Monday 5 July 2021

Arkham Horror: The Devourer Below - Charlotte Llewelyn-Wells Interview


After reading through the latest Arkham Horror release from Aconyte books, The Devourer Below, I sat down for a chat with Charlotte Llewelyn-Wells, the editor of the short story collection. My review for the book can be found here.

For those who might not be in the know as to how such things work, how do you go about putting together an anthology such as this as the editor?

So once we’ve decided to do an anthology, I usually start by thinking if there’s any particular theme or scenario that we want to focus on or tie-in to. It’s also something I’ll discuss with Marc (our publisher), my fellow editor Gwen, and the studio in case anyone has suggestions – it’s often a collaborative start. Having that end goal for the anthology in mind helps me think about what sort of stories we might be looking for, and then I can explain what I want and need to the authors! 

I’ll usually then reach out to authors, and if they’re interested then I ask them to pitch. I’ll give them some guidelines to work within, some reference material and some potential characters or subjects they might like to include, and see what they come up with! Once we have pitches, then we check them with the team at FFG, just to make sure everything fits within the lore, then the authors get writing. 

Once they’ve drafted their stories, I edit them and the authors make any changes, we get them approved, and then I sit down with a notebook and put them in order! That’s always a fun challenge because it’s like putting together a puzzle without knowing what the finished item should look like – it’s a bit gut-instinctive but I’ll consider characters, story tone, length and then construct the finished document. Then it goes off for copy-edits and a proof read.

It’s quite a long process, but it’s a fun one! 

Is it difficult to put together an anthology such as this, where you’re having to work with several different writers?

The only thing difficult is sometimes the deadlines sneak up on you, but I love working with all the different authors for an anthology. Everyone has their own writing style and interests, and they all bring something unique to the table. I love that I can give them all the same list of characters/themes to choose from and they’ll all come up with something different! And everyone is very amenable if we need to make changes. 

Anthologies are seen as a popular way of trying out new authors or properties without committing to a full novel, do you think they’re a benefit for franchises like Arkham Horror, where people might not have tried any of the fiction before?

I do! I think anthologies are a great way for readers to try out both new authors and new worlds, because they give you such a great overview and a chance to get a feel for the characters and the universe. They’re a great way to dip your toe in and try something new, and if you don’t like it then at least you tried! But if you do like it then you have a whole new world to explore (in games and fiction) and some new authors to try. Your TBR pile, and your wallet, might not thank you, but you’ll have a great time and lots more cool books to read. 

Arkham Horror Deck Building Game

Did the pandemic and the change to work practices make it more difficult than usual to put together a book like this?

I’ve been working at home since March 2020, so I’m fairly used to working remotely at this point. But luckily the Aconyte team is always around if I need to ask them something and working at home means they don’t have to listen to me excitedly chatter non-stop about all the cool stories I’m working on! I’m sure when we’re in the office they get very bored of me ruining all the books before they’ve read them. 

Our authors have always been based all over the world, so I’m getting pretty good at time zones. And having authors from across the globe means they bring their own experiences and perspectives to the table. 

One thing that has changed is that people can’t always get out to local game stores or board game cafes to play games or test them out, so we make sure to provide lots of material if they need a hand. I always try and be flexible and work with my authors to make sure the process is as smooth for them as possible, especially amongst all the recent upheaval.  

Were you a fan of Arkham Horror before getting involved with this collection, and if so how did you get into it?

I’ve been editing Aconyte’s Arkham Horror fiction since we first started back in 2019. I knew of Arkham beforehand, but I’d not had a chance to play it. So very early on myself, Marc (our publisher) and Nick (our publishing co-ordinator) sat down with the game and played it through. It did not go well… we started with such confidence (as I’m sure everyone does) but I think we were all dead within ninety minutes. We failed miserably! But it was so much fun and a great way to get into the world of Arkham Horror – plus it combines my love of gribbly monsters, alternative history and very cool characters. 

This is the first Arkham Horror anthology collection, how did you go about deciding which authors would be included in it, and the types of stories that you wanted it to feature?

When we look at authors for out books and stories, we ask them to express interest and have some knowledge or awareness of the world, and we also ask that they’re mindful of our guidelines, that they’re flexible and that they can fit with out deadlines too. We’d actually thought about putting a different anthology for Arkham Horror together, before this one, which didn’t quite work out, so I already had some interested authors from that process. So instead of our original idea, we asked them to pivot onto the new theme! 

In terms of types of story, I worked with the team at FFG to create a list of possible themes, characters (both investigators and cultists), or locations that authors could include or choose from. These were all tied to ‘The Night of the Zealot’ scenario and the Revised Core Set for the Arkham Horror Living Card Game. We very much themed it around UmĂ´rdhoth, ghouls and things that go bump in the night, and we wanted stories that would embrace that! 

Charlotte has previously edited the Keyforge anthologyfor Aconyte Books.

The collection’s stories are all connected with the inclusion of UmĂ´rdhoth, as well as some key themes and creatures, was it difficult to try and get these different stories to include these elements?

Actually it was very easy! We told the authors from the start what the themes were and what we were aiming for, so they knew from the start where they needed to aim. I did ask them to tell me what they were interested in before they pitched, so we didn’t end up with two stories with the same central character, but they all came up with some amazing, unique ideas. It turns out when you tell authors to write some stories about ghouls, cultists and the like, they really go all out! 

The book has stories that whilst all being horror are very different from each other, some being more psychological horror, others being historical pieces set in the distant past. How much freedom did the authors have to explore these different themes and ideas?

I tried to give the authors quite a bit of freedom, depending on what character’s they wanted to use, or what settings and themes they wanted to explore. We did have guidelines for them to follow – like a sandbox we wanted them to play in – and we do have limits on what they can include, but I really like seeing what authors come up with when given these tools, so I try to let them explore what they’re interested in. It just has to fit within the IP and the anthology, which is where I’m on hand to make suggestions, tweak details and just give things a nudge if necessary.  

What do you think it is about cosmic horror, and the work of Lovecraft in particular, that has made it endure so long and become so beloved?

This is such a cool question, and one I could probably write an essay on. I think the idea that there might be something out there, that’s not necessarily benevolent, is a concept that people are fascinated by. That there are things we cannot and should not know. It’s a reflection on the human experience – that there are dark things in the places we don’t see or don’t want to see. 

Lovecraft has endured, but I think what I like most is the way that people have taken his ideas and run with them. Created new adaptations, twisted them, and bought their own views and experiences to his work. I really love what some modern authors, and games like Arkham Horror have done, which is to take these works and use them as a basis for their exploration of these ideas. It really means we can open it up to reflect the world we live in, and the experiences of those around us, rather than just those that Lovecraft deemed fitting. 

Will this be a one off for Arkham Horror, or can we expect more anthology collections in the future?

I don’t have one planned at the moment but that doesn’t mean there won’t be one! Watch this space… 

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