Robert Shearman has worked as a writer for television, radio and the stage. He was appointed resident dramatist at the Northcott Theatre in Exeter and has received several international awards for his theatrical work, including the Sunday Times Playwriting Award and the Guinness Award for Ingenuity, in association with the Royal National Theatre. His plays have been regularly produced by Alan Ayckbourn, and on BBC Radio by Martin Jarvis. His two series of The Chain Gang, his short story and interactive drama series for the BBC, both won the Sony Award.
However, he is probably best known as a writer for Doctor Who, reintroducing the Daleks for its BAFTA-winning first series, in an episode nominated for a Hugo Award.
His collections of short stories are Tiny Deaths, Love Songs for the Shy and Cynical, and Everyone’s Just So So Special. Collectively they have won the World Fantasy Award, the British Fantasy Award, the Edge Hill Short Story Readers Prize, and the Shirley Jackson Award, celebrating “outstanding achievement in the literature of psychological suspense, horror, and the dark fantastic.”
Several stories in this collection have been compiled in annual anthologies as diverse as Best New Horror and Best British Short Stories. Damned if You Don’t was shortlisted for a World Fantasy Award; Roadkill, Alice Through the Plastic Sheet, and George Clooney’s Moustache all for the British Fantasy Award. Robert has also been nominated for the Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Award, the most highly prized award for the form in the world.
Charles Tan: Hi Robert! Thanks for agreeing to do the interview. First off, in the introduction, Stephen Jones says you don’t write horror or genre. How would you describe your writing?
Robert Shearman: Thanks for having me!
Oh, I think Steve very much thinks all I write are genre stories – I just never quite saw them that way myself, and it’s caused some very mocking conversations in the pub! (He mocks me, naturally. I daren’t mock Steve. He’s so steeped in the traditions of horror, that mocking him would be terrifying!)
I think I’ve came to horror rather late, really! I could never watch horror movies as a kid, or even a young adult – I recoil from gore, and the slightest suggestion of Satan-spawned children from The Omen from schoolfriends was enough to give me nightmares. So when I became a writer, I never expected I would gravitate towards horror at all. And I’ve been a full time writer for over twenty years now, but I began in the theatre, writing comedies for the stage. Looking back I can see that they’re pretty dark comedies, but that’s because I’ve got a creepy sense of humour! So when I moved into prose writing some years ago, I brought the same style with me, creating stories that made me chuckle within plots that were somewhat outlandish and bizarre. But it’s a funny thing – what gets laughter from an audience in the dark has a completely different effect from a reader taking your story off the page. Comedy is far more communal, and in groups we’re more inclined to be amused by situations that privately we’d find distressing or shuddersome. But when we read, we read alone – it’s a much more claustrophobic process. I still think of myself as a comedy writer, but I accept that my short stories are much more likely to result in my readers being scared than in having belly laughs – but I’d like them to picture the fact that as I’m writing the stories I’m doing so with the same broad smile on my face you’d get from someone telling you a rather sick joke.