Welcome to the first of many in our Writer's Block series!
Ann Massey is interviewing her fellow Beul Aithris Publishing writers and artists giving you a chance to get to know them and their work.
Next up we have supernatural fiction phenomenon Petula Mitchell, who released her debut short fiction collection At The Crossroads in September 2020.
ANN MASSEY: Tell is a bit about yourself!
PETULA MITCHELL: I'm 58 years old, married and have two grown up sons. I'm a grandma to two boys and dog mum to a pair of retired greyhounds. I work part time for the NHS as a health care assistant and phlebotomist at my local surgery, a job I have done for almost eighteen years. I have also been a dental nurse, a barmaid, a school dinner lady and sold TV's so it has been a varied work life! I have a few hobbies including cross stitch embroidery, gardening and I love taking photos of the local landscapes. I live in West Sussex so we are on the doorstep of the South Downs National Park and less than half an hour from the coast.
AM: How did you first get into writing?
PM: I first started writing when I was a child and would sit for hours making up stories and reading them to my unfortunate family, and when they got bored I had an audience of dolls and teddy bears. As a teenager I used to always submit things to the school magazine and was very pleased with myself if they got printed. Then there was a long gap while work and family life took over. About ten years ago now I decided to have another go at writing.
AM: You have many published short stories that have a supernatural theme - what draws you to this genre?
PM: I used to avidly read ghost stories as a child. The Armada books series was a firm favourite and I can still remember stories like 'The Water Ghost of Harrowby Hall' and the' Man who Walked Around the Kirk Widdershins'. I think growing up reading my mothers Edwardian copies of Grimm Brothers and Hans Christian Anderson, which were not sanitised for the modern era even by 1960s standards, was a big influence. There are elements of the supernatural in most of those stories. My parents were old Sussex people and familiar with the stories and folklore that occurs locally too. My dad and his brothers certainly knew how to spin a story. There is always that part of the human psyche that likes to be scared all be it in a safe and controlled environment. Placing strange events in a normal mundane setting and seeing where the characters go is interesting both as a reader and a writer I think.
AM: Your book At the Crossroads is a collection of your supernatural tales, tell us a bit more about it!
PM: At the Crossroads is a collection of stories I have written over the past two to three years. Lots of the ideas sprung to mind when talking to friends, reading articles or just being out and about overhearing conversations. I always have a notebook in my bag or at least jot down things on my phone. By and large I tend to set stories in the present. It's somehow more unnerving to have a ghost or entity on the motorway or in a modern hotel than it is in an old castle to me. Some of the stories explore what happens when those that have gone before are disturbed and some look at how the supernatural can live among us without being noticed. I also ponder on where we go after we have run out of time ourselves.
AM: You have also written true haunting and creepy articles for Spooky Isles relating to your neck of the woods in England, especially Sussex and Surrey. Do you find being surrounded by these sorts of locations helps inspire your writing?
PM: The area around Sussex that I live in has a story or a spectre in every corner! With the trend for ever more housing development and new people moving into the area it's important I think to make sure the stories don't get lost. Landmarks like Chanctonbury and Cissbury ring have dozens of stories about them going back to the Iron Age. The Downs themselves are criss crossed with trackways and lych roads that have been used for centuries. Old stories of demons and devils, dogs, witches and even UFO's in the modern era abound. It's hard to not find a village or a copse without a story. In the case of St Leonard's Forest near us there are tales of being chased by the devil, dragons, saints and mysterious black cats. It's all here in abundance so there is certainly plenty of inspiration to find out about the weird and the peculiar.
AM: When you aren’t busy writing, what do you like to read?
PM: My own reading shelf is a real mixture! I read about art history and actual history. I adore sci fi! One of my great frustrations is that I write terrible sci fi stories myself. Detective fiction with a dose of Nordic Noir (I love Jo Nesbo). I like Val McDermid, Ian Rankin and Ken Bruen so anything that is a bit dark I suppose. Spy stories by Le Carre and a good rip roaring thriller or adventure by Alistair MacLean or Clive Cussler. I like historical novels too. Simon Scarrow and his Roman novels are firm favourites. I enjoy anything about polar exploration, partly because I can never quite work out why people want to go anywhere that cold!
AM: What is next for Petula Mitchell?
PM: I have taken a few weeks to have a good think about a few projects and noodle around with some ideas. A ghostly detective novel and a short story set in the arctic are underway along with working on something in a totally different genre as time allows. Now I just need to stop procrastinating and actually finish them!