Interview with Kevin G. Bufton – serving us up a piece of Cake
As part of his book release blog tour, I caught up with Kevin G. Bufton, horror author and owner of Cruentus Libri press, to quiz him about his debut novella, Cake.
“In May of 2053, forty years following the Separation of Wirral from the mainland, there is but a handful of people who remember what life was like before.
Geraldine Waters is one of the few.
In a land ruled by gang law, and horrors beyond mortal imagination, Geraldine lives in a perpetual nightmare, from which she knows she will never wake.
Her story is one of hatred and desperation, of living shadows and dying hopes.
It is a story about family…
It is a story about cake.”
So, Kevin – your debut novella ‘Cake’ has just been released. Can you tell us a bit about it?
Sure thing. Cake is set forty years in the future, where the Wirral peninsula has been separated from the rest of the mainland and become its own autonomous island nation. It is totally cut off from the outside world by a swirling purple mist, through which nothing can enter or leave. That being said, the premise exists solely as window dressing. The real meat of the story is about isolation, tyranny, survival and, ultimately, about family.
It’s set where you live, in the Wirral. Does your environment influence your writing? What else is a big influence?
To an extent I think any writer’s environment influences their writing, but it’s all a matter of degrees. I’m a proud Wirralian, and it only makes sense that where I was born and brought up would have an impact on my writing and the way I view the world but, at the same time, I can’t see me returning to the Wirral time and time again, the way that Stephen King revisits Maine in his novels, or H.P. Lovecraft returned to New England throughout his Cthulhu Mythos tales. For what it’s worth, my next four books have already had a few notes scribbled down for them, and they take place in the jungles of Bolivia, nineteenth century South Africa, central Peru and the Land of Oz, respectively.
In terms of what else influences me, I would have to say the English language and my love of history. When I’m not reading fiction, I can usually be found thumbing through a history book, or an etymological dictionary – not strictly for research, but just because I’m fascinated by both our shared past and shared language. There have been many times that I have struck upon the idea for a story from an otherwise innocuous definition of a word, or a passage in some history book or another.
Do you think that setting horror stories in familiar locations adds to the horror, or are you a fan of traditional Gothic settings of haunted houses and graveyards too?
It depends on the story that you’re trying to tell. If you set the story in a haunted house, or a decrepit castle, then people are going to be expecting certain conventions from you and, whether you consciously plan it or not, you are already being lead down a certain path by those expectations. A modern setting gives you more freedom, but sometimes the restrictions that are part and parcel of using a cemetery as a backdrop provide a brilliant challenge for a writer.
So you prefer modern horror over traditional? In what way do you think it’s changed as a genre, over the years?
Again, it depends what mood I’m in – sometimes I feel like reading Graham Masterton, other times I feel like reading J. Sheridan Le Fanu – and I think it’s foolish to suggest that one is objectively better than another. In terms of how the genre has changed over the years, well that’s something of a sore point for me, inasmuch as I feel that horror has barely moved on since the late-seventies/early-eighties. It still feels as though every horror writer that puts pen to paper wants to be the next Stephen King, and few people dare to do anything different. They might introduce a new monster here or there, but there hasn’t been a new way of looking at horror for nearly forty years.
And who are your favourite writers – genre or otherwise?
Um…Stephen King. You see, as much as my last answer might seem like an attack on the man, the fact remains that he is a phenomenal talent, and the most successful horror writer of all time. I’m also a huge admirer of the late, great James Herbert and Richard Laymon. Indeed, those three authors formed my introduction to modern horror, when I was but a wee lad. There are so many great horror writers, whose works I admire – Ramsey Campbell, Clive Barker, Dean Koontz, David Wellington, Charles Grant, Joe R. Lansdale, Graham Masterton, Edgar Allen Poe, and countless others. Outside of horror, my tastes lean towards the likes of Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams and Robert Rankin, although I have recently been reading a lot of Harlan Ellison and Kurt Vonnegut, thanks to recommendations from a number of friends. If we go further, and leave speculative fiction altogether, then my favourites would include Ken Follett, Rex Stout and Markus Zusak.
You’ve chosen to self-publish ‘Cake’. As a successful small publisher yourself, having helped lots of writers become published in anthologies from Cruentus Libri Press, what do you feel are the advantages and disadvantages of self publishing versus traditional publishing?
The advantages, to a guy like me, are that I get to be a total fascist – I get to dictate everything from the cover art to the font, from the dimensions of the book, to who gets review copies and, of course, every penny comes direct to me. The flipside of that, of course, is that if the book is a failure, then I bear sole responsibility for that happening. I can’t blame the editor for doing a poor job, or the publisher for failing to promote it properly, it all lands in my lap. That is both terrifying and exhilarating – I had to arrange this blog tour, myself; I have a few dozen reviews lined up, and I am putting together some merchandise for the book. I’m also in talks with a number of bookstores regarding distribution deals, and I have made sure that there is a Goodreads page set up for the book, and that it is available in all major e-formats. It’s a lot of hard work, but the end result is so rewarding.
I know you also write short stories and flash fiction. Which would you say is your preferred medium?
The easy answer is that it depends on what the story demands. If I made Cake into a full novel, then there would be a Hell of a lot of padding and, if I trimmed it down to a short story, I would have to cut out some important plot details. That said, I really like writing with restrictions, as I think it gets the best out of me, so flash fiction would have to be up there, as it teaches you to be absolutely brutal when whittling your story down to the required length, and it is an invaluable tool to teach yourself the cruel art of revising your work.
And which piece of your writing is your personal favourite and why?
My short story ‘Mother’s Milk’, which appeared in the anthology The Dark Side of the Womb. Aside from the fact that I consider it to be a well written story, it was penned at a time when my wife was heavily pregnant with our second child – my beautiful daughter, Kayleigh. Anyone who has read the story will know why this is so personal to me. It concerns a woman who gives birth to a stillborn daughter, who subsequently comes back as one of the undead, and she is compelled to try and keep her fed, whilst also making sure she remains a secret to the authorities. It condenses all of the fears I had at the time, that something might go wrong with my wife’s pregnancy and, as a result, has some of my strongest writing in it.
What can we expect next from you?
I’ve got a couple of projects on the go, but it’s anyone’s guess which of them will see it to print first. I’m writing a collaborative novel with American author Roger Perry, which is an immensely rewarding experience. I’m also working on another novella, called Ancient Wings, which concerns an expedition to the Bolivian jungle. I don’t want to give any more away, but if your Latin is up to scratch, the title serves as a massive spoiler. Finally, I’m compiling fifty of my flash fiction stories into my first solo collection, but I’m finding the process of revisiting them, and bringing them up to scratch to be more long-winded than I had thought.
Finally – imagine you’ve just received that phonecall telling you that you’ve got a film deal for ‘Cake’. Who’s going to direct it, who’s going to star in it and what certificate can we expect it to be?
Well – it would have to be an all-British cast, so I’d want Paul Andrew Williams directing, Hannah Waterman to play the lead role of Geraldine Waters, Gary Oldman as Nigel Greene, and probably Marc Warren taking the role of Peter Abbott. As for the certificate, I could see it easily passing uncut as a 12 or a 12A tops, as there’s not much in terms of sex and violence. For me, true horror comes in the form of a half-open door, rather than a butcher’s slab.