Thursday, 20 March 2014

Interview with Jim Mcleod (of The Ginger Nuts Of Horror)

When I was discovering the horror genre, it was in the 80s when the Internet wasn’t even a twinkle in Tim Berners-Lee’s eye.  I found information through magazine articles (thank you, Fangoria), bits and pieces on TV and occasionally articles in newspapers and whilst I wouldn’t change that rite-of-passage for anything, I obviously missed a lot.  People getting into the genre now have not only the benefit of the Internet but also dedicated resources like Jim Mcleod’s The Ginger Nuts of Horror.
Covering the genre, from books via films to music and more, Jim is a champion of horror with interviews and reviews that are always perceptive, always honest and always entertaining.  I managed to tie him down for a few moments.

MW: Thanks for agreeing to this, Jim, much appreciated.  To start with, can you tell us a little about yourself?

JM: I can only tell you little bit about myself, if I give too much away the authorities might finally catch up with me.  To be honest there’s not really that much to tell.  I was the first person born on Christmas Day in 1971 in the whole of the UK, I’ve been a championship winning rugby captain and a Scottish and British kickboxing champion.  These days my times is divided between work, my wonderful family and Ginger Nuts of Horror.  It’s a good thing that I really don’t sleep.

MW: How did you get into the horror genre?  How old were you and what was your first realisation it was there - a film, a book or something on TV?

JM: I had a pretty normal childhood, until at about the age of ten when I discovered James Herbert’s The Fog in my local bookstore. I don’t know why I decided on that day to pick it up, let alone read it, but ever since that fateful day my love of horror and in particular horror fiction has never faltered. It’s been through some really bad times, especially recently, but there has always been and always will be shining lights in the darkest of genres to show us the way.

With regards to films I‘ve never been that big a fan of horror films.  This probably stems from the night I crept downstairs as a young child and watched Hammer Horror’s Dracula.  Boy did that terrify me.  I spent the next month sleeping with a bible and a crucifix in each corner of my bed.  My mum also had to check under the bed for vampires and the killer nun that sometimes liked to hide under there.

MW: Ah, killer nuns.  So what made you decide to create The Ginger Nuts of Horror?

JM: I was on a long term absence from work after a particularly nasty operation on my wrist and hip.  I can’t quite remember how it started but it was either Willie Meikle or Ian Woodhead who suggested that I start interviewing the authors who frequented the horror forum that we were all members of.  Ginger Nuts just sort of organically grew out of that.

MW: It clearly has a lot of respect from horror fans, with over 100,000 hits per month.  What do you attribute this success to?

JM: I really don’t know, a lot of it has to be because of hard work.  But there are other factors such as having great authors on board, who know how to give great guest posts and great interviews.  My readers are also great, a huge amount of the sites success must be down to them sharing the articles around social media sites.

At the risk of sounding like a big head, I also think that Ginger Nuts of Horror is rather unique in its place on the internet.   There aren’t that many websites that cover the topics I cover, sure there are hundreds of blogs that cover horror fiction, but 99% of them come across as more of a hobby than something that strives to be a bit more.  Don’t get me wrong, there are sites that offer far better and more comprehensive reviews, ones that really discuss the art of writing and all its nuances.  However where I think that Ginger Nuts excels is in its sense of fun, hopefully my sense of joy for horror comes across, and it does seem that this is something the readers enjoy.

Jim with Adam Nevill (photo: Stephen Edwards Thom) 
MW: I think it certainly helps.  But what drives you to keep going with it, the workload must be punishing since you’re a one-man-band?

JM: I think it is same undefinable urge that makes writers write.  I’m addicted to it, especially the interviews.  I love hearing author’s thoughts on the genre and the process of how they write.  It can give a fascinating insight into the minds of creative types.  It is punishing, I was on my yearly treat of a week off work while everyone else in the family was at work and school and before Ginger Nuts this would have been a week of catching up on films, books and video games.  It has now transformed into a week of getting up at 4am and catching up on reviews, interviews and emails.

Being a one man band  is tough, and it is something that a lot of people still don’t know.  The hardest part of being a one man band is keeping up with the administration part of the site, answering emails, keeping on top of Google analytics, and such like.  I spent a whole day just trying to clear my in-box.  That’s the point at which it gets depressing.  You should see some of the emails I get.

MW: Leading on from that and having seen some of your comments previously, can you enlighten us with some amusing faux pas from various potential ‘contributors’?

JM: The ones that really get me are the ones that don’t even take the time to find out your name.  I understand that authors have to use mass emails but, it really doesn’t take much time to stick my name at the start of the email. It’s only three letters.

The use of silly fonts, please, please for the love of all Gods, don’t use them.  If you want to be taken seriously as a writer, you have to act professional, silly fonts don’t make you look professional.  They make you look like a nursery school kid.

Uses of phrases like “THE NEXT BIG THING” don’t work either.  I know you want to stand out from everyone else. But that just makes you sound arrogant.

Someone actually sent me an email that said;

“Jim here is my book for you to review you can buy it from following this link to Amazon”
Needless to say I bought three copies.

Oh and please don’t ever send a hand written covering letter, which has been written in your own blood.  True story folks this happened to me.

If you want book reviewers to engage with you, it’s really rather simple, be polite and be interesting.  I get hundreds of emails, and time is finite, so if your first point of contact is a bog standard dull email that doesn’t hint at your personality it is likely to get ignored.  It sounds harsh but we reviewers have to have methods to reduce our workload.

MW: To turn your own brand back to you, what was “The Book That Made You”?

I’d have to go right back to the very first book I remember buying for myself, The Last Legionnaire by Douglas Hill.  It was a sort of Star Wars rip where the hero’s planet is wiped out by the Galactic Warlord.  Dying from radiation exposure he is rescued by a mysterious alien who replaces his bones with an indestructible plastic alloy.

The books see him searching out the Warlord to enact vengeance.  Yes they were rather cookie cutter in their approach to storytelling and characters, but there was something just so fantastic about them.  They really captured my imagination like no other book before them.  If you haven’t read them track them down and read them to your kids they will love them

MW: Excellent, one of my favourite books from my childhood was “The Galactic Warlord”!  I love it when you realise that someone enjoyed the same stuff as you, because at the time I was the only kid I knew who’d read it.  Anyway, moving on, what was “The Film That Made You”?

JM:  This is a tricky one, I’ve never been much of film watcher, probably due to my inability to sit still for any length of time.  You know what?  I’m going to have to pass on this.

MW: Paper or e-book?

JM:  It would have to be paper.  I know this sounds romantic, but reading as an experience is more than just reading the words.  It’s a sum of everything that goes into making the book and the environment that surrounds you when you read it.  A book is also a very personal thing, even the ones you get as presents. When someone gives you a book as a present it means that person really knows you, they have put a lot of thought into getting a book that is right for you.  It just doesn’t feel the same when they give you a link to download it.

A few years ago I gave my son my battered and well-read copy of Ray Bradbury’s The Halloween Tree.  This book has been read countless times, seen me through good and bad times.  The book is infused with my emotions and memories, there is no way in hell that giving an e-book copy of this to my son would have meant the same to me.  And when Campbell chose to take The Halloween Tree to school when his teacher asked them to bring their favourite book in, it really brought a little tear to my eye.  Just to know that this book which meant so much to me, now means so much to my son.  You just wouldn’t get that with an e-book.

MW: Who are some of your favourite authors?

JM: How much time do you have?  Here’s a quick of the top of my head list.  M.R. James, Graham Masterton, Brian Lumley, Gary McMahon, John Llewellyn Probert, Mark West, Thana Niveau, Alison Moore, Adam Nevill, Nathan Ballingrud, Lynda E. Rucker, to name a few.

MW: Thank you, there’re some terrific names in that list (and mine).  So what are you reading now?  What’s your favourite read of the year so far?

JM: I’m reading two very good highly sought after ARC’s.  Sarah Lotz’s The Three, which is written in the form of a documentary with viewpoints and comments from characters rather than a traditional narrative.  It looks like this could be the big breakout novel of the year.  It’s set in the years after four planes mysteriously drop out of the sky, and the frightening truth about why this happened.

The second book is not normally a book I would attempt to read.  It’s a zombie novel, but one where they only really exist as a point on which to hang a thesis about loss, memory and humanity. It’s a dense novel, one that has had me reaching for a dictionary more than once, but it is one that is deeply moving.  Keep an eye out for A Questionable Shape by Bennett Sims.

My favourite read of the year so far has to be Joseph D’Lacey’s The Book of the Crowman.  This is the second and final book of his brilliant apocalyptic dark fantasy and again it uses the narrative to explore some deep issues.  Hopefully this will be the book that sees Joe break out into the big time.

MW: Do you have a prize interviewee?

JM: Sadly most of my prized interviewees are now no longer with us.  I would have killed just to have been able to ask James Herbert one question.  Most people would expect me to say Stephen King, but to be honest I’m not that big a fan.  It would have to be a tossup between Clive Barker and Graham Masterton.  I would be fascinated to compare their creative processes.

MW: Where do you see the horror genre heading?

JM: As a genre it’s always seen as the dirty cousin to fantasy and science fiction, it’s a position that many of those working within it don’t help to alter.  There is far too much reliance on the same old story, zombies, and vampires are just so boring these days.  I hope that these days get left behind, and we see more authors trying to push the boundaries.  There are a lot of great writers out there who realise that horror really isn’t about the monster lurking in the darkness.  Horror is more about feelings and emotion.  Writers like yourself, John Lanagan, Laird Barron , Gary McMahon and Nathan Ballingrud use horror as a framework from which to hang stories that are full of great characters and emotional depth.

I’d love to see the genre make its way out of the ghetto.

MW: What do you see as the future for the Ginger Nuts site?

JM: To be honest I’m just going to keep on doing what I’m doing.  I’m toying with the idea of moving into horror films, but I’m not sure about it.  I like the idea of a quick turnaround, but there are so many great sites out there that do this sort of thing perfectly.  We’ll see, maybe the world needs a Ginger Nut spin on film reviews.

MW: Thanks for your time, Jim, best wishes to you and The Ginger Nuts of Horror for the future.

JM: Thanks Mark, it’s been a pleasure to be on the other end of the stick for a change.  I can’t go without saying thank you for all your support over the years.  It really does mean a lot to me, you’re constantly sharing and promoting my site, a lot of authors don’t even bother.  You are a true gentleman, here’s to September when we can finally raise a pint or two together.

MW:   You’re more than welcome, I’m looking forward to finally meeting up too.  And thank you, as ever, for your continued support.

Where to find The Ginger Nuts on the Net


  1. Great interview Mark and Jim. Fantastic to see Jim answering some questions for once rather than setting them. It's good to see he's as good a subject as he is an interviewer.

  2. Great interview, Mark. Been reading Gingernuts for two or three years now and have been really impressed by it from the get-go. Makes the rest of us look like troglodytes.

  3. Thanks Gef, glad you liked it!

  4. Enjoyed the interview too - interesting to find out so much about someone I've known online for quite a while now - not least what he looks like! I'm another fan of the Galactic Warlord series - I re-read the four books and they still stood up.

  5. This was a brilliant idea, really enjoyed it!

  6. Cheers Stephen, glad you liked it. And it's nice to find another fan of the Galactic Warlord too!