Interview: Maynard Sims on Malignant Ghosts and More

To celebrate the publication of seven eBooks by Maynard Sims (pen name of the writing team Len Maynard and Mick Sims), and the serialization of their new novelette “Malignant Ghosts” (free to read here at Cemetery Dance Online), we asked the authors a few questions about their books.

(Interview conducted by Norman Prentiss)

CEMETERY DANCE: How does your story “Malignant Ghosts” relate to your novel, Stillwater?

MAYNARD SIMS: Stillwater, the novel, is a ghost story. It tells the story of Beth, a young woman wheelchair-bound after a car crash. She rents a house, Stillwater (named after the mysterious lake that lies adjacent to the house), to write her next book, and finds it (and the lake) haunted by ghosts, especially that of a young and troubled girl.

The incidents that besiege her, and that infect the house, build to a climax that leave her traumatised, and yet determined not to be the next victim of Stillwater.

The story, and the characters, felt ripe for a re-visit, as if they still had a voice that needed to be heard, and that is where “Malignant Ghosts” comes in. A novelette that features the same characters, and brings their story up to date. Beth’s wedding, her attempts to regain the use of her legs, her efforts to cleanse Stillwater.

And yet, like mist over the still waters of the lake, the ghosts and their legacy drag Beth, and those close to her, nearer to their doom. “Malignant Ghosts” takes up the story of Stillwater and gives it a conclusion that might possibly be the final chapter for Beth.

Explain the concept of your Department 18 novels.

Watching the UK TV series Spooks was where the idea first reared its head. We loved the idea of having a fairly self-contained group of people, heading off to tackle these supernatural threats, much in the same way that MI5 (UK secret service) dealt with spies and terrorists.

It was originally called Department 13, but researching on the Internet we think we found about three Department 13’s. We couldn’t find another Department 18, although we think a couple of other Departments have surfaced on line since the first Department 18 book.

We always saw it as a series. There was a challenge and a delight in having an ever-revolving and evolving cast of characters, with so many back stories to tell. We like to think all our fiction has always been character-based. Department 18 gives us great scope to write about these people’s lives. For us, that’s the part of the books we love. Harry Bailey, Robert Carter, Jane Talbot and the others have become family now and we are both very happy spending time with them.

The idea has developed and grown with each book. The team is a secret government unit that operates beneath the radar and deals with the supernatural and paranormal and the threats they bring to society.

We have created quite a history which can been seen  — together with some Top Secret cases — at our website.

The books themselves can all be read as standalone stories.

The Eighth Witch: Robert Carter is on vacation. He should have known better. Evil never takes a holiday. Four hundred years ago six of the seven Yardley sisters — all witches — were hunted down and killed. The seventh lived long enough to give birth to a daughter. Now, centuries later, that daughter has resurfaced in the town of Ravensbridge, more powerful than her mother or aunts ever were. She has honed her powers, can change shape at will, and has only one ambition — to bring her family back from the dead to seek vengeance against the descendants of all who slaughtered them. Ravensbridge once lived in fear of the seven Yardley sisters, but they have yet to experience the terror of…the Eighth Witch.

A Plague Of EchoesIn London, Department 18 Chief, Simon Crozier, is brutally stabbed and left for dead. Billionaire businessman Pieter Schroeder has laid his first card in a deadly, high-stakes game, a battle that will pit Department 18 against evils both ancient and modern. As the secret past of Department 18 comes back to haunt the present day, the team’s future — and Crozier’s life -=- hang in the balance when they confront an enemy who is powerful, malevolent…and perhaps immortal.

Mother Of Demons: The hunt is on! Alice Logan has gone missing, and Harry Bailey and Department 18 have been called to help find her. The main suspect is Anton Markos, a satanic cult leader who has a predilection for young women like Alice. Members of Markos’s cult start turning up dead — shredded by what seems to be a wild animal. Is there a madman within the cult? Or is it something far more horrible? Can Department 18 discover the impossible truth and end the spree of murder, insanity and carnage? Or will they become the prey?

How do you approach series novels differently from standalone stories? 

The main difference between a series of books and standalones are the regular characters (although several do get killed off during the series) and the story arcs. We like to think of it as a movie (standalone — although often with many sequels of course) vs. a TV series where the story unfolds over several episodes (and often seasons).

We approached Department 18 thinking it would make a good series, and so it has proven. With the four standalone books the story seemed to us to be wholly satisfactorily contained within the one novel. Although, as shown above, with some, such as Stillwater, they cry out for more.

Stillwater is the ghost story described above.

Nightmare City:  Three brothers. One rare and terrifying ability: they can control people’s minds. Robert considers it a gift — he’s used the power to set off on a successful career. For Peter, it’s been a curse. He couldn’t adjust and turned to drugs, a broken man. And Gabriel… he took yet another path. He sees the full potential. He embraces the evil. As he travels the globe, no one in his path is safe. He’s about to unleash his ultimate plan, but first he needs to destroy the only ones who might stand in his way. His brothers.

Nightmare City is a sprawling road trip of a novel that takes in various US locations. It’s a horror story about a psychic demon and was great fun to write.

Stronghold: Safe Haven is about to become a slaughterhouse! Welcome to Safe Haven, a brand new luxury complex built on a remote island off the California coast. Fully automated, with the latest in high-tech security, Safe Haven is the perfect refuge for people who can afford to live a better life, free from the crime and dangers of the modern world. But can the complex protect its residents from the far worse dangers of a forgotten world? Ancient creatures have awoken from their long hibernation, hungry and driven by bloodlust. And the tenants of Safe Haven are the perfect prey.

Stronghold is a creature feature that tells the story of people escaping the violence of the city for the safety of an island “fortress” only to find centuries-old creatures have lived there before them and they don’t like being disturbed.

Convalescence is a ghost story that has a personal tale to tell. Who will protect the children? Fourteen-year-old James has seen his family wiped out by tuberculosis in the England of the 1960s. When he is sent to the country to convalesce with his Uncle Thomas it seems a welcome respite. But his uncle is strange, and clearly has a dark secret. The huge house is secretive too, with whispers and cries in the night. Gradually James meets other children, some real, some apparently ghosts, but all of whom have been hurt by the uncle. Will James be next? It’s a novella of repressed depravity, conjuring nightmares from the fears of childhood.

What are you working on now? 

The next Maynard Sims book is Tashkai Kiss, the latest Department 18 novel. It deals with ancient Japanese myths and the way ruthless people use them for their own ends. Tashkai was a small village in Japan and a thousand or so years ago the villagers discovered a unique way of stealing from any travelers or strangers who had the misfortune to pass by. The Tashkai learned how to steal any talent a person might have and to use it for themselves. A singer would lose their voice — and the villager would suddenly become an accomplished vocalist. The Tashkai would have stolen your talent, and you would be without it forever. Buddha had enough of them and decided to punish the entire village — turning them into hideous creatures. One of the creatures managed to mate with a woman, a human. The children that were born were part human, part Tashkai. The Kiss is the method they use to extract the talent or power from the unsuspecting human.

Len is preparing six crime novels in the Jack Callum series for 2019. Three were published last year but he has revised them back to the original versions and written three more. The series has been well received, being set in the 1950s and moving into the early ’60s.

On our website are some free ghost stories that give readers an idea of our shorter form of writing.  These are the prelude to some new ghost stories being written by Mick and which should come out in 2019.

Finally another Department 18 novel is itching to be told and so…

Maynard Sims is the pen name of lifelong friends Len Maynard and Mick Sims, who met in 1964 at the age of eleven, and have been writing together since 1972. Their bibliography includes numerous novels, novellas, screenplays and short stories. They worked as editors on the nine volumes of Darkness Risinganthologies, ran Enigmatic Press in the UK, and continue to edit a variety of projects.

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