While Thomas Wolfe declared that you can’t go home again, the main character of Andrew Michael Hurley’s new horror novel Devil’s Day (hardcover, Kindle) learns that while that’s not a steadfast rule, it is something you may want to abide by anyway. In the following email interview, Hurley explains where he got the idea for this scary story.
Photo Credit: © Jonathan Bean/Winters Pictures
To start, what is Devil’s Day about?
The novel is narrated by John Pentecost, who leaves the farming community of the Endlands at the age of eighteen and goes away to university on the other side of the country to become a teacher. When John is his thirties, his grandfather — the “Gaffer” to everyone who lives on the farms — passes away just as he and his wife, Kat, are expecting their first child. Disillusioned with his career in a boys’ school, John finds that he has a yearning to go back to the Endlands and raise a family there, to learn the old ways, to belong to a community again. But he finds that there is much he has to sacrifice if he is to be allowed back into the tribe.
Where did you get the idea for Devil’s Day and how different is the finished novel from that original idea?
The original idea came from walking on the moors around Lancashire in the north of England and thinking about how a small rural community would survive there, what kind of myths would arise from the landscape. I wanted to try and write something about the importance of storytelling as a way of bonding people together and giving them a group identity. Because the idea was somewhat vague to begin with, it took quite a number of drafts before I finally hit upon the right story and the right characters to tell it. But, in the end the finished novel did match that original thought.
In Devil’s Day, people are trying to keep sheep safe from the devil. This might be a stupid question, but is there a reason you went with sheep instead of chickens or cows or some other farm animal?
I suppose it’s partly because I wanted the moorlands to be the setting and sheep are the animals that graze there, but there’s also a wealth of symbolism in the “sheep” or the “lamb.” They can be seen as metaphors for innocence and vulnerability and therefore easily led into temptation. They are meaningful for the Pentecost family in two ways. Firstly, the sheep are the life-blood of the farm, and secondly, they represent the human struggle with the land and the elements, which — according to the folklore of the valley — the Devil can control.
Devil’s Day seems to be a horror story. Is that how you see it?
To me it’s a horror story — though the horror stems from people rather than anything supernatural — but I don’t get too hung up on labelling my work as one thing or another. I think if you start to worry about the genre in which you’re writing then it imposes limitations on what you feel you can do.
I know authors hate talking about their influences, but I was wondering if there were any writers or specific stories that were a big influence on Devil’s Day but not on your first novel, The Loney or the stories in your collections Cages And Other Stories and The Unusual Death Of Julie Christie And Other Stories?
I really like what Shirley Jackson does, in that she often presents a world which is seemingly familiar but then stretches the edges of that world to make it weird or uncanny. I think for me, it’s that sense of the strange that appeals much more than gore. I’ve said a few times that I didn’t necessarily set out to write gothic horror, which is true, but I suppose it was somewhat inevitable given that I like to read that kind of fiction.
How about non-literary influences, such as movies, TV shows, or video games; did any of those have an influence on Devil’s Day?
Not so much with Devil’s Day, but when I was writing The Loney I certainly had many of the supernatural or folk horror films of the 1960s and ’70s in my head. So, films like The Wicker Man, Rosemary’s Baby, Blood On Satan’s Claw, and so on.
Speaking of which, has any interesting in adapting Devil’s Day into a movie, show, or game?
The TV rights to Devil’s Day have been sold to Ink Factory in the UK, which I’m very excited about. It’ll be great to see how it develops.
Finally, if someone enjoys Devil’s Day what book of someone else’s would you suggest they read next?
I would suggest a great novel called Fell by Jenn Ashworth. It’s based on the myth of Baucis and Philemon and is part love story, part ghost story, but it’s also very interested in landscape and the ways in which it can evoke a sense of the uncanny.