Tell us a little about yourself.
Hello! I’m Sam — a 31-year-old writer from the UK. I work as a journalist for my full-time job, writing about culture and entertainment for Mashable. In my spare time I write as much horror fiction as I can possibly cram in. Your work for Mashable has led to you writing a few articles about NoSleep, including about some of the author success stories, and recently, a piece about the NoSleep Writer's Blackout. Does your work as a journalist ever influence your fiction writing, or vice versa?
That’s an interesting question! I suppose, as a journalist, I’m always thinking carefully about headlines, and how a story is packaged. This definitely crosses over into my fiction writing, too, and especially NoSleep, where I think headlines (and the opening paragraph of a story) are absolutely crucial. When did you first become interested in horror?
I grew up in the ‘90s, which was a glorious time for horror. As a kid I remember a new Goosebumps book seemed to come out pretty much every week, and I absolutely binged on those things. I also read Christopher Pike’s Spooksville series, and a magazine called The Spinechiller Collection
, both of which I loved. As I got a little older I read Point Horror books
, and at some point my grandma introduced me to Stephen King (she’d been a big fan of him for years). I never looked back. Since you mention the king, King, your story We had to make up scary stories in class. One stood out from the rest is a harrowing tale of adult bullying, and a mysterious child who won't simply grin and bear it. Your antagonist's name is Mr. Handscombe. Is this a play on the name Ben Hanscom from IT? If so, why did you choose him to reference?
Oh, great spot! That was actually a total accident, but I did reread IT a couple of years ago, so it’s always possible the name got lodged in my subconscious somewhere. Have you ever experienced bullying by an adult, or been witness to it in real life?
Nothing on the scale of the bullying Grant experiences in that story, but I do remember a few instances from school where teaches would shout at kids or humiliate them in front of the class. I’m always interested in stories that have some kind of power shift, so I guess I wanted to explore what might happen if a teacher like that chose the wrong kid to pick on… Was there a specific moment you knew you wanted to write in the horror genre?
If I’m honest, not really. But it was the genre I read the most, so when I did start trying my own hand at writing stories (after a few misfires with some deeply terrible poetry), horror was the genre that felt the most natural. Where do you find inspiration? Have real life experiences ever made their way into your work?
Absolutely! My debut novel, The Moor
, was heavily inspired by a walking event I did in school called Ten Tors. Basically you had to navigate your way around Dartmoor – a rainy national park in the UK – in teams of six kids, including an overnight camp out on the moor. I remember thinking at the time it’d be a great setting for a scary story of some kind, because the area is so isolated.
Real-life experiences often creep into my work in this way. I try to keep track of the inspiration behind each of my stories in the accompanying notes I write on my subreddit
, but in general my inspiration tends to come from news stories, real-life interactions, and reading/watching as many books, films and TV shows as I can. We've noticed that! You regularly make posts on your sub with notes and behind the scenes information on your stories, and interact with readers, discussing the plots and characters. What do you like most about that connection with your fans? Does that community involvement ever influence how you approach writing?
I absolutely love the community involvement, and answering questions from fans. There’s just something really rewarding about getting that real-time feedback, and watching readers come along on a journey with you. It does influence my writing sometimes, too — for instance, I wrote a story titled: “My grandma used to tell me scary stories when I was little. There’s one I’ll never forget.
” That was originally planned as a standalone, but after a couple of readers contacted me and suggested making it into an anthology-type series, I decided to give it a go. How did you discover NoSleep? What prompted you to begin writing for it?
I think I read about Dathan Auerbach’s novel Penpal
, and the awesome success he’d had after initially posting his work on NoSleep. At the time I’d just published my debut novel and was looking for ways to connect with new horror readers. NoSleep seemed like a wonderfully vibrant horror community, so I thought I’d have a go at posting myself. I quickly became hooked. What NoSleep stories and/or authors have had the strongest impact on you?
Oof, that’s a tough one! There are so many. In no particular order, here are some of the NoSleep authors that have had an impact on me: u/1000Vultures
, u/Mr_Outlaw_ u/Sergeant_Darwin
, and u/EaPAtbp
I tried to include as many as I could there, but I know there are probably a few I’ve missed! I’m constantly in awe of just how many talented writers there are posting on NoSleep.
In terms of individual stories, there are way too many to go through one by one, so I’ll just pick out three of my favourites:
“The Left/Right Game
” by u/NeonTempo
— My all-time favourite.
“Maria on the Moon
” by u/Grand_Theft_Motto
— An absolutely beautiful (and beautifully written) story about grief.
“Don’t let them in
” by u/Coney-IslandQueen
— A haunting story about addiction. What is the most terrifying thing you have personally experienced?
I remember getting lost in town one time when I was a kid. I was in the library with my mum, browsing on my own in the children’s section. Then I saw a woman who was wearing the exact same coat as her, and when this woman left the library I followed, thinking she was my mum. I quickly lost track of her in the crowd, though, and suddenly found myself all alone.
Luckily it all worked out fine in the end – another woman found me wandering around the high street and walked back to the library with me, where my mum was waiting – but I can still remember that lurching terror I felt at the time. That sudden feeling of being lost. Such a terrifying experience for a young child, that certainly could have ended up much worse! We're glad a kind soul was there to help! Speaking of children, two of your stories, I just had a disturbing conversation with my neighbor's 10-year-old son and I had a disturbing conversation with my 7-year-old daughter obviously bear a striking resemblance in the titles, despite the story lines being very different. However, a certain old man and his basement sound eerily similar. Did you intend for the two stories to be distantly related through that detail? Can we assume the creepy old man from My 7 year old got his comeuppance?
Another great spot! I’d love to tell you this was a carefully planned Easter egg, but if I’m honest that would be a total lie — I hadn’t actually noticed that particular connection until you pointed it out! It’s true that I do sometimes try to weave recurring themes and ideas through my stories, though; The shadowy organisation known as The Silent Chapter
crops up in a few different ones, for instance. To follow, many of your stories are written from the point of view of a child, or an adult recounting their childhood experiences. Have you found any particular challenges when writing a story from the point of view of someone of a younger age? Have any of your own childhood experiences played a part in these tales?
I've always enjoyed writing about childhood and adolescence. It just seems to be an age that lends itself well to horror, and for whatever reason I sometimes find it easier to write about than writing from an adult perspective — maybe because the imaginations of children are still so elastic.
I don't think there are any specific childhood moments that have inspired my stories, but I always draw from my own experiences to some extent — whether it's the memories of certain interactions and conversations, or even settings like the village I grew up in (a place on the edge of the UK's New Forest, which features in a few of my stories). What are some of your biggest influences from media?
My biggest influence author-wise is probably Stephen King, who I grew up reading, but I try to mix things up and try new authors as often as I can, too.
Other writers I’ve been enjoying recently include C.J. Tudor, Paul Tremblay, Shirley Jackson, Adam Nevill, and Hanna Jameson (all of whom write books that are either horror, or have some element of horror in them).
I watch a lot of TV shows and films, too. Horror-wise, the best films I’ve seen recently would probably be Julia Ducournau’s Raw, Leigh Whannell’s The Invisible Man, and Ari Aster’s Midsommar.
Outside of horror, I’d also massively recommend Normal People (which I flew through) and Michaela Coel’s I May Destroy You, which I’m watching at the moment (it’s brilliant). Other than writing, what are some of your hobbies? What other creative mediums do you enjoy?
I’ve always enjoyed running, but lately I don’t seem to have found the time. I really need to get back into it. In the meantime, I have a very energetic Springer Spaniel puppy who likes to go on long walks each day :)
I’m also a big fan of the cinema, and the pub. Do you ever explore writing other genres besides horror? If so, what other styles of writing? Which do you prefer?
Most of my writing usually has some element of horror in it, but I do like to play around with different sub-genres. At the moment, for instance, I’m writing a novella that’s essentially horrosci-fi, but after that I’m planning to start work on a novel that’s more dark crime (with a hint of horror thrown in for good measure). Sam Haysom is a perfect name for a crime novelist! Do you find writing dark crime to be similar in style to your work on NoSleep? What are the biggest differences?
Thank you! I think there's definitely a big overlap between dark crime and horror — my latest novella, I Track Down Killers on the Internet (which I'm giving away as a free ebook when people sign up for my newsletter on my website
, nudge nudge), definitely straddles both genres, for instance. Ultimately, something doesn't necessarily have to be supernatural to be terrifying, I don't think. And sometimes it's the things that feel the most real that can be the scariest... How much time do you spend writing in an average day or week? Do you have any rituals that help you focus?
I try to spend an hour each day working on my writing projects. If I’m in the process of writing a story I’ll attempt to get 1000 words done in the morning before work (I don’t have any specific rituals, really, but I do get through a lot of coffee and black tea). When crafting a piece of fiction, do you generally start with an outline or simply begin writing?
I always start with an outline. The first time I ever wrote a novel it was without a plan, and I found it really difficult. Since then I break everything down, chapter-by-chapter, before I begin. I know this method doesn’t work for everyone, but I’ve found it really helps me. Have any of your stories ever involved research? If so, what was involved?
The novella I’m writing at the moment takes place entirely on a plane, and that’s required quite a bit of research. Luckily I’m good friends with a pilot, so I’ve been bombarding him with questions to try and make the story as realistic as possible (at least in terms of the technical, flying elements). Without giving away spoilers, are you able to share any more details on that upcoming novella?
I’m absolutely bursting to tell you more about it, but I think I may have to keep it on the down-low for the time being, just in case! Sorry about that. You guys will be the first to hear when I have any news, though :) Are there any topics you feel are too controversial for you to address or that you prefer not to explore in your writing?
There aren’t necessarily any topics I’d completely rule out, but I think the way in which something is written is important (i.e. not making certain things unnecessarily gratuitous if they don’t serve any purpose in the story). What are your feelings toward NoSleep's immersion/believability rule? What impact, if any, do you think the suspension of disbelief format may have when transitioning your work toward a mass audience unfamiliar with NoSleep?
Personally I like it. I think it fits in well with the overall style of Reddit, and it gives NoSleep a nice unique selling point. The format seems popular outside of Reddit, too (it’s really exciting to see so many NoSleep stories being adapted for big podcasts at the moment, for instance). Earlier, we mentioned you covering the writer's blackout, and NoSleep's involvement in that cause. What are your feelings on the success of the associated temporary NoSleep subreddit closure, and what it means for the community handling IP theft going forward?
It certainly made an impact. I think the majority of narrators out there were aware of it, and I think I’ve noticed an uptick in YouTubers being careful to ask permission/apologise for misuse, etc. in the months since. Why do you think IP theft is so prevalent on NoSleep? Do you have any tips for authors dealing with that situation?
I think some narrators assume that because the stories are available for free on Reddit, it means they’re free to narrate them. If this does happen to you, I’d advise reaching out to the narrator directly through whatever channel you can; they’re often more than happy to add credits/take down the video/discuss payment. If they don’t respond, however, I’d advise checking out SleeplessWatchdogs
, who do great work and have a pinned post full of advice for authors experiencing this. Do you have any favorite reader reactions to your writing?
I always enjoy reading feedback from readers! One of the things I love most about this community is how incredibly supportive everyone is. There isn’t necessarily one specific reaction that stands out the most in my mind, but the enthusiasm people showed for my series The Purgatory Game
was really lovely to see. What story or project are you most proud of?
The Purgatory Game is definitely up there — it’s the longest series I’ve written for NoSleep, and it also won the monthly competition for April
, which was really exciting! In terms of individual stories, I’m probably the most proud of “I kept having the same nightmare when I moved out of my parents’ house. Now I know why.
”, and “My grandma used to tell me scary stories when I was little. There’s one I’ll never forget.
” Many congratulations on your win in the competition! The Purgatory Game was very popular with readers, and there was quite a bit of discussion regarding the ambiguous ending. Many horror stories utilize the open ending, leaving interpretation up to the audience. What do you think it is that makes an uncertain ending so attractive and successful when it comes to horror?
Thanks so much! I think ambiguous endings can divide readers a bit (the ending of The Purgatory Game certainly seemed to!) but in that case I thought I might be able to get away with it, given the overarching theme of the series. I'm also one of those people who likes endings that are slightly more open to interpretation, especially if there are clues in the story that I can go back to. What's the most valuable lesson you've learned since you began posting to NoSleep?
Don’t give up. If you don’t hit the top spot straight away, or if one of your stories doesn’t get that many upvotes, don’t let it put you off — the subreddit is very, very competitive, but if you keep writing, reading and trying new things, you’ll get there. I think this lesson can be applied to writing in general, too. If you have a novel that gets rejected, for instance (something that happens all the time in publishing), just keep going. The more you write, the better you’ll get. If you’ve managed to write one story, or one book, you’ve got it in you to write another. And if you haven’t hit your goal with your current writing project, you may well hit it with the next. You've spoken previously about your successes participating in National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, as it's commonly called. The book you wrote during NaNoWriMo in 2015 was eventually fleshed out into your debut novel, The Moor. The Moor is a unique publication for NoSleep authors, as it was released through a UK publishing house called Unbound. Most novels by NoSleep authors tend to be self-published; what prompted you to go the traditional route?
Back when I finished writing The Moor I knew very little about self-publishing, and if I’m honest I hadn’t really considered it as an option. But I had my trusty copy of the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook, so I thought I might as well give the traditional route a go. It’s a time-consuming process and you have to prepare yourself for plenty of rejection, but in the end I was lucky enough to find an awesome agent and a nice home for The Moor. I now have a new novel that’s being submitted to publishers as we speak, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed I can find a home for that one, too! What do you think the future of publishing is for NoSleep? Do you foresee more NoSleep authors pursuing publishing houses?
I think more and more NoSleep authors will be pursuing both routes. On the traditional publishing front I know Jasper Dewitt has just had his debut novel, The Patient
, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (that one was based on a popular NoSleep series that’s also being turned into a movie through Ryan Reynolds' production company), and Dathan Auerbach (of Penpal fame) had his second novel, Bad Man
, published through Penguin Random House in 2018.
On the other side of things, the self-publishing industry also seems to be thriving for horror writers. I know a British horror writer, Adam Nevill (he wrote The Ritual, which was subsequently made into a Netflix film), who recently decided to make the switch from traditional to self-publishing. It seems to be working out really well for him. If you have a platform and an audience (which a lot of NoSleep writers do) I think that’s half the battle. As a successful author on NoSleep, do you have any advice for new contributors?
The two biggest pieces of advice I’d give are: 1) Start building followers/subscribers straight away. Set up a personal subreddit and link to it at the end of each of your stories. The more followers/subscribers you have, the easier it is to reach the top spot on NoSleep.
And 2) Be very careful about the time you post. I don’t mean the time of day (I don’t think that matters all that much); I mean make sure you don’t post if another story is rising quickly to the top, or if the top stories on NoSleep are only a few hours old. If you post shortly after another story that’s destined for that number one slot, it doesn’t matter how popular yours is — you’ll be stuck behind that first story like a car backed up in traffic. u/nslewis
wrote a great piece about the art of post timing
, which I’d say is essential reading. What are your short-term and long-term writing goals?
I have a full-length novel that my agent is currently submitting to publishers, so one of my biggest goals is to find a home for that! In terms of my writing, I’ve just started work on a novella (I’m hoping to finish that in the next month or so), and I’m currently in the planning stages of a novel that I’ll start work on after that. If I can get both of those written by the end of the year I’ll be very happy! Community Questions:
From NSIMods: What is your favorite horror story?
I'd probably have to go for Stephen King's IT. King’s my all-time favourite author, and this is one of my favourite books of his. It’s got so many creepy moments, I love the transition between the two timelines with the kids and the grownups, and overall the book has just had such a huge impact on my own writing so far.
Submitted anonymously: I loved the other-wordly horror of your flight story! What inspired you to write it?
Thanks! I was inspired to write that one after I'd flown on a red-eye flight. I always struggle to sleep on planes, and I was struck by how surreal a setting they can be in the middle of the night. They're like dimly-lit twilight zones, and the perfect setting for a creepy story, I reckon.
From Poppy_moonray: Your most horrifying story for me personally was definitely My girlfriend started finding little white hairs in her mouth, and not only because the titular girlfriend's name is Poppy. How did you come up with the story, and particularly the description of the creature at the end?
Haha thanks! That whole story was pretty much born out of the title concept. Finding hairs in your mouth is always gross, so I basically started there and then worked backwards. What if someone kept finding hairs in their mouth, but didn’t know why? What could be causing it? After that I just tried to think of the most disgusting description I could imagine, and the spider-rat was born!
From Poppy_moonray:What monster in a story—on NoSleep or otherwise—do you find most frightening?
Anything spider-related instantly creeps me out. Also the creature in u/mrmichaelsquid’s story “The Tub Girl.”
Submitted anonymously: If you were able to spend the day with any figure in the horror community (author, director, actor, etc.), who would you choose and why?
Stephen King, hands down. Sorry, I know that's probably a bit of a boring answer, but there are just so many questions I'd love to ask him!
From ByfelsDisciple: What do you think is your most underrated story? Your most overrated?
I’ve got a bit of a soft spot for one of my earliest stories, “Missing Pets,” which only got around 70 upvotes. I think that might be my most underrated one. In terms of my most overrated, I was genuinely surprised by how many upvotes “I had a disturbing conversation with my 7-year-old daughter” received. I do like the story, don’t get my wrong, but I don’t necessarily understand why it was so much more popular than the others (my guess is it struck lucky with Reddit's algorithm and ended up in the Popular section for a while).
From Poppy_moonray: If you were granted three wishes right now, what would they be? (The only stipulation is no asking for more wishes.)
1) Happiness for all my friends and family, 2) To be able to make a decent living as a writer for the rest of my life, and 3) To grow four inches taller, so I could be 6’2’’. I’ve always wanted to be 6’2’’.
From Cephalopodanaut: If you were abolished from the land of the living to spend the rest of eternity in solitude in Purgatory and could only bring 1 movie, 1 book, 1 album, and 1 game to keep you company for the remainder of your existence, what would you bring?
Okay, let’s do this. The movie would be something nice and long, like The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (my favourite of the trilogy). The book would be Stephen King’s The Stand. I have a fairly niché, prog-rocky type music taste, so I’d probably go for something like Effloresce by a British band called Oceansize (they’re sadly no longer together, but they were awesome). Finally, for the game, I’d pick The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time, which I grew up playing on the N64 (it’s my all-time favourite).
From Poppy_moonray: What fruit do you empathize with most strongly? What fruit fills you with an unbridled fury?
I empathise most strongly with the humble apple. Oranges fill me with fury because of how awkward they are to peel.
Submitted anonymously: Favorite guilty pleasure?
Love Island. That show is so much fun.
Submitted anonymously: Favorite song lyric?
"Should I display / Just a fraction of the soul you've shown in this world / Then I know / I'll see you again." — That's a lyric from a song called "Music for a Nurse" by the band I mentioned earlier, Oceansize. It's a truly beautiful, haunting song about grief.
From Poppy_moonray: What character in media do you most relate to?
I’m currently reading a great book called The Whisper Man by Alex North. The main character is a struggling writer, so that’s ringing a few bells.
Submitted anonymously: Would you/have you ever collaborate(d) with anyone else on nosleep? Is there anyone you'd like to work with?
I've never collaborated, but I'd certainly be open to it! I'd love to work with any of the authors I mentioned earlier, and I'm always up for chatting about ideas :)
From Colourblindness: What would you recommend to get reviews from Amazon shoppers?
Getting reviews is always a tricky one, but I'd recommend offering a free copy of your book to as many bloggers as possible. They'll have their own sites, but many will be happy to add their review to Goodreads and Amazon, too. Also, if someone contacts you to say they've just finished reading your book, it's always worth asking them if they wouldn't mind writing a quick, honest review of it, as well. Plenty of readers are happy to do it.
From RichardSaxon: Is there anything you desperately want to write, but just can't seem to put down on paper?
I've got two ideas for novels that I'm really keen to write at the moment, but the main thing slowing me down is time. There's never enough of it! I'm confident I'll get them written eventually, though, but it might take a little while.
From Colourblindness: Would you ever return to the world of the Moor? If so, how?
That's a great question! I don't currently have any plans to, but I wouldn't completely rule it out, either. I think if I did it might not be with a direct sequel, but perhaps through a returning character or some other connection?
Submitted anonymously: If you had to live in the established universe of any of your stories, which would you choose and why?
A great question! I love the idea of other worlds/dimensions being out there, so I think any of my stories that feature those would be interesting to visit.
Submitted anonymously: Which of your stories has been the most difficult to write, and why?
Probably The Purgatory Game, purely because I started posting the series before I'd finished writing it (this added a bit of a time pressure to the writing/editing side of things).
Submitted anonymously: Is there any question you wanted to be asked be weren't?
I think that's covered most of it, but if anyone does think of any other questions they'd like to ask me, please do feel free to drop me a message! I'm always up for a chat :)
Salivating for more Sam?
NoSleepInterviews would like to say a haunted moor's full of thank yous to the scintillating and horrifying SamHaysom for taking the time to speak with us for this marvelous interview—more like Sam H-awesome, if you ask us! finger guns
- The Moor, his debut novel on Amazon, or his
- Website, where you can join his mailing list and get a free eBook of his novella, I Track Down Killers on the Internet! Don't forget to subscribe to his
- Twitter, and
We'll see you back here in two weeks when we craft new horrors with Hercreation! Until then, make sure to check out her subreddit and creep on over to /TheCrypticCompendium!