Interview: Paul Magrs, Hell’s Belles (Headline Review)

hells bells

I’m so excited that Paul Magrs agreed to do an interview on Hell’s Belles and his Brenda and Effie series and without further ado here is is:

Hi Paul,

Thanks for agreeing to answer a few questions on NextRead.

Firstly, I have to say that I’ve really enjoyed the series so far and after the ending of Conjugal Rites. I’m nervous, curious and excited about Hell’s Belles, so thank you for agree to answer a few questions on Brenda and Effie and on their latest adventure.

Gav: Brenda and Effie have three earlier adventures, Never the Bride, Something Borrowed and Conjugal Rites, and now Hell’s Belles. Could you tell us a bit about Brenda and Effie and what they’ve been getting up to?

Paul: Brenda and Effie are best friends, though sometimes it might not seem that way. Brenda runs a B+B and Effie has an antiques emporium and they live side by side in the spooky coastal town of Whitby. Together they have a habit of being drawn into supernatural mysteries. There is a gateway into hell sited at the ruins of old Whitby Abbey, high atop the town, and it is a kind of nexus point for the weird and the wonderful, the magical and the monstrous.

Brenda and Effie have done battle with vampires and zombie women and beings from the dawn of time. And even an alien god bent on chaos and come to the earth in the form of wickerwork garden furniture. And now, in ‘Hell’s Belles’ they face fear in the form of film starlet Karla Sorenson, star of the famously-cursed cult movie, ‘Get Thee Inside Me, Satan.’ Wherever Karla goes, death, disaster and demonic possession are never far behind.

Gav: Though If after reading this interview someone wants to just pick up Hell’s Belles should they?

Paul: Oh yes – any of the books are a starting point. In the new book we begin from a completely new point of view and see the town and our cast of characters from a fresh pair of eyes. These belong to Goth girl Penny, not quite thirty, and newly arrived

in town, on the run from a boring husband and looking for adventure. She finds a new life at the hotel Miramar, where her new boss Robert introduces her to his friends Brenda and Effie and immediately they are drawn together into a bizarre series of events…

Gav: Brenda and Effie should, by rights, be enjoying a relaxing retirement but somehow they get caught up in all these adventures. Are they the sort of people to have a quiet life?

They would like to say so. Brenda went to Whitby looking for exactly that, after a long life of all kinds of escapades. But something always draws them into the excitement. There are always fiends and enemies to do battle with. Mrs Claus, the awful owner of the Christmas Hotel, for example, is always brewing up new and heinous schemes…

Gav: Whitby is seen I guess as a holiday town, if Brenda & Effie took a holiday, where would they go and would they have a relaxing time?

Paul: They’re dreaming of going to Paris and Venice and, hopefully we’ll catch up with their adventures on the continent before long. However, a relaxing time just isn’t on the cards as those two ancient, venerable cities have monsters of their own, lurking in the shadows. And these are bound to be drawn out by the scintillating presence of our curious ladies.

Gav:Without giving too much away, you’re reinventing some well classic and cult characters. Are there other characters you’d like to bring into the series?

Paul: Oh, there are lots. I’ve got several of them ready and waiting up my voluminous sleeves. A certain Baker Street detective better watch out: Brenda might well be paying a call.

Gav: Brenda and Effie don’t always see eye to eye and a lot of their relationship is built on the fact that they stand up to each other. Wouldn’t it be nicer for them just to get along and agree with each other?

But they do like a good bicker. They’re quite blunt with each other at times, I suppose. But they think the world of each other really. Something is coming up through – something quite shocking – and it really is going to test the limits of their friendship.

Gav: You commented on my review of Conjugal Rites, saying:

“I really like what he says about the way I don’t press the ‘reset’ button with each book. My characters have to live in the wake of decisions made… to me it’s a properly ongoing story, with repercussions and consequences.”

It’s a big theme in each of the 3 books that I’ve read so far. Part of me wants you to be easier on yourself and give yourself the opportunity of getting out of the choices that Brenda and Effie have made. And the other part of me wants to see what you’re going to bring back next. Why not just reset everything? Why do you see it as a copout?

Paul: I don’t see that as a cop-out necessarily, and maybe it would be nice to have ‘stand-alone adventures’. But then there would be no sense of progression and cumulative drama. I like the fact that we are watching these characters changing and developing over time. I think it’s important, too – when all the fantasy and magic is completely outrageous – that there is a core to the characters that is completely realistic. I completely believe in this set of characters and their changing lives.

Gav: Is there anything about writing Hell’s Belles that you surprised you? Or do Effie and Brenda pretty much behave themselves?

Paul: Something outrageous happens that quite surprised me when I realized it was going to happen. They are investigating the old movies made by vampire starlet Karla Sorenson during the golden age of British horror movies. They make some snacks and sit up till late watching these old films on dvd. And then something amazing happens. In terms of stories about spooky TV it makes ‘The Ring’ look like ‘Falcon Crest.’

Gav: I’m also really impressed to see how Robert has grown over the books. Did you think that he’d grow so much from one book to the next?

Paul: That was planned, too, I guess, and I’m pleased that he’s become such an independent character in his own right. I’m also pleased that people seem to like him so much. He’s brave but a bit scatty.

Gav: Speaking of growing, is there going to be another one? Can you tell us anything about it?

I’ve just delivered the new manuscript. All I can say is that I think it’s the best yet. People will love it!

Gav: And if someone has torn through the Brenda and Effie Mysteries, like I have, what should they read next of yours do you think?

Paul: What next..? Hmm. Maybe ‘Hands Up!’, which is a macabre kids’ book about the showbiz world of demented puppets and a long-eared bat puppet called Tolstoy who possesses his puppeteer and turns puppet serial killer. Or, more sedately – there’s ‘Exchange’, which is about a secondhand bookshop and a woman and her grandson who are drawn to visit there every Saturday, searching for the perfect novel to escape into.

I’ve also just recently published five volumes of a Doctor Who audiobook series starring Tom Baker, called ‘Hornets’ Nest.’ It’s a proper ghostly series of winter’s tales that brings back to life the very best Doctor there ever was.

My short fiction collection, ‘Twelve Stories’ has also just been published, by Salt books. That gives a good idea of the kinds of things I get up to. Included in the twelve pieces is the original short story, from 1998, in which Brenda – or Bessie as she was called at that time – first arrived in Whitby.

Gav: Finally, are there anybody else’s spooky stories that you really enjoy?

Paul: Lots of people’s. But my favourites might well be Mary Danby’s or Rosemary Timperley’s. Both women’s stories appeared in the Pan Books of Horror and the Fontana Books of Horror back in the sixties and seventies. You can’t seem to get their stuff anywhere now. But they wrote wonderful, nerve-shreddingly scary and disturbing fiction that deserves to be reprinted by someone now.

I’d like to thank Paul for a brilliant interview and look for a review and competition to win a copy of Hell’s Belles very soon.

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