Mathew West’s debut novel The House of Footsteps is a gothic mystery-thriller set in the 1920s in a foreboding house on the English-Scottish border, and was released in February 2022 by Harper North. Mathew lives in Edinburgh where he spends most of his time writing, listening to music, watching bad horror films and walking around graveyards.
Mathew can be contacted at:
Tell me what inspired you to write your (debut) novel?
I’d been reading a lot of classic, gothic-tinged novels like Jane Eyre and Rebecca, and honestly I just thought that it seemed like it would be fun to try to write something in a similar style. I liked the idea of combining all of that brooding, simmering melodrama with more modern reference points, like my love of horror movies. I was a bit obsessed Kate Bush and David Lynch at the time and I think that they seeped in as influences, too. I’d been trying to write for almost a year or so at that point, but nothing was really coming together until I started what would become The House of Footsteps.
How hard was it to get your first (debut) book published?
I think I’ve been very lucky, considering I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. I still don’t! I sent my original draft to a bunch of agents and received some positive feedback although no interest. I actually rewrote my first three chapters at that point, to polish them up a bit and make them more impactful. It sounds daft, but it hadn’t really occurred to me how critical those first 15000 words are in getting readers hooked. After that I was lucky enough to find an agent who was passionate about the novel right away, and from there it’s felt like a relatively smooth (but long!) process.
How long did it take to write?
It took just over a year between me starting, and having a finished draft which I was happy to send out to agents.
Do you have a writing playlist? If so do you want to share it?
I tend to find music too distracting when I write. I prefer the quiet – just the sound of the world around me. Wind and rain against the window is perfect!
Music really inspires me, though. If I’m struggling to feel motivated to write then a brisk walk with Kate Bush or Tom Waits in my headphones never fails to put me into the right frame of mind.
What kind of reactions have you had to your book?
“Unsettling”, “creepy”, “brooding”, “mysterious”… All the things I had been aiming for, but you don’t really know if it’s worked until you hear it from real, impartial readers! I think that there’s some romance and even some humour in there too, though, and I hope that comes across for people.
What’s the favourite reaction you’ve had to your book?
My sister-in-law told me that she’d had a nightmare after reading a draft of my second book before bed. That really pleased me.
What can you tell us about your next book?
It’s with my editor now so I’d better not say too much! It’s unconnected to The House of Footsteps, but it’s in a similar vein and if you like one then I’m sure you’ll enjoy the other. It has a slightly more exotic setting, both geographically and historically. The story goes in some directions that managed to really take me by surprise while I was writing it… And I’d better leave it at that!
Do you take notice of online reviews?
I try not to. That way madness lies. It’s difficult to avoid seeing star ratings from time to time, but I’m fairly certain that if I ever looked at a review directly then I’d explode into a shower of dust, like a vampire in sunlight.
Would you ever consider writing outside your current genre?
Definitely. I suppose that what I’m writing now falls broadly into the horror genre, because that’s what I get a kick out of. But I never set out to be a ‘horror author’, and I’d love to give something different a try.
What is your biggest motivator?
A desperate need to feel relevant.
How much (if any) say do you have in your book covers?
None, which is probably for the best! I love the cover of The House of Footsteps, though. It’s like the artist had crawled into my head and somehow drawn the cover I’d been imagining all along, without knowing it myself.
Were you a big reader as a child?
I wouldn’t say “big”, but as long as I can remember I’ve always had a book on the go. I’ve never been a particularly fast or voracious reader, but I can’t stand having nothing on hand to dip into.
Do you have a favourite bookshop? If so, which?
Living in Edinburgh I’m spoiled for choice! Blackwell’s is nearest to me, so that’s where I make most of my purchases. Toppings is lovely, as is The Edinburgh Bookshop out in Morningside. They’re all so friendly, even when I’m bothering them to sign copies of my book.
How many books are in your own physical TBR pile?
Only six and a half, which isn’t too bad. The half is The Mirror And The Light by Hilary Mantel, which I may or may not get around to finishing one of these days…
What is your current or latest read?
I’m currently reading The Manningtree Witches by A.K. Blakemore, which is wonderful. The history feels authentic, without getting in the way of the plot or characters.
and finally, what inspired you to write the genre you do?
I love scary things, even though I’m a bit of a coward and quite squeamish! I think I’m fascinated by the mechanics of what makes something scary – so often it’s the things which are only glimpsed or hinted at which are most frightening of all. And you have to feel invested in the characters and the mystery, otherwise the scares don’t really work. I love it when I’m writing and something unexpected pops onto the page that makes my own skin crawl. That’s when I know I’m onto something good.