What if it was accepted that there really were ghosts? That mediums could actually talk to the dead. That your dearly departed continued to exist on a spiritual plane and that at certain places, or in certain people they could manifest?
Susan is living in a fog of grief after the death of her fiancé. When she is given a dossier that promises answers as to why he died she starts to investigate.
Susan is about to discover that the city is sick and things are much weirder than she ever imagined.
All she wanted to do was talk to him and ask him why.
Sick City Syndrome is Peter Sutton's debut novel. It is a tense, psychological, horror, that will make you look at your world in a different way.
Sometimes sickness is built in.
KG: Sick City Syndrome is a very interesting title for a book. Without giving away spoilers what's it about?
PS: It’s about grief and forgiveness. It’s about how we interact with our environment. It’s about stories, the ones we tell ourselves and the ones that make the world.
KG: Samuel Johnson once said: "If one grows tired of living in London one grows tired of life" or words to that effect. What Cities make you sick and tired?
PS : Paris – yeah, I know, the City of Lights is picked as a lot of people’s favourite city but in the last ten years or so I’ve been there numerous times per year for work and the traffic, sweating it up on the metro in a suit, late nights and early morning and working on the outskirts with no time to visit the more touristy areas have meant that I associate Paris with not having a good time! When I work over there for extended periods I try and make it to Shakespeare & Co though, which is a little oasis.
KG: What's the best city in the world and why?
PS : I live in Bristol – I grew up in Birkenhead, I’ve lived in Oxford and Basingstoke (is that even a city?) and spent a lot of time in Edinburgh over the years – for me, personally, Bristol is great. It’s big enough to be cosmopolitan, it’s small enough to feel like a collection of villages, there is brilliant countryside surrounding it and the art scene is amazing. But is it the best city in the world? I don’t know – but it’s the best city I’ve lived in.
KG: You've lots of short stories. This is your first novel, how much planning and writing did it take?
PS : This is actually the second novel I’ve written, but first to be published. The first I wrote was really an experiment in teaching myself how to write a novel. This book started out as two different short stories (neither published, maybe not even publishable). The second was the basic premise – what if everyone thought ghosts really existed. The first was all about the Number One Residents and was mostly exposition/worldbuilding – so a story world waiting for a story. I’m not big on planning – I’ll write a journal for a book, and it’ll mostly be bullet points, character sketches and important plot connectors. For example one note I have is – “Two authors both trying to write the longest book in English” – a random snippet, that did eventually make its way into the book. But as for proper planning? How many chapters there will be, what the scenes are? That all comes out of the second draft. Terry Pratchett said that first drafts were you writing the story for yourself – and I agree, that’s generally how it works for me.
It was written in a pretty short time – I had around 20,000 words that I’d previously written and put aside for other projects when I signed the contract. I then had to deliver a draft in pretty short order (4 months) so I knuckled down and tried to hit a daily word count. I completely rewrote the first 20k too. One character changed gender, another disappeared altogether. I outsourced some of the worldbuilding. But it came together with a minimum of blood, sweat and tears luckily. I didn’t run into any major blocks and my beta readers and editor, Amanda Horan, did a great job in telling me what worked and what didn’t.
KG: I'd describe Sick City Syndrome as a psychological horror, is that your favourite kind? Will you write more novels in that style?
PS : Stephen King once said that there are three types of horror – fear, horror and gross out. I very much try and get into the second, to be genuinely creepy rather than any sudden scare, which never works twice I feel and although there are moments in Sick City that are gross-out that’s a very minor note for me generally. I write the kind of stuff I like to read, I like the weird and undoubtedly will write more in that vein.
KG: The cover is very striking and almost seems psychologically disturbing. Do you feel a cover has to link with the book in such a way, and what is the significance of the magpie on the cover?
PS : I’m really happy with how my covers have turned out so far, and this one is great – exactly the sort of thing I had in mind. People who say never judge a book by its cover are wrong I think, the cover is really important. It’s like food, the first bite is with the eye. My short story collection is called A Tiding of Magpies and I find that the feathered kind sneak into many of my stories, and this is no exception.
KG: What do you want people to get out of your book, feelings, emotions?
PS : Well first and foremost I hope people will get some enjoyment from it! I don’t feel it’s a laugh out loud book, but hopefully the amusing parts will make people smile and the scary parts to give people a shiver and the gross out parts to be felt viscerally.
KG: What are your writing plans for the near future?
PS : At the moment I’m working on a non-fiction piece for The Body Horror Book coming from Oscillate Wildly Press. I’m also working on a short story for their first anthology. I’m working on another short story for an anthology of spooky train-themed stories called Between the Tracks and working on the second North Bristol Writers (the writing group I’m a member of) second anthology – The Dark Half of the Year. I’m also working on anthology in the memory of Bristol writer David J Rodger who took his own life this year. I’ve got contract to deliver a novel for Kristell Ink (which will be historical fiction) and have been working on and off on a novella (since they seem to be trendy at the moment). So it’s a busy old time. I have ideas for several novels too and will be starting on the next in line very shortly – am in the doodling ideas stage but that journal is starting to fill up with bullet points and character sketches for it…