Every Friday, we meet a member of the BFS and peer deep into their soul (or, at least, a form they filled out). Want to be featured? Email us: email@example.com
Name, including preferred pronouns
Ellis Saxey, they/them, writing as E.Saxey
Which region are you based in?
Genre you write
Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Horror
Are you drawn to any specific sub-genres?
Gothic horror and folk horror; historical fantasy; near-future miserabilist science fiction
Tell us about the book/film/thing that got you into horror: What was it? How old were you? What impact did it have on you?
Probably the more frightening edges of child-friendly novels: The Dark is Rising books, Ursula LeGuin’s The Tombs of Atuan. They don’t have gore but there are desperate choices with permanent effects, and super-dark fates for minor characters.
How does that early influence show up in your writing now?
I still like weighty decisions and shadowy forces. And people caught up in terrible conflicts which pre-date them.
Where do you draw your creative inspiration from?
Mostly by asking: “How could X make things worse?” Where X is my current enthusiasm: botany, libraries, spiritualism, telepathy, 3D printing.
Who do you look to as a horror hero? Why?
Francis Hardinge is bringing remarkable moral quandaries and twisty worlds to children’s fiction. She’s one of very few writers who give me the same neck-tingling shivers as I got from my childhood favourites.
(Pictured: Ellis’s impressive collection of children’s books.)
You’re stuck in an elevator for 60 seconds with that hero, and they want you to describe your work. Give us the pitch.
My debut novel is a historical fantasy – it’s set in Victorian London, and someone (missing, presumed dead) has come back. Which is good news, isn’t it? It certainly won’t lead to a lonely search for the truth of his return. Or the heroine scrabbling around for rituals and spells from folklore to pry open his secrets. He’s certainly not bad news.
What are you working on right now?
A doppelganger story. People seem to have strong feelings about whether they’d get on with their uncanny double, or get off with them, or hit them with a shovel, so I’m hoping those strong feelings will work in my favour.
Thinking about all of your stories, which one sticks out most in your mind? Why?
Fresh in my mind is a looong short story, just published: On the English Approach to the Study of History. I like the juxtaposition: on the top, petty academic squabbles and bad conference catering; underneath, ancient things, growing monstrous.
Where and when do you write?
In the evenings, and at my desk, which used to belong to a Druid (but not the mystical kind, the druids were a philanthropic society from the turn of the 20th century). It’s a gorgeous gold oak roll-top which I snapped up on eBay, and I’ve got inspirational little objects in the pigeonholes, so they’re at eye level when I write. Not built deep enough for a modern monitor, so I’ve balanced an extra plank across it.
(Pictured left: Ellis’s desktop pigeonholes, and Proof of Druid.)
What’s the best advice you’ve received about creativity?
Probably “write drunk, edit sober”, if you take it metaphorically.
What’s your writing soundtrack?
Got to be Four Hours of Edwardian Study, With Fireplace on YouTube. Sometimes I shake it up and have Victorian Study, With Rain.
The (horrorific) quickfire round
Stephen King or Ramsey Campbell?
Campbell, because his discussion about making characters suffer, at the last Fantasycon, was so thoughtful and good natured.
Gothic or slasher?
Gothic for books, slasher for films.
Vampire or werewolf?
Everything’s 20% more interesting if the people involved are vampires.
Creeping dread or noisy bloodfest?
Creeping dread is scarier. You can tell if there’s a noisy bloodfest next door, and hear when it’s finished; you can’t tell if there’s been a terrible invisible slippage in reality.
Strict lines or genre blend?
Genre blend. Does it matter if the anomalous thing is a fantastical object or a scientific invention, as long as it makes things worse?
Awards or bestseller?
For reading? Awards seem to offer a crunchier selection.
Fiction or non-fiction?
Fiction is habitual for me, but I’d like to lean more into the non.
Poetry or prose?
I consume much more prose but poetry stays with me.
Plotter or pantser?
I usually write a third, see how it’s going, then plan the rest. Write another third, edit what I have thus far, plan up to the ending. It’s not a good system! Revision involves hitting it over and over until it breaks up enough to productively rearrange it.
To go to the other extreme, I’ve just planned out my next project down to the 8000 word chunks–now I need to see if I can actually write that way.
Reading or listening?
Reading. But I do love audio drama – Julian Simpson’s Pleasant Green works are gobsmacking.
Notebook or computer?
Notebook for events, computer for writing. I think faster when I’m typing.
Favourite horror book of all time?
Currently The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion by Margaret Killjoy, a morally twisty novella about creating an alternative community (with a murderous stag spirit).
Last horror book you read?
And Then We Woke Up, by Malcolm Devlin. Does something fiendishly clever with zombie narratives.
Any horror author on auto-buy?
It’s the unsettling writers that I snap up: Sarah Moss, Aliya Whiteley. Dave Hutchinson’s Sanctuary is out this Autumn, I’m hoping for a proper British muddy post-apocalypse. I’ve never had a clearer presentiment that things won’t end well.
I loved, and miss, Sublime Horror! And I should find some more podcasts.
What scares you?
What’s the best thing about being a horror writer?
Probably that I didn’t know I was one until my publisher said “This novel will be great for our horror line.” I reeled back, daunted, picturing the horror writers I knew: cool weird folk in black jeans and silver jewellery. I thought: well, I’ve already got the jeans.
Time to plug your stuff! Where can we find you and your work? What have you got coming up? Consider this your advertising space.
- My debut novel, Unquiet, is set in Victorian London. It’s a big slab of gothic fiction, with folk horror creeping up the sides – an isolated teen artist has to investigate rural rituals. It’s out now on Titan Books.
- My dark academic leanings are currently showing at Giganotosaurus.
- My first collection has a lot of short queer weird fiction: Lost in the Archives is out on Lethe Press.
- My website is thelightningbook.co.uk, and I’m @E.Saxey on X and Bluesky.
- Finally, I’ll be part of the spine-tinging Halloween Horror Panel at Cambridge Waterstones, on Wednesday 25th October, 18.00-19.00. If you like Gothic historical chills, and the dead hanging around for way longer than they should, then you’ll relish my co-panellists, Verity Holloway and Ally Wilkes. Details here.