Interview with Holly Ice, author of The Russian Sleep Experiment
Please describe what the story/book is about.
In summary, The Russian Sleep Experiment is a horror or psychological tale inspired by the Cold War. Russia is conducting unethical, secret experiments in the depths of Siberia. This particular experiment is conducted on political prisoners ahead of the scientific trial being approved for human experimentation. Russia wants the edge in any coming conflict and to do this, they test Gas 76-IA on four volunteers. These political prisoners are offered their freedom in exchange for thirty days without sleep, powered by this mysterious gas, but the side effects are more than they had bargained for.
The Russian Sleep Experiment is an extension to novella length of the original Creepypasta short story, with added content. (A novella is usually between 20,000 and 60,000 words, longer than a short story and shorter than a novel.) This extension of the tale has three parts:
Part 1: Told from the POV of one the prisoners, this part tells the story of how the political prisoners were recruited from their camp to take part in the experiment. (This was not explained in detail in the original short story.)
Part 2: Told from the POV of one of the experimentees and the lead scientist. This part fleshes out the major action of the original tale in real time. We see what happens from inside the mind of the prisoners and from inside the cage of the experiment, as well as from the logbooks of the very ambitious lead scientist.
Part 3: Told from the POV of one of the scientists involved in the experiment, after it has concluded. This final section shows the consequences of the experiment and is based in rural Siberia.
The book focuses on the question of whether the gas is the cause of all the problems the characters face, or whether they are they simply going mad. The unravelling of the human mind is a major theme.
Where do you write from?
I write from quite a few different places depending on the day and my mood. Usually I write best in a comfy spot at home, using my laptop; the bed or a well-cushioned chair are favourite places to sit.
Some days I need to get out of the house, so take the laptop to the local pub to grab a drink while I write – usually cider, being from the South-West.
If writing is not going well and I’ve hit somewhat of a block, I will try writing by hand. This almost always erases the block and allows me to get more writing done. However, it has always been my second choice as I tend to insert words into sentences as I write, so writing by hand massively slows the process. (It’s also really easy to get hand and wrist aches!)
Do you have a special time to write or how is your day structured?
Any writing I do before around 4pm is likely rubbish or below par. I write best in the afternoon to late evening/early morning because I’m essentially a night owl. I’m a walking zombie until 11am!
I don’t like to structure my writing too rigorously. Sometimes I am overwhelmed with inspiration, and I’ve learned to recognise that feeling and run with it wherever possible. Other times, I have a stern word with my inner layabout to encourage them to put fingers to keyboard.
What was the time frame for writing this book?
I think the original time frame was around a year but it was never set in stone. The book took longer than I thought it would to complete as it grew with each edit into something much more expansive than the early drafts. I feel it has really benefited from the extensions and is now a truly realistic tale.
What were your 1-2 biggest learning experience(s) or surprise(s) throughout the publishing process?
I’ve always known how important it is to re-read and check your work but this was really hammered home with this piece as I’d read it countless times and yet still managed to find the odd mistake at the proofing stage. As some writers have said, it sometimes feels as if the work will never be perfect.
In addition, I was surprised that the book would be illustrated. I absolutely love the work of Daniel Tyka and in line with this experience would seriously consider illustrating future work.
Best piece(s) of advice for writers trying to break in?
It’s hard to find something to say that has not been said before. I think much of this is down to the individual but I feel good all-around advice would be to try to be as confident as possible (without being overbearing) and go down to a nearby con and make some writing friends.
Intern anywhere in the fiction business that will have you, as well – including small presses. The industry is small enough that they will know some ‘big people’, if that is what you’re into, but in many instances the small presses are far friendlier and do far more for the author than the big publishers anyway.
Making friends in the same industry really helps you find anthologies you may not have otherwise, share in others’ successes and gain the companionship of other authors. It’s a lonely world out there for authors, in a room, writing alone 24/7!
If you are really too introverted to want to try this, I’d suggest finding a critique partner or beta reader, and learning your craft from them.
Whatever route you take, be sure to send out lots of edited short stories to anthologies or competitions to get experience of writing and perfecting prose for publication, as well as an indication of how well you are doing. (This is also a way of meeting new writing contacts!) Be sure to always be courteous and never argue an editor’s decision – there really is no point, and you might do better next time. Instead, say thank you for their time and it’s generally worth asking if they have any other open submission or anthology calls coming up in the next year.
Is there any type of fiction you do not feel comfortable writing?
Originally I kept to romance and fantasy. As I got into my twenties, I ended up writing sci-fi by accident and now that is the genre of most of the short stories I’ve had published.
This has been my first foray into horror writing and at first I was worried. Would my writing be scary enough? Would it all be one big joke? In the end, it wasn’t as big an issue as I had been worrying about. Writing is mainly about character and plot, with a dashing of good description. The genre changes the conventions, sometimes the types of characters, or the location, but the emotional responses can be very similar.
I wouldn’t like to pidgeon-hole myself into one genre or another. I like trying out new things, giving any idea which I feel has merit the light of day, no matter what genre it fits into. Where is the fun in sticking to a formula?
In light of this, I’d say any genre outside of sci-fi, fantasy and romance can be uncomfortable to write, but mainly because it is unfamiliar. I imagine over time and with experience, this feeling will dissolve.
What are you working on now?
For the last year or two I have been working on a fantasy series tentatively entitled ‘The Riftkeeper Series’ or ‘The Riftkeeper Chronicles’. The first book, ‘While I Slept’, is going through edits, in light of editor comments. The series is based on the ancient Welsh poetry surrounding King Arthur, where he was not depicted as a King, but as a great, Otherworld warrior, who battled creatures of myth and legend (pixies, giants, etc.) to keep Britain safe. In the first book of the series, he is dug out of a hill in the modern-day Cotswolds, where the folktale has lived on that he will arise in ‘Britain’s greatest time of need’. On his awakening, a series of murders bring him and his modern-day companion to the conclusion that the Otherworld has rejoined our own, and the creatures inside are nowhere near as friendly as we have grown to believe.
Something personal about you people may be surprised to know?
A lot of people think I am super-confident, or even an extravert, but really I’m just a talkative introvert. In the early years of secondary school I was one of those kids so worried about what others thought that I didn’t say very much unless spoken to. That has definitely changed. I forced myself to fake confidence until I felt more comfortable with it and that decision has definitely helped make me who I am today. I even traveled solo to the USA and Australia during my gap year.
How can readers connect with you?
I am on most social media and have two websites I keep an eye on. Please feel free to add me on any of these or contact me if you fancy a chat. I love to get to know readers. :)
Official author site: www.hollyice.co.uk
The Russian Sleep Experiment
Four political prisoners living in a 1940s Siberian POW camp volunteer to be Subjects in a Soviet Military experiment. They are promised freedom in exchange for completing the exercise. In return they must endure 30 days without sleep, fuelled by Gas 76-IA.
The longer the experimentees endure insomnia, the more they deteriorate. Words and pleasantries break down until they turn on each other. Researchers look on, neutral, and take notes for the super soldier applications possible with this new, wonder drug. One researcher, Luka, stands alone in believing the experiment needs to be stopped before irreversible damage is done but is he too late?
The Subjects no longer want the Gas switched off…
Illustrations by award-winning graphic artist Daniel Tyka.