Lauren Messervey, a Dalhousie University alumna, has found success in the horror genre. In an interview with the Dalhousie Gazette, she talks about the writing process, self-publishing and her upcoming projects.
Dalhousie alumna with a story
Messervey graduated from Dal with a bachelor of arts in theatre with a focus on acting. While her passion for the stage propelled her into the acting profession, she made the move to writing at the age of 25.
“Looking back, writing was the first thing that I actually liked doing as a child. It was my favourite thing in school,” she explains. “And then for some reason I stopped and focused more on acting.”
At 27, Messervey moved to Toronto. There, she began to pursue writing as a profession, and her debut novel Crestfallen was born.
Messervey self-published Crestfallen on Amazon. It is a compilation of short stories forming one cohesive tale about an old, dilapidated apartment complex called Crestfallen Estates.
The initial idea for the book came from personal experiences while living in Halifax.
“I lived in this small apartment complex in Clayton Park, and there was a guy who came home every night at 3 a.m.,” Messervey says. “He’d always whistle, and I would always hear the click of his heels. For some reason, it really freaked me out.”
The whistling stranger inspired one of the characters in the book and encouraged Messervey to find other stories to add to the project.
“I started thinking about how weird apartment complexes are, the kind of people who reside there and the stories hidden there.”
Crestfallen offers an edgy take on modern horror, using blunt language and imagery to draw readers into the dark world Messervey has woven.
The self-publishing game
Messervey suggests the self-publishing avenue, while a positive experience for some, isn’t one she would try again. She has chosen a more traditional publishing route for her next project.
“Because of the nature of Amazon, and self-publishing platforms, it can be difficult to build a following,” she says. “I have a lot of respect for people who can go forward and do that. I don’t think it’s for me.”
In 2022, the next horror chapter in Messervey’s life will take form with a U.S.-based independent publishing company called Clash Books.
“It’s a horror novella that examines rape culture, is what I’ll divulge for now. But there’s a big twist on that as well.”
Messervey has found another way to mix her love of acting with writing by creating a script.
“I recently wrote a slasher script that’s due to go to cameras sometime later this year, possibly early next year. It’s a hybrid of two genres that you didn’t know would work so well together.”
Messervey explains the script, a horror and romance mashup, is being filmed rather than used as a stage production.
Writing in the pandemic
Living in Toronto, Messervey’s writing process has taken a hit due to the restrictions of COVID-19. Her husband, actor Mark Gibson, and herself have been isolating since November 2020 to avoid the virus.
On the topic of writing during COVID-19, she says, “there’s this whole misconception that writers write better when they’re depressed. I do not subscribe to that. I actually write better when I’m in a sort of a relieved mental state.”
Despite feeling the effects of the pandemic on her creativity, Messervey is working on honing her writing process.
“I’m trying to develop what I guess would be called a more normal process,” she explains. “In the past, I would get an idea, write notes and then see where it takes me. Now, I’d like to do more character mapping. Write all the traits, how they relate to other people, figure out their voices, stuff like that.”
Messervey also says music encourages a more creative space amongst the chaos of thoughts and outer influences.
“With Crestfallen, I was listening to a lot of Tom Waits, Nick Cave and other sort of creepy music with a beatnik atmosphere. With a project that I’m writing right now, I’m listening to classical music. If a story has a certain atmosphere, I’ll try to find music and integrate that into how I write.”
Advice for up-and-comers
Along with her novel, novella and script projects, Messervey works as an online writer producing content for platforms like the recently archived Huffington Post.
On writing, she offers some advice to Dal students who might be contemplating the same profession:
“I think there’s two things that I would really stress for writers. The most important work you do is just writing. If you write in a journal every day, you’re doing the work. If you’re reading and absorbing other people’s work, you’re doing the work,” she says. “The second is never believe your own press. Because the moment you start believing you’re the worst or best writer in the world, you completely eliminate your ability to grow.”