Today I am interviewing Jonathan Oliver, editor of the new horror anthology, Five Stories High.
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DJ: Hey Jonathan! Thanks for stopping by to do this interview!
For readers who aren’t familiar with you, could you tell us a little about yourself?
Jonathan Oliver: Hello. So, Five Stories High is my seventh horror anthology and my sixth for Solaris. I’ve always been a huge fan of short stories and novellas, and horror is my first genre love. So, right from the start with Solaris I wanted a shot at producing original horror anthologies. I get to work with the best writers around and all of the anthologies have been very well received. I’ve twice been nominated for the World Fantasy Award, I’ve won the British Fantasy Award for Best Anthology twice and I’ve been nominated for the Shirley Jackson Award.
I’ve been the Editor-in-Chief of fiction publishing at Rebellion for eleven years, and helped found the Abaddon line of books. As well as editing, I also do a bit of writing on the side. I’ve recently put together a collection of my short stories called The Language of Beasts, which I will be shopping around publishers in early 2017.
DJ: What is Five Stories High about?
Jonathan: Five Stories High is a collection of five novellas, each set in the same house, Irongrove Lodge, which is home to many different entities. In itself Irongrove Lodge is also something of an enigma, and there are those who say the house itself may be a haunting. Basically, these are five modern horror novellas playing with that classic horror trope—the haunted house. There is also a linking narrative between the five novellas, written by myself.
DJ: What were some of the inspirations behind Five Stories High?
Jonathan: I’ve always loved ghost stories and tales of haunted houses. I love a traditional gothic pile, peopled by tortured spirits and melancholy wraiths. But I also love the way in which horror tropes can be subverted. So, while M.R. James, Arthur Machen, Oliver Onions and Algernon Blackwood would certainly feel right at home in Irongrove Lodge, the collection is more in the wheelhouse of those innovators of the supernatural such as Shirley Jackson, Ramsey Campbell, Robert Aickman, Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Thomas Ligotti.
DJ: What kinds of stories readers expect in the anthology?
Jonathan: There are certainly moments of genuine unease in the collection, and some truly frightening scenes, but readers can expect the haunted house to also be turned on its head. These are very much horror stories, but they also show the breadth and depth of the genre. I think this shows that supernatural fiction is as important a branch of literature as any other.
DJ: Since there are five novellas in Five Stories High, could you give a brief introduction to what each on is about?
Jonathan: In Maggots by Nina Allan a young man has a creeping unease that his aunt may not be who she seems, and when he discovers her link to a certain house, his notions of reality are shaken to the core. In The Priest’s Hole by K.J. Parker, a man who can assume the face of anyone (for a fee) becomes a resident of Irongrove Lodge and finds himself besieged by forces he can barely begin to understand. In Gnaw by Tade Thompson, Irongrove Lodge begins to give up its grisly secrets and a family finds itself at the heart of a terrible history. In The Best Story I Can Manage in the Circumstances by Robert Shearman, a boy finds a door where there really shouldn’t be one, and finds himself on an extraordinary journey, and in Skin Deep a new and exciting relationship turns very dark as Irongrove Lodge begins to impose its influence.
Of course, I’m sure you can appreciate how hard it is to sum-up extraordinary novellas in just a few sentences. In essence, this collection is contemporary horror fiction at its very best.
DJ: As you have said, all of these stories take place in the same building. Is there any special history to this building that you can tell us without spoiling anything is the collection?
Jonathan: Ah, to find that out you really have to read the complete collection, which includes a narrative written by myself which hints more at what kind of house Irongrove Lodge really is.
DJ: Also, do these stories connect with each other in any particular way, and did that impact the order in which you placed them collection to be read?
Jonathan: There are a few small references, but the important thing for me was to give these extraordinary writers room to breathe, to take the trope of the haunted house and put their own unique spin on it. Usually a collection of this sort suggests an order as you read through the manuscripts, and with the interweaving narrative, it really does bring these novellas together.
DJ: This may be a difficult question to answer, but what are some of your favorite parts from the stories in Five Stories High? I don’t mean what you believe is the best story, but perhaps some stories has a particular setting, theme, message, or character that you stood out to you?
Jonathan: I think my favourite part of Five Stories High was exploring Irongrove Lodge together with the authors. When we started we didn’t truly know what the house was, but in the writing we discovered the huge possibilities and the excitement of working in such a macabre playground. The delight in a project of this nature is in getting to work with writers who really keep me engaged with horror as a genre.
DJ: Being an editor, what do you believe makes a good horror story?
Jonathan: What makes a good horror story is what makes a good story period. So, good writing, but also the awareness that horror stories are human stories. An exercise in gross-out or an attempt at a jump scare (near impossible in prose) doesn’t interest me as much as broken people encountering broken places or situations.
DJ: What was your favorite part about editing Five Stories High?
Jonathan: Firstly just getting to be the first reader as the novellas came in, and being bowled over by the quality of the writing. Also, though, the level of support and encouragement I got from my authors when writing the linking narrative. I write in my spare time, so I always feel a bit of an amateur, so it’s nice when you get the assurance of writers you really admire that you’re heading in the right direction.
DJ: What do you think readers will be talking about most once they finish it?
Jonathan: I think readers will be haunted by the idea of Irongrove Lodge, and that the enigma as to the true nature of the house will be with them long after the last page. That’s my hope anyway. I also hope it shows readers that horror fiction can be vibrant, innovative and forward looking.
DJ: Now that Five Stories High is released, what is next for you?
Jonathan: I haven’t started planning my next anthology yet, but we’re looking forward to a whole range of exciting books next year from Solaris and Abaddon. Also, there’s the collection I mentioned, and I’ll be tinkering with a few more short stories myself.
DJ: Where can readers find out more about you?
DJ: Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to answer my questions!
Jonathan: Thanks for taking the time to interview me.
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*** Five Stories High is published by Solaris and is available TODAY!!! ***
Buy the Book:
Amazon | Barnes & Nobel | Goodreads | Kobo
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One house, five hauntings, five chilling stories.
Five Stories High is a collection of five novellas each set in the same house – Irongrove Lodge. This five storey Georgian mansion, once a grand detached property, has now been split into five apartments. This is a building with history, the very bricks and grounds imbued with the pasts of those who have walked these corridors, lived in these rooms.
Five extraordinary writers open the doors, revealing ghosts both past and present in a collection that promises to be as intriguing as it is terrifying.
Featuring novellas by Sarah Lotz, JK Parker, Nina Allan, Robert Shearman and Tade Thompson.
Jonathan Oliver is the multi-award winning editor of The End of The Line, Magic, House of Fear, End of the Road and Dangerous Games. He’s also written a couple of novels and a bunch of short stories. He lives in Abingdon with his family and their cat.