"To Hell with Dante" is a collection of cynical afterlife stories, ranging from comedic genius to dark surrealism. To help kick off this fine anthology, I'll be conducting interviews with many of the contributors. Today I'm interviewing Laura Sheridan, the talented author who contributed the story Second Coming. Thank you for being here, Laura.
MTI: Starting off, could you tell our readers a bit about yourself?
LS: Founder member of Pennine Ink Writers (1983) and member also of
Burnley and District Writers for ten years. I’m
Vice-Chair and organise the annual writing competition for Burnley Writers. I
compile and edit Pennine Ink Magazine as well as dealing with all the
correspondence and organising what’s on the programme for the weekly meetings. Rather
proud of myself for setting up 3 websites, teaching myself as I went along. (www.pennineink.weebly.com www.burnley-district-writers.weebly.com www.g-laurasheridan.weebly.com) I also run a local reading group, as well as
teaching, part-time. Married for 38 years, we have two grown-up children, one
grandchild (another on the way), three cats and six goldfish.
MTI: Now, getting down to business; what first compelled you to weave fiction, and what’s your favorite type of story to write?
LS: Why did I start writing? I wrote a ‘novel’ in an exercise book when I was about 14. Don’t have a clue what it was about. Then, when I had children, I found I enjoyed making up stories for them. I think it developed from there. I really, really love writing. I can get absolutely absorbed in it for hours. Takes about nine months to write a novel (or have a baby!) though I did write one of my novels in about twelve weeks. Got so caught up in it that when I finished it, I felt lost and could barely speak for a day or two. As for my favourite type of story – it has to be science-fiction. And comedy. Even better if I can combine the two.
MTI: Tell me, if you had to pick one author who has influenced or inspired you, who would it be?
LS: So many to choose from, but I think it would be Robert Silverberg – a wonderful science-fiction author. When I’m reading his novels, I find I lose myself in them so easily - and then I look up and three hours have gone. That’s the kind of effect I want to achieve.
MTI: Your story, Second Coming, appears in To Hell with Dante. Tell us a little bit about that. What’s the general idea behind it?
LS: It’s a tongue-in-cheek portrayal of Hell and its demons – and we find they’re just like us, really.
MTI: Does your story hold any special significance, perhaps seeking to provoke some thoughts about the afterlife, or was it just a lot of fun fiction?
LS: I’m very interested in theories about the afterlife. Whether there is such a thing depends on what the nature or reality truly is – and that’s a very big question. But yes, this was just a bit of a laugh.
MTI: Okay, on a totally unrelated note, if you could meet and talk with any one deceased person, who would it be?
LS: Vincent Van Gogh. The man was a wonderfully expressive painter, though such a tortured soul and I’d love to tell him how talented he was and how much his paintings are loved and appreciated now.
MTI: You're reminding me of that Doctor Who episode, "Vincent and the Doctor"—one of my favorites. Now, shifting back to your writing, can you tell us a little about what you’re working on right now?
LS: Buttana - a novel set in a small village in
in the mid 20th century. It’s about
a girl who is shunned by the community because she was born out of wedlock and
the friendship she makes with a very influential man. Not sci-fi and not
particularly funny! But my parents were Italian/Sicilan so I’ve been wanting to
write something about that for a while. Sicily
MTI: Other than your piece appearing in To Hell with Dante, do you have any other stories being published in the near future?
LS: I have three stories on Amazon Kindle. Two are science-fiction: Tricks of the Trade is about an alternate reality in which women are treated like cars. Sounds weird and it is, but it seems to work. To Die For is the story of a gay space venturer and his crew who take over planets without being brutal about it. The Manne of Potterye is written in the style of Chaucer but set in modern times and is the comical story of two women who fall for the same man. I also have four novels on Amazon Kindle. More about those below.
MTI: Two women falling for the same man? Where have I heard that one before? On a lighter note, have you watched any good TV lately?
LS: TV is often slated for being a time-waster, but actually, there are some brilliant programmes out there. I love all the Brian Cox science programmes and thought Neil deGrasse Tyson’s series Cosmos was breathtaking. Love Inspector Montalbano – takes me back to my Sicilian roots. I also enjoy a bit of good old Downton Abbey, Poirot and Midsomer Murders.
MTI: Classy tastes! How about music?
LS: When I hear the beginning of Living in the Past with Jethro Tull’s beautiful flute-playing, I have to stop everything and listen. Love Yes as their songs are so surreal. Albatross by Fleetwood Mac has me closing my eyes and drifting along (so not good to listen to when I’m driving!!) Also love a bit of Mozart. Handel’s Water Music is so lovely it brings tears to my eyes. Rossini is exciting and energising. Figaro’s aria from The Barber of Seville is utterly thrilling. So much music to enjoy.
MTI: What are three of your favorite movies? You know, the ones that never get old.
LS: Ones I could watch again and again: The Godfather – all three films – compelling (and I can pick out some of the Italian phrases); Close Encounters of the Third Kind – makes me wonder how we actually will communicate with extra-terrestrials if we ever meet any: Karate Kid – the original version, not the re-make – it’s such a feel-good movie.
MTI: Of course, writers are some of the most voracious readers these days. Tell me, have you run across any great pieces of literature lately?
LS: I run a reading group and a couple of months ago we read Night Watch by Sarah Waters. Blew my mind. What a fantastic writer. I loved the way she organised events in the book. Another writer I’ve only just come across, oddly enough, is Stephen King. Wow, the man can write! I had him down as a mere horror-writer, in my mind a bit of a hack – and I’ve done him a great disservice. He’s an excellent writer – amongst the very best. Superb.
MTI: You have the attention of potential readers. Do you have any words of wisdom to share with them, or possibly a sales pitch to encourage them to read more of your writing?
LS: Words of wisdom? Not sure I have the right to counsel others, but I have found that it takes years to learn to write. It’s not easy, by any means. It’s like someone once said – to learn any skill takes about 10,000 hours. So get started. The sooner you start, the sooner you’ll finish.
Sales pitch: I have four books on Amazon Kindle:
Ugly Tuckling is about a fat guy called Cornelius Tuckling. He’s too self-conscious about his body to find a girlfriend…so how is it he ends up modelling nude? Why is Cornelius so shy? Why does he hate his father? What’s with his fear of dogs? It’s a comedy, but with some psychological aspects.
Short of a Miracle is a dark comedy about a priest called O’Neill who finds himself in a parallel world. It’s a lot like ours – except that Jesus has never existed. He sets about a preaching work, but it didn’t end well for Jesus and it looks like it’s going the same way for O’Neill too. This isn’t meant to be an irreverent book at all, but may be thought-provoking.
Martian Oddities is a young adult novel set in the future when Mars has been colonised for a couple of hundred years. Jae looks a little different from the other kids, but why? And why are the Terrans trying to kill him?
Germination is another young adult novel in which the main character, Clove, is being chased by a murderous android. In order to escape, he has to seek help from his mother – and they don’t get on. She’s the captain of a starship and they take a zig-zag course across the galaxy, finally ending up in uncharted space – where Clove finds a form of life never before encountered.
MTI: Of course, readers love free samples, so let’s give them a taste. Here are the first few paragraphs of your story xxx, as featured in To Hell with Dante:
Querios sat on the dung-hills of Hades, picking his teeth with one of the prongs of his pitchfork. The chilli burgers down here weren’t as good as they were cracked up to be and anyway, soya always gave him gas. Gone were the days when you were allowed the odd roast virgin or two. It wasn’t politically correct to eat human sacrifices any more.
He finished his coffee and rose to his cloven hooves. As far as demon ambition went, he’d done quite well and now presided over the west wing, but he was apt to let things slide at times, especially when he was as bored as this.
He spotted one of the hunchbacks nestling in the cooler dimness of one of the recesses. “Oy, out of there, you,” he growled, his tail lashing in a half-hearted sort of way. “Back into the fire.”
Ach, they were snivelling little things. You’d have thought a Personage with infinite mercy would have allowed losers and misfits some leeway, wouldn’t you? But no—He had them genetically modified, as part of their punishment.
This particular hunchback had a nose like an elephant shrew and hooded eyes that were heavy with despondency. It scuttled obediently back into the flames, the skin on its naked arms immediately puffing out into a series of huge blisters.
Wasn’t much of a punishment. After fifty or so years, they all got used to it. Look at Rasputin over there, basking on the hot coals. Occasionally, Querios passed the time jabbing sinners at random. There was a crumb of satisfaction in hearing them squeal—at least, the newer ones did. Those who’d been here a long time just watched the prongs go in with dispassionate interest, then settled down to wait for the wounds to heal.
That was the trouble with eternal torment. It was all the same old, same old.
Well, thank you, Laura, for that excellent interview. Those who want to read the rest of her story, and 20 other cynical afterlife stories, can pick up To Hellwith Dante today!