Bonkers and a little vain

An interview with Alison Buck

may 2007

Abiding Evil is a horror story. Your first book, Devoted Sisters, wasn’t horror – although many people were surprised or even shocked by the ending. Why a darker tale this time?

Well this was actually a story that I started before Devoted Sisters, so this has been a while in the making. But, I don’t know, maybe I just tend towards the darker side of life. I think I’ve got a few happy stories in there waiting to be told, but for the moment they are going to be fairly dark

Without giving too much away, Abiding Evil also has a twist in the tale! Is this going to be a feature of all your writing?

Hopefully so, I don’t want everyone to be able to guess what’s coming – it’s something I really don’t like when I’m reading or if I’m watching a film, if I can guess exactly how it’s going to pan out, especially early on, it really disappoints, so I like to have a twist in the tale, yeah.

Many readers are fascinated by the writing process. When you start writing a story do you know how it will end?

No. I have a general idea, an outline of roughly what I want to have happen but not necessarily who does what and how the individual characters relate together exactly. They tend to work it out as they go along.

So do the characters appear fully formed in your imagination or do they develop as you write the story?

No, they develop. Sometimes they have a destination, some part of the plot that I want them to get to and I’m not too sure how I’m going to manoeuvre them there without it sounding too clunky and, just in writing dialogue, chatting amongst themselves, the characters will suggest something or suggest a course of action which plays beautifully into the scenario I was trying to work them towards, so we go with that.

Does that mean you have to go back and change earlier passages?

That can happen. Hasn’t actually happened very often, no. They’re fairly good at telling their stories, my characters, they’re quite well behaved really.

So could the ending change from your original outline?

Yeah, because they might decide to take it off on a different way, a different sort of path, but that’s okay. So, yes, it could change, I might, you know, kill a different person off. Without giving too much away, I was going to kill off one particular character, but my son, having read an earlier draft, said I was not to kill him under any circumstances, so – but it worked out quite well, I killed the other guy off, that was alright, that was okay [grins].

It sounds like you have a dialogue with the characters yourself. So who writes the story, you or them?

I suppose I have to believe that I play the major part, and I can’t claim that the characters actually talk to me but in talking to each other and reacting to circumstances within the story they can change the direction of the story. So, they do contribute. But whether that’s deeply psychological I really couldn’t tell you. I don’t know.

I’m glad you said the characters don’t actually talk to you, or that would sound like you’re bonkers. Do you think that’s an important characteristic for writers?

What, being bonkers?


I think you must be a slightly quirky person to write, perhaps a little vain as well as a bit bonkers. So many people tell you they have a story in them and, you know, one day they’ll get down and write that story down, but relatively few actually do put pen to paper, I’m not quite sure what strain of madness makes you commit your thoughts to paper in this way and then publish them for everyone to read…

And criticise!

…and criticise, yes [laughs] I don’t know. Perhaps bonkers, I’ll go with bonkers. Yeah.

Your stories are described by the publisher as being about “apparently quite normal, everyday characters, populating what appear to be quite normal and everyday surroundings”. Should your friends be looking for themselves (or each other) in your characters?

There’ll be little bits of different people in all the characters but, no, there’s no one person who exactly corresponds to any one character, there’s different facets of different people in different characters – hopefully the characters as I’ve laid them out in the book are consistent throughout the book and believable, but no they’re not based specifically on all the character traits of any particular people.

Your publisher goes on to say that your stories draw these normal people “away from the commonplace and lead them inexorably towards often frightening and sometimes bloody outcomes”. So should your friends be worried next time they see you looking at them with a thoughtful expression?

[Laughing] Yeah, if we suggest going camping in the woods maybe they wouldn’t come next time, I don’t know. But it’s not something I’ve ever felt the urge to ask them before, so I think they’re probably fairly safe.

You are also an artist, in fact you produce the artwork for the covers of your books yourself. Which do you prefer, writing or painting?

That’s a difficult one. Probably whatever I’m actually doing at the time. I enjoy writing once I’ve got into it, once I’ve got past that first blank page and I’m into the story then I really enjoy it. But then the same holds true for the painting as well, or sketching. If it’s going well you get a buzz from either.

Thank you.

You’re welcome.

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