Interview with Ian J Walls

Author of Igor and the Twisted Tales of Castlemaine

Me? I’m a comedy writer. Inspired by the great Douglas Adams, Spike Milligan, The Pythons and the brilliant Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton and not averse to a healthy dash of ‘Carry On’ saucy double entendre when the mood takes me. As for serious literature you can’t beat Mervyn Peake and Charles Dickens for the way they paint an image in your mind, using a superb cast of characters, from the beautiful to the grotesque. Mash all those influences together and that’s where you’ll find me writing.

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Quick description of the book for a new reader - what should they expect?
  • Igor and the Twisted Tales of Castlemaine, or IATTTOC as we like to refer to it for brevity, since none of us are getting any younger, is a comedy horror novel inspired by the classic Hammer and Universal horror movies we grew up watching. I say ‘we’ because I co-wrote it with my great friend and classic horror expert, Richard L Markworth.

    It tells the story of Igor, a rather overlooked figure, who never even existed in the Mary Shelley original Frankenstein work, but who’s always been lurking in the background of the movies while the big name baddies get all the screen glory. Well, Igor isn’t quite the pathetic, hunched, demented psychopath we all think he is. No indeed. He’s a thinking, feeling, ambitious demented psychopath with dreams of living a fulfilling life-less-ordinary, out in the big wide world, away from Victor Frankenstein’s shadow, where he can put his rather dubious and dark skills to misuse for his own profit.

    The book explores Igor’s background, we find out how he came to be in Frankenstein’s employ in the first place, and we follow his story as he breaks away to find adventure, new employment and, dare we say it, love, in the accursed village of Castlemaine.

    We’ve incorporate into the story a huge array of classic and original horror characters, hat tips to historical figures and great actors of the genre, and other more subtle references to the novels and movies that, we hope, will keep hardened horror buffs and sacrificial virgins alike, screaming for more.
What was your inspiration for this book?
  • People don’t usually believe it but it’s actually true, that the book was conceived in a cold and damp North London park, where Richard and I were spending the day as extras acting in a pop music video.

    We’ve known each other for 40 odd years, ever since our school days, and we have a very similar taste in the sort of comedy we grew up watching, as well as a deeply ingrained love of classic horror.

    Between takes we chatted about our respective writing work and Richard’s ongoing passion for writing and producing short horror films. It was during one of these breaks, while cameras were being reset, actors were shuffling about trying to remember their cues and the main producer was frantically trying to arrange better weather for the afternoon session, that we hit upon the idea of writing a back story for Igor, the nondescript bit part player (much like ourselves at that point) who’s always there but never truly understood.

    Our first idea was to write it in the style of a 70s / 80s sitcom. We both love Fawlty Towers, Allo Allo, Blackadder and so forth, and we felt the time was ripe for a revamp of the classic sitcom. Over the course of the next few weeks, we thrashed out ideas for episodes, characters, plots and eventually got the bones of half a dozen episodes together.

    Unfortunately one minor point we overlooked was the fact that neither of us had any experience in writing comedy screenplays, so the project hit the buffers quite early on.

    Then one miserable Sunday afternoon, I sat in front of my computer with the episode ideas to hand and I began to write up the first part as a proper story. Then between us over the next 8 months we put the whole thing together into the first draft manuscript that would eventually become the completed book.
Which authors do you admire? How have they influenced your writing style?
  • I’ve always loved Douglas Adams and the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. The imagination and creativity he put into that book is legendary. It’s not just the plot and the characters though, it’s the wordplay, the wonderful way he uses language to create comedy is just brilliant.

    I guess it’s what attracts me to a book, beautiful, clever descriptive prose that makes the conjouring of images in your mind so effortless. It’s certainly one of the reasons why I also love Mervyn Peake and the Gormenghast trilogy so much. His use of descriptive language is absolutely poetic. That and his wonderfully macabre characters, with their weird names, their cracked personalities and their lurking, sinister and deeply disturbing character flaws. Dark, menacing, gothic brilliance.

    Spike Milligan was a fearless comic. He had a totally anarchic and surreal sense of humour. Stupid and meaningless at times and yet totally brilliant. He had the ability to break down all kinds of barriers and norms that allowed others, like The Pythons, the freedom to experiment and create some truly innovative comedy. Not long before I started writing IATTTOC I read all of Spike’s war diaries and I was truly inspired to allow my humour to go where it would. What I learned from reading Spike was to write truthfully and without fear, and to not stop and worry about whether every single reader will like every single joke. They won’t. So his work encouraged me to be less afraid of writing stuff that might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but which is true to my own style and sense of humour.

    In a similar vein, and while not necessarily authors in the literary sense, the genius of Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton of Inside No 9 and League of Gentlemen is something I truly aspire to. And while I’m certainly not worthy of comparing my work to their mighty standards, they inspire me to create imagery that has a surreal, macabre depth to it, while still remembering to keep the lightness, fun, originality and escapism that good humour should bring to the reader.
Can you tell us a little about the locations in your book?
  • The book is set in the fictional village of Castlemaine, nestled deep within the Carpathian Mountains of Transylvania. It’s a kind of catch all for the horror genre; a dark, brooding place that acts as a magnet to the sort of characters that abound in good horror fiction. Without giving too much away, there’s an underlying sub plot that explains why all these spooky goings on happen around the same areas over long periods of time. It’s something that we’re going to build upon in the next book.
What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
  • Get on with it. Stop procrastinating and start writing. You’ll never get it finished if you don’t start (as your mother always told you. She was right you know!) Write something as often as you can, even if it’s just a paragraph or a single sentence. These snippets all add up and before you know it, you’ll be half way to finishing your first book.

    Write down ideas whenever and wherever they hit you. Keep a note on your phone or have a pad handy to scribble your thoughts down as they happen. Guaranteed that spark of brilliance you had during the staff meeting this morning will be as elusive as an honest politician by the time you get home.

    Throw nothing away. Whatever you write, keep it. Copy and paste it into a scrapbook folder or whatever but don’t delete it. Any random idea, no matter how off the wall it may be, can come to life in the right situation. I used jokes and plot lines in IATTTOC that had been festering around for over 10 years, waiting to find the right moment. I even tapped into throwaway banter that I’d had with friends on old Facebook conversations.

    Inspiration is everywhere. Keep looking out for it and it’ll become easier and easier to find.
Could you talk a little about your writing process?
  • Once I’ve got an idea, the first stage is to flesh it out a bit by writing an outline of where I’m starting from and where I need to get to, along with any important stepping stones that need to be covered along the way.

    With this book, Richard and I had rough ideas for a bunch of episodes, which fit quite naturally as chapters. These each consisted of about an A4 page outlining the story within the chapter, along with which characters would be involved. If there were any new characters to create, we described a rough outline for them, and gave them names.

    Once I’ve got the outline I simply sit and start writing. People talk about ‘the muse’ descending and it’s a bit like that for me. I start typing and watch what comes out. I’m often as surprised as anyone to read what I’ve written afterwards. I can honestly say that a lot of the time I have no idea where the words came from.

    Of course, sometimes when you do that, what gets written is complete gibberish, and sometimes I end up writing myself into a cul de sac and have to decide whether to reverse out and try again, or see if I can invent a way forward. By forcing yourself to be creative with a sticky situation rather than going back, you sometimes end up with a much less predictable and more inventive storyline.
Which character has had the greatest impact on readers?
  • That’s quite hard to say really. There’s such a diverse ensemble cast within the book. I’ve had surprisingly positive reactions from some readers about very minor characters that were incidental to the main storyline, but who appear to have made quite an impact nonetheless.

    We’ve tried to write characters that each have some unique and interesting traits so that while you may not actually like them, they still have something memorable and appealing about them.

    It’s interesting that while there’s definitely a fair portion of laddish humour in there, (quelle surprise with two middle aged schoolboys writing it) and the book centres around Igor, who is definitely a bloke’s bloke (although he’s partial to wearing a calico skirt on occasion); our strongest characters are all female.
What do you call a man with a car on his head?
  • Jack
Have you been messing with my questions?
  • Quite possibly, yes.
Where next? What are you working on now?
  • The sequel to IATTTOC is well under way with a third book lined up to finish the overall storyline. Then there are plans afoot to expand the universe we’ve created in a completely new direction, keeping to familiar themes and styles but in a completely new time and place, with lots of new (and old) characters to explore.

    Richard and I are also working on various solo projects, completely separate from Igor and his world, so there’s lots to look forward to.
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We all know Igor. You know, Victor Frankenstein’s lickspittle assistant from the ye olde horror B-movies of yore.
One of popular culture’s most forgotten, and yet oddly loveable horror characters, finally Igor arrives with his own
hilarious backstory in Igor & The Twisted Tales of Castlemaine, an episodic comedy-horror tale that sees Igor
pluck up the courage to leave Frankenstein’s castle and set up on his own in the village of Castlemaine – a place
even stranger than fiction. In this fully realised universe, and with an ensemble of many deliciously despicable
characters all desperate to steal the storytelling glory, Igor’s fresh take on an old legend is a witty, silly and loving
modern homage to the classic horror genre.
Following decades of torture at the hands of his cruel master Victor Frankenstein, the once-downtrodden and
pathetic Igor finally rises up and walks out on Victor, in the hope of finding a fulfilling life-less-ordinary elsewhere.
Instead, something wicked his way comes, and Igor finds his way to Castlemaine, an accursed village nestled
deep in the Carpathian Mountains, where terrors stalk the waking world and ale is more expensive than in
London. Among the perverted inhabitants and spooky-goings-on, Igor meets Esmerelda, the beautiful but
occasionally violent daughter of Castlemaine’s homicidal innkeeper. Together, they find themselves in a whole
heap of eerie trouble, fighting dark forces and demons, murderers, mediums and monsters, spirits and zombies,
and, naturally, a very disturbing nun, all in the form of five neatly packaged adventures.