Spotlight on Horror Writer J. H. Moncrieff
I met J.H. Moncrieff at the Surrey International Writers Conference in Surrey, B.C. Two things struck me about her almost immediately: her attitude about writing…and her attitude about life! She’s a writer and a fighter (more than you might even know—read on!), and she’s the focus of today’s spotlight interview:
Welcome to www.fighttowrite.com, J.H. You’re definitely a writer and a fighter. Did the environment you grew up in make you a tougher person? Does it influence your writing?
I don’t want to bash my childhood, so let’s just say I wasn’t exactly encouraged to succeed when I was growing up, and that made me more determined to do something with my life. I was always the kid that spoke up when I saw injustice of any kind, which probably made things rougher for me in a lot of ways, but at least I know I wasn’t a silent bystander. I helped get abusive teachers fired; I defended my friends when bullies targeted them; and I definitely wasn’t quiet on the home front, either.
It’s not intentional, but my stories tend to take place in small communities and a lot of them feature dysfunctional families, so I’m sure my experiences have influenced what I write a great deal. I’m not writing about my own life or my own town, but some of the details and emotions are familiar.
You lived through some harsh conditions in your early years, but you also found yourself in a tough situation or two in your years as a journalist. Can you tell us about a memorable incident or two?
There are a few I’ll never forget. We used to have a serial arsonist in the city, but no one was doing much about him since he was targeting poor neighbourhoods. The families in the area would take turns staying awake all night so their houses didn’t burn down. None of the media had noticed the pattern, because fires are only reported when they’re above a certain dollar value, and these were derelict or abandoned houses in a lot of cases. Once I dug a bit deeper, I discovered the houses were booby-trapped for the firefighters. One man had broken his leg when he fell through a hole in a floor, so the fire department was reluctant to enter any of the houses. I had to convince my editor to run with the story, which ended up on the front page. In response, the police formed a task force and eventually caught the arsonist.
Other tough cases were mothers who had lost their children. One young mom was estranged from her abusive boyfriend, who came to her house when she was at work. He tied up the babysitter and stole his ex-girlfriend’s toddler. In an unbelievable act of cruelty, he left the baby in the back of a van during the night. The child froze to death. It was heartbreaking. I was also sent to interview a mother whose daughter had just died from anorexia. Sometimes all you can do is cry along with them.
You wrote so many nonfiction articles—what finally led you to fiction in general, and to horror fiction, more specifically?
Non-fiction was supposed to support me while I tried to get my novels published…I never expected it to take over my life as much as it has. My first scary story was published when I was in Grade Four, but I really got into writing horror when a high school English teacher I admired told me he hated what he called “Disney” endings. Easiest way to avoid them? Write horror.
Now, you have a reputation as a fighter—a muay thai kickboxer, nonetheless. What made you decide to take up that sport? Which would you say requires more discipline—fighting or writing?
I’d wanted to be boxer since I watched Rocky III as a kid, but unfortunately, there were no training opportunities in my small Northern community. I’d heard about kickboxing and thought it sounded like the coolest martial art ever, but by the time I moved to a place that had muay thai dojos, an abusive ex had broken my spine. I thought muay thai was out of the question, but my chiropractor just happened to be the official chiropractor for the best muay thai club in the city. He not only thought I could handle the training—he thought it would be great for my back, and he actively encouraged me to try it. I’m so glad I listened to him!
Both fighting and writing take a lot of discipline, but I’d have to say fighting takes more. When you’re training to fight, you’re hurting, you’re exhausted, you can barely move, but you can’t stop. Writers may face rejection, but they’re not getting punched in the face or having their legs kicked out from under them.
And if you had a single piece of advice to give beginning writers, what would that be?
Get a menial job that will pay the bills without draining your creativity. Submit your work as much as you can. Never undertake exhaustive rewrites for an agent unless there’s a publishing contract on the table. And never, ever give up.
You also have a tragic personal story that influenced you greatly. Can you share a bit of that with us, and let us know about the impact it had on you and your life decisions after that?
There have been a few, but I assume you’re talking about the ex who broke my back. When you’re a teenager, especially a teenage girl, you don’t always recognize psychopaths for what they are. Sometimes their obsessive behaviour seems romantic, or endearing: “Oh, how sweet…he doesn’t want me to go anywhere without him. He must need me.”
I’d broken up with this boy the night he tried to kill me. He saw me with another boy, a friend, and followed us in his mother’s car. Even though we had a bigger, newer vehicle, we couldn’t get away from him because the streets were icy. At first I thought my ex wanted us to stop so he could fight my male friend, but then he slammed his mom’s car into my friend’s truck. He hit us seven times before we were able to flag down the police. I’d known he was disturbed before that, but I didn’t have any idea how much.
That attack will affect me for the rest of my life. I have chronic migraines, as well as neck and shoulder pain, but they’re nowhere near as bad as they used to be before I took up muay thai. I hope I’m better able to recognize toxic people, but I’d never say I can’t be fooled. People like my ex are very good at playing a role that hides their true nature.
So that’s a bit of the past…can you let us know about the future? You have some works coming out this year—a short story and a novel, is that right?
My novella The Bear Who Wouldn’t Leave was picked up by Samhain Horror and will be released this May. Pre-orders are already available on Amazon and Kobo. I’m really excited about it!
Current works in progress? Can you give us a few hints about what you’re working on at the moment?
I’m working on a new twist on the sea-monster myth, and a series of horror novels set in ancient Egypt.
As a final question, what is something I haven’t asked about that you would like to mention? Any final words or anecdotes for us?
Along with journalism, I’m an editor and publicist for hire. I work with a lot of authors, and recently celebrated a big success with one of my clients—that was pretty awesome! More information about the services I offer can be found on my website. I also blog about unsolved mysteries, the supernatural, and haunted travel on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
Thanks for having me on Fight to Write!
Keep in touch:
The best way to keep up with me is through my website, www.jhmoncrieff.com. You can get a free e-book by signing up for my newsletter, and email me through the website or follow me on Facebook and Twitter.
Trailer for The Bear Who Wouldn’t Leave: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fl7CvUvqHdM
Samhain Horror Page: https://www.samhainpublishing.com/book/5421/the-bear-who-wouldnt-leave