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On The Table Read Magazine, “the best book magazine in the UK“, author Steve McElhenny talks about the inspiration behind his ghost story, The Girl With A Porcelain Face.
Written by JJ Barnes
I interviewed Steve McElhenny about his life and career, what inspired him to start writing, and the story of his scary new ghost story, The Girl With A Porcelain Face.
Tell me a bit about who you are.
My name is Steve McElhenny, and I am short, Welsh, and hairy. I was born in South Wales at a very young age and have spent pretty much all of my life here since, aside from a disastrous six months I spent in Yorkshire when I was in the British Army (I made Forest Gump look like Rambo). My mother is Welsh and my dad was a Yank, so I guess that officially makes me a Wank.
I have been writing books for twenty years and have written six novels and am currently working on my seventh. My 80’s inspired action comedy novel Lethal Dangerousness was published by Britain’s Next Best Seller, my horror comedy Draculand was published by Moon Books publishing, and my latest novel, the 80’s set ghost story, The Girl With a Porcelain Face, was published by Sicaso Publishing. The majority of my work can be found on paperback, Audible and Kindle.
When did you take a step to start writing?
When I was in my very early twenties I was working for the Ministry of Defence at a local RAF base. A lot of the time, the job was a very undemanding one, to say the least. It was a regular challenge to make it look to the manager and the senior officers like I was doing something instead of sitting around like a lemon all day, so a good friend and I started writing goofy stories just to make it look like we were busy typing behind the computers. The more I wrote, the more I began to enjoy it and find a knack for it. Soon after, I enrolled in a University degree which covered a wide range of writing formats and handed my notice in.
When did you first WANT to write a book?
Initially, it wasn’t something I’d given much thought to. I wanted to concentrate on writing screenplays as movies were my big passion, and that’s what I concentrated on in my final year of university. I’d done some short story writing and children’s writing too as part of my studies, but they weren’t something I felt any burning desire to pursue upon graduation. I kind of fell into writing a book at the encouragement of others. I’d written a funny short story for the amusement of some workmates and it was well received by them and they wanted more as we realized there were legs in it, so it got elaborated upon, and then it just kept on growing and growing. After I’d completed it, I was hooked on the process and have completed five novels since.
How long did it take you to complete your first book from the first idea to release?
The first novel I had written was a comedy fable called The Journey of Jeremiah Smith and took me around nine months to write from start to finish. I was working a full-time office job so was having to fit in what I could around the job and commute. It was a mostly improvised book and, looking back, I think the results reflect that. There were bits I think worked very well and other bits where it got me questioning my sanity more than a little.
I revisited it last year and, to quote Hollywood, ‘rebooted’ it. It was rebranded as The Man Who Thought he was a Cat, and it was much more streamlined, accessible and coherent. To date, it’s also the only book I think is family friendly enough to be able to read to my kids. I’m dreading the day when they become old enough to read my other works and realise their dad’s a bit messed up in the head.
How long did it take you to complete your latest book from the first idea to release?
The latest book (The Girl with a Porcelain Face) is probably the quickest I’ve taken to write a novel and came in at just under four months. A lot had changed with my personal life, having started a family, being deep in planning for my wedding, as well as still being in the infancy of a new career in Financial Crime prevention, so to write a book in that amount of time I was amazed at. I think the momentum and flow I had whilst writing it really helped with the rhythm and pacing. Luckily my wife is incredibly patient and supportive of my writing, and she was fully behind me making the book a priority after our girls had been put to bed.
Focusing on your latest release. What made you want to write The Girl With A Porcelain Face?
I’ve been a longtime horror fan since I was a kid. My father was gloriously irresponsible with letting me watch pretty much any of the Beta Max and VHS horror rentals he’d taken out in the 80s. So, from the age of around ten, I’d already graduated from the Abbot and Costello monster films and Universal horror to a wider and more adult spectrum of horrors and the genre has stayed with me for most of my life.
The films which struck a chord with me most though were the ones with ghostly antagonists, such as the 1989 TV adaptation of The Woman in Black, 1980’s The Changeling, and 1992’s Ghost Watch. Writing an old-fashioned style ghost story has been on my bucket list for a long time. Also being a child of the eighties, I wanted to combine the two elements together, it was just something that seemed so right for me at this point of my life.
What were your biggest challenges with writing The Girl With A Porcelain Face?
For anyone who reads my other works, they would know how much there is a strong overture of numerous comedy styles and techniques throughout them. With The Girl with a Porcelain Face, I knew that level of comedy would not be appropriate to the subject matter, so I would have to rein myself in with that regard whilst still finding ways to keep the free-flowing pacy nature of my style present.
Who or what inspired you when creating your Protagonist?
With the book set in the 80s, my mind was immediately cast back to some of the adventures I grew up watching on video with teenage protagonists. Films such as The Monster Squad, The Gate, The Goonies, the Lost Boys, and Young Sherlock Holmes immediately sprung to mind. Also seeing how well Stranger Things had succeeded in using teenage characters against the backdrop of that decade encouraged me also, the time stamp wasn’t just a gimmick to me, it was an extra character. It just seemed natural for me to have teenage characters, with all the innocence, enthusiasm, and wonderment of youth for us to follow for large parts of the story as they unravel the terrible events of the past in their hometown, in contrast to the cynical, jaded, flawed counterviews of the adults who we also follow through the story.
Who or what inspired you when creating your Antagonist?
Being a father to two daughters, it becomes an all-too-real fear that any terrible accidents ever happen to them. To make the antagonist a malicious and vengeful spirit of a young girl whose broken and twisted body shows she has been victim to what could have been an accident, or maybe even worse, is terrifying to me. What event, act, or betrayal of trust, is bad enough to turn a sweet, innocent child, with their whole life in front of them, into a cold and heartless killer?
What is the main conflict of The Girl With A Porcelain Face?
The main conflict of the book is that the spectre of the Girl with a Porcelain Face is making itself known throughout the small Tin Mining town of Bleddington, and whenever she appears to those linked to a tragic event in the town’s past, death soon follows. The vengeful spirit appears to the main protagonist of the story, and he knows he must find a way to put her spirit at rest before she takes out her vengeance on his father. I can’t say too much more without spoilers, unfortunately.
Did you plot The Girl With A Porcelain Face in advance, or fly by the seat of your pants and write freely?
I’m very much a see what happens when it happens kind of guy with my approach. I like to play around with concepts and have fun with them. I don’t like to plot too meticulously as I feel it could confine situations and restrict characters instead of letting things play out organically or unlocking new possibilities and scenarios. I kind of know when I’m about two-thirds of the way through the story of how the conclusion and resolution will play out. Plus, I like the idea that, if I don’t know what’s going to happen next with the pages, it’s unlikely the readers will either.
Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did The Girl With A Porcelain Face need?
I like to edit as meticulously as possible as I go along, I’m quite neurotic in that aspect of things. I will read through the passage numerous times, tinkering with things and adding in alliteration where appropriate as that’s a large part of my style. I will then use an AI narrator/read-aloud application for that passage so I can hear what flows and what drags. With the number of words and text on a document, it’s inevitable that things will get missed like misspelt words, typos, formatting etc so I use both Grammarly and Auto Crit to pick up that side of things.
What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write a story?
Be true to yourself and back yourself. It’s your vision and your writing style, it should be natural and unique to you, don’t try and force it or manipulate your style to try to replicate your favourite writer.
Can you give me a hint about any further books you’re planning to write?
Sure thing, I am currently around forty thousand words into a horror comedy with the working title of, Kingshire Falls. It’s a homage to the B-Movies of the 1950s and so far it’s been a lot of fun to work on.
And, finally, are you proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?
I am always incredibly proud when I finish a new novel. It’s such a great feeling of relief, triumph, and accomplishment when you write those last few words and know that from a blank page you have created a tapestry of characters and a story that will (hopefully) be enjoyed by others. When you write a book, you put so much of yourself into it, they’re not just reading a story, they’re reading you. So, when you get the positive reviews it validates and vindicates you too. I’ve always been realistic about the writing profession, it’s a very saturated market where only a small percentage of authors make it to the higher echelon of success, so if I carry on reaching pockets of new readers with each new release I still see it as a huge personal success.
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