibly harrowing experience and comes through with such quiet resilience. I really admire her. I think I could learn a lot from her.
I also love Moonblade, a vengeful, undead kitten who narrates a story called Whiskertense and Bristlefur Electric, We Prowl. I can’t choose between them. Can I have two favourites?
Which of your books best represents you?
I’ve only written one book, See My Breath Dance Ghostly, but I think it represents me pretty well. It’s weird and unhinged on one hand, while on the other it’s fundamentally human, with a belief in the importance of forgiveness, community, and relationships. I think that works for me, mostly.
Do you have a favorite line or passage from your work, and would you like to share it with us?
“That’s the thing about a motel. Whatever room you check into, odds are that someone died in there. Probably on the bed. People have screwed there, shat there, died there. Sometimes all at once.”
This is taken from my story Stranger Than Shitty Sheets and Rubber Ding-Dongs, which has a Twin Peaks-y vibe and is narrated by Gwen, the long-suffering cleaner at a small-town motel. I was so pleased when that paragraph came together. It’s one of the best things I ever wrote. And it’s probably true too, right?
Can you tell us about your last book, and can you tell us about what you are working on next?
My first book, See My Breath Dance Ghostly, is a collection of 14 weird and unsettling short stories. It features uncanny encounters, strange transformations, freaky cryptids, and undead kittens. Some of the stories are horror, others are weird fiction, a few are surreal and dreamlike. I hope it will appeal to fans of David Lynch, Thomas Ligotti, and Daisy Johnson.
I hope to pull together another collection of short stories in the future, but for right now, I have a forthcoming publication in a new horror magazine called The Deeps – which I think will be one to watch.
If you could erase one horror cliché what would be your choice?
I don’t think I would. I love the clichés. You know the one I love most? That final jump scare they used to throw into horror movies in the last seconds before the credits roll. We all let our guard down after the main story is done and the baddy has been vanquished. Then BAM! They did it in a couple of Nightmare on Elm Street movies and, of course the hand from the grave at the end of Carrie is a classic. Never stop the clichés, give us more!
What was the last great book you read, and what was the last book that disappointed you?
I absolutely adored Things We Lost in the Fire by Mariana Enriquez – the woozy, dreamy atmosphere, the social commentary, the moments of body horror, there’s just so much to love. Her writing is extremely good.
The last book that disappointed me was Riddley Walker by Russel Hoban. I know it’s meant to be a classic and I know it’s deliberately written in obtuse language, but I think it caught me in the wrong mood on the wrong day and I abandoned it almost immediately. Perhaps I’ll pick it up again and completely change my mind one day.
What’s the one question you wish you would get asked but never do? And what would be the answer?
I never get asked, “Hey Mat, would you like to be an insanely successful writer, so you could afford to quit your day job and do this writing malarky full time?”
The answer would be “Yes, absolutely yes. Where do I sign?”