INTERVIEW: Ian Sputnik Talks Short Horror Stories

Ian Sputnik
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We are well into October, and we all have our own ways to get ready for the scariest of holidays, Halloween. We each have our own different rituals, whether we like to prepare our costume a whole month in advance or curl up in the darkness with some classical horror movies and only a blanket and snacks for company. Or perhaps you like to pick up a dusty old tome of unmentionable horrors and terrify yourself with the product of what your imagination can come up with. One such writer who likes to play with fear to his own twisted tune is Ian Sputnik. Born and bred in South East England, he is a writer of short horror stories featuring in literary horror magazines as well as having his pieces narrated by the horror narration community on YouTube.

Mr. Sputnik, how long have you been writing for?
I’ve only actually been writing for four years. My first piece was picked up by Sanitarium magazine when I reached the ripe old age of 45. But then you’re never too old to start something that you have a passion for, and horror has always been mine. I just never really started writing and submitting until that time. Life can just get in the way of what you actually want to do. So I decided to do something about it. Since submitting that first piece, I’ve never regretted starting. But it is hard work. Stressful, time consuming and frustrating. But I wouldn’t change it for the world.

On your Goodreads account, you say that the best thing about being a writer is “escaping the mundane days of everyday life”. What is it you do when you aren’t creating fictional horror pieces?
I work for a gas and power trading company in Canary Wharf, London. Which is why I longed to find an outlet when away from that. Never being much into sport, writing seemed to tick all the boxes, and I always enjoyed writing when I was at school and college. Somewhere that I could exercise my imagination. On top of that I do have a passion for growing very hot chillies. In fact, the hotter the better.

What was it that first drew you to write short form horror?
I loved the idea that I could formulate a story in my head and pretty much complete it in one sitting. I’ve never been blessed with a huge amount of patience, so creating a short piece where I could say what I wanted to say and get to the climax of the story in a couple of thousand, if not hundred words always appealed to me. A complete tale, but in a bite sized piece. Also, within short form horror, you have the opportunity to let the reader make up their own mind about any detail that you haven’t fully explored or explained. And that is important to me. To give them free rein to take what they want from the story, filling in the blanks as they go with their own imagination.

Would you consider dabbling in other literary genres?
I’ve always had a love of science fiction, but for the moment horror is where I am comfortable being and I don’t see that changing any time soon. But never say die, right?

You have an extensive collection of stories spanning over several magazines. Would you ever consider publishing your own collection of short stories or even a novel? If so, would you do it through a publisher or self-publish it?
My goal is to collate them in an anthology of horror, but it does take many short pieces to fill a book; I’m working on it. I’m not sure if writing a novel really appeals to me at this stage. I might stretch to a novella, but only if an idea for a story warrants more words than I would usually afford it. As for publishing, I would probably opt for self-publishing, as it gives you more control over your own product. There are some very good and supportive publishers out there, so I wouldn’t rule out taking that route – if what they offered suited my needs. I like to think I am open minded and flexible enough to consider any and all options available when that time comes.

The first piece that I came across of yours was Kristin Holland’s narration of your short story ‘Meal Deal’. What has your experience been like working with the horror narration community?
To get an email from the other side of the world (Kristin lives in Australia) was mind-blowing. I was more than happy for him to use it as his entry in the semi-finals of the Evil Idol voice acting competition, run by Chilling Tales for Dark Nights. What he delivered was beyond all of my expectations. It was as if he’d read my mind and made every character in the story sound exactly like I imagined they would when I wrote it. He has since gone on to narrate a further three of my pieces and we have become good friends via Facebook. I really like the idea of audio versions of my work being out there because it means a whole new audience who might otherwise never had read my work, get the chance to listen to it instead; be it from the comfort of their own homes or on the way to work via their phones. Meal Deal will shortly be reaching a hit count of 50,000. What writer wouldn’t be happy to have that kind of exposure?

There are some people who think that writers don’t receive appropriate credit from these horror narration style videos. Do such claims have any legitimacy from your own personal experience?
The owner of CTFDN, Craig Groshek, has been very supportive. He has re-released Meal Deal on YouTube as a stand-alone piece as well as part of a collection, where he put a link to my website as ‘featured author’. So, my experience has been very good. That’s not to say that others in the business aren’t so selfless in their thinking. In the other narrations by Kristen, he has always gone full out to advertise me as a writer and friend. I’ve been lucky never to have had a problem in this area.

You’ve been published in different literary magazines, such as Sanitarium, Morpheus Tales and Devolution Z. Though you’ve been predominantly featured in Sanitarium, out of all the magazines you’ve been published with, were there any ones which were particularly easy or difficult to get your pieces published with?
I was fortunate that I succeeded in being published in those titles with no complications or rejections. I was drawn to them because they offered hard copies. I’m old fashioned, so to see my work on paper really does make a massive difference to me. Where the competition gets even tougher is when you start submitting to publications that offer high rates for your work. That puts you in competition with authors who write for a living. For me, it has always been my goal to have printed copies in reputable publications regardless of what financial reward I might receive.

You’ve recently taken over Sanitarium Magazine. What was it that made you decide to take over, and how does it feel to now run the magazine where you first “cut your teeth as a writer”?
I’ve always had an affinity with the title. After they had published a few of my pieces, the then owner, Barry Skelhorn decided to put together a team of slush pile readers to help him with the huge amounts of submissions he was having to review. And so The Faculty was born. We were a small group from around the world connected only by the fact we had all been published in the magazine. Two years ago a fellow member of the team flew in to the UK from Canada. We arranged to meet up in London and whilst chatting the topic turned to the mag. We both had the same dream that one day we could run a mag, or even Sanitarium itself. At the time it was just that, a dream. Then, early this year, Barry posted to our slush pile closed group in FB. He explained that after five years, he wasn’t going to continue with the mag. He said he would be willing to sell the title, but only to a member of The Faculty. But, in the event that none of us would take him up on the offer, he would simply shut it. He didn’t want to see the magazine go to an ‘outsider’. I was petrified of the idea that I had the chance of owning and running the mag, and to be honest it seemed that I would be well out of my depth. Another member of the team, Brooke Warra approached him. Then Caitlin Marceau (the team member that I had met in London) offered to go in with Brooke as co-owner. I received a message from Caitlin asking if I was up for going in with them in a three way partnership. It then struck me that having a full team of writers co-producing the mag, then this could actually work really well. I knew chances like this only came up once in a lifetime, so I was in. It was an amazing feeling. I still remember the hairs on the back of my neck standing up when I received the message ‘congratulations you now own Sanitarium’ from Barry. Issue one of the new-look magazine will be coming out very shortly, although our website sanitariumpublishing.com has been up and running for a few months now. I still pinch myself every day to check that it is not a dream.

Are there other horror authors who you enjoy reading in particular?
Growing up it was King, Herbert and Barker; especially Barker. But since building up a network of writing friends, I now tend to read their work. There is something about reading a book or piece written by someone you know. And especially if they’ve sent me a signed copy (that guarantees a permanent place on the book shelf in my writing room.) These days, with all the submissions to Sanitarium, I have a practically endless supply of material to read.

Have you got any pieces in the works at this point in time?
I have recently submitted a very short horror piece to a publication. But I may well have overreached on this one. Kenneth W. Cain gave me a great piece of advice; ‘aim high and then work your way down’. I also have a piece about a man trying to gain immortality which I have to edit. Lately I have been more focused on writing articles for the blog on our website.

Have you got any advice for aspiring writers trying to get into the industry?
Research who is accepting submissions but check the guidelines carefully. Also, look at the publications and see what they have published before; see if your work is a good fit. Work at building up a good circle of writing friends. Most writers, especially once you get to know them, will offer advice and help with pieces you are working on. I learnt so much in the first year of writing from other writers around the world. I am so thankful to each of them. No matter how good you think you are at editing, always get someone else to read over the piece you are about to submit. The mind is too clever for its own good, and you’ll easily miss typos, because you will read what your piece should say, rather than what you actually typed. Use magazines and online e-zines in order to build up your name in the market. Once you have a good portfolio behind you, you will find that publishing houses will be more receptive when/if you decide to have a novel or novella published. Remember that a self-published book will unlikely sell well if you are not known within the market. And if you enjoy writing, never give up, no matter how many rejections you get.

For more information about Ian Sputnik, check out his website.