Dead Head Reviews (DHR): Lex, thanks for giving us your time. When Ginger Nuts of Horror revealed the cover for The Old One And The Sea, I was instantly interested. Let’s start off with an easy question. Are you a fan of Lovecraft?
Lex H Jones (LHJ): Very much so. In fact I think I was a fan of his before I’d even heard of him. What I mean is, his influence is there in so many of the things I’ve always loved, that even as a child I was a fan without knowing it. Ghostbusters is a prime example of this.
DHR: Do you have a favorite Lovecraft story?
LHJ: Either the “Dunwich Horror” or “The Colour Out of Space” (I’m spelling Colour with a U, I’m British.) I love Dunwich because it feels like it could be an Arthur Machen story, Machen being an author whose work influenced Lovecraft and you can see it here. It’s almost like a love-letter to one of Machen’s best tales, “The Novel of the Black Seal”. And Colour is a rare Lovecraft story in that it completely stands alone without any massive links to the wider mythos. You can read that (or watch the upcoming film) without knowing any of the rest of it and it’s absolutely fine.
DHR: I think “colour” is how Lovecraft spells it too. That’s actually my favorite as well! If you could meet one Lovecraft character, which would it be? And if you could visit one place from any Lovecraft story, where would it be?
LHJ: I’d quite like to meet any of the sailors who encountered Cthulhu in the original “Call of Cthulhu” story. I love hearing sailors talk about sea monsters and weird stuff that happened out on the ocean. As for places, I’d like to see Innsmouth, if it was safe to do so!
DHR: Innsmouth would be a trip! Jim “Ginger Nuts of Horror” Mcleod introduces your book. Who approached who for that?
LHJ: I asked him, and I was so glad he agreed. At the start of my writing career, Jim gave me opportunities (and still does, I should add) to write articles on the Gingernuts site, which brought me exposure I’d never have gotten otherwise. I’ve had a lovely friendship with Jim ever since, and his support of the horror community is ceaseless. So when I decided I wanted an expert on horror to write an introduction to this book, there was never anybody else I’d have approached.
DHR: That makes sense. I was really happy to read his intro. You follow Jim’s intro with your own. In it you told the kids who were reading, or being read to, that us older readers say we know the history of Lovecraft and his mythos, but that’s just what older readers say. That there was a truth hidden under what the older readers know. That was brilliant. Is that how you typically look at life?
LHJ: I do believe that what we know, or think we know, changes all the time. In science, our understanding of human history, of social values. For anyone to stand and say what THEY know right now is absolutely right and can’t be questioned is always like building your house on sand. When it comes to fiction, I’m also a big believer in the allowance of different adaptations. If you don’t like the latest one, that’s fine, but that doesn’t mean nobody else will. So the introduction was a way of covering both of those points.
DHR: Very clever. In the book Lovecraft’s mother, Sarah, calls him Howie. That made me giggle. It still makes me giggle thinking of him as Howie. Did it have a similar effect on you?
LHJ: The name adjustment was a way of softening him. This is a very, very fictionalized version of Howard, it’s in no way based on his real life. But even so, I don’t think the man himself, even when we think of him as a child, would be a particularly likeable character. So along with writing him how I needed him to be, keeping the key elements of who he was, I changed his name to go along with that character change.
DHR: I couldn’t agree with you more. I think the real Howard would be a bore. You brought into this story characters and settings from various Lovecraft tales. How many drafts or storylines did you have before landing on the one in the book?
LHJ: I started writing the book about 3 years ago, so that should give you some idea! I wanted to do a balancing act between making this a rich, full world that Lovecraft fans would recognize, but not going so far as to have a reference or Easter Egg on every page. Eventually I settled on the idea of a rundown seaside town as the setting, which I’d name Innsmouth, and then brought in the black reef from “Dagon”, and just used that as the primary basis. We do see Ry’leh later on, of course, and there are references to various other bits of the mythos throughout.
DHR: That was so cool seeing all those in one story! If you were Howie, would you have done anything different if you were in his shoes?
LHJ: I don’t think I was as brave or curious as he is. I wouldn’t have been climbing a black reef in the middle of the night to see if I could find a giant monster.
DHR: Ha-ha! Few would. In real life, Sarah Philips had a puritanical approach towards her son, Howard—little to no affection. In your book she’s the opposite. In real life Lovecraft’s father went mad and ended up in a psychiatric hospital in Providence. In your book, Lovecraft’s father never came back from fighting overseas during WWI. I found those two alternative historic events to be perfect and exciting. Was it challenging to reimaging their past and were there any specific reasons for why you crafted them into what they are?
LHJ: Similarly to what I said about the name change, it was about softening. I needed Howard’s father to be absent, as that loss is key to the story. But this is a children’s book; having him in an asylum just doesn’t work. And the other key theme about the book is about accepting who you are, not being afraid to be different etc. I didn’t want to have the tired old trope of the ‘mean old discouraging mother’ figure. I wanted her to be the opposite of both that trope and who she was in real life. But again it’s important to point out that this story is in no way biographical.
DHR: Was the coins to call Oolu (Cthulhu) your own creation? I can’t remember that in any of Lovecraft’s stories.
LHJ: I remember playing a videogame, I think it was a Mythos-based one, where part of a ritual involved throwing a large metallic disc into the ocean to summon something. I liked this, and it’s a very Lovecraftian idea, but the image of Howie struggling with this great big disc just didn’t work. Also the story necessitated him finding more than one. So the disc shrank and multiplied in the planning stages, and became coins instead.
DHR: It seriously had me wondering if this was a creation straight from Lovecraft. Bravo on your part for that! The cover and illustrations at the beginning of each chapter were created by Liam “Pais” Hill. How did you two end up collaborating?
LHJ: I met Liam through a mutual friend. As well as being an artist, Liam is part of the underground rock music scene in Britain, via his band the Modern Day Dukes. Our mutual friend KC, of band The Idol Dead, introduced me to Liam when he knew I was looking for an artist, and we just went from there. Even from his very early sketches, I could see that he was going to capture exactly what I had envisioned.
DHR: You two make a perfect team. Can we expect any more adventures from Howie in the future?
LHJ: Well…. I am writing at least one more book in this series, possibly two. The next will be based on “At the Mountains of Madness”. But it’s not a sequel, as such, and Howie only has a cameo in it. The same goes for the potential third book. They’re not going to be more adventures with Howie, but rather more stories that take places in the same world he lives in.
DHR: Oh man! I’m already sold. Was this the first children’s book you wrote? How has the experience been so far?
LHJ: This was the first, and I really enjoyed it. It’s a very different animal to the stuff I usually write, and it felt like something of a mental pallet cleanser.
DHR: Do you have children of your own?
LHJ: No I don’t. I have a niece and nephew, and my sister just told me this week that my niece cried at the ending, which is lovely.
DHR: Wow! That’s truly beautiful that you could create such a reaction. Laura Mauro created an Oolu and Howie plushie. How did that come about?
LHJ: I’d seen her make plushies for different literary events, and I asked her if she’d be kind enough to make some for the book! She’d already written me a cover blurb, so I knew she was fond of the book and familiar with the characters. She was gracious enough, as she always is, to agree and now those toys sit on my ‘Published Work’ shelf.
DHR: She’s incredibly talented, that’s for sure. If someone were interested in buying those two plushies, where could they go to order them?
LHJ: Well unfortunately, they can’t. Laura only made those two for me. Although I think a couple of people have contacted her and asked if they could pay her to make some for themselves, so it’s always worth asking! Worst she can say is no, but Laura being Laura, she’d always be polite about it.
DHR: Ha-ha, so I asked her, and I’m getting me an Oolu and Howie to add some cuteness to my writing desk! What was the process like writing a children’s book, compared to the typical fiction you write targeted toward adults?
LHJ: I had to explain things in a different way than I would for adults, and also focus on the things that a child would focus on to make the story interesting. But to do all that without being patronizing. It wasn’t easy, which is probably why it took so many drafts!
DHR: Were there any parameters you kept at the forefront of your mind, i.e. word count, structure, or pacing?
LHJ: With regards to word count, I just wanted to tell the story, and then see how long it was. As it turned out, the length was just right, so that didn’t need much work. The pacing was more of a focus area. The book has something of a melancholy feel to it, so telling the story at too heady a pace would lose this.
DHR: Are there any other children’s books targeted for a younger audience that you are fond of?
LHJ: I particularly like When a Monster Calls. Both the book and the film adaptation are fantastic, emotional punches to the gut. Living proof of the fact that children’s stories, the best ones in fact, don’t need to be all happy and rainbows and unicorns. Those stories are fine too, but they’re like a candy. Nice whilst it’s there, but not great at providing long-term satisfaction the way a good meal does. Stories that have that emotional punch to them, those are the ones that matter. And that’s equally true for children as it is for adults.
DHR: That’s such an interesting analogy. I love that. Besides horror, what genres do you typical read? Write?
LHJ: I do also like fantasy, crime, and historical fiction. I’m quite varied in both my reading and my writing.
DHR: Is there anyone you would like to make a shout-out to?
LHJ: Everyone who was involved with the book! Please check out Liam’s twitter page ‘Highgreen Dawn’ for more of his work, The Ginger Nuts of Horror for all things horror on the internet, and the works of Laura Mauro and Taylor Grant.
DHR: Thank you Lex, for this beautiful story and for taking the time for this interview. I’m looking forward to future stories of yours and reading The Old One And The Sea to my boy, Philip (oh the irony!).
You can follow Lex on:
Amazon author page: US Link
Amazon UK page: UK Link