Shadows on the Wall contains the very best of Paulsen’s dark and weird tales, plus stunning new fiction written expressly for this volume.
Glimpse a future where population controls force families into terrible choices. Visit Colonial British India and experience the awakening of an eldritch horror. Walk the steaming jungles of Vietnam alongside the spirits of the forest. Light an ancient oil lamp but beware, the shadows on the wall. Steven Paulsen’s stories have appeared in award-winning anthologies, and have been published around the world. Cover art and frontispiece by Acadamy-award winning artist, Shaun Tan.
The spotlight is on Steven
When did you know you wanted to be an author?
In my head, I have always been a writer. I wrote and illustrated my own homemade “books” as a child and gave them to friends and family. I wrote at secondary school, of course, but unlike most of the kids I went to school with I enjoyed doing it. I went to a Technical School designed to prepare boys to either take up a trade or go on to study practical things like mechanical or construction engineering. No one was more surprised than me when I topped the school in English. I began writing seriously in 1979 while travelling from Kathmandu to London. There were long distances of open road, particularly crossing desert landscapes, so I passed the time by reading and writing. I kept a journal of the trip, but I also wrote my first short stories. They were derivative and clichéd, but it was a start.
What is your favourite thing about being an author?
I love making up and telling stories. I always have. But the real buzz is when something I have written entertains someone. That’s my favourite thing.
Have you been inspired by other writers if so who?
I get inspired every time I read a good book or story. I admire the work of J.G. Ballard, Philip K. Dick, Connie Willis, Brian Aldiss, Margaret Atwood, Ursula K. Le Guin, Joe R. Lansdale, Stephen King, Peter Temple, Isobelle Carmody, Garry Disher, William Gibson, Lois McMaster Bujold, Kim Stanley Robinson, Kij Johnson, and Gene Wolfe. I know that’s a long list, but I had trouble even drawing the line there.
What is your favourite book by another author?
Gene Wolfe’s The Book of the New Sun (it’s four books, really). But if you ask me tomorrow I’ll probably name a different book.
Do you have a set number of words to achieve in a day or are you flexible?
I am flexible. I write whenever I can carve out some time and I get as many words down as possible. I tend to be a slow writer, so some days it might only be 100 words but I once managed to write almost 5000 words in a single day.
Have you experienced writers block and if so how did you overcome it?
Yes, I have experienced writers block. Writing just kind of slipped away for a while. So, I let it go and did other things until I felt ready again. Maybe I should have tried to force it, to make myself write, but I’m not sure that works anyway.
If you could meet one author, alive or dead who would it be?
I’ve been lucky to have met a lot of writers I admire, and I hope to meet more yet. If I focus on writers who lived before my time, I could easily say Shakespeare, but that might sound a bit glib. Hemingway comes to mind too. And Arthur Conan Doyle. But I’m going to say Mary Shelley.
Do you prepare an outline or do you write as you go?
For many years, I was what is called a “discovery” writer or “pantser” rather than a “planner”. That means instead of having a plan or outline, I would start writing based on a character or setting or “what if” idea and see where it led me. Using this method, I wrote some successful stories but I abandoned more manuscripts than I finished. So, these days, I do a bit more planning. I like to have a rough outline in mind before I start, and an idea of how the story will end. Then, when I have finished the first draft, I look at the structure to see how the story holds up.
Do you carry a notebook to jot down ideas?
Nowadays, I tend to jot notes on my phone. I’ve never really carried a notebook, but I probably should have because I’m notorious for scribbling ideas on whatever comes to hand; be it the back of an envelope, the power bill, or a supermarket docket.
Do you listen to music while writing and does it inspire you?
I love music and I certainly get inspiration from it, but I don’t play it while I’m writing. I like to have a quiet space to write without distractions.
What is your favourite movie that was based on a book?
The Godfather, based on the novel of the same name by Mario Puzo. Although The Silence of the Lambs is by Thomas Harris is a close second.
Favourite movies based on shorter works, would probably be Stand by Me, or The Shawshank Redemption. Both are based on novellas by Stephen King, The Body and Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption.
Rating: 3.5 stars.
Shadows on the wall is an anthology style short-story book, covering a variety of creepy horror. The stories are nicely broken up by short poems or quotes that are relevant to the story, which I found to be a very thought provoking touch. As someone who finds short stories fitting for my busy and on-the-go lifestyle, it was an easy read which was still very much able to keep me hooked and on my toes.
The beginning story, Ma Rung, is set during the Vietnam War (1955-1975) in a thick and swampy forest. I sort of felt disconnected to this story at the start as I’m in my late teens and a very anti-war sort of person, however I sat up in my seat when the meaning of ‘Ma Rung’ was explained. Spirit of the Forest. This very much piqued my interests, and as the story went on it just got better and better and then it got grittier. Towards the end of this story our character is found in a difficult situation and the description of this unfortunate happening is so well written that I found myself holding my breath until the end of Ma Rung (fortunately for me it wasn’t too long until I could breathe again) and the ending left me with a hollow feeling.
The sensation’s that I experienced while reading Ma Rung followed me throughout the rest of the book with every roller-coaster of suspense, surprise, shock and thrill that came with the stories.
Steven Paulsen’s writing style left me with goosebumps on my skin, leaving an open ended ending to his stories which leaves the imagination to run wild.
Reviewed by Megan