Tom Fletcher & ‘The Ravenglass Eye’: widening circles of horror. Review and Interview

Tom Fletcher & ‘The Ravenglass Eye’: widening circles of horror. Review and Interview

Tom Fletcher

If you google ‘Tom Fletcher’, you might find news about a floppy-haired focus of many a teenaged girl’s fantasy. You may come across the British ambassador to Lebanon. If you are more blessed, however, you will find the writer Tom Fletcher, the skilled purveyor of elegantly nuanced horror. I was recently at the launch of his third novel, The Ravenglass Eye (Jo Fletcher Books, 2012). The following day I had myself a copy and didn’t emerge for the next day and a half.

Ravenglass is a village on the coast of West Cumbria. It should be idyllic, with the mountains and the lakes, the Roman remains and steam trains and stone circles. In The Ravenglass Eye, these attractions exist like a painted background, peopled with the cut out figures of tourists in brightly coloured waterproofs visiting antique fairs and pedalling their bicycles. They are in another dimension from Edie and the other regulars of The Tup, on whom a dark heaviness is pressing in.

Edie came to Ravenglass from London, drawn by the lyrical descriptions of the area as written by her Grandfather in wartime letters to his wife. She works in the kitchen of the village pub, churning out endless cooked breakfasts for the contractors from the nearby Sellafield, sausage and steak dinners for the locals and her specialty vegetarian chilli for the outer circle of cyclists and walkers. She is also visited by visions, ‘small windows in space through which I have unwittingly, unintentionally, observed certain things that should have been invisible to me.’ The source of these visions, who has been playing a very long game, is about to offer Edie an opportunity, a way to escape a life with no future and a world that seems to offer little but loneliness.

Just as Edie’s visions concentrate on very small happenings, so the view of the real world through her eyes is disconcertingly restricted. Ravenglass is the pub, the rest of the physical village sliding away into a holographic blur. We travel to the Platt farm, with its puddled yard and chaotic interior; the stone circle overlooking the sea, flanked by the ruins of Newton Manor. These are firm spots in a landscape otherwise as shifting and indistinct as the sinking sand on the forbidden shore. And the other characters take their turns to swim into focus: the malevolent Phillip; John the elder, with his hands ‘like two root vegetables, yanked up from the soil and not yet washed’; Gabe, who is ‘not unkind’ and Pitbull, whose shaved head and tattooed arms somehow bring a moment of comforting solidity to the uneasy atmosphere of the bar.

Tom Fletcher allows the unease to build up with beautifully restrained tension. The disturbing nature of the opening incident, when a farm dog is killed and ritualistically displayed, is buried along with the dog’s remains, and allowed to fester as events above begin to fall like inevitable dominos. As Edie is pulled along by forces that she tries to see as positive, so we are pulled in her wake. Her inability to sleep brings a dreamlike quality to the emerging horror, turning to hallucinogenic nightmare as that horror finally bursts out from the epicentre of the stones to engulf all who are standing in its range. Just try and keep up as the end approaches: your hands will be turning the pages at speed, I can guarantee.


Tom, at the launch of The Ravenglass Eye, I remember you saying that you write about the world as it hovers on the edge of disaster. Do you have any plans to write about the world after it has tipped over the edge? And how would that change the dynamics of your writing, do you think?

Yes, eventually. I’ve got ideas for stand-alones that are set in this increasingly chaotic, monstrous world, through to the point where the setting is almost post-apocalyptic – an Earth completely broken up by intrusions from a supernatural realm. The challenge I’m setting myself is to keep all this stuff in the background, and so your question is interesting – will the dynamics be different? I kind of hope not, with regards to these particular books. I’d like to maintain the focus on the personal, the domestic, the details of everyday life – not the whys and wherefores of the end-of-the-world scenario, but the way it infiltrates mundanity.


All three of the books so far are set in the same area of Cumbria. What drew you to this as a setting? And have you ever been asked to do a book-signing in Ravenglass? There’s room for some guided walks there, I’m thinking!

I set the books in West Cumbria because I know the area – we moved there when I was seven or eight, and I lived there until I was twenty-three, more or less. I know the area and love it. It’s a bleak, beautiful blend of amazing natural landscapes and post-industrial sites. I’ve never been asked to do a signing in Ravenglass – I don’t know, they probably don’t want to draw attention to my version of the place…


A writing trajectory question: what have been the significant milestones in your writing life? I’m guessing that the writing group you are in, The Northern Lines, might come in here. As something of an aside, all of you in the group have seen very positive outcomes as writers. How much of this is down to the connections you have with each other? Is that because they believe in you, you can believe in yourself? Is it a positive circle sort of thing, success knocking on to success?

Getting a short story published (‘The Big Drift’, in a Comma book called Parenthesis) was the first. That led to me being asked to contribute some short stories to an anthology called Before The Rain, published by Litfest, edited by Sarah Hymas. That was the second, because as part of that project, Litfest set each contributor up with a mentor – I asked to be paired with the novelist Nicholas Royle, and he agreed. I showed him the novel that I’d been working on, and he offered some feedback and then offered to represent me as an agent. That was the third. He sold that novel – The Leaping – to Quercus. That was the fourth. Things have been going steady since then. Recently, though, Euan Thorneycroft at the agency A.M. Heath became my agent, due to Nick being incredibly busy with his own writing, running Nightjar Press, and various other commitments, and I’d say that’s a pretty big milestone too. I’m just now embarking upon a fantasy trilogy, and I’m very excited about that. We’ll see how it goes, but I’m hoping it’ll be another milestone of sorts…

The writing group, since it started, has been a constant source of constructive criticism and encouragement. It’s fantastic, and I’d say joining it was very important, but it’s such an ongoing thing that it’s difficult to think of it as a milestone. I feel as if I’m always learning from the other members, which is great. The connections are important, yes – as is often observed, writing is quite a solitary activity, and the social aspect of something like a writing group is essential. It’s important to hear about each other’s experiences, and it’s important to know that you’re not alone in feeling like this or like that about certain aspects of the work etc. I’d say that the group is beneficial for all of us, definitely.


The short story that you read at the launch, ‘A Steak for Don’, had a distinctly comic edge. How difficult is it to blend horror and humour without descending into farce? And how important do you think it is for dark fiction to be leavened with a touch of

I think horror and humour are quite closely related. A lot of comedy is pretty horrific, really, even if that aspect of it is not drawn out. There’s a lot of violence and madness in comedy. And often the difference between comedy and horror is just a matter of perspective. What is funny to observe can often be horrific to endure. There’s a quotation that might be apt, here – ‘Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you walk into an open sewer and die.’ Attributed to Mel Brooks, though there are several variations and I’m not sure which is most accurate.  And then there’s that kind of horror that’s so extremely gory that it ends up being ridiculous, and funny – Peter Jackson’s earlier films, for example.

The protagonist of my fourth book, The Dead Fool, is repeatedly humiliated throughout the novel, and often the details of the humiliations are both horrible and (hopefully) a little bit funny. Humiliation is awful, but it’s the meat of a lot of comedy, especially British comedy. So as I say, I think horror and humour can often go hand in hand quite naturally. As for whether it’s important for dark fiction to be leavened with a touch of humour – that’s my preference. I find it quite difficult to believe in a narrative with no humour in it.


 I’m not a big horror reader, so don’t have that much of a clue about the conventions of the genre. I spent the final quarter or so of The Ravenglass Eye wondering how on earth you were going to wrap things up. And this isn’t a problem confined to one genre: I find in my own writing that a good ending is the most elusive part. Do you have any good tips about how to approach the final stages of a novel?

Not everybody would agree with me, but my instinct is to shy away from anything resembling real resolution. I don’t like reading books in which everything is wrapped up. I like novels to just stop at a point that might, at first, seem arbitrary. That way they stay with me for longer… they’re a bit more jagged, they leave more of a mark. I feel as if the story is still going on in my head, and I return to it without meaning to. It’s difficult to talk about the ending of The Ravenglass Eye without giving too much away, but I didn’t want to write a book where anybody won. I’ve heard people talk about ‘binary endings’ which I think is a good expression – the kind of ending where x happens or y happens. The protagonist either fails or succeeds. It’s happy or it’s sad. And maybe you know from halfway through that there’s going to be a binary ending, even if you don’t know exactly what the outcome is going to be. I don’t like that kind of ending, and I try not to write them.

As for good tips – ha! – no, not really. This is very unhelpful, but I tend to just keep going until I realise that the important bit of the book is complete, and then it’s just a case of working out when to stop. And then redrafting to make sure that the prose is good. Last pages have to be very well-written, I think.


Being at home with a small boy to look after, I’m guessing you get to watch a fair amount of CBeebies. Which programmes do you like the best, and what does this say about you as a writer? And, if you had control over one programme, how would you have the story develop? (It doesn’t have to be suitable for children…)

Haha, well… my favourite programme is, without a doubt, Abney and Teal. I love the animation, the aesthetic, and I love how the characters are always going on adventures, and I love the strange little creatures, and I love that everybody in it lives on an island in a lake in a city park, and they’re surrounded by rubbish. What it says about me as a writer… I don’t know, something about looking for the magical in the mundane. Something about wanting to believe in friendly, other-worldly beings living right in our midst. Something about finding joy in living, and not in possessions.

If I had control over one programme, it would be In The Night Garden. I wouldn’t change Abney and Teal – it’s perfect – but I’d go to town on Night Garden. It does my head in. I can’t follow any one episode. I watch the beginning, and then twenty minutes pass, and I don’t know what’s happened. I feel as if every episode is identical, but I know they’re not. And I always find myself thinking about the physiology of the Garden inhabitants. That’s where I’d go with it. There’s only one Macca Pacca, for instance, so… how does reproduction work? He’s kind of egg-shaped so maybe he’s about to lay a giant egg. It’s so big that he’ll die in the process. From the egg hatches another Macca Pacca, already heavy with the next egg. And what about the Pontypines? I can’t help but think that under their coats, they’re all insectile. Just lots of little chitinous arms. I don’t know. I don’t want to think about it in this way, but I can’t help it. It’s hallucinatory. It’s a dream that you want to get out of before it turns bad.


You can find Tom at his website, The Endist. And I don’t know if I really want to tell you this because it’ll cut down on my chances of winning, but he sometimes runs competitions with his books as prizes…

If you don’t want to leave it to the turns of fortune, you can buy The Ravenglass Eye right here.

And follow on Twitter @T_A_Fletcher




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